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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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Be Careful

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 AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Be Careful

Having a form of godliness but denying its power…. (2 Timothy 3:5)

     Time was when to be a Christian was to be reviled, if not to be imprisoned and perhaps burned at the stake. Hypocrites were fewer in those days, for a profession cost too much. …  Today religion walks forth in her velvet slippers. And in certain classes and ranks, if men did not make some profession of religion, they would be looked upon with suspicion. Therefore men will take the name of Christian upon them and wear religion as a part of full dress. …

     I do not doubt that a form of godliness has come to many because it brings them ease of conscience and they are able, like the Pharisee, to thank God that they are not as other men are. … 

     Many who have the form of godliness are strangers to its power and so are in religion worldly, in prayer mechanical, in public one thing, and in private another. True godliness lies in spiritual power, and they who are without this are dead while they live. … 

     In the depths of winter, can you warm yourself before a painted fire? Could you dine off the picture of a feast when you are hungry? There must be vitality and substantiality—or else the form is utterly worthless and worse than worthless, for it may flatter you into deadly self-conceit. Moreover, there is no comfort in it. The form without the power has nothing in it to warm the heart, to raise the spirits, or to strengthen the mind against the day of sickness or the hour of death. … 

     If you tremble at God’s Word, you have one of the surest marks of God’s elect. Those who fear that they are mistaken are seldom mistaken. If you search yourselves and allow the Word of God to search you, it is well with you. … 

     If the Spirit of God leads you to weep in secret for sin and to pray in secret for divine grace, if He leads you to seek after holiness, if He leads you to trust alone in Jesus, then you know the power of godliness, and you have never denied it.

From The Form Of Godliness Without The Power

Spurgeon mentioned the Pharisee that said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people. Especially like that tax collector over there.” Jesus said that the tax collector who humbly said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” is the one who went home justified by God (see Luke 18:9-14). 

That’s where the warning comes in. When we begin to compare ourselves to others, when we begin to say, “I’m better than him” or “At least I don’t mess up as bad as she does,” instead of judging ourselves by God’s standard, we are in real danger of having merely a form of godliness without any real power. 

Paul said, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” and challenged each of us to “test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (1 Corinthians 10:12; Galatians 6:4). 

I would challenge everyone that calls themself a Christian to be careful! Don’t fool yourself by saying, “I do all of the things a Christian is supposed to do, so I must be standing firm.” But ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you even your hidden sins, and then just as the tax collector who experienced God’s reassurance in his heart did, pray: “God, be merciful to me. Help me to correct what’s wrong. May my life be godly not just in outward performance, but in the power that can only come from a vibrant, growing relationship with You!” 

Let’s all strive to not only have the form of godliness, but to have the real energizing power of godliness on full display in our daily lives.

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—No Fear Of Inspection

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 AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

No Fear Of Inspection

Having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:5) 

     Paul warns us of certain characters that will appear in the last times. It is a terrible list. The like have appeared in other days, but we are led by his warning to apprehend that they will appear in greater numbers in the last days than in any previous age. ‘People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God’ (2 Timothy 3:2-4). … 

     The raw material of a devil was an angel bereft of holiness. You cannot make a Judas except out of an apostle. The eminently good in outward form, when without inward life, decays into the foulest thing under heaven. You cannot wonder that these are called perilous times, in which such characters abound. … 

     Those who constantly associate in worship, unite in church fellowship, and work together for sacred purposes have a form of godliness, and a very useful and proper form it is. Alas, it is of no value without the power of the Holy Spirit. 

     Some go farther than public worship. They use a great deal of religious talk. They freely speak of the things of God in Christian company. They can defend the doctrines of Scripture, they can plead for its precepts, and they can narrate the experience of a believer. …

     That religion that comes from the lips outward but does not well up from the deep fountains of the heart is not that living water that will spring up to eternal life. Tongue godliness is an abomination if the heart is destitute of divine grace.  

     When we have done all the work our position requires of us, we may only have displayed the form of godliness. Unless we harken to our Lord and from His presence derive power, we will be as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. Brethren, I speak to myself and to each one of you in solemn earnestness. If much speaking, generous giving, and constant occupation could win heaven, we might easily make sure of it. But more than these are needed. … 

     O my active and energetic brother, remember the word, ‘Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Corinthians 10:12). If any of you dislikes this searching sermon, your dislike proves how much you need it. He that is not willing to search himself should stand self-incriminated by that unwillingness to look at his affairs. If you are right, you will not object to being weighed in the balances. If you are indeed pure gold, you may still feel anxiety at the sight of the furnace, but you will not be driven to anger at the prospect of the fire. Your prayer will always be, ‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23-24).

