All Lives are Mine: No Blame Game!
September 25, 2011
by Anita Wansley
I love proverbs! The Sunday school class that I meet with is studying the book of Proverbs, and we had a good time last Sunday looking at some familiar proverbs, some from the Bible, but some others as well. You may have heard ones like these:
- An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
- The early bird gets the worm
- A penny saved is a penny earned
We also tried to interpret ones like:
- A rolling stone grows no moss
- Water floats a boat and can sink it also
The one that I grew up hearing almost daily came from my mother: “A job half done is never done right!” Oh, we heard this about sweeping the porch if we left the broom out, or cleaning our rooms if we didn’t put our shoes in our closet, or washing the dishes if we forgot to hang up the dishtowel. This proverb was a reminder for a job well done, but it also hinted at perfection which seemed unattainable. Then I was introduced to Flylady, a home organizing program, that says that if we wait until we have time to do a job to perfection, then we may never get to it. Rather, we can decide to bless our homes and take time to do as much as we can for that amount of time.
Okay, so my children are now hearing my proverb (so to speak): “Just go bless your room… It doesn’t have to be perfect… Just go bless it.” Well, this doesn’t always work, either, because when I decide the job has not been done well enough, I have heard, “But Mama, I blessed it!” Maybe my mom had the better proverb.
In today’s text, the children of Israel had a proverb that they used as an excuse as well.
Background to Ezekiel
One of today’s lectionary texts was Ezekiel 18: 1-4, 25-32. Now, Ezekiel was a prophet during the time of the Babylonian exile. He was 25 when he was among the second group taken into captivity, and about five years later, he was called into the ministry of being a prophet.
Max Lucado in his Life Lessons Study Bible describes Ezekiel and his message:
Out of the ruins of Jerusalem came a gutsy preacher named Ezekiel. He was among the Jews taken to Babylon after the fall of his country. He left behind his city. He left behind his temple. He left behind his home.
But he didn’t leave his faith. He announced it to everyone who would listen. For 22 years he paced the streets proclaiming both sides of the faith:
- The bad side? Turn or burn. Forgive me for being so direct, but Ezekiel was.
- The good side? Turn and learn. God has a great plan for his people.
Out of the ruin came Ezekiel. Out of the ruin came the promise. Out of the ruin came new hope.
Let’s look at our scripture today. Today we are going to look at the entire chapter of Ezekiel 18.
Here is the proverb they were struggling with. These people were taken into captivity based on the sins of their fathers, mothers, grandparents, great-grandparents. I can imagine they used this proverb as an excuse. They were suffering the consequences, so what did it matter what their lives were like? They could sin and live however they wanted because they were already suffering the punishment. I can hear them complaining to Ezekiel, “But it isn’t our fault. Our fathers, grandmothers, great-grandfathers did this!”
As William Barclay states, “It is a subtle and seductive proverb: what the ancestors have done affects their posterity. It not only involves the shifting of responsibility for current disaster, but also produces a kind of pessimism that prohibits preventive measures.”
These people had been taken away from their homes. They were living in exile. What their ancestors did now seemed to define them… trap them… excuse them.
Let’s move on to the next section. In this section 3 generations are described:
The next section is an explanation of this description.
The next section is the argument that this concept raises:
Can’t you hear the people getting defensive? This is so unfair!!! What are you talking about, God? But you don’t understand what we have been through! This is so unfair!
William Barclay describes this section as “the point at which barrack-room lawyers and half-baked theologians go on this line of questioning,” and I paraphrase it:
Consider the case of John Doe. For 65 years he lived a blameless life. But suddenly, for whatever reason, he turns bad. He goes on a binge of evil living. Surely you are not saying that those first 65 years don’t count?
But that seems to be precisely what Ezekiel is saying.
Consider the case of John Snoop. For 65 years he has lived an evil life, pursuing all kinds of sinful, hurtful ways. He has a come-to-Jesus moment on his death bed. You mean to tell me he will be forgiven and none of his sin is remembered?
That is what Ezekiel is saying.
Vs. 30-32 The last section… the bottom line
So what does this scripture mean for us?
I see this passage to be both convicting and a source of great direction and encouragement.
- No blame game! We love to be able to blame someone for our actions and especially when there may be consequences. I see this in my kids. You know the scene. Two siblings playing nicely. All of a sudden there is a death scream and loud crying. When the situation is approached, immediately there is a declaration: “Well, she made me hit her.” She looked at me with one eye closed, so I had no other choice but to haul off and smack her upside the head. Blame!
- This scripture goes much deeper in the blame game than this. We can’t blame our parents, our culture, our upbringing on the choices we make now. We can’t blame our drug addicted mother or our harsh father or our parents’ attitudes or our extended family’s perspectives. All lives are the Lord’s, and we are accountable to Him alone.
- You know what I am talking about. Those attitudes which are actually Satan’s lies that keep us thinking that our sinful actions or attitude are okay because somehow we inherited them. Well, my parents over-ate or had a short temper, so it is just in my genes. Well, my parents had racial attitudes, so it is just how I was raised. Well, my parents didn’t go to church, so I just don’t have that priority in me. Well, my parents were perfectionists and spoke words that demeaned me, so that is just how I learned to speak to my children. Well, I didn’t grow up in the Mennonite church, so I will never hold a position within the church. Well, I didn’t even have a mama or daddy around, so how can I be expected to be like everyone who did?
