The Hairs He Numbers  

The Hairs He Numbers

Ezekiel 5 and 6
After Ezekiel laid on his side and ate meager portions, God asks him to cut his hair and beard with a sword. It probably looked awful if I’m being honest. The first time I cut my own hair, I was in high school. I used electric clippers and forgot to put a setting on and basically shaved the sides of my head only. I looked like Junior Asparagus from Veggie Tales. If you don’t know who that is and can’t look it up because you don’t have the internet which would be impossible if you are reading this blog, suffice it to say I looked like a pale asparagus.
So, Ezekiel cuts his hair and is asked to weigh it, divide it, burn a third of it in the city, another third he scatters throughout the city with a sword and another third he scatters to the wind. I’m not sure how much hair Ezekiel possibly could have had, but it seems like this all could not have taken very long. It seems like it would take longer to write about what happened. But what lasts for a little while is Ezekiel’s appearance.
The prophetic word Ezekiel gives to the people is a message that described Israel as a nation of favor and status, at the center of attention among other nations. Israel was important, it was visible, and now in judgment, nations will see how Israel is punished and will look at God’s chosen people with reproach. Ezekiel becomes the embodiment of Israel in the sight of the nations, among his own people;  looking like a disheveled mess. After all, how good would you have to be to look clean cut using a sword?
Despite Israel’s idolatry and subsequent judgment, God promises that some Israelites will be left alive. The remaining hairs Ezekiel has, God sees and counts. Like Ezekiel and Israel, He has numbered all the hairs on our head or in our hand. He has good thoughts towards His people even when we are an utter mess.  Hair grows back, but more than that, our hearts can grow to have a greater affection for God in place of the things we made into idols.

How do you eat this crap?  

How do you eat this crap?

Ezekiel 4
                When I was young, my brother and I would set up miniature army men and build forts. Then we would get a handful of rubber bands and take turns shooting at our opposing armies. This passage in Ezekiel chapter 4 remind me of those times because Ezekiel lays a brick on the ground and sets up twigs against it and on it to give the appearance of an army invading a city.
After that small prophetic display, Ezekiel is instructed to lay on his side for 390 days to symbolize the punishment that will be dealt to Israel and Jerusalem. While laying down he was required to cook a small portion of food over human dung. After a little pleading the Lord concedes that human dung may be a bit much, so God makes allowance for Ezekiel to substitute human dung for cow dung. As if substituting $%*& for animal $%*& makes a difference. I’m honestly not sure how this was a compromise, but I think it might depict just how frustrated God was with His people. Their only consolation in His judgment is that He could have made it worse.
Ezekiel himself must suffer, lying in one position for over a year, which seems impossible or at the least improbable to pull off. And the only consolation God offers is a poop substitute which just so happens to be a different kind of poop.
Our lives can feel like that sometimes, hopefully only for seasons. Sometimes our only consolation is the crap we eat doesn’t taste as bad as it potentially could. And that somehow makes life easier to swallow. God’s mercy seems to not overflow, yet He still spares us. Ezekiel learns to find God’s kindness in an extremely small matter, but it sustains Ezekiel to keep on going in the calling and plan God has for him.

Side Effects of God Speak

Side Effects of God Speak

Ezekiel 3

Sometimes when God speaks to us, it comes with a side effect. We are touched by an inkling or message and we are convinced God has given us instruction but we become dazed. The initial energy that comes with the word of God lifts us up by His Spirit and we feel we are not alone. Eventually, we may get around a group of people that have not yet heard what we may have heard and we suffer a side effect, we become overwhelmed with self-doubt and insecurity.

This happened to Ezekiel after he was called to be a prophet. He received a calling and a message but was stuck for a week until God gave a little more clarity. God clarified, “I have made you a watchman, a watchman that gives warning.” The responsibility of a watchman is to warn people of the attack of the enemy (potential death). Ezekiel was given this task and then asked to go into a valley where God spoke again and told Ezekiel to go lock himself in his house where he will be mute for a little while.

The process seems odd, doesn’t it? Why give a task only to send Ezekiel to other places and silence his mouth? I wonder, does this process happen because something is wrong inside of Ezekiel? Scripture is silent as to why and just tells us this is so. This is another side effect of God’s word to us, we often suspend the answer to the why questions in order to trust that obeying God is for the best. God does this to show us that he might be found in our detours, in our uncertainty, in our inability, and even, maybe, in our disobedience. The why things happen is in some ways less important than what becomes of our relationship with God as result.

