No Other Name (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

I remember as a kid in grade school often waiting for someone to open doors around campus, either a door to the classroom, to the cafeteria, or to the utility closet which held the sports equipment. We had to wait because someone who had the correct key had to open the door for us. Usually, it was a man in a grey shirt who would come rolling up on one of those little golf carts bringing a lump of keys on a ring, one of which would grant entry into that secured location. He would try many keys, for out of that entire conglomeration, it was one that he was looking for, as only one would work.

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Justice and Mercy

“Justice is blind,” or so they say, though it seems a bit more of a noble ideal rather than a verified reality. 

Around the steps of many courthouses throughout the world is placed a statue of a woman, one who strongly resembles the Statue of Liberty; Lady Justice is her name. She is draped in the robes of justice, with a scale resting upon her lap, or held in her hand. Oddly enough, included in her garb is a blindfold wrapped snuggly around her head. The implicit message is that she rules, or weighs her decisions based upon the Law, based upon the merits of the case. The blindfold suggests a perfect level of impartiality, the ability, and dedication to adjudicate regardless of the person being tried – without regard to power, or money, or fame, or other world status. But, is objectivity even possible? 

The whole idea of impartiality seems logical, and right, but in a world full of opinionated souls, how could this even be done? We place a blindfold upon her, then hand her the Rule of Law, and a set of lenses…Democrat, Republican, Independent, Liberal, Conservative, Originalist (original intent) vs. er, well, um…non-originalism, Capitalistic, or otherwise. Yes, we give them a viewpoint, a pair of lenses to wear over their blindfold to help them have a framework with which to understand the foundations upon which we want them to judge.  We do it in the Court of Law, and we do it in our own “households” as well.

Even at the baseball field, we find ourselves victims of our own biases…”He was safe!” cries the home team; “He was out by a mile,” demand the visitors. Half of the crowd saw the “clear” verdict through the set of lenses they walked in with, in contrast to the other half which got the “whole thing wrong!” And, “The ump was blinder than a bat!”

It appears this divide is no better illustrated than in the political climate today. We see our side as innocent angels and claim the other side to be immoral criminals. In our homes, we back our members, the guilty offender as the innocent, or we don’t even see any actions as infractions; we whitewash them. Even within ourselves we condemn any opposing viewpoints and exonerate our own. Yes, when it comes down to justice or mercy, we likely demand justice for others, and mercy for ourselves, because “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour” (McCovey).

When we don’t get the verdict we demanded, we cry for sentencing upon the judge himself. “‘Kill him! Kill the umpire!’ shouted someone on the stand, and it’s likely they’d have killed him, had not Casey raised his hand” (Casey at the Bat). So, Casey had that going for him.

One more thing…Lady Justice is depicted with a sword in her hand, denoting the ability to execute justice swiftly, efficiently and permanently! Authority is a good thing, but the idea of a woman, a blind-folded woman, wearing glasses and dispensing judgment wielding a terrible swift sword is somewhat unnerving.

Here’s my point…Lady Justice is not real; she is a myth which represents the corporate heart of mankind, errant and flawed, warts and all. She represents a noble ideal rather than a verified reality. I pray for God’s divine wisdom for all those in the legal arena. God help you guys!

And I thank God, that when it comes to things eternal, judgment in the afterlife, I have a Judge who sees without bias. Comeuppance will be doled out! There will be a reckoning! Yet, to those who have placed their faith in the work of Christ, there will be grace. But wait, what about those who like me are guilty as sin? Will justice have been mocked if I receive grace? Will justice have been winked at? In no way! As I stand before the throne of God He will find me innocent and justified, not of my own merits, but because I stand drenched in the blood of Christ which absolves me from the eternal consequence of my guilt. Though my sins be as scarlet, He has washed me white as snow.

“Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”

You see, justice was meted out upon Christ, upon the Cross: “He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Justice was executed in Christ in order that I could be declared, and indeed, made innocent – redeemed!

Let the gavel drop. 

And thanks be to God for this indescribable gift of grace!

Pursued

With the Good Shepherd attending every step of our way, Psalm 23 has briskly progressed to its beautiful crescendo of the last verse – the promise of God’s eternal presence in our lives.

“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,  And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

The sheep’s journey, David’s journey, our journey has been described thus far as one with the Good Shepherd always close at hand.

The Lord is at the helm leading his sheep from the front while his attending measures of favor ensure success. God’s “goodness and his lovingkindness,” his grace and his mercy have been bringing up the rear, for on this pilgrimage we are as much in need of his graces as we are of his forgiveness.  These agencies of grace assure we will find our way home. 

Many of our Bible translations simply use the word “follow” to describe their actions in our journey, but in all truth, that word would communicate too passive a role. In fact, that word would be better communicated as “chased” or even better, “pursued.” The provision of God’s goodness and mercy is very intentional and engaged, to keep us moving in obedience in the correct direction – right on the heels of the Savior. So, what are these magnificent agents of grace?

Though they are not revealed specifically in these brief words, may I suggest that they are divinely appointed acolytes for our benefit? First and foremost, I would submit that the Holy Spirit is the primary person of that grace and mercy. The Silent Shepherd pursues, convicting, assuring, guiding, calming, always in faithful bearing. Also, the Word of God influences and informs our every step. Fellow sheep in the flock of God encourage us. And even nature, God’s revealed power reminds us of the amazing Shepherd we follow.

“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life!”

To those whose Shepherd is Christ, this pursuit takes place in the here and now as we navigate our earthly quest, our paths of righteousness. These blessed agents are commissioned to care for and see us to the end wherein the promise of presence, the promise in the presence of God will be enjoyed forever. 

Special Delivery! (Shepherd’s Echo)

Perhaps I am dating myself with this illustration, but when I was a kid there was a special truck that would come around on a regular basis; it was the Helms Bakery truck. It was a two-toned yellow truck that would move from street to street, sounding its distinctive whistle, offering the most special of fresh breads and treats. Their motto was, “Daily at your door.” Sometimes the products were still warm from the oven when they arrived. People would flag him down or chase him to adjacent streets for the opportunity to buy the loaves of bread that filled the shelves. I can still see the operator pulling out the looooong wooden drawers that would house the goods: donuts, pastries, and cookies. Anticipation would heighten the senses as the drawer came out ever farther. Ahhh! The smell of fresh bread! Where was the treat I would savor today?

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Tides of Theology

For the last several years it has been my privilege to attend the Evangelical Theological Society, a group of mostly like-minded individuals made up of professors, pastors, authors, theologians and laypeople alike. It is at this gathering that I am able to wade into the tides of theology in order to examine just what is occupying the great basin of Christian thought, what is percolating up from the deep, what is churning at the peripheries, and what has pressed its way from the banks of orthodoxy.

Most of what is found rests easy upon my soul; some is a little out there, some even provocative, some just as well done without. But, as the culture continues to impinge upon the Church it is necessary to grind things out. To rightly divide. To safeguard the sheep. So, some of that needs to happen at these events, but most is God-honoring, challenging fare to the building up the body. The encouragement is delivered through hundreds of papers and presentations, through personal engagement and through entities promoting their agendas in the Exhibition Hall. All in all, a great and stimulating experience.

Here’s my point: In its 71st year of existence some 2800 people came together to speak about God. From all around the world. 2800! A benchmark number thus far. And, these kinds of conferences are taking place all over the world.

In a world of charlatans, false shepherds and wolves, there are still many genuine shepherds who care for, and want to get it right. We do need to be aware, and actively engaged in protecting orthodoxy and the sheep. Tides do change, they ebb and flow. They need to be attended to, held in check, held in order; Heresies and false teaching need to be held at bay. There is a very real battle taking place between truth and lies. Theology needs to be moderated at the local church level, and at the greater level of the global church.

I can’t help but think of the councils of old, convened to parse out elements of Scripture, to define and refine the understanding of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” Though this modern-day convergence does not have the gravitas of those councils, nor the cohesiveness, it still serves in much the same spirit and capacity ­– to clarify, train, encourage, challenge and grow.

In Jeremiah 3:15 God said, “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” God was prophesying over His people Israel that at some point He would send people to instruct them according to the desire of His heart, not through the distorted lenses of darkened hearts. May I again apply that promise upon God’s people in Christ; God sent apostles to connect the dots from the prophets, and God continues to provide faithful evangelists and pastor-teachers to continue the task of instruction and edification – to the good of the flock, and the glory of God.

