A High And Holy Calling

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When God spoke to the “princes of Israel,” He was speaking to those in leadership positions. They were men who had wealth, position, and a high level of influence. God called them to live up to their title as “prince” because leadership is a high and holy calling given by God. 

Leaders are to set an example for others. They are to provide what is lacking so that others can live up to their own God-given potential as well. Here’s the way God describes His leaders in Ezekiel 45-46:

They are to be peacemakers, never men of violence nor oppression (45:9). 

They are to be fair, consistent, and impartial in their interactions with others (45:10). 

They are to generously provide for the people under their care (45:15-17, 22; 46:13-14). 

They are to have a “get to do it” attitude toward their duties, not a “have to do it” attitude” (46:5, 7, 11). 

They are to be among their people, not aloof nor isolated from them (46:10). 

They are to provide for their family without impoverishing the people under their care (46:18). 

Since God calls leaders, He will also call them to account. Jesus made it clear that there are only one-of-two assessments that leaders will hear from God:

  1. Well done, good and faithful servant 
  2. You wicked, lazy servant

Let me say it again: Leadership is a high and holy calling. So…

A mark of a godly leader is one who joyfully and faithfully fulfills God’s leadership call. 

This is part 67 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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Watch Out When Wants Become “Needs”

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There is a mistaken belief that urges or yearnings or cravings that humans have are sinful and must be quickly squelched. To that end, many will deny themselves absolutely anything that brings them pleasure. 

But what God creates, He calls “good” and even “very good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). In one part of the Creation account, we read that God created “trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (2:9). Things used in the way God created them are both good and good for us. The Creator knows the best uses, and He shares these with us. He also knows the harmful misuses, and He warns us of these. 

Even Lucifer was created “perfect in beauty” until his craving for more than God had given him corrupted his goodness and turned him into satan (Ezekiel 28:12-19). satan’s craving perverted his heart because he craved more than what the Creator had given him. 

He still uses the same tactic today: he attempts to turn a craving for a legitimate good into an irresistible, entitled pursuit for more. This is what he did with Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, trying to get them to doubt God’s wisdom in forbidding them from eating that one tree (Genesis 2:16-17, 3:1-6). 

Adam and Eve needed food, and God gave them a craving for good food. But they didn’t need the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—they just wanted that forbidden fruit. 

When wants become “needs,” “needs” become idols. 

Once again, satan tried the same strategy with Jesus. Jesus had a craving for food after 40 days of fasting, but His Father said, “Not yet.” Notice how satan again tried to get Jesus to question God’s wisdom with his “if” questions at each temptation. He even quotes a Scripture out of context to try to legitimize turning a want into a need (Luke 4:3, 7, 9). 

These longings may seem irresistible, but John counsels us: For every child of God can obey Him, defeating sin and evil pleasure by trusting Christ to help him (1 John 5:4 TLB). Jesus defeated the craving for wants-turned-to-“needs” by using the Word of God, and we would be wise to do the same (Luke 4:4, 8, 12). 

When wants become “needs,” “needs” become idols. And when “needs” become idols, our unfulfilled cravings create anxiety. And when anxiety persists, sin is usually not too far behind. 

So any anxiety in our hearts should alert us to the idols of wants-turned-to-“needs.” In other words, make sure what you are calling “needs” aren’t just wants in disguise. 

How can you do this? By asking yourself these four questions: 

  1. Is this an earthly craving or an eternal craving? Cravings for earthly things will ultimately fail because this world is temporary (1 John 2:17).  
  2. If I don’t get this thing, will I die? If I answer “no,” it’s probably a want. 
  3. Will this craving bring me closer to God? Jesus said, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). So let’s ask ourselves, “If this longing is fulfilled, will it make me more dependent on God?” If the answer is “no,” then it’s probably a want. 
  4. Will this craving glorify God’s name? Jesus taught us to begin our prayer with an attitude of longing for God’s name to be glorified (Matthew 6:9-10). We can definitely spot wants we’ve turned into “needs” when we are looking for personal gain. Check out this verse from the prophet Isaiah— 

And therefore the Lord earnestly waits, expecting, looking, and longing to be gracious to you; and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving-kindness to you. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed—happy, fortunate, to be envied—are all those who earnestly wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him—for His victory, His favor, His love, His peace, His joy, and His matchless, unbroken companionship! (Isaiah 30:18 AMP) 

God longs to be gracious to you, so He puts cravings in your heart that can only be satisfied by His presence. Lucifer and Adam and Eve all lost God’s “matchless, unbroken companionship” when they tried to appease the wants-turned-to-“needs” idol. It doesn’t have to be like that for us! Ask the Holy Spirit to help you spot those wrong cravings and turn them into cravings that only God can satisfy. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series called Craving, you can find the full list by clicking here. 

