Altar Ego (Shepherd’s Pen)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

We have all heard the terrifying stories of tragic events occurring due to the neglect of following instructions. Someone walks past the safety line of the gorilla cage, someone else fails to pay close attention at the wheel of a car, and another chooses to remove the saw guard from the table saw. And yet still another fails to keep the fire in a contained area. All of these decisions can yield horrifying consequences, yet the causal mechanism was the same: failure to follow the instructions.

The same is true for the way we relate to God. Yes, God does give us an instruction book, and commands that we follow His precepts and His laws. God demands to be honored and revered. What happens when we fail to walk according to His will and His Word? Devastating consequences. We see it often in the Scriptures, don’t we?

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Out of Season (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

I remember well one of the first “big dates” with my wife; it was to a restaurant located on a ship near the beach – a beautiful setting. It was a chilly December evening and we promenaded around the deck beforehand in our formal attire. As I recall we shared the chateaubriand special-for-two as the stewards stood at the ready to attend to our culinary demands. Company, great! Meal, superb! Coffee, amazing! And at the end of it all a complementary “dessert tree” was delivered to our table filled with sumptuous delights which included large, plump, juicy, perfectly formed chocolate-covered strawberries- one of my wife’s favorites. The perfect end to a perfect meal.

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The Imposition of Agendas (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

In years past, it seems as though when you desired to purchase a product you were simply purchasing a pair of sneakers, a hamburger, or maybe a record album. Over the years, we see that has changed drastically. Whether it’s a recording artist, an apparel venture, an internet concern, restaurant, or construction company, etc. it seems that there is an additional “gift” with purchase; it is an agenda. Every company, or group has an ethos they seek to push. Every single company or person is promoting something else besides the inherent product we think we are buying.

The press is not exempt either. More and more “news” pieces are nothing more than op-eds, or rants under the guise of journalism, yet intended to impose an agenda as well.  (For that matter journalism itself is dying if it is not dead already…but that is another article altogether-The Toxic Drip of Propaganda?). Let’s move on!

Today, it seems you have to decide your political affiliation, and your “to-die-for” causes before you buy that ballpoint pen, or chicken sandwich. Now, one must be thoroughly calculating, and ready to cross picket lines in order to demonstrate their capitalistic resolves.

The social climate is bubbling; tensions are mounting; everybody is on high alert to defend their precious ground.  A mob mentality is overtaking this land, one in which people resort to bullying, or shaming, manipulation or deceit in addition to the good old time-tested techniques of name-calling and threats. Both sides of the political aisle.

“Would you like a side of totalitarianism with that order of fries.” “Can I get you some geo-political foil for your head along with that vote for senator?”

Any promoted postures of neutrality are feigned; we all have an agenda.

The truth is we have always had agendas…and we always will.

At the core, we are people, people with opinions. We embrace values, causes, and passions. And our desire, intentional or otherwise, is to foist those upon those around us.

Agendas of the world are social justice, global warming, absolute equality, greed, free will, pleasure, hedonism, just to name a few.

The agenda of Hell (Satan) is to steal, kill and destroy.

Even Christian periodicals have a political agenda.

The divine agenda revealed by Christ was to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).

The agenda of the church in addition to the Shema, according to Christ, is the Great Commission – to make disciples.

Yes, there is a deluge of agendas a-swirling! Ready to knock us down and around, and to the ground.

Each day I have the opportunity to enter the world stuffed to the brim with opinions. The question is what will be my top agenda for the day. Why has God given me breath today?

God has given you and me HIS agenda.
Love God!
Love others!

Jesus spoke these very thoughts when approached by a scribe who asked Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

The response was a beautiful distillation of the Ten Commandments:

“‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

There is no better way to spend your time, than engaging relationally. Entirely. Tirelessly. Seems like our agenda should be to encourage others to do the same.

Time will tell. Many agendas are passing fads. Something new will capture the fickle hearts of the world tomorrow.

First and foremost, I am a Christian; God, help me to graciously communicate your agenda.

So, what is on your agenda today?

Letter to My Enemy (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

From my perspective, January 1st has come upon us like a freight train, and with it a slew of resolutions are surely dotting our horizons. “I am gonna lose a few pounds.” “I want to finally finish that project around my house.” “This is the year I get my raise!” Maybe you want to learn to speak another language, exercise more, invest in your grandkids, or spend more time with friends over coffee. What is high atop your list of things to resolve to accomplish this coming year? God has granted you possibly another 365 days to steward at will. Not to discourage any desires, but if history is any indicator, many of those “resolutions” will be tossed aside and discarded like New Year’s Eve confetti well before February…jus’ sayin’. Not that resolutions don’t have merit, but we need to choose them well–and follow through.

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Counted

“I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” (Ezekiel 20:37).

These beautiful words of the Lord hover in the air as a promise to His people. The Shepherd God would be the Judge over all Creation. And He would be the Shepherd to watch over His Chosen Flock. 