The great lie we often must fend off is that somehow, despite the lengths God has gone to have our hearts, He would want to cast us aside. He is not interested in wasting the opportunity for relationship. His greatest desire is that His people live life with Him/enjoy Him. Thus, when detours or pain afflict us we hope the side effect we suffer most would be the comfort of the intimacy or familiarity God offers through His presence.

When Glory Looks Weird

When Glory Looks Weird

Ezekiel 1 and 2
                Ezekiel, an Old Testament prophet has a vision before He is called by God. He has this vision, sitting by the Chebar canal, with exiled people, people without a home, without a plan, maybe feeling without purpose. To be in exile is to be out of place, and when one feels out of place, they typically distrust trust their own as well as others decisions. If I were Ezekiel in this moment, I probably would have trouble trusting my vision, mistaking it for a hallucination.
                But his vision in the first chapter of Ezekiel, the book that bears his name, for all intents and purposes, is beautiful and wondrous. We all need visions like this. We all need communication with God like this. It puts into perspective His creativity and our need to be helped in our understanding. 4 creatures each with 4 faces, facing 4 different directions, with 4 wings, each creature going straight forward in their respective directions, not turning as they go. They go with a purpose throughout the earth, with wheels covered in eyes. (If you haven’t read it and think I’m making it up, read it for yourself) In an expanse, above these creatures is a throne with a Man, presumably Jesus?, sitting on it. The vision overwhelms Ezekiel, so he falls on his face.
                Then he hears a voice: “Stand up, so I can speak with you.” Energized by the voice of God, the Spirit of God fills him and sets him on his feet telling him some news that is quite surprising. God tells him, (paraphrased) “I’m sending you to the people of Israel, you know the rebellious, stubborn people that you are sitting in exile with. The people who speak your language, tell them what I say, whether they want to hear it or not. Don’t be afraid of them, and don’t be rebellious. The words that I am giving you are words of lamenting, mourning and woe.” It’s a good thing God gave him these comforting words, right?
                These 2 chapters are an interesting start to a book. The first chapter makes sense, a weird vision that Ezekiel will come back to several times. Chapter 2 also make sense because it is the calling Ezekiel receives that will set the tone for the rest of the story. As far as a narrative goes, it is great; a prophet who is called to stay with a homeless, plan-less, and somewhat purposeless people and told to give them more bad news. He’s not going to win a popularity contest; we can deduce that. What should confound us is why God would do this to someone. Why would you send someone to a rebellious group of people who are now suffering because of their self-inflicted mistakes to tell them that circumstances will likely get worse?
                The answer, as you read the whole book, makes more sense, but in short, God does it for Ezekiel. God has this weird way of testing faithfulness. God has this weird way of searching the human heart. God has this weird kind of love that demands total devotion. Why does he do it? He wants to know how far Ezekiel will go in obedience for the sake of love so He can reveal to Ezekiel, a plan devised by God. He wants to know He can trust Ezekiel with a picture of the kingdom of God and all its glory. Chapter 1, God shows him a glimpse and chapter 2 God calls him to step into His plan despite a severe cost. Part of the cost of glory is that often it will just look a little weird to the ones not looking for it.

The Evangelical Wrong and Setting Things Right

The Evangelical Wrong and Setting Things Right

The title of this blog post sounds more like a research paper than a blog entry. I understand that, and I perceive our patience for this kind of thing is running out especially since the election is over. (When I initially wrote this it said: since we are weeks away from an election where a good chunk of the population will be watching). At this point I’m not sure our patience has run out.

If you can’t tell by the title I’d like to address a point of time: maybe it started during the Zionist movement, maybe it started during the rise of the Moral Majority, maybe it started as far back as the birth of the nation, and to some maybe it started when the realization dawned on people that a lot of Evangelicals would vote Republican if they had a literal donkey running for office.