William Barclay speaks convicting words for these attitudes:
We may perceive the prison we are in and long for liberty, but deep down it is easier for us to remain there, cherishing the illusion that we are prisoners through no fault of our own. To recognize responsibility may necessitate the recognition of fault, and that in turn may require courage followed by repentance.
On the other hand, this passage also speaks to the attitudes that are Satan’s lies to us as well, that somehow because of our upbringing we are better or safe or have a head start on this righteousness thing.
Another commentator, William MacDonald, speaks to this attitude:
God points out that it will do us no good to have a righteous father, if our own life is wicked. We have the tendency to rely on the spirituality of others. But the righteous and holy life of our fathers and godly leaders must become a reality in our own lives.
I imagine a possible scene:
Anita gets to heaven and is trying to walk right in the front gate to the front row. God stops her and gives her a questioning look.
Anita says, “Oh, God, there you are. I am just going to go on in and take my seat.”
God says, “Anita, tell me again who you are.”
Anita says, “Oh, you know… Anita Zendt Wansley. Oh, I was even a Swartzentruber for awhile. That should count for something. I am Ruth and Allen Zendt’s daughter. They went to Lost Creek Mennonite Church and helped to start Living Water Christian Fellowship.”
God says, “And what about you? Did you give the talents I gave you to your own church?”
Anita says, “Well, not all the time, but I was an elder and served on committee after committee. Good grief, I even was the ministry coordinator a couple years.”
God says, “And did you love people?”
Anita says, “Well, most people. You know that some are just impossible, but you know my mom was a great hospitality person. She had people in our home growing up all the time.”
God says, “And did you spend time listening to that person last week who needed you?”
Anita says, “Well, no, but you know my dad… That man had the patience of Job.”
God says, “But did you have patience with your children?”
Anita says, “Alright already, God. I went to Eastern Mennonite College and studied to be a special ed teacher.”
God says, “But have you studied my word?”
You know what I am talking about here. It will do you no good to go the way of your parents and attend church every Sunday, be on four committees, talk the talk, recall all your Sunday school and Bible school and church college experiences and have sin in your life. It will do you no good between you and God.
I believe this passage speaks to some of Satan’s greatest lies that he loves to continue to whisper in our ears. Those lies of “I am not ever going to be good enough.” Those lies of “I can never change.” Those lies of “I have every reason to be this way.” Those lies of “It is someone else’s fault.” Those lies of “I really am better than the person beside me.” Those lies of “I’m not that bad.” They keep us from recognizing who we are. It is time to turn to Satan and say, “That is a lie, and I am not going to live by it any longer!”
Direction and Encouraging
This scripture gives us hope. Our lives are God’s. God tells us that in verse 4: “For every living soul belongs to me.” Can you hear God telling you that today? Can you imagine Him holding your face and saying, “Anita, you are mine! Brian, you are mine! Bonnie, you are mine!” You know how a parent does this to their child when they want the child’s attention and to make sure they get what they are about to say? God is taking your face, looking into your eyes, and telling you that you are His. He is looking you in the eye and telling you to stop looking at your past. He is looking you in the eye and telling you to stop hearing the hateful words of whoever it was who said them to you. He wants you to see His love and stop the actions and attitudes that are offensive to Him. He wants to speak truth into the lies that Satan has been telling you. It is time for you to see the truth and do something about it.
Remember Ezekiel’s words in verse 31: “Rid yourself of all the offenses you have committed and get a new heart, and a new spirit.” And in the last verse, “Repent and Live.”
You may be thinking, “Nice words, Anita. Easier said than done.” Yes, changing attitudes and actions and ways of doing life that have been a part of us for our whole lives is hard. Examining how we were brought up and evaluating the good, the bad, and the ugly is hard. Realizing Satan’s lies and hearing God’s truth can be hard. But we serve the Great I Am. Our lives belong to the Great I Am. We serve a God whom no one can stand against.
Two things have given me encouragement as I have read, digested, and prepared for this text. I get the Klove encouraging word of the day sent to my email every day. Two weeks ago, Philippians 2:13 was the verse of the day: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
I wrote it down, thinking it was a powerful verse. That same day, I was looking up the lectionary texts for the sermon for today, and one of the other texts was the passage that had this very verse.
I believe it is a word for you to hear today… “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
The second thing that has encouraged me was a song that Brittany put on a CD of praise music for me. It is called “The Great I Am.” This is a powerful song talking about who it is that we serve. The lyrics:
The mountains shake before him,
the demons run and flee
at the name king of majesty.
There is no power in hell
or any who can stand
before the power and the presence of the Great I Am
Every time I hear those words, I am overcome with the power of the one whom we serve. It is with that power by which we have authority to overcome the lies of Satan. It is with that power that we can overcome Satan’s temptations. It is with that power that we can make changes in our lives towards righteousness and wholeness and pleasing our heavenly father.
As Chris and the band come to play this song as a response, I want you to join in singing this song to the one to whom you belong. Sing out in praise to the Great I Am and listen to God’s spirit. There may be something, an action or an attitude, that God wants to convict you of today. Rid yourself of these today, get a new heart and a new spirit as the scripture today told us. It is possible with the Great I Am!