To “pass under the rod” does not have the same connotation as it may in modern times as “passing under the rod” is not an act of punishment or war.

Despite the perceived simplicity of the Shepherd’s life, they did have their “tools of the trade.” The shepherd’s arsenal included his iconic staff and his clothing, the abayah – his robe, to protect him from the elements. In the shepherd’s bag could be found a horn of oil to salve the wounds of the Flock, and perhaps a sling, and some stones. Of course, he would use the sheepfold as nocturnal quarters for the Flock, and at his side – the rod, for protection and as a counting apparatus.  

Yes, besides the element of weaponry, there is another, less “ferocious” aspect to this rod; the shepherd would turn it around, holding it by the “ball” end, and employ it as a “counting” tool. As he would stand at the gate the sheep would pass by, one by one, before their inspector; each one passing under the rod. “Sheep by sheep passes in review before the Good Shepherd – He knows all their cases, their circumstances, their trials, – their sorrows, their joys” (MacDuff 1866).  In a pseudo rhythmical fashion, like a ticking clock measuring the admittance of each one entering, each one would pass under it and into the sheepfold, and the tally would be taken. 

Christ would appropriate this shepherd imagery to Himself in John 10:9, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”

Christ speaks of the gate, the door of entry, through which each must pass to come into His sheepfold: The Church. “The Door” references the person and work of Christ, and the obedience of the sheep. One by one, they enter, next to the Good Shepherd, inspected, and under the rod. A gentle tap on the back of each is the assurance that they have been duly counted among the Flock as if to say, “This one I have purchased.” And, “This one is mine.” And, “This one is under my care.” “Good to see you, friend.” “Come right in.” “You are safe; rest easy.”

All who have entered were lost. All who were brought into this sacred enclosure were undeservedly chosen. Yet now, grace has them covered. “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (2 Peter 2:25).

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me” (John 10:14). The Shepherd Lord knows the Sheep; He inspects to see if any are limping or in need of special care. The Shepherd Lord knows the number… if any are missing – if any lost sheep need to be collected.

The rod also represents authority, as does a scepter. In this respect, the rod was a symbol – an affirmation of the Shepherd’s ownership of the flock. In passing each sheep affirms the shepherd’s authority and ownership. “The Lord is my Shepherd.” “The Lord is my Shepherd.” “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

The antiphonal anthem sung at sunset:
 “The Lord is my shepherd.” 
“This one is mine.” 
“The Lord is my shepherd.” 
“You are safe; rest easy.”  
“The Lord is my shepherd.” 
“Come in, little one.” 
“The Lord is my shepherd.” 
“So good to see you, friend.”
“The Lord is my Shepherd.”
“You are counted!”

What greater joy is found than to be counted among the Flock of God, the redeemed!
What greater confession have I than “The Lord is my Shepherd!”
What greater affirmation is there than to be counted by the Lord as one of His own!

Fissures of Men (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

Scripture is particularly clear of the value which the Lord places on unity in the Body of God’s people. Psalm 133:1 gives us just a taste: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” John 17 is the Great Apologetic speaking to the fruit of that unity. In His High Priestly prayer, Christ is praying for the unity of the apostles, that it may bear witness to Himself…“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21).

Note that our unity is anchored in the Godhead, and that evidence of our unity is an evangelical witness to the world of the veracity of Christ…so that the world may believe! The Church grows, in part, as a result of our witness of fellowship!

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Interrupted

In her speech, she praised abortion for allowing her the unencumbered freedom to act, and in time receive the coveted award. The audience, the Hollywood elite applauded with glee. My guess is that Satan and the minions squealed with delight, that is if they truly do squeal. 

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No Other Name (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

I remember as a kid in grade school often waiting for someone to open doors around campus, either a door to the classroom, to the cafeteria, or to the utility closet which held the sports equipment. We had to wait because someone who had the correct key had to open the door for us. Usually, it was a man in a grey shirt who would come rolling up on one of those little golf carts bringing a lump of keys on a ring, one of which would grant entry into that secured location. He would try many keys, for out of that entire conglomeration, it was one that he was looking for, as only one would work.

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FoodFight!

We all desire to be relevant. Whether we are living out of a grocery basket, working at a counter, working behind a desk in the corner office, at a religious publication, in the pulpit, or in the Oval Office. We struggle to be relevant; the problem is how to do that in the midst of a broken culture, and more importantly, under the authority of a holy God. 

At present we find ourselves in the midst of a great uncivil war, testing whether this nation will survive. A “food fight” such as I have never witnessed before is being played out daily across this great land as each asserts their version of relevance… and morality.

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While Integrity Slept (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

“If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody around to hear it, did it make a sound?” This silly question of a metaphysical conundrum has plagued the pretentious philosophers for years, yet at the heart is the idea of reality and truth.