People still do care. Pray for the shepherds.

People are still coming to the Lord. Pray for the Church. 

God’s not done yet. Give glory to Him for His mercy endures forever.

My Cup Overflows

“My cup overflows.” Such are the words of the sheep David as he depicts the level of fulfillment granted by his good Shepherd. 

“My Cup overflows.” Three simple words, and yet, the imagery is profound; all of us can capture it. We can see it – a cup, a glass, a chalice, a goblet. Quite simply, the contents of the vessel cannot be contained. They abound, they push beyond the limits, they overflow, they spill over the rim. Divine measure exceeds its borders.

“My cup overflows.” Three simple words penned by the Psalmist, a shepherd himself who identifies as a simple sheep who journeys alongside the Good Shepherd. In Divine provision. In Divine peace. In Divine protection. In Divine presence. Divine Promise. One who sees that his life is, and will be filled with God’s divine favor. 

“My cup overflows.” To my chagrin, I must confess that I often live in a world which debates a half-full/half-empty status, when in truth no such “partial” vessel has ever existed. God’s glorious grace continuously spills over the brim. 

Any such perceived deficiencies are my contrivance. “Why can’t…?” “How come…?”  “When will…?” “Why not…?” “But, When…?” The list could go on. The cup, any cup examined through the lenses of these interrogations will eventually be found parched and wanting. Yet, in the midst of those “deficits,” grace is still there. Sufficient grace. 

As David has affirmed in Psalm 23:1, and the Sons of Korah in Psalm 84:11, those positioned under the Shepherd lack no good thing:

“The LORD is my shepherd, 
I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; 
The LORD gives grace and glory; 
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

Yes, so much clearer are the lenses of Scripture. 

“My cup overflows.” Three simple words which describe the cup of blessing, the abundance of God’s grace upon all of His sheep. We do well to recognize the level of abundant kindness which saturates our lives. 

“My cup overflows.” Three simple words, an affirmation of the sheep, that the Lord is his Shepherd and thus, there is no lack. The cup is a symbol of life, the cup of grace, filled to over-flowing. It is not, nor ever has been an issue of happy, but of contentment, peace, joy, and gratitude for the grace poured out.

The cup of grace:
The grace of provision.
The grace of peace.
The grace of protection.
The grace of presence.
The grace of promise.

My cup overflows.

One Came Back

The ten walked corporately, headed toward Jerusalem as they had been instructed to do so by the master. “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” He had told them. The months and years of a common malady had fomented the unlikely bond of despair between them.  And yet, as they were going, they were cleansed. Cleansed from years of leprosy, the debilitating numbness, loss of appendages, shame and social rejection; pushed to the margins of society, and loss of familial intimacy. 

Luke 17:15 says “Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back.” It’s hard to imagine what it would be like watching leprosy healed before your very eyes in the matter of a few steps, or even a few miles. One must wonder how this presented. Were open wounds closed? Were digits restored? Was the stench of rotting flesh divinely absent? We do not know, but the man knew…and he turned back. 

Only moments before the unlikely troupe from a distance ….cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” One may not recognize this at first glance, but when an entreaty to do something like this is directed to the Divine, it is called a prayer. All ten had assailed Jesus to deliver them from this walking death. All ten yearned to be healed. All ten desired to be restored to the warmth of affection and society. All ten “saw” that they had been healed. One turned back. 

He returns to Jesus, glorifying God with a loud voiceand he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. When one gives God the glory, when one falls on his face before the Master, when one thanks the Divine in an act like this, it is called worship

Disappointment is heard in the words of Jesus, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine — where are they? Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?’” Ten were healed, nine continued in their courses. One came back – a Samaritan. The math was easy…Ten had been spared a miserable death at the hands of this merciless disease, and yet, only one returned. The corresponding logical response was one of gratitude for this act of mercy. Only one knelt before the Giver of life. 

Jesus had seen their pain. He had honored their request, as only a Divine sovereign could do. He did not, He would not force their gratitude – that needed to be voluntary.

“And He said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.’”

It’s hard to discern the level of blessing conferred in these words. Was Jesus dismissing him and affirming that his faith had healed him physically? Or, was Jesus stating that the man had gained the greater blessing to see that Jesus was the healer of his life on a higher, eternal level? My understanding is the latter, that salvation through faith was granted.

Ten were healed, one came back. 
Ten were healed, one was saved. 
Ten were healed. One would join Him in Eternity. 

Always good to ask the Divine. Always good to acknowledge His hand. Always good to come back and worship Him for who He is, and what He has done.  

Any Given Monday

On any given Sunday churches gather all over America and around the globe to worship God, to celebrate the great gift of God to man – Christ Jesus, and His redemption made available to a host of sinners. Songs are sung. Prayers are given. And sermons are preached by myriads of pastors pouring out the fruit of their week-long harvests in the Word. On any given Monday across America and the globe will follow pastoral doubt. 

Yes, Mondays will find many Pastors in their studies questioning their very calling, and roles in ministry. Their preaching abilities. Their vision. Even examining their zeal to carry on. 

“Why am I here?” 
“Why did that family leave?”
“Did I say something wrong?” 
“Why don’t my words seem to have any affect upon nominal holiness?”
“Couldn’t you find someone better, Lord?”

Attacks from outside the Church, from the inside of the Church, and from within the individual are legion and seem only to increase. It is no surprise that pastoral resignations and even suicides seem to top out…yes, on Mondays. At times, it seems a wonder at all that pastors still pastor. 

Both missives to Timothy by the hand of Paul seem to be addressing this very dilemma; they are letters of encouragement to a “Monday” pastor.

By the language employed throughout both letters, Paul is destined to nurture Timothy to guard his faith, guard his doctrine, and feed the sheep – to remain in his calling as shepherd in Ephesus. 

In the initial verses of 2 Timothy 1 Paul presents wonderful encouragement to his protégé.

“For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

The picture presented is one of a pastor whose tank is nearing “empty.” In 1 Timothy 4:14 Paul and the elders have ordained Timothy for service in Ephesus. I would think Timothy was excited to change the world for the glory of God. Yet in the course of time, through the battering and the long dry roads, that zeal has settled; the fire has been reduced to the mere remains of a few glowing embers. Paul commands Timothy to “kindle afresh” the gift within him, the ministry to which he was called. The picture is an exhortation to place a few pieces of wood back onto the embers, and with a little breath fuel the fire again. 

The reasoning is found in the following verse: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” 

Swindoll promotes that the word spirit in the NASB should be capitalized Spirit, as the reference is to the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer – to this I would agree. The “fuel” with any given leader, or Christian is not their own energy, or drive, or talent, it is, it must be the presence of the Living God within. Sometimes, even the most adept forget this. 

We do not have a compromised, timid, insecure Spirit who has taken up residency within us, we enjoy the presence of the Sovereign, omnipotent Divine.

The astute shepherd remembers the strength drawn upon is not our own. And the well is continually returned to for refreshment, to kindle afresh our ministerial fervor. From this Spirit we draw power, love, and discipline. 

Power– the supernatural ability to carry out the work of God. The same power of the hand of God who created the universe, the micro, the macro, the intricacies of life itself. There is something about authority in those words.

Love– Agape love, the desire and ability to place the spiritual well-being of others above the needs and wants of yourself; a kindness and a generosity that is divinely compelled. The Holy Spirit is all about glorifying God, pointing the way to Jesus – We are only able to love the unlovable as He is loving people through each and everyone of us.

Discipline. The will to remain a disciple. The “Stick-to-it-ive-ness” to keep yourself upon the alter. To have the Divine perspective to buffet your human desires. To allow God to cut clear down to the marrow in sanctification because the desire of self is to crawl off of the altar, to do something easier, certainly something easier than ministry. 

How many of us have found ourselves on any given Monday questioning our call to ministry? Scraping the bottom of the barrel in order to find direction and motivation? 

Could He find someone “better”? The answer in all certainty is, “Yes.” But, He chose you. And before He called you He knew your frailties, and He still chose you for the task. 

God may have called us to desperation, but it is a desperation to be focused upon Him. To think we can do it in humility absent the power of God Himself greatly undermines our success. To those who would expect to “make it” from the depths of their own wells, ministry will be dry in no time.  

