ABSENCE

(February 1, 2020) Brian Bell shares some thoughts on Ezekiel 7:25/26…

When I was in my early school days (a very long number of years ago) it was usual for the class teacher to call out our names from the roll book and we had to answer ‘Present’ for ourselves and of course, if a classmate were missing we heard one of us or the teacher say ‘Ábsent.’

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ While it is a pleasant sentiment, a wise man once said to me it is not really true if there is not a fondness there to begin with.

In Ezekiel 7: 26-27NLT the Lord speaks through Ezekiel about ‘absences.’ I share with you four brief thoughts…

1. Absence of a word from the Lord
‘They will look in vain for a vision from the prophets’ says verse 26… but it was not that the prophets weren’t speaking, they were not speaking God’s word! And how often the Lord rebuked them.

  • As we go further forward into 2020 surely we too still need to hear a word from the Lord!
  • But we must be aware that this is not something on which we rely solely… hearing from people who are designated as pastors or in a teaching/preaching ministry!
  • Now I know from personal experience there are those through whom, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, God speaks a very specific word of encouragement and or enlightenment into our lives – but…
  • Like the Bereans, in Luke’s record in the Acts of the Apostles, we too must search the scriptures for ourselves.
  • In my experience, if we come to God’s word expecting to hear from him, he will not disappoint us.

Don’t misunderstand me, this does not mean we may get some new ‘revelation’ but we may get a new/different insight [my long-time friend, mentor and encourager Robert McQuillan recently drew attention to 2020 vision in terms of visual acuity and it relating to the clarity and sharpness of our 20/20 vision 2020: 24 Across – anticipates (7)].

Very often God reminds us and or indeed helps us to see with greater clarity those things we already know and which need to be refreshed and or acted on in our walk with him. See for example Revelation 3:3 – the message to the church in Sardis was to ‘Go back to what you heard and believed at first, hold to it firmly and turn to me again.’

2. Absence of direction from spiritual leaders
‘They will receive no teaching from the priests…’ Ezekiel 7:26 adds.

In the fellowship I attend we use titles such as Pastor and Deacon but…

  • Titles are not really about what we do.
  • If we hold a role/office of leadership then we must be giving direction and to give direction we must know the way forward.
  • Within the fellowship of believers, my understanding of leadership is not primarily about people wielding authority or laying down rules, but rather it is about shepherding and in the scriptural context the shepherd led his flock, he did not drive them.

Of course there may be times when leaders may need to speak with authority or exercise a rule and this will generally be to retain order, to preserve the authenticity of scripture, to stand against heresy/false teaching.

However, in relation to the members of our congregations, I believe it is about bringing encouragement into the daily lives of people who are trying to live out their Christian faith – sometimes in very difficult ‘work/life’ environments – to use the apostle Paul’s athletic illustration, cheering them on as they run the race (Philippians 2:16, 3:14; 2 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 12:1)!

3. Absence of sound political leadership
And, concludes verse 26, ‘…no counsel from the leaders.’

As believers we don’t often make much comment on our world or local politics, at least not from our pulpits. It is however very clear from scripture that political leaders are ‘raised up’ by the Lord – Daniel,  for example, who declared that it is God who ‘… determines the course of world events, he removes kings and others on the throne’ (Daniel 2:21).

  • Such leaders acknowledge their appointment is not ‘a divine right’ to do as they please, but rather a divine responsibility towards those people they are to lead.
  • We are encouraged to pray specifically for those who are in government (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1-2).
  • Challenge: Could it be that political turmoil can result from an absence of our prayer

4. Absence of effective government
The next verse (v27) then proclaims that fourth absence: ‘… the king and prince will stand helpless...’

The original text indicates despair, having given up hope. The reality is that people in government are not perfect – I know, having spent my working life within the Civil Service! (But then, aren’t we all imperfect?).

I believe scripture teaches that those who are in government must act for the well-being of those they are elected to serve (eg Romans 13:4)… but unfortunately, too often this is not achieved because of self-serving and so they can lose their focus.

  • As we look around our world today – and modern satellite technology enables us to see events as they unfold – we have seen street gatherings or protests about issues which it is alleged government is struggling to be effective. Again, we need to pray for our government!
  • And, within the fellowship of the church, especially for those who have a leadership role, we also are to seek to be effective in all matters of governance. For example: When it has to do with stewardship in relation to finance and how it is used.

Advancement not absence!
Jesus said he would build his church, but he was not thinking of bricks and mortar, He was speaking about people, who like his disciples showed some of the following characteristics: They…

  • Sometimes got it wrong,
  • Squabbled among themselves,
  • Spoke hastily,
  • Ran off and left him when it came to the crunch,
  • Denied him when cornered.

Now if you are anything like me, you may be able to identify with one or more of those characteristics!

However it was to these imperfect people and future generations of leaders Jesus was referring to when he said to Peter ‘…feed my lambs… take care of my sheep…feed my sheep.’

As I read scripture, Peter and John were among those who rose to this call; they like the Lord Jesus set a good example of how to be ‘good shepherds’ (John 21:17).

  • And because of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in their lives they were present without absence in helping to lead the flock to grow and move forward.
  • May we do likewise as we determine to move forward, advancing the church, in 2020!

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Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’ Link:
brian.bell22@btinternet.com 

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