Scott's Bible Thoughts

An old preacher once said, ‘let your words be few, true, and weighty.’

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Watchman

‘So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me’ Ezekiel 33:7.

Beginning with chapter thirty-three, Ezekiel’s ministry would turn from a message of judgment to one of hope. In the remaining fifteen chapters, God speaks a word of reconciliation, restoration, and renewal to His people. In this chapter, Jehovah reaffirms Ezekiel’s responsibility as a ‘watchman’ over His people, a commission that was given him at the onset of his ministry. Thus far his message has been one of judgment, but now that will change. Like the watchman in Isaiah’s vision of the burden of the desert of the sea, he can now cry out, the morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come’!

Israel had appointed watchmen, men of their choosing, but they had been unfaithful. ‘The beasts of the field’ and ‘beasts of the forest’ had ‘come to devour’ and they had shown themselves to be ‘blind’, ‘ignorant’, ‘dumb dogs’ that ‘cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber’. Such is so often the case when men put their trust in men. But God, who sees the hearts of men, had appointed Ezekiel, a man equipped and empowered by Jehovah Himself! Ezekiel would be faithful, vigilant, and alert, because his God was faithful, vigilant and alert!

‘I have set thee a watchman’. What greater proof of God’s favor could be given! ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’ Their God had given them a faithful watchman. If they would heed his words, they would find life and peace. If they refused his instruction, they would bring God’s judgment down upon their own heads. The wicked man who returned to his God would be made righteous. The righteous man who turned away would be declared wicked. Each would be judged according to his deeds. Peace or anguish, life or death, lay before them. God had given them a watchman who had sounded the trumpet and warned the people. All had heard His words, but many had not kept them. There would be no excuse in the day of His righteous judgment.

‘And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them.’

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Mourning

‘Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke: yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down’ Ezekiel 24:16.

In this chapter, we have God’s final warning spoken to Judah through Ezekiel. Though he is four hundred miles away from Jerusalem, Ezekiel sees the siege begin which will bring the fall of the city and the total destruction of the temple. What a horrifying illustration Ezekiel is called to perform. He is commanded to set a corroded pot to boil and to throw in choice pieces of meat and bones rich in marrow. He is to stir the pot allowing the scum to rise to the surface and to leave the pot upon the fire until all is consumed and the pot is cleansed. This is given to illustrate what is to befall God’s people. This is the Lord’s wife who has played the harlot and would not turn from her wickedness. She must be judged. Judah would be consumed and be no more.

Yet, even this sign would not cause the people to humble their hearts before their God. God would perform yet one more sign before the captives. He would take Ezekiel’s wife, the love of his life, in a moment, even as He took Judah. Ezekiel must not mourn, though he loved her dearly, for God would not mourn for Judah. Many among the captives would lose loved ones in the overthrow of the city, sons and daughters that were left behind. The Lord would ‘take from them their strength, the joy of their glory, the desire of their eyes, and that whereupon they set their minds, their sons and their daughters.’ Finally, their stubborn, rebellious hearts would be broken. It would not be the loss of those whom they loved that they mourned, but rather, they would lament for their iniquities which had provoked God’s righteous judgments. From this day forth they would be a different people. They would mourn their sins, they would confess their transgressions, and they would turn from their idolatries. They would return again unto their God, and He would be merciful and forgive their transgressions. He would unfold, through the prophetic word of Ezekiel, His plans for redemption, restoration, and blessing. They would again be His people and He their gracious God!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Repairer of the Breach

‘And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none’ Ezekiel 22:30.

God had set a hedge about His people. He had given them true prophets to guide and correct them. He had given His holy law, pure worship, and godly priests to teach them. He had given them a righteous king in David. He had set a godly hedge about His people.

What a sorry state into which Israel had fallen. Her prophets had ceased to speak the word of the Lord and were prophesying out of their own pride-blinded hearts. Her priests, guardians of the ways and truths of God, no longer obeyed His commands and profaned His holy things before the people. Her rulers had become increasingly ruthless and greedy of dishonest gain. Even the people themselves had been reduced to oppression and robbery and were so void of compassion that they tormented the poor, the needy, and the strangers among them.

God had allowed the righteous from among His people to be taken in the first captivity. He had done this in His mercy, to spare them the terrible judgments He would yet inflict on Judah. Daniel and Ezekiel were in Babylon. Jeremiah was in Egypt. But were there none left who sighed and moaned over the corrupt state of God’s people? Did not one righteous man remain? Like Sodom after Lot’s removal, in Judah, not one righteous man remained. God ‘sought for a man . . . but . . . found none’. They gave their long-suffering God no choice but to pour out His wrath!

There is a sobering warning given to us in this chapter. It is an exhortation to be on guard lest we, like Israel, slowly turn our hearts away from our God. It was not done in a day, a year, or even a decade. There was a slow, almost imperceptible crumbling of the walls God had built as a hedge about them. When we see the decay, however slight it may appear to be, we must act! The command of our God is ever the same, ‘Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgressions . . . build the old waste places . . . raise up the foundations of many generations . . . be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.’

Then the Lord will joyfully declare, I looked for a man and I found one!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Our God’s Everlasting Kingdom

‘I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him’ Ezekiel 21:27.

Such is the way it has always been and will be until Christ returns. Kingdoms have risen up with great power and glory and renown. In their fierce pride, idolatries, and moral wickedness, they have fallen. Our God has overthrown them. Israel, too, must be judged. She rose up in the pride of her heart, she played the harlot, she wallowed in her filthiness, and Jehovah brought her low. Though He would restore her to her land after His punishment was complete, she would never again be a great nation. There would never again be a king upon her throne. There would never again be a glorious temple with the ark of His presence and the glory of God overshadowing the mercy seat; not until ‘he come whose right it is.’

Every kingdom of this world’s making will fall. Every earthly institution will be brought to naught. Then, our God will establish His eternal, immovable kingdom. ‘Shiloh’ will ‘come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.’ There ‘shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.’

Christ would come. He would be born a King and worshipped as such by angels, wise men, and shepherds. He would die a king, bearing the epitaph, ‘This is Jesus, King of the Jews.’ He will return as ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.’ In that day, He shall ‘smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he’ shall tread ‘the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.’ There can be no peace, no stability, with the kingdoms of this world. They shall fall, but the kingdom that our God shall deliver unto His righteous Son shall stand for all eternity. Daniel saw the glorious scene afar off and recorded it for our hope and comfort, ‘I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and come to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.’

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Power Of God’s Mercies

‘And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed.

And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you for my name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord God’ Ezekiel 20:43-44.

There is a tremendous truth in these verses that we would all do well to see and understand. It is a truth so contrary to the way of the world and our own thinking that it is seldom practiced, but were it to be embraced, it would have a profound impact upon our own relationship to our God and our dealings with others. It is because of God’s mercies, not His judgments, that we loathe ourselves, despise our sin, and are brought to repentance.

God’s righteousness demanded judgment for Israel’s sins, but judgment did not change their hearts. In Babylon, their hearts were still unbroken. Yet, when God poured out His mercies upon them and returned them to their land, then they were ashamed, then they mourned their wickedness, and then they turned anew to their gracious God. W. Greenhill said it well, ‘Mercies in Zion produced that which judgments in Babylon could not.’

How often we see this truth displayed in the Scriptures. It was Joseph’s kindness toward his brothers that caused them to be broken before him and mourn their treatment of him. It was David’s kindness in sparing Saul that caused him in brokenness and weeping to confess, ‘Thou are more righteous than I; for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded you evil.’ It was Stephen’s plea to God for the forgiveness of his tormentors that pricked the heart of Paul. The mercies and forgiveness proffered in the gospel have wrought greater conviction of heart and produced deeper repentance than all the fears and terrors of God’s judgment.

What life-changing power rests in the mercies and compassions of our God! ‘Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? He retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities.’ What great conviction and loathing of our sin His tenderness produces! ‘I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be great mourning in Jerusalem . . .’

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Perfection Of Beauty

‘Thus wast thou decked with gold and silver; and thy raiment was of fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou was exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom.

And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God’ Ezekiel 16:13-14.

This chapter describes Israel as birthed out of the heathen nations, despised, abandoned, polluted, unclean, and at the point of death, when a loving Jehovah found her, cared for her, loved her, and took her unto Himself. He washed her, clothed her, bedecked her with precious things, and fed her of the best of all He had. She became an exceedingly beautiful woman, a great nation. But, she became vain in her beauty, forsook her Husband, and gave herself to idolatry, playing the harlot with the heathen nations about her. She had become unfaithful and forsaken her vows. He would not utterly forsake her, but He would punish her for her sins.