To those who have been called, and chosen to walk the path of vocational ministry, the applause of Heaven awaits you (1 Peter 5:4).

To those who surrender their lives to the work of the Kingdom, there is nothing more noble.

To those, all those who choose to live for Christ under the weight of persecution, the fruit of your witness is eternal. 

“‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). 

More Than Conquerors

In my mind, 2018 will go down as the year of the offended, the “year of the victim.” How many people I heard lament that they were offended by this, that or the other thing. By something. By everything. By Someone, by everyone. Everyone seemed to be crying “foul!” “I am a victim.”  “Ouch! I am hurt.” “Somebody was mean to me! I didn’t get what I wanted.”  “It was somebody else’s fault.”

On social media. In the news. In the coffeehouses. There was the lament that life had simply gotten the better of them. I wish I could say that it ended on December 31st, but it didn’t; that victim status lingers and has oozed right on into 2019.  To be honest, I for one, have heard enough. 

I wish I could say that Christians were exempt from this sort of talk, but we are not. I am becoming increasingly concerned the evangelical witness is absorbing the posture of the secular world; one of victimization, rather than conqueror

True, Jesus said that we would be persecuted (John 15:20). And though it’s not bad to understand that, when we let it steal our hope, when we stride with heads down, we miss what the good Lord has for us.

When presented with adversities, we can respond along a spectrum of ways.  On one end is what I would call the Constant Victim Status (CVS)…Simply stated this is the mindset of looking through the lenses that life is out to get you, has gotten you, and will continue to do so; sort of an Eeyore mentality. At the other extreme is knowing and believing that we are more than conquerors, that the “game,” the battle has already been won. God is the Victor, and we are on the winning side. 

In Romans 8:31-39, Paul asks a flurry of questions regarding the indisputable, truth which is still real even in the face of adversity, truth of our security in Christ. 

Rom. 8:31  “What then shall we say to these things? If Godisfor us, whoisagainst us? 32He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

36        Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”

37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Though we live in a fallen world, though we are dying – being put to death, we are not victims, never will be, never victims. We are no longer separated from God, but are enveloped in the love of God in Christ. We have never been called to be victims of culture. We may be persecuted, but we are not victims of anyone; let us walk in that truth. Choosing to live in another posture is choosing to live below our privileges in Christ. 

Even in the midst of adversity, God has His hand on us, and He uses those “abrasions” as implements in the Potter’s hands – as articles to refinement. Earlier in Romans Paul confirms that God is always at work in the great process of our sanctification, and sometimes trials are a part of that course.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestinedto become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

Sometimes discomfort. Sometimes pain. Undergoing the process of sanctification, but never victim.

Brothers and sisters, the war has been won; we are simply engaged in the peripheral battle. The supreme prize has already come our way, at least in part as we are the recipients of a restored relationship with God through the blood of Christ. And, nothing! Nothing will be able to chisel a division between Him and us.

I don’t mean to degrade the difficulties of life, any pain or loss, but when we have a choice to waddle in the mire or not, we should choose to identify as those who overwhelmingly conquer. What sets us apart, or what should set us apart is the assurance, the confidence of being in the camp of the redeemed.

Next time you feel a bout of the selfies coming on, roll around in these verses a bit; they are like catnip for the soul. They remind us of all that is already ours in the heavenly places. We are more than conquerors, we are sons and daughters of the King, the victorious King.

The victory is already yours. Seize it!

Pharisee!

Have you ever met a Pharisee? Stop and think about it. Have you ever met, or maybe even engaged with a Pharisee? I am sure for some of us we would answer, “Well, of course not! They went extinct sometime after the time Jesus walked the earth…Didn’t they?” Or maybe, “I think I saw one once in a museum, next to the Dodo Bird, the Duck-billed Platypus, and the Saber Tooth Lion.”

Yet, I would contend, that if you have been in the church for any amount of time, you have indeed crossed paths with a genuine, walking talking, blood pumping, fire-breathing, real-life Pharisee. I know I have. 

We have had, and this side of glory we will continue to have those legalists, those who would impose burdens upon others that they themselves are not willing to carry. Those great impostors of the faith who will impose their graceless theology upon the weak, in order to honor their “lord.” They know Scripture passages pretty well. They have a response. They argue well. And they are bold as all get out. 

The reason that I contend you have met a Pharisee and that you didn’t know it is because they looked everything like a sheep – they looked like one of the flock. In Matthew 7:15, Christ says of them,“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Hmm. So, are we doomed because we cannot even identify the enemy? Um, no. Not quite.

They arein camouflage, but, plenty is written in Scripture regarding these nemeses – allow me to point out just three identifying characteristics:

They Bear Bad Fruit
Theirs is a Barren Lot

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thornbushesnor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

Christ says in Matthew 7:16-20 that Pharisees produce no good fruit–no godly fruit. He does not say that they fail to produce any fruit–just that their fruit is nothing good. Any fruit produced is unproductive in the Kingdom, and ineffective to further the cause of Christ. In fact, they have no ability to produce, or bear fruit of any redemptive nature. 

Just as is communicated in John 15, any branch which is not connected to the vine will not bear fruit.

They are Graceless
Theirs is a Powerless Gospel”

“…Therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they saythingsand do not dothem.They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much asa finger” (Matthew 23:3-4).

The passage in Matthew tells us that they hold to a double standard. They strain to hold others to a standard to which they themselves are unwilling to submit. We would call them hypocrites. They would impose a moral code which, in the end, would save no one. They forsake the grace of the Gospel. 

They Exalt Themselves
They seek maximum publicity of their Holiness”

Matthew 6:5 warns, “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the streetcornersso that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

“But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tasselsof their garments.They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues” (Matthew 23:5-6).

They broadcast their high level of understanding.
They promote their works of charity and righteousness.
They long to be seen doing religious things.
They are eager to drop names of their prominent “friends.”
They freely announce their exhaustive long hours of prayer before the throne of God. 

Matthew 23 presents a fuller profile of these thorns underfoot and their attending woes. Fruitless, graceless, sanctimonious showboats. In short, they are unhealthy, unaccountable, unteachable, and subversive. That is why Christ cautions to beware the false prophets, the ravenous wolves – Pharisees! They are out there. You rub shoulders with them. Sit near them. In fact, they are indeed all around us. They are anything but extinct.

One last thing I should point out about Pharisees…they are convinced that they are doing good, and in the camp of the redeemed…They are not! 

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heavenwill enter.Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Yes, you have met them strewn throughout the Church. They vie for leadership in the Church. They are vessels of destruction. And they themselves do not recognize that they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Beware!
“…for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance” (Mark 13:22-23).

And we are warned! Let’s be careful out there!

Saturated!

Okay, I am finally ready to admit that I am operating on the brink, in the red zone, well above the sustainable recommended RPM’s. More and more gets added to my plate, and though I have sufficient energy, I know that I can only merit a “B rating” on achievement. Much gets produced, while some falls to the side. Dozens of daily emails demand more than a token response or simple dismissal. I continue to receive weekly or daily email simply because I wanted to read an article years ago. Aahhh!

My life is saturated: I have to ask the questions, “Do you merit the real estate of my inbox?” Or, “The space on my desk?”

Add to that the demands of regular mail. Packages. People. Cars. Family. Projects. Work. And they all add up to being saturated

Saturate: “to treat, furnish, or charge with something to the point where no more can be absorbed, dissolved, or retained; to load to capacity; from the Latin saturmeaning well fed.” When I think of saturated, I think of a sponge held under a faucet, or immersed into a bucket of water until it can accommodate no more – water then just runs over it. 

As a more comedic illustration…let’s take Lucy and Ethyl working at the chocolate factory. At risk of losing their jobs if they do not succeed, their mandate is to wrap candies progressing on a conveyor belt before arriving at the packing room. The scene evolves with the chocolates coming ever faster. Try as they may the women cannot process all of the candies. They stuff them into their mouths, their dresses, and their hats in a futile effort keep the chocolates from entering the next room unwrapped. But they cannot, the task is more than humanly possible; they are over-saturated.

Saturated. Okay, so it’s not exactly a theological word, per se, but it does identify a theological malady. 

In Luke 8:7, “Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.” And later, in Luke 8:14 “The seedwhich fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of thislife, and bring no fruit to maturity.”

As opposed to being consumed by the strangles of life, Paul encourages Timothy to “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12).

