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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Creating A Peaceful Environment

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The Israelites fought constantly with the Philistines throughout Saul’s lifetime… (1 Samuel 14:52). 

Have you ever worked in a hostile environment? I was involved with one organization where all of the staff members called the weekly meeting the “staff beating” instead of the staff meeting. This was largely because the senior leader started off every meeting by asking for problems that needed to be addressed, but then he “addressed” the problem by attacking the person who shared the problem. 

I was reminded of this recently when I was scrolling through YouVersion and saw that my son had highlighted 1 Samuel 14:52 that said that Saul’s reign as king was noted for the constant fighting. I added the comment, “I don’t think the definition of peace would ever include ‘fought constantly.’ How sad that Saul’s lack of leadership would keep his people constantly in conflict.” 

Make no mistake about it: It was his poor leadership that created this environment. We often read of his jealousy of anyone else who was successful, and we see that although he had a loyal army, he kept them bottled up. 

On the other hand, consider this statement about the reign of king Asa: “In his days the land was quiet for ten years. … He had no war in those years, because the Lord had given him rest” (2 Chronicles 14:1, 6). This peace and quiet and rest is directly tied to Asa’s obedience to God’s laws. 

A mark of a godly leader is one whose obedience to God fosters an environment of peace for his people. 

This is part 62 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here. And I would also encourage you to check out my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter, where I outline in more detail the characteristics of godly leadership. 

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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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Which Engine Drives You?

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There’s a little song that makes me chuckle every time I hear it, and I may have even sung this song a couple of times myself. It goes like this, “I had a lot to do today, but you know what I did instead? I took a nap. It was a very good nap.” 

We’ve all been there. There are things we know that we should do, but we simply don’t feel like doing them. We let our feelings drive our actions. There are several seemingly innocent things that we can handle this way, with no apparent problems created for ourselves. 

The real problem comes in when our feelings continually drive our actions. Because the caboose which must follow that engine can easily become “my truth.” It goes like this:

  • I let my feelings take the lead
  • I act on my feelings
  • I now believe what I felt was truthful

This could be called pragmatism—allowing a positive outcome to determine what I believe to be truth. 

But our feelings may lie to us. Our feelings can make us believe something is harmless, when in fact it may be putting us on a path from which it may be extremely difficult to recover. 

Jesus taught us a different way. He prayed this way to His Father, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). He may have had in mind these words from the psalmist:

The sum of Your word is truth—the total of the full meaning of all Your individual precepts; and every one of Your righteous decrees endures forever. (Psalm 119:160 AMP) 

When we let truth drive our actions, we are performing those actions in faith that good feelings will follow. Now the progression goes like this:

  • I let what I know to be true take the lead
  • I act on that truth
  • I feel good for doing the right thing

I may not feel like exercising, but I know it’s good for me. So I do it and then I feel good for doing it, and my body is healthier for doing it. 

I may not feel like forgiving the one who wronged me, but I know God says I should. So I do it and then I feel good for doing it, and my emotions are healthier for doing it. 

I may not feel like speaking the tough word in love to my friend, but I know the Bible says I should. So I do it and then I feel good for doing it, and my relationship is healthier for doing it.

Letting God’s truth be the engine that drives our actions will result in healthiness and good feelings. But letting my emotions be the engine that drives my actions may sometimes result in temporary good feelings, but the longterm consequences may not be healthy or God-honoring. 

We should not say, “God, please bless what I’m doing so that I can feel good about it,” but instead we should say, “God please help me to do what You say is right, and I know I will feel good because Your blessing will be on it.” 

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Letting Go To Hold On

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In Stephen’s sermon, he notes something interesting about Abraham: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still living in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you’” (Acts 7:2-3). 

That word “before” especially caught my attention—“before he lived in Haran.” 

In Genesis 11:31, we read that Terah (who is Abraham’s father) is the one who takes Abraham and Lot to set out for Canaan, but that they only made it as far as Haran. Could it be that God did speak to Abraham in the land of Ur, and that his influence on his father was so deep that Terah decided to answer the call too? Yet God called Abraham—not Terah—so Terah apparently was not as committed to obey God’s call. 

Terah’s youngest son Haran died before they began the journey. Terah didn’t get very far into their journey toward Canaan until in grief over his dead son, he stopped and he settled. 

Was Terah angry at God? Was he fearful about what may happen to the rest of his family on the long journey? Was he so wrapped up in his grief over his youngest son that he couldn’t move forward? 

Whatever the case, not only did Terah stop, but so did Abraham. 

But God, in His incredible graciousness, spoke to Abraham again, renewing the call to follow Him. 

Stephen said that Abraham left Haran “after the death of his father” (Acts 7:4). But let’s do the math: Terah was 70 years old when Abraham was born and lived to be 205 years old (Genesis 11:26), but Abraham arrived in Canaan when he was 76 years old (Genesis 16:3, 16). That means that Terah was still physically alive when Abraham left him. 

In other words, Abraham had to love God more than his grief-stricken, grief-paralyzed father, to the point that he had to consider his father as dead. He had to do this in order to follow God. 