Much better articles than this have addressed how we got here, waiting in the aftermath of an election, that surprised and infuriated many. Others have already written persuasively about who you should vote for and why you shouldn’t have voted for a specific candidate. My conscience allowed me to vote 3rd party. There are likely even articles addressing the mistake I would like to briefly address here, which is this:

We or at the very least a significant portion of the Body (that is the Church, the Bride, the Beloved redeemed of God) in America got caught up by a leavening agent called the political system and put far too much hope in it. And if the Church put too much hope in it, one can only imagine how much hope others have put in it.
But here is the thing about leaven. Leaven makes things rise, it makes things boil over and in some cases, it ferments. Leaven has the potential to make us drunk, no longer sober to reality, while becoming un-empathetic to the plight of actual human beings, breathing around us, who are just like us, sinful. We got caught up so bad that some Christians thought the Spirit of God was and is so limited in scope that God could only change the heart of only one of the two choices likely to be president of  a nation. Believing that is wrong. It’s a lie. God was and is still bigger than both/all candidates. Furthermore, God is far better than them. Maybe you know that. Or maybe you doubt His existence. I voted for neither candidate, yet still believe that.
Now before I get accused of advocating for indifference or wasting my voting privilege (since this is a blog written by an actual person) can I tell you some secrets about me that aren’t very scandalous? Well, if not, I’m going too anyway:
I have stood in front of the Capital building and abortion clinics with life tape on my mouth praying for the right to life. I probably still would do it if I was a part of a community that was passionate about that sort of thing. Why? Because, I literally believe that everyone, if they can live, should live and that God would sustain those who need help raising or in some cases choosing to give the care of their child over to someone else. I believe the reward outweighs the risk, it is a faith issue and a mercy issue.
I have also been a part of a very odd business casual attire prayer meeting with as many as 3 senators with countless other politicians and advisors in Washington DC, 7 or so years ago, that was broadcast live on the internet with commercial breaks. I’ll be honest I didn’t understand it, but I was there and would probably go again. While there, I experienced moments of great emotion in prayer that seemed like it made some impact, but I mostly left the meeting, suspicious of why many of the politicians were there.
Can I be honest about one more thing? I have never regretted praying for the nation in which I live, the politicians that govern it, the right to life, or the sanctity of marriage. I have regretted most conversations I’ve ever had about politics being the difference or deciding factor for our lives, or trying to convince someone it’s more of a life issue than a choice issue. I even have some regrets over conversations agreeing to stand beside the LGBT community in regards to full rights regarding civil unions with the compromise not to demonize the Church in regards to their stance on the institution of marriage.

Why do I regret it?  Because certain battles were never meant to be waged with physical wars, words or legislation.

There is one battle, however, that the apostles were convinced should be waged with words. They themselves called it foolishness. The foolish words they spoke of entailed the proclamation of the gospel, more specifically, the message of Jesus resurrected from the dead, defeating death so humanity could forever live with Him, which ironically used to embody what it meant to be Evangelical. Evangelicals should be and were inclined to talk about the good news that reconciliation through Jesus Christ has offered to the world not the proposed legislation we wish to subject the world to, in order to make them act like a law abiding citizen. Legislating right living, ironically, is linked to the other leavening agent Jesus warns of:  religious fanaticism, a performance based salvation. Because that’s the thing about leaven, leaven has the potential to make us drunk, no longer sober to reality, becoming un-empathetic to the plight of actual human beings, breathing around us, who are just like us, sinful.
The gospel however, when in fact good news is distributed liberally (excuse the term) because Jesus sees our plight, became an actual human being, breathing around us, and felt we were too valuable to lose all the while knowing He, sinless, was our only hope.
I pray for courage, that Christians would be foolish enough to proclaim the gospel, a gospel that the apostle Paul himself called the foolishness of God. God chose to let His son, who happened to be God, die, then raise to life, as His plan to rescue mankind from our own foolishness, choosing the slavery that is sin/evil/hatred/darkness/rejection/apathy, whichever word you prefer. I pray for a message so simple and clear that children will receive, yet so overwhelmingly saturated with love that it flows from our lips, even if it makes us send like we know nothing about the political system or the climate of the country.
Beware of the leaven of politics
Beware of the leaven of fanatics
We want a love for Jesus
Not Theatrics
(Paraphrased from Mark 8:15)

Heights Depths Regrets

How great was your fall? Sometimes, we evaluate our need of help based on how far we’ve fallen or how damaged we find ourselves after we hit the ground. But what about when we don’t fall very far? What if today, we barely stumbled? Do we begin to embrace the stumble and keep stumbling until we find the nearest stairwell to throw ourselves down, then proceed to roll outside into the street for a car to hit us? Do we indulge an addiction because we hurt ourselves with our sin? Do we fall into a deep despondency because of a few wrong words?