Near the end of his first letter to his protégé, Paul focuses on that which is most important – to take hold of eternal life. The exhortation is that Timothy would seize, or grab hold of the eternal life which is already his. The picture encouraged is one of embracing eternal life with both hands. Paul is calling Timothy back to his divine calling and reminder of his confession of faith – eternal life! 

In John 17:3, Jesus defines this life: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”—It seems clear the exhortation is to grasp fully onto to the life you have received in Christ!

Unlike a child, who attempts to hold something in one hand and pursue “something else” with the other, this exhortation is to grab on with both hands – Two-fisted – not taking it for granted. Paul uses the word Agonizomai, which means “Fight!”… not because it might slip away, or be stolen away, but in order to relentlessly pursue the true value of such a gift.

As Christians we were called (summoned by God), and have confessed Christ as Savior in our lives. And still, our lives are filled to the brim. Saturated! We are sponges, yet we absorb only so much. Hopefully, we don’t fall for the myth that things will slow down someday. In the midst of an ever-demanding world it is good to take inventory.

What is vying for your time, and for your soul? Emails? Life? Things? Knowledge? Chocolates? 

So, what will we do? With a sponge which is waterlogged? With a saturated Life? 

Here are three options I can see:

Option #1: We could leave it alone, thinking it’ll take care of itself… someday…Let me know how that one works out for ya!

Option #2: Get a bigger sponge. This one is a little more proactive, though just as ineffective in providing any long-term solution; even a bigger sponge will fill back up quickly under the constant flow of life.

Option #3: Wring it out. Squeezing out a few of the thorns seems the likely solution in order to guard what is important, to secure space for the priceless gift.

Life comes at you fast. It seems like Kindergarten was only yesterday, then college, and suddenly we’re looking at 60, 70, or 80. We are going to need to be intentional. 

Are we taking hold of our eternal life with both hands? Do we spend time pursuing Christ? Or, is it getting choked out in the Red Zone?

Don’t forget that which is most precious to you as it was to Timothy – Christ!

“He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him behonor and eternal dominion! Amen” (1 Timothy 6:16).

May we honor Him, and may He have eternal dominion over our lives from this day on, for evermore!

Savor eternal life now!

The Divine Shepherd

Hey All,

Today I celebrate the beginning of my third year of The Shepherd’s Pen blog. The first year we offered 5 posts a week. Year 2 we offered The Shepherd’s Echo on Wednesday-a reposting of a previously published theshepherdspen, and a new post on Saturday. As the third year begins, we will still offer a Shepherd’s Echo on Wednesday, however, the new posts will come maybe a little less often.

I know that your time is valuable and that there is an endless supply of things to read out there–so,  I do appreciate your making TheShepherdsPen part of your digital fare.

Today’s post is a video (my first video blog) of a sermon on Psalm 23…Hopefully, you know how I feel about that text!

Hope you enjoy!

“The Divine Shepherd” on YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIZjQvDvmC4

Just One Question (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Just One Question (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Somebody Blinked

I remember a “game” I used to play as a kid, and in fact still get drawn into it every once in a while with a child; it is the game of stare off. The premise is that two individuals lock gazes until one of them blinks, the implication being that the one who outlasts the other is in some capacity superior–they have won. Sometimes, hands are flung toward the eyes of the opponent in order to force them to prematurely blink, but usually the session ends in short order as one of the two blinks out of necessity or desire, none the worse for wear in the scheme of life, except the surrender of bragging rights. “Ha, ha, you blinked.”

Perhaps, this amusement was an extension of the gunfights at high noon on Main Street in the Old West. The one who blinked first triggered the event. 

Today, most would find little value in this game, at least beyond childhood. Can you imagine such a match at a corporate level? Or adults locking into an all-out engagement at a dinner party? Yet, it seems as though we as Christians have inadvertently been drawn into such a challenge, this time by our culture, yet it is one of a higher gravity-it is the premise that we are engaged in a truth staring contest, with much more on the line–the idea of truth and character. 

Since the beginning man has been embattled in this arena-Adam blinked. The Church has long been locked in this battle with the surrounding culture, and at times too, we have blinked. Christians promote the understanding of God’s Truth; and the culture their version of reality. Over the course of centuries, bouts have endured, with ceded victories on both sides. Often, sadly the people of God continue to blink. We are no less engaged in this great war today. 

Christians have embraced a load of truths and values, and promote them as life. Yet, the church is on display, and the culture is watching us to see if we will abide by that truth we proclaim. Our truth is either confirmed or denied by the life we live. We blink when we begin to surrender our position of Biblical truth. 

The list of casualties of those who have claimed to belong to Christ is massive. Their failures, and our failures, do a disservice to the cause of Christ. 

“But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

Our truth, the greatest sacred trust of the church is the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we forget, or when we neglect to care for and promote this divine treasure as our highest ideal, we have lost sight of our primary call to the world. 

True, just as Paul communicates to the Thessalonians, this may not always be a popular message to our culture, and it may be poorly received, however, our higher mandate is to serve the Lord, to please the Lord as one who knows our hearts. As I have said before, the truth we proclaim will either be confirmed or denied by the lives we live. And the world looks on. Will they hear the true Gospel? Will they hear that precious treasure which has been entrusted to us?

He was revealed in the flesh–God incarnate.
He was vindicated by the Spirit–His work on the cross was justified.
His was the work which reconciled man to God.
His was the blood which took away sin. 
His work was witnessed by the angels, only His work can save.
His Gospel is to be preached to the nations.
His Gospel brings life to the world. No other name will do so.
His Gospel must be embraced. 
And Christ has taken His seat at the right hand of the Father…in glory!

This is the single greatest sacred message which the Church has been given. That is God’s Truth; That is your truth church! Guard it. Don’t Blink. Don’t ever Blink! 

Culture wants to win, for us to accept its ideology. We want to “win” as well; not that we are looking for bragging rights, but we do want to see God’s truth reign supreme. After all, we are the pillar of such truth. 

Still, the question remains, “Who will blink?”

The Gold Star

I remember the days of Sunday School. I loved it! Bible stories and singing. Friends. Cookies and punch! Sometimes, I would score the ever-coveted gold star. Somehow intended to communicate exemplary behavior, it merely indicated that I was there, not that my heart had changed, or that I had moved in a direction of obedience or love, but that I was there. Maybe even, that I had learned a verse, but again not that a change had taken place in me. Still, I was happy to get the stellate recognition, though my motives may have been suspect.

As we get a little bit older, and hopefully a little bit wiser, we are able to assess the motives for our actions, and we can truly ask the question, “Why do I go to church?” Are we still searching for the “Gold Star” of sorts?

It’s Sunday morning and you make your way to church. Your usual parking space. The old familiar building, your old familiar seat. And the same people up front, doing what they seem to do every week.

“So, why am I here?”
Why do you come to church, and why do you come to this church?
Do you come to worship God?
Do you seek the full counsel of God?
Do you seek to follow Jesus?
Have you prepared to be here today?
Have you been speaking to God as to how He may soften your heart?
Do you come here for a blessing?
Do you come here to worship the King of Creation?
Do you truly desire to be conformed to the image of Christ?
Have you prepared to be here?
Have we even opened the Bible in the last week?
Public recognition? In quest of the Gold Star?

We may be a little fuzzy on why drives us in through the doors. Sometimes, I think we forget that we are seeking to enter just a little bit more into the glory of God. Everything we do, or should do is under the banner of giving glory to God.

Some do come to worship. Some come to fellowship. To serve. To learn. Others don’t know why they come.

It’s sort of a given: We come to worship the King of Glory.

So you may ask yourself…
How much church do I need? How much is the right amount? Well, that is a question each individual needs to ask themselves.
Is one hour enough?
Can 1 hour during the week affect the remaining 167 hours?
Is one hour of exalting the Divine Shepherd sufficient?
Is that all you need to be conformed to the image of Christ?

The greater question is am I worshipping God the entire week. Am I ready, willing and eager to worship Him with everything that I have?

God isn’t handing out gold stars for attendance and minimal engagement. He isn’t “grading” based on being on time, bringing our Bible, or the size of our offering in the basket. He isn’t grading on a curve. He is offering eternal intimate relationship with Him to those who have been covered in the blood of Christ, His Son.

Come to worship the Shepherd of your soul, the One who has redeemed you from the dead, the One who has declared you holy, the One who raises you to life eternal.

