Still Evangelical

Words come. Words go. It appears words migrate through a life-span of sorts. Some begin as an idiom, a slang and then gradually morph into one of greater understanding, ending up in a word museum of antiquity somewhere in Anhedonia (Can you say…Corset? Fortran? Britches, dungarees, or davenport?). Some we have no clear idea from where they come.  Others take on an initial meaning and then evolve into one representing something altogether different from that first proposed (cool, or boss)…I believe the term “evangelical” is one such term which has been hijacked, modified, contorted, and consequently is slotted by some to be relegated to word oblivion.

Initially used to categorize one who embraces the “Good News,” the reaffirmed Gospel in the 16th century this term has been bludgeoned to the point of virtual unrecognizability. Initially, it described the good news delivered through the Bible to the plight of sinful man through the person and work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Sadly, however, it is “worn” by pirates who have dulled the edges of such a term to the broader context of mere “Christian,” another term which has taken a beating in definition.

On the surface I am pretty well identifiable as a conservative. Cut a little deeper and you will find that I am truly evangelical. In fact, if you were to cut deep enough you will find I bleed a bit of the scarlet blood of a fundamentalist as well–Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, and all. But, talk about a word that imports much too much controversy!

But agreed, the term evangelical has taken a beating–hijacked to greatly represent a political position. So, we could surrender the term, adopt another until that gets distorted, and then find another, or we could stand our ground reasserting a correct understanding, using that opportunity itself to boast in Christ.

So, let me try to cite some touchstones of the term, evangelical:

First, our stance is Biblical. We stand on the sufficiency, clarity, authority and necessity of Scripture to instruct our lives unto salvation. We have no need for additional revelation, traditions, or magisteriums to establish our direction. We are governed by the transcendent truth of Scripture. We are committed to the Bible as the cornerstone of truth: the understanding of salvation is presented sufficiently, and completely through the Word of God. The Bible is our ultimate authority–it is God’s word: breathed of God, expressing the will of God, for us.

Second, this evangelical stance is Christological; it is focused upon the person and work of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. At the core, evangelicalism identifies the gospel as salvation by grace through faith in the work (atonement of sin) of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals understand that there is one way to God, one very narrow road to redemption, and that is through the path paved by Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary.

Third, this stance requires an action–a step of faith; evangelicalism is not one which is merely cognitive. We are first and foremost Christians, or Christ-followers who have been called out of the domain of darkness, and delivered into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, who are now commissioned to be light and salt, communicators of the Gospel to the world around us which is still in need. The idea is that we needed to have made a decision at some point along the way to follow Him, one in which we placed our faith in Christ as the object of our salvation. Biblical terminology would affirm that we must have had a “born again” experience, not simply that we have consented to the veracity of some truths of Scripture.

A fourth marker of what it means to be evangelical, is simply that fruit is being borne. Very simply, subsequent to conversion, something has been produced in our lives which was a definite sign of the supernatural working through us–a very clear marker that God’s Holy Spirit is residing in, and transforming us into the image of Christ.

The world will continue to highjack our terms, and we will seek out others. So, we can stake our ground and use it to define the Gospel and who we are, or we can choose to redefine our monikers every few decades, only to pull those stakes up later, and repost them elsewhere.

The gospel is at the heart of what it means to be evangelical. The Good News! The Good news that man can once again savor an incredible relationship with his Creator…thru the work of Christ.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

“He made Him who knew no sinto be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

What good news! That’s the camp I live in.

I am evangelical; I am still “evangelical.”

Scribbles in the Hymnal (Shepherds Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

Oh the signs of youth! They do leave a wake of destruction in their path, but such are the signs of exuberant life. Even around a church one can see the evidences of tiny hands: candy wrappers, fingerprints on walls, stains on the carpet, broken crayons and scribbles in the hymnals. Some may contest these disturbances in the sanctuary but I suggest they are precious and valued in the eyes of the Lord. When these indications of a youthful presence are undervalued, it is then that a church is in trouble.

It took less than a generation for a Christian nation such as England to be so secularized. From a nation which boasted the likes of John Wesley, JB Lightfoot, Charles Wesley, and C.S. Lewis, all it took was one generation in the latter part of the 20th century for that heritage to dissipate into secular humanism; the baton of Christ failed to be passed from one generation to the next. Continue reading “Scribbles in the Hymnal (Shepherds Echo)”

The Grace of Ruin

 

“Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me,” the younger brother says to his father (Luke 15:12), effectively, demanding all of the benefits of sonship in advance of the father’s death. Something, simply not done in the ancient near-east; it was a slap in the face of the father, in essence saying, “You are dead to me. I do not care about you or your life. I do not want a relationship with you, I simply want to enjoy my life. Give to me what is mine!” Though entirely uncustomary, the father concedes, advancing portions of the estate to both of his sons.

