I SOUGHT FOR A MAN

“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

Few verses of Scripture have more powerfully influenced my personal life than this one. This was the word of the Lord that came to Ezekiel. There was a great need for integrity and holiness in every level of leadership. The prophets, the priests, the princes, and the people were all guilty of corruption. God was left with no option. His holiness demanded that He bring judgment on the land. God was looking for a man that would “make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land.” In some of the saddest words in the Bible, we find this expression, “but I found none.” God could not find the man He sought for.

Surely we are not mistaken if we assume that God is still searching for such men. We know that it is true. There has always been a shortage of laborers in God’s work. It was true in Ezekiel`s day, in the days when Jesus was on this earth; and it remains the same today. God is searching for those He can use. I remember when these words first gripped my heart. I was arrested by the thought that God was still looking for men. It does not seem right that our gracious and giving God would have to be in need of something He cannot find, but it is so. He is looking for those who will be available to Him, to use as He pleases.

Not only was I arrested by the idea that God was looking for men, but also even more stunned to think that I might be considered as a candidate. Could God use me? Could God use you? For what kind of person is God seeking? God is not looking for people with a particular level of education or intelligence. Nor is His search limited to certain personality types or physical appearance. He is looking for men and women who are sincere and available. He is looking for those who are humble and dependent on Him. God is seeking people of earnest and believing prayer. One of the most important things we can do to “make up the hedge” is intercede.

He is looking for those who love the Lord more than they love the world and seek His approval more than the applause of men. It would seem that there would be an abundance of such men and women, but obviously, that is not so. May we heartily respond to this need by giving ourselves completely to God and His will.

WHAT SHALL WE GIVE GOD

“And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.”
Malachi 1:8

The prophet Malachi was announcing to God’s people the wickedness that was present in their worship. Did they think it was acceptable to “offer the blind for sacrifice,” or what if they offered, “the lame and sick”? Malachi asked the same thing about both possibilities. “Is it not evil?” They knew that it would be wrong.

The Old Testament spoke clearly about what God would accept and what was not to be given to Him as an offering. For instance, Deuteronomy 15:21 says, “And if there be any blemish therein, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish, thou shalt not sacrifice it unto the LORD thy God.” The sacrifice was to be as perfect as possible. God would not accept a sacrifice that was blemished. God wanted their best. For them to offer God something less than the best said something about their lack of devotion to God.

Malachi asked them a very piercing question, “offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person?” This brought their actions into clear view. They would never have considered offering such to a government leader. That would be disrespectful and inconsiderate of the honor that he deserved. Then why would they feel comfortable offering such to Almighty God? It was because their view of God was not what it should be. They were willing to offer God the blemished of the flock and assume that it would be accepted.

Obviously, we are no longer under the law of sacrifices and offerings that the Jews were to observe. However, the principle is as appropriate today as it was in Malachi’s day. We still offer sacrifices to God. We offer to Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise, and the dedication of our lives. But, are we giving God our best? Do we sometimes give Him less than He deserves? It is an understandable part of worship that we should give God the best that we have. This is why He wants the first part of our week devoted to His worship and service, and the first part of our income given to Him as an offering. This is not simply for God’s benefit, but for ours. God knows that it is not good for us to give Him less than our best.

THE BLAME GAME

“And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”
Genesis 3:12

Some things never seem to change. One such enduring reality is the way we respond when our sin is exposed. The temptation is to blame others rather than own up to our disobedience. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God confronted Adam about his transgression. When God asked Adam if he were guilty, Adam immediately responded with these words, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”

Adam’s automatic response was to place the blame for his transgression on someone other than himself. In fact, it appears that he wanted to share the blame for his sin on more than one person. Notice that Adam said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me.” This remark seems to indicate that Adam wanted God to share some of the blame for his sin because, after all, it was God that gave him the wife.

Adam clearly directs some of the guilt toward Eve because “she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” One can only surmise by his answer that Adam was definitely trying to shift the responsibility for his disobedience. If Eve hadn’t offered the fruit, he might not have eaten. If God had not given Adam the wife, it probably would not have happened. But, one thing is clearly missing in Adam’s response. He is not taking personal responsibility for his actions.

