Guard Your Heart (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not get lured off the straight and narrow path.

The springs of life are good! Guard your heart!

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

God as an Asterisk*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Lord, for the witness of Joshua.

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

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

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

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

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

We Made It!

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

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

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

The Next Shepherd

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

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

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

The Happy Prophet

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

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

Feed the Sheep that Come

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

The Myth of Pastoral Authority

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

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

Not So Fast!

One of the mistakes. Let me rephrase that, one of the many mistakes that I have made in the course of my years in ministry is the premature appointment of individuals to leadership. Whether it was to a position of worship leader, a teacher in a Bible study, or even teaching from the pulpit the consequences were…not always so good. We all want to have those positions filled, for back-up, for “variety,” or just to take a little pressure off from us; but at what expense? I do confess, I missed a few of the “obvious ones” along the way, some of them desiring to serve from clearly wrong motives, but I didn’t miss them all. Continue reading “Not So Fast!”

No Less Evil

Blaise Pascal, the famous French theologian and philosopher,  had an adage: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” 300-plus years removed from the quote, I am not certain to what degree he was speaking, but I would still affirm this statement. How often I have seen this played out in the arena of faith! How often have I witnessed evil couched in the raiment of a Pharisee!

Evil is alive and well under the auspices of “Religious Conviction.” Sadly, I must say, though it is not every day I sense myself slogging through the mire of such human depravity, when I have it has often been a little more closely connected to the confines of “the church,” rather than the wallowings of secular environs. Several times I have found myself the target of malevolence cloaked in the auspices of religious piety. People in whom I had trusted. Relied upon. Invested in. And loved. Continue reading “No Less Evil”

Savage Wolves

We should not be surprised by this phenomenon of wolves in the Church, or even caught off-guard. We should just be prepared.

Paul was well aware of this experience. He would see it happen in Galatia as wolves would come in teaching an augmented Gospel contrary to the Truth. And, in years to come he would see his dear Ephesus attacked and hurt. Paul had gone to great lengths to warn the leadership in Ephesus while en route to Jerusalem at the tail-end of his final missionary journey. Paul is desiring to get to Jerusalem, and rather than sail directly to Ephesus, he summons the elders of the Ephesian church to meet him in Miletus. Rather than simply send a letter, he wanted to meet with them, to exhort them face to face. Continue reading “Savage Wolves”

What Does the Wolf Say?

When I was a child there was an engaging learning device put out by a large toy and game manufacturer; it was called the See ‘n’ Say. In effect, it was an analog playback device that, with the pulling of a string, would emit a recording of various sounds in an effort to instruct children. The ones I remember most are the ones with animal sounds. A great little device for house-bound, or city kids who may not have had the opportunity to engage personally with such wildlife or farm animals.

As I think about it one of those animal sounds which was absent from that device was the sound of a wolf. Now, obviously an entire generation did not grow up ignorant of the call of a wolf, but, here on this toy, it was curiously absent. Hey! Incidentally, do they growl? Howl? Yip?…Bark? I am not quite sure…though, I do know they have a call. Continue reading “What Does the Wolf Say?”

The Big Bad Wolf

Over the course of history, throughout the vast ages and pages of literature, the wolf has ravaged its way through the landscape of human events. Wreaking havoc all the way, through various iterations this apex predator has appeared in many fables and faerie-tales, including Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs, Peter and the Wolf, and the Wolf and the Lamb, to name just a few. 

Quite a fitting metaphor of evil and destruction, these efficient denizens of despair have adapted quite well. Wolves are incredibly designed; they are stealthy, corporately conniving, and deathly efficient. Moving in silence, forty-two razor-like teeth perfectly placed in those powerful jaws can make pretty quick work of most prey. Singularly, or as a pack, their goal is the same: to seek, bring down, execute, and devour any target, and at that, they are incredibly skilled. When the prey they seek is soft pink flesh with minimal defense mechanisms, they are seemingly invincible. Continue reading “The Big Bad Wolf”

The “Edit” Button

On a gravesite in Hatfield, Hampshire County, Massachusetts, there rests a headstone; upon it is written:

“Arabella Young Born 1742 Died 1771 aged 29 years.”
Inscribed below is the following verse.

“Here lies as silent clay Miss Arabella Young,
Who on the 21st of May First began to hold her tongue.”