Thus begins, one of the greatest scenarios of self will, and the life ensued. The picture is not simply one of an earthly father yielding the benefits of the inheritance to an offspring, but rather, concurrent demand of blessing, absent any submission to authority of the divine pater. The parable, found in its entirety in Luke 15:11-32, is one which has taken the name The Prodigal Son; prodigal does not mean one who goes, or one who goes and returns; it means one who indiscriminately spends–a spendthrift. This son has desired to reap all he can to his own flesh through a life of unrestrained hedonism.

His fate is certain. He spends all he has and begins to realize his need, thus necessitating employment. He’s hungry, desiring the rank fodder of pigs, but he couldn’t even get that. He lays mired in the stench of the pigs, his once refined clothing likely at its end, in envy of his father’s servants. In today’s language we would say that he “hit bottom,” or the “end of his rope.” He has set this course by his own free will, and the father allowed it. The grace of ruin has brought him there. The grace of ruin presents two options, to remain hopeless, lamenting the course of events, and crying foul to one’s “victimization.” Or, realigning one’s direction.

Upon reflection, he realizes his future would be better, even as a servant in his father’s house. The narrative communicates, “But when he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17);  I love that phrase. When we say that one comes to their senses, usually the implication is that they had lost their minds prior to that, or minimally, they were lacking clarity of mind. This individual was able to see the fate of his desire; just as important, he is able to see what had been severed in his relationship with his father. He hastens to restore that relationship on any level.

He walks the long journey home, rehearsing his lines to the father. His body tattered, his once nice clothes in rags draped from his body, and smelling of his previous “pen-pals.” The father sees him from a long way off; he was longing for this moment of restoration. Uncharacteristic of a patriarch in the ancient world, the father runs, hoisting up his garments in an expedited attempt to reunite with his estranged son. The father is uninhibited at the presentation and the smell of His Son; He has nothing but grace…and an embrace. The son is fully restored to all the privileges of sonship: the robe, the ring, the sandals, and the celebration.

The parallel is oh so clear, played out time and time again throughout humanity. The picture is all too real, one in which I have engaged numerous times. If you are like me, you have taken many trips to “another country.” One, I presume most, if not all have experienced in the course of a journey of faith. God allows our unchecked free will to take us in the direction of our hearts, where ever that may lead. And, He allows that journey of rebellion to end where it ought, in a very lonely place absent the intimacy of the Father, at the ruinous bottom. And yet, He permits that grace of ruin to clear our minds, present our very true need, and draw us once again to Him.

You are facing in one of two directions: Heading away from, or moving toward God. If you are indeed moving toward the Sovereign, move even closer. If you are moving toward bottom, I pray you would reach it quickly and return home swiftly.

May the grace of ruin lead you back to the very blessings you once possessed in the arms of the Father. Back for good!

Worst Day Ever (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

Most of us if pressed could identify our worst day ever; it may be the dissolution of a relationship, a personal tragedy or even financial struggle. Though we may be a little hard-pressed to identify a worst-day-ever in the course of mankind, one might speculate that the worst day ever was the day that Eve sunk her teeth into that delectable fruit thus triggering the collapse of the relationship with God. One may identify the era of the black plague upon the face of the earth. Perhaps, it was the day that the bombs were dropped upon Japan, causing great loss of life. Could it be the lust for megalomaniacal power in the heart of Hitler that even precipitated such an event? One may speculate that the worst day ever was the election of a given individual, or the passage of a particular law.

All have their merits to some extent, but I would surmise that the worst day ever is yet to come. I would suggest that Jesus speaks of this day, a day of judgment, in Matthew chapter 7. Continue reading “Worst Day Ever (Shepherd’s Echo)”

The First Mercy

In the midst of an otherwise sobering book of consequences, Lamentations 3:22-23 stands out as the beautiful pearl of promise:

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV).

God is love: strong, robust, consistent, and eternal. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that His love never ceasesOne of the ways this love is communicated is through the mercies extended to His own.

In the context of a contrary world pressing against us, the Lord’s hand is still at work pouring out divine mercy upon His creation. Mercies­–blessings we do not deserve, falling upon us from the sovereign hand as an expression of His faithfulness.

