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.

To anybody who believes in a god and an afterlife, it probably sounds like a pretty brazen, and even arrogant statement for me to say that Jesus is the only key, the one and only way to know God, and thus enjoy the afterlife. Yeah, I know that sounds pretty effusive, but isn’t that pretty much what every other religion is promoting as well, that their understanding of their god, and their salvation is the right way? Seems like if one doesn’t subscribe to an “all roads lead to heaven” sort of theology, there is a problem, but in reality, someone’s gotta be right and someone’s gotta be wrong. If somebody does believe in a pluralistic, or “many roads lead to heaven” then there is just as big of a problem because then nobody is absolutely right, and nobody is really even wrong, which is logically untenable blah-blah theology.

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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.

It seems the current fuel for this relevancy stems from November 9th, 2016. Something caught the world off guard. At the end of the night something had happened which very few would have predicted: Donald J. Trump was elected president of these United States. Immediately theories were promoted as to how this could have happened. After all, it was a giventhat the next occupant of the Oval Office would be Hillary Clinton, at least in the minds of many, including mine. What had happened? Were there not enough dead people who had voted? Was there a problem with the voting mechanics? Did Russians sneak in? Was it a broken electoral system? Was there nefariousness run amuck? Was it an abundance of “crazy white evangelicals?” Could it even have been divine intervention? Did God “put him” in office? Or did God simply “allow” him to be in office?

Like I said, it has been a food fight ever since with infighting across parties, within parties, within families, churches and communities… you name it. Christians who voted for Trump are being challenged as to whether they are even Christians because they voted in such a way. Christians who didn’t vote for Trump are being challenged because they voted in such a way. “How dare you. How could you?”… ”How dare YOU! How could YOU!” The cries to remove him from office are just as loud as the lauds of his “lemmings.” 

And we find ourselves with food, rotting food all over the place as the intensity grows. Pieces of “moral” food, “theological” food, “logical” food, “philosophical” food, “political” food, all putrefying in this relevant battlefield of constitutional civility. It is hard not to notice, or get pieces of it on you.

Any actions or ideas promoted will be met with criticism; it’s the way we do it nowadays, only nowadays we do it with a little less filter. It’s always easier to throw stones at the other side rather than work together, or even worse, acknowledge that the other side may have it right. We need to calm down.

May I say that there has never been a person in the Oval Office without the tainted DNA of depravity. All have revealed brokenness in their thoughts, actions, words, and life. It will continue to be that way. Some have seemingly been better than others, but from here on out the only people to choose from are broken, depraved, sinful… choices; the variables are only in slight degrees. Should someone be removed? What would that look like? Then what? What next? Who next? No one has really attempted to answer that question… The next person elected will certainly be better… or worse. One must wonder, what kind of vacuum would exist, and who would be sucked into power in the wake of any person’s removal? Aye, that’s a democracy!

Just for the record, if I have a choice to support two men of opposing parties whoever they may be, and they have both been found to be of dubious character, both have desecrated their marriage vows, both have been seen to compromise morally, and been in great part self-serving, all things being equal otherwise, and yet one chooses to help babies out of the fire while the other is willing to throw babies into the fire… I vote for the one who is pro-life. Simple as that; at that point, I am a one-issue voter. And yes, I do understand that the judges on the Supreme Court who legalized this whole mess of abortion were in great part Republican. And they were wrong! Biblically, morally, ethically – wrong. Now, the other party is wrong to embrace this policy. Both will have to answer to a higher court of authority. 

For those who are truly confounded by the notion that conservatives and evangelicals voted for Trump, continue to support Tump, and are committed to voting for him again in 2020, I would suggest that it is in large measure due to his stance on abortion. For conservatives, the idea of killing the unborn is nothing less than sacrificing these lives upon the altar of convenience to the god Molech – it is nothing less than human sacrifice. Abortion is a dividing line, a major one, if not the primary one. As confused as Trump may be in other areas, he is in our corner on this one. Those outside this conviction do not seem to grasp that. 