Such an interesting epitaph to launch her into eternity. And I wonder, were those words conscripted by her, or by her family or friends? How did she wrestle with a loose tongue? Was she such a bane to her friends and family that they were somewhat relieved to be done with her? What despair she must have brought to a gathering. How must people have looked upon her at the end of the street, and grieved as she approached? Did folks choose another course in order to avoid her blunt force trauma? Continue reading “The “Edit” Button”

Fictional Theology

No doubt I’m going to lose a few of you folks with this as I revert into my conservative waters of orthodoxy, but hear me out. First though, a confession, well, more of an admission: In general, I am not a fan of fiction – well, for the most part; there are a few works of intrigue here and there. Although I do appreciate parabolic writing, metaphor, and analogy, I do not consider it a great value to invest time in reading the fiction genre. On a greater level of distain, I strongly do not appreciate theological fiction; it blurs the lines of truth. At best it is benign-esque, at worst it is dangerous and misleading. So, be that as it is, that’s where I stand.

Still with me? Good. Let’s press on.

Continue reading “Fictional Theology”

Boom!

Watching the fireworks at the airport a couple of days ago, I had to ask, “Why do we humans enjoy the celestial explosions so much?” What is it that causes us to “oooh” and “aahhh” at the thunderous boomings which are exciting our auditory and ocular nerves? Our eyes are so amazed by the huge masses of fiery glitter. I had to ask, “Is there something in our DNA that draws us to that?”

            I believe that we applaud those occurrences because we are naturally drawn to manifestations of power, whatever they may be. We are drawn to the ocean for its sheer mass, and power. We are excited about old film clips of atomic bombs going off. Tornadoes and hurricanes are wondrous to watch as they toss around boats and houses like they were children’s toys. We love the loud crackling of far-off thunder. We are enthralled by a rainbow. We stand in awe of power, sometimes in abject silence knowing how small we are. Sometimes, affirming it with involuntary groans of exclamation. Continue reading “Boom!”

Sweet Liberty

Now, She stands tall for all to see, watching over the Land of the Free,
Crowning us with glory sea to sea, God blessed us with our Sweet Liberty.

She cries with silent lips, from sea-washed, sunset gates,
“God will shed His grace on thee.”
Her mild eyes command, the keys to shackles worn.
Oh, she lights the way to opportunity!

Well, She stands tall for all to see, watching over the Land of the Free,
Crowning us with glory sea to sea, God blessed us with our Sweet Liberty.

She holds the word of truth, closely to her heart,
her freedom rings forever through this land,
May her flame burn bright, from shore to shore.
Let the torch rise high evermore!

She stands tall for all to see, watching over the Land of the Free,
Crowning us with glory sea to sea, God blessed us with our Sweet Liberty.

She stands tall for all to see, watching over the Land of the Free,
Crowning us with glory sea to sea, God blessed us with our Sweet Liberty.

The Call of “Shepherd”

Image courtesy of The R. A. Fox Society

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 with 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.

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.

A Brief Orthodoxy: The Church

There is only one true Church of Christ (Matthew 16:18). This is the Bride of Christ, or all those who have placed their trust in Christ alone (Romans 3:20-28; Ephesians 5; Revelation 19:7, 21:2, 21:9). They have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.  This means that they believe that salvation is attained through faith alone in Christ, not as a result of any works on their own part (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Church is then revealed through smaller local churches (Acts 9:31; Romans 16:5). These local churches should be made up of only true saints, those who have a personal relationship with Christ, not intruders or posers (Matthew 16:15-20). The true Church is made up of individual local churches, or bodies, that introduce others to Christ (Evangelism), encourage growth and maturity (Discipleship), and hopefully equip others to spread the gospel (Equipping) (Colossians 1:28).

As believers, the Lord has given two ordinances to remind us of the position we hold in Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Although only two are considered essential because of Christ’s command, this is just one of the areas where the EFCA reveals its latitudinalism, or breadth of acceptance in things not essential to salvation. There is freedom among the congregants to embrace either form of baptism, immersion or sprinkling, believer’s or infant. They may define within themselves what degree of spiritual significance is represented in the elements of communion, where they stand in the Calvinism-Arminian debate, and where each stands in his conviction on the tribulation. These matters are not considered to be matters where agreement is critical, useful but not critical. The sole element for church membership is spiritual life through personal faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior. The essential element of fellowship with others is their belief and expression of faith in Christ. This has come to be known as, “Believers only but all believers.”Though all beliefs are important, and should regulate, to some degree, how we live our lives, there is an openness to allow people to worship and believe as they are led by the Spirit.

