8. Feeling with God

Meditations from Ezekiel: 8.  Feeling with God

Ezek 2:8-10   Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.

The down side of Ezekiel’s ministry: There is a danger as we read these chapters to get caught up with the awfulness of Ezekiel’s mission. In chapters 2 and 3 he is told eight times that Israel are a rebellious people and twice the Lord speaks of them as obstinate and the reason for that is that they have become hardened. And he is told to go to speak to this people. It is a pretty bleak future! Four times he is told not to be afraid of the people and three times he is told to speak to them regardless of whether they listen or fail to listen.

Take in the Word: But at the end of 2:8 the command comes, open your mouth and eat what I give you.” We then see what God is referring to: “Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.” (2:9,10) The command to eat is reiterated: “And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.” (3:1,2) Then a third time, “Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (3:3)

Remember, this is still all within the vision but what have we seen? A scroll written on both sides (a substantial message) with “words of lament and mourning and woe.” If this is the message Ezekiel is going to have to bring – and we must assume it is – then he is to be the bringer of bad news. Now in the bigger view of the book there are ‘good news’ sections about Israel’s future but the main emphasis – in calling for repentance – is going to be on bad news, the awful things that will happen to Israel and to Jerusalem IF they do not repent. Why will there be this emphasis? Because the Lord know Israel will NOT repent and so His disciplinary and terminal judgment will fall on Israel and upon Jerusalem, and for the inhabitants, that will be very bad news!

Taken to his people: The Lord reassures him that he is only going to his own people, the people of his language who will understand his words (v.4-6) but they will not listen because they are hardened by sin (v.7) but He will make Ezekiel as hard as they are in the bringing of his ministry to them (v.8,9).  He reiterates His call for Ezekiel to go and speak to them (v.10,11) and he then hears sounds of the movement of the creatures (v.12,13) – they are obviously moving on in the will of God – and he found, “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River.” (v.14,15) It is now time for Ezekiel to settle with his people and the Holy Spirit empowers him and directs him (no doubt to walk) from his present location near this irrigation canal to a more populated site where his people were.

Feeling with God: Notice he goes “in bitterness and in the anger” of his spirit. When he had eaten the scroll of mourning it had tasted sweet – God’s word always does initially – but as he absorbs it and takes in all the Lord has been saying, it leaves him feeling bitter and angry. Bitter simply means distressed by all he has heard. He is angry because of the folly of his people and in this he identifies with the feelings of the Lord. The word of God that he has eaten, taken in and digested, devastates him: “And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days–overwhelmed.” (3:15b) The whole experience and particularly what he has seen and heard, overwhelms him and he sits in silence for a week.

Personal Testimony: Now as I have prayed over this passage this morning, I have been reminded of something that happened many years ago. I was feeling anxious about someone my wife and I knew and I commented to my wife, “I think I am feeling as the Lord feels for her.” My wife initially suggested we couldn’t feel as God feels and over the next three days we discussed this until the evening of the church’s prayer meeting. There, half way through, one of the ladies in the group brought what I believe to have been the most amazing revelation that was, I suppose, a combination of word of knowledge and prophecy. In it the Lord used the literal words my wife and I had been using in our conversations over the previous three days, and concluded, “And you can feel my heart.” A number of months later, a national prophet visited our church and prophesied over me, “And you shall know my heart and convey it to my people.” Do I believe we can feel as God feel? Yes, I do!

Bringing Personal Prophecy: Now Ezekiel’s word was a word of doom. Our word, unless we are moving at a very significant ministry level is, in this period of grace, a word of love and acceptance that is available to people. I have summed it up for the last twenty-five years as “God loves you exactly as you are, but He loves you so much that He has something better for you than you have at present.” There have been times when I have encountered people whose lives I felt left much to be desired and although I wanted to bring words that demanded repentance, the Lord would only allow me to bring words of acceptance and, to my surprise, they brought tears and repentance!  God is much better at convicting people than we are and our role is to hold open the door of the kingdom of heaven and if people reject it, that is down to them and they will be answerable to God. But they may just go through the door.

