I remember seeing this old skinny dog who I think was lost or had run away or been abandoned. He roamed around town looking for enough scraps to ﬁll his aching belly. Every time he was around people, he was skittish and fearful. If you came near him, he would shy away and if you lifted your hand, he would quickly jump out of your reach. It was obvious that this poor brute had been very mistreated by the hands of a former master.
I also remember our yellow lab, Sophi. She was as bold as a lion. She knew she was part of the family, if she wanted something, she was not afraid to let you know. She alway had the pick of whatever she wanted, all she had to do was show her big, sad, brown eyes to one of the kids and she could get whatever they had available whether it was dinner, dessert or anything in between. She knew she belonged, there was no fearful cowering there at all. She didn't see herself as a slave or even a dog for that matter, but a full-ﬂedged member of the Harris family and was entitled to all the beneﬁts that came with that coveted position.
If only we as God's children had that same kind of bold, conﬁdent, sense of belonging.
Romans 8:15-17 NLT
"So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like
God's very own children, adopted into His family - calling Him "Father, dear Father." For
His Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God's children. And
since we are His children, we share His treasures - for everything God gives to His Son,
Christ, is ours too."
Not only are we deeply loved but we are also abundantly provided for. God doesn't want us to cower about like abused dogs, that would not accurately reﬂect His care for us as a loving Father. A conﬁdent and happy child is a testimony and evidence that he has loving, generous parents. It is the same with our Heavenly Father, if His children are content and blessed, it is a living testimony to His inﬁnite goodness.
Let us then as His dearly-loved children, be bold in His presence (Hebrews 4:16). We conﬁdently expect that our Father delights in us and in providing for us so that we may demonstrate to the world that out God is a loving and generous Father who delights in giving good things to His children. (Matthew 7:11, John 16:24)
In our city there is a man who by all accounts is very confused. About six feet two inches tall, quite hairy and by most criteria, a fairly "manly" man. For some reason this man in his brokenness and pain chooses to wear a miniskirt, bikini top, gaudy makeup, high-healed shoes and call himself "Mary" (name changed here).The first time I encountered "Mary", we were riding our bikes downtown with six kids in tow. As we were crossing the street we had a seven year old straggler who had gotten detached from the pack, "Mary" kindly warned us of the straggler and to be careful. My kids eyes got as big as dinner plates when they heard the deep baritone voice coming out of the makeup sodden, dress-clad person that they had previously assumed was just a very ugly woman with too much body hair. Then came the barrage of questions which I did my best to answer in a very fatherly, "Christian" way all the time being ticked at "Mary" for introducing my kids to a whole other world that I wasn't ready for them to be exposed to.
When the Mary's of life cross our path, what do we see? Those that are broken down, worn out, distressed, hopeless, in despair, dirty, sinful - even wretched, what do we see? That is the question that God asked Ezekiel in this passage:
Then he asked me, "Son of man, can these bones become living people again?""O Sovereign Lord ," I replied, "you alone know the answer to that." (Ezekiel 37:3 NLT)
Let me paraphrase the conversation for a moment. "What do you see Ezekiel?" All that remains of a life that was once was alive, vibrant and thriving, just a pile of bones. That was pretty much Ezekiel's response, "Nothing much Lord, just a pile of dried up ole bones." What do we see when we encounter the Mary's of life, those that or torn and ravaged by sin and Satan? Do we cross the street to avoid the encounter? Do we turn our eyes away and busy ourselves with something else to block out the possibility of having to engage in conversation?
The Lord's next question is even more revealing as to the condition of our hearts, "Ezekiel, can these bones live?" God, are you kidding me? These are worthless, dried up old bones. No value here, their time is long gone there is no hope left for them. Ezekiel's reply was one that didn't have much faith in it, he said, "Lord only you know!" Often times that is the extent of my faith. I can't see anything worth salvaging, all I see is a wrecked life, lost career, an empty house, hope destroyed, ravaged by sin, beaten by life, friendless, vision less, hopeless, worthless - a pile of bones. Thank you Jesus for the power of grace, I see bones Jesus sees an army.
What God says next is the most incredible thing yet. The same God that shouted to a dead man to come out of the grave commands His prophet to: "Speak to these bones and say, 'Dry bones, listen to the Word of the Lord...I will put breath in you and you will come back to life.'"
Just as Lazarus had no choice but to come out of that grave, when the prophet spoke the word of the Lord over those bones, they sprung back to life and became a great army (abridged version). No matter how wrecked, hopeless and ravaged a life is; yours, mine or another's; when the Word of the Lord comes, it changes everything. What was dead becomes alive, what what was once considered hopeless has hope restored. Just like Ezekiel spoke the will and Word of God into a hopeless situation, so we too must speak the word of The Lord over our situation, over that person who has no strength or inclination to find the One who can change everything. He sends us out filled with His Spirit and clothed with His power into the hopeless, dark sea of humanity and says "Prophesy O man, O woman, speak My Word, bring My power, change a situation, bring hope, bring help, make a difference in the world around you!"
The next time you see a person or a situation that seems like it is beyond help or beyond hope, listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit asking "What do you see?" Remember the power of the one who set the stars in their place and say, "Others may see bones but I see and army!"
Those who have been ransomed by the LORD will return.
They will enter Jerusalem singing,
crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
and they will be filled with joy and gladness. (Isaiah 51:11 NLT)
What a great promise the Lord lays out for those who put their trust in Him.
I know we go back and forth with what we should expect the effects of the Gospel message to be. I have even preached it that God died to make us holy not necessarily happy. This is true but the bottom line is that Jesus wants to bring joy and gladness into a believers life. Ps. 34:8 says to "Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh the joys of those who trust in Him."
Jesus promises a joy that comes from forgiveness and a gladness that comes from freedom. We need to remember this as we tell His story to others. Jesus wants people to experience real joy now and in eternity. The Gospel is really really good news.
Pastors Phil Harris of Epikos Church in Bend, Oregon.