Both the difficulty of the question, and the answer itself lies in how a person elects to define “sound.” Is sound the reception of waves upon the tympanic membranes of the receivers? Or, is sound better understood to be the transmission, the production of those sound-waves from the point of origin? Simply, is sound defined from the point of occurrence, or the point of recognition?

Let’s add to our original “equation,” if a man is standing in the midst of this hypothetical forest next to the fallen tree and yet he is deaf, would that negate the fact that a sound had emanated?

Third scenario. Standing next to our deaf friend is a man who is not hearing-impaired, and the sound is clearly received by him. So, was there sound for one and not the other?

The rational answer is clearly – the sound did take place. It was projected. That is the undeniable absolute truth. It simply was not perceived “typanically” by the deaf individual. This did not mean that the sound waves did not pulsate his body nor that other parts of his body were not enveloped in the ensuing effects of that energy, i.e. wind or perhaps movement of the ground-vibrations.

Yet in our culture we see people clearly defining “Truth” in this very same way, in light of their own “experience.” I would contend that there is truth which transcends the individual regardless of personal experience. To “relativize” truth to a mere experience or belief is to negate the whole idea of truth. Wikipedia says that truth is “being in accord with fact or reality.” That implies that there is a corpus of truth which is not tied to one’s personal subjective experiential realm.

I don’t know if it happened during the Great Enlightenment or what, but somewhere along the way while the integrity slept, the idea of “truth” has morphed into nothing more than subjectively held tenets of understanding or desire.

Truth is not a color which fades through different shades of grey. Truth is absolute. Now, I am not saying that our margins of demarcation regarding truth are not at times amorphous, but the absence of those clear lines are depictive of our limitations, not a sogginess about truth itself.

Yet modernity promotes, “Hey, if it works for you then cool, but I don’t believe that.” In other words, “I give you permission to live in your delusion, as long as you allow me to live in mine.”

Extending this question of truth to the spiritual realm would be, “Is there a God?” Or, “If God exists yet no one is acknowledging that he exists, does he fail to exist?” It seems the growing attitude is, “Look everybody has a right to believe what they want.” But again, belief is not the same as truth, and truth has consequences. The truth points to somewhere. Bottom line is that it points to the responsibility to do something, or behave a certain way. So that responsibility is the reason people seek to discount truth!

Isaiah 5:18, 20-21 says, “Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, And sin as if with cart ropes; Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!”

The “woe” spoken of is separation from God. Failure to obey truth, attempts to qualify it, or even relativize it will not absolve any individual from accountability. Redefining truth, or refusing to acknowledge that it exists altogether does not pardon a person from its consequences. The “woe” carries some very serious repercussions. In fact, in a world of true integrity those actions, refusing to identify truth, are called delusion, not “enlightenment.” Someday those airs of enlightenment will slap us across the face with a fresh dose of reality.

And this understanding of truth is not limited to intelligence. It is purported that Albert Einstein, who struggled with the truth of God asked, “Does the moon exist even when someone is not looking at it?” Come on Al! The response is in no way philosophical. The response is “yes!” And God too is very real, even when no one is willing to face him. The consequences of denying him are very real as well.

The best one can do is seek, discover, accept and abide in the truth. It is only then that we can be set free from that which seeks to destroy us.

John 8:32 reveals “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” That means that separation from God as a result of sin is no more. Sin as a master no longer has ownership of us. It is only the work of Christ that brings to us that reality of freedom.

The tree is lying on the ground next to you. It made a sound.

We have to choose to serve God’s truth, or man’s delusion.

And, by the way, not making a choice is a choice in and of itself.

The Resume of Christ (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

Resumes are a funny thing to use when we are seeking a job. Why? Well, when we are looking to be employed by someone, we do not stand up and announce any, or all of our failures that would disqualify us from that particular line of employment. Rather, it seems to be a culturally acceptable practice to be only as transparent as you want to be, not that that makes it right. We seek to display all of the happy and successful achievements. We don’t announce that we lost a job due to incompetence, or that we only held a job for a week, or got fired. Nor, do we confess that we have had 39 such jobs. We seek to present ourselves in the best possible light, thus increasing our chances of getting the desired position.

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Justice and Mercy

“Justice is blind,” or so they say, though it seems a bit more of a noble ideal rather than a verified reality. 

Around the steps of many courthouses throughout the world is placed a statue of a woman, one who strongly resembles the Statue of Liberty; Lady Justice is her name. She is draped in the robes of justice, with a scale resting upon her lap, or held in her hand. Oddly enough, included in her garb is a blindfold wrapped snuggly around her head. The implicit message is that she rules, or weighs her decisions based upon the Law, based upon the merits of the case. The blindfold suggests a perfect level of impartiality, the ability, and dedication to adjudicate regardless of the person being tried – without regard to power, or money, or fame, or other world status. But, is objectivity even possible? 