Gold stars are not always bad, but of all the reasons to make your way to any given church, may I suggest that you consider worship of your loving God as the highest good of your presence. Consider a heart yielded to Him the greatest gift you have to bring.

Psa. 146:1          Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!
2       I will praise the LORD while I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
3       Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
4       His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
5       How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the LORD his God,
6       Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them,
Who keeps faith forever;
7       Who executes justice for the oppressed,
Who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free.

Psa. 146:8          The LORD opens the eyes ofthe blind;
The LORD raises up those who are bowed down;
The LORD loves the righteous,
9       The LORD protects the strangers;
He supports the fatherless and the widow,
But He thwarts the way of the wicked.
10     The LORD will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!

My Shepherd

The Lord is my Shepherd.
The truth of such a statement is life.
The implications of such a truth are legion:
The sovereign Lord of all creation is watching over me.
He is my leader and my deliverer.
I have chosen to follow Him.
He feeds me.
He leads me.
I am a sheep of His pasture; He has called me into His flock.
He knows me.
He knows my name, and I know His.
Yahweh is my Shepherd.
He has taken care of all of my needs.
Never once has this sheep gone untended.
By His grace, He brought me into the Fold.
He walks with me.
He delivers me from evil.
He has pursued relationship with me.
His Spirit lives within me.
Life, abundant life and relationship are mine.
In all this He glorifies Himself.
I am secure. For all eternity, I am secure.
I will forever be His sheep.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).

The Creed

In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul addresses the Church as “the pillar and support of the truth.” The pillar raises high, and the support upholds the certain treasure of truth; the question must be asked, “What is that truth which is resting on top?” May I suggest that it is the singular greatest “creed” that we could embrace regarding the work and person of Christ? Like a beautiful ring housing a pearl of great price, the Church is commended to be the assigned steward of this truth; Paul communicates this great creed in verse 16.

Paul returns to that body, that corpus of knowledge of truth which is resting upon the Church, and supported by the Church. He doesn’t just assert that the Church is a pillar with truth on top, but here, he affirms that truth as the magnitude of the person and the work of Jesus Christ. Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives us a beautiful Christology, a beautiful array of Christological affirmations. It is a confession. It is a statement of faith, and this one is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God to be in Scripture. It is a creedal statement that unites all true believers, it is that which binds us together, and it is a reminder of what is to remain on top of the pillar.

The Creed:
“By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness. He who was revealed in the flesh was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world and taken up in glory.”

Paul says, “By common confession.” This is what Christians believe, true Christians, but before the creed, he states, “Great is the mystery of godliness.” I wrestled with what that says, “the mystery of godliness.”

I think it is the unfathomability that God would love me. There is a mystery there, why an all-perfect, all holy God would reach down to broken mankind. There is a mystery. Why would God do that for me? I am low. He is high. What would cause an almighty God to do that? And that’s a mystery, but a mystery answered in Christ. If we could even fathom our total depravity and how offensive our sin is before God, we would be humbled by the fact that God loves us more than any sin we’ve ever performed.

He loved us so much that He sent His Son. What kind of a God does that? One who so loves His creation. He desires to restore this broken creation to the original blueprint–such is the mystery of godliness. The plan of redemption of God required that Jesus become like us. God accomplished that as He sent Christ. Paul, in verse 16, gives the shortest account of the Gospel and speaks to the entire redemptive work of Jesus Christ as Savior. You want to memorize a good verse this week? First, Timothy 3:16 is a good candidate–it’s the life of Christ; it’s the purpose of Christ. It affirms the Deity of Christ.

“He who was revealed in the flesh.” I hope you see the incarnation here. At some point–the fullness of time, Jesus Christ is introduced into His creation. John 1 confirms this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Verse 14 says, “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” People looked upon Christ and saw God. It’s the idea of Christmas. Yes, it’s the idea of flesh and bone God. It is the hundred percent man, hundred percent God. It’s a demonstration of God’s love to His creation.

“He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit.” Such brief words that I believe speak to the sacrifice, the quality of Christ, the obedience of Christ, the innocence of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It speaks to the affirmation of God upon His Christ, His anointed One, from the baptism, to the scourging, to being nailed upon the altar of the cross, to bleeding, to death, and the atonement as the blood of Christ is offered up in the Holy of Holies, and to His resurrection; He truly was justified in the Spirit.

We praise God. We thank God the work of Christ was acceptable. Christ was purposed to redeem the fallen elect, and there was one way to do that. Christ says, “Into your hands, I commit My Spirit” (Luke 23:46). His work was justification for my sin. For your sin. He who was revealed in the flesh was vindicated in the Spirit and seen by angels. Could be that he’s talking about this work of Christ being observed by angels? Amazing! The angels were clued into some wonders taking place.

Peter talks about these angels observing the whole plan of redemption was taking place. It had been announced.  It was put into place. It had been decided before the foundation of the world, but the idea, the understanding of what was to be given to man had been long-prophesied in the Garden in Genesis 3:15. The seed of the woman would bruise Satan. Peter speaks to this salvation, “The prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries.” The prophets are trying to figure out how this redemption is going to take place, how God is going to redeem the fallen.

Peter continues, “seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which have, which now have been announced to you through those who preached the Gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven­–things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

These angels we’re witnessing God’s plan of redemption unveiled. They seemed privy to the plan of redemption to some degree, but it says “things into which angels long to look.” The writing seems to describe their anticipation. “When’s redemption going to happen? Is it now? Is it happening now?!” The terminology paints the picture of angels leaning forward, overflowing with anticipation. They’re excited about how redemption is going to take place, and they’re watching this. They have a front row seat if you will, and they want to turn to the last page of the book. Paul simply says, Christ is seen by angels, but there was an audience in the spiritual realm that was observing–Angels. Privileged to see the plan of redemption unfold.

Paul says, “He’s proclaimed among the nations.” That is the simple gospel call going forth. It is the evangelistic efforts that are conducted through the Church to get people to hear the good news. Paul announces, “He is believed on in the world.” That’s the fruit of redemption.

That is what Christ came to bear–the fruit of reconciliation, redemption, restoration; “believed on in the world” is the response of the elect. Again, as the Spirit is convicting the world in regards to sin and righteousness and judgment, the soil of the heart is prepared. And the Gospel goes forth, and it finds purchase in the soil of the heart. It germinates, and there is regeneration or new life that takes place in the heart of that individual. Paul finishes this creed. He says that Christ is “taken up in glory.” Christ receives back the glory that was His before the world began (John 17:5). Such few words describe the coronation of Christ to His deserved place of glory at the right hand of the Father.

The truth of the Church is not necessarily a physical Bible, but it is the truth of Christ contained in the Bible regarding the person and the work of Jesus Christ. The truth is on top of us, it is on the pillar of the household of God. The light is the truth to be communicated to the world. It’s not academics. It’s not programs. It’s not a carnival. It’s not ice cream sundaes. The light on the hill is the truth of Christ. We are the pillar that shines the light of the way to redemption. God has placed us in a really privileged position, and in a strategically important place.

It is sad to see how many churches support something other than the truth of God, something other than this confession as the number one priority of the Church–Nothing should replace this good news. What we bring to the world stage is the opportunity to hear the Gospel of redemption through Jesus Christ.

He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.

That is my Christ. That is your Christ.

These words are the dividing line of humanity. Every single person will land on one side of this confession or the other. No programs, no books, no news, or service will preempt the value of this creed, of this work of Jesus Christ.

It’s one of the most beautiful of Christological creeds, affirming who Christ is, and what He has done for our benefit. If you have placed your faith in Christ and in His finished work, if you embrace the truth of these words, He is your Christ.

The Beacon of Truth

The character of the Church is always on display!

In the midst of a letter of instruction and encouragement to his young protégé, Timothy, Paul issues a very beautiful reminder of what the Church is, how we find ourselves there, and our mission as a Body of believers.

“I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 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” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

The Church itself is the household of God, where the elect, those who have been called, house the divine.

Who we are. How we were placed there. And our purpose…

In 1 Timothy 3:15, communicates our function asthe household of God. He references a pillar.  What’s a pillar? Well, a pillar is something upon which something rests. Paul is speaking in a metaphor here. What is the metaphor? What is the pillar of what he speaks? It’s the Church of Jesus Christ. It is the corporate church. It is the universal church. Paul says our mission, the mission of all the other Christian churches in town and across the world… our mission is to be a pillar and support of the truth. A support is something which sustains, that holds up. A pillar is something that exalts and holds high the truth. The household of God is commended to be the custodian of truth– the pillar and support of truth.

