Evangelism:

Evangelism. It is one thing if we can even pronounce it, it is another altogether if we can understand what it truly is. Many of us have no idea, or we limit it to a couple of people doing door-to-door visitations, or open-air street corner preaching. But still, we are not quite certain what that entails. I believe it is both a little more simple, and a little more complex than that.

Let me suggest a working definition of the term, Evangelism: The grace of God reaching down through the Church of God with the good news of redemption in Jesus Christ to the lost people of the world. There! It may not be that compact, but I do think it communicates the necessary components of the word, evangelism.

The “Good News of redemption” is referred to, and encouraged multiple times in the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus) as “sound Doctrine.” The idea is, if we cannot, or do not adequately communicate the truth of the Gospel, then our message is deficient in some capacity.

Paul words it like this in the 3rd chapter of Titus:
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).

The Gospel here, and the resulting fruit is identified by Paul, not in the minutest detail, but nonetheless, it addresses the incarnation of Christ, salvation by the mercy of God rather than by works, and justification according to Trinitarian desire, which leads to the hope eternal of life with God–forever! We would include upon this grid work why the Gospel was needed–sin, Hell, lostness, the sacrifice of blood, holiness and repentance, etc. to complete the picture. The first component of evangelism is sound truth. If we do not communicate the good news effectively, or correctly, the foundation upon which any faith is placed, may be deficient.

Second, an authentic witness of the sacred community is to be exhibited to the surrounding world; a superficial witness or poor character does little to help win others to Christ – the behavior that we exhibit to the world either affirms or denies the faith we profess.

Titus 2:1-8, in general, skims the surface and encourages the minimal evidences of conversion in the Church, the idea is that the Church would be beyond reproach in its behavior. “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (Titus 2:7-8). The world may not believe in Christ, or even morality of a holy ilk, yet, they will be able to sniff out hypocrisy in the evangelical tribe.

Finally, I believe there needs to be an explicit invitation. The unbelieving world needs to know that the grace of the Gospel can be experienced by them as well. Therefore, an explicit invitation needs to be extended to them as well to taste of the grace of God. Paul speaks of “good works” in Titus, I believe as “Gospel opportunities.” I don’t think Paul is addressing walking older ladies across the street, or saving puppies so much as he is encouraging the community of faith to look for areas of service, and influence that in time would lead for the Gospel to be communicated, and an invitation to be given to respond to the Gospel call.

Now, evangelism is the accurate communication of these things, but then, other than prayer, the destinies are out of our hands. We do not argue people, or drag people into the Kingdom of Heaven. Rather, the Holy Spirit is at work, convicting people of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16). And, at the very core, the heart needs to repent and choose to follow Christ. People have the free will to accept or reject Christ.

We are privileged to participate in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), as we emphatically proclaim the Truth of the Gospel, wrapped in grace, being lived out in the sacred community, and extended through an outpost of grace to a lost world whom God loves.

Evangelism: The truth about redemption in Christ, an authentic witness to the world, and an invitation to grace.

You’re on Church!

Stolen Grace (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Even in the “on demand” society in which we live, most of us understand that there is a protocol to the acquisition of our desires. We do not visit a store and simply take what we want; we realize there is a need abide by socially acceptable norms. We need to pay for it. At times we may be the recipients of items for which we have not been required to pay – those are called gifts. And even in those cases we don’t determine when we take ownership of them, we must wait for the giver to make that decision. We all “get that.” We understand that in the realm of the world, but we have difficulty at times grasping that in the context of God’s economy.

How many of us are willing to run to our favorite sin knowing full well it is offensive to God, yet expecting to be completely forgiven of it by playing the grace card? “It doesn’t really matter that much, cause I am saved. Christ paid for that sin.” I think we all do that to some degree whether or not we see it in our own lives. And though it is true that the blood of Christ paid for our sins, should we be so presumptuous, so careless as to toss grace around like a borrowed credit card?  … If we are so quick to do that, what does that say about our hearts? Continue reading “Stolen Grace (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Reprobates Like Me

“Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” Paul speaks these words to Titus (Titus 1:12) identifying the pretty dark character of people among whom Titus will be ministering. What does that even mean? First of all, “always liars” points to a failure to grasp and honor the truth. “Evil beasts” addresses a failure to abide by a moral code. And, “lazy gluttons” communicates feelings of entitlement to gorge themselves with minimal investment or effort. These were some pretty low-level people–we would call them, reprobates. Hmmm, sounds a little too close to home for my comfort, but more on that later.

From a human perspective, Paul and Titus may just as well have sailed around the Island of Crete and have been done with it. And Satan would have had his way, if they would have. But Paul knew that God wanted these “Cretans” in the kingdom. Paul knew that Cretan fruit could be borne among the thorns on the island, and the key to producing that fruit was “sound teaching” communicating the love of God, and how people could be set right with God.

11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14).

The hope for every reprobate on the island is held in those verses–the plan of redemption initiated by divine desire. We can even hear the words of Jesus in John 3:16-17 echoing through these words. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

What God has done for every reprobate is communicated in Titus 2:11-13. In verse 11, God, through the incarnation of Jesus initiates this plan, that forgiveness through the blood of Christ opens the door to being transformed for the glory of God into the image of Christ (verse 12).

Paul is talking about Crete, the reprobates of the island who are “always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” And he is affirming that they can be saved and transformed to lives of godliness!

But that’s not all there is…a new creation in Christ has the sure and certain hope, the confident expectation of seeing Christ again when He returns to take us home (verse 13). We look forward to this moment because we are His possession (verse 14), and He has delivered us from the clutches of sin for this very moment–eternal life with Him.

In verse 14, the Greek word for redeemed, means to set free, to deliver, to liberate, as from slavery. The kind of person who has this sort of assurance, should have joy, and be motivated to serve God by serving man, the “good deeds” part.

Amazing! Huh?

“Always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons” sounds a lot like the world that I live in.  Failure to grasp and honor the truth. Failure to abide by a moral code, and feelings of entitlement to gorge themselves with minimal investment or effort.

Our culture, and society want to dispute the authority of the Scriptures, and the message of the Gospel. People today are tough, godless, liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons. There is a real spirit of darkness in the world, many spirits of darkness have been sent to keep people from accepting the Gospel, to keep the Gospel from gaining greater traction.

But, for God so loved the world…
But God so loved the Island of Crete…
But God so loved the United States…, California…, and Bishop…
That He sent His Son to redeem them.

From a human perspective, it would be easier to “sail around” Bishop. California. And the entire United States. Sometimes, we lose hope. We wonder if God is even working. But, God desires to bear fruit, yes, here in Bishop–fruit from among the thorns. And the Gospel of Christ is the only way to do just that! What amazing grace!