Ezekiel & Jeremiah’s ‘Partnership’: Ezekiel has a unique ministry. In Jerusalem Jeremiah is prophesying and demanding repentance. He has been doing it for a number of years and will continue up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel is his support ministry from Babylon. Jeremiah is more concerned with getting the people to repent before Jerusalem is destroyed, but the people reject his words and it is destroyed. Ezekiel is one of the exiles in Babylon and for the time being he will join in the calls to repent and bring warnings of destruction, but after the destruction has taken place, we will see, he becomes a messenger of hope for Israel in exile.

Prophesying for the long-term: The destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of 99% of Israel is not the end of the people, but there will still be a work to do in getting their hearts changed to be prepared to be able to go back decades later to rebuild the city, rebuild the temple and rebuild the people. Hard they may be now, but how much will Ezekiel’s words be used to change their hearts in the long-term, so that in decades to come they will be in a fit state to return to the Land?  This is a long-term calling.

1. The Absent Struggler

CHAPTER 2: Part 5: Paul’s Aims in Writing

Meditations in Colossians 2: 1:  The Absent Struggler!

Col 2:1   I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.

In the studies in chapter 1 I have commented a number of times how we come across phrases or concepts in the Bible that we tend to take for granted and skim over when we are reading it. This was especially so in chapter 1 for there were so many theological concepts to be thought through. However, as soon as we start chapter 2 we find ourselves with an intriguing picture which is not very clear at first sight. How, we might ask at the outset, was Paul struggling for people he had never met?

Now of course this is really just an extension of the previous two verses, the last two in chapter 1, where he had said, (1) We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that (2) we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Col 1:28:29). There are, I am going to suggest, two things over which Paul struggles and the first is revealed in those previous two verses as Paul’s basic ministry and it is expressed as two parts in those verses.

The first part was to “proclaim him”, i.e. to preach Christ to all he met. When Luke records the start of Paul’s ministry on Cyprus he simply says that “they proclaimed the word of God,” (Acts 13:5) and that phrase is repeated in v.7, but when he moved on to Pisidian Antioch, in the synagogue there he first spoke about Israel’s history ending with David, concluding, “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised,” (v.23)

  • and then portraying him as God’s Son (v.33)
  • and explaining the resurrection (v.34-37)
  • and providing forgiveness for sins (v.38)
  • and justification (v.39).

In this he followed the same pattern as Peter on the day of Pentecost  even to the point of exhorting the people not to reject God’s word but to repent (implied v.40). Presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ was the first element of this part of his ministry.

The second part of his ministry was, according to that verse, to “present everyone perfect in Christ,” i.e. to bring them through to salvation, fully assured in Christ and well taught, i.e. well established. Initially, it seems, their main effort went into simply presenting the Gospel but then later we find, “Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” (Acts 15:36) In other words Paul caught this idea that the believers needed to be well established. While his main efforts were clearly put into sharing the Gospel afresh, he also obviously sometimes stayed around to deepen their understanding, thus at Corinth we read, “Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.” (Acts 18:11) As an apostle he didn’t only want to share the Gospel but also make sure the church was built up in it.

Now while he poured out his heart in his ministry face to face, where he had contacts with other believers through other members of his apostolic team who reported back to him, we also finding him seeking to express his ministry through writing. In that he was conveying the gospel and seeking to impart teaching to build up the new believers in those places he had not yet visited but of whom he had been given reports – as with the church at Colosse of whom he had heard through Epaphras, and the church in Rome.

As we are focusing on the “struggle” we might suggest that this was a struggle in Paul’s heart, a frustration that longed to be fulfilled by him coming to them, but in the meantime he poured it out in the form we have been seeing. It may also have been the concern he had of arranging for members of the apostolic team to care for these people and make sure he can do everything he could to support them. Thus when he says, “I want you to know how much I am struggling for you,” he is basically saying, “I want you to know how much my heart yearns for you and how I am doing everything I possibly can to support and bless you with the Gospel and with teaching.”

