by Marc Dupont, November 2004
An Appointed Time
In March of this year, after ministering in Melbourne, Australia, I took a day off to visit some friends in Sydney. On the ride to Manly Beach from the airport the Holy Spirit began to speak a word to me concerning integrity for those in church leadership around the globe. Some eight months later I am sensing it is time to release the word. One of the lessons I have learned the hard way over the years is to not give a word prematurely. Often the Lord will give a word well before the appointed time of release. This may be because intercessory prayer is necessary as part of the preparation or it may be that it will take the hearer of the word a bit of time to get the whole word. On occasion, it is because the Lord wants the messenger of that word to grow into the reality of the word before it’s released to others. For whatever reason, I have not sensed the timing of the Lord to release this until now. Usually when we think of an appointed time we think of a long awaited break through of blessings. An example would be the Lord telling Abraham that at the “appointed time” He would return and the long awaited child of promise would be born to Sarah. Psalm 102:13 tells us that, at God’s appointed time, He arises and has compassion on His people. Habakkuk, the prophet, encourages us to hang on to the visions God gives us because they will come to pass at the appointed time! Obviously God is good to His people all the time but there are certain appointed times of significant breakthrough. Certainly Jesus, the Messiah, came at an appointed time. The basic understanding of an appointed time is very simple. It is a time that God has fixed, or determined to release, or impart, something at a very particular date or season, according to His sovereignty. Whether we are prepared or not, if we are the intended recipients of that impartation we either experience it, or as with Jerusalem, we can miss the time of visitation or blessing. However, not only are there appointed times of blessings but, on occasion, those appointed times are seasons of judgment. Psalm 75, verse 2, reads: “When I select an appointed time, it is I who judge with equity.” Often when the body of Christ considers judgment and repentance we make two crucial errors. First, we think that His judgment is only reserved for the lost, or those outside of the church. 1 Peter tells us, however, that judgment does not start first with the lost, or nonbelievers. Rather, it starts first with the church (1 Peter 4:17). Second, we often misunderstand God’s intentions when He does release judgment on His sons and daughters. The Father’s heart for us is always one of restoration rather than destruction. Sometimes He wants to break us down so that He can build us up! We fall into this second misperception because we really don’t understand that God’s heart is so very much for us. When God revealed a bit of His glory to Moses in Exodus 34, He stated that He was “slow to anger”. Hebrews 12:11 reads: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness”. God is patient and longsuffering. There comes a time, however, when not out of anger but out of deep love and concern for us, He will release judgment for the sake of correction and healing. Usually, at that point, we (the sinners) are standing at a dangerous precipice. We can think of an extreme case of sin in the life of a Christian such as the man in the church in Corinth who was actually having sex with his own stepmother. Paul stated that he “decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh”. It is critical that we realize Paul’s motivation. He continued on in 1 Cor. 5:5, “…so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”. In such cases, God’s purpose is not eternal damnation but rather to bring our hearts to repentance to come back to a place of wholeness in Christ. There is a certain sin Jesus spoke of that is unto eternal judgment – speaking evil of the Holy Spirit – but, generally speaking, this is a sin only a non-Christian would commit.