I have to remember God’s heart and His grace, and I need to remember that I, myself, was one of those reprobates, who is now a reprobate covered in the blood of His dear Son.

Grace seeks us out. Grace redeems us. Grace indwells us. Grace transforms us. Grace gives us hope. Grace has a future for us. But in the here and now, grace has a mission for us, to be the outpost of His grace to the world.

My faith in the Gospel to transform reprobates needs to be greater than my doubt for mankind. If I am to be obedient, I need to understand the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save reprobates…like me.

For us all…Our faith in the Gospel to transform reprobates needs to be greater than our doubt for mankind. If we are to be obedient, we need to understand the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save reprobates…like us.

The Moral Cliff (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Much concern has been drawing the attention and ire of politicians and the American public in recent weeks – it is the fiscal cliff. It is the very possible prospect of “not being able to pay our bills” and recognizing that on a national level (Can you say, “Hello austerity measures and the European economy?”). The implication is that once we go over the edge there is no point of return. We sail to the bottom only to be dashed on the rocky landscape of failure below.

While this looming scenario is dire, it is only one of the threats to our society, as we know it. We have seen an unprecedented erosion of ethics, economics, spirituality, accountability and financial responsibility in recent years. It has been a mad dash to see who could bankrupt their cache of inalienable rights the fastest as though insolvency, economic or otherwise was the noble ideal.

Perhaps, the one I see as the most daunting, yet clearly minimalized, is our moral decay. The moral fortitude of this country when we began is a far cry from the picture we face now, and no doubt would be unrecognizable to the founders of this country. Yet for hundreds of years now we have been gleefully plunging into the dark abyss of moral corrosion and self-absorption.

We went over the “moral” cliff long ago and have been in freefall for centuries. If any given behavior was wrong thirty years ago, then it is still wrong. There is not a sliding scale that ebbs and flows according to the whimsical morality of a waning value system. Morals do not change with time as though our nation’s values expired or went through a time of obsolescence.

Yet we continue our downward spiral, smacking against protruding rocks and crashing through jutting branches toward our appointment with a rapidly approaching and abrupt “stop.”

If you’re still reading this sobering indictment, more power too ya; it is dismal. Here’s where we turn the corner. Can we change? Maybe, maybe not. Is there any hope? Yes, there is always hope when God is involved.

I think of the Biblical story of Jonah. God had decided to judge the land of Nineveh because of their evil. Jonah was an unwilling, yet obedient agent sent to communicate the impending doom upon the land. The Ninevites repented and turned from their abominable acts.

Jonah 3:5-6 says, “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.” As a result the Lord relented from the calamity, which He was about to send.

Is it even conceivable for a nation to radically change direction in this day and age? Yes. President Yoweri Museveni celebrated Uganda’s 50th anniversary of independence a few years back, calling for national repentance from sins, including his own. “Forgive us of sins of pride, tribalism and sectarianism; sins of laziness, indifference and irresponsibility; sins of corruption and bribery that have eroded our national resources; sins of sexual immorality, drunkenness and debauchery; sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred and revenge; sins of injustice, oppression and exploitation; sins of rebellion, insubordination, strife and conflict.” Shades of Daniel 9 for sure. Pretty well covers it I would say, and pretty well identifies our sins as well.

I can’t help but believe that God will honor these requests if they are embraced by the nation. From my fencepost the answer is simple. Turn back to God, the God of the Bible and everything else will work itself out. Will it take time? You bet. We have built up quite a lot of momentum heading in the wrong direction, but God is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

“Wise men still seek Him.”

Making the Grade

Even as we turn the wheels into the church parking lot we subconsciously begin to analyze the efficiency of the parking crew and the over-all “welcomingness” of the facilities. As we move toward the sanctuary we evaluate the flow of human traffic. How are the doors working? Is the paint appealing? What is the ease of finding a seat? Are there greeters who seem sincere? How “friendly” are the other attendees? How comfy are the seats?

As the service begins, we judge the acoustics. The length and interest of the announcements. The peppiness of the songs, and of course the sermon. Did it draw me in? What did it do for me? What can I take home? Did the pastor have irritating traits? How tasty were the treats offered to me at the welcome table on the way out?…’Em, All in all, it was “okay,” maybe a C+. Yelp it a “meh,” and move on– “I may, or may not come back next week.”

I wonder how many hidden shoppers invade foreign worship centers (churches) and simply measure the worship experience in light of their own benefits. “Unserved” they’re off to another venue the following week with the same stone in their chest. How many boxes will receive good checkmarks, and how many a “needs to improve”? Get the ticket punched, grab the gold star of attendance, and you’re good for another 167 hours.

It may sound goofy but it seems that’s what I hear when people communicate about their church experiences. And I wonder…rather than us sitting in our seats peering around and criticizing, what if God were grading us, and our engagement in the sanctuary. What if the divine eyes were turned in our direction, upon the quality and integrity of our worship?  What was the condition of our hearts? Had we prepared our souls the previous week? How had we done that? Had we come with hearts which were in the right place? Had we even looked at the Bible in the previous 6 days? Spent time with God? Or, was this time the sole 90 minutes of “investment” in the Sovereign? Were we there to worship God at all, or simply give it a once over with “white-glove” scrutiny?

What if God was “grading you” on your last visit to church…how would you have fared? I mean, it’s not like God hadn’t criticized poor worship before, “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.” This is spoken from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew 15:8 as He echoes the more lengthy passage found in Isaiah 28:13:
“Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote…”

The idea is one of insincere, lackluster and insignificant worship, because of a heart which is not engaged.

So, back to you, were your lips in harmony with your heart as you sang, or recited Scripture? Were any prayers offered which evidenced a true trust in His Sovereign ability to answer? Was your heart in harmony with God, loving God, at peace? Or, was a time for a thorough critique of the human element more important? Ouch! Yeah, ouch!

How easy it is to forget that God seeks not only to fellowship with us, but to be worshipped by us, to be pursued by us. God desires our hearts to be focused singularly on glorifying Him. Would the level of your last trip to the sanctuary of God merit a “Meh”? Was there any level of passion to praise the Lover and Redeemer of your soul?

May I caution that every element of the worship experience is to worship God?

May I suggest that words such as reverence, appreciation, reflection, praise, sincerity, love, and worship should be a major part of describing what you are doing not only throughout the other 167 hours, but as you kneel your heart before the Lord in the corporate worship experience?

Harsh words? …Maybe. Maybe a bit, but likely we need the reminder. And they are as much for me as they are for the next person. It’s not a 21st century issue. It’s not a New Testament issue, or an Old Testament issue–it’s a humanity issue.

Solomon pens it well in the 5th chapter of Ecclesiastes:
“Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3).