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Growing The Wrong Thing

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In a recent teaching time with some ministry interns, I discussed the two main metrics that we can use to measure growth: quantity and quality. Sadly, too many churches and ministries have gotten so caught up in the “numbers game” of more-more-more being the only metric of success, that they’ve forgotten about quality. Or maybe they do focus on quality, but only as a means to the end of more-more-more. 

This is never a metric of success that is discussed in the Bible. Check this out…

In the chapter entitled ‘Don’t Try to Grow Your Ministry’ in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter I wrote this—

Businesses think in terms of quantitative gains—things they can count—but churches and nonprofits should be thinking in terms of qualitative gains—a quality improvement that isn’t as easily counted. I think we all know this, and yet we still persist in wanting to define success in a church or a nonprofit by those quantitative standards such as attendance growth, donations, and the like. When we think qualitative over quantitative, suddenly what seemed “small” is so significant and so valuable that it cannot be calculated! What if one of those babies that weren’t aborted discovers a cure for cancer, or deciphers a dialect to take the Gospel to an unreached people group, or becomes the loving next-door neighbor that leads your son or daughter to a relationship with Jesus? 

Just as you cannot put a price tag on a life, you cannot put a price tag on a sheep. Make no mistake about it, God views His sheep—every single one of them—as invaluable. Because His valuation is so high, we can understand why He gets so angry at those who are more concerned about their success than they are about the health of the sheep. When God uses the word “Woe!” we should definitely take that seriously. He uses that very word to warn shepherd leaders who were shirking their responsibility when He said, “Woe to those shepherds who only take care of themselves” (Ezekiel 34:2). 

When we map out our plan for success, or when we try to define success solely by quantitative measurements, we ultimately become more committed to our plans than to God’s sheep. God pulls no punches when He calls leaders with this attitude evil, mere hired hands, or even thieves (Jeremiah 23:3; John 10:8, 12). And most sobering of all, God says, “I will hold them accountable” (Ezekiel 34:10). 

Friends, let’s make sure we are focused on the metrics that really matter. Recently, a pastor shared honestly with me about his frustration with the “numbers game,” and purchased five copies of my book to use as a discussion starter with his church staff. I hope you will consider using Shepherd Leadership in a similar way. If I can be of assistance, please let me know. 

Shepherd Leadership is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple. 

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Responsibility And Accountability

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God had a rather simple message for Ezekiel, “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, speak to your people’” (Ezekiel 33:1–2). 

I find that pronoun “your“ intriguing because you would think that God would say, “My people.” They are indeed God’s people, but God had set Ezekiel apart as His watchman (vv. 7–20), so Ezekiel had to take personal responsibility for the people. They were to be treated and spoken to as though they were indeed his people. 

This idea of responsibility gets a little tricky for some leaders because, with the responsibility to their people, they usually feel they are accountable to their people as well. 

But in the next few verses, God makes it clear that Ezekiel must be accountable to God alone.

Responsible to his people. Accountable to his God. 

When we start feeling we are accountable to people, we can get distracted, discouraged, or derailed by their unpleasant responses. 

Notice that when Jesus spoke pleasing words to people, everyone spoke well of Him. But when He pointed out to them the words of God they were ignoring, they were ready to kill Him. 

People are fickle—they sing praises when they hear those words they like, and they are ready to attack the messenger when the words are upsetting. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who has a clear understanding of his responsibility and his accountability.

When you are God’s leader, He will entrust people to your care and He will entrust His message for those people to you. You are now responsible to deliver His message to your people. You are then accountable to God alone for delivering His message. Be responsible to people, accountable to God, and be careful not to mix the two. 

This is part 66 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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Be The One

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John Maxwell was right: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” 

As the leader goes, so goes the family, the neighborhood, the business, the church, the country. Just as Israel’s leaders fell into sin and took the people down with them, so too the religious and political leaders in America are leading people to sin. 

God told Ezekiel, “See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood” (Ezekiel 22:6). These ungodly leaders were described as:

  • disintegrating the family 
  • mistreating orphans and widows 
  • despising God’s holiness 
  • slandering the righteous 
  • promoting idolatry 
  • living lewdly
  • winking at sexual depravity 
  • being dishonest in their business dealings
  • defrauding their neighbors 
  • treating people like possessions 
  • pursuing immoral gain
  • whitewashing evil (vv. 6-12, 25-28)

The bottom line: God says, “You have forgotten Me” (v. 12). 