                When we stumble, sometimes it’s best to just call a spade a spade or a sin a sin and say, “God, forgive me; today, I must keep following you. You know I need to just keep going. I can’t wallow because if I spend too much time wallowing, I’ll miss your next movement of love.” We must continue to move with him. When you go for a walk, if you stumble over a rock, do you decide the walk is over? No
                If you would like to come for a short walk with me, I’d like for us to share our heights, depths, and regrets together:
Heights: If I had to pick the heights of my life, there are a few moments in time while I was present in those moments that I would say felt like heights: (2007-2009)- College years in which I grew a lot in my faith and my walk with Jesus (May 2012-September 2012)- At various time I felt like I was bouncing back (ministry, job romance) or moving towards a dream, on paper life looked good. (End of 2015- Beginning 2016)- Discovered teaching and more ministry involvement and gained a renewed sense of dreaming
Depths: If I had to pick depths, I would say they were sporadically placed within the gaps, 2013-2015, break-ups, break-downs, many moves; it contained some especially dark times. 2006 was a dark time as well.
Regrets: Sin/ hurting people/ worrying too much about what’s next
                Can I share a story with you?
                Story: The James Passaro writing in the tail end of 2016 is not that much different than the version of me who in 2000 while in 7th grade discovered how enjoyable, but more importantly how healing, writing could be. Between 2000 and 2016, I began to believe a notion that writing made things permanent. I believed even if an emotion changed, writing immortalized the emotion for the specific moment of time in which it was recorded. I believed if I wrote of my love, there would be a permanence to it. What I failed to account for is that human memory or thought/perception are far more powerful agents in the life of the author than any emotion conveyed on paper could be to a reader, even if that reader happens to be the author looking back on what they once wrote.
                Writing is only high or deep or regretfully read to the one whose imagination is taken captive by the words they see. I will only care about or give permanence to what you wrote or what I once wrote if something within me perceives it as valuable. If I treasure it, I will keep it.  We ask questions when we read like: what in the world can this possibly mean to me or for me? Are the implications of what I’m reading triggering a familiar emotion or capturing my thoughts because who I am as a person resonates with the poetry of the page? Can I empathize or be brought to feel by the script? Did you write this for me? Maybe
                The Real Story: I write letters to my future wife. I write letters to my future self. I write letters to God even though I don’t mail them.
I started doing the first one because I wanted her. Let me add to that statement. I wanted her to see what I had written when I was 19 or 22 or 23 or 26 (I have since stopped) and her say, “You thought about me then, you prayed for me then, I’m here with you now. Thank you; I value or cherish these.” If she doesn’t say that I would at least like her to laugh with me over the time I spent imagining what she would be like. What I wouldn’t want is apathy.
I started doing the second one because I wanted to make sure that my present self would remember how faithful God is. I would recognize that if I am still alive and reading what I once wrote, then He has kept me alive for a reason. I wanted to hold myself accountable to what God has said and promised and remind myself that it has been worth it to follow Him and pursue living a life devoted to Him.
I write letters to God because, even for someone who likes to talk and likes to sing and likes to write, as strange as it sounds sometimes I don’t have any words to express. My letters to God are not deep; they pretend to be. They are important insofar as they are a record of my weakness. I can honestly do nothing without Him. They are a child, asking for help to understand what is going on around him or at least knowing he is led onward when he can’t understand. A child trying yearning to know if anything is growing inside him, trusting that he is becoming more like his Father.
If I told you how much time I have spent writing, it might not impress you. If I told you how much writing I’ve lost due to technological failure you probably wouldn’t believe me. If I erased or burned up everything I’ve ever written, I would still have to navigate the storyfull of memories my mind relives or reminds itself of.
The spin of the story I tell myself or others is filled with bias and is usually desiring some type of reconciliation within God’s bigger story of the world. As much as I matter to myself and as much as I matter to God, the story which is already written about my past can’t be changed. Those chapters are closed. Sure, my perception can change, maybe one day or someday soon I’ll stop remembering so much. As I do I will hopefully live out some more of my dreams and see the promises of God more clearly.
Can I stop walking because I stumble or even fell? No. Did I write this for me or for you? Maybe Is the walk ahead of us worth it? Yes