Simple truths for reverent times. Draw near and listen; God is speaking. This is not a time of insincere platitudes. Don’t cross that line! This is not performance, or self-care time. This is not bill paying time, doodle time, or cell phone time. “For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.” This is a statement of position rather than geography. God, and only God, is in the position of divine sovereign. God, above everything else deserves this time.

Verse 3 finishes with the futility of dreams and lost words; they do not produce what can be invested in, and gained at this moment. This is reality.
A time we ascribe to God the value He is rightly due.
A time we hear Him speak.
A time to worship.

What have we got to do that is of a higher magnitude than that?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures, here below.
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Amen!

 

 

Are You Ready? (Shepherd’s Echo)

Few of the parables of Christ have sparked such debate as that of the ten virgins and their lamps. Though it is pretty well accepted that Christ is the bridegroom much else seems to be up for debate. Questions prompted are: Who are the virgins? What is their role? What are the lamps and what is the oil all about?  Some of the theories can get pretty complicated, and in my opinion, convoluted to the point where the parable is reduced to minimal importance.

Allow me to weigh in with just a few observations. The parable is found in the first 13 verses of Matthew 25. It is set amongst other parables relating to the end times, specifically the return of Christ, and how people are to be living life in anticipation of that day. Continue reading “Are You Ready? (Shepherd’s Echo)”

A Brief Orthodoxy: Christian Living

As a result of our salvation by Christ, we must remember that we have been bought with a great price, and saved for a purpose (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We cannot simply accept salvation and not move toward a state of holiness, or sanctification. This understanding elevates redemption in Christ to a moment of salvation coupled with the experience of the transformational value upon a person’s life. No one who has actually tasted of the Lord can continually choose to live a life as they please (Romans 13:14). Our Lord commands us to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all of our strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Mark 12:28-30). This means we should be holy as our Father in heaven is holy (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:15-16). We are made positionally holy by the blood of Christ, but we then allow the Spirit to make us holy experientially. This will be evident in the way we seek to let the Holy Spirit sanctify us in thoughts, words and deeds that are pleasing to the Lord. In doing so, we will strive to be led by the Spirit, rather than by the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17). We will go out of our way to minister to those in need around us as the Lord has modeled.

In addition to loving the Lord our God with all our heart we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). This calls for us to reach out to others in the body to edify them and stimulate them to good deeds (Colossians 1:28; Hebrews 10:24). It also means reaching out to those around us who are in need of Jesus Christ as their savior. If we are not sharing the good news with these people, we are not being led by the Spirit, as we all are given the gift of sharing our faith in Christ. The Gospel or Good News is the belief that the Bible is the Word of God, and this Word points to the work and person of Christ as the Messiah of mankind, as the Redeemer. He has rescued us from the certainty of death due to sin. In order for others to experience this salvation, the gospel needs to be shared. How will people hear unless there is a preacher (Romans 10:14)? Among the many things that can be said about it, salvation is, by definition, being rescued from the consequences of sin. It is not a part of man’s ability; it is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9). It is not based on man’s desire, but on the mercy of God (Romans 9:16). And it has been predestined from the Father before the foundations of the world for His pleasure (Ephesians 1:4-5).

As was touched upon in the last section, the question of eternal security hasn’t been proven unequivocally through Scripture. This battle has raged for centuries with neither side being able to claim victory. As far as I am concerned, it should not be a divisive issue, but it does affect the way I lead my own life. Suffice it to say here that I believe that the Holy Spirit was given as a seal of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). His presence is not contingent upon the level of sin or obedience in our lives. Also, we come to faith in Christ through grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). If we sin, that does not mean that we failed for a moment in time to have faith, we simply let our old nature get the better of us, which is characteristic of human nature including Paul’s (Romans 7:15). As this is my position on this debate, it directs us to live a life of confidence in Christ, not worrying that He will “pull the rug out” from under us at any moment. We cannot lose our salvation, our eternal destiny, if we have seriously, and sincerely committed our lives to Christ as our Redeemer at some point in our lives and demonstrate that by following after Him (John 14:15; Romans 8:38-39, 11:29).

For this mindset, we will incur constant spiritual battle with the enemy, and engage in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18). And once again, our driving force will be to follow Christ’s command to witness for Him to all nations, to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). As such we need to be prepared and fully armed for such battles. This entails spending time in God’s Word (Psalm 1:3), the Sword of Truth, and discerning His direction. It also means we are to be relying upon the power of the Spirit of God for strength as it is beyond our physical or spiritual capabilities to go head-to-head with the enemy (Zechariah 4:6; Ephesians 6:10-18). To be fully empowered is to have the ability to obey God’s Word and Will and to live for Him in the world in a way which is pleasing to Him. Also, a glorious and successful Christian life involves being bathed in prayer on a continuous basis (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Liar, Liar (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Many of us are familiar with some form of the child-hood rhyme: “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!” The complete version I learned was, “Liar, Liar, pants on fire, nose as long as a telephone wire!”

Though there are several iterations, and there are multiple “explanations” as to what this really means, it does seem to be universally accepted as a taunting indictment, which is cast toward someone who has been caught in a lie. It would appear that the garment on fire is a judgment of sorts, and the elongated nose even a reference to Pinocchio’s nose when he lied.

My mind wonders how interesting it would be if all such vile actions were revealed and judged this way. Hmmm? Self-igniting attire? And incriminating bodily contortions?…Wouldn’t it be convenient if other pieces of apparel spontaneously combusted so as to judge the inappropriate presence of gossip, slander, or wickedness? What if flapping ears, bubbling lips, and twisting eye-lids heralded that something was awry?

It would sure make it a lot easier to know what kind of character your friends had, and with whom you should choose to be hanging out. I imagine it would make it easier to figure out whom to hire, with whom you should do your banking, or who to put on the witness stand.

Yet, were that true, we would likely all be a poorly dressed, and distorted lot.

Proverbs 6:16-19 gives a pretty depressing cache of deplorable behaviors of mankind.

“There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.”

The eyes, the tongue, the hands, the heart, the feet, the false witness, and the one who fosters dissention; these actions of such are abominable to the Lord. Abominable: detestable, repulsive!

Now, I’d like to think that these behaviors were relegated to the unbelieving of a depraved society, but to my chagrin, I have witnessed these abundantly within the walls of the Church. And yet, if they are so repulsive to the Lord, then why on Earth do we so readily embrace them? Oh, the evil that lurks in the darkness of every human soul!

Obviously, we are steeped in our sinful nature, so perhaps we do it simply because we can “get away with it”, or perhaps because we are not immediately judged for such conduct. My guess though is, that we comfortably engage in such atrocities after we have sufficiently “sanctified” them. After we have justified this behavior in our minds as being “necessary” then we are free (in our own minds) to do that which is expressly forbidden or despised of God. Actually, I think we do this with most sin.

“It’s for the greater good.” “It’s only because I am concerned.” “I only say this because I am hurt.” As though any of these conveniences of conscience would absolve one from guilt.