I understand that there are many other areas of valid concern and passion: poverty, immigration, morality, the environment, and the economy. But those do fall along a muddier political spectrum, don’t they?  If abortion cannot be seen for what it is… if it is justified by any other euphemisms… if it cannot be identified as absolute brutal murder for the sake of convenience, then perspectives on those other matters is pretty well compromised. 

Back to questionable leadership. This depravity sounds all too familiar with other leaders of other nations across the globe and across time. I think of some of the first “leaders,” the kings of an undivided Israel. Only one administration removed from the perfect government of theocracy, and right out of the gate – it failed. Saul was tainted. And, over time, removed, divinely removed. Next up, a man after God’s own heart… the Shepherd King of Israel, who had stood before a giant to defend the Name of the God of Israel, and in time checked out a hot chick bathing on a nearby roof-top, a woman who was another man’s wife. Swing and a miss!

“Immoral” would be an understatement to describe what marred this man’s administration. He would lust. Connive. Commit adultery. Commit murder. Proceed to cover up his “indiscretions.” As he commanded his general to place Uriah in the front line and retreat, he abused his power as Commander in Chief, subjecting others to possible death in order for personal gain. He committed all these offenses… aaannd still serve out his 40 years of Divinely appointed sovereignty. I wonder if Jerusalem Today called for his removal from office. I wonder if they would have accused God himself for “voting” against His own religious principles in allowing such a flawed man to remain in office. I would imagine there were some or many who would have cried for his removal had they known. But David, eventually revealed a heart for God, repented, and returned to Him. 

Perhaps, it is altogether naive to forget that when God “appointed” and anointed David to be the chosen king of Israel, He knew David would fail in every one of these areas… and He still sovereignly decreed David to sit in that position of authority… well beyond his shelf-life (from our perspective).

Remember, the next guy to take the throne was the “wisest in all the land,” and he stumbled as well, and broke the nation in two. But he continued to be “faithful” to his 700 wives and 300 concubines and served out his 40 years as well. Yes, he was very flawed as well.

And, lest we forget, God had a morally pure, undefiled agent whom he placed in a lead governmental position in the Garden of Eden, aaannd… well, we all know how that administration ended… that one was impeached… and removed from office.

Look, I get it. The man currently in the Oval Office makes me uncomfortable. Full Stop. His past, his present communiques, his tone, his spiritual health, his spiritual advisers… yes! And, he invites it… he gives as much as he gets, and then some. A bad leader will draw the ire of many. Hey! Even the actions of a good leader will draw fire… from the opposing side. He would do well to have and listen to wise advisors. Aye! That’s a democracy for ya! 

Maybe a king was a better idea. But wait! Whaaat? As a young man, I remember my pastor communicating that in the absence of a theocracy (a nation under God’s rule), a righteous monarchy was the best form of government… key word there is righteous… for the most part that falls into the same category along with unicorns and leprechauns. 

Seriously, I do want a good man in office. I want a Christian in office. I want a man who loves and honors his wife. I want a person in office who is moral and makes me proud to be under his leadership. An individual who honors God and leads this nation down the road to glory – God’s glory. For that matter I want these kinds of people throughout government, all government. And, I don’t think that I am going to get it, him, or her, anytime soon. Ultimately, God has the final say… I think we forget that. 

I pray that Trump would truly come to know Christ, “that God would grant him, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in his heart through faith; and that he, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19). I pray that same reality for Clinton, Obama, Pelosi, Schiff, McConnell and McCarthy and the rest. But even if they are saved… they will still be flawed.

Someday, I will enjoy the perfect Leader in governance over every element of His creation. A Creation that is in perfect alignment with His will and authority. Those who would have wanted Him out of office will have been removed from the scene. All consequences of sin and the Fall will be obliterated. The reign of Christ will be pure and un-impeachable.

Until then, as a Christian, I have a road to walk regardless of who is in office. Micah 6:8 says it well: 

“He has told you, O man, what is good; 
And what does the LORD require of you 
But to do justice, to love kindness, 
And to walk humbly with your God?”

Where I can effect justice I should…beginning in my own life.

I am called to embrace kindness, to let mercy be a touchstone of my being.