There is a tremendous lesson for the church and each individual believer in this beautiful, though sobering chapter. We who were estranged from our God, sons and daughters of our fallen father Adam and our deceived mother Eve, while we were in our uncleanness, were found by our God. It was He who washed us from our sins, clothed us with His own righteousness, bedecked us with all the glory and splendor of His holy nature, and fed us with the sweetness and wholesomeness of His person and presence. He it was who loved us and has given us all those things which are His for our joy and happiness.

It is all of Him and nothing of ourselves. Let us guard our hearts lest our beauty ensnare us, and we forget what we were. Let us walk before our Husband in meekness and humility remembering His great love and mercy. Let us shun every relationship which would draw our hearts away from our heavenly Lover and after other loves. Let us ever reverence Him who has shown such great tenderness for us.

Friday, April 29, 2005

God’s Four Sore Judgments

‘For thus saith the Lord God; How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast?’ Ezekiel 14:21.

War, famine, and pestilence may appear to be the result and progression of natural events, but it is the unseen hand of God that sends them. Any student of history will soon discover that moral corruption in a nation is quickly followed by its destruction. Every nation is under the moral law of God. As a consequence, those nations that become morally corrupt will be judged. How much more so, the people to whom God has revealed Himself!

When the Almighty God stretches forth His hand in judgment, how terrible are His ways! When His wrath is full, how severe are His punishments. He brings the sword of war. War is the slaughterhouse of mankind. In war, every principle of virtue is abandoned. Men, women, and even children are indiscriminately butchered. Those that survive the sword die a slow and agonizing death of hunger. There is terror on every side. Those that escape these two great judgments much contend with the beasts that are drawn by the smell of blood and the stench of rotting flesh. The pestilence, sickness and disease, breed in every foul carcass. With these the cycle of God’s judgment is complete.

How terrible are His Judgments!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Noah, Daniel, and Job

‘Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness’ Ezekiel 14:20.

It is remarkable that Daniel is numbered with Noah and Job. Daniel, a teen-age prince from the tribe of Judah, had been taken as a captive to Babylon only seven years before this prophecy was given. In that short time, he had risen to great prominence in the court of King Nebuchadnezzer and had also become a beacon of faith and righteousness among the Hebrew captives.

It is interesting that God chose to name these three men rather than others who were equally faithful and righteous. It may be because these holy men of prayer were unable to stay God’s hand of judgment in their respective days. Noah could not hold back the flood, nor Job the calamities that befell him and his family, nor Daniel the captivity. It may be that they were selected, because they, by their righteousness had delivered others. Noah delivered himself and his family, Job delivered his friends, and Daniel saved the magicians, wise men, and counselors from death.

That they were men of faith and power is without doubt. It is also true that God delights in the prayers of the righteous. Yet, so grievous was the sin of this rebellious people that even these giants of faith and prayer, by their intercession, could not hold back God’s judgment! Abraham pleaded for Sodom, and God spared Lot. Moses interceded for Israel when Jehovah would have consumed them. David stayed the hand of the destroying angel at the threshing floor of Ornan. But Israel had provoked their God beyond remedy, and nothing but judgment would appease His wrath! The Lord is just and righteous in His judgments. ‘Ye shall know that I have not done without cause all that I have done in it, saith the Lord God.’

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Foolish Prophets

‘Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of the Lord;
Thus saith the Lord God; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace, and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar’ Ezekiel 12:2,3,10.

I am reminded of an experience from my own life. I was considerably younger, the youngest of a group of church leaders who had gathered for fellowship and teaching. Among us was an older man who had been diagnosed with cancer in a very late stage of development. We gathered to pray for the brother, and one man after another claimed healing for him. A few even went so far as to say ‘Thus saith the Lord, you will be healed.’ One man among them, whom I knew to be a man with a prophetic gift, reluctantly went to this brother, laid his hand upon his shoulder, and spoke these words, ‘Set your house in order for you shall surely die.’ He went on to tell this brother that though he could not understand then why God would take him, that before his death he would rejoice in God’s great work. The man did go on to glory a few months later. Before his passing, he asked this prophetic brother to come to his bedside, thanked him for his word, and went on to testify that the Lord had used his sickness to bring him to a depth of relationship he had not experienced in nearly fifty years as a Christian!

Though all meant well, only one brother had the word of the Lord. All the others were simply speaking out of their own hearts. Sadly, in their desire to bring comfort, they missed the voice of the Lord. These comforters were proclaiming healing when God had decreed otherwise. They were encouraging the brother to trust in a lie. Like layers of untempered mortar daubed on a crumbling wall, their words could not save. Much confusion is wrought by prophets such as these. How serious a matter it is to use those words, ‘Thus saith the Lord!’

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Lord Our Sanctuary

Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come’ Ezekiel 11:16.

Yes, God had judged His people, and many had gone into captivity. The just had been taken with the unjust. Though the nation must be judged, Jerusalem razed, and the Temple plundered, God had not abandoned His own. He would be their ‘dwelling place’ and their ‘refuge’. He would brood over them and give His angels charge over them. No evil would befall them. He would be their ‘little sanctuary’.

Nothing can come into our lives that would separate us from His abiding presence. Whether it be a bed of sickness, travel that forces us to be away from our fellow saints, or should we someday find ourselves persecuted and imprisoned, He is there. He will never forsake His own. He has given us His assurance, ‘I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’

Monday, April 25, 2005

A Mark Upon Their Foreheads

‘And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.
And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:
Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house’ Ezekiel 9:4-6.

The stench of Israel’s idolatry had reached up to heaven. The Lord’s anger was kindled and would not be quenched. Judgment must be poured out upon the wicked, but only the wicked. God would mark the righteous with a mark unseen by men, a mark upon their foreheads that would signal His death angel to pass over them. In His wrath, our God would remember mercy and spare His faithful children. Our God has always had a remnant ‘that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done’ and He is ever watching over them. His angel is able to ‘discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not’.

But where will judgment begin? It ‘must begin at the house of God’. ‘For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.’ Those who were the teachers, the shepherds and the elders were judged first. They were the ones to whom the people looked for instruction, guidance, and righteous judgments. They above all others should have been examples of an upright and godly life. They had not only corrupted themselves but they had failed to lead the people in the path of righteousness

Nothing is hid from our God. He knows both the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. The righteous may safely trust in His favor, but to the wicked He says, ‘And as for me also, mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will recompense their way upon their head.’

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Chambers of Imagery

‘Then said he unto me, Son of man, has thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery? For they say, The Lord seeth us not; the Lord hath forsaken the earth’ Ezekiel 8:12.

Ezekiel (in a vision) is carried by a lock of his hair to the Jerusalem and to the gate of the Temple. Here he is shown a great idol ‘jealousy’ standing in the gate, a detestable thing that was hidden from the eyes of men but not from the eyes of our God. Ezekiel is taken into a secret chamber, the walls of which bore the images ‘of every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel.’ There he saw the elders standing and burning incense to the filthy images. Again he is shown another scene, a group of women sitting and weeping for Tammuz, a god who would grow old throughout the year, die, and be resurrected to youthful beauty again. Finally, he is shown a group of men with their back to the temple and worshipping the rising sun.

Have we set up idols in our temple, the sanctuary of the Spirit of our God? Have we, in the secret places of our hearts, bowed before another Lord, another Master, and provoked our God to jealousy? Have we in some secret chamber of our imaginations allowed our minds to dwell on filthy, defiling images that will be forever engraved upon our hearts? Have we allowed our hearts to burn in lust, or have we offered the smoke of our affections unto our God? Is it only men, or do women also have their secret sins? Do we weep for something that God has withheld? Is this not also idolatry? In the end all such will be as the men with their backs toward their God. Though they are in His very presence, their hearts are turned away from Him!

Lord, help us to guard our hearts and minds. Cleanse us from every unclean thought. These unclean fowl must find no place to nest, no, not so much as a place to rest their foot. Help us, Lord, to keep our hearts with all diligence. We are your temple, Lord. Keep it holy by the power of Your Holy Spirit!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Roll of the Book

‘Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest, eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.
So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll.
And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness’ Ezekiel 3:1-3.

A hand was stretched forth to Ezekiel and ‘a roll of a book was therein.’ He was to take the roll and eat it. Written upon it were the words he must speak, but they could not flow forth from his lips if they were not hidden deep within his soul. Each of us that are Christ’s have had God’s Word held out to us and heard the voice of the Spirit say ‘take and eat.’ We must take God’s Word and eat it. It must go down into our bellies (which to the Hebrews, was the source of all affection), and it must fill our bowels (the source of all emotion). A mere intellectual knowledge of God’s Word is not sufficient. We must feed upon it. Let it be in our ‘mouth as honey for sweetness’ the joy and rejoicing of our hearts! It must be our very life, for we will become that which we feed upon.

It is ‘out of the abundance of the heart’ that ‘the mouth speaks.’ Let that which comes forth be the sweet counsels of God flowing out of a heart and soul that is sated upon His Word. Nothing less is worthy to be empowered by the Spirit. Nothing less will be effectual in penetrating a froward heart.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Thou Shalt Speak My Words

‘And he said unto me, son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day.
For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God.
And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forebear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them’ Ezekiel 2:3-5.