Well…it doesn’t appear that tormenting clothing and telling physical anomalies will be coming anytime soon to help us discern the spiritual integrity of others. But I would suggest that Proverbs cautions us to be on the alert, and to scrutinize our own actions. Though our bodies may not indict us, nor our clothing adjudicate us, God knows the heart of man; He knows what is done in the shadows, and He knows when we are doing wrong – at some point there will be a reckoning.

Neither asbestos threads, nor plastic surgery will be of any value; the answer is internal. “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (Matthew 15:18). So, the answer lies in the heart; but it needs to be a heart of right character; a heart that is fostered in step with the will of God. They can be little factories of sin, or they can be measures of glory to honor our Father in heaven. Of utmost importance then is the stewardship, the protection of a right heart.

“Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

God sees. God knows. God honors.

“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

Find us Lord!

And may our hearts be truly, completely Yours!

Fear No Evil

“They’re out there. They are under the bed. They are in the closet. And they are out to get me.”

Most of us remember these thoughts of horror as we imagined unwelcome guests in our bedrooms at night. “Did I hear something? I thought I saw something move.” The problem with our bashful childhood nocturnal nemeses is that they failed to reveal themselves very clearly. Yes, we may have seen a flash of light from their “eyes,” we may have heard a rustle of papers from under the bed, but in reality it was a very deficient affirmation we gleaned of their presence. In addition to that, we failed to grasp the full scope of their intent of evil for our lives. So, all in all, who these denizens were was greatly a mystery.

Most of us could be reassured by our well-intentioned parents that those which lurked in the darkness were only figments of our imagination, and most of the time they were right…until maybe the next night.

For those of us in pastoral ministry it seems we have often relived these suspicions of doom and despair; we have imported these memories of paranoia of sorts into our ministerial vocation. “Did I hear something? I thought I saw something move.” Of course, it is not in regards to any given monsters, at least none of the ogrely type, yet, it applies to those, unexplained events, unnerving rumors, and odd actions of individuals observed in the context of our sacred community.

Of all the things communicated to me in seminary, I never heard, “They are out there. They are under the bed, in the closet and they are out to get you!”  No professor ever cautioned me that some of the greatest threats to my pastoral longevity could be those seated in the pews, or worse. Please don’t get me wrong, I loved my seminary days, but I could fill a book with the things I never learned in seminary…well, sort of. You know what I mean. Sometimes, you just end up learning in the school of life and experience.

The truth is that not all of those seated (and nodding) are on your side. Not all of those on the membership role are pulling for you. Not all those in the orbit of the church are even saved. In fact, yes, in fact, some are actually subversively seeking to expedite your demise. If you do not believe me, this will come as a great shock to you when (not if), it happens. Let me be the one to tell you, “They are out there, and they are out to get you”; it’s how the enemy works.

I don’t communicate this to alarm anyone, solely that one may be aware, and alert in regards to those in the congregation which may not have our heavenly interests at heart. We worry that we are hearing things, or seeing actions which do not add up. “Gee, that person seems to be acting oddly.” Or, “Why did he say that?” Or, “What in the world is going on around here?!”

Unlike those mysterious denizens lurking under the bed these menaces are indeed real and seek to derail the most devoted of ministerial efforts.

We would rather my words were in error but Scripture would affirm them. We would love to believe the visible church on earth was filled only with the redeemed. But Jude cautions otherwise–the entire book has much wisdom to commend to the unsuspecting Christian leader. We would love to live in within the insulated walls of the church absent of spiritual adversity, but that is not a real world. At times, those menaces are unwittingly part of a nefarious scheme. Satan performs some of his “best” work within the walls of the Church. And…it gets worse.

Lest you think I overstate my case, let’s see what Paul says to the Ephesians about it.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:12).

Wow! That’s a lot of adversity; I am simply flesh and bones, what chance do I stand against this sort of enemy?

Isn’t it just grace that this verse (verse 12) falls well absorbed in the context of God’s provision? Look at the verses that precede it, and follow it.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Before we even get to verse 12 we are exhorted to be strong in the Lord and His might, His armor–my “cape” never had anything to do with it. However, our obedience to put on the full armor has everything to do with it. And the armor doesn’t work in just some instances, but against the schemes of the devil. Not just his weak schemes, or his “less than” schemes, but his schemes.

Yes, verse 12 could cause us some angst, but in case we missed verses 10 and 11, verse 13 follows it up as another assurance of God’s divine oversight.

“Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”

Just note that we do not eradicate evil. We do not destroy it. Even Christ sent Satan away, though it was in His divine power to snuff him out for good, He did not (Matthew 4:10). God has a time and a plan for the termination of evil. Our knees may shake a bit, our heart rate spike, but we stand firm.

The divine heart of God prayed for our deliverance, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one”(John 17:15); and He provided the means.

“They’re out there. They are under the bed. They are in the closet. And they are out to get you.” And they are powerless to affect you as you are insulated in the power, and the full armor of the Lord.

Suit up!

The Smell of Knowledge (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

When I think of knowledge I think of books. When I think of books I think of the fragrance of books, and books come in two “flavors.” The first one is the smell that hits you when you open up a brand-new book; it is the overwhelming aroma of fresh ink and paper. I associate that smell with the pleasurable experience of buying a brand-new book and the anticipation of soaking up its contents. Mmmm. The second aroma is that of Grandma’s basement, yes, Grandma’s basement, that musty damp smell that meant you are lost in the midst of antiquities. Books that smell like this are old and often frail but offer the promise of a treasure trove of ancient knowledge. I love it.

What can I say? I love books. I love the smells. I love the tactile experience of the pages between the fingers. I enjoy sneaking ahead to see how many pages are left, or just finding out how the book will end. So, when it comes to the newfangled digital books on Kindles and iPads I am sort of in a quandary. I am between generations. You see, I do love technology, but I love good old-fashioned books. Did I say that already? Nothing can replace that experience. Perhaps, it would be a good idea to place a scented sticker at the top of the Kindle which smells like a new book or musty pages to simulate the true paper experience, sort of like that “new car smell,” but alas, even that would fall short; the event just cannot be synthesized. Yes, the smell of books signifies knowledge. Continue reading “The Smell of Knowledge (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Truthland

As a child, and for most of my adult life I had the opportunity to grow up in Orange County, California. Bright, sunny, open fields, and yes, orange groves. Beaches and mountains were all available destinations in the course of a single day. All kinds of distractions were at the beck and call of the adventurous mind. The locale allowed me to grow up in the shadow of what was to become known globally as Disneyland Park. 

