The Labor Ward (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

The labor ward – where the working of birthing takes place, a mother-to-be strains in agony to foster new life. And we have all seen those depictions of a man in the waiting room, outside the labor ward at the hospital where a father waits “patiently” for the birth of his child. He paces the floor anxiously awaiting the arrival of the offspring whom he has had the honor to sire. Nine months he has wondered. Nine months he has prepared. Nine months the growing excitement and love has captured his heart…And now after nine months the moment of truth has arrived.  His contemplation is broken with a cry.

Rewind to a labor ward in the southern portion of Palestine, in a small stable of a small town called Bethlehem. This would be the most obscure labor ward of the first century, perhaps of all time. The on-looking paternal unit is not a mere man but the Creator of the universe.  The long-awaited-for-child is not just any child of the day, but the long-promised Christ-child sent to heal mankind from their sins. Yet, there are no paparazzi to cover the affair. No pomp and circumstance. There is not even a coffee machine in a nearby lounge. No sterile white linens or medical aid. Perhaps, the musty smell of manure and straw sate the air – the most humble of circumstances. Continue reading “The Labor Ward (Shepherd’s Echo)”

An Imposition of Agendas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even Christian periodicals have a political agenda.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The response was a beautiful distillation of the Ten Commandments:

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

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

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

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

So, what is on your agenda today?

The Arrival (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Upon arrival to the airport, I was informed that I would be doing well if my flight were to leave on time. It seemed that everything was quite a stir around the airport as it was expected that the president of the United States would be arriving shortly. There were the warnings that flights would be pushed, that no landings would be allowed for a time, and therefore, connections would be missed.

Outside of our terminal was an army cargo plane which had ferried the presidential vehicles in from D.C. Security was increased. A Helicopter was hovering about. People were nervous about the thought of being stuck on planes, yet there was expectancy in the air as everyone anticipated the arrival of Air Force One and its occupant. Eventually, the motorcade (some 24 vehicles in all) whisked the president and his entourage to those awaiting his appearance at some distant location. Word had it that he was going to a university to participate in a graduation ceremony, presumably as an esteemed speaker with an important message to deliver. Continue reading “The Arrival (Shepherd’s Echo)”

The Cloak of Righteousness

One of the most theologically packed verses in all of Scripture finds itself in 2 Corinthians 5:21 which reads:
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

It is in this verse we see the answer to Genesis 3:15-the Lord addressing Satan, “He shall bruise you on the head,  And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

It is in this verse we see the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:6:
“All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.”

It is in this verse that we see the words of John the Baptist echoing forth…”Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

And it is the work described in this verse for which we thank Christ for His obedience. For it is in this verse we see the work that separates those who were doomed to death, given the opportunity for new life with God.

In this short verse we see what God has done by the work of Christ for our benefit.

Volumes could be written until the end of time about what is called the atonement…what was performed by Christ in order to bring us to a right standing before God, which was unable to be perfected through any other means. Christ was the agency of obedience. He was the object of the wrath of God. He is the reason we could possibly approach a pure and holy, sovereign God in restored relationship.

In the Levitical order, as a penitent soul was desiring to be “absolved” of his sin, he would bring a bull or a sheep or a goat, maybe a bird to the priest at the Temple. Hands would be laid upon the head of the animal in a gesture that “communicated” all of the sin of that penitent to be placed upon that “innocent” offering. The animal would then be slain upon the altar, at times by the penitent himself (Leviticus 1:1-5), for as Hebrews tells us, “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). This animal had borne the wrath of sin in order to place this repentant individual right before God.

The Levitical system then is a foreshadow of the work to eventually be executed in Christ. The altar would be the Cross upon Golgotha…Calvary. The Lamb of God perfect, pure, undefiled would have all of the sin of the world placed upon Him. The murders. The adulteries. The hatred. The gossip. The slander. The lack of forgiveness. All of the sin of the world, from the beginning of time to the end. The burden of Christ was exquisite. Who could bear it?

Only the Messiah for which He was sent.

Some of His last words upon the Cross are “My God, My God, what have you forsaken me?”

The wrath of sin was borne for sin. My sin. Your sin. In order that our broken relationship might be restored with our great Creator.

The Lamb of God shed His blood that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

The mantle of sin which rested upon us was removed at the Cross. We are not righteous by any other means other than because we are now cloaked on the righteousness of Christ. God so loves us that He wrapped us up in the precious righteousness of Christ.

For those of us who are truly in Him, God looks not upon our sin, but upon the righteousness of Christ.