The whole idea of impartiality seems logical, and right, but in a world full of opinionated souls, how could this even be done? We place a blindfold upon her, then hand her the Rule of Law, and a set of lenses…Democrat, Republican, Independent, Liberal, Conservative, Originalist (original intent) vs. er, well, um…non-originalism, Capitalistic, or otherwise. Yes, we give them a viewpoint, a pair of lenses to wear over their blindfold to help them have a framework with which to understand the foundations upon which we want them to judge.  We do it in the Court of Law, and we do it in our own “households” as well.

Even at the baseball field, we find ourselves victims of our own biases…”He was safe!” cries the home team; “He was out by a mile,” demand the visitors. Half of the crowd saw the “clear” verdict through the set of lenses they walked in with, in contrast to the other half which got the “whole thing wrong!” And, “The ump was blinder than a bat!”

It appears this divide is no better illustrated than in the political climate today. We see our side as innocent angels and claim the other side to be immoral criminals. In our homes, we back our members, the guilty offender as the innocent, or we don’t even see any actions as infractions; we whitewash them. Even within ourselves we condemn any opposing viewpoints and exonerate our own. Yes, when it comes down to justice or mercy, we likely demand justice for others, and mercy for ourselves, because “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour” (McCovey).

When we don’t get the verdict we demanded, we cry for sentencing upon the judge himself. “‘Kill him! Kill the umpire!’ shouted someone on the stand, and it’s likely they’d have killed him, had not Casey raised his hand” (Casey at the Bat). So, Casey had that going for him.

One more thing…Lady Justice is depicted with a sword in her hand, denoting the ability to execute justice swiftly, efficiently and permanently! Authority is a good thing, but the idea of a woman, a blind-folded woman, wearing glasses and dispensing judgment wielding a terrible swift sword is somewhat unnerving.

Here’s my point…Lady Justice is not real; she is a myth which represents the corporate heart of mankind, errant and flawed, warts and all. She represents a noble ideal rather than a verified reality. I pray for God’s divine wisdom for all those in the legal arena. God help you guys!

And I thank God, that when it comes to things eternal, judgment in the afterlife, I have a Judge who sees without bias. Comeuppance will be doled out! There will be a reckoning! Yet, to those who have placed their faith in the work of Christ, there will be grace. But wait, what about those who like me are guilty as sin? Will justice have been mocked if I receive grace? Will justice have been winked at? In no way! As I stand before the throne of God He will find me innocent and justified, not of my own merits, but because I stand drenched in the blood of Christ which absolves me from the eternal consequence of my guilt. Though my sins be as scarlet, He has washed me white as snow.

“Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”

You see, justice was meted out upon Christ, upon the Cross: “He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Justice was executed in Christ in order that I could be declared, and indeed, made innocent – redeemed!

Let the gavel drop. 

And thanks be to God for this indescribable gift of grace!

The Secret Things (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

Right down the middle! I had hit my golf ball right down the center of the fairway, and now I couldn’t find it. We had all seen it bounding toward the flagstick and to glory but, alas, it was nowhere to be found. After due time, I had to abandon the effort and concede the ball as lost to the fate shared by multitudes of socks surrendered in scandalous pirate dryers throughout the course of history.

As I ponder the fate of my golf ball, and the millions of other golf balls lost to the mystery of logic, I am reminded that there are questions to which we may never know the answers; is there formidable life beyond our solar system? Does Pi have a terminus? Who killed J.R.? And, of course, where do all those orphaned socks go?

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Peace on Earth (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

As the legend goes, during the winter of 1914 in the midst of World War 1, along the Western Front on a battlefield in Flanders (Ypres, Belgium), the war raged on from the depths of the wet, muddy, cold trenches that extended for miles.  The Germans were engaged in battle against the British and the French, when at some point during the evening hours of December 24th the shooting ceased. Germans began placing Christmas trees on the ground outside their trenches, illuminating them with candles. The wintery air was still. Gradually the words, “Stille nacht, heilige nacht” (Silent night, holy night) rose softly from the trenches floating across “No Man’s Land” to the ears of the “enemies” some 100 yards away. In turn, the British responded with “O Come all ye Faithful.”

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Pursued

With the Good Shepherd attending every step of our way, Psalm 23 has briskly progressed to its beautiful crescendo of the last verse – the promise of God’s eternal presence in our lives.

“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,  And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

The sheep’s journey, David’s journey, our journey has been described thus far as one with the Good Shepherd always close at hand.

The Lord is at the helm leading his sheep from the front while his attending measures of favor ensure success. God’s “goodness and his lovingkindness,” his grace and his mercy have been bringing up the rear, for on this pilgrimage we are as much in need of his graces as we are of his forgiveness.  These agencies of grace assure we will find our way home. 