Ezekiel had a daunting task before him. He was to go and speak a word of judgment to a people who were already rebellious, stiffnecked, and hard-hearted. They would speak evil of him and threaten him, yet he was commanded to remain among them without fear, even though it would be as if a man were to ‘dwell among scorpions’. He would be stricken dumb and unable to speak for eight years, the Lord loosening his tongue only to prophesy unto the people. He would be required to perform signs that would make him appear foolish to those around him. The Lord would take the life of his beloved wife, and he would be forbidden to mourn.

Few would respond to his words. But, the validity of his message was not dependent upon its acceptance or rejection. It was the word of God. Ezekiel was but to speak. Many who were obstinate would be obstinate still; some would be open-hearted. Whether the word was fruitful or unproductive, it must be spoken. It is ‘required of stewards, that a man be found faithful’.

We, as the Lord’s servants, also have a command, ‘Go ye therefore and teach all nations’. Some will receive our word, many will not. But, like Ezekiel, we are to boldly speak as the Lord Jesus moves upon our hearts. We must not hold back. Ours is but to deliver His message; it is He that must open the heart!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Cloud and the Bow

‘And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire’ Ezekiel 1:4.

‘As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake’ Ezekiel 1:28.

God had appeared to Ezekiel. Ezekiel would be called upon to speak for Jehovah. He would pronounce God’s judgments upon Judah and Israel for their stubborn resistance to the commandments of their God and their increasing wickedness. He would foretell the captivity of Israel, God’s continuing judgment upon those remaining in Judah, the overthrow Jerusalem, and the destruction of the Temple (chapters 1 through 24). He would prophesy concerning God’s judgments upon the seven heathen nations that surrounded Israel and Judah (chapters 25 through 32). Yet, he would fulfill his ministry by proclaiming a new hope for Jerusalem as a future temple (chapter 33 through 48).

Yes, the judgment clouds had gathered in the north and there would be thunderings and lightning. There would be severe trials. There would be terrible judgments for their numberless rebellions. There must be punishment, but there will be deliverance. God would pour out His wrath, but he would not forget mercy. The rains would come; He would pour out of His spirit and give His people a new heart. The rainbow would appear in the heavens; He would again renew His covenant with the children of Abraham.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Expressly Unto Ezekiel

‘The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him’ (Ezekiel 1:3).

We know nothing of Ezekiel’s heritage other than what is expressed in the words above. The only reference to his father in the whole of Scripture is found in this verse. Here we find him ‘among the captives’ that had been carried to Babylon by Nebuchadnezer. How often it is that God chooses obscure men to be His instrument of correction and instruction. Samuel would have passed over David, but God saw a great and godly king in the shepherd boy. Joseph’s brothers despised him and sold him into Egyptian slavery, but ‘out of prison he came to reign’ and became his brothers’ deliverer. God found Moses on the back side of the desert, Gideon threshing wheat by the wine press in the dark of night, and Amos picking wild sycamore fruit. It matters not who we are or what our station in life may be, our God looks upon the heart. He is ever searching for that one whom He can use to show forth His glory.

It was ‘in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar’ that God met with Ezekiel. The Jews had a belief that the Shekinah glory could not overshadow a prophet outside of Israel. Our God is not limited. He can meet us where we are. God never lost sight of the captive Ezekiel. He found the fleeing Jacob at Bethel and Elijah in the desert cave. He visited every altar that Abraham erected as he wandered Caanan’s land. He is ever only a heart’s cry away.

If we would have our God to meet with us, all that He requires is that we call out to Him. If we would be used of God, all that is needed is that He possess our hearts!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Incline My Heart

‘Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness’ (Psalm 119:36).

We are told in the Scriptures that David’s heart was ‘perfect’ before the Lord and that he was a ‘man after God’s own heart’, yet here we finding him beseeching his God, ‘incline my heart.’ David was a man who understood his weaknesses and knew the deceitfulness of his heart. He understood that the heart was the battleground in the war against self. His cry to God was ‘incline my heart’, as if to say ‘I give You my free will. By Your grace set my affections on Your Word.’

There is only room for one to reign on the throne of our heart. The heart will have a king. If it is not our God that we enthrone, then self will have the seat, and the world will be its kingdom. Thomas Manton expressed a great truth when he said, ‘We can be worldly of ourselves, but we cannot be holy and heavenly of ourselves.’ Like David, we must earnestly pray, ‘Lord, like the green plant, bend my heart toward Your light!’ David understood well, that our hearts must and will have some object of desire. Where God is shut out, the world will flow in.

The depth of wisdom and the sobering truth of David’s words will be lost on the careless reader of the passage above. Most sins are outward and easily recognized as sins when they are committed, but covetousness is a thing of the heart. It is the last prohibition on the two great tables but the one that none but Christ has kept. St. Francis said that in the confessional men had admitted to him all sins that he knew, and some that he never imagined, but none had ever of their own accord confessed that they were covetous. An Arabian proverb describes covetousness as if it were a living thing, ‘Covetousness has for its mother unlawful desire, for its daughter injustice, and for its companion violence.’ Covetousness is truly a heinous sin. William Cowper called it ‘the handmaid of all sins.’ Bishop Hall observed, ‘how many Christians, while they have looked for gain, have lost themselves.’ The disciple Judas sold his Lord and his own soul for thirty pieces of silver! The apostle Paul was merciless in his assessment of covetousness and those who practice it: ‘it is the root of all evil’ and the ‘covetous man’ ‘is an idolater’ and has no ‘inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.’ David knew well that our hearts will have a king. If it is not Christ who reigns, it will be covetous, idolatrous Self. Life or death is bound up in our choice.

Lord incline my heart toward You!

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Brief Index

The following is a brief index to all entries in this blog. The index is alphabetized both by title and scripture test and includes all entries from 3-1-05 thru 4-18-05.

A Brief Index A Brief Index 04-18-05
Psalm 119:97, 99 A Love For God’s Word 04-13-05
Psalm 1:1-3 A Man Truly Blessed 03-29-05
Exodus 18:20-21 Able, Godly Men - I 04-06-05
Exodus 18:20-21 Able, Godly Men - II 04-07-05
Hebrews 11:17-19 Abraham Believed God 03-18-05
Genesis 2:8-9 Adam 03-02-05
Exodus 34:26 Christ The Firstfruits 03-27-05
Mark 11:15-17 Cleansing The Temple 03-20-05
Psalm 3:5-6 Confidence Of The Righteous 04-09-05
Matthew 6:28-29 Consider The Lilies o3-05-05
Genesis 15:18 Cutting The Covenant 03-31-05
Exodus 28:35 Gifts And Graces 03-12-05
I Timothy 6:11-12 God Needs Men 03-28-05
Genesis 5:24 He Walked With God 03-01-05
Psalm 71:15; 78:3-7 His Ageless Word 04-10-05
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 His Word In Our Hearts 04-02-05
II Chronicles 26:16 Isaiah’s Lament 04-04-05
Genesis 28:11-13 Jesus, Bridge Or Ladder 03-21-05
Proverbs 4:23 Keep Thy Heart 03-09-05
Psalm 119:18-19 Open Thou Mine Eyes 04-15-05
Psalm 2:6-9 Our God Reigns 04-08-05
Ruth 3:3-4 Our Kinsman Redeemer 03-06-05
Isaiah 6:1-5 Preparation For Ministry 03-08-05
Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember Thy Creator 04-03-05
Psalm 99:6 Samuel Among Them 03-16-05
Genesis 16:1 Sin’s Terrible Consequences 03-03-05
Ezekiel 37:9-10 Spiritual Famine 03-14-05
Genesis 12:7-8; 13:18; 22:9 The Altars Of Abraham 03-30-05
Psalm 119:1-3 The Blessedness Of A Holy Walk 04-16-05
Leviticus 14:28 The Blood And The Oil 03-04-05
I Corinthians 4:15 The Father’s Heart – I 03-24-05
I Corinthians 4:15 The Father's Heart's – II 03-25-05
Psalm 45:13-15 The Glorious Bride 03-22-05
Psalm 133:1-3 The Immeasurable Anointing 03-11-05
Isaiah 6:1 The Indwelling Presence 03-10-05
Matthew 13:24-50 The Kingdom Parables – I 04-11-05
Matthew 13:24-50 The Kingdom Parables – II 04-12-05
Proverbs 31:10, 28, 29 The Legacy Of A Godly Woman 03-15-05
Leviticus 14:2-7 The Leper’s Cleansing 04-05-05
Isaiah 11:10 The Lord Our Banner 03-19-05
I Peter 5:10-11 The Man God Uses 03-13-05
Luke 9:51 The Passion Week 03-26-05
Hebrews 4:12 The Power Of The Word Of God 04-01-05
Exodus 6:6-8 The Promise Of Redemption 03-23-05
Acts 2:47 The Soul-Winning Church 03-07-05
Psalm 9:1; 111:1; 119:10 True-Hearted, Whole Hearted 04-14-05
Psalm 119:27 We Speak What We Do Know 04-17-05
Acts 5:29 When A Godly Man Stands Alone 03-17-05

