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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Judgment Must Start With The Leader

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Ezekiel 9 is a sobering chapter for anyone, but especially for those in leadership. Listen to the opening verses—

Then I heard [God] call out in a loud voice, “Bring the guards of the city here, each with a weapon in his hand.” And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.

Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

As I listened, He said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at My sanctuary.” (Ezekiel 9:1-6)

It is no small thing to be called a leader. God calls leaders and expects them to represent Him well in their leadership assignment. That’s why God’s judgment always starts with those who are called by God to be leaders. 

It starts with me. 

Why? Because as a leader goes, so go the people. The smallest of sins that the leader tolerates in his own life give license to the people to sin even more. So it is right that God’s judgment begins at the top. It is right that God’s judgment on leaders be even more severe (James 3:1). 

Ezekiel reports that God’s glory moved from the temple to the east gate, and then from the east gate to the mountain outside the city (9:3; 10:4, 18-19; 11:23). God was still speaking clearly and distinctly (10:5), but the leaders were so blinded by their sin that they neither noticed God’s glory moving away from them and repented of their sin, nor did they call the people to repentance. 

The only ones who were spared from God’s judgment where those who were grieving and lamenting all the sins of the city. 

If God is going to continue to use me as his leader—if He is going to give me His Word to speak to others—I must be sensitive to His searching of my heart. I must grieve over my own sin first and repent from it. Then I must be a willing servant to speak God’s Word of both judgment and salvation to whomever He sends me. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who grieves and quickly repents over his revealed sins.

It starts at the top. It starts with me. Leaders must be held to the highest of standards.

I hope all godly leaders will join me in this prayer: Father God, may I be usable by You. May I be sensitive to the prompting of Your Holy Spirit, and grieve over my sins. May I be quick to repent and receive Your restoration, so that I can continue to lead other people into an intimate relationship with You. 

This is part 62 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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Godly Leaders Do God’s Justice

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How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? (Psalm 82:2)

It’s been said that those who attain a position of authority or leadership will make it their sole focus to retain that position of leadership, even to the point of judging unjustly or showing partiality to the wicked. 

In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, I wrote, “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).” 

God is the Ultimate Judge, yet while we are here on earth He chooses to allow men and women to be leaders and judges. We can do this in a God-honoring way only when we lead and judge like God. 

In this psalm, God Himself calls out the ungodly practices that self-serving leaders employ to keep themselves popular and in their positions of leadership: 

  • partiality = wickedness 
  • biases = wickedness 
  • apathy = wickedness 
  • injustice = wickedness 
  • ignoring = wickedness 
  • seeking earthly applause = wickedness 
  • taking advantage of others = wickedness 

Instead, God calls on leaders to lead according to the principles He both exhibits Himself and lists for us in the Bible. Things like…

  • defending the poor 
  • serving as a father to the fatherless
  • dispensing justice to the disempowered 
  • speaking up for the voiceless
  • standing up to the wicked 
  • and doing all of these things in a way that God is glorified 

I must always remember why I am in any position of leadership: God chose me for that position and placed me there to do His justice in the world. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who is doing God’s justice in God’s way.

This is part 57 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Showers Of Blessing

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

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Showers Of Blessing

I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing. (Ezekiel 34:26) 

     ‘I will send them showers.’ It does not say, ‘I will send them drops,’ but ‘I will send them showers.’ Remember the saying, ‘It seldom rains but it pours.’ So it is with grace. If God gives a blessing, He usually gives it in such a measure that there is not room enough to receive it. …  

     Ah, we want plenteous grace, my friends. Plenteous grace to keep us humble, plenteous grace to make us prayerful, plenteous grace to make us holy, plenteous grace to make us zealous, plenteous grace to make us truthful, plenteous grace to preserve us through this life and at last to land us in heaven. We cannot do without showers of grace. …  

     But how is it that it does not fall to some of the people? It is because they put up the umbrella of their prejudice. And though they sit here, even as God’s people sit, even when it rains they have such a prejudice against God’s Word that they do not want to hear it. They do not want to love it and it runs off their prejudices.

From The Church Of Christ

God wants to bless you! Sadly, there are far too many people who put up their umbrellas of excuses like, “I’m nothing special,” or “Do you realize how many times I’ve blown it,” or “God has more important matters to attend to than little ol’ me.” 