Many a weekend was spent in the Magic Kingdom, a dream of Walt Disney which was fulfilled as it opened July 17, 1955. As a little bit a trivia, do you know the 5 major theme areas that were part of the original park plan? I had to think about it a bit, but they were Adventureland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Main Street U.S.A., and Fantasyland. Interesting choices and names that acted as lures to draw visitors in to escape from the normalcy of their everyday lives, and of course, relinquish their dollars. 

It is probably obvious that these areas of entertainment were not categorized as Realityland, or Epistomological Acres. People wanted to escape for just a bit; nobody wanted to go to attractions such as Overdue Bills, or the Negative Test Results, or Valley of Tears, or Truthland; those attractions would not have fared so well. But, let’s get real, life, real life is not bright-colored plastic, and giant animals and princesses hugging me. I appreciate Mr. Disney’s marketing genius, but …we, people need a healthy dose of reality, of Truth if we are going to navigate this life, and its afterlife. 

A theme park may be great every once in a while to “get away from it all” but it seems that somewhere along the way distractions, and avoidance of such things as truth have become the norm. Truth it seems is only tolerable in small doses, relative, subjective, or neglected, abandoned, and scorned as the modern-day evil; as such truth is finding itself a difficult seed to find purchase in a concrete jungle. 

But, we still live in an age of reality and Truth, and embracing the absence of Truth still has its consequences. Truth matters.

The Church has been assigned as one of the sentinels of Truth, in fact the greatest Truth of all. We are not offering some subjective “option” of truth; we are offering life at the highest level, in relationship with God Almighty. We are offering knowledge of the Narrow Gate, the Narrow Road unto salvation. True Truth!

Here’s how Paul lays it down in the book of Titus…

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:11-15).

The grace of God is revealed in the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. As such, believers are called to walk in a posture of holiness and obedience to the will of God. It is this body of believers who look forward to the blessed return of Christ to take them home, something in the mind of God before the foundations of the world. 

Our mission, as we have accepted it is to communicate redemption through the blood of Christ, available to all men, and subsequent to that, to live a life of God-honoring devotion in worship to Him in every way. Our message of Christ, and the sure and certain hope of His coming to take His Bride home is the message of victory the world needs to have today. 

Paul tells Titus, “These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”
Tell someone the Truth!
Encourage someone in the Truth!
Correct them in the Truth, if need be.
We have the “E ticket” to eternal life!

For all it has to boast, Disneyland will likely never offer any sort of Truthland, but God does…it is called the Church. As we rightly station ourselves upon the Word of Truth we operate as His outpost of grace to a longing world.

The Pillar of Truth (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

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

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

Beneath the Waterline

Anyone who has observed an iceberg has beheld a thing of massive beauty. It may not seem all that complicated, or majestic, but it is an amazing thing to behold. Some may have seen it pass as they stood on the shore, or sailed along on a cruise ship, or observed from the air, but in each case one could not rightly state that they had seen the entireiceberg. One could not categorically hold that they had observed it in its entirety for an iceberg is only partially seen by those above the surface. We know this; an iceberg is only 10 percent above the surface; 90 percent is below the waterline. In other words, the iceberg in its solid state is less dense than in its liquid state, so 10% or so rises above the waterline (following Archemede’s Principle of Buoyancy). The molecular structure assures this truth every time. We have a good idea that the portion above fairly accurately represents that which is unseen below, but we do make that conclusion based on logic.

We are faced with icebergs in the church every day. What does that mean, Kelly? It means that people are floating through the waters of the church every day. We see them, we monitor them, we evaluate them. We have to make judgments and decisions, in regards to those icebergs. The problem is there is a lot more to those“icebergs” than meets the eyes. So, how can we do that?

From an aerial perspective above, one can view a much larger mass of being, buoying the mere representation above. The tip of the iceberg- the matter below is often very different in shape than the mass above.

We may be forced to just consider the upper 10%, and we often do. But, sometimes those decisions land us in hot water.  We may simply guess at what lies below the surface, or we may be graced with divine discernment, Solomonic discernment.

Spurgeon stated that, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” Unfortunately, the real estate between the two is razor thin, and sometimes you only get to choose once.

Discernment: intuition, the idea that something is just not right, a gut feeling, a check in your spirit. The problem with discernment is trying to take all the facts that you know and make sense of them. Sometimes all the facts in the world just don’t add up. Discernment in leadership is having to decide based on all the variables that are observed, understood and known, the problem is we never have that luxury. Making decisions in leadership is like assessing an iceberg. We need to evaluate regarding the whole iceberg even though we can only see the top 10%. We need to evaluate the entire structure, having only a fraction of observable DNA. In the case of people, we have to make decisions based upon what we know, what we see, and perhaps some referrals. The problem is we are failing to see 90% that is below the surface. To make matters worse, sometimes the person being assessed may not be all that compliant and …transparent.

So, the challenge before us each and every day is to read between the lines, to see behind the curtain, or below the waterline. Discernment is making a decision based on things not seen, listening to that check in the spirit, that gut feeling, that something is not reconcilable. The true gift of discernment is figuring out what is going on beneath the surface: Solving the unseen by measures other than empirical certainty.

Could we suggest that check may be divinely issued? Could we say that God has placed that caution within our spirits so that we may protect the flock? We may not have a chapter and verse, but maybe that yellow flag is an alert to step back, take some time and continue the observation.

Unfortunately, making judgments based on mere discernment, is one of the more difficult actions to justify, especially when it is not so popular with those around.  I have had times when the level of discernment needed was well above my pay grade; haven’t we all?

We cannot see how people act at home with their spouse and children. We cannot observe them at work. We do not know who they are at the computer screen, nor how they may talk in a group of friends. We are ignorant of their conversations in the shadows. We cannot see their motives. Yet, we need to make decisions as to how they might safely, and effectively fit into the local body.

Failure to discern can get us into much trouble.

Joshua and his crew had some heavy positive momentum going on, until they met up with the Gibeonites. Joshua 9:14…they were hoodwinked, bamboozled, and tricked into issuing a covenant to these grifters. In order to avoid decimation, the Gibeonites concocted a scenario whereby they may be able to avoid being wiped out; the plan was to feign impoverishment and perhaps, receive mercy. The Israelites saw with their eyes and not with their hearts. They did not discern, and they did not seek the will of God, the same mistake they made as when they sought to destroy Ai. And they paid dearly for it.

The divine mandate was to destroy all the inhabitants of Canaan. And yet, as they failed to discern wisely, and seek the Lord, they covenanted with those whom they were to destroy. In the end, they commissioned them to be hewers of wood and drawers of water; not only would they be spared annihilation, but they would be employed in the service of the Tabernacle.

Joshua and the leaders made a decision based upon the top ten percent, and they failed. If discernment is the ability to “see below the waterline”, to have a clearer picture, either by the gift of divine understanding, or discernment. What exactly did they do wrong? How did they fail to discern what was going on beneath the waterline?