The Responsibility of Gatekeepers
Additionally, God will release judgment not only for the sake of the saint who has given himself over to a sin but also for the sake of the church. Jesus told us that to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). This is especially true for leaders in the body of Christ because in the place of their authority they become a filter, or grid, by which blessings and/or curses are released to the church. Because of their authority, they are, in effect, gatekeepers to the church. When they are practicing hidden sin, an open door for sin and/or the demonic is opened up. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough! When leadership is right with God – living in love, grace and humility – they are an open door for the body of Christ to experience more and more of the fullness of Christ. As leaders, we can be either vessels of purity by which pure water can flow out or vessels with mud and debris within them, which in turn release polluted water. No matter how pure the incoming water, if the vessel is polluted, mixed water flows out. The messenger is the message; the teacher is the teaching; and the prophet is the prophecy. It’s not so much the mere words we speak to the church. It is who we are that impacts people the most. The Lord spoke that He is going to begin to release judgment and exposure to leaders in the body of Christ who are practicing sin. This release of judgment unto restoration will be on a broad level. This is not to say God is requiring leaders to be perfect because only Jesus is perfect. The apostle Paul differentiated between those who occasionally commit sin and those who practice sin (Romans 2:1, Galatians 5:21 & Ephesians 4:19). When someone practices something, they do it over and over again to the point of getting good at it. Because of their position and ministry, leaders in the church who live in sin, keep their sin hidden out of necessity. God did not say He was demanding sinless perfection from His leaders, rather men and women who are true examples of humility (dependence on God), grace, mercy and love. They are free to abound in receiving God’s love because they are free to be transparent due to the lack of hidden sin and the ensuing lack of hidden shame. When David rhetorically asked, “Who will ascend the hill of the Lord,” he answered, “Those with pure hearts and clean hands.” Purity and cleanliness are prerequisites for deep intimacy with God. The apostle Paul stated that many suffered needlessly because of hidden sin. He said that many are sick and have fallen asleep (died prematurely) because of hidden sin and not judging themselves correctly (1 Cor. 11:30). Due to a lack of truly seeking the face of God and experiencing much of His glory in the contemporary Western World church, there has been a corresponding lack of a fear of God. Paul wrote to the church of Philippi to work out their salvation in “fear and trembling” because it is the living God within them who wants to work out His will and good pleasure. This lack of intimacy with the person of God has resulted in a low regard for holiness, which combined with the lack of intimacy, creates an impotency in regards to the power of God being manifested through the church! God wants to pour out His Spirit in an ever-increasing way. However, just as the devil found it was very dangerous to stand in the midst of the mountain of the Lord with sin in his heart, so it is true for the saints today, especially leadership. If it is true that judgment starts first with the household of God, then it is more than likely that judgment starts first with leaders. After all, the hardest words Jesus spoke to the people of Israel were for the leaders, not the prostitutes or thieves. Among the seven woes Jesus spoke of to the religious leaders of His day was the admonishment that they were like cups cleansed on the outside but filthy on the inside. This is a picture of leaders in the church who look the part of a good leader but their hearts and secret lifestyles are unclean.
A Hole in the Wall!
Ezekiel, chapter 8, relates several powerful visions the prophet experienced. One of the most poignant is of God directing Ezekiel to dig through the wall of the temple only to find the elders in deep, hidden sin. Verse 10 reads: “So I entered and looked, and behold, every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around.” It goes on to say that in front were the elders who were burning incense unto the Lord in the midst of their sin. The passage is compelling in that it relates God’s intense disgust and hatred of the hypocrisy and impurity. If that was how strongly God felt about sin in the temple prior to men and women having the Holy Spirit live within themselves, how much more should there be a priority of personal holiness today! There are going to be some who read this and react with a concern that I am promoting a return to legalism or a performance-oriented relationship with God. It is quite the contrary. I believe God is calling us to embrace holiness and to hate sin out of a relationship of grace, mercy and intimacy with Him that only the cross could achieve. One of the classic definitions of Biblical grace is that grace does not give us the freedom to do what we want and get away with it. Rather, true grace gives us the freedom to be the person God wants us to be. The cross has given us access to God but it is up to us to choose to walk in the freedom of the cross and the Holy Spirit! We are not trying to earn anything from God here, but out of love wanting to be imitators of our Lord Jesus. At the very least we need a revelation today that the Holy Spirit is the “Holy” Spirit of God! I do not know how long this appointed season of cleansing and pruning will be. I do sense it will go more towards the deep part of the pool rather than the shallow end. Already, just in the eight months since the Lord began to give this word, three major leaders of international ministries I know personally, who live in three different continents, have had sexual sin exposed in their lives greatly to the surprise of those close to them. I am not saying this season is unto the immediate return or the Lord, although only the Father knows the time of Christ’s return. Rather, I believe this is a John 15 time of pruning because God wants to bring about greater fruitfulness for the Kingdom of God and greater purity in the Bride of Christ.