Blaming others somehow just seems easier than honestly admitting our wrong. It comes quite naturally for people to rationalize and redirect responsibility. Instead of direct confession of wrong, we hear things such as: “If he hadn’t done what he did, I would not have acted that way.” Our apologies are even laced with sharing the blame. Have you ever heard something like this? “I’m sorry for what I said, but I only said it because you said what you did.” Human nature wants to dodge the guilt. Apparently, one of the hardest things for us to say is “I was wrong.”

This brings before us one of the simplest, yet most serious lessons we could ever learn as growing believers. It is the importance of honesty and sincere confession of our sins. There is no getting around it. We cannot consistently grow in the Lord if we are not willing to be completely truthful about our sin.

UNTIL I WENT INTO HIS SANCTUARY

“Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.”
Psalm 73:17

It would do us all well to fall in love with the Psalms. In this particular Psalm, the writer expresses what many of God’s followers have felt at some time or another. The writer was struggling with what he considered the apparent success of the ungodly. Some of the words that are written in this Psalm are, “I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. . .They are not in trouble as other men. . .Behold these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches” (3, 5, 12). This logic led him to the conclusion that, “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency” (13). The writer was in a confused and deceived state. His focus was on what seemed to be unjust. He could see no benefit in living in a godly way. It was his opinion that those who rejected God were actually better off than those who served Him.

Of course, we all know that this is not true. In a moment of difficulty and hardship, truth can somehow get lost in what our eyes are seeing. In our own way, most of us can identify with what the man of God was going through. In his dilemma, he did what we all should do in such a situation. The psalmist turned to God for counsel. Our text says, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.” When he got with God, he understood that things were not as they initially appeared. After being in “the sanctuary of God” he said, “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places . . .in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. . .they that are far from thee shall perish” (18, 19, 27) He saw things differently when he got God’s perspective on what he was seeing and thinking.

This is a great lesson for all of us. Certainly things are not always as they appear. We cannot trust our observations to be accurate. God’s Word is the final authority. When our notions differ from the Scripture, we must lay aside our opinions and believe what God says. What should we do when we begin to have the kind of confusing thoughts the psalmist had? We have a choice to make. We can continue in our false imaginations and become further frustrated and confused. Or, we can get with God, look into His Word, and get His divine counsel about the situation.

GREAT GRACE WAS UPON THEM

“And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.”
Acts 4:33

The Book of Acts records the miraculous power and influence of the New Testament church. The world was shaken by the testimony and lifestyle of these first century followers of Jesus Christ. They were unselfish and unafraid, witnessing was a way of life, and their unity would be the desire of every true church. In describing their spiritual condition and zeal, the Word of God says, “great grace was upon them all.” Their attitude and their efforts were an expression of the measure of grace that they were receiving from God. This church’s growth and mutual love was not the result of some program or plan. It was a manifestation of what God was doing in them, and thus, through them.

All of us that are saved are recipients of God’s grace. We are saved by grace, kept by grace, sanctified by grace, and we serve by grace. However, the fact that all that we have received from God is a result of His grace does not mean that we have experienced all of His grace. We need more of His grace at work in our lives. We could say that we have experienced a measure of His grace, but we also could admit that there is more of His grace available. James 4:6 says, “he giveth more grace.” No matter how much grace we have known, there is more grace available.

Our churches need “great grace” to be upon them. It stands to reason that if we are going to have “great grace” upon the ministry of the churches, it will be because “great grace” is upon the individual members of the churches. It is only as God’s grace is manifesting itself in us and through us that we really see His work accomplished. None of us can be all that God wants us to be apart from His grace. Our conduct will not be Christ-like unless His grace is flowing through us.

Is there some means of acquiring more grace or seeing His grace multiplied on our lives and ministries? The Bible tells us in more than one place that God “giveth grace” to the humble (James 4:6; I Peter 5:5). As we recognize our inadequacies and humbly surrender to His leadership and will, He promises to give us more grace. Grace is not bestowed because of effort or achievement, but it is given to those who realize how desperately they need God’s help.