Baptism is an association that we have with Christ as we identify with His death and resurrection (Romans 6), and in so doing we recognizethat we have new life in Him. Two forms of baptism are utilized. The first is Believer’s Baptism. This states that a person should be baptized after he has come to Christ, and desires to express that action and commitment to the world and the Church (Acts 8:38). This act is not to be misunderstood in any way as being salvific; it is simply an outward expression of what has already taken place internally, more specifically in the spiritual realm.  The other form, which seems to be weakening in popularity, is infant (paedo) baptism. This, as the term implies, holds to an infant being baptized very near birth. Infant baptism is best viewed as an “act of dedication” of the child, and, as well,  in no way is considered to be salvific, or an act of redemption. Most Evangelical Free Churches subscribe to the believer’s baptism, as do I, as the preferred, biblically justifiable mode.

Communion is a memorial ordinance given for expressing our thanks to Christ for the gift of His life, as a reminder of the gospel that we need to share with all (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Matthew 26:20-29). It is a time when we proclaim the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26) and remember that God delivered us from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13-14). The Jews celebrate their Passover each year, and they corporately share a meal to remember, and reflect upon God’s deliverance of them from Egypt. Christ became our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), and we corporately share this meal to remember and reflect upon the fact that Christ delivered us from slavery and death as well (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). We come before God as His community, given life through Christ, we confess our sins, and we profess Jesus as Lord. It is clear that salvation, once and for all, comes through the saving grace that Christ gave in dying on the cross, not from these ordinances (Hebrews 10:12). The Lord’s Supper also carries with it an eschatological prospect as well in that we look towards the day when we share in the marriage supper of the Lamb, when we will drink of the cup together with Christ as the Bride of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7, 21:2, 9).

Fellowshipping in a church setting is encouraged in Scripture, as we are not to forsake the assembly of the saints (Hebrews 10:25; Luke 4:16). We are to gain encouragement, sympathy and strength from those brothers and sisters who are experiencing life as well. We are to gain understanding from the Word as it is shared freely in a worshipful setting (Acts 2:42). As Christ is the head, the Church is the body (Colossians 1:18, 2:19; Ephesians 1:22-23). We are made up of unique giftings. There are many members of this body with multiple functions and talents (Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). This church should accurately reflect the model of the church found in Acts 2. They should be focused on Scripture as their rule. They should be enjoying intimate fellowship with one another. They need to be identifying with Christ, experiencing the intimacy of prayer, and being used to bring others into the fold (Acts 2:42-47).

After the model that was established by Paul of establishing a church by the appointment of elders (Acts 14:23) and deacons, the EFCA allows each individual body to be autonomous, or self-governing. The understanding being that Christ is the solid foundation, rather than any particular denominational ruling body. Christ is the ruling authority, or governing head rather than any other governing authority. This principle can be traced back to Christ’s establishment of the Apostles who were to be the leaders in the fledgling church. This in no way encourages a hierarchy of authority, as Christis the head; it does however, follow Biblical precedent of authority, control and competent leadership.  In light of this, I embrace a church leadership of plural local elders. It is thought that government works best when it has the consent of those governed. This model is made up of elected elders by the congregationwho govern the majority of affairs of the church. The elders therefore do not have absoluteauthority. The pastor is one of the elders, and does have a leadership role among the elder board. Major decisions involve the consideration of the congregation.

As such has been embraced and found to be an appropriate Biblical model, the local churches of the EFCA are considered to be congregationally ruled, but elder led, which is a most cherished aspect of our denomination.  As Paul exhorted in Titus 1:5, we are to set things in order and appoint elders. Thus, it has been the determination that the congregation would elect, or appoint elders to lead in the everyday governance of the local body.  The overall everyday affairs of the local body are free from the direct control of the National Office of the EFCA.

We do however, appreciate the accountability to, and the umbrella council of the National Office. The fact that we are considered autonomous churches does not mean we are independent.  Rather, we enjoy working interdependently with other Evangelical Free Churches, and with like-minded faiths to demonstrate the unity in the body of Christ for which He prayed in John 17, and for the concerted efforts of the proclamation of the gospel.

