There shall be showers…

Yes indeed, after a record-breaking stretch of pure sunshine, with scarcely a drop of rain through all of July and into the first weeks of August, the rains have returned.  For the first time in ten years tonight’s Blackberry Festival street party was rained out   We were there, forking down our annual blackberry cheesecake as the sprinkles started and jostling our way through umbrellas and soggy others in hasty retreat under a steady summer’s shower within the hour…Ah well, perfect illustration of my chosen text.  I found it this morning while digging through Ezekiel—the words to that very old hymn I haven’t heard sung in years: “There shall be showers of blessing”  (Do you know it?).  They just popped off the page in the most unlikely of places.  So that’s where those lyrics came from!

I had taken a detour from Ezekiel because I find it heavy reading.  I’ve visited Psalms, and Colossians and let’s see, Timothy and Corinthians…anything to avoid picking up where I left off in Ezekiel.  But this morning I returned to Ezekiel with a fresh tool in hand, a COMA plan, something I was introduced to this week while reviewing a nifty new  Bible study guide called WALK:How to Apply the Bible. Coma is not what you’re meant to go into as your eyes glaze over amidst passages pronouncing oncoming doom and gloom.  COMA is actually an acronym meant to remind me of helpful steps to take when reading any Bible passage.  Let me share it with you in hopes I’ll get it down right.

C is for Context.  Context is not everything, but almost!  It is, in my opinion, one of the most neglected rules in Bible reading and study.  It’s so tempting to scoop up a line or two that says just what I want to say (or hear) and paste it onto my situation as a promise of happily ever after… while completely disregarding the context, the attached condition, the original recipient of this promise, or even the actual meaning of the passage as made clear by what follows. In snapping up happy phrases in this way, we miss out on so much more.

Take for example the #1 verse for graduates:  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer.29:11)  Very nice, reassuring.  Happily-ever-after here we come!  But don’t miss the context!  Israel is heading off into 70 years of captivity, not a rosy future! It will take this long before they are ready to pray and seek God with all their hearts. Then He will come to their rescue, delivering them from their captors, restoring them to their own land. Ironically, there were plenty of prophets in their day glad to tell them happy things—don’t worry, you won’t be taken away to Babylon, everything’s good… and this verse falls plunk in the middle of a passage declaring otherwise. They would indeed suffer, but the Lord would bring them through to repentance and deliverance.  The wider context is far more valuable than a vague ungrounded ‘happy’ promise…

But where was I?  Ah yes, Ezekiel.  Sometimes in reading Ezekiel I feel as though I were out back trying to turn old weed-ridden turf into a garden bed.  In the instance I’m thinking of, the plot had apparently been a previous owner’s personal dump.  There were rusting bolts and mysterious hunks of iron and crusty wires.  There was an old purse and lots of plastic garbage that had not yet succumbed to rotting.  I even found, believe it or not,  a piece of petrified wood, looking every bit like a stick but hard as rock!.  That rivaled my other best ‘finds’– a series of quaint old bottles, surprising little beauties–an old ink bottle, a slim perfume(?) bottle, a chubby white glass bottle—all treasures I eventually emptied of mud and scrubbed up to make useful.

P1110933

Digging through old prophecies is sometimes like this for me.  Seems like just tough slogging without much that feels ‘useful’ or pertinent to me, then out pops a verse that shines and makes it worth the digging.  Ezekiel 34 is like this.

Ezekiel was the prophet who was with the people of Israel at the start of their captivity in Babylon. They haven’t yet humbled themselves or repented.  Thus Ezekiel’s job…tough slogging.  Chapter 33 presents Ezekiel as watchman, doomed if he doesn’t warn his countryman of coming judgment (7-9).  The people are ‘rotting away’ because of their sins(10).  Judgment has come upon them.  They are being called to repent but it rolls off their backs like another country love song(32).  Bleak stuff.  Chapter 34 commences with God’s railing accusations against Israel’s leaders.  They’re abusive profiteers, not the shepherds they are meant to be.  This is the historical and immediate context.  I’ve got it, and I don’t want to read anymore doom or gloom…this is oppressive.  God is dead serious about sin.