Most would interpret these verses as taking place in the early morning hours, perhaps at sunrise as rays are climbing over the surrounding mountains, or even when the clouds give way to shades of grey and white, or maybe when birds begin to sing.  But, I would suggest those mercies begin much sooner than that; I would contend they begin every day at 12:00:00 a.m.; when a new day begins!

While minds are radically engaged in REM sleep and dreams, our first mercy is expressed in the days first heartbeat, the days’ first breath. Life is coursing through our veins and the Sovereign of all creation has seen to it that we are still engaged in this gift called life. Giving life where only death was deserved.

Like a string of unending pearls, subsequent mercies flow throughout the day.

The mercy of the bed in which we sleep. The mercy of the house under which we sleep. The cosmological mercies at work in the world while we sleep. And the protection of us as we slumber. The mercies never sleep.

Lest we errantly conclude these mercies reside solely on us, we remember that His mercy rests upon those in the bed next to us, and down the hall in their beds, and across town and the nation. Our mercies!

Even before we are awake our cache is full when we open our eyes having been the recipients of such divine favor.

Do we deserve them? Quite simply, no. But our receipt of such a blessing was never intended to score our own merits; rather, they remind us daily, by the hour, even by the second that something greater, someone greater than ourselves is at work.

As we are providentially endowed to cross the threshold to another day, God has had compassion; He has led the way to a day filled with mercies, repeated, and renewed every single day.

Great is His faithfulness; vast and abundant. He is that way; He must be that way for it is in keeping with His character.

The person who fails to recognize that they rest, and are absorbed in the absolute mercy of God fails to ascribe to God His faithfulness. But to those who follow Jesus Christ, His faithfulness will usher us into a glorious eternity!

Never ceases? Never.
Never fail? Never!
New every morning? Yes, every morning.
Great is His faithfulness? Oh yes, great; greater than we will ever know.

“Thou changest not, your compassions they fail not,
Great is your faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Saber Dance (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

I remember as a kid the guy at a carnival or a magic show spinning plates on top of spindly sticks. In order to keep them from falling, he needed to give them a little flick-spin every so often so that their gyroscopic force would keep them “afloat.” To ensure the tension, the act was performed against the backdrop of “Saber Dance,” a frenetic circus-themed overture, and the performer would usually clown around with some sort of comedy panic routine. If he did not get to one quickly enough as it was slowing down, it would wobble and begin to fall, and the crowd would root and scream. Seems I remember the guy successfully launching 40 some plates and keeping them going for a period until the overall collapse ensued, though I have heard of higher “broken” records.

It is not difficult for me to see the overlay of life in the 21st century. In an effort to keep up with the “Joneses” each one of us has our assortment of plates spinning at various speeds and at different levels of “wobbly-ness,” sometimes so many, that many are receiving the minimal amount of attention just to keep them from an ignominious dismount. One of the plates sadly enough in our lives is the one precariously perched on a distant spindle and need of greater attention- our spiritual relationship with God. Continue reading “Saber Dance (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Obsolescence

They say that, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” But, I am not so sure that is true. Sometimes all it takes is to make something a little better not necessarily something new.

The other night I was conversing with my aunt about all of the things the digital phone seems to be making obsolete…Calendars, cassette tapes and recorders, letters, paper, pens, TV’s, stereos, flashlights, travel agents, movie theaters, postage stamps, places to pay bills. When was the last time you stood in line to pay an electric bill or a gas bill?  Books, newspapers, cameras, watches and clocks are all at risk. When was the last occasion you called 853-1212 to see what time it was? The digital phone is even replacing, well, phones, land-line phones. You get the point, and there are likely hundreds if not thousands more examples. So, the death toll rises.

Only a few are able to raise themselves up from the tar pit, wash themselves off and repurpose their agendas. Kodak and Polaroid couldn’t do it. Things do not look good for the likes of JCPenney and Kmart. The Pony Express was not one of those fortunate industries. My friend has stated that, “in Texas, when a horse dies, we dismount.” Good principle, and point taken, but, I would insist, “if you are a worthy warrior, you find another mount and finish the charge.”

So, what about the Church? Is the Church still relevant? It seems, at times, we are losing traction.