A Brief Orthodoxy: The Holy Spirit

Perhaps this article is one that needs most to be addressed, and asserted, even in the evangelical world. It seems over the years, as the Holy Spirit has been referred to as the “Third Person of the Trinity,” that, by definition of third, He has been relegated to a position of lesser importance. The Holy Spirit is equal in divinity and majesty with the Father and the Son, although the members vary in function. God sent the Son to redeem sinful man (John 3:16). Christ returned to the Father, and the Spirit was sent to be “another helper” (John 14:16).

The Holy Spirit is the first person of the Godhead mentioned in the Creation account (Genesis 1:2). The Spirit of God was brooding over the waters of the earth. In the very beginning of Creation the Spirit was involved revealing His divinity and power. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “let Us make man in Our image that he may become like Us.” Here it is clear that the Spirit is actively involved in the creation of Man as well. Creation was a Trinitarian endeavor.

Throughout the Old Testament the Spirit had been given to empower, embolden, and guide God’s chosen people. The Spirit was with Joshua, Gideon, Saul, and David to help them in battle, and for guidance. Job 32:8 suggests that Jewish thinking considered to be the “Breath of the Almighty,” was indeed the Spirit of God who gave wisdom or counsel. Isaiah 11 describes the Spirit as being one of understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and providing a fear of the Lord. And through Joel, God said He would pour out His Spirit upon all mankind (Joel 2:28).

As God knew he desired to redeem a chosen people unto Himself (Ephesians 1:4), He provided the Holy Spirit to assist man, or be his helper. By the time of the New Testament, the picture becomes clearer as to how this would take place. In the New Testament this involved Mary becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20).  In John 14:16-17, Jesus, speaking to disciples who believed He was there to liberate Jerusalem from the oppression of the Romans, declared that He would be leaving, but that He would send another helper that would be with them, and inthem.

Later in John 16:8, it is clear that the role of the Spirit is to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. This is done so that He can fully perform His primary function, that of glorifying Christ. His ministry is a “floodlight” ministry to point to the work and the person of Christ. He does this by convicting, leading, guiding and transforming believers into the image of Christ. In this way He glorifies Christ as He brings to the foreground the person and work of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “no one can say that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” So the Holy Spirit is responsible for every single believer in the body of Christ, as it is He who touches the hearts, so people might see, and trust in Christ and His work of redemption.

The beginning work of the Holy Spirit is to convict a person of the sin in his or her life and the need for a Redeemer. It is this conviction that turns a person’s heart to Christ for their salvation. This conviction is a calling of God to the sinner to repent and turn to Him. As noted earlier, it is God’s desire to have fellowship with us, and His initial contact is for the Holy Spirit to call us to Himself. Our favorable response to this invitation is the completion of what is known as regeneration (1 Corinthian 12:3). It is a one-time event in the life of the believer, and is the beginning of a new life in Christ. He is an heir in the Kingdom (Romans 8:15). This favorable response cannot be made without the Spirit first imparting to the sinner a measure of faith (Romans 12:3), or the gift of faith to receive (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Once a person is in the fold of Christ, they enjoy justification, which was addressed earlier. Throughout the remainder of our lives we are involved in the sanctificationprocess. Therefore, sanctification is the lifelong process of the Spirit conforming us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). It is the lifelong process of the Spirit working within us so that we may be experientially holy in the same way we are considered positionally holy through the work of Christ. It is the means by which the Spirit lives in us, and makes known to us the sinful areas that need to be dealt with and brought before the Lord (Romans 8:11). We will never attain a level of perfection in this life, but we are to strive for this goal, we are to be willing vessels in the hands of the Maker to be molded, willing to strive to be holy in our everyday lives. As we are obediently molded into Christ-likeness, we will evidence the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22, those being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The revelation of these “gifts” may be gradually increased as we are in obedience to the Spirit of God.