The O in the COMA formula is for Observations.  Things like: God is dead serious about sin.  Got that.
God gets angry when his people are not led and fed well.  and look at what He intends to do!  Look at all the I WILL’s… and even a “Behold, I, I myself will…” God is coming to the rescue on no uncertain terms! “I will search for my sheep… I will seek them out…I will rescue them… I will bring them out and gather them…I will bring them to their own land.  I will feed them…I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep and I will make them lie down.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.  And UH-OH, I will destroy the fat and the strong, feeding them in justice! I will judge between sheep and sheep, rams and male goats…

Observations may include looking for themes, repeating words or ideas, truths about God, or anything striking.  Well, this chapter just keeps getting sweeter.  Pretty soon, with God as shepherd, the wild beasts are banished from the land  and the people are all safe in the wilderness and may ‘sleep in the woods’. I love that.  Sounds like a camping trip with no threat of bears in the park, (or bears wrecking fruit trees and stealing the harvest!).  I have an inkling what a wonderful feeling this would be, as we are watching plums and pears and apples ripen right now, never knowing if/when they will be ravaged by night or if we will get to enjoy them…

There is lots here to observe, but the verse that jumped out at me is the one where God promises to make his people a blessing and to send rain in season—’showers of blessing’(34:26).  The rain will make the fruit trees and gardens flourish.  There will be no more famine, no more fear, no more captivity and they will ‘know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, …my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God,’ declares the Lord GOD.(34:31)  So, the hymn writer wasn’t must making this phrase up ( :  There shall be showers of blessing!

But I’d better be moving on here to the M in COMA. The M is for MESSAGEWhat is the message God is communicating through this passage, not only to the original audience (the context) but to me.  Is there a timeless principle that transcends time and place? In other words, yes, the original audience is Israel in captivity and God did indeed deliver them and plant them in their own land, not once but twice.  There is in our day the nation of Israel because God has kept His promises.  But more than that, the greater promise was to give them ‘one shepherd’ to take care of them, one in the line of David… They looked ahead to this promised One. We look back to the birth of Jesus, the One who would say, “I am the good shepherd.”  The One who would gather both Jews and us non-Jews into His fold.  The One who most importantly would become as one of us, a sheep, led to the slaughter defenseless—because a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.(Jn.10:11)

These are all part of this passage’s message.  But in a more general sense  what stands out for me is that God is the One I’m dependent on for showers of refreshing rain, for fruitfulness, and even for the discipline that leads to repentance so that the blessings may follow.  I am just a sheep in His pasture, completely dependent on Him for sustenance, protection, and productivity.  The credit is all His!  He’s the shepherd.  My part is to respond to His prompting.  To repent when I’m made aware of sin and perhaps even to soak up the rain He sends so that He can produce the kind of fruit He’s after!

Which has led me to the A in COMA?  The author proposing this ‘formula’ is a Pastor intent on seeing his flock live out the Word they are taking in.  So A is for APPLICATION.  It’s not enough to come up with  ambiguous insights.  He says I’ve got to boil them down to something personal and specific that I can write down on paper, pray about and act on!  Hmm… this is clearly my weak spot.  I will gladly scrutinize contexts, examine details, glean principles, and wax eloquent but how will  my ponderings be galvanized into solid action?  How will I take these ‘finds’ from my digging and turn them into life-beautifying treasures?

Marigold

Now that is something to ponder…and pray about!

Will you join me?

Ink Bottle

–LS

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…Eph.1:3

The acronym COMA is elaborated on in: Walk: How to Apply the Bible (James L. Nicodem, Moody Press, 2013, 132pp), the fourth and final book in his excellent Bible Savvy series!  For reviews of all four see my book review blog (“A Few Good Books”) at: http://thestackofdawn.blogspot.ca

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Showers of Blessing

There shall be showers of blessing:
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Savior above.

Refrain:
Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.

There shall be showers of blessing,
Precious reviving again;
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.

There shall be showers of blessing;
Send them upon us, O Lord;
Grant to us now a refreshing,
Come, and now honor Thy Word.

There shall be showers of blessing:
Oh, that today they might fall,
Now as to God we’re confessing,
Now as on Jesus we call!

There shall be showers of blessing,
If we but trust and obey;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
If we let God have His way.

–Daniel Whittle, 1883

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