Jesus says something similar to those who would be His followers today: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father… he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). 

That’s a sobering word! We have to value obedience to God above all else. We have to believe that God is our supreme reward, and that absolutely nothing on this earth compares to the surpassing greatness of knowing Him. 

Jesus gave us this promise—

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for My sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:28-29)

Abraham shows us the principle that we should all realize: Following the call of God is so worth it! Letting go of this world so that you can hold on to your Savior is the best decision you could ever make! 

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Links & Quotes

In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul writes, “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop [overseer], he desires a good work.” T.M. Moore commented on this verse—

“The Greek word for ‘bishop’ translates literally to ‘overseer.’ Overseers—pastors, elders, anyone in a leadership role in the congregation—is charged with watching over the souls of God’s people for good (Hebrews 13:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). While the primary duty of watching over the Lord’s flock falls on pastors and elders, all who serve with them function in a role of overseeing, that all the members of the congregation might benefit from the continuous care and shepherding of those who lead them.”

I am so grateful for T.M.’s endorsement of my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter in which I expound more on this 1 Timothy verse, and talk about how shepherd leaders should be raising up more leaders around them.

Our church purchased a building to use as our new homebase for ministry in our city. I am super excited about the possibilities!

Tiny bacteria declare loudly the genius of the Creator. This new study on the ability of bacterium to protect its own DNA from mutations is fascinating!

Dan Reiland says, “Good character takes a lifetime to build and a moment to destroy.” Dan shares 5 practices that build leadership character to last for a lifetime.

Amenhotep I was the second pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, and ruled from ca 1525-1504 BC during the time the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Using 3-D CT scans, Amenhotep has been unwrapped for the first time in over 3000 years!

How are you supposed to follow God when obedience feels impossible? John Piper explains in this post

It’s A Big Deal

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

I get a little leery when people are advocating for a government that is friendly to Christianity. In biblical history and world history, Christians tend to backslide when things are going smoothly for them. 

Difficulties and even persecution cause us to evaluate if what we’re standing on is really a sure foundation (2 Corinthians 1:9; Philippians 4:10-13). 

As the Jews returned from their exile in Babylon, things were going fairly easily for them. And as they had done so many times before, they began to backslide. The Archeological Study Bible noted, “This generation was not guilty of the gross idolatry of its forefathers. Rather, these Israelites embraced a kind of dead orthodoxy, in which they tried to get by with the minimum that their faith required.”  

Onto this scene comes a prophet named Malachi. Malachi means “My messenger,” and we don’t know if this was actually the prophet’s name or not, but he took it on as his nature, delivering the heavy words of God. In fact, he held the words of God with such respect that when he says this is “an oracle,” he literally is saying, “This is a heavy burden to bear!” 

Malachi uses the phrase “LORD Almighty” (or LORD of Hosts in the KJV, and Lord of Heaven’s Armies in the NLT) twenty-four times. By contrast with the other minor prophets…

  • Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, and Jonah use this phrase zero times 
  • Micah and Habakkuk each use it once
  • Nahum and Zephaniah each use it twice
  • Haggai uses it 12 times (or 32 percent of the total verses in his book) 
  • Zechariah uses the phrase 46 times (which 22 percent of his total verses) 

But Malachi’s 24 times is 44 percent of his total verses! In other words, he wanted his audience to be crystal clear that it wasn’t him who was speaking, but the King of kings was speaking to us through Malachi! 

God is still speaking through Malachi to us today! Just like Israel in Malachi’s day, I think Christians today run the very real risk of backsliding. Just like Israel, when we forget the weightiness of the glory of the LORD ALMIGHTY we can begin to slip into an it’s-no-big-deal attitude. 

By contrast, when we’re honoring the LORD of Hosts, and reverencing Him, and desirous of His glory being seen, it’s a very big deal that we listen to His voice and closely follow His commands.  

So Malachi’s six warnings to the Israelites of his day should still be heeded by Christians today. We should examine ourselves very closely to see if we have the same it’s-no-big-deal attitude. We should ask ourselves, “Are we…

(1) …offering less-than-our-best sacrifices? Are we just giving God the leftovers?”  

(2) …listening to church leaders that don’t reverence God’s name?” 

(3) …honoring the sanctity of marriage?” 

(4) …self-seeking instead of neighbor-loving?” 

(5) …withholding the full tithe from our local church?” 

(6) …following God only for personal gain?” 

(Check out all of the verses for these questions by clicking here.) 

If this study of the minor prophets—especially these last three—has told us anything, it’s that God keeps His word. When He says He is coming back as the righteous Judge, that will happen. In fact, it could happen at any moment! 

We must be ready! We must guard our hearts against the it’s-no-big-deal attitude. We must reverence our awesome God. The things of God are a very big deal indeed (see Hebrews 10:37-39; Revelation 22:12-16). 

To guard ourselves against this backsliding attitude, we must live every day reverencing the awesome, weighty, majestic name of Jesus! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series exploring the powerful lessons in the the twelve minor prophets, please click here to get the list of all of those messages. 