When we think of a pillar, we don’t think of a two-foot pillar; do we? We don’t think of a four-foot pillar. We think of a pillar that is tall, 20, 30, 60 feet tall, and whatever’s on top of that pillar can be seen from miles around.

If you looked at some of the pictures of pillars in antiquity, you see that they’re often made up of many stones. They’re stacked one upon each other and they’re tapered down. As they climb taller and taller, they become more and more slender. The craftsmanship of those pillars was extraordinary, and oftentimes you couldn’t stick a piece of paper between each stone because the joint was so smooth. It was honed because of the craftsmanship. Peter speaks of these kinds of stones–worked stones. We are the household of the living God. We are living stones in the household of God. Beautiful imagery of a pillar that is going high into the sky, and upon that pillar is truth.

Paul is writing to the Ephesians, people that live in Ephesus, and just outside of town, there is a temple; it is a temple that was dedicated to the goddess Diana. It was a massive temple, 1.6 times larger than a modern football field. Think about how big that is. There were 127 columns utilized to suspend that temple, but you know what was perched on top of those pillars?

Lies: a false way of understanding God.

These people had a clear visual of what Paul was communicating. Over time, all of those pillars in the temple of Diana came down, all except for one which still stands. Two of those 127 pillars were taken from that temple and used to construct another building that was called the Hagia Sophia–the sacred wisdom, sacred truth; it was used as a cathedral to God, and then subsequently taken over by Muslims and once again, held lies on top of those pillars. It’s now a museum with those two pillars still standing, offering little more than architectural wonder.

Yet, a pillar speaks of stability. A pillar speaks of visibility. It’s the idea of consistency, and reliability, and resiliency of steadfastness.

The Church of Jesus Christ is the column where truth is held. It has been conferred by God, and we have the privilege of communicating this to each other, and to the world around us. The Church then is the holder of truth. Other religions are lies. Do I dare say that in the kind of politically correct world we live in? All other religions are lies? Sounds a little bit exclusive, Kelly. Well, it is very exclusive. There’s only one way under Heaven, one name under Heaven by which men can be saved, and that is through the name of Jesus Christ, through the blood of Jesus Christ. Do you understand how important it is that as we are on display, and our character is on display, that we are abiding in Christ?

Other religions get some stuff right sometimes, but how often is something just a little bit wrong? They leave something essential out. Maybe it’s the deity of Christ. Maybe it’s the correct understanding the depravity of mankind. Maybe it’s the idea of an eternal Hell or consequence or punishment for sin, or the truth of one true God, and only one God, and the love that He has for the world. When you leave one piece of God’s truth out, somebody gets left behind. We should feel a little bit of a burden as we are the supporting agency, and we are responsible for transmitting truth to the world.

Yeah, our conduct is always on display. Our truth is always on display.

Our truth is held high for all to see. If our action is not in alignment with the truth that we profess, we should rightly be called to account by those around us. What is sad is how often something else is erroneously replacing truth upon the pillar of the Church, or what is perceived to be the Church by the surrounding community. How careless some have been over the years, over the centuries to place something else upon the pillar of the household of God. Something like science, something like money, something like prosperity, something like self, something like academics.

Or, maybe even the Social Gospel. How many churches have we seen just die because they placed the Social Gospel as something of greater importance than the gospel of Jesus Christ that saves people from their sin? If we offer someone a cup of cold water, or a meal without taking the opportunity to introduce them to their Creator and how they can be set right with Him, then we’re just giving them a cup of water. Is it bad? No, it’s not bad, but getting them that cup of water might be an opportunity that you would be granted an audience to listen to the love that God has for them. How often are good works paraded on top of the pillar? How often do we put accomplishments up there instead of the truth? How often do we put a cultural event or an aspiration? The truth that rests upon the pillar of the household of God is not a program. It’s not the newest most popular book. It’s the truth of salvation found only by faith in the finished work of Christ.

We are on display, Church…

Without Fanfare

“And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:27-28).

These are the words of Christ as He was announcing the only true measure of atonement which would be yielded for the lost of the world. He was describing the foundation for those to come to eternal life through the work, the blood of Jesus upon the Cross. The divine covenant would be the only basis upon which salvation would be granted.

He is the Christ, the Son of living God, and upon this rock, upon this fact He would build His Church, and He has faithfully continued to do so for nearly 2000 years.

Certainly, He has accomplished this through many privileged notables, unlikely vessels through which He would be glorified.

They would include:
His group of followers inspired by the Holy Spirit who would pen the words of God.

People, in the early centuries, with hard-to-pronounce names in faraway places which were hard-to-pronounce as well, studying, investing, pressing, yearning to parse the truth.

Men in long robes, and dusty places vetting proper theology in council settings.

Lives willingly surrendered at the stakes by edicts of unholy alliances.

The reformation years introduced some agents with a passion to return to the orthodoxy surrendered through some pretty dark ages.

Modern-day dynamos have helped to forge His Church through remarkable evangelistic efforts, missional efforts pioneering into hostile lands to share this great message.

Pastors in small hamlets across this blue ball would be building up through discipleship, so that more and more would be equipped to build up, more and more.

Yet, we would be remiss if we counted even this as the full corporate effort, or the full Body of Christ at work. More fruit would come through writing. Through art. Through music. Through prayer. Through encouragement. Through caring. Through meetings. Through cooking. Through revival. Through service. Through every open door of opportunity through which willing servants of Christ could be faithful communicators of the greatest truth for man. Not all work in the Kingdom takes place on Sunday.

How often did the redeemed serve in the dark alleys and byways, in seemingly forgotten lands, in disease infested shallows and narrows, at personal peril or loss of life? And how often did the faithful serve with little fanfare, absent the spotlight? What portion of grace is poured out through His Body 7 days a week!

The little Church in which I serve is one such extension of that grace. Service to the glory of God is taking place all through the week in order to serve the Body of Christ. People serving people. People teaching people. People feeding people. People loving people. People loving Christ. People behind the scenes being the Body of Christ to the glory of God…without fanfare.

Nearly a year ago Bishop Creek became stewards of a building, an outpost in Bishop so-to-speak from which to serve in our little corner of the world. It was a building constructed by people I never knew, and I can only dream of meeting in Heaven. A beautiful building cared for by many saints still living whom I know today. I applaud all those efforts. And it is now our privilege to act as custodians of this grand edifice. But buildings age, and this one was in need of greater “love” than many of us had to yield; it was over-whelming. We had need of grace.

And Christ was still building His Church.

A few months back I received an email. A blanket email from an unknown source, a youth pastor in Colorado asking if his youth group could serve in a summer missions’ trip in any capacity. Hmmm. Was this spam? I found out later that this email went out to 40-50 churches. He had prayed that the one church whom they were to serve would respond…and only one church responded…

Now, I am not saying that we were the most deserving. I am not saying that we were the only ones in need, or that we were even the one with the most need, but we did have need.

Long story short: this last week we were the recipients of a full outpouring of God’s grace through this sister church in Greely, Colorado as a caravan of vehicles made their way to sleepy Bishop, to serve a part of the Body of Christ whom they had never met. Junior high, and high-schoolers engaged in all sorts of things imaginable. Time and space would fail me to list the width and breadth of service, but over 2000 manhours were poured out in service of every kind to our little family. Tedious. Exhausting. Mundane. Hard. We were not forgotten. And it was all to the glory of Christ. All without fanfare. Just the Body of Christ serving the Body of Christ.

No special brick in the side walk. No plaque on any wall. No marching bands to announce their arrival or departure. No Reporters. No confetti. No public accolades from dignitaries. Yet, the Father of all Creation saw it all – That was the desire all along.

This little church from another state had desired to leave His mark wherever they went, that the community of Bishop might somehow see the light of Christ a little clearer than before.  They lived out the verse in Colossians which says:

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17).

And, they lived out the mandate to honor God with all the glory in the simplest of circumstances.

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

I preach grace – I just have trouble receiving grace. This week I had no choice. The imposition of grace was undeniable. Quite an example was issued by many young servants in the church. Servants which could have been doing anything else but spending their time in labor to others.