NEITHER EGYPT NOR CANAAN

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, I am the LORD your God. After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances. Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.”
Leviticus 18:2-4

The Israelites were familiar with the customs of two worlds. For generations, they had been accustomed to living in Egypt. They knew the Egyptian culture, and they had been exposed to the Egyptian gods. God had miraculously delivered them from their Egyptian bondage and had placed them in the land of Canaan, which He promised to Abraham. They found the world of the Canaanites also to be filled with idolatry and wickedness. How would God have His chosen people to live? Were they to live according to the world of the Egyptians that they had known for centuries? Were they to pattern themselves after the lifestyle of the residents of Canaan?

Our text clearly tells us that neither of these lifestyles were to be an option: “After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do.” They were not to adopt the morality, priorities, value system, or worship of the world. God’s people were to live according to another standard: “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God.” They were to live according to the Word of God, not the culture or traditions of their society. God’s Word would dictate the lifestyle of His people.

These words are as relevant to us today as they were to the people of Israel thousands of years ago. We are not to pattern ourselves after the world that we live in. We should not seek to emulate its fashions or values, or lack of them. We are not looking for the world’s approval. We are a peculiar people unto the Lord. When individuals and churches begin to imitate the world’s methods, its music, and its morals, they are inviting spiritual decline. First of all, we do not need that kind of compromise in our lives. It is leading to great apostasy. Additionally, the world does not need our compromise. If we are no different from them, why would they want what we are offering? We are to live according to God’s Word.

TRANSFORMED THROUGH DEATH

“Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:”
I Corinthians 15:36, 37

The primary theme of I Corinthians 15 is the resurrection. Our text tells us that something must die before it can be resurrected or quickened: “that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.” When a seed is sown, it is hoped that a new plant will emerge and fruit will be produced. With faith, the seed is committed to the ground. However, before the plant can appear, a change has to take place in that seed. The seed, in essence, must die before the plant can be formed.

The same is true in a spiritual life. A transformation has to take place in our bodies before they are resurrected to be eternally with God in Heaven. Before our bodies are quickened, they must also die. When we die, our spirit goes immediately to be with the Lord. At the return of Christ, our bodies will be raised incorruptible. The moment we die physically, we are immediately transported to our eternal home.

In reality, we never die. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:” (John 11:25). The same principle of death applies to our daily walk. In order for us to live the life that God has planned for us, we must first die to self. We will only live in the resurrected power of Jesus if we are willing to let death work in us.

Another wonderful promise is also contained in our scripture. The seed that is sown is not the same in appearance and essence as the body that will appear. “And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be.” When one plants an apple seed, an entire tree with many apples will one day grow. When it comes time for each of us to die and our body is placed in the grave, it is not the same body that will one day be resurrected. The body that will be quickened will be a glorified body. It will not contain the sinful desires of our present body. It will be a body free from disease and pain, and fitted for Heaven.

In our earthly journey, this is also true. When we are willing to die to self and let the Holy Spirit control us, the life that we will live will not be the same as the life we live in the energy of the flesh.

CALLING EVIL GOOD

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
Isaiah 5:20

The prophet of God pronounced a strong warning against those who were confusing the distinctions between right and wrong. His message was certainly timely when it was delivered and would be equally appropriate in our day. These words clearly describe the result of generations of humanism, Biblical ignorance, and apostasy in a society. The lines of morality have been blurred. Biblical standards have been replaced by situational ethics. As unbelievable as it might seem, men who claim to be God\’s servants are sometimes guilty of promoting this erosion of values. What the Bible calls evil, people are now calling good. Immorality is glamorized, slothfulness is rewarded, and dishonesty is respected.

At the same time, what was once accepted as good is now considered evil. Purity is scoffed at, godliness is unpopular, and true Christianity is seen by many as a menace to society. However, one thing we can be sure of—that which was once evil is still evil and that which the Bible calls good should still be considered good. Society does not set the standard of true morality. God does. We cannot be reminded of this too often. We are not to look to other sources for our standards. We are to look to the inspired Word of God. We are not to let popular trends determine our course. We are not to let the voices of the media influence our convictions. Popular church growth strategies minimize holiness and separation and encourage compromise and worldliness. Those who are calling for a return to the old paths are counted as being old-fashioned and out-of-step with reality.