Many of our Bible translations simply use the word “follow” to describe their actions in our journey, but in all truth, that word would communicate too passive a role. In fact, that word would be better communicated as “chased” or even better, “pursued.” The provision of God’s goodness and mercy is very intentional and engaged, to keep us moving in obedience in the correct direction – right on the heels of the Savior. So, what are these magnificent agents of grace?

Though they are not revealed specifically in these brief words, may I suggest that they are divinely appointed acolytes for our benefit? First and foremost, I would submit that the Holy Spirit is the primary person of that grace and mercy. The Silent Shepherd pursues, convicting, assuring, guiding, calming, always in faithful bearing. Also, the Word of God influences and informs our every step. Fellow sheep in the flock of God encourage us. And even nature, God’s revealed power reminds us of the amazing Shepherd we follow.

“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life!”

To those whose Shepherd is Christ, this pursuit takes place in the here and now as we navigate our earthly quest, our paths of righteousness. These blessed agents are commissioned to care for and see us to the end wherein the promise of presence, the promise in the presence of God will be enjoyed forever. 

Jesus the Christ (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

Most of us employ term “Jesus Christ” without even concerning ourselves with the underlying meaning, but did you know that “Jesus Christ” is not the name of the Savior? Now, calm down, I am not going to get weirdly heretical on you, here’s the deal. His name is “Jesus.” Matthew 1:21 predicted, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew tells us that Mary was instructed to give him this moniker and she did just that in Matthew 1:25. “Jesus” is the Hellenized (Greek) version of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “the Lord saves.”

So, why do we call him “Jesus Christ”, or “Christ”? The reason is that this term “Christ” identifies His title; this refers to Him being the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But wait! Matthew 1:16 tells us, “Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.” So, what’s the deal? Is He “Jesus”? “Christ”? Or the “Messiah”? It seems a little complicated.

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Special Delivery! (Shepherd’s Echo)

Perhaps I am dating myself with this illustration, but when I was a kid there was a special truck that would come around on a regular basis; it was the Helms Bakery truck. It was a two-toned yellow truck that would move from street to street, sounding its distinctive whistle, offering the most special of fresh breads and treats. Their motto was, “Daily at your door.” Sometimes the products were still warm from the oven when they arrived. People would flag him down or chase him to adjacent streets for the opportunity to buy the loaves of bread that filled the shelves. I can still see the operator pulling out the looooong wooden drawers that would house the goods: donuts, pastries, and cookies. Anticipation would heighten the senses as the drawer came out ever farther. Ahhh! The smell of fresh bread! Where was the treat I would savor today?

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Best News Ever (Shepherd’s Echo)

What is the best news you have ever received? Was it the fact that you got the job? Or what is a call from your realtor telling you the escrow closed? Was it him telling you that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with you? Or her communicating that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with you? Maybe it was when you found out you were pregnant, or when a doctor called to tell you that the surgery was a total success.

All of these are incredible pieces of news, but none of them even comes close to the great news that God had sent a Savior for our benefit. Luke 2: 10-11 “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”  The pinnacle of all redemptive history is when God sent His Son into the world to save fallen man. It is what is called the Incarnation – when God took on flesh. That is good news!

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Tides of Theology

For the last several years it has been my privilege to attend the Evangelical Theological Society, a group of mostly like-minded individuals made up of professors, pastors, authors, theologians and laypeople alike. It is at this gathering that I am able to wade into the tides of theology in order to examine just what is occupying the great basin of Christian thought, what is percolating up from the deep, what is churning at the peripheries, and what has pressed its way from the banks of orthodoxy.

Most of what is found rests easy upon my soul; some is a little out there, some even provocative, some just as well done without. But, as the culture continues to impinge upon the Church it is necessary to grind things out. To rightly divide. To safeguard the sheep. So, some of that needs to happen at these events, but most is God-honoring, challenging fare to the building up the body. The encouragement is delivered through hundreds of papers and presentations, through personal engagement and through entities promoting their agendas in the Exhibition Hall. All in all, a great and stimulating experience.

Here’s my point: In its 71st year of existence some 2800 people came together to speak about God. From all around the world. 2800! A benchmark number thus far. And, these kinds of conferences are taking place all over the world.

In a world of charlatans, false shepherds and wolves, there are still many genuine shepherds who care for, and want to get it right. We do need to be aware, and actively engaged in protecting orthodoxy and the sheep. Tides do change, they ebb and flow. They need to be attended to, held in check, held in order; Heresies and false teaching need to be held at bay. There is a very real battle taking place between truth and lies. Theology needs to be moderated at the local church level, and at the greater level of the global church.

I can’t help but think of the councils of old, convened to parse out elements of Scripture, to define and refine the understanding of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” Though this modern-day convergence does not have the gravitas of those councils, nor the cohesiveness, it still serves in much the same spirit and capacity ­– to clarify, train, encourage, challenge and grow.