Behold! The Lamb of God!

Figgy Pudding and the World of Entitlements (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Ah, the Christmas season is upon us and we can anticipate the celebration the birth of Christ, often times with the benefit of those great, meaningful carols of old. O Come, Let us Adore Him. Silent night. The First Noel. And, of course, Away in a Manger. Songs of deep reflection and encouragement. It seems like we just can’t get enough of them. But then there are those “other” songs that cause us to wonder how they ever made it into the cache of celebratory carols. The one that really gets me is, We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

It is a popular secular sixteenth-century English Christmas carol whose origin lies in the tradition that the wealthy people of the community would generously provide Christmas treats to the carolers such as figgy pudding- a custard-like pudding containing figs that may be baked, steamed in the oven, boiled or fried.  Yum! Continue reading “Figgy Pudding and the World of Entitlements (Shepherd’s Echo)”

The Viking Pastor

Scandinavians, my people, were indeed a brutal lot who as a world power took to the global stage near the end of the eighth century. We went a-Viking!–horned helmets, and all (well, that part of the legend turns out to be a myth). But we did set out to see and conquer all of civilization. Some would say we were superior in our skills of navigation and negotiation, however any way you look at it we were brutes. Yes, we excelled in superior navigation of the seas in our long ships, and yes, our skills of metallurgy in weaponry were unsurpassed in the day, but we were a godless consortium of brutes; pagan, cultic brutes. 

Providentially. Thankfully, our reign of bloody force would endure for a relatively short 3 centuries of impressing our footprints in global terror. The sum total of Norsemen, as we were called, would be a mere million in a world population of 300 plus million, and yet, would strike unbridled dread until yielding to the next heir apparent of world dominance. 

Unlike other cultures, we would not concede, we would not surrender to another earthly suppressor. We would only bow the knee to the Divine; this invincible people, my people, would willingly be vanquished by the Spirit of God. Christianity, the Gospel was introduced and embraced in the 12th century. It was in our devotion to Christ that we could no longer reconcile our “negotiation techniques” with that of lives conceded to Christ. In light of submission to Christ world dominion is not all it’s cracked up to be. 

Still, our fierce legacy carries on; and though a thousand years have passed and the nations of my people have lessened in their zeal toward Christ (and that is an understatement), I do pray we would not let go of Christ, but once again bow the knee to our true Sovereign.

And then, there’s me. My friend tells me that my stature betrays my Viking persona. True, the physical prowess has diminished somewhat over the course of a millennium, yet, I remain deeply genetically connected to these people…my people–I cannot get away from that. In the grander scheme of things my tribal identification is only incidental, though the common human depravity courses through my DNA. 

I, myself, have had my own time of brutish rebellion and desire for world dominance, well at least over my own life. It was not pretty, and I sought only to satisfy my own desires. I thank God that the major rebellion was only for a season (though too long of a season for sure). 

Providentially. Thankfully, I too in the tradition of my people bowed the knee to Christ. And though I struggle to keep Him foremost in my life, my calling is to serve Him.  The imagery is not lost to me…Lost to found. “Pagan” to believer. Dark to light. Death to new life. Rebel to follower. Viking to Pastor. And each of us who has responded to the call of Christ has this similar history–from rebellious soul to willing child and servant of God. 

I love my heritage–I do. And all of us have rich histories, which should be celebrated…in part. Many of our foods and words, cultures and traditions are amazing–though we do likely at some point need to apologize for lutefisk. More than that, we owe a world of apology for the many travesties we have committed. Most nations, if not all would be in a similar camp–we are brutes in what we have foisted upon others. Our worldly heritage is not always boastworthy. Our new life in Christ, however, is. Always!

We are in good company, after the likes of the Apostle Paul. In the book of Galatians after a long recitation of his religious pedigree, and his excellence in that heritage in the imposition of his zeal, he recounts the one person who needed to “die” in his life–Paul.  A Hebrew of Hebrews, and he was proud of that ancestry. He calls it, “my former manner of life in Judaism”. Yeah, it was! After persecuting believers, after persecuting Christ Himself; it was Paul who needed surrender. Paul was a bully; he was a brute. 

He writes of this willful surrender in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  

Paul’s heritage “earned” him nothing, in fact, in only brought him condemnation. But he yielded to new life in Christ.

We are not held captive to the sins of our forefathers. No matter what our DNA of broken depravity, we all have the choice to lay down arms before our true Sovereign. To live in Him and for Him.

From who we were, to who we are in Christ, we thank you Lord.

