The Shortest Prayers (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

“God Bless America.” How many times throughout the day is this phrase uttered in the nation? A sacred entreaty to the Sovereign of the universe, the Giver of life, the eternal God. It is a prayer pleading for God’s help, for His direction, for His protection. We are asking for Him to make His presence known through an affirmative response. Yet, action after action seeks to reject God and remove Him from the fabric of the United States, a nation founded upon the God and fundamentals of the Bible. We have driven prayer out of the schools, and wonder why God doesn’t seem to be there, and why discipline is such an issue. We insist on the removal of the Ten Commandments from courthouses and are amazed at the level of rebellion in the land. We abort millions of lives annually and still have the nerve to ask God to bless our lives. Our nation, founded by God-fearing people is quickly becoming a nation of atheists.

There is an old saying; “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” This was no more apparent than in 2001 after the World Trade Center bombings. The Sunday following and for several months, churches were filled with concerned, fearful and grieving congregants. They were seeking to be comforted, consoled, healed. They were looking for answers, and God seemed the only Person from whom to seek answers. Gradually, as confidence came back, those large numbers of attendees diminished until numbers were back to pre-911 “normal” levels. The strategy seemed to be the same, we ask for God’s help, but only until we think we can “handle it.” After we have things under control, we want God to be scarce.

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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!

He Bought a Church (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

For those who may not yet have heard, we bought a church. By God’s grace Bishop Creek Community Church has finally been able to acquire a building to call “home.”  It is a beautiful building. Vintage church. Architecturally it is great; it was designed and made…well, to be a church. The cost of the church was…affordable. Well, affordable enough. And though many other parties were interested in this property, the Lord seemed to have it placed aside for continued ministry here in Bishop. So glad that this testament to the work of God remained in the community. Perhaps, the cherry on the top is that we have the blessing of St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, with whom we share the building.

To God be the glory!

Honestly, after having been nomadic for quite some time I was beginning to think a building was out of the question. The words, “We closed escrow today” were surreal. Yes, we were joyful. We announced that we had “bought a church.” And in those words, those very words, I was cautioned regarding ownership; I realized that the ownership had never really changed.

700 Hobson Street is still under the same ownership: God’s.

We stand in the footprint of those from St. Timothy’s who have pioneered before us. Who had the vision. Who bought the land. Who raised the funds. Who built the structure, and who have been stalwart stewards. And we are in gratitude for their efforts. It is a great building, but it is a Church building.

We realize that the church building is a place in which we meet; but, it was Christ who bought the Church.

Colossians 1:13-14 tells us how He did that: “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” He paid a price I could not pay.

I remember, as a kid, playing Monopoly. The money inside the game was fascinating, yet in all truth, it was just play money. It really could not buy anything at all.

Can you imagine coming before the Lord of all creation with play money attempting to purchase your freedom from the domain of darkness? Of course not. No other medium of exchange would do. Not Chickens, yen, pesos, poker chips, or fur pelts. And, you can’t wash dishes in Heaven.

Cults promote many paths to God, to enlightenment. Satan loves confusing the one-and-only acceptable currency. Yet, there was only one currency which could purchase our redemption­–the blood of Christ.

Hebrews 9:11-15 communicates the value of that medium of exchange: “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

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

Those words never get old! Christ paid for our redemption with the only acceptable currency: His blood.

He owns us, and has purchased our freedom to His glory. The ransom has been paid in full. We remember, we celebrate that action, and that currency so freely given.

We bought a Church building; Christ bought the Church!

Can I get an “Amen”?

GoodBye (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Most of us speak it several times a day without ever thinking of the origin of the word. In an ever-so-casual demeanor we issue the greatest of divine blessing upon all those from whom we depart. We may issue it in a letter, or even in the course of terminating a conversation on the street. The word is the simple valediction of “Good-Bye”. Most of us may never even think about it, but the word is actually a contraction of the Middle English phrase God be with ye. It was originally shortened to Godbwye and subsequently evolved to the forms we know today as goodbye, or good-bye.

In any case we may never even have considered that we are casting upon that individual the greatest gift we could possibly proclaim for all of their lives, the presence of the living God. The entirety of Scripture communicates the greatest blessing in all of eternity is the enjoyment of God’s presence.  Bet you didn’t know you were invoking such a high blessing in that simple phrase, the intimate, personal, relational quality of the Living God.

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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!

TheOreology (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Oreos! One of life’s little indulgences. I mean, after all, there are worse things I could do right? Tell me if this sounds familiar. “Oooh, a bag of Oreos! I shouldn’t really but I will open it and have a few. Those were good, maybe just one more, or two, that couldn’t hurt anything, could it? Maybe three. Wow, I like those. Maybe I will have another four or five more, and just skip dinner. What is this stuff inside? Maybe I shoulda got the double-stuf. Where is the milk? These are good dunked. I will have another 5 or 6 and do a few extra sit-ups tonight before bed. Huh? There are only 7 more left in the bag; I guess I will finish those off. What’s the use of trying to save 7 cookies for later? That’s like saving one gulp of milk in the carton. Isn’t it?  Wow! I am full. Hey, who ate my bag of Oreos?”