I am called to walk reverently, in step with God. 

Yes, I have enough to deal with on my own plate… anyone who knows me knows that I am willing to fight, and make my case, but I must guard my own heart as well. I see too many hearts becoming so hardened in our toxic culture. 

Back to relevancy – I can pick up a piece of old chicken, or a rotting Brussel spout and fling it with the full force of “grace” I can muster, or I can seek to walk humbly and to do justice, I can seek to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I can seek to love people as God loves them. I can be a faithful vessel to carry the message of hope, the Gospel of Jesus Christ to this very broken world. 

It is then, in that spirit, I will be relevant… to the Kingdom of God, and for His glory!

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.

Continue reading “Gimme, Gimme! (Shepherd’sEcho)”

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.

Continue reading “Rule of Faith (Shepherd’s Echo)”

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 affect 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 everyone of us.

Discipline. The will to remain a disciple. The “Stick-to-it-ive-ness” to keep yourself upon the alter. 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?

Continue reading “A Manner Worthy (Shepherd’s Echo)”

All Blogged Out

No, this is not a blog about my desire to wrap things up here at TheShepherdsPen. Nor is it intended to be a rant about the follies of social media, though that itself is a long overdue article; anyone with computer access could justify its dissolution in some measure. This is simply a caution about values and time – using a most precious resource to our spiritual benefit.

In antiquity it’s my understanding that the oral tradition served mankind well for centuries in the transmission of information. Pictures in the dirt and sand paved the way to greater clarity. Along the way, I gather that sticks and maybe even stones were used to facilitate the narrative of instruction. Over time, various figures were carved into rocks and drawn upon hillsides in order to further the great cache of information to future generations. Eventually, mankind employed drawings upon elements which became the precursors of the paper world. Mediums were fabricated; “paper” out of papyrus, and vellum, or “leather paper.” Though new mediums of storage had been created, I would imagine that only the most valuable information would have been committed to these precious pages of real estate.

The manufacture of paper and ink was the natural outflow in order to transmit this data, it’s perceived valuable data to future generations. Though available and abundant, it was the elite of mankind who could read and write and so, were solely privy to the depths of information which had been gleaned over the years. 

Continue reading “All Blogged Out”

The Myth of Pastoral Authority (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Buried deep within the pages of the letter to the Hebrews is a verse which is all too often overlooked in its significance…Yet, in its brevity, it describes the pastoral relationship between the shepherd and the sheep, the pastor and the congregants. At one extreme, it touches on pastoral authority, at the other, it affirms the sobering shepherding responsibility of the pastor.

The verse is Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

Continue reading “The Myth of Pastoral Authority (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Letters of Christ (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Few if any will ever surpass the metaphoric and poetic genius of Paul in his masterful ability to paint a picture in the mind of another. Through his epistles, he draws upon and captures profound imagery to clarify the portrait of who we are in Christ. The letters to the Corinthians alone are loaded with them. The Body (1 Corinthians 12). Agrarianism (1 Corinthians 3). Architecture (1 Corinthians 3). Temple (1 Corinthians 3). Leven (1 Corinthians 5). Soldiering (1 Corinthians 9). Marriage (2 Corinthians 11). The Aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2). Stewards of the mysteries of Christ (2 Corinthians 4). Jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4). Ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5). What beautiful illustrations of the intangible suspended upon the grid-work of our physical world.

Nowhere, is he more at the level of perfection than in the first verses of 2 Corinthians 3. The metaphor is the simple vision of quill and paper, upon which a letter is penned. Paul defines his mission as one of stewarding letters.

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3).

Some felt that Paul still owed them some measure of validation of his apostolic calling–proof that the hand of God was upon him. They desired tangible evidences of his ministry! Paul had led them to Christ, founded their church, and had continued to foster growth in their spiritual walks.

Paul communicates they had to look no further than their own lives for commendations of his ministry. To Paul, those in Corinth whose hearts had been written upon bear the witness of the Divine; they have become living epistles, living letters of truth as testimonies to the world, and thus, validating the ministry of Paul.