From The Form Of Godliness Without The Power

Those who are in right standing with God—in other words, those who are not merely godly in outward appearance only—should have no fear of their lives being inspected. Accountability among fellow Christians is a liberating thing because it keeps us in a place of safety. But even better is when we pray, “Search me, Lord” and then we quickly, and without offering any excuses, correct whatever the Holy Spirit reveals to our hearts. 

In these last days, let us be even more attentive to this!

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An Appeal To Preachers

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…They have turned their backs to Me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, “Come and save us!” (God in Jeremiah 2:27) 

In so many ways the USA today resembles ancient Israel. Abortion, prostitution, idolatry, envy, greed, atheism, dirty politics, self-serving church leaders. Our culture calls itself “Christian” but we live anything but. 

God is not allowed to be mentioned in our schools, but the moment there is a school shooting, people cry, “Where was God?! Why didn’t He stop this?!” 

God is banished from the town square, but as soon as a tornado or hurricane or flood levels the town, the people yell, “How could God let this happen?!” 

This was exactly the same lifestyle and same response in Jeremiah’s day. 

When these painfully tragic things happen, there should be a different response: “Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you have forsaken the Lord your God and have no awe of Me” (v. 19). 

Typically, this considering takes place post-tragedy. But it really should be considered before disasters strike. Four times in this chapter God calls us to consider “the word of the Lord” (vv. 1, 4, 5, 31). In order for that considering to take place, loving pastor-shepherds need to hold up the mirror of God’s Word to the ungodly lifestyles people are living.

To all of my fellow pastors, I appeal to you to boldly and lovingly proclaim the full counsel of God’s Word. Not just the “pleasant” parts that speak of God’s blessings, but also the calls to repentance that will allow your people to avoid God’s righteous judgment. And don’t wait to only speak about these topics post-tragedy, but make this message a consistent part of your teaching. 

Pastor, if you don’t speak these truths to your flock, how will they know how to live in the way that pleases God? I am praying that God will help you in this. 

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Oy!

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Woe is me!” said the prophet (Isaiah 6:5). 

The Hebrew word for “woe” here is the word “oy!” Although the word “woe” appears 20 times in the English translation of Isaiah, the Hebrew word “oy” in only used four times, and two of those times are Isaiah speaking of himself (6:5; 24:16). “Oy!” is a cry from a profound stab of pain from the realization that my sin has transgressed an All-Holy God. 

Isaiah saw his own sin (6:5) as well a the sin of his people (3:9, 11), and it took his breath away. He stood trembling before a holy God pleading for mercy and cleansing before he could answer the call to be God’s messenger to the people of Israel (6:5-8). 

The other Hebrew word that gets translated into the English word “woe” is “howy.” This is usually uttered from someone in pain because things aren’t going well. It’s a cry of, “Hey! Look! This is painful. This is not good at all.” But unlike “oy” which requires a profound heart change, “howy” can be said with the mouth without any change of the heart. 

Isaiah cried, “Oy!” because his sin deserved the punishment of the Righteous Judge, but his heart posture called on God’s mercy for forgiveness and restoration. Because of his cleansed heart, Isaiah could now call, “Howy!” to the people: “Hey, sinful Israel, look at your sin. Look at how you’ve transgressed against God. Feel that pain, then don’t delay, but cry out ‘Oy!’ to Him now, while mercy may still be found.” 

Isaiah’s “howy” had the impact of godly integrity because he had first cried “oy” in God’s presence. His “howy” was a call to others to do what he had done: see the holiness of God, see their sin, tremble in fear before an All-Holy God, and then cry “oy” to an All-Merciful God for forgiveness and restoration. 

We should do the same thing. When the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, don’t merely say, “Hey (howy), that hurts!” But say, “Oy! I have sinned, but God is a merciful Forgiver of sin.” Let that stab of pain from the conviction of your sin bring a change in your heart as well as a cry from your lips. God is merciful, and He does forgive. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Holy Familiarity

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.

Holy Familiarity  

     All these thirteen years, so far as Scripture informs us, Abram had not a single visit from his God. We do not find any record of his either doing anything memorable or having so much as a single audience with the Most High. Learn from this that if we once forsake the track of simple faith, once cease to walk according to the purity that faith approves, we strew our path with thorns, cause God to withhold the light of His countenance from us, and pierce ourselves through with many sorrows. 

