Ruler of the Heart

ruler of the heart

Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them:

“Listen to me, you men of Shechem, that God may listen to you!

“The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?’

“Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over trees?’

“Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men,
and go to sway over trees?’

“Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’
And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!’

“Now therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as he deserves— for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and killed his seventy sons on one stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother— if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!” And Jotham ran away and fled; and he went to Beer and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.  — Judges 9:7-21, NKJV

Men, Abimelech, the half brother of Gideon, has convinced his tribe to crown him king over them. After being made king, Abimelech slaughters his 70 brothers, leaving only young Jotham who had hid. After Jotham was told of his brothers, he climbs Mount Gerizim and projects his voice over all of Shechem in the Bible’s first parable. In three acts, a fruit bearing plant is offered kingship, but the plant denies the offer in favor of producing their fruit. The olive, the fig, and the vine all were content to be fruit bearers. Finally, the bramble is offered the rule, and accepts the offer, on one condition: those subject to the rule of the bramble must take shelter in its shade or let the fire of the bramble devour them.

Bramble are simply briers and thorny undergrowth. They produce no shade except for those that are belly down in the dirt. If the bramble should catch fire, it consumes everything taking shelter in it. Abimelech is the bramble suggested here. Jotham calls out to all of Shechem to evaluate their actions through the lens of his parable. In short, Shechem has gotten the ruler they deserve, and they will share the same fate.

This principle is alive and well today. Good men rise as well as bad men rise to rule. The ruler is gauge of the people. In our own time, the willingness of the people to so easily be divided is on display by the polarity of our recent governing representation. The pendulum of party rule swings wildly by the ease at which our own hearts are enflamed by the offense of others. We don’t have a government of the people anymore because “we the people” aren’t willing to govern ourselves. We’re ruled by personal desire, fear, and pride just as our rulers are. We’re as easily deceived as Shechem, and worse, by our arrogance we failed to see it throughout history.

Move forward, men, letting the Lord God rule our hearts while we concern ourselves with what fruit we shall produce. May our character rise, and the caliber of our leadership rise with us.

Vance Durrance

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Let Freedom Ring

Let Freedom Ring

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.”
–Galatians 5:13-16

“The freest man is a slave to a perfect master,” (Paul Washer).

Autonomy is an illusion. “You are slaves of the one you obey,” either of sin (resulting in death) or righteousness (Rom 6:16-18). We are but short-sighted beast, harnessed to one of two plows: the yoke of slavery or the yoke of Christ. The first is true bondage, for sin is a cruel master. The second is “easy and light”, for it is true freedom (Gal 5:1). For whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36).

So “live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves,” (1Pe 2:16). We have not been released from shackles to chain ourselves to another vice. God freed His people so that we can worship Him (Exo 8:1). And for a season we do so in the midst of a dark and depraved generation, so that the light of Christ can shine through us (Mat 5:15-16; John 8:12). We do so as “pure children of God” when we “hold on to the word of life” (Phi 2:15-16) and “live by the Spirit, doing the will of the Father (John 6:38; Eph 5:7-10).

“Let freedom ring down through the ages from a hill called Calvary
Let freedom ring wherever hearts know pain
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
You can be free, and you can sing let freedom ring”

(Gaither Band, “Let Freedom Ring”)

Billy Neal

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Judges – Othniel, Part 2


Then Caleb said, “Whoever attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah as wife.” And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah as wife. Now it happened, when she came to him, that she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” So she said to him, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” — Judges 1:12-15

Men, before moving on, there are 2 points to make from the translations of names in these verses. 1st, the city that Othniel was asked to conquer was called Debir, or “giants” because of its inhabitants, and it was also called Kirjath-Sepher, meaning “city of books”. Kirjath-Sepher was a land of corrupted humanity. Giants were the product of fallen angels who had physical relations with human women in Genesis. Some scholars speculate that this corruption was part of God’s motivation for the flood of Noah. These Canaanites were so corrupted that the Lord wanted them eradicated.