These “letters” were the fruit of Paul’s efforts to communicate the transformational presence of Christ in a person’s life. In that these letters were observed, or read by people, these “epistles” communicated the presence of God which they could enjoy as well.

In reality though, the credit of authorship is ascribed to Christ; Paul was simply the “mailman” so to speak who was caring for the delivery of such correspondence. Christ is, was, and always will be the author of such transformation in any person’s heart. Christ is the Author of such amazing grace who continues doing such a good work in those whom He has called.

The metaphor indelibly prints this picture upon our minds. It is not a mere quill and paper, but the tablet written upon is the heart of the person, the essence of being, the very soul of any given individual. Even better than that, the ink employed is the Spirit of the living God–Wow! Let that soak in! Christ works in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to scribe such great missives.

How had Christ written upon their hearts? Buy delivering them. Healing them of hurts. Rescuing them from their sinful ways. And giving them such a sure and certain hope for the future. These letters affirm God’s grace upon each one. Maturing Christians are the true credentials of a healthy ministry.

God is the supreme author of life and has allowed the powerful testimony of your life to be witnessed by all people. You are a letter to be read by the world for the glory of Christ.

Open up!

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

More Than Conquerors

In my mind, 2018 will go down as the year of the offended, the “year of the victim.” How many people I heard lament that they were offended by this, that or the other thing. By something. By everything. By Someone, by everyone. Everyone seemed to be crying “foul!” “I am a victim.”  “Ouch! I am hurt.” “Somebody was mean to me! I didn’t get what I wanted.”  “It was somebody else’s fault.”

On social media. In the news. In the coffeehouses. There was the lament that life had simply gotten the better of them. I wish I could say that it ended on December 31st, but it didn’t; that victim status lingers and has oozed right on into 2019.  To be honest, I for one, have heard enough. 

I wish I could say that Christians were exempt from this sort of talk, but we are not. I am becoming increasingly concerned the evangelical witness is absorbing the posture of the secular world; one of victimization, rather than conqueror

True, Jesus said that we would be persecuted (John 15:20). And though it’s not bad to understand that, when we let it steal our hope, when we stride with heads down, we miss what the good Lord has for us.

When presented with adversities, we can respond along a spectrum of ways.  On one end is what I would call the Constant Victim Status (CVS)…Simply stated this is the mindset of looking through the lenses that life is out to get you, has gotten you, and will continue to do so; sort of an Eeyore mentality. At the other extreme is knowing and believing that we are more than conquerors, that the “game,” the battle has already been won. God is the Victor, and we are on the winning side. 

In Romans 8:31-39, Paul asks a flurry of questions regarding the indisputable, truth which is still real even in the face of adversity, truth of our security in Christ. 

Rom. 8:31  “What then shall we say to these things? If Godisfor us, whoisagainst us? 32He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

36        Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”

37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Though we live in a fallen world, though we are dying – being put to death, we are not victims, never will be, never victims. We are no longer separated from God, but are enveloped in the love of God in Christ. We have never been called to be victims of culture. We may be persecuted, but we are not victims of anyone; let us walk in that truth. Choosing to live in another posture is choosing to live below our privileges in Christ. 

Even in the midst of adversity, God has His hand on us, and He uses those “abrasions” as implements in the Potter’s hands – as articles to refinement. Earlier in Romans Paul confirms that God is always at work in the great process of our sanctification, and sometimes trials are a part of that course.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestinedto become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

Sometimes discomfort. Sometimes pain. Undergoing the process of sanctification, but never victim.

Brothers and sisters, the war has been won; we are simply engaged in the peripheral battle. The supreme prize has already come our way, at least in part as we are the recipients of a restored relationship with God through the blood of Christ. And, nothing! Nothing will be able to chisel a division between Him and us.

I don’t mean to degrade the difficulties of life, any pain or loss, but when we have a choice to waddle in the mire or not, we should choose to identify as those who overwhelmingly conquer. What sets us apart, or what should set us apart is the assurance, the confidence of being in the camp of the redeemed.