A Brief Index A Brief Index 04-18-05
Acts 2:47 The Soul-Winning Church 03-07-05
Acts 5:29 When A Godly Man Stands Alone 03-17-05
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 His Word In Our Hearts 04-02-05
Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember Thy Creator 04-03-05
Exodus 18:20-21 Able, Godly Men – I 04-06-05
Exodus 18:20-21 Able, Godly Men – II 04-07-05
Exodus 28:35 Gifts And Graces 03-12-05
Exodus 34:26 Christ The Firstfruits 03-27-05
Exodus 6:6-8 The Promise Of Redemption 03-23-05
Ezekiel 37:9-10 Spiritual Famine 03-14-05
Genesis 12:7-8; 13:18; 22:9 The Altars Of Abraham 03-30-05
Genesis 15:18 Cutting The Covenant 03-31-05
Genesis 16:1 Sin’s Terrible Consequences 03-03-05
Genesis 2:8-9 Adam 03-02-05
Genesis 28:11-13 Jesus, Bridge Or Ladder 03-21-05
Genesis 5:24 He Walked With God 03-01-05
Hebrews 11:17-19 Abraham Believed God 03-18-05
Hebrews 4:12 The Power Of The Word Of God 04-01-05
I Corinthians 4:15 The Father’s Heart – I 03-24-05
I Corinthians 4:15 The Father’s Heart – II 03-25-05
I Peter 5:10-11 The Man God Uses 03-13-05
I Timothy 6:11-12 God Needs Men 03-28-05
II Chronicles 26:16 Isaiah’s Lament 04-04-05
Isaiah 11:10 The Lord Our Banner 03-19-05
Isaiah 6:1 The Indwelling Presence 03-10-05
Isaiah 6:1-5 Preparation For Ministry 03-08-05
Leviticus 14:2-7 The Leper’s Cleansing 04-05-05
Leviticus 14:28 The Blood And The Oil 03-04-05
Luke 9:51 The Passion Week 03-26-05
Mark 11:15-17 Cleansing The Temple 03-20-05
Matthew 13:24-50 The Kingdom Parables – I 04-11-05
Matthew 13:24-50 The Kingdom Parables – II 04-12-05
Matthew 6:28-29 Consider The Lilies 03-05-05
Proverbs 31:10, 28, 29 The Legacy Of A Godly Woman 03-15-05
Proverbs 4:23 Keep Thy Heart 03-09-05
Psalm 1:1-3 A Man Truly Blessed 03-29-05
Psalm 119:1-3 The Blessedness Of A Holy Walk 04-16-05
Psalm 119:18-19 Open Thou Mine Eyes 04-15-05
Psalm 119:27 We Speak What We Do Know 04-17-05
Psalm 119:97, 99 A Love For God’s Word 04-13-05
Psalm 133:1-3 The Immeasurable Anointing 03-11-05
Psalm 2:6-9 Our God Reigns 04-08-05
Psalm 3:5-6 Confidence Of The Righteous 04-09-05
Psalm 45:13-15 The Glorious Bride 03-22-05
Psalm 71:15; 78:3-7 His Ageless Word 04-10-05
Psalm 9:1; 111:1; 119:10 True-Hearted, Whole Hearted 04-14-05
Psalm 99:6 Samuel Among Them 03-16-05
Ruth 3:3-4 Our Kinsman Redeemer 03-06-05

Sunday, April 17, 2005

We Speak What We Do Know

‘Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works’ (Psalm 119:27).

In a conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus spoke of the relationship between that which resides in the heart and the words that we speak. He said, ‘A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things’, and that ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.’ These words were delivered as a rebuke of the Pharisees, but they also hold a deep and positive truth. What we allow our God to speak into our hearts is the very thing that will flow forth from our lips.

We must be taught of God if we are to have anything to teach others. It is only the heart that is opened to hear that will have true knowledge to impart. Much of the heart wisdom that we possess is formed within us as we come before our Lord and prayerfully and meditatively open His Word. God is only able to impart understanding and truth into our hearts as we yield ourselves to His Spirit in humility and teachableness. I find it interesting that in our English Bibles the Hebrew word translated talk in the verse above is also translated pray and meditate in other passages. Our depth of wisdom and understanding and our godly counsel is the fruit of our communion with Him.

Most are content with but a superficial understanding of God’s Word. They devote little thought or care to understanding its deep truths. David desired ‘to understand the way of’ His ‘precepts’. He understood the power of God’s Word to transform his heart. His heart-cry was ‘God, here is my heart, search it, cleanse it and fill it with Yourself. Then Lord, I will have wisdom and understanding. Then will I be able to speak ‘of thy wondrous works.’ Then will my words stir the hearts of those who hear me, and I will tell them of Thy wondrous grace; Thy endless, redemptive love; and the glory and majesty of Thy precious Son.’

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Blessedness of a Holy Walk

‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.
Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.
They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways’ (Psalm 119:1-3).

In that great day of God’s judgment, there will be those to whom the King shall say, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels’, and those who will hear the gracious pronouncement of His blessing upon them, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ In the verses above, the Lord shows us plainly who it is that will be blessed of Him.

What is this ‘way’? The prophet Isaiah saw it clearly, saying ‘And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there;’ and upon it ‘. . . the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’! This is the King’s Highway, the path He first trod for us, a path worn smooth by all the righteous that followed after. It is a path so straight and plain that even the simple may find it, a path set about by His heavenly watchmen who are sent to steady the weak, to recover those who stumble and fall, to bar the defiled, and protect the traveler from evil. The Lord’s eyes are ever toward this path, and He watches the progress of his sojourners. Should any stray from the path, He lifts up His voice and cries, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it!’ Those who walk here are the holy and ‘. . . undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.’

Those who travel this path are given great treasures. Kept near to their hearts are His holy testimonies, His covenants and promises, His unending love, and His great expectations. The King has entrusted precious things to His wayfarers. They will guard them well, for they seek to please Him with their whole heart! He has no fear, for no half-hearted will find admission into His way.

By the King’s decree, none may walk His path that are not clothed in His holy garments. Though they may stumble and fall and stain His white robes, these sojourners have but to cry out for their Lord’s pardoning favor, and the High Priest of heaven will cleanse them afresh with His purifying blood. None but the King has made this journey without staining their garments and none ever will. Yet, none will be rejected from His glorious kingdom who cry out to Him in humility and faith. When He looks upon His pilgrims, He sees no iniquity in those who walk in His way!

Let us walk in His way, keep His testimonies and seek Him with our whole heart!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Open Thou Mine Eyes

‘Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.
I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me’ (Psalm 119:18-19).

In these two verses of Scripture, I sense something of the great longing of David to more fully know his God. It is this hunger in his heart that caused his God to draw so near to him. Lord, ‘I am a stranger in the earth’, ‘I am a sojourner, a pilgrim. This world is not my home, Lord. My heart is fixed upon Your heavenly city, but I know not the way and have no guide but You. Open my eyes that I might behold You. Give me a glimpse of who You are and what You have prepared for those who love You. Hide them not from me!’ David, who seemed to have so much light, is crying out to his God, ‘Give me more light. I see so dimly.’ He wanted to know his King and to see Him in all His glorious majesty. He wanted to know his Redeemer and to understand the depth of His grace, mercy, and love. He longed to see His Lord in all His holiness that it might stir him to purity and righteousness.

How can we see the hidden wonders of God’s Word? There is no lack of light in the Scriptures, but we are blind. The Spirit must lift the veil. He responds to the heart-cry of His Davids, ‘Open thou mine eyes!’ Do we earnestly seek light? Do we read His Word prayerfully? Do we meditate upon it and linger with it until God pours forth His revelation and understanding? Oh, that our hearts might be like that of blind Bartimaeus who cried out and could not be stilled, ‘Thou son of David, have mercy on me . . . Lord that I might receive my sight’, lest we become like the children of Israel from whom the Lord withheld ‘. . . a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.’

Lord, ‘open thou mine eyes’!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

True-hearted, Whole-hearted

‘I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvelous works’ (Psalm 9:1).

‘Praise ye the Lord. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation’ (Psalm 111:1).

‘Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart’ (Psalm 119:2).

‘With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments’ (Psalm 119:10).

‘Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart’ (Psalm 119:34).

‘I entreat thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word’ (Psalm 119:58).

‘I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep thy statutes’ (Psalm 119:145).