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)”

The Sheep of His Pasture

By all rites Christians ought to be thankful. Psalm 100 tells us how to be thankful, and it tells us why we are to be thankful to begin with.

Psalm 100:1-5 says, “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God. It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name, for the Lord is good. His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.”

Immediately you can see that the Psalm tells us to whom we are to be thankful. The word there is Lord, it is the name of the Lord; it is Yahweh. It is communicating that there is only one to whom this thanks is to be directed, and that person is God–four times in these five short verses, but the Psalmist goes on and he addresses where we are as His people, and whose we are positionally. We are in His pasture and we are His people. I hope you can see that the psalmist is providing a model of worship. He is communicating how we are to worship? He is saying that the evidence of true worship is joy.

He’s saying that the key evidence of true joy is thanksgiving. Do you see the words? Many commands in these five verses, “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.” There’s a loudness that’s implied there, an excitement, an exuberance to the Lord. “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Not with sourness, but with joy. “Come before Him with joyful singing.” That’s a picture of worship, coming before God and ascribing to Him the glory that is His. Finally, he says, “Know, that the Lord Himself is God.” We really need to understand the picture, that God is God. Yahweh is God. He is sovereign over all. He is the one who deserves all of the glory.

Four commands and then the Psalmist tells us why we are to have that attitude, and why it is to be directed toward Yahweh alone; “It is he who has made us and not we ourselves.” It’s quite humbling, and it’s good for us to remember that God has made us. God has made each and every one of us, and everything that we have He has given to us. As the song says, “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” and He has made the whole world. The one who makes us, the one who created the whole world is God. It is God who makes the rules, and it is God who gets all the glory.

“It is He who made us and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of his pasture.” Those are such rich words. We do well to remember that God has made us to be the sheep of His pasture. God has ownership over us. God has ownership over what He has made. The place where we reside is in Him. The place where we reside is in His pasture, and in life with Him. We are his people and the sheep of His pasture. But, what is His pasture?

Can’t you just hear Psalm 23 pulsing through that verse?

His pasture is where green grass is provided for us. His pasture is where we have calm waters that are abundant and clean. His pasture is where He guides us in paths of righteousness. His pasture is where there is no fear. His pasture is where we have confidence in Him. His pasture is where are we are secure. His pasture is where we are protected. His pasture is where He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. His pastures where He anoints our head with oil. He takes care of us. He nurtures us. His pasture is where our cups are running over. His pasture is where His grace and mercy pursue us all the way into the house of the Lord forever. He guides us in paths of righteousness to the foot of the throne.

The pasture is simply a relationship with God.

We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. We have been chosen to hear the Shepherds’ call. And we are asked to respond and to become dependent upon Jesus. Do you understand the incredible blessing that has been extended to us? There are many other pastures out there and they’re not good pastures. But there’s one true pasture and that’s being in a relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Do you understand the amazing blessing that God has extended to us through Christ?

That entire darkness of sin has impeded us from having a good right forever relationship with God. But because God has sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross, we may celebrate; we celebrate the blood that flowed in order that our sins might not just be covered, but that our sins might be taken away, that we might have an eternal relationship with God through work of Jesus Christ.

We are a privileged people. “Shout joyfully to the Lord all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God. It is He who made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of his pasture.”

Guys, we have it made. We have cars in our driveway, we have food in our refrigerators. We have homes, we have warm homes, we have clothes, we have family, we have friends, we have health. Most of all, we have a relationship with God, and we dwell in the shadow of the most high in His pasture. No person should come into the halls of the Lord cold and unresponsive, passive and indifferent. Rather, we come into the house of the Lord, and we worship the Lord. We exalt the Lord with boldness. We serve Him willingly. We worship Him in spirit and in truth, and we understand His role as sovereign God in our lives and over all the earth. We do well to acknowledge that He is sovereign, and He alone is sovereign over our lives.

Thanks be to God.

#AlwaysChrist (Shepherd’s Echo)

 

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen- An article I wrote concerning the 2016 election]

Across the landscape of humanity one would expect perhaps to see the depths of depravity in many areas of life, in the media, arts, in law, even in politics, but when the depths have so risen to the top it causes great concern and despair. We see that today America is at one of those points. The “options” for the chief office of the land did not affirm what they would, could do or should do, but only how their opponent failed, and how they did not. Sadly, the character of the candidates is disheartening. And so we stand looking anxiously into the murky abyss of future despair. And yet we seem to be slightly surprised that the depravity and hopelessness could have somehow crept its way into our country – depravity and corruption that would usually be reserved for third-world country dictatorships (no offense to third-world countries). How in the world did we find ourselves here?