In Jeremiah 3:15 God said, “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” God was prophesying over His people Israel that at some point He would send people to instruct them according to the desire of His heart, not through the distorted lenses of darkened hearts. May I again apply that promise upon God’s people in Christ; God sent apostles to connect the dots from the prophets, and God continues to provide faithful evangelists and pastor-teachers to continue the task of instruction and edification – to the good of the flock, and the glory of God.

People still do care. Pray for the shepherds.

People are still coming to the Lord. Pray for the Church. 

God’s not done yet. Give glory to Him for His mercy endures forever.

Apposite Thanks (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen]

If any culinary presentation is deserving of a blue ribbon, none is more so than the Thanksgiving Feast. Not the burger, shake and fries. Not a steak dinner. No sir. Art has its Mona Lisa. Auto racing has its Indy 500. Music has Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. And Hollywood the Oscars, but far and away the grand champion in food to be had is our Thanksgiving Meal. A Masterpiece. Turkey done just right. Mashed potatoes, dressing, cranberry sauce, rolls and green beans; it may just be the meal of perfection.  Subtract one element, it would be incomplete. One additional element may just tip the scales to disaster, like an extra quart of fuchsia on the Mona Lisa, or 3 more miles on the Indy 500 (“The Indy 503”?). Surely the clear and distinct winner among rationally minded carnivores is this traditional holiday fare. Right? Continue reading “Apposite Thanks (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Gimme, Gimme! (Shepherd’sEcho)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

We’ve all seen it in the grocery store. The demanding child who wants candy or a toy, and is screaming bloody murder because he is not satisfied. If he does get it, he snatches it and holds it close to the chest as though it was his all along. “MINE” he snaps. When a child snatches a bottle without thanking anybody, it is expected, almost cute. But when that demeanor is exhibited in an adult we find it reprehensible. Our culture is taught that if we have it, we must deserve it. We are a people who feel that we are entitled to every benefit.

We see a good example of this in Scripture. Luke 17 gives us a beautiful picture of God’s grace to man, but it does paint a pretty dismal picture of mankind as well.

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My Cup Overflows

“My cup overflows.” Such are the words of the sheep David as he depicts the level of fulfillment granted by his good Shepherd. 

“My Cup overflows.” Three simple words, and yet, the imagery is profound; all of us can capture it. We can see it – a cup, a glass, a chalice, a goblet. Quite simply, the contents of the vessel cannot be contained. They abound, they push beyond the limits, they overflow, they spill over the rim. Divine measure exceeds its borders.

“My cup overflows.” Three simple words penned by the Psalmist, a shepherd himself who identifies as a simple sheep who journeys alongside the Good Shepherd. In Divine provision. In Divine peace. In Divine protection. In Divine presence. Divine Promise. One who sees that his life is, and will be filled with God’s divine favor. 

“My cup overflows.” To my chagrin, I must confess that I often live in a world which debates a half-full/half-empty status, when in truth no such “partial” vessel has ever existed. God’s glorious grace continuously spills over the brim. 

Any such perceived deficiencies are my contrivance. “Why can’t…?” “How come…?”  “When will…?” “Why not…?” “But, When…?” The list could go on. The cup, any cup examined through the lenses of these interrogations will eventually be found parched and wanting. Yet, in the midst of those “deficits,” grace is still there. Sufficient grace. 

As David has affirmed in Psalm 23:1, and the Sons of Korah in Psalm 84:11, those positioned under the Shepherd lack no good thing:

“The LORD is my shepherd, 
I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; 
The LORD gives grace and glory; 
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

Yes, so much clearer are the lenses of Scripture. 

“My cup overflows.” Three simple words which describe the cup of blessing, the abundance of God’s grace upon all of His sheep. We do well to recognize the level of abundant kindness which saturates our lives. 

“My cup overflows.” Three simple words, an affirmation of the sheep, that the Lord is his Shepherd and thus, there is no lack. The cup is a symbol of life, the cup of grace, filled to over-flowing. It is not, nor ever has been an issue of happy, but of contentment, peace, joy, and gratitude for the grace poured out.

The cup of grace:
The grace of provision.
The grace of peace.
The grace of protection.
The grace of presence.
The grace of promise.

My cup overflows.

We are All Theologians (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

For the most part, people can be divided into categories; male/female, Americans/ Europeans, tall/ short, rich/ poor, etc. There are extreme lines of delineation between the two categories. When it comes to theology, this doesn’t hold true. People cannot be divided into theologians and non-theologians; because, WE ARE ALL THEOLOGIANS. One way or another, everybody is seeking to identify who “god” is in his or her life. Everybody is in search of God, everybody.

Some will come to the conclusion that the God of the Bible exists. Some will conclude that their god is pantheism, meaning that god is in everything, trees, water, air, man, and animals. Still, some will come to the conclusion that they themselves are their own god. And finally, some will come to the understanding that there is no god to be found, atheism. Still, every one of these people has undertaken the challenge to study god; they are all theologians. Even if their study is only an attempt to prove that He doesn’t exist. And even if they conclude that no god truly exists, by default, they have concluded that they themselves are their own gods, that they live to serve themselves, that they themselves are their own authority.