     But mark, beloved, the exceeding grace of God: The way to recover Abram from his backsliding was that the Lord should appear to him…. This brings to my remembrance the words in the book of Revelation concerning the church in Laodicea: ‘You are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth’ (Revelation 3:15-16)—a very solemn declaration. But what follows? ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me’ (Revelation 3:20). That means just this: For recovery out of a horrible state of languishing and lukewarmness there is no remedy but the coming of Jesus Christ to the soul in near and dear communion! …

     Distance from God’s presence always means sin. Holy familiarity with God engenders holiness. The more you think of God, the more you meditate on His works, the more you praise Him, the more you pray to Him, the more constantly you talk with Him and He with you by the Holy Spirit, the more surely are you on the road to thorough consecration to His cause!

From Consecration To God

I’ve often said that one of the most powerful prayers we can pray is simply, “God, help!” In those two words we acknowledge our helplessness and His omnipotence, our sin and His forgiveness, our shortcomings and His desire to restore us. 

The devil lies! He loves to whisper the condemning words of, “You’ve messed up one too many times. You’re too far away for God to rescue you now. This time you exhausted God’s mercy.” 

Once again, by simply crying out, “God, help!” you are calling out satan’s lies. Jesus paid too high of a price for Him to ever let you go. Near the end of this sermon, Charles Spurgeon spoke a powerful reminder: “The blessings of grace are not given today to be taken back tomorrow, but are eternal blessings [Genesis 17:7, 13, 19].” Amen! 

My friend, cry out to God today—He loves you and He’s longing to restore you!

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When You’re Unfairly Attacked

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Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. (Psalm 35:1). 

This psalm is in a category called an imprecatory psalm, which is the theological way of saying, “Get ‘em, God!” 

Does it sound unusual to your ears to pray a prayer like that? After all, aren’t we as Christians commanded to forgive those who offend us? How do we square that teaching of Jesus with these brutally honest prayers that David offers up? 

Always remember that imprecatory psalms are spoken exclusively to God, not to our enemies. So when we pray these prayers, we are really turning the matter over to God. God does the contending and the vindicating—He knows best how to dispense the appropriate judgment. 

David also shares with us several introspective prayers throughout the Book of Psalms, where he asks the Holy Spirit to search him. This heart-searching is interwoven in this imprecatory prayer of Psalm 35, as it should be with our prayers too. 

Notice that David can only say these things with integrity because he had already allowed the Spirit to search his heart, and then he had asked forgiveness and he had repented from any sin (see Psalm 139:23-24; Matthew 5:22-24; 6:12, 14-15). David could point out with a clear conscience what his enemies were doing because David was innocent of these actions himself. Things like… 

  • their attack was without cause (v. 7) 
  • their accusations were purposefully designed to entrap him (v. 11) 
  • they were repaying David’s good work with evil deeds (v. 12) 
  • David had attempted to treat them well (vv. 13-14) 
  • they gleefully piled on more slander when David stumbled (v. 15) 
  • the enemy’s mocking was malicious (v. 16) 
  • they hated me without reason (v. 19) 
  • they invented false accusations against David (v. 20)

After his imprecatory prayer, David resolves to turn his eyes from the bad guys to God. He declares that worship of God will be his comfort (v. 28). What a great example for us still today! 

When you are falsely, unfairly attacked, take these three actions: 

  1. Introspection. Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart, and then quickly take action where necessary: Ask forgiveness, and repent from sinful thoughts, words, and actions. 
  2. Pray. Remember to share your hurts with God alone. There is no need to unleash your anger on those who have attacked you. 
  3. Worship. As long as my focus is on my trespassers, my focus is off my God. I cannot be consumed by thoughts of “them” because then I rob myself of thoughts of Him! 

Please keep these God-honoring action steps in mind the next time you are unfairly attacked. 

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Finishing Well Is Better

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The land was at peace… (2 Chronicles 14:6).

King Asa started out so well. The beginning of his reign could best be described by the word “peace”:

  • The land was at peace 
  • No one was at war with him 
  • The Lord gave him rest 
  • “[God] has given us rest on every side”  
  • The Lord his God was with him

When Cush attempted to attack the nation of Judah, Asa called on God: “Lord, there is no one like You to help the powerless against the mighty. … Do not let mere mortals prevail against You” (14:11). God gave Asa a great victory over Cush, and other God-fearing people from Israel began flocking to Judah “when they saw that the Lord his God was with [Asa]” (15:9). 

This peace lasted for 35 years!

And then came one poor decision from which Asa never recovered. 

The king of Israel began to make preparations for war against Judah. Instead of calling on God as he did when Cush was preparing to attack, Asa reverted to political maneuvering. He sent a bribe to a rival nation, enticing them to attack Israel. 

The prophet Hanani told Asa, “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war” (16:9). 