The truth is the culture is changing. People are doing church on their phones. They are receiving collegiate degrees on their tablets. They order Bible classes, pizza, and studies online. Ailing businesses and institutions either change and repurpose, or slip into the great tarpit of obscurity. The culture is changing, that is true…Challenges are huge. We need to ask, “Does the Church need to adapt?” or even, “Is there a place for the Church in the 21st Century?”

The Church has been put through the wringer in the last several years, our “stock price” has taken a hit, and now it seems that we are struggling for relevance in the modern world, at least from the world’s perspective. Those same digital devices, which are “doing in” many industries, are also the culprits of consuming so much time; some of which used to be spent, no doubt, in Church.

But, we still have something no other institution has: the Gospel of Jesus Christ­—the good news for lost souls. Mankind’s sure and certain hope is in the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ, which has been entrusted to the Church. There is no other Name under Heaven by which one must be saved.

Ideas will come and ideas will go. But we have been privileged with the greatest message ever, which will never be replaced with something better. I hope to take my last breaths serving in this movement of God; the Church, built upon the foundation of Truth…the Word of the Lord.

Isaiah 40:8 confirms, “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” All Truth. All God’s truth is forever; it will transcend this life.

And 1 Peter 1:25 says, “’BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.’ And this is the word which was preached to you.” This word, this precious Gospel is that which has invited us into new life in Christ.

As you do, I love God, have a zeal for Christ, a devotion to the Word, a passion for the Gospel, and a heart for the lost. We are not sure of the trajectory, or the longevity of the American Church, but we are in place at this very moment, and have a special place in our hearts for those needing salvation. Our message is still the same; we may need to work harder at communicating to subsequent generations, but it’s still the best thing going.

Yes, we are seeking to identify our current relevance in this task. We are trying to chart our new course. We seek a new horse, or vehicle maybe, but our message will not change. We are not necessarily seeking to invent something new, simply to help make something better where we can in order to win souls with the timeless, proven news of salvation. We have nothing “new and improved” to offer the world. Only the same beautiful promise to someone who embraces Christ: pure eternal life with God.

As my friend says: “All I know is that God is good, the Bible is true, the Gospel is redemptive, the Bride is beautiful, the Time is short, the Mission is clear, Prayer is powerful and the Eternal Kingdom is near!”

Our calling is clear: Let ‘em know that!

That is something that will never be replaced by digital genius; there is no app for that!

The Main Point (Shepherd’s Echo)

Image courtesy of The R. A. Fox Society

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

Three statisticians decide to go deer-hunting. They make their plans, buy all of their equipment, map their course, and head off to worlds of optimism. Upon arriving at the area they stake their claim, and settle down for the main event. After a couple of days a lone target wanders through the cross-hairs of opportunity. The first statistician draws his weapon, spots his mark, steadies, a-a-a-nd fires…missing 5 feet to the left of the beast. The second statistician steps up, makes a few calculations of his own, draws down upon the nervous animal, gently pulling the trigger, subsequently missing 5 feet to the right of the intended target. Confusion resonates, as the shot still rings in the air. As the animal grows ever more uneasy the troupe eyes one another until eventually the third statistician gazes at his friends, and then at the clearing dust, turns back to his friends, raising his arms in victory announcing, “We got him!” And they turn in celebration to go home. Continue reading “The Main Point (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Stands a Tree

In our yard there stands a tree; by all rights it’s a beautiful tree, and it continues to come into its own, to grow bigger, to sprout beautiful leaves. It is from a species of trees that used to bear fruit. Yet, this tree is now considered to be a “fruitless” tree, one that over the years, through intentions or consequence has adapted to bear no fruit. The reasons for such an effort aren’t known. Perhaps it was because the fruit was not tasty, or because the fruit was messy, perhaps, it was so deprived of nutrients and water that its fruit bearing ability has just withered. In any case, no amount of fertilizer or gardening or care or weather is going to revive that tree to bear fruit. So, we solely appreciate the tree for what it is in its fruitless beauty.

On the other hand, I remember a tree as I was growing up; it was in the back part of our property, and it had been neglected for years. Originally rescued from a trash heap, and shoved into the ground, it had been forgotten. If ever there were signs that it bore fruit they were small, shriveled pieces of worthless indecipherable “fruit.” At some point in time I remember finding a bag of fertilizer around the house and pouring it all around the tree; and what do you know? After a while it bore fruit, loads of fruit…at that point we discovered what kind of a tree it truly was…a mandarin orange tree.

By divine fiat it was created to bear fruit and it did…eventually.