This toxic porridge, this level of concern has bred much divide, divide among families, divide in households, in parties, marriages, schools, and even within the walls of the church. Somehow it seems that our foundations have been shaken to the core–there is an angst and uncertainly regarding our future. And yet, this age-old familiar pattern of failed leadership is endemic to mankind. The all too familiar words found in Scripture…“They did evil in the sight of the Lord.”

Look at a few examples…

“So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.” 1 Kings 11:6

 “Judah did evil in the eyes of the Lord. By the sins they committed they stirred up his jealous anger more than those who were before them had done.” 1 Kings 14:22

“But Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him.” 1 Kings 16:25

You get the point! At least 20 other times that phrase is used. Yet, God executed His will; did he not?

I believe it is important to RE-calibrate the importance or magnitude of this election, even the entire political condition of the US. Not to heighten it but to put it into perspective with God’s plan and what he has already done. You see, many nations have risen, many have fallen and not once was God concerned about his sovereign will being done. God has worked out his sovereign will in spite of people a lot more depraved than any of the candidates. Not once was his plan in jeopardy, in question. Fall of the Roman Empire – No. Atilla the Hun – No. Black Plague – No. Civil War – No. WWI, the Great Depression. WWII-No, No, No.  And His sovereign plan was not successfully challenged on November 8th, 2016.

In Matthew 16, Christ says, “I will build my Church”. He will build His Church. The Kingdom of God is in no way dependant upon the United States, its political system or even the American Church for that matter. But He privileges us to partner with him in the Gospel; the Gospel’s success was based upon nothing less than the blood of Christ and His righteousness.

You see it is not about any candidate or sovereign other than Jesus Christ. It’s not about a better form of government. It’s about Christ…Always Christ! The Greatest Kingdom is not the United States of America, Rome, Britain or any other manmade kingdom. Without question, the greatest kingdom is the Kingdom of God – The Kingdom of His beloved Son.

When it comes to Election 2016 we obviously did not know who would win or lose. Likely the greatest loser of this election will be our nation, as we continue to lose the favor of God. So, in that respect maybe a winner is Satan in his plan to foster chaos. But don’t forget, God has used a lot worse people than these two to build his kingdom. God is going to use the outcome to build his kingdom, one way or another.

Election 2016 is still about the mission of Christ- His agenda. John 18:36-37 reminds us, “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.’ Therefore Pilate said to Him, ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’” What a simple yet, powerful purpose statement!

The Person through whom God looked to redeem the world is Christ. Not any man or woman!

The US has been influential along the way, but our citizenship, and our identity is in the Kingdom of Christ.

The agenda we embrace is truth, God’s truth. We are indeed privileged to be a part of that promotional process.

God’s agenda is unchanging.

God’s agenda is irrevocable.

God’s agenda is trustworthy.

God’s agenda is sure and certain.

A Church that will thrive:

Focuses on God and realizes the true implications of His sovereignty.

Is a people of God who are focused the work and mission of Christ!

It is about the magnitude and totality of the work of Christ…the primacy of Christ!

Seeks to love God entirely.

Seeks to love his neighbor.

AlwaysChrist. Always Christ!

A Brief Orthodoxy: The Human Condition

Humankind is the pinnacle of God’s creation masterpiece, yet we are a fallen race. In light of the Scriptures, mankind is able to understand his sin and thus, the need for a Savior. Mankind was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 11:7) though not in a physical sense as God is Spirit (John 4:24). This means that we are made in the image of the Trinity (Genesis 1:26); we are relational, rational (having the ability to choose), moral, loving and capable of a vast diversity of feelings (emotional).

In the beginning God had made it clear to Adam just what the parameters of obedience were. Genesis 2:16 reveals that, God had given all things to Adam to enjoy with the exception of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam’s nature had included the ability to choose whether or not to obey the word of the Lord. The Lord assured Adam that, “the day that you eat of the fruit, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Unfortunately, he chose to rebel, to be disobedient and follow after his own desires. As a result of this moral evil, death was introduced to the human race (Romans 5:12). In addition, the punishment included the issuance of some forms of natural evil in that thorns and thistles were made a part of Adam’s world, nature would at times be the enemy of man (Genesis 3:17-19). As a consequence to Adam’s sin, the rest of mankind is left to deal with bodily deterioration and death, and also the natural external evils such as famine, earthquakes, storms, plagues and thorns, as well as spiritual death, or separation from God.