Now earlier I said there were two things over which Paul struggled, the first being in sharing the Gospel and bringing teaching to build up the church.

The second we will find as we go on through the letter, which is the struggle to overcome heresies or wrong teaching. We see him being involved in this conflict fairly early on in his ministry: “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:1,2)

The matter of circumcision and keeping the Law were recurring problems as long as they encountered traditional Jews and that of course, forms a large part of his letter to the Galatians. We will see growing hints of this: “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments,” (v.4) and “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (v.8) His anxiety that the enemy not be allowed to undermine their faith is part of the struggle he refers to.

Remember, earlier in chapter 1 we read, “since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” (1:9,10) Those were the emphases we saw then and now he will build on them in the following verses. Get ready to read on.

19. Aspects of Ministry

Meditations in Titus: 19:  Aspects of Ministry

Titus 2:15   These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you

We have noted previously Titus has within it a number of succinct passages or verses that powerfully summarise different doctrines. In our verse above we have a number of aspects of Christian leadership, things which we would hope we would find in the ministry of any local church leader. There are five things to note.

First of all there is teaching. That is what Paul has been putting before Titus for so much of this letter so far, things that Titus needs to teach within the church. The truth is that when we come to Christ most of us have very little knowledge of the New Testament teachings so we understand little of what has happened to us and little of what we can expect and little of what we should be working for. Making up these deficiencies is the role of the teacher in the church and, I believe, all leaders are called to be such teachers.

Second there is encouragement. Encouragement is all about building up people’s self esteem ‘in Christ’. Building up self esteem on its own only tends towards building pride and self-centredness. Self-esteem in Christ is knowing who we are in him and realising the wonder of who he has made us to be. Encouragement reminds us that we are loved and accepted by God. It points out to us what He has done for us and in us and it helps us face a meaningful and purposeful future.

Third there is rebuking. For most of us this is an aspect of ministry we would rather ignore but when Paul wrote to Timothy he said, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) I have emphasised three words, Rebuking points out that something is wrong. Wrong attitudes and wrong behaviour need pointing out and identifying as displeasing to God. Correcting shows us what is the alternative that God wants for us, while training is about how to go about changing from one to the other.

Fourth there is authority. The authority that a leader has should come from two sources. First there is his calling. He has been called to be God’s representative. He is not there to do his own bidding but God’s. He is not there to provide for himself but for the flock of God. He’s been called to oversee them, to guard them, protect them and provide for them just as The Good Shepherd does, for they are his representatives. This is not a casual or light thing. Second there is God’s will as revealed in His word. We can say with authority, this is right and this is wrong – because God’s word says so.  When the leader comes to present the word of God to the flock in preaching or teaching, he is not there full of ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ but of a certainty that is there in God’s word.  Next to basic food or drink, the Bible is The most important material thing that we have. It is the revelation of God and when we realise the significance of what that means, we will be leaders who come with an authority that was observed in Jesus (see Mt 7:28,29 and Mk 1:22-27)

Fifth there is good reputation.  This has already come up in Titus in a variety of way, for example, “an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless.” (Titus 1:7) in respect of leaders, and, “so that no one will malign the word of God,” (2:5 – women) and, “they have nothing bad to say about us,” (2:8 – Titus himself) and, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (2:10 – slaves) about others. Each of these examples are about behaving in such a way as to create a good reputation so that the work of God’s word and Spirit is not hindered in any way by us. It is true of all of us but especially so of leaders.

Thus we find in these five things, things that we should find in all spiritual leaders. These are basics, fundamentals that are essential in the church if we are to be the people of God, expressing Jesus  and demonstrating God’s love and grace. May it be that we can see them wherever we are part of the church.

29. Principle of Ministry

Short Meditations in John 3:  29. Principle of Ministry

Jn 3:30    He must become greater; I must become less.