By divine design the people of God have always been expected to bear fruit, whether in the Old Testament or the New. The bride of God, Israel, was expected to bear good grapes, and yet, they only produced worthless ones (stink berries). Acting as the Vintner, God had done everything to secure their success, but they failed (Isaiah 5). As well, the Church was intended to bear fruit, and bearing fruit is the divine mandate of every believer (John 15), though sadly, not all evidence an obedience to that call.

I love my calling, to shepherd the flock of God. I love to see growth. I have ups, and downs. But, one of the greatest struggles a pastor can have is walking alongside fellow sheep…for years, and never seeing even a hint of growth, a speck of maturity, or any trace of fruit. Yet, to many it seems, the idea of “fruitless” Christians is becoming the norm; one who “over the years, through intentions or consequence has been adapted to bear no ‘fruit.’”

From the parables of the sower and the seed; the vine and the branches from John 15, the vineyard from Isaiah 5, and others, it is clear we are intended to bear fruit; okay?

What is fruit?

Simply put, fruit is any evidence of the Lord working in your life. It is the undeniable manifestation that your life is under the care, custody, and control of your Creator, the one who produces it through you.  Galatians 5:22-23 communicates, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” The first three seem to focus on our new lives in Christ; the second on our relationships with others; and the third on our inner growth. The life of a true follower of Christ will in timeprogressively develop and reveal these greater emanations of God through Christ, a greater love for others, and increased Godly character.

Like I said earlier, some “Christian” don’t produce any signs of life in Christ, and they don’t seem to care. Some of us try to fake it, producing only “plastic” fruit. Fake fruit which looks like something authentic to the undiscerning, but in reality, is only window dressing. God knows.

Designed to bear fruit. John 15:8 says “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” “Prove to be my disciples!” It is in the manifestation of fruit that we affirm we are walking in Christ. The same power that raised Christ from the dead, the same power that brought you from death to life, is the same power which you have coursing within you.God is pleased as His faithful creation bears much fruit, even thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold. We belong to Christ. We abide in Christ. And in so doing our Father in Heaven is glorified.

I am sure some of us have been a little weak in the “obedience” area…Maybe it’s time; no, it is time to let the Heavenly Gardner tend to His property. You will not be disappointed–the outcome will be sweet!

The Bucket List (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

Much has been ballyhooed of late regarding what has been termed ‘The Bucket List,’ a hypothetical container housing all those accomplishments an individual would like to achieve prior to his or her death; a crude colloquialism referring to “Kicking the Bucket.” Although these could hold any variety of experiences, they generally are limited to a self-absorbed, self-indulgent nature. It may consist of earning a degree, climbing a particular mountain, running a marathon, parachute jumping, visiting a particular place, or simply passing some other seemingly previously-before-thought insurmountable barrier.

Appropriately enough, the ‘Bucket List’ of Christ is not so self-indulgent, rather up until the very end He is absorbed in serving others – denial of His own human will, obedience to the Father, dying for the sins of the world and setting an example of servitude to his disciples. Not days, but hours before he is to hang sacrificially upon the cross, He meets unceremoniously to set an example as to how His followers are to exhibit love to each other after he departs – only Christ’s bucket was, well, a basin. Continue reading “The Bucket List (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Gone Astray, Gone Away

The imagery is brutal; and yet, it is a scene which happens often, all over the world. It is one of a shepherd coming upon a pile of bones and wool in a shallow pool of blood–the remnants of a quick and savage death to one of his flock. His heart sinks as he identifies, through various markings which one it was. He pains for the sheep who perished in a panic at the jaws of 42 razor-sharp teeth. Had he failed to protect the helpless? Had this little sheep wondered too far? Had this endeared part of the family chosen to travel outside the safe clutches of the flock?

Perhaps, the shepherds only comfort at the time was that the attack was sudden and quiet–such a death came swiftly. Continue reading “Gone Astray, Gone Away”

Between Two Images (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

Some people say that, “image is everything.” Unfortunately, that may be true in our culture. Actually, there is a lot of truth in that statement. When we were created, we were created in the image of God, in the image of the Trinity!