To the best of my knowledge, in all of the Word of God, it is only David, the Lord’s ‘beloved’ that uses this expression ‘whole heart.’ It is not that others have not plainly spoken of the depth of commitment and intimacy of relationship that the Lord desires, or rather demands of us, but David states it best. It is the whole heart set upon our God, the whole heart purposing with all its strength to serve Him, the whole heart ever seeking a deeper, more intimate communion with Him, with all our energies and affections laid at His feet, that delights His heart.

Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) was a poet and hymn-writer. She was the youngest child of minister William Henry Havergal. With remarkable ability, she began writing verse at the age of seven. Her poems were published in religious magazines of the period. She soon incorporated her musical gift and began to write hymns. Throughout her life, she was tireless in her religious and philanthropic work. In addition to many volumes of poetry and numerous hymns, she also wrote devotional tracts.

The following hymn written by Frances Ridley Havergal will be familiar to most. Her poetic verse is an excellent expression of what it is to be ‘whole-hearted’ to our God who was ‘whole-hearted’ in His work for us!

Truehearted, wholehearted, faithful and loyal,
King of our lives, by Thy grace we will be;
Under the standard exalted and royal,
Strong in Thy strength we will battle for Thee.

(Refrain) Peal out the watchword!
Silence it never!Song of our spirits, rejoicing and free;
Peal out the watchword! Loyal forever!
King of our lives, by Thy grace we will be.

Wholehearted! Savior belovèd and glorious,
Take Thy great power and reign Thou alone,
Over our wills and affections victorious—
Freely surrendered and wholly Thine own.


Truehearted, wholehearted! Fullest allegiance
Yielding henceforth to our glorious King!
Valiant endeavor and loving obedience
Freely and joyously now would we bring.


Truehearted! Savior, Thou knowest our story,
Weak are the hearts that we lay at Thy feet,
Sinful and treacherous! yet, for Thy glory,
Heal them, and cleanse them from sin and deceit.


Half-hearted, false-hearted! Heed we the warning!
Only the whole can be perfectly true;
Bring the whole offering, all timid thought scorning,
Truehearted only if whole-hearted too.


Half-hearted! Savior, shall aught be withholden,
Giving Thee part Who has given us all?
Blessings outpouring, and promises golden
Pledging, with never reserve or recall!


Half-hearted? Master, shall any who know Thee
Grudge Thee their lives, Who has laid down Thine own?
Nay! we would offer the hearts that we owe Thee,
Live for Thy love and Thy glory alone.


Sisters, dear sisters, the call is resounding,
Will ye not echo the silver refrain,
Mighty and sweet, and in gladness abounding?–
“Truehearted, whole-hearted!” ringing again.


Jesus is with us, His rest is before us,
Brightly His standard is waving above!
Brothers, dear brothers, in gathering chorus,
Peal out the watchword of courage and love!


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A Love For God's Word

‘O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.
I have more understanding than my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation’ (Psalm 119:97, 99).

Over the next few days, I would like to dig out some of the hidden treasures in Psalm one hundred nineteen. Throughout the Scriptures, we find the Lord speaking to us through His servants concerning the power of His word to change us. ‘The word of God is quick (living) and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’ We find a tremendous promise in Psalm one for the man whose ‘delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.’ We are told that he will be ‘like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.’ Of all those who battle to keep themselves pure and holy before their God, it is possibly the young man who faces the greatest struggle. In Psalm one hundred nineteen, we find King David asking an ageless question and answering from his own life experience, ‘Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.’

In my reading recently, I stumbled upon a few statements by godly men, now long dead, that stirred my heart afresh concerning the power of God’s Word to transform us into His glorious image and that made clear why it is that so few appropriate this power. In the annals of history, you will not find a truly great ‘man of God’ who did not love God’s word and who did not fail meditate upon it continually. Philip Henry, the father of Bible commentator Matthew Henry, insisted that his children read through Psalm one hundred nineteen twice yearly, reading and meditating on one verse each day. He is often quoted as saying ‘All grace grows as love to the word of God grows.’ He firmly believed that a there was an inseparable link between a love for God’s Word and the formation of godly character. The writer and preacher John Ruskin, a man of great wisdom and knowledge in the things of God, has written of his own experience of being required by his believing mother to put this Psalm to memory. He tells how as a child it was very difficult for him to learn, but his mother was unrelenting. In later years he would say, ‘It was to my child’s mind most repulsive but has now become of all the most precious to me in its overflowing and glorious passion of love for the law of God.’ Through the years, I have had the opportunity to know a number of tremendous men of God: common men who had little or no formal training, men who were of spotless character and profound depth and wisdom, men who were theological giants. In every case, these were men who loved God’s Word, spent much time reading and especially meditating upon it, and had been gloriously transformed by its power.

The spiritual nature of God’s Word is such that it must be taken into the heart to have any efficacy to change the life. ‘Most,’ to quote Martin Boos, ‘read their Bibles like cows that stand in the thick grass and trample underfoot the finest flowers and herbs.’ Theirs is but a superficial study, they continue quickly on, never allowing God to show them the precious truths He longs to share with them. We must open our hearts and minds and allow the Spirit of God to speak into us from His Word. This is the work of meditation. Charles Spurgeon said it well, His word is like a fruitful garden, but it is only the man who has ‘shaken every fruit tree in God’s garden and gathered the golden fruit there from’ that is nourished and enlightened by it.

In this current age of the Church, entirely too much emphasis is put upon methods and programs to ‘awaken’ the people of God. Successful ministries tout their methods through books and speaking engagements, but seldom is anything lasting produced. What does stand is usually the result of personalities and not programs. Bible studies have been reduced to feminized, ‘touchy-feely’ therapy sessions, and then we marvel that we are not growing ‘men of God.’ The preaching of the Word of God is relegated to a few short verses sprinkled sparingly throughout the sermon. This is a day in which it is nearly impossible to engage the average Christian in a discussion of Biblical truths. Most are so poorly equipped that they cannot defend even the most fundamental truths. This was not the case in generations past. It is time we followed the instruction of God’s Word and begin to steep His children in His godly precepts and testimonies. Then and only then, will we see lives changed and the saints of God walking in the purity and power of holiness! I would challenge every pastor to try God’s method of producing godly, devoted disciples for six months. That is what will revolutionize the Church!

Is it any wonder that so many are leaving the churches? There is a hunger and a thirst among some of God’s people, needs that the Church has failed to satisfy. The saints of God wander from place to place seeking and not finding. Finally, sadly, many leave her never to return. The words of the prophet Amos are truly being fulfilled in our day,

‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.’

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Kingdom Parables - II

‘The kingdom of heaven is like . . .
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like . . .’ (Matthew 13:24-50)

In the thirteenth chapter of the book of Matthew Jesus speaks forth seven parables related to the ‘kingdom of heaven.’ In this chapter, Jesus explains the meaning of three of the seven ‘kingdom’ parables to his disciples. The four remaining ‘mysteries of the kingdom’ are left for us to unravel by the Word and Spirit of God. It is my belief that most Christians have failed to arrive at a correct understanding of the parables. In my first entry on this subject I presented what I believe to be the correct interpretation of the first group of three parables: the wheat and the tares, the mustard seed, and the woman with the leavened loaves. In the following, I will look at the three remaining parables: the treasure hid in the field, the pearl of great price, and the net cast into the sea. I believe that the ‘traditional’ interpretation has been in error and I would like to present a different understanding for your consideration.

‘The kingdom of heaven . . .’ Having an understanding of what is meant by the term ‘kingdom of heaven’ is important to an accurate interpretation of these parables. Although a thorough study of this subject is beyond the scope of this writing, I would like to make a few short observations which should help the reader with their understanding. It is interesting to note that for all His repeated references to the ‘kingdom of heaven’ or ‘kingdom of God,’ Jesus never once offered a definition of ‘the kingdom.’ It should also be noted that he was never asked what He meant by the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven.’ It would seem that His Jewish hearers were well acquainted with the meaning of the term. We have but to go back into the writings of the Old Testament authors to see that the promise of a kingdom under the rule and authority of God was central to their understanding of His purpose and plan. There are literally scores of references to the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom. The reader should have no difficulty locating these passages.

The Greek word basileia is translated into our English word, ‘kingdom.’ Basileia carries with it the understanding of ‘ruling’ or ‘reigning’ rather than that of a ‘realm’ or ‘peoples.’ The great ‘mystery of the kingdom’ becomes how Christ can have received all authority and yet allow Satan’s work to continue upon the earth. Jesus addresses this issue with the parable of ‘a certain nobleman’ who‘went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. But his citizens hated him and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded his servants . . .’ saying ‘those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay before me.’ We see this theme echoed in Paul’s words, ‘Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.’ And again in the book of Revelation, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.’ The three parables at the end of the thirteenth chapter of Matthew illustrate the progression of God’s dealings with humanity until that final day when He returns and severs the wicked from among the just.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.’
The ‘traditional’ interpretation of this passage is that it is the sinner who finds Christ and gives all that he has to possess Him. There are several grave errors in this understanding. First and foremost, we know that it is impossible for us to find Christ. Our hearts are inclined away from seeking Him, and it is only through the efforts of the Spirit of God that any man is drawn to Him. Secondly, Christ is not hidden. He has been proclaimed to every corner of the earth. It is man’s sin-blinded heart that keeps Him from being seen. Lastly, if it were the case that the man found Christ, why would He be hidden again?