When presented with the opportunity to disobey God’s command, the free will that the Lord had given allowed Adam the freedom to choose sin (Genesis 3:1-6). The ensuing depravity is spelled out with the corresponding solution to eternal separation from God (Genesis 3:15; Romans 5:15). As a result, we find ourselves in the possession of a contaminated “gene pool,” under total depravity, separation from God, and physical death as a consequence (Romans 5:12). Our lot was identified in Genesis 6:5, “and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Before the fall, Adam had never known the experience of disobedience, nor the consequences, but something had caused him to cross the line. After all, what was the threat of death to a man who had never seen it? Apparently, this man had never suffered any punishment of any kind. Satan had enticed Eve to seek to become like God; he had challenged the authority and veracity of God’s words (Genesis 3:4-5). As all of mankind has emanated from the loins of Adam and Eve, we bear the penalty of that sin. Romans 5:12 confirms that, “through one man, sin entered into the world,” and ever since, every person in the history of mankind suffers the burden of that penalty, except Christ. Sin spread like a wildfire through all of mankind (Genesis 6:5). In Romans 5, Paul does not seem to be referring to actual sins committed on a daily basis by men, but the sin, or guilt that has been inherited by mankind because of the sin of Adam. This guilt of Adam was assigned, or imputed to us. It is original sin in that it originated from Adam, and we are born with it; even those who are unborn are laden with original sin (Psalm 51:5). Some may contest this imputation of sin upon us, and object that it is unfair for all of mankind to bear the guilt of one man. But even from birth, we have found ourselves efficient sinners, and therefore able to perform sins leading to death, in and of our own accord (Romans 7:14-25). These sins which we commit reveal our fallen nature. Perhaps, the best response to this is the argument that, through one man also, we are saved, as the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us as well if we believe on Him (Romans 5:15-17).

Adam was lost on the temporal fruit of the moment (James 1:14-15). It is not likely that he was concerned about damning the rest of humanity with the burden of sin nor its consequences; however, he definitely did not have his heart set on eternity. Much of this carries over today, as individuals gravitate toward fulfilling their own self-interests, even in the midst of plenty, they will seek out and protect their own interests first, while moral and reasonable rationalizations fall by the wayside. Yet, self-interest serves to put ourselves before others including God even when we suspect that it is leading to self-destruction. In light of this, all sin is illogical and irrational. How could Satan have expected to exalt himself above God (Ezekiel 28; Isaiah 14)? Why should Adam have felt he was lacking anything? They were foolish choices. The only explanation that we have when we sin is that we are illogically yielding to our own selfish desires (Romans 7:13-21). We are electing to place ourselves in a position of primacy above God. Consequently, we are choosing to separate ourselves from the will of God (James 4:4). When we are separated, we are not abiding in Christ. To the extent that we do not abide in Him, we lessen the degree of fruit that we produce (John 15:4).

Adam was enticed by the enemy (Genesis 3:1-7). He did not have to fight against his old sinful nature. He had free will to choose, but the opposing force was definitely the enemy. Ever since that first sin, mankind has been battling the enemy andthe old nature, or original sin. James 1:14-15 reminds us that we sin when we are carried away by our own lust. Just as with Adam we do have the option to say, “No!” and God will allow us a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). Adam let that lust for the fruit of the tree get a foothold and he finally succumbed to the temptation. It is likely that we are able to sin with greater ease now that we are innately filled with moral evil (Romans 7:21). As a result, we have the guilt, or “original sin” from Adam’s sin, and the predisposition to sin more easily due to the presence of our own sinful nature. We do, however, have the benefit of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and direct us away from temptation (Galatians 5:16-25).

As a result of this depravity mankind is indeed separated from God, fellowship has been interrupted. Death, including both physical and an eternity of separation awaits those who do not experience a life saving relationship with their Creator. Throughout the Old Testament, sacrifice was the model presented that produced a substitutionary atonement, which covered sin and allowed a holy God to commune with His people (Leviticus 8). Subsequently, Christ became the sacrifice that not merely covered our sins, but took them away completely (John 1:29) for those who have truly followed Him and kept His commandments (John 14:21). We are justified, or rescued, and seen as completely righteous in the eyes of God (Romans 5:1, 2, 10; Colossians 1:20). We have been reconciled to our righteous Creator, and are in the process of being transformed (renewed) into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:24;Colossians 3:10).