I am humbly reminded of the grace God extends to each one of us on a daily basis. I am blessed by the grace He lavished over me through His Son. I am reminded to do that for His glory as He continues to build His Church. I am reminded of my call to extend that grace to the world around me. And I am reminded to do that carefully, to do that…without fanfare.

The Divine Straight

God has a way of doing things…perfectly. Everything God has done, is doing, and will do, is perfect. There have never been any misgivings in the mind of God, no second-guessing; God has never done anything which is contrary to the nature of God. God has always done everything in perfect accordance with His divine will– this is what I refer to as the Divine Straight

When we understand God’s will in any particular arena, we understand the Divine Straight. We understand the way God would want us to understand. When we are given the insight through the Word of God, and illuminated by His Spirit, I would contend that we are aligned with His Divine Straight.

In technical terms this is known as orthodoxy. The word orthodox comes from two Greek words, ortho + doxa, meaning “right opinion” or “correct thinking.” In Christianity, it generally means adhering to the accepted or traditional historic Christian faith revealed in the Bible–Essentials of Christian faith, we might say. In the early years of the Church, councils helped to produce right thinking as they were challenged by heresies. Some of these affirmations of orthodoxy are incorporated in to the creeds and confessions. They struggled through texts of Scripture in order to rightly understand the Divine mind, and truth. Orthodoxy may be defined as the least common denominator which links like-minded individuals under the same banner of “Christian.”

Obviously, discerning the divine will of God in any given path is difficult, however, over the years we have generated a pretty healthy cache of theologies which are considered orthodox.

The big problem is, the Enemy doesn’t like the people of God being equipped with that kind of awareness, and so, orthodoxy is constantly under attack.

Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

Paul adds a bit to that in the book of Acts, speaking to the elders of Ephesus. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30).

At the extreme cults are opposing the Divine Straight, and seek to make it crooked at every turn; we get that – those are the easy ones. However, also at the forefront are songwriters. Pundits of the airwaves. Rock Stars. Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter. The wisdom of the age, professing to be wise they have become fools. They encourage praying to a god that cannot hear. They are all are seeking to make the Divine Straight, crooked.

Any aberration introduced in order to make The Divine Straight, crooked, is considered a heresy; it is heterodoxical, meaning “another” way of understanding. It stands opposed to generally accepted orthodoxical thought. Paul, in Timothy, describes these as “Doctrines of Demons” (1 Timothy 4:10).

This is the world we live in today, and it was no less the case in the time of Timothy; there have always been those seeking to bend the Divine Straight. Can you say, “Garden of Eden”? But, blessings abound for those who choose to remain in the Divine Straight, the path of God. Beware that Satan is seeking to tickle your ears with some newfangled, hot-off-the-press tidbits of truth. All in an effort to get you away from walking the center of the Divine Straight.

The Writer of Proverbs says it well:

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 (Proverbs 4:25-27).

We do best facing forward!

A Place at the Table

I love the Evangelical tribe. They speak my language, they have a high view of Scripture, they embrace the same high ideals of theology-they are my home team! We have made many strides in the last several centuries, and in spite of the present “tension” notwithstanding, concerning the true meaning of the word “evangelical” we are in good shape as we look toward the future (IMHO).

Here’s the thing though, it seems now as though everybody wants a place at the Evangelical table. The problem is, those of us at the evangelical table so often kick out a chair and say, “come on, let’s talk about those things that we have in common. Let’s talk about the unity that we do have”– Kumbayah, and all. People sit down at the table and say, “We are Christians, just like you!” And when we allow them a place at the table, when we allow them to think they truly have a permanent place at the table, we do so at the expense of the Gospel, the integrity of the Gospel. We ought not do that; after all, it’s a narrow, not a wide road.

We have seen a movement in the last several years, various “churches“ scrambling to modify, or re-define their doctrine in order to make it more palatable, and to assert that they are true “Christians.” Historic terms and monikers have been jettisoned in order that the evangelical tribe (and the culture) would embrace what has been historically held at bay. To my dismay, they do seem to be gaining some ground; that which has been held to be incompatible with orthodoxy is being embraced at an alarming rate, or minimally given consideration as a valid option. Can you say Trojan horse?

And so, they rework their terminology, not their doctrine, in order that they would be a little more user-friendly, a little more included, and a little more inclusive. What we have as sentinels that differentiates us from the rest of the clans is the true Gospel, the narrow gate, which is salvation through faith in Christ alone. No amount of massaging false doctrine will make it any the more effective to redeem a soul–it will still be a cult.

And they seek validation in all venues of true Christianity.

A cult is something that compromises the person, or the work of Jesus Christ. A cult introduces and promotes ideas which attack, or seek to alter the person, or work of Christ. A cult assaults orthodoxy. Evangelicals have been entrusted as stewards of this Gospel, to be the pillar of faith which both supports it, and promotes it, as the one true way to restored relationship with God.

I don’t want to be branded as some hard-core right-wing radical separatist, but if that need be then so be it, if that’s what it takes to remain faithful to the Gospel. In fact, there are some “evangelicals” that, (it turns out), shouldn’t be at the table either. Seems like every other month another notable leader is rejecting a core tenet of evangelicalism, whether it’s the Old Testament significance, or the eternality of Hell, exclusivity of Christ, foreknowledge of God, promoting creation as myth, or endorsing the heresy of universalism.

We should never be willing to surrender truth in an effort to gain unity; we can not!

The table in Heaven will be much more exclusive. Only those whose names are written in the book of life will be there, only those with robes cleansed in the blood of Christ.

I am reminded of the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew chapter 22. The preparations are made, the invitations go out, and the hall begins to fill. “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Those who have “snuck in” will be found out. Those who have embraced universalism. Those who embraced another way to Christ. Those who have trusted works-based religion will not be there. Those who thought they were “good enough” will be thrown out.

My concern in permitting all to occupy a chair at the table is that in so doing we may fail to present the one and only way to God. We may fail to communicate that to our friends who are lost, and we may fail, or we may compromise our own beliefs in the Gospel, thus losing our foothold on the Truth. Minimally, we communicate, perhaps to them, and perhaps to the world, that they actually enjoy a seat at the eternal table of Christ. As the parable communicates; the man was speechless. He had nothing to say in his own defense to the Host of eternity.

It is through Jesus Christ, not through Joseph Smith.
It is through Jesus Christ, not through Mary Baker Eddy.
It is through Jesus Christ, not through Mohammed.
It is through Jesus Christ, not through Mary, or the Pope.
It is through Jesus Christ, not through any false messiahs.
It is through Jesus Christ, not through our own merits.

Of all the intersections we may share, none would be so broad as to include eternal salvation. Any points of connection, or overlap may be just that, moral, economic, social, but they do not identify us as being in the same spiritual camp.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my seat at the table. And, I want them to enjoy the hope of eternal life. I want them at the table; God wants them at the table. But, there is only one way to gain a place at this table, by wearing the right clothes. Yes, grace. And yes, mercy. But certainly truth.

If we are so bold as to kick out a chair at the table, it is done as a sacred offer, it is part of an invitation already extended by the work of Christ. It demands a response. We desire them to be part of the flock, but they need to RSVP to the True Host of Heaven.

As Peter affirmed to the religiosity in Jerusalem: “He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).

Let’s be careful what we communicate, and what we fail to communicate; eternity is on the line.

Psalm of Jonah

Normally, when we think of psalms, or even in the modern day when we think of songs, a person composes it in a tranquil setting of contemplative thought; that’s not the case with Jonah. Jonah is geographically challenged. Perhaps hundreds of feet below the surface of the water, he is being sovereignly transported, from where he was going, to where God sovereignly wants to take him. The great fish is that vehicle of transport. Actually, though I don’t think Jonah is trying to write a top-40 song; he is simply communicating, from a gut-level, a more repentant heart, or at least for the moment, a sober heart.

So, he composes a psalm, and he has less than 3 days to do it.

The psalm here is going to describe his life–I see that very clearly. But it’s also going to describe the immediate predicament, and salvation by the fish, God’s sovereign act of salvation using the fish. Remember, it’s a great fish; it is not a whale, but it’s a great fish.

We find this psalm in Chapter 2 of his eponymous book. We see in verses 2 and 3 that he acknowledges God’s sovereignty. And we see in verses 4 through 9, that he submits to God’s sovereignty.