The reality is that it is Christ who has found a ‘peculiar treasure’ which has been ‘hid in a field.’ In explaining a previous parable, Jesus told us plainly the ‘field is the world.’ The man in this parable has not purchased the treasure but has purchased the field. God says of man that ‘ye have sold yourselves for nought and ye shall be redeemed without money.’ Man has nothing with which to buy. He has already sold himself into servitude and has become the servant of sin. It is Christ alone that had any ‘purchasing power’ with God, and He willingly sold all that He had (His very life) to purchase the field (the world) and the treasure hidden within. It is a hidden treasure because it has not yet been drawn from the earth, but the day is fast approaching when the Lord Jesus will reach down into the ‘field’ and bring forth his ‘hidden treasure’ and display it before an amazed world!

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.’ In spite of the fact that a well known Christian hymn refers to Jesus as the ‘pearl of great price,’ many of the same arguments from the previous parable may also be applied to this one. No man is able to purchase Christ or His salvation. It is Christ Jesus who ‘sold all that He had’ to purchase this precious treasure.

In the strictest sense, it could be argued that the ‘treasure hid in a field’ refers to Israel and that the ‘pearl of great price’ is the church. There is a significant amount of scriptural evidence to support this viewpoint, but I will not take the time to address that subject here.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.’ Jesus explained this parable for us. Here again, we are reminded that the kingdom of heaven is a mixture of true and false, good and bad. At the close of the age, He will return with all power and authority as Judge and King. He will send His angels forth, and all will be gathered before Him. All will stand before His judgment seat. Some will receive everlasting life; many will receive everlasting damnation.

Let us be among those who are His, diligently about His work, faithfully fulfilling His commandments, and building His Kingdom, that He might say unto us in that day, ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant.’

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Kingdom Parables - I

‘The kingdom of heaven is like . . .
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like . . .’ (Matthew 13:24-50).

In the thirteenth chapter of the book of Matthew, Jesus speaks forth three of the seven parables related to the ‘kingdom of heaven.’ In this chapter, Jesus explains the meaning of two of the seven to his disciples. The four remaining ‘mysteries of the kingdom’ are left for us to unravel by the Word and Spirit of God. It is my belief that most Christians have failed to arrive at a correct understanding of the parables. I recently had a conversation with a pastor friend of mine concerning these verses. This man has been in the ministry nearly thirty years and is a diligent student of the Scriptures, yet he had never heard or read any other interpretation of these passages than that which is ‘traditionally’ taught. In the following lines I would like to present a different understanding for your consideration.

It should first be noted that Jesus had just come from an encounter with the Pharisees who accused His disciples of violating the law because they ‘were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. . . upon the sabbath day.’ Jesus responded to this accusation by restoring the withered hand of one man and casting a devil out of another! The Pharisees condemned His actions as a violation of the sabbath and accused Him of casting out devils ‘by Beelzebub (or Satan) the chief of devils.’ The following day, with these memories still fresh in His mind, Jesus delivered the parables of the kingdom, each of which speak of some aspect of Satan’s hindrance of the gospel message or work. In the parable of the wheat and tares we see the introduction of false believers. In the parable of the mustard seed we see the ‘unnatural’ growth of a religious system that allows Satan a ‘foot-hold’ in the church. In the parable of the leavened loaves we see the introduction of false doctrine.

The parable of the sower is explained for us. Little needs to be said except to note how few of the sown seeds actually find good soil in which to germinate.

The second kingdom parable, which is the first of a series of three, is also explained for us. Here we see good seed sown and growing but the enemy has interspersed among the wheat the ‘children of the wicked one;’ the fruitless tares. Three things should be noted. First, the seed is not the Word of God. It is ‘the sons of the kingdom,’ the saints of God. The tares are not false doctrine. They are ‘the sons of the evil one.’ Thirdly, this evil act was accomplished because the Master’s servants ‘slept.’ Though it is God who will ultimately separate the wheat from the tares it is not difficult to see that some of this process of ‘bundling’ is already in progress!

This parable is followed by the illustration of the mustard seed. The Greek sinapi, ‘sharp or biting,’ from which the word ‘mustard’ is derived, is an excellent description of the effect of the kingdom and the gospel message upon the world. That this large plant should spring forth from a single, tiny seed demonstrates the potential of the gospel to affect the world. Jesus describes the plant as a ‘tree.’ Throughout the Scriptures we see the tree as illustrating something that has become a worldly or political power. In the fourth chapter of Daniel we find a description of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom: ‘The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth: The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.’ The seventeenth chapter of Ezekiel contains a similar example. Jesus also makes reference to the ‘birds of the air (that) come and lodge in the branches thereof.’ These ‘fowls of the air’ are a picture of Satan and his evil workers who have found a lodging place in the church. Jesus explained this type in the parable of the sower: ‘When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which is sown in his heart.’ This illustration is found often in the Scripture. Another example would be the fowls of the air that descended upon Abraham’s sacrifice and had to be driven away. The fledgling church which had been persecuted so mercilessly through the first two centuries of its existence was suddenly elevated to a stature of prominence under the Roman Emperor Constantine. From that time on the church was thrust into a place of worldly and political power which has corrupted her pure message. It is not difficult for anyone with ‘spiritual eyes’ to see that Satan has truly found a lodging place amongst her branches.

The parable of the woman with the leaven is given to show us the insidious nature of the false doctrine that has crept into the church. Without exception, everywhere that leaven is presented in the scripture it typifies falsehood or sin. To the Jewish hearer, there was no question as to the meaning of leaven in this parable. The Jews were commanded to remove leaven from their homes in preparation for the Passover. The majority of their offerings (except those that represented themselves) were to be free from leaven. Jesus used the figure of leaven to describe the hypocrisy and worldliness of the Pharisees. Paul used the defiling, corrupting nature of leaven in many of his illustrations. Leaven is not used in this parable to show the growth of the kingdom. It testifies to the corrupt doctrine that has found its way into the church and to the worldly, compromised lives of those who call themselves the people of God. It is my own personal belief that the greatest ‘corruption’ to find its way into the church is the doctrine and practice of the distinction between clergy and laity. I believe that this doctrine is the Nicholaitan error that Jesus condemned in the Revelation letters to the churches. It found its foot-hold under Constantine and has grown in strength through the centuries. This doctrine undermines and emasculates the ‘priesthood of believers’ which is a fundamental principle of the new covenant.

So, we see that Jesus is not testifying to the great successes of the church in these parables but is warning us against the dangers that will take root in the church. In the visible church there will be false brethren, there will be a political and organizational system which will allow Satan to work, and there will be false doctrine that will weaken the spiritual power and authority of the church and promote a carnal, worldly way of life.

Satan has been given his space of time to accomplish what he may. But in the end, our King will come and take back all that Satan has usurped and will take unto Himself his glorious bride who has kept herself pure and holy, without spot or blemish, for Him.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

His Ageless Word

That ‘which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done . . . .
That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments’ (Psalm 78:3-7):

‘My mouth shall shew forth thy righteousness and thy salvation all the day; for I know not the numbers thereof’ (Psalm 71:15).

Another generation has been entrusted to our care. How awesome the responsibility that we should be the voice for our God to show forth His righteousness and declare His salvation to those who follow after. We who were once but children and introduced to our God and His righteous ways by loving parents and grandparents have grown in the grace and love of our Lord throughout our youth and adulthood. It may be that we are now old and compassed about with the frailties that age must bring. Can the years quench our love, steal our praise, or diminish our trust in His grace? Lord, the fire you kindled in our hearts when our life was new burns much brighter and hotter now! Your praises have become our song, and your great goodness stirs our hearts to such a pitch that we cannot but proclaim our faith! Though the remainder of our days be few, we will be faithful to our task. We will instruct our children’s children and ‘set their hope in God!’

With years oppressed, with sorrows worn,
Dejected, harassed, sick, forlorn,
To thee, O God, I pray;
To thee I lift these failing eyes:
Oh, cast me not away!

Thy mercy heard my infant prayer;
Thy love, with all a mother’s care,
Sustained my childish days:
Thy goodness watched my ripening youth,
And formed my heart to love thy truth,
And filled my lips with praise.

O Saviour! Has thy grace declined:
Can years affect the eternal Mind,
Or time its love destroy?
A thousand ages pass thy sight,
And all their long and weary flight
Is gone like yesterday.