Next time you feel a bout of the selfies coming on, roll around in these verses a bit; they are like catnip for the soul. They remind us of all that is already ours in the heavenly places. We are more than conquerors, we are sons and daughters of the King, the victorious King.

The victory is already yours. Seize it!

A Currency of Contrition (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

If there is one thing in which we as humans seem to excel, it is the ability to sabotage our relationships with God. The unimpeded intimacy mankind had in the Garden was brutally severed by sin. Through disobedience, Saul destroyed the relationship he had with God, and lost the anointing. David seemed to do this with regularity, and with efficiency. Israel got it down to a science; how to resist the grace of the Lord.  In fact, we have all tasted of the distance between us and God, all caused by a lack of our own faithfulness.

Back to David, the shepherd, who in Psalm 23, had enjoyed the anointing and nurturing of the Shepherd; I would guess few have savored that level of extended, fostered care from Yahweh. And yet, later, by the time of the 51st Psalm, it is a very different picture as David has just pronounced the words, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Indeed, he had.

Called to account by the prophet Nathan, David had no option but to recognize his own sin. But, it had taken him some time to get to that place.

From high atop his palace, he had eyed a beautiful woman. Desired her. Took her. Got her pregnant, and set in motion the elaborate plan of deception, betrayal, and murder. Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, returns from battle, refuses to go to his home preferring to be near his king. David seeks to send him home to his wife in order to cover the tracks of sin, but that was not to be; Uriah still remained at the palace. For his loyalty Uriah would receive a letter from the hand of the king, a death sentence, sending him to his death in the line of battle.

This man David had coveted another man’s wife, committed adultery, he had betrayed, placed Bathsheba, and indeed his own desires as a god before him. In all, he had in one fell swoop violated or broken a majority of the 10 Commandments, dishonoring God and man. So, how is it that David is considered a man after God’s own heart? How could these words be those which would describe one of the vilest offenders of grace in all of Scripture?

May I suggest the clearest answer is the way he sought restoration with God?

Psalm 51 indeed finds David in a very different place, as he confronts his sinful nature. He pleads forgiveness for his sin, and not only that, but for a total transformation of his heart.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

The word create is used only to speak of divine creation; only God is able to transform the darkened heart of man. But David also pleads for the continued desire to do that which is right in the eyes of God.

All this is good and necessary, yet I believe what really sets David apart is the gleaning of truth he reveals in verse 16-17 of this Psalm.

“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

David had vast amounts of wealth to bring to the altar. He had livestock to spare. At his disposal could have been hundreds or thousands of animals which could have been sacrificially used to “absolve” him of his sin…but that wasn’t the way God wanted it. God was not looking for trite displays of remorse. You see, David could have provided countless sacrifices which cost him nothing. No investment. No sorrow. No contrition. And David understands that; he knows that God wants more than a superficial demonstration of contrition; what God wants is an individual whose heart is rent at the thought of failing to walk faithfully in the grace of the Lord.

For all that David gets wrong, he gets this right. What God desires brought to the altar is a spirit which is broken at the thought of violating God – a heart which is repentant.

So, how do you approach God when sin has set a chasm between the two of you? (You didn’t think I was going to let you off the hook, did you?). A rote prayer? A glib confession? A bill casually tossed in the offering plate? A donation to a charity? Gracing a church with your presence every so often? Flat-out denial of any wrongdoing? Yeah, I know, huh? Ouch!

God wants your heart. Let me suggest the next time you seek to restore communion with the holy Sovereign, you bring your heart, your contrite heart as the perfect submission to our holy God.

That currency of contrition is redeemable 24/7.

The Shortest Prayers (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

“God Bless America.” How many times throughout the day is this phrase uttered in the nation? A sacred entreaty to the Sovereign of the universe, the Giver of life, the eternal God. It is a prayer pleading for God’s help, for His direction, for His protection. We are asking for Him to make His presence known through an affirmative response. Yet, action after action seeks to reject God and remove Him from the fabric of the United States, a nation founded upon the God and fundamentals of the Bible. We have driven prayer out of the schools, and wonder why God doesn’t seem to be there, and why discipline is such an issue. We insist on the removal of the Ten Commandments from courthouses and are amazed at the level of rebellion in the land. We abort millions of lives annually and still have the nerve to ask God to bless our lives. Our nation, founded by God-fearing people is quickly becoming a nation of atheists.