Many blessings occur simultaneously in the process of conversion, or at least in very close proximity to each other chronologically. We are able to enjoy this continual cleansing process because the Spirit has taken residence in us at the point we trusted in Christ; this is known as the indwellingof the Holy Spirit. It is at this point that we receive the baptism of the Holy Spiritin which we are baptized into Christ (Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 12:13); the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a subsequent work of grace.We are reminded in John 14, that the Spirit is not only withus, but He is inus as well. It is this indwelling that is able to convict, lead, guide, and console us throughout this process of sanctification (John 16:8). Subsequent obedience and yielding to the Holy Spirit’s leading is referred to as being filled with the Spirit. This is seen many times in Acts as we see Paul and Barnabas being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:24, 13:9). It is these times in which we are particularly sensitive to the will of the Lord andresponding accordingly that we are “filled with the Spirit;” we are being led by the Spirit and not by the flesh (Romans 8:14). Therefore, it is necessary that we continually be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This is an occurrence that needs to be done constantly in the life of the believer as the battle with the flesh is unending (Romans 7:15-20).

In the ongoing process of sanctification the Spirit develops and utilizes gifts that He has given us to serve in the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-10; Ephesians 4:7-11; 1 Peter 4:10-11). These are not to be mistaken for the fruit of the Spirit. As we are all members of one body, the Spirit has given to each of us special gifts, or talents that are uniquely able to assist in the edification of the church and the mission of evangelism. We are to exercise them accordingly (Romans 12:6; 1 Peter 4:10-11). These include, but are not limited to, the gifts of prophecy, teaching, healing, tongues and interpretation, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, discernment, helps, administration, serving, giving and pastor teacher.

After salvation, it is the Spirit who sanctifies us, continues to unify us with Christ, and empowers us to live Christ-like lives (Acts 1:8; Romans 15:13), and equips us with gifts for service in the Kingdom. As noted earlier 2 Timothy 3:16 declares that all scripture is inspired by God, and 2 Peter 1:21 affirms that God has given His Word, by His Spirit, through men who were moved, or inspired by the Spirit. Therefore, the Spirit is credited for the inspirationof the Word of God as it was written, and He is also credited with the illumination, revelation, or understandingof the Word to the readers (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

 

A Brief Orthodoxy: The Work of Christ

Hebrews 9:22 reminds us that there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood. The Old Testament is full of examples of the substitutionary sacrificial atonement for sins (Leviticus 8). All these examples paved, or foreshadowed the way to the atonement of Christ through His shed blood upon the cross. It is only through this blood that we are washed clean, or expiated of sin, both original sin, and that which we have committed (1 Peter 1:18-19). As a result, we are able to approach the Holy of Holies, and come into God’s presence having been considered righteous by His actions.

It is fundamental to understand that Christ was presented as the sinless Lamb by virgin birth (Luke 1:26-31), actually suffered a physical death (Matthew 27:45-50), and was resurrected victoriously from the grave (John 20:1-18). It is essential that there was agony that was involved in our redemption, the idea of penal substitution was actual and carried out in the death of Christ. He was a vicarious sacrifice who had born the sins of man. He did suffer; it was not an illusion. I affirm that the resurrection was bodily in nature, and demonstrated to the world that Christ had achieved victory over death on our behalf thus offsetting the damage which was done in the garden. As a result He had achieved victory for us, being the first fruits of resurrection so that we too can look forward to life eternal in our glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:20). Contrary to the position of Waldenstrom, the correct thought of the atonement affirmed in the denomination is that the atonement was vicarious, and substitutionary, it was not exemplary (Matthew 26:28; Revelation 12:10-11). All of the sins of the world were indeed placed upon Christ, and His death provided the only allowable payment to make us righteous; thus He became a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Our acceptance of this act, our belief in His act is the only way to establish a relationship with the living God. No one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). Christ lived a sinless life in complete and perfect obedience to the Father. It was this righteousness in addition to His intrinsic righteousness as the “Son of God” that qualified Him to die for those who could not lead such a righteous and holy existence (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17).

It is only by this act of grace that we are justified. Justification is the state of being pronounced by God to be clean, or pure in His eyes (Romans 4:25). It is only by this act that we are declared acceptable of God’s mercy and blessings, not because of any work of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). Though we still have our sinful nature, we are considered clean because the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us. Justification is a legal term meaning that even though one may be actually guilty, he is considered not guilty. God allows the actions of Christ to account for our sinful nature, and thus, no one can bring charges against us (Romans 5:10). As we are brought into a right relationship with God through the work of Christ, we have salvation. This means we will not suffer eternal separation from God, but rather, we will be reconciled for all eternity with God. Romans 8:33 asserts that, God is the one who justifies, who is the one who condemns?Once we are justified, the Holy Spirit begins the process of sanctification, or working on those areas of our lives that need to be conformed to the image of Christ.