Then, e’en in age and grief, thy name
Shall still my languid heart inflame,
And bow my faltering knee:
Oh, yet this bosom feels the fire,
This trembling hand and drooping lyre,
Have yet a strain for thee!

Yes, broken, tuneless, still, O Lord,
This voice, transported, shall record
Thy goodness, tried so long;
Till, sinking slow, with calm decay,
Its feeble murmurs melt away
Into a seraph’s song.
Sir Robert Grant

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Confidence of the Righteous

‘I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about’ (Psalm 3:5-6).

In the title of this Psalm we find that it is ‘a Psalm of David when he fled from Absalom his son.’ Many today discount the value of the titles placed before the various Psalms. It is true that they did not accompany the original writing but were added at a later date. Nonetheless, their origin is ancient, and they are included as part of the Psalm in the Jewish religion.

A brief history of the events surrounding the writing of this Psalm will be helpful to the reader. Although the Psalm is an expression of the heart of King David toward his God in the face of the betrayal of his son Absalom, there is also a prophetic element veiled within these verses that reveals something of the anguish of Jesus during His last earthly hours.

Absalom was the third son of King David. He had a full sister Tamar, who was forcibly violated by his older half-brother Amnon. King David failed to take any action in the matter, but the deed was not forgotten by Absalom. Two full years passed. Absalom invited Amnon to a feast celebrating the completion of the sheep shearing at Baal-hazor, which was some twenty miles from Jerusalem and the King’s palace. During this feast, Absalom had his servants kill his half-brother. Absalom fled to Geshur, to the home of his Syrian grandfather, where he remained for several years. With the help of Joab, King David’s nephew and Captain of his army, Absalom was returned and restored to his royal position as eldest prince. (King David’s second son Chileab had apparently also died prematurely.) Absalom was the oldest surviving heir. The personable Absalom began to ingratiate himself with the people, with the ultimate goal of wresting the throne and the kingdom from his father.

In the fortieth year after David was anointed by Samuel and in the twenty-seventh year of his reign, Absalom felt he had gained a strong enough following from among the people to overthrow the king. King David fled the city with a small band of faithful friends and servants, ascended the Mount of Olives (barefoot, head covered and weeping), and crossed the brook Kidron. Here it was that King David was met by the cursing, stone-throwing Shimei, a relative of the former king, Saul. David’s men would have slain the rebel had the king not intervened. It was also at the Mount of Olives that David was met by Zadok and Abiathar, the sons of the High Priest, and Hushai, his closest friend. At David’s request, they were asked to return to the city and bring him word of Absalom’s plans. Hushai was to pretend to join the revolt with Absalom and to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel, whose wisdom was such that his words were esteemed as the counsels of God.

Ahithophel, the King’s most respected counselor, had aligned himself with Absalom, a defection that persuaded even more people to follow Absalom. It is worth noting that Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bath-sheba. The murder of Uriah at the instigation of King David may well have been the cause of Ahithophel’s treachery toward his king. As a result of Ahithophel’s counsel, Absalom publicly defiled King David’s concubines. Ahithophel also urged a swift attack on the fleeing king before he had opportunity to raise an army. Knowing David needed time, Hushai recommended that Absalom organize his forces before attacking. God caused Absalom to heed Hushai’s counsel, which shamed the proud Ahithophel to such a degree that he went to his home and hung himself.

David crossed over the Jordan River, organized his followers, and crushed the attack by Absalom’s forces. Absalom, a handsome but vain man, was renowned for his long, full head of hair. In his flight upon his mule, his hair became entangled in the branches of a tree, and as he hung in the air, Joab’s men killed him. His body was cut down and buried under a heap of rocks where it fell.

David was restored to the throne by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. However, the remaining ten tribes no longer acknowledged him as their king. David continued to reign until his death thirteen years later. As death approached, David placed his son Solomon upon the throne, fulfilling the prophetic word of the prophet Nathan.

In this psalm, we find a broken, heart-sick David crying out to his God. His son’s murderous heart had been made manifest, his faithful counselor had forsaken him, much of his trusted army had deserted him, and the people that had at one time almost worshipped him have turned their hearts away. ‘Lord, how are they increased that trouble me.’ ‘Lord, they say that you have even forsaken me! Lord, I hear their cry,’ ‘There is no help for him in God.’

David’s heart may have been bursting with sorrow, but his spirit rose up to his God! ‘Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill.’ ‘I cried Lord and your Spirit answered me. You have not forsaken me. Others who were dear to me have turned away, but you will stand by me!’ In his sorrow, David had cast off his sandals, covered his head, and wept as he ascended Mount Olivet, but now his God was with him. He would stand straight and tall in the face of his troubles. His God was the ‘lifter up of’ his ‘head.’

His fears were gone. There was no place in his heart for fear. His God who had stood with him so many times in the past was with him again and would champion his cause. Through his God he had slain the bear and the lion. His God had strengthened him against the the giant of Gath. His God had helped him defeat his enemies on every side. God would stand with him now! Though thousands were gathering against him, no tens of thousands, what was that in comparison to the legions of Heaven? He would lay him down and sleep, sweet restful sleep! The heavenly hosts were camped about him.

What had he to fear? His God would ‘arise’ and ‘save’ him. Yes, had his faithful friends allowed it, he would have buckled on his armor and stepped into the battle. But, the battle was not his. His God would uphold his cause! His enemies would fall, yet as was ever the cry of David’s heart, ‘Lord in judgment remember mercy.’

A holy son of David would tread his sorrowful path, ascend the mount, and cross the brook. Here He would stop to pray. He too would be compassed about by those who hated him without cause and sought his life, with only a small band of close friends to comfort him. He would not fear. His God who had been ever with Him would be with Him now. He would be laid to rest and sleep. He would rise anew. His God would awaken Him; His God would save Him. He would stand again upon the Mount of Olives, bless His friends, receive His kingdom and ascend unto His Glorious Throne. Yes, there would be those who would forsake Him and refuse to acknowledge His Kingship, but many would bow their knee in love and honor of Him. Of Him it would be said, ‘Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people!’ He would reign as the holy, glorious King in a kingdom that would stand for all eternity!

He trusted in His God and He delivered Him.

Now let us trust in Him.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Our God Reigns

‘Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou are my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with the rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel’ (Psalm 2:6-9).

This Psalm of David begins with a question. ‘Why do the heathen rage . . .?’ Why do the ‘kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed . . . ?’ What an amazing thing that any would seek to defy the living God. What a blinding force sin is that a man’s understanding could be so darkened as to think that he might stand in the face of God and live. Yet, we see Nimrod, ‘a mighty hunter’ in the face of God; we see Babel’s tower, the god Pharaoh, the nations of Canaan, the headless Dagon, the drunken Belshazzar, the fox Herod, and the High Priest Caiaphas all raging against the Lord and His saints. Of the thirty Roman emperors and governors most vehement in their persecutions of the Lord’s people, there was not one who went to his grave in peace. They were murdered, committed suicide, died in battle, were imprisoned, dismembered, or died of loathsome diseases. They raged against our God and He did ‘speak unto them in his wrath and vex them in his sore displeasure.’ Many have come after these, blind to the lesson they teach, and more will yet come. Antichrist, the kings of the earth, and their numberless armies, will surely come and array themselves against the Lord our God and His angelic host. Our God will ‘speak unto them in his wrath and vex them in his sore displeasure.’ But for all their efforts and for all their venomous hatred, they cannot thwart the purposes of God! ‘Yet, have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.’

Our God reigns! He is King of kings and Lord or lords! He it was that Daniel saw in his vision, ‘one like the Son of man’ who ‘came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.’ Let us rejoice in our God. His is an everlasting kingdom and His rule is above all!

He is our King! He is King in Zion! He has come into His Temple. Her Lord has come unto her. Let her glory; let her rejoice. Our Lord has seated Himself upon the throne of His power and dwells in the midst of His Church! Our God reigns! ‘Zion heard, and was glad; and the daughters of Judah rejoiced because of thy judgments, O Lord. For thou, Lord, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods.’

‘I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.’
His very enemies have become His inheritance. Those who once hated Him and fought against Him in their hearts have been won to Him. He has become their God. Him whom they once hated they now love!

Yet, not all will return to Him. The Father has given Him a rod of iron with which to break the pride of the rebellious. It was with rods of iron that they pinned Him to Calvary’s tree, mocking him and rejoicing in His torment. He will not be mocked! The Fathers rod has been given to His Son the King. With it He will smite the wicked and ‘dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ Be wise. Come, ye froward and rebellious, ‘serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son.’

The foes of Zion quake for fright
Where no fear was they quail;
For well they know that sword of might
Which cuts through coats of mail.

The Lord of old defiled their shields,
And all their spears he scorn’d;
Their bones lay scatter’d o’er the fields.
Unburied and unmourn’d.