This kind of evil must be punished by an All-Righteous God. 

But God is still merciful. He is still looking for just one who will turn away from the sins of the culture and live righteously. He is looking “for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before Me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it” (v. 30). 

God is looking for just one leader who will seek God’s glory and not personal gain, who will stand for righteousness even if he has to stand alone. 

Will you be that one? 

I pray I may be that one! 

I pray for godly leaders to stand up! “Holy God, may we stand for You in this evil culture. May Your Holy Spirit strengthen us to stand unmoved against the onslaught of depravity. Strengthen us against the evil one and against evil people, knowing that greater are You in us than the evil that is in the world. May we be the ones that refuse to bend our knee to anyone or anything but You. In the powerful name of Jesus, I pray this. Amen!” 

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Empowered To Obey

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God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, stand up on your feet” (Ezekiel 2:1). 

Ezekiel had fallen face down at the sight of God—how awesome God’s presence must have been! Now God tells Ezekiel to stand up so that He may speak with him. It seems as if God is asking Ezekiel to do the impossible. 

But we must remember this principle:

All of God’s commands are also His empowerment.

Ezekiel responded: “As He spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet” (v. 2). 

As God spoke His commandment to Ezekiel, His empowerment to help him obey infused Ezekiel. God’s power allowed Ezekiel to obey. His word of command was also His word of enablement. 

There is no word of God that can ever be too hard for us to obey. God would never command us to do what is impossible for us to do, but with His command also comes His empowerment to obey that command.

And as Ezekiel obeyed, he was then able to hear even more of God’s word to him. 

This principle is still true for us today. When God speaks a word to our heart, never say to Him, “What? That’s too hard! I could never do that!” Instead, we need to say, “God, that seems like a hard word, but because Your word is also the empowerment I need, I will obey You.” And as you obey, God is then able to speak even more words to your heart. 

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Am I Really Ready For Anything?

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“Ezekiel will be a sign to you…” —God (Ezekiel 24:24). 

How many times have I told God, “I am Your servant. Use me as You know best”? 

But do I really want that?

Ezekiel is told by God in the ninth year of their captivity in Babylon, on the tenth day of the tenth month, that the siege of Jerusalem had begun that very day. Ezekiel is then instructed to share this news with his fellow exiles. God tells Ezekiel that after he shares this news, he will be unable to speak until a messenger arrives in Babylon to confirm the report. 

That same day, God also tells Ezekiel that his wife will die, but that he is not to mourn over this loss. God had grieved for years over Judah’s slide away from Him, but He could no longer grieve because it was now time for Judah’s punishment. Perhaps just like Judah’s slow downward slide, Ezekiel’s wife had been in declining health too, but now Ezekiel was called to obey God in this second illustrated sermon. 

About seven months later, Jerusalem’s walls were broken through, King Zedekiah was captured, and about three weeks later Nebuzaradan torched the city. On that day, Ezekiel lost his power to speak, just as God said he would, and Ezekiel remained mute for nearly two years (2 Kings 25:1-10; Ezekiel 24:1-2, 15-27; 33:21-22). 

This is what it means to be used by God. He used Ezekiel as His illustrated sermons to vividly show the exiles the consequences of their sinful choices.

But we don’t read a single word of complaint or bargaining from Ezekiel—just complete obedience.

A mark of a godly leader is one who signs a blank check for God to fill in the amount.

The leader that serves God in this obedient way is one who is highly esteemed by both God and men. God said, “As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ … When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 33:30, 33). 

I want to believe that I am willing to serve God this way but am I truly willing? Perhaps my prayer should be, “Father I want to be able to be used by You. I want to say that I am ready for You to use me as You see best. But You alone truly know my heart. Holy Spirit, if I am not as committed as Ezekiel was, please do Your work in me so that I can truly say, ‘I am ready to be used.’” 

This is part 63 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here. 

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Lubricate The Message With Tears

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Therefore groan, son of man! Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. And when they ask you, “Why are you groaning?” you shall say, “Because of the news that is coming.” (Ezekiel 21:6-7)

Judah’s sin had exhausted God’s patience. Now punishment was coming in the form of the invincible Babylonian army, and Ezekiel was tasked to deliver the news. 

I and my fellow pastors often have to speak a heavy word. How we speak this word may make all the difference in the world in how it is received. We cannot speak brashly nor robotically. The Word of God should break our own hearts first, just as it did to Nehemiah.  

I must tell people about the consequences of their sin, but I must tell them with groaning. 