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Anything Goes! (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

Recently, I was reading some words from an old song and I was amazed at how they speak to the state of the culture today.

Times have changed,
And we’ve often rewound the clock,
Since the Puritans got a shock,
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
In olden days, a glimpse of stocking,
Was looked on as something shocking,

But now, God knows. Anything goes.
Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four-letter words,
Writing prose. Anything goes.

If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
Why, nobody will oppose…Anything goes.

The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today, 

Anything goes.

Continue reading “Anything Goes! (Shepherd’s Echo)”

One Came Back

The ten walked corporately, headed toward Jerusalem as they had been instructed to do so by the master. “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” He had told them. The months and years of a common malady had fomented the unlikely bond of despair between them.  And yet, as they were going, they were cleansed. Cleansed from years of leprosy, the debilitating numbness, loss of appendages, shame and social rejection; pushed to the margins of society, and loss of familial intimacy. 

Luke 17:15 says “Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back.” It’s hard to imagine what it would be like watching leprosy healed before your very eyes in the matter of a few steps, or even a few miles. One must wonder how this presented. Were open wounds closed? Were digits restored? Was the stench of rotting flesh divinely absent? We do not know, but the man knew…and he turned back. 

Only moments before the unlikely troupe from a distance ….cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” One may not recognize this at first glance, but when an entreaty to do something like this is directed to the Divine, it is called a prayer. All ten had assailed Jesus to deliver them from this walking death. All ten yearned to be healed. All ten desired to be restored to the warmth of affection and society. All ten “saw” that they had been healed. One turned back. 

He returns to Jesus, glorifying God with a loud voiceand he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. When one gives God the glory, when one falls on his face before the Master, when one thanks the Divine in an act like this, it is called worship

Disappointment is heard in the words of Jesus, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine — where are they? Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?’” Ten were healed, nine continued in their courses. One came back – a Samaritan. The math was easy…Ten had been spared a miserable death at the hands of this merciless disease, and yet, only one returned. The corresponding logical response was one of gratitude for this act of mercy. Only one knelt before the Giver of life. 

Jesus had seen their pain. He had honored their request, as only a Divine sovereign could do. He did not, He would not force their gratitude – that needed to be voluntary.

“And He said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.’”

It’s hard to discern the level of blessing conferred in these words. Was Jesus dismissing him and affirming that his faith had healed him physically? Or, was Jesus stating that the man had gained the greater blessing to see that Jesus was the healer of his life on a higher, eternal level? My understanding is the latter, that salvation through faith was granted.

Ten were healed, one came back. 
Ten were healed, one was saved. 
Ten were healed. One would join Him in Eternity. 

Always good to ask the Divine. Always good to acknowledge His hand. Always good to come back and worship Him for who He is, and what He has done.  

Rule of Faith (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

[This is a piece that I co-authored with my very dear friend, Ed Kruger who has gone home to be with the Lord – I praise the Lord for Ed’s example and heart for the Lord!]

I love working with wood… I remember working on a project with a friend. We were designing a very special piece made from very expensive clear, solid oak. Before I knew it he had glued a few of the pieces together and had them clamped up to dry. Come to find out he had failed to use a square. Anyone who has worked with wood knows if you begin with a project which is “out of square,” it will not be square in the end. Which means that each subsequent addition to the project needs to be individually custom fit costing valuable time and compromising the overall integrity of the effort. It will not be the desired masterpiece, but a hideous eyesore, and a very expensive piece of firewood.

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The Final Breath (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

As I inch ever closer to the end of my 6th decade on the face of the earth I realize with each passing week little reminders, new “bills” appear in my biological mailbox alerting me of some “overdue” malady. “You’re kidding me! I thought I paid that!”

My eyesight is a skosh dimmer. My hearing a tad bit duller. An aching awareness of many more muscles and joints than I thought I had is brought to mind. And my hair is a hint more “pastoral” platinum than it was 5 years ago. My abilities to live as a teenager are indeed fading, and though I may be growing older, and I may not be able to perform in the way I did at 30, I still have the choice to grow in my character and my integrity, in my resoluteness to live for Christ.

Continue reading “The Final Breath (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Any Given Monday

On any given Sunday churches gather all over America and around the globe to worship God, to celebrate the great gift of God to man – Christ Jesus, and His redemption made available to a host of sinners. Songs are sung. Prayers are given. And sermons are preached by myriads of pastors pouring out the fruit of their week-long harvests in the Word. On any given Monday across America and the globe will follow pastoral doubt. 

Yes, Mondays will find many pastors in their studies questioning their very calling, and roles in ministry. Their preaching abilities. Their vision. Even examining their zeal to carry on. 