In this conversation of John with his questioning disciples we have already heard him saying, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven,” and in that he acknowledged that he was what he was because of his calling and what he had been given by God in his ministry, i.e. the people who flocked to him came because God drew them. Then he referred to himself as the friend of the bridegroom, Jesus, and implied that at the wedding (and the bride is the people), the emphasis is on the coming of the bridegroom and he is the important one, not the best man!

It is thus in this context that he brings us what must be a perfect summary of any ministry that God might give us: “He must become greater; I must become less.”  In other words any ministry that we have in the body of Christ has one primary goal: to draw people to Christ – and that’s it! Christ is the end goal for every believer and anything we do in whatever ministry it is, it is to present people to Christ and leave them with him.

We need to examine this a bit more. Consider the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:11-13) First of all note that the giver of these gifts is Christ himself.

Now look at the ministries: apostles – church planters, church builders. Who is the head of the body, the church? (Eph 4:15)  It is Christ, it is his church. Then prophets – speakers of God’s now word revealing the purpose and direction of God’s will. Where does it come from? Christ. Where does it end up directing people – to Christ! Evangelists, those gifted with bringing people into the kingdom. His kingdom! They simply lead people into it and then walk away and leave people with him. Pastors, those gifting with a caring ability. What are they doing? Looking after the flock so the flock can better know and experience Christ. Teachers, those who impart truth and understanding of God’s word, His will and His ways. Why? So the body can be built up ‘in Christ’, strong in faith, hearing and knowing him and experiencing him more and more. It’s all about him!

So in my ministry, yes, I may initially be the one the believers focuses on as they listen to me and receive me, but my goal is to take them closer to Christ and leave them with him. I can then walk away and I am little or nothing to them. He is everything!

27. Right Perspective

Short Meditations in John 3:  27. Right Perspective

Jn 3:28    You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him

When God blesses a ministry, the great temptation is to begin to thing we are Someone. When God uses us and uses us, how easy it is to fall into deception and think we are really someone great. Yes, of course it was the Lord but He has used Me because I am someone special, I have got it right, I saw the truth as others didn’t, and I stepped out as others didn’t and so, yes, I am someone special!  My ministry proves it.

Moses had to warn Israel against this pride: The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers.” (Deut 7:7,8)  They were who they were, not because they were great in number but because God had chosen Abram and then Isaac and then Jacob and set His love on them.

Similarly Jesus had to pick his disciples up over this issue: “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” (Mk 9:33,34)  This competitive spirit – for that is what it is, setting yourself up against others – was seen more than once in the disciples, for instance it had been there in John himself: “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” (Lk 9:49) It is a basic insecurity in not realizing who you are and who it is who has called you and the measure and extent of your calling.

When it came to John, when his disciples came with this same insecurity, and this same sort of competitive spirit that flowed out of it, John was able to say to them, “You yourselves can testify that I said….” i.e. you will remember and you know the truth of this, that I told you beforehand that I am not the Christ, I am not the one for whom Israel has been waiting al these past centuries. I told you that and made it clear, so you don’t have to bang the drum on my behalf, I don’t need defending. I am not the Messiah, that is not my role. My role was simply to go ahead of him and prepare people to receive him. I am resting in that and so should you (implied).

This principle of knowing who you are and knowing the extent of your calling by God is absolutely vital for anyone called to a public ministry in the body of Christ. Only in this confidence can we minister and expect to be fruitful and be resourced by him. Going beyond our boundaries takes us outside that resourcing and invites weakness.

26. The Origin of all gifting

Short Meditations in John 3:  26. The Origin of all gifting

Jn 3:27    To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.

John understands his ministry and, to be more precise, he understands where it has come from. He was called by God and anointed by God to be the forerunner of the Messiah – and that’s all.  He has done what he was given to do and any ‘success’ that he had had came from the Lord. So when his disciples, or maybe even other Jews starting to stir up competition with Jesus and his ministry, come with questions about his ministry, his basic answer is, I have got what I have from God and do what He gives me to do – and the same is true of the Messiah!