I must warn people of the horrors of hell, but I must warn them with bitter grief. 

I must confront a wayward brother or sister, but I must do so with a broken heart. 

I hope all my fellow pastors will join me in praying this: Holy Spirit, help me! May Your word break my heart before I open my mouth. May tears always lubricate the painfully loving words I must speak! 

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New Inside

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In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character (Phil) is stuck in a small town where February 2 keeps repeating. Phil tries desperately to get out of this town and out of this day, but nothing he seems to do gets him out of the endless loop. He becomes smarter and richer each day, but at the end of the day, everything resets to the beginning. 

It’s frustrating! 

God’s people of the Old Testament had their own “Groundhog Day”—the Day of Atonement that came every single year. This was the day their sins were confessed, forgiven, and atoned for, and had a very specific set of sacrifices and rituals. Much like Phil in the movie, they began to go through these motions almost entirely without thinking. 

Year after year, millennia after millennia “the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, [couldn’t] make perfect those who draw near to worship” (see Hebrews 10:1-4). 

Even those who were God-fearing and tried their best to live perfectly righteous lives could find in the law provision for those who “sin unintentionally” (Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:15, 18, 22, 24, 27-29). It was just another reminder that the loop of sin-confession-repentance-forgiveness-atonement was never ending. 

And as if all the requirements of the Torah weren’t enough, Jesus came on the scene and seemed to raise the bar, telling us even though our outward actions might look righteous, our inward thoughts and attitudes made us just as sinful (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28). And then Jesus even dropped this on us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48)! 

Perfect?! As perfect as God?! This could easily make people throw their hands up in resignation, “I give up! Why even try?” 

Through Ezekiel, God prophesied an internal change. This wasn’t something I must do, but something GOD will do—

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. (Ezekiel 36:26-27) 

The solution to our endless loop of sin-confession-repentance-forgiveness-atonement must become internal. It’s no use trying to correct the fruit if the root is still evil! That requires an inside job. 

On Good Friday, the last words Jesus spoke before His death were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). 

What was finished? Our struggle to get ourselves out of this endless loop. The writer of Hebrews had this to say about Jesus: 

But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God. … For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:12, 14) 

Remember Jesus told us we had to be perfect like God? The root word for “perfect” in that verse is telos. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” He said one word in Greek: tetelestai. This also comes from the root word telos. Jesus perfectly finished all that was necessary for us to become perfect in God’s sight. 

Christians often use the the phrase “I invited Jesus into my heart” as an expression of their faith in what Jesus did for them on the Cross. That word “IN” is a good reminder. 

Jesus comes IN and the fear of punishment—the fear of being eternally stuck in the endless loop—has to go out. “There is no fear IN love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect IN love” (1 John 4:18). 

The word “perfect” in that verse is also from the same root word telos. 

Not only does Jesus come IN to our hearts to make them new, but He also takes us IN to His perfection. “Looking away from all that will distract to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith—giving the first incentive for our belief—and is also its Finisher—bringing it to maturity and perfection…” (Hebrews 12:2 AMP). 

Jesus shared a last supper with His disciples. His last supper was the first Communion. At this time Jesus told them He was establishing a “new covenant.” How do we square this with His previous statement that He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it? 

Jesus said this new covenant was IN His blood. His blood doesn’t abolish the law, but it perfects the law. His perfect blood makes out hearts new and takes us out of the external loop and IN to His prefect righteousness. 

Jesus accomplished all that was needed to make us perfect inside, and then to perfectly take us into God’s presence. As the hymn The Old Rugged Cross reminds us, “In that old rugged Cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see. For ’twas on that old Cross Jesus suffered and died to pardon and sanctify me!” 

May we always cherish the perfection that was purchased for us on that Cross. 

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No Excuses

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…so my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent (Ezekiel 33:22). 

Ezekiel had been mute for two years, as God was using Ezekiel as a very vivid illustrated sermon.

Ezekiel had been mute, but he hadn’t been silent. 

After God had taken away his voice, Ezekiel picked up his pen and wrote chapters 25–32 as prophetic warnings. It was after all of these warnings were written down that God renewed His call to Ezekiel to be His watchman (33:7 and 3:17). 

How many times do I want to check out because I am not able to do things as I had been doing them before? Any one of us can fall into that all-or-nothing mindset—if I can’t do everything as I have been doing it, I won’t do anything at all. 

Ezekiel teaches us three important lessons: 

  1. No complaints to God 
  2. No excuses for discontinuing his ministry 
  3. Full obedience to God’s call on his life

What an outstanding lesson for all of us! 

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