When we think of an evil enemy, we often think that they would be dumb, barbaric, clumsy, and ugly. Take caution. Here, the enemy lives in the “city of books.” Books compel us to consider that they were learned people. They were likely sophisticated in academics, religious acts, and record keeping. The Canaanites were corrupted by the same enemy we face today, and that enemy is again at work in academics, false religion centers of “cultural agenda”, and they store information. The second point is in Achsah, the daughter of Caleb. Her name is translated “ornament” and is given in marriage to Othniel for conquering the city of Kirjath-Sepher.

We too have a hero in Jesus, who conquered corruption. The Father, our Lord God has given Jesus a bride, the church (believers). As Achsah was an ornament to Othniel, are you, a believing member of the total church, an ornament to Jesus and His mission on earth? As an ornament, what do we call attention to? Ornaments add luster to an arrangement, and distinguish seasons and occasions apart. Are we set apart from the common corruption that is of this world?

Move forward men. Do not underestimate our enemy. The enemy is conscious, intelligent, patient, cunning, and stores information for strategizing attacks on the people of God. Embody sanctification from the evil of flesh and this world through faith in Jesus, our Champion over sin.

Vance Durrance

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Judges – Othniel, Part 1

OthnielThen Caleb said, “Whoever attacks Kirjath-Sepher and takes it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah as wife.” And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah as wife. Now it happened, when she came to him, that she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” So she said to him, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” — Judges 1:12-15

Men, the story found here is a duplicate passage lifted from Joshua 15. The occurrence here took place during the time of Joshua, but for the sake of chronology and wholeness the 1st judge is introduced here among the account of the judges of Israel. Caleb has come and offers his daughter, Achsah, to whomever attacks and conquers the city Kirjath-Sepher. Othniel, the son of Kenaz, who was Caleb’s younger brother, conquered the city. Kirjath-Sepher translates “city of books”, and was likely a religious and academic center for the Canaanite people. Kirjath-Sepher is also another name for Debir which translates “giants.” It’s important that we keep the corrupted nature of the Canaanites in view. Many have taken an anti-semitic view of the Hebrew people by neglecting that fact.

Achsah, the daughter of Caleb, translates to “ornament.” After the city is conquered, Achsah urged Othniel to ask for a field. She then approaches Caleb her father and asks for a blessing for herself. She asks for rights to the water springs of the area of the field. Taking care not to over spiritualize, but acknowledging the picture given here: a son conquers corruption, the bride approaches her groom to ask for a field. In further cooperation she asks for a blessing of water for herself from her father. When a marriage is mutually cooperative, with each other and with our Father God, a complete and functional blessing is available, with provision established.

Move forward men, with the boldness of Othniel, Israel’s first judge. Go and conquer darkness when the opportunity comes. The Lord honored Othniel’s leadership with victory. The Lord blessed him with a wife, provision, authority and territory. Othniel translates, “God is my strength”, or “God’s lion.” Is He yours? Are you a lion of God? Will you and I be first in standing up to fight for the promises of God to be secured in our lives? Is your marriage an asset to each other? To God?

Vance Durrance

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ZionAnd it will come to pass in that day
That the mountains shall drip with new wine,
The hills shall flow with milk,
And all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water;
A fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord
And water the Valley of Acacias.

“Egypt shall be a desolation,
And Edom a desolate wilderness,
Because of violence against the people of Judah,
For they have shed innocent blood in their land.
But Judah shall abide forever,
And Jerusalem from generation to generation.
For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted;
For the Lord dwells in Zion.”
— Joel 3:18-21

Men, the enemies of God’s people will be summoned to the valley of decision, where the Lord God will deliver His verdict and judgment. Those who take refuge in the Lord will be strengthened. All will know that the Lord is God.