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True North (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Many people may say that science disproves the existence of God. Let me propose that science not only proves the existence of God, but if anything, science historically disproves itself. The ancient minds understood there to be only 1300 or so planets. Present knowledge has determined that there is somewhere around 21 billion trillion planets. Also, take for example the brilliant minds of the first fourteen centuries AD that insisted that the world was flat. It was not until the work of Columbus that scientist and the civilized world knew this was false. How about the scientific community that declared that the sun revolved around the earth? That wasn’t true either. It wasn’t until the work of Copernicus that the science reversed its position. And yet, how many other scientific assertions are being promoted as absolute truth?

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The Corpse Flower (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

There is a most unusual product of God’s creation, which grows only in the regions of Sumatra. It is known as the Amorphophallus Titanium. It is a single “flower” that blooms only so seldom. The lower casing of the flower is green on the outside and a deep dark burgundy on the inside. The “stamen” on the inside resembles a large loaf of French bread. It can grow up to 20 feet in height. This oddity of nature is most peculiar in that the odor that it emits is reminiscent to that of decomposing mammal. Hence, it’s more commonly called the “Corpse Flower.”

Why would a flower like this exist? You may ask. Why would something so beautiful have diabolical undertones? Well, here is the “gruesome” truth. The fragrance of the flower draws or lures carcass-eating insects such as beetles and flesh-eating flies that are attracted to the smell of rotting meat. It is these insects that walk on the plant picking up pollen and then carrying this pollen to other plants assisting in the process of pollination. Amazingly enough, when pollination occurs the tip of the flower is at human body temperature thus furthering to deceive the unsuspecting carcass-eating insects.

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Who Let the Dogma Out? (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

It’s rather interesting to me and yet, confusing at the same time how we seem to choose the “appropriate” church to attend. Maybe we go because the speaker is a great orator. Maybe we go because we particularly like the people there. Maybe it’s because the refreshments are the tastiest in town. Maybe it is a large church that allows you to be somewhat anonymous. Maybe it’s small enough to facilitate intimacy and accountability. Or perhaps it is because the building is so beautiful, or that church has an amazing children’s program.

Not to categorically discount those traits but I have to ask, “In selecting a church to attend, is it at all important to understand their particular beliefs?” These beliefs are their “teachings,” what have been historically referred to as dogma, dogmatics, or simply just doctrine. In essence, it is their understanding of truth.

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Tumbleweeds (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

The curse of sin in the garden launched a lot of adversity into the world. We know that Satan would get thumped in the end for his role in the catastrophe. We know that woman would suffer greatly in all things “childbirth”, and with repercussions in regards to her husband. We also know the great opponent the earth would become to man.

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you…”
(Genesis 3:17b-18a)

The ground itself is cursed because of the disobedience of Adam; as a result, it will begin to produce “thorns and thistles” which are contrary to his labors of gardening.

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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?

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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?”

Jenga Theology (Shepherd’s Echo)

I would imagine most of us are aware of the pastime game of Jenga. The name comes from the Swahili word meaning “to build.” It is the game that begins with 54 wooden tiles that are neatly stacked in levels of three to establish a stable tower. The object of the game is for players to knock out tiles from one level and place them in ever taller and increasingly unstable levels as the game progresses. The game ceases when the actions of one of the players, through the movement of a tile, causes the tower to collapse.

Perhaps in the realm of table games, this is a winner, but it doesn’t work so well in the world of theology. All too often I see people trying to poke holes in sound theology to come up with a “modified” and weakened form of theological understanding, “something not so restrictive.” The resultant effect is a monstrosity of structure that is unstable and filled with holes.

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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!

Sweet Liberty (Shepherd’s Echo)

This is a little something that I wrote and recorded in the ’80s.

Click on the sound bar at top to listen.

Sweet Liberty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

Chocolate Colored Sprinkles (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Recently my wife pointed out to me a rather pathetic, but amusing example of how minimal our culture has become. She had received as a gift what we understood to be those great tasting little chocolate sprinkles that you put on top of ice cream or cakes or whatever. Now sometimes, as we all know, those splendid little morsels are not always pure chocolate; sometimes those rascals put mere chocolate flavoring in those things. Well, that’s okay for the most part, in fact, sometimes you cannot even tell the difference between artificial and the real stuff. But these things were simply brown colored grease that made the roof of my mouth slimy.

Come to find out, these are not chocolate sprinkles, or even chocolate flavored sprinkles, but these are chocolate colored sprinkles. You read that right. They were not bursting with real chocolate flavor, or even synthetic chocolate flavor. In fact, they had no flavor whatsoever. All they had to offer was the color of chocolate. This little rip-off in the cake decoration section was only a bottle of brown lard sprinkles. Someone at the corporate level had determined to cut costs, or hassles or whatever, and be so intentionally minimalistic, they offered nothing even close to the real thing. Continue reading “Chocolate Colored Sprinkles (Shepherd’s Echo)”

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.