From “the land was at peace” to “from now on you will be at war” came about because Asa…

  • …trusted his own ingenuity instead of relying on God 
  • …calculated his odds instead of calling on his God 
  • …forgot about God’s past provision 
  • …refused to confess his sin and repent from it, even when the prophet called him out
  • …utterly abandoned his God (16:2-12) 

Starting well is good, but finishing well is far better! 

A mark of a godless leader is one who refuses to confess and repent from his sin. 

Asa’s refusal to admit his sin resulted in the end of his life being spent afflicted with disease and his country being surrounded and oppressed by enemies. 

This is part 54 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

The Need For Confession

Jesus taught us to pray to OUR Father. This speaks of community and accountability. Ken Blanchard noted: “Accountability means: We owe each other for something we’ve agreed upon.” What have the saints of God agreed upon? That God is our Father, that Jesus is His Son and our Brother, and that the Holy Spirit is our Helper. We’ve agreed that if we are brothers and sisters in God’s family, we are mutually accountable to one another. 

The part of accountability that some people don’t like is the realization that I make mistakes: I let people down; I sin. In a community of saints, my shortfall not only affects me but the rest of the community too. But there is a remedy—The remedy for my sin starts with my confession of my sin. 

If people like David, Isaiah, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Paul confessed their sin and called themselves sinners, what makes me think that I’m exempt from that diagnosis or that cure?! 

Confession is an owning of my sin. It’s saying to God, “I have sinned. I need forgiveness. I will repent of this. I need Your mercy.” And it’s saying to my fellow saints, “I need your help so I don’t have to repeat this sin.” 

Unconfessed sin is life-draining (Psalm 32:1-5). The word confess in the Old Testament Hebrew means to “throw out your hand.” Expose it all! In the New Testament Greek confess means to acknowledge that my life does not measure up to God’s standard. 

Confession may start in my personal prayer closet, but it needs to move to the public domain of the community of saints. Jesus made it plural, “Forgive US OUR debts, as WE have forgiven OUR debtors.” 

Sometimes I cannot see my own debts that need to be forgiven (Psalm 19:12), so I need the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the loving confrontation of someone who loves me (Psalm 139:23-24; Proverbs 27:6, 2 Samuel 12:1-13). 

The apostle James helps us see how a loving community brings healing, deliverance, and restoration. The key components that James lists are prayer and confession (James 5:13-16). 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoed James when he wrote, “A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as I am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light.”  

Confession may be the most under-used resource for Christians to gain power in prayer and victory over falling into temptation!

Let’s continually make use of this wonderfully freeing discipline. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—You Cannot Hide Your Heart From God

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.

You Cannot Hide Your Heart From God

Hell and destruction are before the Lord: how much more then the hearts of the children of men? (Proverbs 15:11 KJV) 

     God knows the burial places of all His people. He notes as well the resting place of the man who is buried tombless and alone as the man over home a mighty mausoleum has been raised. He saw the traveler who fell in the barren desert, whose body became the prey of vultures and whose bones were bleach in the sun. He saw the mariner, who was wrecked far out at sea and over whose corpse no dirge was ever wailed, except the howling of the winds and the murmuring of the wild waves. God knows the thousands who have perished in battle, unnumbered and unnoticed; the many who have died alone amid dreary forests, frozen seas, and devouring snowstorms; all these and the places of their sepulcher. God has marked that silent grotto within the sea, where pearls lie deep, where now the shipwrecked one is sleeping, as the death place of one of His redeemed. …

     Yes, hell, horrible as it is and veiled in many clouds and covered over with darkness, is naked before the vision of the Most High. There is the grand fact stated: “Hell and destruction are before the Lord.” After this the inference seems to be easy: “How much more, then, the hearts of the children of men?” … 

     God who sees death and hell sees our hearts, for they are far less extensive. … Scarcely have we time enough to tell the story before it comes to its end. Surely, then, God may easily understand the history of a man, when He knows the history of the monarchies of death and hell. [see Psalm 44:21; Jeremiah 23:24; Revelation 2:23] … 

     God does not judge by the appearance of a man’s great heart, or the outside appearance of a good heart. But He puts it in the scales and weighs it; puts His own Word in one scale and the heart in the other. He knows the exact weight. He knows whether we have grace in the heart, which makes us good weight, or only presence in the heart, which makes us weigh light when put into the scale. He searches the heart in every possible way. …

     Oh, you may endeavor as much as you can to hide your faults from God. But beyond a doubt, He will discover you.  

From God, The All-Seeing One

When—not if—God looks at your heart, what will He find? 

Yes, we should pray—Search me, O God, show me anything that is offensive to You [Psalm 139:23-24]—but then we must repent and ask forgiveness when the offense is revealed. No excuses, no covering up!

 

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