WHAT DO YOU SEE? BLEACHED BONES OR AN AWESOME ARMY??

Christ's Faithful Witness: Become a Prophetic Voice in the Heart of a Rebellious People

It started with three church leaders having coffee with a missionary couple about to return from South Africa to their ministry in North India. I felt an immediate affinity with the couple. The next step was to invite them to our local house church, which they accepted. The gathering was a powerful time of refreshing for all. The husband led us through Ezek. 37:1-14, concluding that the prophet’s call for believers today was, very simply, to be and do (amen!). This would include ‘prophesying’ to the sleeping Church in South Africa’ (the husband is South African), to awaken her to her true calling. Btw,  N. India is currently experiencing astounding growth at a ‘simple church,’ grass-roots level. My heart pounded. During corporate worship the wife had a vision of our local homes becoming a warm, welcoming place. She added, ‘God isn’t finished with you yet!’ (some in our group are older, including yours truly). We’ve been in email contact since, and the wife has shared a subsequent dream of a world-wide spiritual revival, commencing ironically in China, which spawned the Corona virus! (‘the enemy’s attempt to fiddle in God’s affairs’) I was privileged to visit that populous land twice some years ago to observe the underground Church first-hand. What an eye-opener! It confirmed my move to simple house churches.

I mentioned to our group a book by the missionary-pioneer, Floyd McClung, ‘You See Bones, I See an Army!’ Some years ago Floyd hosted seminars in our city on a new way of being/doing church and mission. I had also managed to arrange a coffee shop chat with him in Cape Town, where he and Sally had been pioneering discipleship and skills training in the vast townships with a view to tent-maker ministry in Africa (to the best of my knowledge, Floyd and Sally are both unwell at present, if you know of them please pray for them). One of Floyd’s mentors was the saintly Dr. Christy Wilson (1921-1999), Princeton graduate and veteran missionary in Afghanistan, later Evangelism Professor at Gordon Conwell Seminary. My wife and I were so privileged to host him in our home during a local missions conference. He had a huge impact on us and our future calling. We were keen to sign up for mission work in Malawi, but he encouraged us and our congregation to equip future world missionaries. In a humbling way, that prophetic word was powerfully fulfilled in our local congregation and our city to this day.

Next I felt constrained to re-visit Ezekiel’s vision in 37:1-14. Please read this passage right now, if you can. Then the following will make more sense:

  • As always, context is important. During Ezekiel’s time God’s people, including the prophet, were in exile in pagan Babylon. Jerusalem had fallen. Ezekiel and his fellow-exiles, after some ten years in that far-off nation, had grown despondent and hopeless (I guess some of my readers may feel like that amid the virus lock-down – fortunately Easter’s coming!). They felt like ‘dry bones’ bleached over the years by the desert sun (possibly they recalled the Israelite dead strewn outside Jerusalem, or along the road to Babylon). Had Ezekiel despaired of those bones ever coming alive again? Probably. Of course he was persuaded theologically, but his feelings told another story. He knew the living, covenant-keeping God could do the impossible, but lacked the faith to believe it! (Aren’t we all there, in a way?) Our recent house church on-line interaction has reminded us of that common default: contrast Heb. 11.
  • Then the living God appears to Ezekiel. With the assurance that those dry bones could/would live again, he comforts Israel with the promise of his life-giving Ruach (cf. Gen. 2:7). His exiled people would be restored to life, return to Jerusalem and become ‘a mighty army’ in his name! (cf. ultimately through God’s ‘new covenant-people in the Messiah: cf. Jer. 31:33ff, all of Galatians, Heb. 8) [1]

Why not get some coffee (in the past when I’ve sub-divided blogs, I’ve found folk reading part 1 but not the climax in part 2 – chuckle!)