Let Zion’s foes be filled with shame;
Her sons are bless’d of God;
Though scoffers now despise their name,
The Lord shall break the rod.

Oh! Would our God to Zion turn,
God with salvation clad;
Then Judah’s harps should music learn.
And Israel be glad.
C. H. Spurgeon

Rejoice, O Zion, Our God reigns!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Able, Godly Men - II

‘And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.
Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them’ (Exodus 18:20-21).

In the previous entry, I shared my thoughts on these verses. In this writing I would like to share four situations from personal experience that illustrate the consequences of failing to follow this biblical mandate of appointing godly men. Although I could have drawn on many other examples, I chose these because in each case I was asked to leave the church.

The first church I was asked to leave was affiliated with a Pentecostal denomination. They had a ‘board of elders’ composed of influential men in the church. Sadly, they were not spiritual men. I had attended for some time and taught the adult Sunday school class. In the church there was a man whose family and friends comprised well over half the membership. This man was very immature spiritually, but because of his influence he controlled the church board. He also had a prominent ‘ministry’ in the church and exercised the ‘gift of knowledge’ freely during the service. In reality, it was nothing more than showmanship with no spiritual substance. I had talked with the pastor about this matter a number of times, and though he agreed with my assessment, he was reluctant to taken any action. Time went on, and an incident occurred, related to this man, which the pastor, from the pulpit, publicly credited to the Spirit of God. I spoke with the pastor after the service, and he acknowledged that he personally did not believe it was from God. Our conversation was overheard, and I was brought before the board and asked to leave. Though the pastor was a good man in many respects, he compromised what he knew to be right rather than risk this man’s disapproval and possible dismissal. But God is not mocked! It was only a short time later that he was dismissed and that at the instigation of this troublesome board member. How important it is that those in leadership be ‘able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness . . .’ How disastrous it can be to a church when they are not!

The second church I was asked to leave was also part of a large denomination. Their godly pastor of a number of years had taken another position. Several men had interviewed for the ‘vacancy’ and the body selected a young man. This man had little experience but was an excellent speaker. I felt that he lacked the character and maturity for the position. One brother and I expressed our opposition, but the body voted (mature and immature alike) and he selected. It was only a short time before it became apparent to many that this young man was pompous and arrogant. He refused all instruction and correction. I addressed the situation at a board meeting and was told that if I could not support him it would be better for all concerned if I left the church. Less than one month later, this young pastor’s wife left him and their two children for another man. At about the same time, it was discovered that he and his wife (who had been elected the church treasurer) had misappropriated approximately twenty thousand dollars from the church building fund. At this point he was dismissed. The church ultimately suffered a split, with many wounded saints finding other places to fellowship. Sadly, this church had a man in their midst who would have made an excellent pastor, a man whom I believe was the Lord’s choice, but he didn’t have the proper ‘credentials.’ Had the few godly men and women in the body been given the responsibility of selecting the pastor, the young man would not have been chosen. Allowing carnal and immature Christians to make spiritual decisions often has disastrous consequences.

The third church I was asked to leave was another Pentecostal church. Though it was an independent work, the ‘roots’ of the older members were in the United Pentecostal Church. Though I could not embrace some of their doctrinal understanding, I liked the people very much. I had gotten to know the leadership (a father and son) through a regional ministerial group that I attended. They embraced the principles of ‘plural leadership’ and ‘body ministry’ which were and are important to me. I was treated as a peer. As a result of personal and family issues involving the pastor, I was often asked to teach or preach. Though we had obvious differences of understanding, I had no difficulty finding things to share in the areas in which we were in agreement. There were several excellent young men in this body, men who were godly, spiritual, and mature. Though I was continually championing their cause, in this older pastor’s eyes, they were never quite ready for leadership. He embraced plurality of leadership as a doctrinal truth but could never implement it. There came a day when my own young children had made a commitment to the Lord Jesus and wanted to be baptized. I could not embrace with a clear conscience their doctrines of ‘baptism in Jesus’ name’ and baptism as ‘essential for salvation.’ It was suggested by some of the older members, that I might find a better ‘fit’ somewhere else. Our parting was peaceable, and I still have a great love for the saints there. None of the younger men in the fellowship held to an understanding of baptism being necessary for salvation. Had he brought some of these men into leadership, I suspect that I would have been given the liberty to baptize my children according to my conscience. After my parting, many of these men also left the fellowship. I had nothing to do with their individual decisions, though I suspect that I brought a doctrinal balance to the fellowship which was lost at my leaving. The balance that this older brother desperately needed was available had he only been able to appoint and empower these young men to a leadership position.

The last church I was asked to leave had started as a home fellowship. The pastor had come to the community from a small town approximately seventy-five miles away. There were unsubstantiated rumors that he had left this town because of an adulterous affair. As the fellowship grew, the pastor appointed elders. These were hand picked men, chosen because they could be trusted to stand by him, right or wrong. He was very irresponsible in his counseling of women, going to their homes and counseling them alone. It was not long before he was the gossip of the community. I spoke to him and cautioned him concerning his counseling practices. He refused to listen. It soon became evident that there was some truth to the gossip. He staunchly refused to admit that he had done anything wrong and would not change his ways. I approached the board of elders. Their response was that he had not been caught in the act of adultery. They would take no action. Rumors increased, and there was little doubt but what the accusations were true. Still, the elders would not respond. After a number of attempts to reason with the board, one elder and I were asked to leave. Even after the open confession of one of the women involved, the elders took no action. His wife divorced him. A number of other marriages ended in divorce. Finally, the man left the area. Many families ultimately left the church. A new pastor was ‘called’ and the same eldership remained. This is yet another example of what can happen when otherwise good men who lack spiritual insight and maturity are appointed to places of leadership.

If I had it to do over again, would I do differently? No, I would still stand for what is upright and honest. I would do the same again.

God’s cry still goes forth today, ‘provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them . . .’

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Able, Godly Men - I

‘And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.
Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them’ (Exodus 18:20-21).

I have been in the Lord Jesus for over thirty-five years. During that time, I have been involved with a number of fellowships from the state of Washington to Minnesota. Some have been mainline denominational churches, but the majority have been independent fellowships. Many have been excellent works with godly pastors and elders, but some have not. The strong, stable churches practiced the principles set forth in the verses above; the weak, problem ridden churches did not. When Jethro, the priest of Midian, and Moses’ father-in-law saw the tremendous weight of responsibility that Moses carried with the flock that God had given him, he gave his ‘son’ this godly counsel, ‘provide out of all the people able men such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness . . .’

No man, except Christ alone, has the full measure of the Spirit of God. We all are incomplete and inadequate in ourselves. No matter what our education or years of experience in service to God, we need the wisdom, maturity, and insight that a plurality of leadership provides. It is my personal belief that our present system of clergy/laity (which was unknown in the primitive church) with its inability to duplicate the successes of the first century church or to raise up godly, uncompromised leaders is a testimony to the error of that failed system. God wants men and women who are well equipped with the truth of the word, have a godly walk, have a zeal for the house of God, and have a love for saint and sinner alike; men and women who fear God and love truth have no selfish ambitions or hidden motives. It has ever been God’s intent that His pastors and teachers would seek out such and equip them to share the responsibilities of ministry.

As I think back over the years to the churches I have known which had severe internal problems, three great errors come to my mind. The first and by far the most common error is a failure to recognize the need for additional leadership. I have known more than a few pastors who felt that they were complete in themselves, would not share the responsibilities of ministry with others, and refused to accept correction or instruction from the ‘laity.’ Many such men have fallen from their ‘high places,’ and some have even abandoned the faith!

The second error is a failure to appoint godly leadership. Simply electing a church board is not the answer. More often than not, such a ‘board’ is composed of members with strong alliances to influential families in the church and is seldom made up of the true spiritual leaders in the body. Even in fellowships which practice the biblical pattern of appointing elders, I have seen situations where such men were selected, not because of their godly character, but because they would stand with the ‘pastor’ in any and all matters, right or wrong! Such men are mere puppets, not men of godly character or truth!

The third error is a failure to empower godly leadership. Many churches have appointed men and women with godly character and maturity to places of leadership but never empowered them. They have no real governing function in the church apart from temporal matters. In all reality they are ‘deacons,’ not elders. It is a rare ‘pastor’ who is willing to be ‘one among equals.’ God has purposed to have a priesthood to worship and serve Him. It is Christ Jesus alone who sits as ‘High Priest,’ and we, as brethren, are a ‘kingdom of priests.’ With the exception of a few newly formed works there is not a single account (from the pages of Scripture or the historical record) of a first century church which was governed by one lone leader.

The work of God is far too great for any one man. We are called as a part of a great ‘body,’ the body of Christ, with each believer an indispensable member. Father, open the eyes of your leaders that in true humility they may see themselves as co-laborers in a great harvest. Raise up your glorious priesthood that all might together worship and serve you!