There is an old saying; “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” This was no more apparent than in 2001 after the World Trade Center bombings. The Sunday following and for several months, churches were filled with concerned, fearful and grieving congregants. They were seeking to be comforted, consoled, healed. They were looking for answers, and God seemed the only Person from whom to seek answers. Gradually, as confidence came back, those large numbers of attendees diminished until numbers were back to pre-911 “normal” levels. The strategy seemed to be the same, we ask for God’s help, but only until we think we can “handle it.” After we have things under control, we want God to be scarce.

Continue reading “The Shortest Prayers (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Pharisee!

Have you ever met a Pharisee? Stop and think about it. Have you ever met, or maybe even engaged with a Pharisee? I am sure for some of us we would answer, “Well, of course not! They went extinct sometime after the time Jesus walked the earth…Didn’t they?” Or maybe, “I think I saw one once in a museum, next to the Dodo Bird, the Duck-billed Platypus, and the Saber Tooth Lion.”

Yet, I would contend, that if you have been in the church for any amount of time, you have indeed crossed paths with a genuine, walking talking, blood pumping, fire-breathing, real-life Pharisee. I know I have. 

We have had, and this side of glory we will continue to have those legalists, those who would impose burdens upon others that they themselves are not willing to carry. Those great impostors of the faith who will impose their graceless theology upon the weak, in order to honor their “lord.” They know Scripture passages pretty well. They have a response. They argue well. And they are bold as all get out. 

The reason that I contend you have met a Pharisee and that you didn’t know it is because they looked everything like a sheep – they looked like one of the flock. In Matthew 7:15, Christ says of them,“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Hmm. So, are we doomed because we cannot even identify the enemy? Um, no. Not quite.

They arein camouflage, but, plenty is written in Scripture regarding these nemeses – allow me to point out just three identifying characteristics:

They Bear Bad Fruit
Theirs is a Barren Lot

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thornbushesnor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

Christ says in Matthew 7:16-20 that Pharisees produce no good fruit–no godly fruit. He does not say that they fail to produce any fruit–just that their fruit is nothing good. Any fruit produced is unproductive in the Kingdom, and ineffective to further the cause of Christ. In fact, they have no ability to produce, or bear fruit of any redemptive nature. 

Just as is communicated in John 15, any branch which is not connected to the vine will not bear fruit.

They are Graceless
Theirs is a Powerless Gospel”

“…Therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they saythingsand do not dothem.They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much asa finger” (Matthew 23:3-4).

The passage in Matthew tells us that they hold to a double standard. They strain to hold others to a standard to which they themselves are unwilling to submit. We would call them hypocrites. They would impose a moral code which, in the end, would save no one. They forsake the grace of the Gospel. 

They Exalt Themselves
They seek maximum publicity of their Holiness”

Matthew 6:5 warns, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the streetcornersso that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

“But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tasselsof their garments.They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues” (Matthew 23:5-6).

They broadcast their high level of understanding.
They promote their works of charity and righteousness.
They long to be seen doing religious things.
They are eager to drop names of their prominent “friends.”
They freely announce their exhaustive long hours of prayer before the throne of God. 

Matthew 23 presents a fuller profile of these thorns underfoot and their attending woes. Fruitless, graceless, sanctimonious showboats. In short, they are unhealthy, unaccountable, unteachable, and subversive. That is why Christ cautions to beware the false prophets, the ravenous wolves – Pharisees! They are out there. You rub shoulders with them. Sit near them. In fact, they are indeed all around us. They are anything but extinct.

One last thing I should point out about Pharisees…they are convinced that they are doing good, and in the camp of the redeemed…They are not! 

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heavenwill enter.Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Yes, you have met them strewn throughout the Church. They vie for leadership in the Church. They are vessels of destruction. And they themselves do not recognize that they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Beware!
“…for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance” (Mark 13:22-23).

And we are warned! Let’s be careful out there!