Another time will come, and on that day the mountains will “drip with new wine.” Vineyards will be productive, but new wine also represents a season of celebration. “The hills shall flow with milk.” This tells us that in that day, grazing land will be rich enough to support cattle. Remember, Judah is barren at that time following waves of locusts.

Additionally, milk often represents Spiritual blessings in the Old Testament. It is mentioned roughly 50 times in the OT alone. In Joel’s time, water would be scarce in certain seasons, but in this coming time the rivers would flow.

Most importantly, it says a “fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord. In Solomon’s temple, a literal fountain flowed to feed the many baths for ceremonial preparation. There is likely dual meaning here, a literal fountain may flow, but as the Lord takes up residence in the new Millennial temple, His Spirit will flow out. Go back to Ezekiel for more.

The enemies of God are dealt with in this future time, and Judah is acquitted of all bloodshed from their history. The Lord will then dwell in Zion (Jerusalem). Zion means “fortification”. It is the area of Jerusalem where Abraham offered up Isaac, where David bought the threshing floor from the Jebusites and more.

Move forward men, with all the proclamation of judgment and shelter, famine and blessing, war and renewal, we can turn to v18 and recall, “And it WILL come to pass.” The Word of God is the reliable road map of what’s to come. Combining Joel with the whole of scripture grants us much to watch for. As prophecy unfolds, take care which side of God’s Word He may find us in. What is promised is as certain as if it’d already happened. May we each experience the Lord as Shelter, Deliverer, and Redeemer.

Vance Durrance

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“Have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?” –Matthew 12:5, ESV

Notice here that Jesus reveals the hypocritical heart which trusts in its own understanding (Pro 3:5) and binds the letter of the law to man-made mandates (consider “profane” vs “guiltless”) (see also Mat 15:8-9). Such “worshipers” are seeking only to pacify God so they can live as they please. They do not love the LORD, and so find their self-righteous rules in conflict with God’s commands of service.

The Sabbath only functioned as a sign, a “reminder of the relationship” that sets God’s people apart from the world (Eze 20:20). Such inward separation (Rom 2:29) renders external symbols incapable of decisively designating the redeemed (Heb 10:4). “Hard hearts” necessitated provisions to be made in the law (Mat 19:8). “Stiff-necked people” (Exo 34:9) required a “tutor” or “disciplinarian” (Gal 3:24).

But “the time” is now (John 4:23) when Christ releases us from the guardian of the law to live as free sons (Gal 3:24-27). Regardless whether we consider “one day holier than other days” or whether we “regard them all alike,” all our days are dedicated to the LORD (Rom 14:5-6). Every day is a celebration of God’s lavish love, staggering strength, and wonderful ways. Every day we rest on His provision and finished work. Every day is devoted to the service of the LORD.

If we belong to Christ, are we not a “nation of priests” (1Pe 2:9) serving the “Lord of the Sabbath” in “something greater than the temple” (Mat 12:6-8)? Is not every day a priestly service, “doing good to others” (Mat 12:12; John 21:17; Gal 6:10) with the praise of His name continually on our lips (Heb 13:15)? Is not every day a joyous denial of selfish ambition (Phi 2:3) and idle talk (1Co 4:20; 2Ti 2:16), and instead a pursuit of the LORD’s pleasure (Eph 5:7-10)? Is not every day a remembrance and proclamation of what the LORD has done (1Co 1:5-7; 2Pe 3:1-2; 1Jo 5:11), a perpetual time of thanksgiving (Eph 5:20)? Is not every day a perpetual rest for God’s people—a relief from the curse of sin and the futility of labor (Ecc 2:11,26; Heb 4:9-10)? Is not every day about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49), following Him (2Co 5:7) and reflecting whatever He does (John 5:19)?

The question is not what day of the week are we willing to vacation from our careers where we find ultimate pleasure and identity, but whether we are indeed living as priests of God making every day a labor of love in His service to the worship of His name (1Th 1:3; 4:1)?

“Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” –Revelation 20:6, NET

Billy Neal
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Poured Out

Poured Out

“And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days. —Joel 2:28-29.

Men, Joel has communicated the promise of God to renew His people IF they repent. Joel now fast-forwards through time. Israel will have some time to consider their options, obey or reject, and then “It shall come to pass afterwards.” After this time of either renewal or intense chastisement, the Lord will pour out His Spirit on all flesh. Some argue that only Israel is in view with this promise, but with the benefit of the Acts in the New Testament, we know that “all flesh” means all who confess Jesus as Lord. As the Spirit of God comes upon a believer they will prophesy.

Prophecy is mistakenly thought only to be speaking the future. More accurately, prophecy is speaking the Words of God as directed by the Spirit of God, and can include praise to God. In Ch1, Joel prophesies of things that have already happened, and of their current circumstances. It’s not until ch2 that prophecy grants a peek into the future.

After the Spirit of God is poured out on man, old men will have dreams, and young men will see visions. Dreams come while asleep, and include special revelation. Visions come while someone is awake. Ezekiel is an example of a vision. While he was awake sitting by the Chebar River he “saw.” The Spirit of God will be poured out upon believers without class, racial, or gender distinctions. Sons and daughters in v28 represent Jews in Joel’s future. Menservants and maidservants of v29 were of all nationalities including Jews.

Brothers, Acts ch2 has happened. We’re living in a time when Holy Spirit is poured out, but there are too few vessels prepared to receive it. Dreams and visions are available, but too few are seeking revelation from God. We are not prophesying, (calling out the Word of God as though it was so.) We confess Christ as Lord but refuse to come off our own thrones. His Spirit IS POURED OUT. What will we do with it?

Move forward men, speaking the Word of God as truth, and believe it. Seek first the Kingdom, and else else will be given.

Vance Durrance

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The Lord’s Hand

The Lord's Hand

Gird yourselves and lament, you priests;
Wail, you who minister before the altar;
Come, lie all night in sackcloth,
You who minister to my God;
For the grain offering and the drink offering
Are withheld from the house of your God.
Consecrate a fast,
Call a sacred assembly;
Gather the elders
And all the inhabitants of the land
Into the house of the Lord your God,
And cry out to the Lord.

Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is at hand;
It shall come as destruction from the Almighty.
Is not the food cut off before our eyes,
Joy and gladness from the house of our God?
The seed shrivels under the clods,
Storehouses are in shambles;
Barns are broken down,
For the grain has withered.
How the animals groan!
The herds of cattle are restless,
Because they have no pasture;
Even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment.

O Lord, to You I cry out;
For fire has devoured the open pastures,
And a flame has burned all the trees of the field.
The beasts of the field also cry out to You,
For the water brooks are dried up,
And fire has devoured the [c]open pastures.
— Joel 1:13-20.

Men, the grasses, grains, vines, and trees have been consumed by a judgment of locusts in Judah. Joel says that even joy has withered away. The prophet now calls for Judah to lament (mourn), for priests to wail, and for ministers to lie at night in sackcloth because there are no grain offerings. Joel calls for a national fast and for every person to assemble and cry out to God. Even the animals are groaning in desperation. The fields are dying, what’s left is dry, and wild fires have devoured the pastures. Joel cries out to God on behalf of Judah and all Israel.

In Joel’s time as well as our own time, we may look out our window and identify a problem, but we seldom recognize the Lord’s corrective hand. If His corrective hand is hard to see, discerning what to do about it further escapes us. Joel has identified their circumstances as an act of Gods hand, heard the Lords conviction, and called the entire region to assemble with a fast to pray and cry out to God.

Joel was not a political leader as far as we know, but he recognized the season and made a national plea on behalf of his people. What makes his voice any louder than yours or mine? Was there anything special about Joel that he would be heard more than you or me? We can look to history and see that Joel was not heard; the people were not convicted to the point of turning back to God. Joel didn’t know one way or the other but recognized what needed to take place and acted on it. Will you and I?