These are lies that keep saints of God in a dry place. God’s grace is pursuing you. In one of the most well-received and most downloaded series of messages I shared on God’s favor, I said this about God showering His blessings on you: “Why would God do this? Because if you feel distant from Him, how can you glorify Him? If you feel disconnected from His love, how will you draw others to Him? If you feel like your relationship with Him is hanging by a thread, how can you happily abide in His presence?” 

God gave the promise of these abundant showers of blessings through Ezekiel of the Old Testament, and then Jesus made it a reality. The apostle Paul tells us, “Since God did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32). 

My friend, please put away those umbrellas of excuses—of satanic lies—and bask in the refreshing showers of God’s grace. It’s time to talk back to those excuses and tell them, “These are lies. God Himself says that He will bless His children and I am most assuredly His child!” 

If you would like to explore this topic more, please check out the series of popular messages I mentioned earlier by clicking here.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Blessed To Be A Blessing

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Blessed To Be A Blessing

I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing. (Ezekiel 34:26) 

     There are two things here spoken of. First, Christ’s church is to be a blessing. Second, Christ’s church is to be blessed. …  

     When God chooses any men by His sovereign electing grace and makes them Christ’s, He does it not only for their own sake, that they may be saved, but also for the world’s sake. Know you not that ‘you are the salt of the earth.… You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden’ (Matthew 5:13-14)? … Salvation is not a selfish thing. God does not give it for us to keep to ourselves, but that we may thereby be made the means of blessing to others. …  

     But there is constraint here. ‘I will make them a blessing.’ I will give them to be a blessing. I will constrain them to be a blessing. … And so it is with God’s people. As they go through their lives, wherever they have been made a blessing, they will find that God seems to have thrust them into the vineyard. …  

     God never makes useless things. He has no superfluous workmanship. I care not what you are. You have something to do. Oh, may God show you what it is and then make you do it, by the wondrous compulsion of His providence and His grace. … 

     I hope we will never be satisfied, as members of Park Street, until we are a blessing not only to ourselves but also to the places all around our hill.

From The Church Of Christ

The Church is made up of many members—every member is needed for the Church to be the Church. Let me be more specific: God has placed YOU in Christ’s Church on purpose. You have been gifted and blessed by God so that you can be a blessing to others. 

You have purpose. You have been made on purpose and for a purpose. That purpose, according to God’s own word, is to shine brightly that others can receive God’s love into their own hearts. 

I pray that each and every one of us can insert our own names or our own church name into the prayer Spurgeon offered for his congregation: “I hope we will never be satisfied, as members of [my family, my church, my school, my community], until we are a blessing not only to ourselves but also to the places all around our hill.” Amen, Pastor Spurgeon, Amen!

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Out Of The Silent Planet (book review)

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I truly believe that leaders are readers. But leaders need to also be discerning in the books they choose. I almost exclusively read non-fiction, but I make an exception when a fictional piece of literature is a mind-expanding book. As I am re-reading C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, I’m reminded again how this master storyteller can pack so much into a few pages. Book one in this trilogy is Out Of The Silent Planet. 

In its simplest form, this book is about a trip to Malacandra (or Mars), but as with any fantasy work written by Lewis, the story tells a far deeper and more substantial Story. In this book, we go behind the scenes to witness the aftermath of the battle in heaven when Lucifer and his fallen angels attempted to usurp God’s throne. In the Malacandrian language, Lucifer is “the bent one,” having deviated away from God’s loving design, so those who have allowed themselves to be influenced by him are also called “bent.” The three Earthlings who have arrived on Malacandra show their level of straightness or bentness as this story unfolds. 

Another fascinating part of this book is the subtle change in language. The main protagonist is a philologist named Dr. Elwin Ransom. Watching how Lewis shows Dr. Ransom progressively learning the language of the inhabitants of Malacandra, contrasted with the way the bent men continue to speak it in “baby talk” is amazing. Ransom slowly learns more of the planet’s culture and the nuance of the language becomes more precise as he does so. And Lewis keeps pace by showing us the evolving vocabulary as the story moves along. 

If you are already a C.S. Lewis fan, this is a great book to continue your journey into his vast mind. But if you haven’t been exposed to much of Lewis’ writings yet, I would suggest holding off on this book until you have a better grasp of his more accessible works. 

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