Genesis 1:26-27  “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness’…So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him”

Wow! Created in his image, but what does that mean? After all God is Spirit. The image of God does not mean that we are made in the physical likeness of God. It does mean that we share some of the characteristics, which He himself embraces. We were created rational with the ability to think and reason. We are relational. We are loving. We appreciate beauty. We are compassionate. We are emotional. We are eternal spiritual beings, though housed in a physical shell. And we were created pure, without sin. Continue reading “Between Two Images (Shepherd’s Echo)”

He Bought a Church

For those who may not yet have heard, we bought a church. By God’s grace Bishop Creek Community Church has finally been able to acquire a building to call “home.”  It is a beautiful building. Vintage church. Architecturally it is great; it was designed and made…well, to be a church. The cost of the church was…affordable. Well, affordable enough. And though many other parties were interested in this property, the Lord seemed to have it placed aside for continued ministry here in Bishop. So glad that this testament to the work of God remained in the community. Perhaps, the cherry on the top is that we have the blessing of St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, with whom we share the building.

To God be the glory! Continue reading “He Bought a Church”

Forgiveness for Sale? (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

Can a person actually buy forgiveness? If so, how much would that cost?

As was my custom as a child, I would test the boundaries of authority. I would talk back to my parents, I would disobey, I would challenge teachers, I would use language that would require my mother to wash my mouth out with a bar of soap (I guess this was sort of a ritualistic cleansing my mother picked up from her Norwegian relatives).

After one such occasion, after I had fallen from grace, (I disobeyed Mom, again), I decided to try to buy my way out. The morning after, my mother found an envelope with some cold, hard cash waiting at her bedroom door. Upon it was written the appeal, “Please forgive me. Here’s 54 cents. Love, your son, Kelly.” Fortunately for me, that particular morning, 54 cents was the going rate for absolution. Whew! All was forgiven, and forgotten. None of us even remember what the actual infraction was but Mom still has the coins in their original envelope as a treasured reminder of that day I sought restoration. Continue reading “Forgiveness for Sale? (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Follow Me

In Matthew 4:18-20 we read, “Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.”

In Matthew 9:9 we read, “As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he got up and followed Him.”

In both such instances following Jesus was not presented as an option, but an expectation of obedience to the divine imperative. Continue reading “Follow Me”

The Pink Box (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

I remember upon graduating from college and entering the work force, how a certain phenomenon would take place on occasion at my newly found place of employment. Often times this was undertaken by someone who was not particularly learned, or experienced, maybe not extremely talented, yet this act was extremely effective at securing his endearment.

The individual would arrive at work, armed with little more than a medium-sized pink box and begin to make his way through the cubicles in route to the conference room. Typing would cease, phone calls would soften, and necks would begin to stretch in the direction of this benefactor. Work would come to a near standstill. The pink box had allure. It had power. It could bring the entirety of this massive mission of industry to a screeching halt. It had gained the attention of every sentient being in the vicinity. We knew. He knew. We knew he knew. And he knew we knew he knew. Continue reading “The Pink Box (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Sacrifice of Fools

Quite a sobering portrait is depicted in Leviticus 10:1-10; it is the account of the sons of Aaron going into the Tabernacle in the course of their priestly responsibilities.

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD”(Leviticus 10:1-2). Continue reading “Sacrifice of Fools”

Alexander the Coppersmith (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

If the truth were told, I am sure I would rather write about the sovereignty of God, or the glory of God, or the sufficiency of Christ, or the anointing of the Holy Spirit. If the truth were told I would rather write about the victory we have in Christ, or the living hope that is irrevocably perched upon the horizon of our faith. If the truth were told I may not choose to write about those people in the Bible whose lives were altogether tragic shipwrecks. If the truth were told I may not choose to write about such nefarious individuals as Nadab and Abihu, or Ananias and Sapphira. But, if the truth be told, those stories are placed in the pages of Scripture for our benefit. Continue reading “Alexander the Coppersmith (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Just One Question

If you were invited to ask God one question; what would that question be?

Even before we are able to articulate complete sentences or phrases, we begin seeking answers to the questions which plague us; it is just in our DNA. So, what would you inquire of God?

Where are you? Who are you? Why do you allow pain? How big are you? Why did you take away my Mother? Father? Or, child? Why do you allow death? How could you send people to Hell if indeed you are a loving God? Do you love me? Can I know you? Continue reading “Just One Question”

Come On Now (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

I get a kick out of the descriptions placed on the back of coffee bags, and wine bottles. In an effort to lure you into buying them, it seems as though some wordsmith is stuck in a tower somewhere stringing together adjectival chains and adverbial superlatives to “communicate” the highest values of any given commodity. Check these out: Continue reading “Come On Now (Shepherd’s Echo)”

