The story of Popeye
Listen to the words of John Ortberg about Popeye's signature self-description from his book The Life You've Always Wanted
Popeye was not a sophisticated guy. He had never been in therapy and was woefully out of touch with his shadow self and his inner child. He did not have much education as far as we know. He knew who he was: a simple, sea-faring, pipe-smoking, Olive Oyl-loving sailor man, and he wouldn't pretend to be anything else. He "owned his story," as Lewis Smedes puts it. "I yam what I yam."
But I always thought there was a note of sadness in Popeye's expression. It was generally offered as an explanation of his short-comings. It does not anticipate much growth or change. It doesn't leave him much of a shot at getting to be what he yam not. "Don't get your hopes up," he seemed to say. "Don't expect too much. I yam what I yam- and (he would add in his bleakest moments) that's all that I yam."
Why do I bring up Popeye? Because I think we often utter his same words,
"And that's all that I yam." But God shares a difference message to us:
"You are what you are, but you are not yet what you will be."
A quick recap of his life
- He was a priest living in Jerusalem when attacked by Babylon and carried off into captivity with the first group of exiles
- His book begins 5 years later with his first vision of God's glory (chapter 1)
- Through succeeding years, his prophecies continue with accusations against Israel and other nations. They culminate in chapter 33 when word comes that Jerusalem has fallen, the temple burned with fire and the main group of exiles is on their way to Babylon. The rest of the book speaks of a future hope for Israel and for all other nations
Today we'll examine just two chapters of the book that speak of this hope in powerful ways. Turn to Ezekiel 37. We could entitle this section
Dry bones will live again!
Read Ezekiel 37:1-3 (NIV)
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "Sovereign Lord, you alone know."
Have you ever felt like these bones? Broken, dried up, without life, alone & separated from others? I know I have. Hold on to those feelings and let's read on.
Read Ezekiel 37:4-10 (NIV)
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'" So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'" So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet-a vast army.
Here, as with many prophetic visions, God now explains it so there can be no doubt.
Read Ezekiel 37:11-14 (NIV)
Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.'"
For Israel there will come a time when God will gather His people back from the Exile, back to their homeland. Then they will once again be His special people ("My people").
And in addition, God will change their relationship forever. Notice in verse 14 how God will spiritually restore His people. It is His spirit that will indwell them, giving them new life.
Just what is this new life?
God has already given Ezekiel an understanding regarding the substance of this new life.
Read Ezekiel 36:24-27 (NIV)
"'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws
Here we see God performing three ministries for His people after He brings them back home.
- 1. He will sprinkle clean water to cleanse them of their filthiness and guilt.
- 2. He will replace their hardened, rebellious heart with one more maluable.
- 3. He will put a new spirit within them.
Was this hope finally realized?
The Gospel proclaims this hope
We would do well to remember that great passage in Isaiah 53:6 (NIV)
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
John expressed this gospel in one sentence in John 3:16 (NIV)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Have you taken this step in your life?
This step makes the dry bones come alive
The writers of the NT read and understood Ezekiel's prophecy of hope. And they proclaimed it to whoever would listen. Hear the word of the Lord through Paul: Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV)
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
This new life "in Christ" comes with its own source of power- God's Spirit. Remember the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NIV)
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
What was Popeye's source of strength? A can of spinach. It gave him great physical power but only for a moment.
The Spirit of God is not like a can of spinach. It is a constant source of transforming power.
How does the Holy Spirit exercise this power within us?
Convicts us of sin- John 16:8 (NIV)
And He, when He comes, will convict the world regarding sin, and righteousness, and judgment:
Confirms that we are children of God- Romans 8:16 (NIV)
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.
Recalls God's truth for us- John 14:26 (NIV)
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Builds in the Fruit of Christlikeness within us- Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Illustration of Joshua 1:9 (NIV)
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
This is my message of hope to you all. God is here and He is here for you in these difficult times.