Move forward men, seeking the Lord’s counsel that He might reveal His ways, then we may respond as called. We should see some hint of the season we’re in, and be praying for our loved ones and neighbors. We should be mourning for those who are blind and calling for national repentance. We should be fasting to gain further understanding of our circumstances. Are we? Will we?

Vance Durrance

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Hear the Word of the Lord


The word of the Lord that came to Joel the son of Pethuel.
Hear this, you elders,
And give ear, all you inhabitants of the land!
Has anything like this happened in your days,
Or even in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children about it,
Let your children tell their children,
And their children another generation.
— Joel 1:1-3.

Men, “the Word of the Lord” has come to Joel. Straight away, we should snap to alert attention. When the Lord of hosts speaks, it is no small matter regardless of who the servant is. Joel exclaims over the people of Judah, “hear this, you elders, and give ear, all you inhabitants of the land!” Joel wants everyone to hear and take note, but he tells the elders specifically to “hear this.” There is an added expectation upon the elders. Everyone needed to hear, but the elders needed to fully understand the message, what was happening, and what was yet coming, to lead the people in the repentance he would be calling them to.

The Lord has made attempt to get unrepentant Judah’s attention. Judah has been judged by their sin and has recently experienced a devastation that too few have interpreted as an alert from the Lord. Joel has to plainly ask his fellow man, “has anything like this happened in your days, or even in the days of your father?” We often read too fast over such a rhetorical question to see what the judgment of the Lord looked like, but let’s not miss the stunning rebuke here. Since Joel has to ask the people, we may deduce that no one has considered the singularity of this judgement event. No one has paused to question the source, the message, or the intent of the circumstances Judah now faces.

This rebuke is for us as well. We will soon find that the Word Joel speaks is also for our time, and our children’s time. When calamity strikes our personal lives, when our nation is in turmoil, while the world seems upended in confusion, corruption, conflict and more, at what point do you and I pause to humble ourselves before God and ask where we have sinned against Him? Like Israel, we are quick to point fingers and too blind to see our own sin as an ingredient in the collective circumstances.

Move forward men, pausing this day to ask the Lord “search me O God”, and evaluate our circumstances. Is the Lord not seeking our attention today? Will we hear Him?

Vance Durrance

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Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. — Philippians 4:4-5.

Men, after naming two women who have been at odds and calling for an end to conflict, Paul encouraged the congregation to encircle those affected by the rift with support. It was expected that common ground could be reached in their faith in Christ.

With conflict as a backdrop, Paul gives the church another “bumper sticker” with v4. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say rejoice!” Thankfully, we can rejoice. Christ IS enough to settle conflict by His love pouring through us. The washing away of bitterness, through forgiveness in Christ, is often enough to see the nonsense of conflict. Paul then tells Phillipi to “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” Proverbs 15 tells us, “a gentle answer turns away wrath.”

When most of us think of conflict, we don’t immediately turn to gentleness as a solution, myself included. A man is often compelled to reestablish a line harshly after it has been crossed. Eventually, bitterness sets in and turns to discord, which turns into dissension. That is exactly what Paul is hoping to correct by turning all parties’ attention to the cross. The cross is where we see the answer to our flesh, our hate, our envy, our strife, our contentions, nailed to die on behalf of our shortcomings.

Conflict mediators and counselors make a lot of money to bring closure to disputes that Christ has settled. Conflict emerges when one or more parties fail to see, act, and respond as Jesus would. Conflict remains when one or more parties respond outside of faith in the precepts of Christ. Gentleness is misunderstood. Today’s men are often impotent and passive. That is not gentleness. Gentleness is a choice to employ Christ’s heart instead of Thor’s hammer, while the hammer is in reach.

Move forward men, loving each member in the fellowship of believers as Christ loved the fellowship of believers. Every one was worth His payment on the cross… and we’ve all crossed His line of what is and is not Holy.

Vance Durrance

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