Three strikes the Israelites committed in the exchange which set them adrift from their divine directive. One, they did not seek the counsel of the Sovereign Commander; literally the “mouth” of the Lord. They had open access to the mind, the will of God, and they failed once again to exercise it.

Second, the decision having been made absent of any appeal to divine counsel, Joshua and his comrades assessed the situation by their own eyes, through compromised human mechanisms. They adjudicated based solely on the presented 10 percent.

Third, the move they made came without patience. They imputed some level of urgency to process this situation when no such urgency existed.

Finally, after they had failed in all respects, they offered a deal to the charlatans which was not part of the divine mandate to categorically clear the land, nor did it appear to be a request by the Gibeonites. They ultimately disobeyed the direct specific command of Yahweh.

We cannot fault the Gibeonites as they were merely seeking to stay alive; they were willing to connive in whatever way they could to sustain their existence.

So how does this connect to the present day?

First, let us remember that our pastoral commission is to tend and feed the sheep, to guard against false prophets and christs.  We observe, we evaluate, we look for fruit which is visible, and we plead to the God of Heaven for divine counsel. Our leadership, our decisions, will have an effect on the health of our flocks and even upon our own spiritual health. If we are not careful, discerning and wise, we could wind up in hot water.

Second, let us understand that, in this fallen world, we will never see the 100% we desire. And let us also understand that not all bergs are bad, or even trying to hide something below. Still we can move methodically seeking guidance along the way. And yet, still we will not get it right 100% of the time.

In Heaven we will have 20/20 clarity regarding truth and discernment. In the here and now we must take clues, actions, and words as our understanding and we are limited to make decisions and actions based upon those minimal clues. Let us not leave the Sovereign God of all truth out of the equation.

Abyss of Accountability (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

For better or worse, one of the identifying characteristics of Americans is our rogue independent spirit. We pride ourselves on migrating across the sea, establishing our own country, pioneering west and conquering the elements with no one to thank but our humble little old selves (thank you very much). A little arrogant to say the least, and we continue to wave that banner of self-reliance to the world, refusing to be conquered by any, and accountable to no one; my heart grieves to suggest this takes place in the Christian realm as well. Continue reading “Abyss of Accountability (Shepherd’s Echo)”

A Brief Orthodoxy: Christian Living

As a result of our salvation by Christ, we must remember that we have been bought with a great price, and saved for a purpose (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We cannot simply accept salvation and not move toward a state of holiness, or sanctification. This understanding elevates redemption in Christ to a moment of salvation coupled with the experience of the transformational value upon a person’s life. No one who has actually tasted of the Lord can continually choose to live a life as they please (Romans 13:14). Our Lord commands us to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all of our strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Mark 12:28-30). This means we should be holy as our Father in heaven is holy (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:15-16). We are made positionally holy by the blood of Christ, but we then allow the Spirit to make us holy experientially. This will be evident in the way we seek to let the Holy Spirit sanctify us in thoughts, words and deeds that are pleasing to the Lord. In doing so, we will strive to be led by the Spirit, rather than by the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17). We will go out of our way to minister to those in need around us as the Lord has modeled.

In addition to loving the Lord our God with all our heart we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). This calls for us to reach out to others in the body to edify them and stimulate them to good deeds (Colossians 1:28; Hebrews 10:24). It also means reaching out to those around us who are in need of Jesus Christ as their savior. If we are not sharing the good news with these people, we are not being led by the Spirit, as we all are given the gift of sharing our faith in Christ. The Gospel or Good News is the belief that the Bible is the Word of God, and this Word points to the work and person of Christ as the Messiah of mankind, as the Redeemer. He has rescued us from the certainty of death due to sin. In order for others to experience this salvation, the gospel needs to be shared. How will people hear unless there is a preacher (Romans 10:14)? Among the many things that can be said about it, salvation is, by definition, being rescued from the consequences of sin. It is not a part of man’s ability; it is from the Lord (Jonah 2:9). It is not based on man’s desire, but on the mercy of God (Romans 9:16). And it has been predestined from the Father before the foundations of the world for His pleasure (Ephesians 1:4-5).

As was touched upon in A Brief Orthodoxy: The Church, the question of eternal security hasn’t been proven unequivocally through Scripture. This battle has raged for centuries with neither side being able to claim victory. As far as I am concerned, it should not be a divisive issue, but it does affect the way I lead my own life. Suffice it to say here that I believe that the Holy Spirit was given as a seal of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). His presence is not contingent upon the level of sin or obedience in our lives. Also, we come to faith in Christ through grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). If we sin, that does not mean that we failed for a moment in time to have faith, we simply let our old nature get the better of us, which is characteristic of human nature including Paul’s (Romans 7:15). As this is my position on this debate, it directs us to live a life of confidence in Christ, not worrying that He will “pull the rug out” from under us at any moment. We cannot lose our salvation, our eternal destiny, if we have seriously, and sincerely committed our lives to Christ as our Redeemer at some point in our lives and demonstrate that by following after Him (John 14:15; Romans 8:38-39, 11:29).

For this mindset, we will incur constant spiritual battle with the enemy, and engage in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18). And once again, our driving force will be to follow Christ’s command to witness for Him to all nations, to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). As such we need to be prepared and fully armed for such battles. This entails spending time in God’s Word (Psalm 1:3), the Sword of Truth, and discerning His direction. It also means we are to be relying upon the power of the Spirit of God for strength as it is beyond our physical or spiritual capabilities to go head-to-head with the enemy (Zechariah 4:6; Ephesians 6:10-18). To be fully empowered is to have the ability to obey God’s Word and Will and to live for Him in the world in a way which is pleasing to Him. Also, a glorious and successful Christian life involves being bathed in prayer on a continuous basis (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

“Bobble-Head” Christians (Shepherd’s Echo)

It seems somewhere along the way, that the prevalent worldview of the last 2 thousand years has taken a hit, especially over the last 150 years. Time was when the dominant respecters of higher education were those who embraced the Christian faith. Did you know that Princeton (1812), Harvard (1636) and Yale (1701) all began as Christian seminaries? Those that were champions of higher education were those who embraced the Bible. Wow! Where have those days gone? Today, in the arena of higher education, Christians are often viewed as the naïve, simpletons, bobble heads on campus, merely nodding in agreement to a “ridiculous” way of understanding. Now, Christians are ridiculed for holding to a worldview many believe is irrational and illogical. Today we are judged to be intellectually inferior. So much for “tolerance”! Continue reading ““Bobble-Head” Christians (Shepherd’s Echo)”

A Manner Worthy

In Matthew 16, Christ made the prophetic declaration, “Upon this rock I will be my church.” Upon what rock? Upon the statement just uttered by Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is upon this truth, this foundation that the Church would be constructed. In times of grace, and through difficult times, Christ has faithfully continued to fulfill that promise.