“Why am I here?” 
“Why did that family leave?”
“Did I say something wrong?” 
“Why don’t my words seem to have any effect upon nominal holiness?”
“Couldn’t you find someone better, Lord?”

Attacks from outside the Church, from the inside of the Church, and from within the individual are legion and seem only to increase. It is no surprise that pastoral resignations and even suicides seem to top out…yes, on Mondays. At times, it seems a wonder at all that pastors still pastor. 

Both missives to Timothy by the hand of Paul seem to be addressing this very dilemma; they are letters of encouragement to a “Monday” pastor.

By the language employed throughout both letters, Paul is destined to nurture Timothy to guard his faith, guard his doctrine, and feed the sheep – to remain in his calling as shepherd in Ephesus. 

In the initial verses of 2 Timothy 1 Paul presents wonderful encouragement to his protégé.

“For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

The picture presented is one of a pastor whose tank is nearing “empty.” In 1 Timothy 4:14, Paul and the elders have ordained Timothy for service in Ephesus. I would think Timothy was excited to change the world for the glory of God. Yet in the course of time, through the battering and the long dry roads, that zeal has settled; the fire has been reduced to the mere remains of a few glowing embers. Paul commands Timothy to “kindle afresh” the gift within him, the ministry to which he was called. The picture is an exhortation to place a few pieces of wood back onto the embers, and with a little breath fuel the fire again. 

The reasoning is found in the following verse: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” 

Swindoll promotes that the word spirit in the NASB should be capitalized Spirit, as the reference is to the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer – to this I would agree. The “fuel” with any given leader, or Christian is not their own energy, or drive, or talent, it is, it must be the presence of the Living God within. Sometimes, even the most adept forget this. 

We do not have a compromised, timid, insecure Spirit who has taken up residency within us, we enjoy the presence of the Sovereign, omnipotent Divine.

The astute shepherd remembers the strength drawn upon is not our own. And the well is continually returned to for refreshment, to kindle afresh our ministerial fervor. From this Spirit we draw power, love, and discipline. 

Power– the supernatural ability to carry out the work of God. The same power of the hand of God who created the universe, the micro, the macro, the intricacies of life itself. There is something about authority in those words.

Love– Agape love, the desire and ability to place the spiritual well-being of others above the needs and wants of yourself; a kindness and a generosity that is divinely compelled. The Holy Spirit is all about glorifying God, pointing the way to Jesus – We are only able to love the unlovable as He is loving people through each and every one of us.

Discipline. The will to remain a disciple. The “Stick-to-it-ive-ness” to keep yourself upon the altar. To have the Divine perspective to buffet your human desires. To allow God to cut clear down to the marrow in sanctification because the desire of self is to crawl off of the altar, to do something easier, certainly something easier than ministry. 

How many of us have found ourselves on any given Monday questioning our call to ministry? Scraping the bottom of the barrel in order to find direction and motivation? 

Could He find someone “better”? The answer in all certainty is, “Yes.” But, He chose you. And before He called you He knew your frailties, and He still chose you for the task. 

God may have called us to desperation, but it is a desperation to be focused upon Him. To think we can do it in humility absent the power of God Himself greatly undermines our success. To those who would expect to “make it” from the depths of their own wells, ministry will be dry in no time.  

To those who have been called, and chosen to walk the path of vocational ministry, the applause of Heaven awaits you (1 Peter 5:4).

To those who surrender their lives to the work of the Kingdom, there is nothing more noble.

To those, all those who choose to live for Christ under the weight of persecution, the fruit of your witness is eternal. 

“‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). 

Not to Us, O Lord! (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

After 70 long years in captivity, the people of God are allowed to return to Jerusalem. They were exiled many years before because of their dishonor of God; they had forsaken Him; they had worshipped other gods; they had defiled the Temple bringing other gods into it. Their hearts were rock-hard toward Yahweh–the consequence was many long years in a foreign land under pagan rule. But, after their divinely appointed “time-out” to think about what they had done, they are permitted to return to their own land.

However, it is indeed a different lot of people who find themselves freshly navigating the Promised Land. Many of those exiled have perished over the length of 70 years; it is a new generation, many of whom have never set eyes upon the city, which is in ruins. The many stories they have heard of the grandeur of Zion are amended as they witness the broken walls, the devastated infrastructure, and saddest of all, the iconic Temple which lies in ruins. Yes, it is a different lot.

Continue reading “Not to Us, O Lord! (Shepherd’s Echo)”

A Manner Worthy (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

In Matthew 16, Christ made the prophetic declaration, “Upon this rock I will be my church.” Upon what rock? Upon the statement just uttered by Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is upon this truth, this foundation that the Church would be constructed. In times of grace, and through difficult times, Christ has faithfully continued to fulfill that promise.

“I will build my church.” Christ was building it for a reason. Obviously, the Church had a mission; even today the Church still has a mission. So, what is that purpose?

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