Verse 2, “And he said ‘I called out of my distress to the Lord and He answered me. I cried for a help from the depths of Sheol. You heard my voice.'” He talked about crying out from the depths of Sheol, the depths of the belly. He is engulfed in the possibility of death, and he will not actually die, but he comes really close to it. And he says, “You heard my voice.” He’s addressing God. He’s finally facing in the right direction.

Verse 3, “For you had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas and the current engulfed me. All your breakers and billows passed over me.” He recognizes that God is the one sovereignly responsible. He says God has tossed him in and “your breaker’s, your waves, your waters, have passed over me.” He describes the circumstances as a judgment from the sovereign Lord.

His response is in verse 4, “So I said I have been expelled from your sight. Nevertheless, I will look again toward Your holy temple.” Is Jonah here a little bit fuzzy? Maybe he’s not quite recovered. Maybe, he’s forgetting who was trying to get away from whom. Remember in verse three of chapter one, Jonah is trying to get away from the presence of the Lord. Jonah is trying to get away from the presence of the Lord two times in that verse–Jonah initiated that expulsion. God, for the moment had merely honored that choice.

Jonah sought to flee from the sight of God; he is trying to run in the opposite direction. He says, “I have been expelled from your sight. Nevertheless, I will look again toward your holy temple.” He announces that he will once again face God. This idea is one of repentance, that rather than focusing on his will, he is going to focus on God’s will. This is the whole idea of restoration, the idea of a restored relationship with God. God truly never lost sight of him.

Verses 5 and 6, “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but you have brought up my life from the pit, Oh Lord my God.” He focuses here on the situations that were surrounding him. He focuses on the absolute hopelessness that was his as he was sinking through the water. There is an implicit recognition of the sovereignty of God. Because he says, “You have brought up my life from the pit, from the grave. You have done this.” Here is the understanding that God still has a plan. Jonah doesn’t know what it is yet, he doesn’t know if he’s going to die in 20 minutes, or an hour; he doesn’t know where he’s going. But he says, “You have brought up my life from the pit, Oh Yahweh, My God.” He once again identifies Yahweh as his Lord as his God.

Verse 7, “While I was fainting away, I remembered Yahweh. And my prayer came to You into Your holy temple.” As he is thrown in to the tumultuous waves he breaks the surface, he begins to sink. There is a lack of oxygen. He begins to drown. And this is while he was fainting away. As he is losing consciousness he remembers the Lord, and he begins to pray. From the deep, from the belly of the fish, the prayer ascended through the water to the throne room of the Almighty where God rules from His sovereign throne.

No matter where we are. No matter what conditions we are in, a true and sincere prayer is a hot line to the throne room of God. Jonah recognizes that, and I’m going to suggest that this prayer is not one of simple desperation, but of sincerity, at least true repentance for the moment. And his prayer is not just facing the Holy Temple, is not just facing God, but the prayer is making it in to the throne room of God.

Verse 8 is a little bit odd; I had to work through it. It says, “Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” “Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” Now, color me simple, but if I’m sinking down and am a couple hundred feet below the depths of the water. I’m probably not in all that philosophical state of mind where I’m going to be throwing out some kind of proverb like this. “Aha! Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” It’s a little difficult for us to understand, but that word here for “vain” is also “empty,” or “false.” We say, “Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness.” Our response is, “huh?” But Jonah is saying those who regard false idols, those you regard empty idols, forsake their faithfulness. I would suggest that Jonah is speaking of himself. He is his own false idol. He is his own empty idol because an idol is something that you place before God. An idol is something that you placed before the will of God. Jonah is sinking down, and yet he understands that he has been the person of primary importance in his life; way above God. And in doing that, he forsook the righteousness of God.

Verse 9. “But I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed to pay. Salvation is from the Lord.” Jonah is submitting here, and though it’s difficult to ascertain the level of joy he has in doing this; he is at least surrendering. Does he think that he’s going to get out alive? I really don’t know. I don’t think so, but I really don’t know. But at this point in time he’s rededicating his life. He’s got the sovereignty of God stuff figured out, but things look pretty bleak. Perhaps, his skin is continuing to burn. Maybe his eyes are irritated. He is in the dark. He is unsure of his future. He says, “that which I have vowed I will pay.”

We don’t know specifically what Jonah has vowed to do but he is rededicating himself to the vow that he had made previously. I would surmise that that means he is going to fulfill his calling as a prophet however long that he has. He is willing to do what God has called him to do. And part of that is this interesting little statement that he makes at the very end, “Salvation is from the Lord.” “Salvation is from Yahweh,” which is actually the primary message of any prophet. It’s actually the primary message of any believer in God. “Salvation is from the Lord.”

Though his zeal will wane, he will faithfully deliver this great truth to the people of Nineveh–mmm, well, sort of–the Spirit makes sure the message is understood.

Most of us are on a journey from where we thought we were going, to where God is taking us. Though we may judge Jonah, we would do better to identify the level of sovereignty of our God in our lives and surrender to it.

In that (gulp), Jonah has something pretty important to teach us!

“I called out of my distress to the LORD,
And He answered me.
I cried for help from the depth of Sheol;
You heard my voice.
“For You had cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the current engulfed me.
All Your breakers and billows passed over me.
“So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight.
Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’
“Water encompassed me to the point of death.
The great deep engulfed me,
Weeds were wrapped around my head.
“I descended to the roots of the mountains.
The earth with its bars was around me forever,
But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.
“While I was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
And my prayer came to You,
Into Your holy temple.
“Those who regard vain idols
Forsake their faithfulness,
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving.
That which I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation is from the LORD.”

Epitome of Love

In John 15:13 Jesus states, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  Because life is precious, and is given as a supreme gift by God, when one chooses to surrender it for the sake of his friends it is counted as the extreme act of love.

Earlier Christ had alluded to this same expression of love in John Chapter 10, the “Good Shepherd” passage. In John 10, beautiful images of Psalm 23 are brought to the forefront once again. In John 10, Christ reveals himself as the Divine Shepherd of Psalm 23. Shepherding is an image one would know well in the economy of first century Israel, as little white puffs dotted the country sides, sheep were used for food, for wool, and also for sacrifices in the Temple. Though this imagery is a little foreign to us in 21st century America, still, the metaphor is packed with richness for us today.

In John 10:1-18, Christ is speaking prophetically about the people of Israel, and the leaders, to the Pharisees whom He addresses. In this passage He announces Himself as Messiah, and He foreshadows His mission to the world–His passion for man. He forecasts both His mission, and how would He fulfill that mission.

A key focus here is the flock of God, the fold, the sacred community of faith. Christ announces Himself as the Good Shepherd, overseer of this flock. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd, His mission has been announced in the previous verse­–to give abundant life (John 10:10), and His method is hinted at in verse 11 as well–He lays down His life. This terminology is codespeak for sacrifice; it speaks to the sacrificial system established by God in Temple, for the atonement of sin. The good shepherd, places Himself as the supreme sacrifice before the Sheep.

The “good Shepherd” is not simply morally good, but beautiful, attractive, lovely, and excellent, He is virtuous. And, He surrenders His life. The word here in the Greek for life is not bios, or zoe, but psuchos; it is the idea of soul. Christ lays down His soul for the sake of those in the flock. It is not simply mechanical, or physical pain, but a surrender of the soul.

We have to ask the question, “Why does He do that?” We see at the end of verse 18 that He is being obedient to the Father’s command to do so.

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:17-18)

He describes, in muted detail the sacrificial atonement; He describes the events of what we celebrate as Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday. The act of laying down His life would be committed upon the altar of the Cross-all for our benefit! The blood of Christ was a requirement of God for the atonement of sin.

The nails pierced His hands and His feet as He was nailed to the cross. The blood would flow onto the wood, and down to the earth. Jesus was scarred for life–our life. Days later He would rise, victorious over death!

It was some pretty incredible blood which flowed through the veins of the Good Shepherd.

Some amazing blood which flowed from the veins of the Lamb of God, upon the altar of the Cross.

Some powerful blood which flowed to the fountain of Grace that the sin of the world would be able to be cleansed, mankind redeemed, and our broken relationship with God restored.

And the blood, His blood will never lose its power!

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

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!

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.

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!

 

 

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”

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 the 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).

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 eyesight 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”

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”