“I will build my church.” Christ was building it for a reason. Obviously, the Church had a mission; even today the Church still has a mission. So, what is that purpose? Continue reading “A Manner Worthy”

Veneer (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

I love the beauty of wood. The providential symphony of rich textures. The divinely choreographed grains.  The celestial concert of variegated colors. What a privilege for the woodworker to take a solid chunk of this great material and turn it into a work of art, to sculpt from the palette of the Creator! What a pleasure it is for me to gaze upon furniture or cabinets that are demonstrations of God’s incredible creativity in the measure of wood.

Unfortunately the demand upon this beautiful resource has made these materials more and more scarce, and thus they are used more seldom. The solution has been to take a thin sheet, a veneer of this attractive wood and laminate it over a much less expensive base layer. The end result is a product, which on the surface appears to have the integrity of this valuable material through and through when it is in fact, only a façade.   Continue reading “Veneer (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Letters of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open up!

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

Two Dollars Worth of God (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

I remember hearing a story as a young man. It was about a man who desired to buy two dollars worth of God. “I would like to buy two dollars worth of God, please. Not enough to disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk, or a snooze in the sunshine. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy two dollars worth of God.” Unfortunately, this is a widely held desire. People want just enough of God to feel good. They want enough of God to “make it into Heaven.” They just don’t want too much of God, at least not so much that they need to change their beliefs or their behavior.

Truth is, God is an all or nothing offer. It is like marriage, pregnancy or life itself. You’re either all in or you’re not. You’re married or you’re not. You’re pregnant or you’re not. You are alive or you’re not. Continue reading “Two Dollars Worth of God (Shepherd’s Echo)”

God’s Good Order

I viewed a pretty spectacular demonstration of dominoes recently on the internet; a lady had spent “countless” hours setting up a labyrinth of dominoes that went up ramps, and around in circles, paralleling rows, “bells and whistles,” many levels and patterns, all leading to a grand finale. The menagerie presented in a very large area, like in a warehouse and apparently, the task numbered in the hundreds of thousands of dominoes. Though it was simply the fabric of toys, I must admit that it was a work of art. The crescendo of this effort was the toppling of just one domino that led to the falling of another, and another and so on. Multiple rows, careening in multiple directions. Wheels, and marbles leading up ramps and off cliffs; an amazing orchestration of dominoes all whirling, twirling, and clicking their way to the final fall. The finality of this amusement was a cluttered product of toppled little black pieces–a distant reminder of the perfect order it once displayed.

Yep, the result of this effort was the chaotic collapse of ingenuity, until all the players surrendered to the gravity of the initial domino felled.

The imagery is not lost on me, and although the work of creation is anything but “dominoes,” the illustration helps us see the effect of sin “in real time” in the physical world.

God’s created order is a wonder to behold. God sought to glorify Himself, and He did. He created the physical realm to present exactly as was His will. There were no aberrations, no hiccups. No Mistakes. No Compromises. The will of His sacred created order was manifested perfectly. The Planets. The plants and trees. The animals. Time. Space. And even the Imago Dei, humans were precisely constructed according to the blueprint of the divine mind. What a wonder it must have been to behold! He pronounces His creation as “Good!” and it is very good. It is Adam who affirms that the creation (Eve) made for him is “Very good!”

We could say that creation–time, space and matter were all in perfect sync with Heaven. It was the divinely appointed array of infinite “dominoes.” The cosmological system. The Periodic Table of elements. DNA. DNA! Life. And all systems were “go.”

It was a perfect world, and a perfect world order. And yet, how quickly did that curse of sin weave its way into the fabric of perfection. Satan successfully sought to disrupt that good order by bringing confusion, questioning the word of God. Luring. Enticing. Trapping. Tempting. By toppling that very first “domino” the ensuing collapse was devastating.

Yet, even in its post cursed state, we still have remnants of the glory, it’s true: the sheer magnitude of creation, the beauty of babies, the sounds and sights of animals, the brilliance of colors, knowledge, mathematics, tastes…and yes, pineapples (even in their broken state they are truly amazing. One must imagine the “majesty” they possessed in their perfect state–and may again someday!). And dare we not overlook the pinnacle of God’s created order–mankind; broken as it is, it still remains His greatest expression of creation for we are made in the image of God.

Satan tipped the very first “domino” over, and still strives to bring imbalance to any others he can. The “redefinition” of marriage, questioning the existence of God, introducing gender chaos, the demand for power, the struggle for greed, the “grifting” of our political system–by the citizenry, and by the leaders of this country–both sides. He undermines the order of life, the beginning of life, the value of life. He promotes hate. But that is Satan’s handiwork through his willing agencies. At times, the moral compass is set by Hollywood elites, sports figures, tech industries, and musicians with hot licks, business tycoons, the political elite, and sometimes the false “shepherds” of God’s sheep. Satan’s goal is to continue to disrupt dominoes, to challenge the world order, God’s good order.

It is hard to look at the world around us and not be dismayed. It is hard not to become jaded. In fact, it is difficult to maintain a Christian witness devoid of anger.

Yes, our broken world is messed up beyond description. Bodies hurt, things kill, relationships are damaged, and those thorns! (I hate thorns!). All kinds of things present in stark contrast to God’s perfect created order–they stand in opposition to His perfect will. Yes, we long for the day when that level of Edenic perfection will be restored and revisited again in Heaven.

But, there will be restored order in the Kingdom…One day.
Those dominoes will be restored to original condition.
On earth as it is in Heaven, so to speak.

We are not the ones who are going to get it there, however. Who are we to think the restoration of the world is our sole responsibility? This task is one reserved for the Sovereign God of all creation. He did it once; He will do it again…deliver perfection in His good creation, in His good time.

All of the chaos, all that which is opposed to God will be divinely dealt with…Sometimes I get the notion we think we are needed in order for that to happen, but it is God who privileges us to work with Him; He gets the glory.

We are reminded of that in Psalm 46:10:
“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Our tendency is to look around us at the destruction and mayhem, and grieve, as though God is somehow behind in points. Yes, our hearts are heavy, but we forget–He is working on something.

All those dominoes, in their right time, will be divinely restored to their correct position.

The words of Christ ring true in Revelation 21:5:
“And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” 

In the midst of all the “clicking” we tend to lose our composure and count things as lost. But, He is at work. He’s got a plan we cannot always see. And He has never once been the underdog. He has never lost control. We do listen to God. We seek to know our part. We do what we know He has called us to do. But let’s remember–It’s His world. He knows what He wants. It is His good order.

And He will be exalted!