 

A Brief Orthodoxy: Jesus Christ

As stated earlier, Jesus is one of three Persons of the Godhead (Colossians 1:15). It is this second person of the Trinity that became flesh (John 1:1,14). He was, and still is one person but with dual natures (John 1:14). Contrary to what some thought, all of the fullness of deity dwelt in Him (Colossians 2:9). At His incarnation He took on the dual natures of both God and man. He is fully human and fully divine (Luke 1:31-32). Unlike the Docetists, who believe that Christ never actually had a body, but was only a spirit, I hold that He became flesh like us. Others erroneously believe that Christ was only a man and lacked any spiritual or divine nature. Though it is difficult to grasp, deity and humanity exist, each in their entirety, in the person of Christ.

Though He appeared in the flesh among us at a finite time, we do believe that His Sonship to the Father was eternal. He did not begin to be the Son at the incarnation, but from eternity was the Son (John 1:1-2). It was however, at the incarnation that the Second Person of the Trinity took upon Himself the nature of man (Philippians 2:7). He was conceived through the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:35), so as not to be tainted with original sin of mankind, and delivered through Mary, that He might become flesh (Luke 1:26-31).

Throughout the Old Testament a Messiah was promised to Israel (Genesis 3:14-20; Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, 2 Samuel 7; Micah 5). The Redeemer actually was the Savior of mankind, both Gentile and Jew (Acts 10, 15). It was in the person of Jesus Christ that this Messiah would be manifested. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, was born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7) to become the Messiah to all mankind, as His life was offered up as a sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10). As such, He was a true human being. He wearied (John 4:6). He thirsted (John 19:28). He was hungry (Matthew 4:2). And most of all He suffered death at the hands of Pilate upon the cross (Luke 23:46).

He came into the world a sinless being, and lived a sinless life that was pleasing to the Father (John 6:38, Hebrews 9:14). He lived to do the will of His Father, and to redeem mankind from their sinful condition. He was persecuted by the people of His day and was put to death on a cross for no valid reason. He physically arose from the dead (Matthew 28:1-10), in a resurrected body, appeared to many, and now sits at the right hand of God, interceding on behalf of all those who have trusted in Him (Ephesians 1:20; Hebrews 8:1, 10:12).

Christ is the head of the Church (Colossian 1:18). In fact He fulfils three major offices of authority set forth in the Old Testament. He is a Prophet in that He proclaimed the Word and will of the Lord. He is a Priest in that He offered up the perfect sacrifice, Himself, for our sins (John 1:29; Hebrews 7:17). He continually strives to bring us closer to God as our advocate (Romans 8:34), and like a priest he continually prays, or intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 7:25, 8:1). Finally, Jesus serves as King as He is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion; everything is under subjection to Him (Ephesians 1:21; Colossians 1:16).

 

A Brief Orthodoxy: God

Identifying the existence and magnitude of God is essential for all assertions of faith. If no legitimate deity can be claimed or defined, then all subsequent beliefs are untenable. Mostly, the purpose of this first article of faith is the assertion of the existence and character of God. It is an assertion that we hold to a monotheistic faith (Deuteronomy 6:4), or one God (Isaiah 44:6, 45:5-6; James 2:19) who exists in one nature, yet in three persons: the Trinity (John 17:11; 14:16, 17, 26).  Though the term Trinity is not specifically found in Scripture, it is used freely to refer to that which is clearly identified throughout the Bible (Matthew 28:18-20; Deuteronomy 6:4, 2 Corinthians 13:14): that the Lord is one God. Jesus makes it clear in John 14:8-11 that He and the Father are one. Also, in John 16:26, Jesus states that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Though difficult to comprehend, this doctrine is foundational to the Christian faith. It is likely the most fundamental factor in evangelical theology as all other doctrines rest upon this belief. Continue reading “A Brief Orthodoxy: God”

A Heightened Need

When you think about it, one of the consequences of sin being introduced into the world was an increased need for mankind. Mankind had it made. The table was set. God had provided all they ever could have wanted. Even the food required was generously given, simply for the taking. But, sin changed all that.