Isaiah has a word for our lives: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil.” We need more voices like the voices of the old prophets. We must condemn those things that God condemns and approve the things He approves. This is not only true in the world that we live in, but it is also true in our personal walk as well. We must be careful to honestly weigh the matters of our lives, using God’s truth as the guide. It is easy to justify compromise for the sake of convenience. It is easy to make excuses that allow for disobedience. When we do so, it is essentially the same as calling evil good and good evil.

UNBELIEF AND HARDNESS OF HEART

“Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”
Mark 16:14

The humanity of the disciples helps us deal with our own blunders. Our text is a case in point. One would think that they should have been prepared for the resurrection that followed the crucifixion of the Savior. They were familiar with the Old Testament, which prophesied His triumph over death and the grave. Jesus repeatedly taught them that He would rise three days after His death. And yet, when the news began to spread that Jesus had risen from the dead, the disciples were slow to believe.

They did not accept the initial report from Mary. They did not believe the testimony of the men who talked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Our Scripture tells us that Jesus “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.” Our Lord reproved them for their failure to believe those who testified of His resurrection. In one form or another, we have all been there. We have found ourselves doubting instead of believing. In essence, the disciples did not believe what they had been told concerning the resurrection of Christ.

I would not want to be reminded of all the times I have failed to believe some promise of God’s Word. I, too, have doubted when I should have believed. Think of all His wonderful promises to provide for us, to accept us, to protect us, to keep us, to empower us, to guide us, to comfort us, to love us, and to use us. Have you ever doubted any of His promises? Of course, we all have. God’s Word is the eternal truth and will always be completely trustworthy in every point. But we sometimes fail to believe what He says.

Like the disciples, we can have a “hardness of heart.” When our hearts are not tender to God’s truth and receptive to His Word, we will not believe as readily as we ought. This is something we should guard against. It is with our hearts that we believe His Word, and the heart can become calloused and insensitive. We want to be open to His Word and responsive to His direction. When our hearts are hardened by sin and disobedience, the natural inclination is to doubt God’s promises, instead of believing.

HALTING BETWEEN OPINIONS

“And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.”
I Kings 18:21

This classic confrontation between Elijah and the false prophets warns us against indecision and compromise and challenges us to single- minded commitment. There were eight hundred and fifty false prophets that ate at the table of the notoriously wicked queen Jezebel. They were not true prophets, but hirelings. They did not stand for the truth in a day of perversion, rebellion, and idolatry. These false prophets, along with all of Israel, were called to assemble on Mt. Carmel.

Elijah succinctly called for the people of God to come to a decision. Who were they going to serve? The man of God asked, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” They were guilty of going back and forth between God and Baal. Elijah charged them to make up their minds and serve the true God. We still need men of God who will issue a clear call to devotion and dedication to Christ and His Word. It seems that the answer would be simple and the response would be swift. However, the text states, “the people answered him not a word.” In deafening silence, they refused to decide.

We need Elijahs today to call us to definite decisions and commitments. Far too many who profess to be Christians are like the Israelites, satisfied to “halt ye between two opinions.” They claim a love for God at one moment and demonstrate a love for the world the next. This is not true devotion. To be partially devoted is not to be devoted at all. This kind of double-mindedness is typical in our day of ecumenism and compromise. Preachers are comfortable mixing worldliness with worship and humanism with truth. In an effort to please the Lord and not offend sinners, unholy alliances are formed.

If the prophets in the days of Elijah were true men of God, they would not have been welcome at Jezebel’s table. The result of this ungodly course is not spiritual, but wicked and unacceptable to God. The Israelites were unwilling to stand for the truth. Elijah said, “if the LORD be God, follow him.” We know that the Lord is God, and we ought to follow Him. May these words challenge us to follow the Lord at all cost. We are to be willing to buy the truth and stand in the old paths, regardless of our popularity or acceptance.