May God Bless You (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

We are indeed blessed. Minimally, we are all blessed with common grace, and the gift of life. To those of us who are walking in relationship with God, we know that we are ultimately and supremely blessed, and blessed for eternity. Only people who are washed in the blood of Christ are able to accurately claim this redemption. So, my guess is that it is not by accident that when the Hebrew words for bless were being translated into the English language that such a powerful and descriptive expression was selected.

One of my books says that it is a “bloody” word, because in the English language for us to capture that idea of blessed, the word which was harvested was the Old English word bledsian. What it meant was to be “reddened with blood,” “to be consecrated with blood, as in sacrifices.”

Over the years the word morphed into blessen, blessed, and ultimately bless, but it still meant to be consecrated by blood. When we add God to the equation, as in “God bless you,” it means, “God bathe you in blood.” “Be consecrated in blood.” “Be made righteous in blood.”

When we say “God bless you” in the English language then, what we’re really communicating is “would that you be reddened with blood.” And in the most Christian sense we are saying, “would you be consecrated, would that you would be among the redeemed!” When we place all the elements together in this phrase it becomes a beautiful prayer to the divine…” May you be consecrated by God in the blood of Christ! May God Bless You!”

It is this blood, and only this blood of Christ which is the agent that places us in right standing before God. This picture is vividly painted for us in Romans 6:3-7:

“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”

The person brought forth from this baptism is washed, reddened with the blood of Christ and freed from the eternal consequences of sin.

This simple phrase, “God bless you” is an invocation to the God of all life that the person of whom this divine solicitation is said would be cleansed of their sin and brought into right relationship with God through the sacrificial atonement of Christ. When we see someone, when we say goodbye to someone, even when somebody sneezes we plead divine redemption, salvation, restoration and peace.

Who would have thought that such a statement would be so infused with meaning? Now I am sure there are those who will charge me with romanticizing this for the sake of an article, but, check it out for yourself. I’ll admit, I am having fun with this, but hey! You gotta love this!

The question at hand then is for everyone…, “are you reddened with the blood of Christ?”

Perhaps, the song asks it best.

Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

There is a lot going on in our lives – a lot of things to address every day. But none is more important than this question. My prayer is that you face this issue head on and are absolutely certain today, that you stand before God, washed in the blood of Christ.

And for the record, one more time: May God Bless You!

Incomprehensible Divide

I have been pondering this week a couple of things which are incomprehensible to the fallen human mind. Number 1, the righteousness required to stand before a holy and pure Sovereign God; and Number 2, the vast devastation brought upon God’s creation because of sin, which produces the infinite divide between God and His perfect creation, man.

How often do we minimize that distance? How often do we think that Christ only had to give us a little help? When we lessen that distance, and devastation…we undervalue the divide Christ crossed in order to make a way for us to be reconciled to God.

Made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and given a mere one prohibition in the Garden, we (mankind) chose poorly and were subsequently cast out of the Garden (Genesis 3:22-24), out through an eastern gate protected by multiple cherubim with flaming swords. Our errant tendency is often to minimize that distance that sin caused between God and man. We may simply assert, God is only on the other side of that wall of flaming ninja swords, but we should know better; the divide is incalculable and incomprehensible.

As Scripture subsequently reveals, mankind would continue to degenerate, Genesis 6:5 says, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” Judges 21:25 adds, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

The Old Testament would continue to indict the decadent nature of man; the divide was infinitely apparent, and would remain, absent an intervention from a merciful God.

Our depraved lot is sorely identified in the simple, yet stark words of Paul in Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” The status is accurately diagnosed by Paul; humans are in a perpetual state of “deadness.” That means that we cannot do anything of our own merits to find a way out. We could not initiate our own salvation. And we were lost until a benevolent Sovereign determined to issue a way out. Yes, Paul is addressing the Ephesians specifically, but by extension this depraved state and future falls to the lot of mankind as well. The only fate merited is that of eternal separation from God.

Fortunately, for us, believers, the reality of deadness is referred to here in the past tense; Paul describes the journey we were on, and again by extension the journey all of mankind pursues. “In which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:2-3).

The wide road leading to destruction is painted here, the road filled with those walking under the influence of the dark prince of Hell. Those serving to excite their own minds and flesh who stand under the impending wrath of God. Every one of us has navigated that darkened road. So, do we get it then? Do we understand that the distance between God and man is great; the chasm of sin and death is insurmountable…that is unless, God intercedes.

Let’s read on.