 

Quasimodo Bride (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Many of us have read Victor Hugo’s, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a classic, yet dark depiction of a physically deformed, socially rejected “orphan” whose name is Quasimodo. He is a grotesquely malformed person who has been relegated by society to merely ringing the bell at the great cathedral of Notre Dame, which subsequently caused his deafness. Of minimal verbal abilities, facial deformities, partial paralysis in his limbs and yes, the hunch in his back, he was abandoned as a baby, and lived out his days in the cathedral, as the public shunned him for his appearance. One of the rare excursions outside was to the Festival of Fools where he was elected Pope of Fools because of his perfect hideous “disguise,” a rare time of “acceptance” by the community.

Long etched upon my brain is the way a squinting Quasimodo holds his disobliging arm and drags his lifeless leg along behind him in an effort to ambulate an uncooperative body through a hostile environment. Physical disabilities of any nature are heartbreaking for sure, and yet a consequence to living in a fallen world, still it is hard to believe someone would choose to be that way. Continue reading “Quasimodo Bride (Shepherd’s Echo)”

A Brief Orthodoxy: The Bible

As a result of deep faith in the Godhead, I hold a high view of Scripture, as it is the eternal written Word of God (Isaiah 40:8), divinely breathed for the benefit of mankind (Psalm 119:9). 2 Timothy 3:16 affirms that, “All Scripture is inspired by God,” or God-breathed. God has given His Word, by the Spirit, through men who were moved, or inspired (2 Peter 1:21). Because God used humans to perform the act of writing, He also allowed them to write in their own individual styles, using their economy of words (Luke 1:1-4).

 I accept the Hebrew Bible as being the Word of God, the Old Covenant, or Old Testament as it was actually a compilation about Jesus, the coming Messiah (Matthew 1:22; Hebrews 1:1-2; Galatians 3:24). I also embrace the 27 books that make up the New Testament. The Bible has been written both by divine and human efforts, and compiled by God for the benefit of the Church. The EFCA has held strongly to the Word of God to the degree that the question, “Where stands it written?” has become the unofficial litmus test of our beliefs and practices. This reflects the desire and commitment to be a people dedicated to the authority of Scripture. Continue reading “A Brief Orthodoxy: The Bible”

Fixing Broken (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the King’s horses, and all the King’s men,
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

This odd little nursery rhyme is embedded in most of our minds, and yet most have no idea to what it refers. I would surmise that most of us imagine an odd egg-sort of fellow who reclines on a wall only to fall off into a broken yolky mess, though actually, nowhere in the original story is there any indication that Humpty was truly an egg. Continue reading “Fixing Broken (Shepherd’s Echo)”

The Final Breath

As I inch ever closer to the end of my 6th decade on the face of the earth I realize with each passing week little reminders, new “bills” appear in my biological mailbox alerting me of some “overdue” malady. “You’re kidding me! I Thought I paid that!”

My eye sight is a skosh dimmer. My hearing a tad bit duller. An aching awareness of many more muscles and joints than I thought I had is brought to mind. And my hair is a hint more “pastoral” platinum than it was 5 years ago. My abilities to live as a teenager are indeed fading, and though I may be growing older, and I may not be able to perform in the way I did at 30, I still have the choice to grow in my character and my integrity, in my resoluteness to live for Christ. Continue reading “The Final Breath”

The Secret Things (Shepherd’s Echo)

Right down the middle! I had hit my golf ball right down the center of the fairway, and now I couldn’t find it. We had all seen it bounding toward the flagstick and to glory but, alas, it was nowhere to be found. After due time, I had to abandon the effort and concede the ball as lost to the fate shared by multitudes of socks surrendered in scandalous pirate dryers throughout the course of history.

As I ponder the fate of my golf ball, and the millions of other golf balls lost to the mystery of logic, I am reminded that there are questions to which we may never know the answers; is there formidable life beyond our solar system? Does Pi have a terminus? Who killed J.R.? And, of course, where do all those orphaned socks go? Continue reading “The Secret Things (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Letter to My Enemy

From my perspective, January 1st has come upon us like a freight train, and with it a slew of resolutions are surely dotting our horizons. “I am gonna lose a few pounds.” “I want to finally finish that project around my house.” “This is the year I get my raise!” Maybe you want to learn to speak another language, exercise more, invest in your grandkids, or spend more time with friends over coffee. What is high atop your list of things to resolve to accomplish this coming year? God has granted you possibly another 365 days to steward at will. Not to discourage any desires, but if history is any indicator, many of those “resolutions” will be tossed aside and discarded like New Year’s Eve confetti well before February…jus’ sayin’. Not that resolutions don’t have merit, but we need to choose them well–and follow through. Continue reading “Letter to My Enemy”

Ticking Towards Eternity (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Many people may not remember the old TV commercial about the Timex watch that was tied to a boat or car tire and taken for a ride after which a spokesperson would pronounce, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” It was amazing. Still more amazing is the universes’ oldest chronograph – the Earth. Genesis tells us that the earth was the first planetary orb created. It was around before the sun. Time was being measured in days before the Sun helped us out.

God created the entire universe to attest to His glory. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork” – Psalm 19:1. What is interesting to contemplate is that time was not existent until God created it for the benefit of mankind. God is eternal, both in the past and the future. He had no need of time. On the fourth day, God created the sun, and the ultimate ‘timepiece’ was created. The earth rotated each day, clicking off the universal “minutes.” The Earth revolved around the sun clicking off the universal “hours.” And, as they say, it has never been the same. Continue reading “Ticking Towards Eternity (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Peace On Earth (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

As the legend goes, during the winter of 1914 in the midst of World War 1, along the Western Front on a battlefield in Flanders (Ypres, Belgium), the war raged on from the depths of the wet, muddy, cold trenches that extended for miles.  The Germans were engaged in battle against the British and the French, when at some point during the evening hours of December 24th the shooting ceased. Germans began placing Christmas trees on the ground outside their trenches, illuminating them with candles. The wintery air was still. Gradually the words, “Stille nacht, heilige nacht” (Silent night, holy night) rose softly from the trenches floating across “No Man’s Land” to the ears of the “enemies” some 100 yards away. In turn, the British responded with “O Come all ye Faithful.” Continue reading “Peace On Earth (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Politically Correct (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Well, it’s that time of year again when we get caught up in the realm of political correctness.  In order for the general populace not to be offended, we need to use terms such as, “Turkey Day,” or “Harvest Dinner” instead of “Thanksgiving.” We must say, “Season Greetings,” or “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” We can say “Winter Break,” or “Spring Break,” but my goodness, we’re not allowed to say, “Christmas Break,” or “Easter Break.” Far be it to recognize a holiday honoring God the Creator of all. Incidentally, has anyone considered the fact that we are offending God by nudging Him out of the spotlight. Frankly, succumbing to this cultural tomfoolery is downright offensive. It is obvious that the culture wants to shove God aside because it is easier to assert that God does not exist if we don’t use words and phrases which point to Him. Continue reading “Politically Correct (Shepherd’s Echo)”