Sip of coffee… now let’s follow the progression of Ezekiel’s faith. Note the partial  transformation of dry bones to corpses. The prophet hears a ‘rattling’ (Hebrew, a rumbling earthquake-sound). Then, in simple faith and obedience to God, Ezekiel prophesies to the Wind, and… the corpses are on their feet!! Down the ages, Torah without Ruach/Pneuma is still-born (cf.Jn. 3:8, which can vary from a gentle breeze to a wild wind). Reminds of my Theological College motto, Verbum Crucis Spiritu, ‘The Word of the Cross, by the Spirit.’ On the overall truth here, Anglican OT scholar J.B. Taylor comments, ‘What preaching couldn’t do, prayer made a reality!’ God always does the reviving, start to finish – his servants do the believing and obeying. Remember the old hymn ‘Trust and obey’?…’ Back to Ezekiel and the exiles: v. 11/NRSV, “Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely…’ v. 13-14, ‘And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…’

A brief summary of Floyd McClung’s take on the vision:

  • There is a valley of dry bones God wants to use, but those bones won’t become an army until they are prophesied over. The dry bones are the poor, rebellious, marginalized, broken, and the young and rich humble enough to listen.
  • For dry bones to live again there has to be a desperation for divine intervention.
  • Passion for Jesus and his purposes is received, nurtured and passed on to others.
  • Jesus said those who believe in him will do ‘greater works’ than he (Jn. 14:12).
  • We must all commit to relational disciple-making, it’s the only way we can reproduce our lives in others. [2]

Where do we go from here??

  • Ezekiel’s message is for desperate Jesus-followers. When we say ‘our nation is finished,’ ‘the Church as we have known it is finished,’ it’s a good place to be! Someone wrote recently, ‘You want revival? Pray for a crisis!’ (Joel News)
  • It’s for honest Jesus-followers.
  • It’s for dependent Jesus-followers, i.e. on the Holy Spirit and him alone (cf. the post-exilic prophet, Zecharia: 4:6-7)
  • It is for Spirit-filled believers.
  • It is for prophetic and apostolic Jesus-followers [4]. I’m reminded of Luke’s words in Acts 1:8, ‘But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (echoing our Lord’s ‘Great Commission’ in Mt. 28:16-20 – unfortunately ‘a great omission’ in many Church circles today). Are you and I intentional about disciple-making? Whom are we discipling? Our Indian missionary visitors challenged us to stir up the complacent Church in our land to enter the world of the Spirit, who is the Spirit of mission. Our own Prof. David Bosch once said, ‘Missiology is the Mother of Theology!’

‘What Do YOU See… BLEACHED BONES OR AN AWESOME ARMY??’ Trust me, I’ve struggled with unbelief for most of my life. The Lord Jesus, in his great mercy, help us all to step out of the boat and walk on water! [See footnotes 3-5]

Image result for Free pics of Ezekiel's vision of dry bones

FOOTNOTES:

[1] See my blogs on the new covenant, ‘The Freedom and the Glory!’

[2] The great C.S. Lewis said: ‘the church exists for nothing else but to draw men to Christ, to make them little Christ’s.’

[3] Amid the Corona lock-down in my country, I woke at 3 am (unusual for me), went to our lounge, and jotted down the following…

  • We need believers in the Church today who are obsessed with Jesus, his person and mission. Years ago I recall Keith Green’s definition of a Christian, someone ‘who’s bananas for Jesus!’
  • From time to time God initiates ‘lay-movements’ in the earth. Think of the early Church (cf. Acts); the Anabaptists at the time of the Reformation; John Wesley and the Moravians in the 18th century (cf. Prof. Howard Snyder’s ‘The Radical Wesley’); the Jesus Movement of the late 1960’s and 1970’s (conservative Billy Graham recognized it as a revival of sorts, but the institutional Church largely didn’t); the student revival at Asbury Theological Seminary in 1970, impacting the nation; the house church explosion in China, growing from some 1 million believers to 200+ million;  the united church front in Lebanon reaching out to the thousands of Syrian refugees in their tent camps; the multiplying underground house churches of Iran, etc. [during our current lockdown, the Lord is moving wonderfully among our house church members, truly experiencing ‘church’ 24/7]

[4] See my blog, ‘Apostles of Abiding Love,’ based on Leona Choy’s wonderful biography of Dr. Andrew Murray.

[5] Derek Prince has reminded us from 1 Cor. 14 that we should all ‘prophesy.’ In my mind, prophecy comes in various ways: it’s not so much fore-telling as forth-telling,’ although the first may be included from time to time. Prophecy includes ‘speaking truth to power,’ human or ecclesiastic, by way of rebuke or encouragement. Of course the former will hardly make us popular!

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