Ephesians 2:4 begins, “But God.” What amazing words turn the course of doom! “But God.” These two words are the fulcrum upon which the destiny of man swings upward to life. “But God!” “But God so loved the world that He intervened. But God was not willing that any should perish.  But God so loved the world that He offered a plan for this fallen man to be reconciled to Him. But God had this plan from before the foundations of the world. “But God” simply means that God, and only God was able to divert this river of death, toward life.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

The contrast between death and life is given, and a reminder of the effects of God’s grace, resulting in a new identity of life in Christ; and He will continue to pour out His grace of redemption upon us for eternity.

The incomprehensible divide, spanned only by the gift of Jesus Christ. One Source. One solution to the problem of sin. One bridge–Christ! The infinite divide is only able to be bridged by an infinite God.

He crossed the divide!

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

A Convenient Christ (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Somewhere stuffed in the recesses of my closet is wad of keys dangling at the end of a brightly colored key fob. I see it every now and again, and am reminded of the hectic pace at which we do life. The keys are many, and of many sizes, shapes, and colors. Some are rusty, some shiny. Some have names on them; some have numbers – all reminders of days gone by. Pretty much all different, but what unifies them is that they are for the most part unidentifiable; I don’t know what they go to. Keys are given, or identify authority over some area; all of them used to unlock, activate, or grant access…to something.

Somewhere over the course of time, they have lost their identity. There is a lock out there…somewhere, but the answer is now unknown to me, and seemingly lost to time. With each passing year this mass of potential continues to grow, after all, the key is valuable, right? And you can’t just throw them away. Who knows? I just may come across some desperate lock that may be able to be heroically released due to the meticulous stewardship of my cache of keys. Continue reading “A Convenient Christ (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Nothing but the Blood

It strikes me that we may be a little desensitized nowadays. We might see movies in which we see blood and gore, and not be affected or even concerned about the horrendous loss of life. Or, we might just ask, “Is that really necessary?” and continue eating our popcorn. And yet, when it gets down to it, those movies are often only for gratuitous shock value.

But there was a purpose when God called for sacrifices at the Tabernacle or the Temple. I also believe there’s a very real purpose for God to have blood red; because it is very pronounced. You know when you have hurt yourself, your body begins alerting you immediately.

We get a very dramatic, yet intentional picture of blood in 1 Kings chapter 8. Solomon is consecrating the Temple here, as he’s bringing the Ark in.

Verse five of chapter eight in First Kings says, “Then King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who were assembled with him, were with him before the Ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered.”

“So many that they could not be counted or numbered.” What kind of number is that? What kind of number of oxen and sheep are such that they could not be counted?

Whatever that number is, may I suggest that it is a number greater than 22,000 oxen, and it’s greater than 120,000 sheep. Because at the end of the chapter in verse 62 through 64, we see that the offerings either continue, or are identified. Verses 62-63 says, “Now the king and all Israel with him offered sacrifice before the Lord. Solomon offered for the sacrifice of peace offerings which he offered to the Lord 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep.” Here’s my point: those sacrifices were able to be numbered; pretty big numbers yet, they were still able to be numbered. May I suggest that in the beginning of the chapter if those sacrifices being offered were such that they could not be numbered, then they were in excess of 22,000 and 120,000 animals respsectively. I would even suggest that that number would be substantially greater than 22,000 bulls and greater than 120,000 sheep. Thus, at least doubling that amount of sacrifice that’s taking place in the whole realm of consecrating that temple.

The latter part of verse 63 and verse 64 communicate, “So the king and all the sons of Israel dedicated the house of the Lord. On the same day the king consecrated the middle of the court that was before the house of the Lord, because there he offered the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat of the peace offerings for the bronze altar that was before the Lord was too small to hold the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat of the peace offerings; for the bronze altar that was before the LORD was too small to hold the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat of the peace offerings.”

Now, try to get your mind around the thought that there was an area that was dedicated for the offerings, and it was entirely overwhelmed. That’s an understatement–120,000 sheep, and 22,000 bulls and then some! To get the perspective on this we need to understand that they are inviting a holy God to dwell in that Temple; the blood paves the way for the people to have a relationship with God. That blood had to be shed.

I did a little research this week. Twenty-two thousand bulls at six gallons of blood per bull. Six gallons! That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 132,000 gallons of blood. The number is staggering and it ends up being somewhere between eight and nine swimming pools full of blood–and that’s  just the bulls. The sheep, 120,000 sheep is just as staggering. Sheep run somewhere between two and a half and four gallons of blood per sheep. If we were to take the higher of four gallons, that comes in at 480,000 gallons of blood. Four hundred eighty thousand gallons of blood is somewhere around 30 average-sized swimming pools full of blood.