Davids & Sauls
After Psalm 75 speaks of an appointed time for judgment (verse 2), it goes on to speak of the Lord promoting people (verses 6 & 7). This, as well, has to do with the greater fruitfulness the Lord wants to bring about through this pruning. Normally, when a Christian leader has hidden sin in their life, the accompanying guilt, shame and insecurity render them very controlling – controlling to the point of keeping the younger Davids that God is raising up from entering into their potential. Right now, there are many Davids serving under Sauls. These Davids are being kept back and, often times, attacked as David was because of King Saul’s deep insecurity. It can be hard to read these present day Sauls because, like the Saul of old, they have an anointing in their life and know how to do the outward stuff. When the Holy Spirit opens a hole in the wall of their soul, though, there can be detestable things of every sort made visible. Often, everyone knows, or suspects, the problems with a Saul, but it is not until the Holy Spirit reveals it that action can be taken. The sins God especially wants to deal with are the big three. Just as Africa has the “big five” game animals people on safari watch out for – the lion, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard and buffalo – there also are the “big three G” sins ministry leaders must especially watch out for. They are girls (sexual sin), gold and glory. Stealing God’s glory by constantly drawing attention to self and building one’s own empire, or ministry, may be even a more serious sin to God than sexual or financial sin. God wants to share His glory with us but He will not allow us to steal it! Taking glory to oneself rather than giving it to God can be a much more subtle sin than the other two. As others before have pointed out, spiritual pride is only revealed (by the Holy Spirit). It is not usually detected (except by others around you). One of the boldest prayers in the Bible is David’s in Psalm 139. He writes, “Search my heart, O God, and see if there be any hurtful ways with me.” God is faithful. Just as He is quick to forgive when we are honest with Him (1 John 1:9), He is also quick to give us insight regarding sin in our hearts if we choose to truly be vulnerable with Him. The problem, however, is that when one is practicing sin, shame causes one to “cover up,” much like Adam and Eve in the Garden. In closing, allow me to reiterate the fact that God is not bringing judgment or chastisement out of wrath but out of love. To quote the writer of Hebrews again: “God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness”, Heb. 12:7-10. In a nutshell, God calls us, provokes us and chastises us to holiness out of His great love for us. On the flip side, to pass off the warning signs could be costly. It could cost one’s marriage, family, ministry and even one’s health – emotionally, spiritually and physically. As 1 Peter 1:16 reads: “you shall be holy, for I am holy”! Holiness must be more than a mere confession of heaven to come! Below I have listed a few simple steps that may be appropriate for those leaders who are in bondage and truly desire to get free. Sometimes when we, as leaders, are going through things we need the simple reminders of what we already know so well.
- Find someone, a peer, with whom you can be vulnerable and truthful. When Jesus instructed the disciples to wash one another’s feet He was speaking to a group of peers in relationship rather than the masses. Sometimes you need a peer to understand the unique battles you are facing. This may end up being someone who is outside of your church. It does need to be someone, however, to whom you can be accountable. They need to be someone who will blow the whistle on you if you do not truly proceed with steps of restoration. In Psalm 32:2 David said, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away.” It may or may not be your body that wastes away but it will be your identity, balance and emotional health that fall apart because of the ravages of guilt and shame.
- If your sin is “hands on” sin, such as sexual sin or financial impropriety, it needs to be brought out to the leadership team of your ministry. Most always you will need to step down from ministry for a time of restoration. Do not allow pride or fear of losing your calling get in the way. God’s primary will for you is to become Christ-like rather than to simply use you in ministry. He loves you for who you are, not merely for what you do!
- If you are a married leader who has committed adultery, you need to confess this to your spouse. The damage is already being done. Even though they may be ignorant of the actual sin, they are already being hurt. It is only through the process of confession, repentance and forgiveness that true restoration to a loving relationship of trust can be restored. It would be wise to first get good counsel as to how to confess this to family members and the church. Don’t be surprised if the forgiveness is preceded by anger over the betrayal. Do, however, realize that the long-term goal of wholeness is worth the cost of bringing the darkness into the light.
- Even if you are in a good state, work hard at building real relationships of heart to heart communication with your spouse and a few people in your leadership team or church. One of the easiest ways for the enemy to set us up is through isolation. Build relationships so we can easily take care of the “little foxes in the garden” before they turn into raging lions let loose in our souls. Building equity in relationships is like building equity in a home mortgage. It takes time and work. Once you have a lot of equity built up in a relationship, it’s just as with your house. In a time of difficulty it is money in the bank and you can borrow on it if need be!
- Lastly, and most importantly, learn, or perhaps relearn, the art of waiting on God. Many leaders are to be commended for their time spent in intercessory prayer. However, spending time simply gazing upon God, communing with Him and waiting upon His good pleasure is vital to fully walking in the Spirit of the Lord. Without this type of “watching” prayer, as Habakkuk practiced, it is easy to fail to see and hear the warning signs the Holy Spirit would give to us from the quietness of God’s heart. It is in this place where we can receive from the Father those minor, easy to fix corrections rather than needlessly heading towards the big judgments that bring everything to a painful halt.