Yes. Once mankind ushered sin into the Garden the door was flung wide-open to a world whose need would continue to grow exponentially. Spiritual trials would necessitate help. As the physical elements would become increasingly challenging, man would need assistance. Food would become more difficult to acquire due to thorns and thistles. Drought would bring other agricultural burdens. Relational challenges in the marriage would demand support. Changing environmental hostilities would require different kinds of clothing to be worn; clothes to stay warm. Footwear to protect the feet. In time, medical ailments would need to be addressed. Continue reading “A Heightened Need”

The Royal Law

“If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well” (James 2:8).

This affirmation is found in the very profound and practical book of James.

I find it interesting that though James was one of the first New Testament books written, (if not the first), James is mindful to include the proper way to treat people. In the beginning of chapter 2, he has just disparaged judging people according to superficial observations such as money or clothes, and now he raises the bar to the divine standard; he cites the second half of the Shema. Continue reading “The Royal Law”

Have Mercy Upon Me

Jesus is an absolute master of “Virtual Flannel Boards.” You remember those, perhaps from your childhood Sunday school classes. Flannel boards were those instructional visual aids to help in the telling of a story. With the props, and scenes, and figures, and such, they helped us grasp the Biblical narrative. Christ had the amazing ability to describe these flannel boards as though they were hovering in midair for all the people to see. It was in part this great skill which so allowed Him to effectively communicate powerful truths. I am sure the crowds could visualize the pictures which Christ presented. In so doing, these parables of Christ struck quickly, and they struck at the hearts of those listening. Continue reading “Have Mercy Upon Me”

An Unworthy Manner

“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). We don’t have to be a Biblical scholar to any degree to comprehend that is a stern admonition. We find it in the midst of 1 Corinthians 11 wherein Paul is issuing a long line of expected behaviors to the church in Corinth. After addressing head coverings in the first 16 verses, he moves to the proper administration of the Lord’s Supper. Continue reading “An Unworthy Manner”

The Anvil of God

On the surface an anvil may not be all that impressive to look upon or technologically advanced, yet this fundamental tool is indispensable to the master craftsman in performing his work. This device is sturdy and intended to make that which is unyielding, yield. With its various shapes and contortions it is the foundation used to mold material into the shapes desired. The end product is a fine work of art, glorifying the artisan.

Growing up I remember my pastor affirming that the Word of God was “the anvil against which our lives were hammered out.”  What beautiful imagery, and how true are those words! God uses His Word as that beautiful delicate instrument of precision to mold us into the vessels He desires. As disciples it is all about Spirit-led biblical Word-of-God formation. The Bible informs us about the person of God, and how we are to live before Him. As we read God’s Word reforms us into new creations. The image into which we are being conformed is the image of Christ. And the change is not superficial but exhaustive- it is transformational, a new creation! Continue reading “The Anvil of God”

Legacy

What comes to mind when you hear the word “legacy”? Perhaps it is somebody’s reputation. Maybe it brings to mind the name of quality paint, or a good brand of windows for your home. Still, yet again it may simply bring to mind the image of a quality automobile. How about if you were to hear the word in the context of Father’s Day? Now what does it bring to mind? If you were like most men I would imagine that it means how people will remember you after you have departed from this world (This article just got sober, huh?). Continue reading “Legacy”

The Back Nine

Golf at Bishop Country Club is one of the most amazing of pastimes. The fresh air. The smell of fresh cut grass. The color scheme of blues and greens (and the white ball). The camaraderie of the playing partners. The open skies and topography are incredible against the backdrop of the beautiful Sierra Nevada and White Mountains. Wow! One can hardly wait to hit the open fairways.

Often times in the first few holes of the front nine, your play identifies what kind of round it is going to be; will it be a day of exercise and enjoyment, a day of companionship, or is it a day of scoring well?

As you make the turn, grab a hot dog and use the facilities you begin “the Back Nine” – the final nine holes of the round. This is a time to re-evaluate the first nine, to re-evaluate strategies and tactics; what worked and what didn’t, analyzing if a new game plan may be more successful. And as we tee off there is the ever-present awareness of the 18th hole lurking in the very near future signaling the end of the round, and the very certain reality that eventually you’re going to have to post your score. Continue reading “The Back Nine”