It gives you a pretty visual picture which speaks volumes. Remember, the blood is red, it’s coming off the altar area, and it’s flowing down as a river under the perimeter wall outside of the city; it’s flowing toward the Kidron. The blood of bulls and sheep, enough to fill nearly 39 swimming pools with blood is flowing as a reminder for all to see of the price paid for this relationship with the Sovereign.

You get the picture, the redness, the stickiness of blood all over everything because without the shedding of blood, there’s no remission of sin. But may I also point out that in the Old Testament, the sin was not taken away. That payment of blood was an “interest only” payment. It allowed the people to have fellowship with God. It invited the holy God to come and to dwell in that temple, but it did not take away the sin. It allowed a temporary fellowship with God, but it’s not until the true sacrifice of the Lamb of God is offered up that the principal of that debt is paid as well. In Hebrews, we get a clear picture, and with that vision in your mind of the Temple, and the blood flowing for a long time, however long it takes for that much blood to drain, we get that contrast when Christ makes a sacrifice of roughly one and a half gallons of divine blood upon the altar of the Cross.

Hebrews 9:11-12 says, “but when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, he entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Verses 13-14 say, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctified for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

Is that an amazing picture? There was only one sufficient sacrifice, and it was not the blood of any animals. That’s what we celebrate today in the ordinance of communion. As we partake of a small vile, in essence, just a few drops of juice, of wine, we remember what Christ has done on our behalf, with blood so pure. The sacrifice was so great that Christ was able to offer to us an absolute remediation of our sins, and place us in right standing before God the father.

We remember the vast amounts of blood spilled over the many years for the temporary restoration of relationship with God. To think about that enormous amount of blood is astounding, and yet it pales in significance to the purity of the blood which flowed from the veins of Christ.

Reading from Hebrews chapter 9:15, “for this reason, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”

That blood, the blood of Christ was the currency, the only currency that would be accepted for the payment of our sin in order to offer to us eternal redemption and an eternal inheritance.

As you remember the Lord’s death, as we break the bread, and as we taste of the bread, remember the price that was paid on our behalf as we thank God for what He has done, take, eat, and praise God that the price was paid in full.

And also, enjoy the cup that inaugurated to us that open door of redemption should we choose to walk through. Let us thank God for the blood of Christ.

“What can take away my sin?”

“Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

Lord, in this culture, we cannot really fathom that amount of blood and yet when it is visualized in Hollywood or in our culture, it is just as a result of sin and mindlessness and hatred. But Lord, that blood that was shed on our behalf was the greatest act of grace that you have extended to us. We thank you Lord, for allowing us to reflect on that even for these few moments. But more than that, we thank you that as you have drawn us to yourself, you have built the bridge through Christ and His blood that we might enter into eternal redemption. We thank you for the blessings that are ours in the heavenly places, and we thank you for the inheritance that awaits, which we taste of even briefly now. We thank you lord, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Yeah…Not So Much (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Is just me or has anyone else noticed that commodities at the super market are shrinking? I don’t mean the amounts that are made available overall; I mean the portions which are being sold. I mean, take for instance the coffee. What was sold as a “3 Pound” can of coffee years ago has been selling as a mere 33 ounces. And now it has been reduced to a 29 ounce size plastic container, but apparently I have gained a “Flavor lock Lid” or an “Easy Grip Handle” as though I had a problem with my can of coffee launching out of my hand and spilling all over the floor. Easy Grip? This thing is not a power tool or a repelling line- it’s a can for crying out loud. I guess they figured I would be better-off having an ironclad grip on the container and they would have an ironclad grip on my 4 ounces of coffee. Quite a trade-off, huh?

But, coffee is not the only culprit; diminished portions are pandemic. I bought a “gallon” container of milk that turned out to be 3 quarts! The revamped cereal boxes are the same size from the front but only about half as deep from front to back. There are less Oreos in the package than years ago but now the wrappers are not see-through so you can’t count ‘em as easily. Ice cream is now sold in 1.5 quarts rather than a half-gallon and candy wrappers weigh as much as the candy itself. What is up? I am wondering what they will do with eggs. Will 6 become the new dozen? What makes it even worse is that the prices if anything have risen.   Continue reading “Yeah…Not So Much (Shepherd’s Echo)”

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. Continue reading “Still Evangelical”

Scribbles in the Hymnal (Shepherd’s 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 (Shepherd’s 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; 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 Him 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”