The Journey Home

To the casual observer, the 23rd Psalm may appear to be the simple prose of children’s poetry. To the casual observer, the 23rd Psalm may simply communicate comfort in times of death. To the casual observer, the 23rd Psalm may only be seen as words befitting a nice greeting card. But, if those observations were the case, then the casual observer would have failed to see the true heart of the Heavenly Shepherd–to lead the sheep home. Continue reading “The Journey Home”

Slingers (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

Most of us are familiar with the story of David and Goliath, how David slew the giant with nothing more than a mere “sling-shot” and a smooth stone sunken deep into the cranium. We are probably less familiar with the account of an elite corps of slingers from the tribe of Benjamin found in Judges 20:16, “Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” It seems like an oddity to be sure, and were it not for every word being inspired in Scripture it may easily be overlooked. So what’s the deal here? There is not much to go on, but let’s take a shot. Continue reading “Slingers (Shepherd’s Echo)”

The Pillar of Truth

In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul writes to his protégé, “but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”

Paul’s intent is to visit Timothy in person, but in the event that he is delayed, he desires to remind Timothy in this letter of the privileged position of the Church.

Paul makes an incredible assertion regarding the mission of the Church; it is to be “a pillar and support of the truth.” A pillar is something which elevates, or holds high for all the world to see something which is on top. To support is to be a rock-solid foundation of those truths. Continue reading “The Pillar of Truth”

Guard Your Heart (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.”

What incredible words of exhortation these are, found in Proverbs 4:23 the writer exhorts the reader to act as sentinel and watchman over the heart.

This has become a theme around the Larson household for the last year; to keep a right heart before God, one which is pliable and loving, one which treasures the wisdom of God.

The reason we are to guard our hearts becomes clear as we reflect upon verses 20-22:

“My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings.
Do not let them depart from your sight;
Keep them in the midst of your heart.
For they are life to those who find them
And health to all their body.”

To the obedient heart, the father has imparted his sayings, his wisdom; this is the common theme of this proverb – instruction, teachings, commandments, wisdom, and understanding. The father is saying to place these in the vault of the heart, and then guard them. In so doing one will reap life.

The understanding of the heart in the ancient world was a much different concept than the heart through western eyes. The heart was the seat of man, it encompassed the spirit, the soul, the mind, and yes, the emotions as well. “Keep them in the midst of your heart” is an exhortation to place the wisdom of God in the very vault of our beings. Once we place it there, we are to act as vigilant watchmen to protect it.

Why would we need to do that? Because we live in a very adversarial world, where our toxic culture, and the difficulties of our world compress upon us.  If we are not diligent, protecting our hearts with fervor, they may become hardened, insensitive to the heart of God.

So, how do we accomplish that daunting task of guarding our hearts? Verses 24-27 answer that.

“Put away from you a deceitful mouth
And put devious speech far from you.
Let your eyes look directly ahead
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
Watch the path of your feet,
And all your ways will be established.
Do not turn to the right nor to the left;
Turn your foot from evil.”

Guard your mouth.
Guard your eyes.
Guard your feet.
Guard your path.

Guard what you say (and what is being said around you). Guard what you look at. Guard where you go.

Do not get lured off the straight and narrow path.

The springs of life are good! Guard your heart!

Yes, it has been the theme in our lives this past year, and you can bet it will continue to be a major theme around the Larson household in the year to come.

God as an Asterisk*

“Hello, my name is Joshua, and I am a Christian. How can I pray for you?”

My wife and I had the opportunity to go out for a special birthday meal at one of those great Japanese restaurants where a bunch of people, often strangers, sit right next to the grill and the chef prepares the food in front of the diners. It was spectacular: soup, salad, filet mignon, veggies and rice, finished off nicely with some birthday ice cream. Mmmm. They put on quite the show, active onion volcano and all. Most everybody around the table was smiling and satisfied.

At some point as we were wrapping up, among the family seated to our left a boy, a boy of 13 spoke to us, “Hello, my name is Joshua, and I am a Christian. How can I pray for you?” His introduction. The first words he had spoken to us ever. In that first sentence he identified who he was, his purpose in life, and his willingness to intercede for us at the throne of his God. Did I say that he was 13 years old? We spoke a few minutes and then, right there at the table we prayed; he for us, and we for him. We left the restaurant that night feeling great, and yet somewhat, oddly nicely convicted.

It was clear that, to Joshua the idea of being a Christian wasn’t just parenthetical, it wasn’t an afterthought, or one-of-many additional demographics defining his personhood–it was the part of his life which most defined him – being a follower of Jesus Christ. To him, Christian wasn’t just an adjective, but a noun – an identity. In less than 3 seconds he had initiated the trajectory of our conversation.