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The Heart Is The Heart Of The Matter

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A heart that devises wicked schemes… (Proverbs 6:18). 

This is the item listed in the exact middle of the list “there are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him.” Check out the whole passage: 

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: [1] haughty eyes, [2] a lying tongue, [3] hands that shed innocent blood, [4] a heart that devises wicked schemes, [5] feet that are quick to rush into evil, [6] a false witness who pours out lies and [7] a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. (vv. 16-18) 

Now let’s follow this progression from the middle item outward: 

  • …it begins in a devious heart—[4] 
  • …it moves to the actions of the hands and feet—[3] and [5] 
  • …it is excused or justified by lies—[2] and [6] 
  • …it hardens into unrepentant pride that divides a community—[1] and [7]

The heart is the heart of the matter!

 Verse 18 is also the middle verse of this whole 6th chapter of Proverbs—

  • it is a heart issue that leads to making rash vows (vv. 1-5) 
  • it is a heart issue that causes a poor work ethic (vv. 6-11) 
  • it is a heart issue that prompts double-talk, equivocation, and a lack of integrity (vv. 12-15) 
  • it is a heart issue that takes a person spiraling down into adultery (vv. 20-35)

Let me repeat this principle: The heart is the heart of the matter! This is why Solomon told us in an earlier chapter, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23). 

But a wise person, who allows the Holy Spirit to correct sinful thoughts, can see a different outcome. With the Spirit’s help, it could look like this:

  • …it begins in a heart sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting—[4] 
  • …it moves to the actions of the hands and feet—[3] and [5] 
  • …it is demonstrated in truthful, loving words—[2] and [6] 
  • …it promotes the humility that unites a community—[1] and [7]

Let’s make this our prayer: Holy Spirit, help me to guard my heart today. No compromising, no justifying, but just a quick obedience to Your prompts to repent and soften my heart. 

Let it start in your heart and just watch what happens. The heart IS the heart of the matter! 

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People Of The Word

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Haggai appears on the historical scene for just five months, but what a bright light he shines! He is the first of three post-exilic prophets to encourage the Israelites who have returned to Jerusalem.

Before we talk about Haggai’s ministry, we need a brief grammar lesson. Specifically, let’s look at two prefixes: un- and non-. Both of them ultimately mean “not,” but there is a distinction that we need to consider when it comes to the Bible: 

    • unbiblical would mean something contrary to the teaching of the Bible 
    • non-biblical is something that may or may not be correct, but it’s not specifically mentioned in the Bible 

Let me give you an example from my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter. Chris asked me whether I preferred the title senior pastor or lead pastor. This is a non-biblical issue; that is, it doesn’t really matter to me because neither of those titles are found in the Bible. Technically, the word pastor isn’t in the Bible either. The word that is usually translated “pastor” is really a herdsman or a shepherd. 

The problem is that if we put too much focus on non-biblical things, those things can end up becoming unbiblical pursuits. Like when Jesus took the Pharisees to task for their focus on traditions over Scripture (see Matthew 15:1-6). I wrote Shepherd Leadership mainly to get pastors and church leaders to spot non-biblical metrics which may have sneakily turned into unbiblical pursuits, so that they could return to pure biblical principles. In the Preface of my book, I wrote—

“My larger concern is that churches, parachurch organizations, and nonprofit ministries that are largely founded to fulfill a biblical mandate are straying from the simple, freeing truths found in the Bible. Or maybe I should say that they are adding things to their ministries that aren’t in the pages of Scripture. Whichever way you want to say it, the result is the same: We are using the wrong metrics to define ‘success’ for our ministries. I fear that in our focus on unbiblical practices, we are missing the joy of really doing ministry.”

Haggai calls God’s people to return to God’s Word. This is the second-shortest book in the Old Testament (at just 38 verses long), yet Haggai says something like “this is what God says” 28 times in these 38 verses! 

Haggai also records five times that God says, “Give careful thought to your ways.” This phrase literally means to take a strong hold on each thought and examine it intensely. This idea is always connected to a phrase like, “This is what the Lord Almighty says” (1:5, 7; 2:14-15, 17-18). In other words, we are to thoughtfully examine our lifestyle with God’s Word being THE standard of measurement. 

Paul made a similar connection in the New Testament: We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

Jesus did this too. When speaking to the religious leaders, He said, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor God’s power” (Matthew 22:29). And even with His own disciples, He had to open their minds to see how the Scriptures pointed to Him and were fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45). 

Indeed, the phrase “it is written” is used 75 times in the New Testament! 

That’s why Haggai’s words still ring true to us today: “Give careful thought” to how you live in light of how God says you should be living. Christians need to…

  1. Hear the Word of God every day 
  2. Consider their lives in light of the Word of God
  3. Obey what the Word of God is saying to us 

(check out Acts 17:11; Psalm 139:23-24; 1 Samuel 15:22) 

We must become people of the Word of God or else we run the very real risk of letting our non-biblical decisions spiral downward into a sinful, unbiblical lifestyle that grieves the heart of God. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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