In many ways this is the clearest statement of this principle in the Bible: we do what God calls us to do, and no more. Other people have different ministries and we are not in competition. The apostle Paul wrote in respect of gifts, Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Cor 12:27-30). In this he makes clear various important things. First, it is God who appointed these ministries. Second, the ministries are quite clear and distinct. Third, there are only limited numbers of them and not everyone is the same. This sounds very obvious but in practice it is not. Suppose I am called to be a teacher, say. That means I am a teacher and not a prophet and if I have not been given the prophet’s gifting, I should neither hanker after it nor pretend I have it (even if I have the gift of prophecy).

The key to being at peace in serving God, is knowing what He has called you to and what He has gifted you with. This avoids all temptation to envy or jealousy and enables us to be blessed by other people’s ministry and blessed in exercising our own gifting.  This may all sound very obvious but I wonder how many square pegs there are in round holes in the church – men or women ‘performing’ tasks that they have not been given by the head of the church, but just because they think it is expected of them or wrong ambition pushed them to it? It is a vital subject in the kingdom of God, knowing the calling and the gifting of God and not going beyond it, recognising that real gifting comes from God alone and is not something we stir up. John the Baptist rested in this knowledge, it was his disciples who were slow to come to understanding of it.

27. Entrusted One

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 27 : Jesus, the Entrusted One

Jn 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.

In the age in which we live, in Britain in the early part of the twenty first century, there is one particular tragedy that stands out and which has devastating effects. It is that of fathers abandoning their wives and their children. Far back in history, before people commuted to work (!), men worked from home or from a location close to home and the family unit, being a lot closer, had a part in that work.  Son would thus join the father in his work and eventually the father would hand over the business to the son who would pass it on to his son. Today all of that has gone and the concept of closeness of father and son seems almost alien, which is why the significance of our verse today may be lost on us.

Already in these meditations we have considered something of the closeness of the Father and the Son as revealed by John in his Gospel. There is something quite glorious in this verse, about intimacy and trust. Jesus declares something very simple but very profound: The Father loves the Son.” Sadly today many sons could not say that about their fathers, but Jesus knew it as a truth. Here in human form, separated from his Father in heaven, he still knew the Father loved him. It is part of human experience to know we are loved and where that is missing that is tragic. It is part of the confidence that the Son has.  Already the Father has intervened on earth to declare His approval of His Son (Mt 3:17) as Jesus was being baptised.  Approval indicates confidence and Jesus has that assurance, that confidence, from his Father. He knows he is loved and that love inspires confidence in what he does.

But then comes this incredible statement: The Father … has placed everything in his hands”. What is this ‘everything’?  It is the whole of the work or ministry that Jesus has come to do.  The outcome of your salvation and my salvation was entirely in Jesus’ hands.  He came first to reveal the Father through the works that he performed.  As we’ve already seen, the miracles were to act as signs pointing toward God, for whoever had eyes to see. The works in themselves, and the preaching and teaching that he brought, turned many to God and revealed God’s love to many in those three brief years. But then came the Cross, that work into eternity that took your sin and my sin so that we might be pardoned and forgiven and cleansed when we turned to God, so that justice could be seen to be done and all sin punished. This staggering work on the Cross was the means of all history being changed. All of that was committed into Jesus’ hands. The Father entrusted him with that work, something they had agreed upon before the foundation of the world.

This is the staggering truth, that the Godhead had placed the eternal future of many in the human race upon this one human body that carried the eternal Son. It seems such a fragile plan, dependant upon one human body, who had all of this eternal plan placed in his hands. The success or failure for a family for God in eternity depended on Jesus and the Father trusted him with it. How did the Son achieve it? We’ve seen it before: he watched the Father moving and followed His lead (Jn 5:19) and the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son (Jn 5:22). Yes, the assessment of each human being is dependent on Jesus. It is first how each one of us responds to the Good News of Jesus Christ that we are saved or condemned, and the Son, now seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven confirms the assessment and saves or judges on the basis of our response to him. Awesome!