I wonder how many other times this amazing young man has led with these words to total strangers? How many of us float through the day not once identifying ourselves as such, nor being willing to pray for a complete stranger? How many of us have lived next to someone, or worked with them and never once communicated that we are a follower of Christ? How many of us are comfortable allowing God to simply be one-of-the-many demographic markers, an asterisk, of our DNA?

Joshua was excited about his faith, and his purpose. I don’t want to read too much into this, but I don’t have to; his actions speak for themselves. This was a wise kid on the straight and narrow. The following verse was called to mind:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

At such a tender age, he was a kid trusting in God, and willing to acknowledge Him to the world, and as Sovereign over his life. Wow! And, did I say he was 13 years old?

What marks your identity? What is your divine purpose? Do you acknowledge God as your Sovereign?

Yes, I had a great meal that night, but the greater blessing was “the salt” seated next to us at the table.

Thank you, Lord, for the witness of Joshua.

I suppose it’s never really too late to start, eh?
Ahem.
“Hello, my name is Kelly, and I am a Christian. How can I pray for you?”

Reformation Revisited-The Highest Sola (Shepherd’s Echo)

(The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen)

How amazing it is to think that we stand at the threshold of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a time in the course of Church history when a great redirection back toward biblical orthodoxy was on the horizon. What this prompts in many minds is the image of a chubby monkish 16th century figure pounding some 95 theses upon the door at the University of Wittenberg. (Yes, I do realize that I may have to confess before Luther someday that I referred to him as “chubby”, but I do this only as a qualitative literary description rather than any judgmental distinctive).

At the heart of the matter was the topic of soteriology, justification; just how a sinful man may enter into eternal relationship with a righteous and holy God. Luther was pressing the issue against the Roman Catholic Church, which had taken a “value-added” approach insisting that works, indulgences, and “membership” in the Roman Catholic Church were the way unto salvation. Luther, rather, insisted it was by faith alone – Romans 1:17 “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Continue reading “Reformation Revisited-The Highest Sola (Shepherd’s Echo)”

We Made It!

I know that you have a lot of choices, and you have many things flowing into your email..So, I appreciate your reading of theshepherdspen every once in a while.

July 20th marks the 1-year anniversary of the blog,  5 days a week. Next week we will shift to new posts on Saturday (to the best that I am able), and a repeat on Wednesday. Maybe, every so often I’ll through in a little something on Mondays, For Good Measure.

Feel free to share, or post the articles as you wish, and please tell your friends, and if you would, please sign up to begin receiving the posts directly to your email address. I am not sure how long this social media route will last.

The Next Shepherd

Shepherds come and shepherds go. Some are around for a few years and some have the privilege of serving in a single congregation for the duration of their ministry. Some just simply move along but, inevitably the need to call the next shepherd comes around.

I remember as a young boy watching an associate pastor at a reception. He was going off into lands unknown to serve the Lord. I used to think that the local church should be static. Why are we letting this person go? If he is so good, let’s keep him. But the Body, and the work of the Body is anything but static. Just like Paul who served in Ephesus for a time, and then, it was time to go. Another shepherd was needed. And so, it goes.

The next shepherd may be in the fields, like David tending to his father’s sheep. Or in “Midian” waiting for the call to serve. In other words, in seminary, across town, or across the country serving another flock. Continue reading “The Next Shepherd”

The Happy Prophet

Don’t get me wrong, I love serving in ministry, but the status of “happy” does not normally dot my skyline. Like others in the pastorate, I have my days. I have my ups…and my downs. I am not depressed or angry. I do not lack motivation, or clarity of purpose, and at times in little bursts along the way, there is some joy. But, happy? Mmmm, not so much.

I would contend, that across the many pages of Scripture, one would be hard-pressed to locate a “happy” prophet. How about Moses? Not exactly. Jeremiah? Mmm, No! He was the “weeping” prophet. Jonah? On every level, just No! Continue reading “The Happy Prophet”

Feed the Sheep that Come

Doing church in a geographically-remote small town presents no small amount of challenges, none of which is more obvious than the mere numbers of people available for any given church event. Relocating from a metropolitan church which was itself larger than the entire town to which I moved, one could imagine a certain “adjustment” would be required. Looking over the congregation from the pulpit on my very first Sunday, I could see this was an understatement. Continue reading “Feed the Sheep that Come”