Saber Dance

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”

All Heaven Declares

Recently while on vacation on the island of Kauai my wife and arose early in the morning to go experience one of the greatest sunrises that this world has to offer; a vibrant sunrise over the blue Pacific Ocean. As we made our way to the water’s edge we observed that this notion was not specific to us; many people stood staring eastward at the orange sky, standing in anticipation of the of the mornings’ birth. Men, women, and children armed with cameras and cell phones to capture the unique event. We were not disappointed, slowly and surely the sun crept over the horizon to reveal its God-given brilliance.

After reveling for 30 minutes or so the people began to taper off, yet it struck me as odd how many individuals had made their way out to witness the age-old event. Why were so many drawn to an event that has occurred thousands and thousands of times throughout history? Could something this “common” really be so entertaining? Seems like we get bored if we have to watch a TV show or a movie twice, or have leftovers, so how is it that this same repetitive event lures us to behold it again and again? Is it just a thing of beauty? I don’t think so. Continue reading “All Heaven Declares”

Last Flight Home

As I think of my father I remember long games of touch football in the street surrounded by all the neighbor kids, and my dad, though only 5’7”, “towering” above us as the “all-American” quarterback. I think of basketball games with my hyper dad yelling battle cries to intimidate all of us kids so that he could drive his way home to the basket. I remember him as the coach of 2 little league teams, my brother’s and mine. And the many hours leading Indian Guides and Sunday School classes. Endless hours in cars driving to and from events. I remember my father at the end of the night reading devotionals to his kids just before prayer. Now, to be honest, my father was not the greatest of athletes by any means, nor the best of theologians, nor the greatest of communicators, and he certainly was not a good driver, but he was there. Continue reading “Last Flight Home”

The Call of “Shepherd”

In my office upon the wall, near the door hangs a picture; it is a gift I received from a friend shortly after entering the pastorate. It serves as a sober reminder of the privileged call which God has placed upon my life. It is a reminder as I leave for the day, and as I return from the battle in which I am engaged – a battle which is consuming, in time and energy, and at times, in casualties.

You see it is a simple picture, perhaps from the early 1920’s of a sheepdog, perched upon a rock formation intently monitoring a flock of sheep, perhaps thirty or so in number, in the dell below. The sheep are intently gazing to the north, the setting sun falling behind the outcropping of trees in the distance. It is a picture by R.A. Fox entitled “A Reliable Guardian.” So, why would a picture like this affect me so?

It is a reminder of the calling God has placed upon me to be an under-shepherd to the flock of Christ. It is a sober alert of the ever-present threat upon the body of Christ in our post-Christian culture, to protect the flock, from the outside, from the inside, and even from themselves.

When God called me to be a shepherd, I believe he was not looking simply for a “leader”; he was looking for a shepherd. He was not looking for a great communicator, speaker, or an orator, catalyst, strategist, CEO type who has been a part of Fortune 500, or facilitator; or even a teacher. He was looking for a pastor who could effectively handle the word of God in his communication, and walk alongside the sheep for the journey. He was not looking for a “strategist to conceptualize, implement and assign analytically synthesized congregational components conducive to systematic holiness paradigms” – once again, he was looking for a shepherd to foster a love of God and others. I am not saying those gifts aren’t useful, or that they may not eventually translate into effective shepherding, but they are not in themselves, shepherding. A shepherd shepherds.

Congregants are not simply components of a church equation, they are people whom God has placed under our care, custody and authority – to love, nurture, and grow into the image of Christ. I think of a Shepherd dog, Lydia, here in Bishop. As a shepherding dog with shepherding in her DNA, and being around livestock it was her routine to surround and motivate all able parties in her scope of influence to move toward the shepherd of the home, my friend Laura. As Laura would walk, or even when she sat Lydia herded chickens, pheasants, cattle, other dogs and yes, even toddlers closer and closer to her master. I remember she even tried to herd me closer to Laura. That was her task, and she took it seriously. Half of the time, I don’t think all those creatures even realized she was very intentional to bring everything around closer to the shepherd of the home, but she did.  I have been reminded of that commission more than once, that it is my privilege as under-shepherd to move God’s sheep, a little closer to the Chief Shepherd.

“Tend my lambs”, “Shepherd my sheep”, “Tend my sheep”. Taken to heart these are some of the most sobering words of pastoral commission to fall upon any shepherd’s ears. These words of Christ to Peter in John 21:15-18 are still an unfathomable conundrum to me. The difficulty is not solely in understanding their content, but in understanding their desired conduct to affect that obedience; how I am to obey them – feeding and shepherding the sheep in God’s flock.

Somehow, I’m guessing that I am not alone; an understanding of our own great deficiencies hits us all too often.  You don’t have to be in pastoral ministry too long before you become keenly sympathetic to those who have pioneered before you and decided that teaching is more the preferred calling. Or that writing is more in line to leading a serene and peaceful life. It comes as no surprise the discouraging statistics of pastoral “wreckage” strewn alongside the highway of ministry that cause some to find employment in a more secular vocation. If we were to rely on statistics alone, they are certainly against us. Suffice it to say that the career lifespan of a pastor is a challenge.

Coming out of Bible college, or the Academy, I felt that if I could just exposit the word with authority; if I could rightly divide God’s word, people would flock into the church and willfully surrender to the transformational truths of biblical teaching. Coming out of the Academy, we are naively ready to launch into virtually anything shepherding has for us.

I loved seminary, yet one thing it often fails to identify is that the sheep in the Kingdom are a very specialized hybrid-highly intelligent, at times carnivorous, and have an incredible desire to exercise their free wills. I have been lied to, lied about, maligned, ignored, gossiped about, slandered, and threatened, and that’s on a good day – what pastor hasn’t? Moses dealt with this. In Exodus he is advocating for the sheep who God is desiring to terminate. Yet, only chapters later he is crying out to the Lord to deliver him from the stiff-neck people (Numbers 11:15).

The truth is that, in our humanity, we sometimes minister to people daily who we may not particularly like so much, care for, or are drawn to. We are seeking to lead sheep who do not want to be led; to feed sheep who do not want to eat, and to tend those who by no means want to be tended to. I find it interesting how congregants want to hold pastors to some measure of biblical leadership, yet disallow themselves to be held to any measure of biblical discipleship or stewardship. So effectively, people who do not want to be taught or led, nor accountable. We are discouraged by the empty seats on Sunday rather than encouraged by the one which is filled. We have difficulty recognizing true transformational growth in the flock.

Like Moses, we ask, “Lord, why did you call me?” Sometimes we get to the point where we ask ourselves, “What am I doing?” “What am I doing here?” Or maybe,  “What did I do wrong to get here?”

Like Peter we affirm our love for Christ, yet are ill-equipped to fulfill with complete integrity and faithfulness the mantle of service to the Lord and His flock.

Be that as it may, what an honor it is to be called to feed the sheep that come. Still we know we have received a privileged call to shepherd His sheep, to walk alongside, to walk them home. But we can’t change the sheep – that is up to the Holy Spirit and the obedience of the sheep. We can’t change the culture of the church, at least overnight. So, we need to be content to change that which we can.

Maybe you are just beginning your sojourn of ministry. Maybe you’ve been on it a while, a little closer to the goal line.  Maybe you’re in a time of blessing, or a time of challenge. Maybe you found the title of this blog intriguing or simply found it because some well-intentioned soul meant to encourage you. Either way The Shepherd’s Pen is intended to help you, even encourage you in your pastoral journey, and hopefully let you know that others have walked, and are walking the same terrain.