From Here to There (Shepherd’s Pen)

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

It seems like we spend generous amounts of our time and effort getting from one place to another, figuratively or otherwise. From one freeway to another. From one job to “a better” one. From one dwelling to the next. Maybe even from one emotional state to one that is more satisfying. Yet, often what inhibits us from achieving that goal is some sort of barrier that shuts us down, so we give up. After all, if it’s “impossible” or just too hard we re-evaluate the benefits and lose motivation.

 I can’t help but think of another situation where people are trying to get “from here to there.” It takes place in the book of Exodus. After being in slavery for 400-plus years the Israelites have been reminded that they would be given a land of their own – the Promised Land, originally promised to Abraham. The only problem is that they had to break away from Egypt to get there. Continue reading “From Here to There (Shepherd’s Pen)”

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…

Legacy (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

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.

Mr. Potato Head (Shepherd’s Pen)

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

For those of us who grew up in the fifties and sixties we are well aware of that iconic toy, Mr. Potato Head. Hugely successful over the course of its sixty-year reign, it is a plastic-bodied potato into which various features could be stuck to characterize the object into various facial distinctions or personalities. Part of the fun is mischievously placing the parts in the wrong areas for amusement. The toy has gone through many iterations and characters as a result of its success.

Facial parts placed in the wrong areas on a potato can be amusing, and cause us to laugh when a nose is inserted where an eye should be, or an eye in place of a ear, but that sort of tomfoolery doesn’t bode well when applied to a church, the body of Christ. Continue reading “Mr. Potato Head (Shepherd’s Pen)”

Deliver Me From Evil

Make no mistake about it, evil is alive and thriving in the Land of the Free. We may not always see it, because it is so pervasive in our culture that when we stand looking it in the face, it doesn’t even move the needle anymore. We have become “comfortable” with it; but it is out there. What is evil? I would suggest evil is activity, which at the root is demonically championed and is intended to thwart God’s good order–It is that which seeks to make the divine straight, crooked.

I write this, not to sensationalize a story, but simply to communicate the reality of evil in the world, and its affect upon our lives (“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Sometimes, I think we fail to acknowledge that battle even exists.  I would claim to have been face to face which such unfiltered evil 4 times in my life that I can clearly recall. Not the head-spinning, split-pea soup Exorcist type of demonstration, but a clear demonic evil presence just the same.

The first time was when I was a kid, around the age of 6 or 7, close to the time that I would make a profession of faith to follow Jesus Christ. I shared a bunk bed with my brother, I was on the bottom bunk and it was lights out for the night. I was sleeping on my back when I felt an arm come through the bed from underneath, just to my side, my right side. Once it had penetrated the mattress, it curled around my waist and sought to pull me back down, through the mattress below. It was clear that my body was not going to follow, and after just a bit, the presence left. Some may choose to dismiss this, chalking it up to the fanciful machinations of a youthful mind. I must admit, I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the entire incident, but, I do know two things: it did happen, and, I was not afraid. Looking back, the Lord was protecting me, it was as if it was the Lord saying, “Not today, Satan; this little lamb is Mine. Not today.”

The second time was while I was working construction on a secular musician’s mansion; I was on the second floor, when I heard the music begin to play in the studio below me. There was a deep dark spirit coming forth as their wicked words rose from underneath, yet is was more than the deep-seated oppression of mere lyrics. The “odorous” stench wafted throughout the building. Over the course of the rest of the day I continued to observe events around the house, and I realized that I was smack dab in the middle of evil, the place was steeped in it. As the day progressed, my brother witnessed to the man–No apparent response, but maybe a seed was planted. I appreciated that house in our rear-view mirror as we pulled away. Wow! The Great Shepherd is with me, even in the presence of my enemies. “Not today, Satan. Not today.”

The third time I felt the cool caress of evil was when I was on vacation in Hawaii. On a week-end drive my wife and I had pulled over to check out a “yard” sale. Things seemed normal, as far as yard sales go, but once we made it over toward the garage where a guy was sitting in a little room with the door open, things felt a little weird–like hair standing up on the back of your neck weird, a cold breath across my shoulders kind of weird; again, this was in Hawaii, balmy Hawaii. My wife and I kept moving toward the house. Once inside the house we looked at each other and asked, “Did you feel that?” We agreed that we had both experienced something sinister, and curtailed our time at the sale. We headed out, trusting that the Lord has made it clear that there were no bargains needed there that day. “Again. Not today, Satan; these are My sheep. Not today.”

The fourth time, oddly enough, was at a church leadership meeting where the elders had scheduled a meeting with a disgruntled individual who had left the church. It is, in fact, the only time I felt that I was staring right into the netherworld. I recall my fellow elders addressing the situation incredibly well, as the person levied some pretty confused rantings.  I could not believe my ears. Character was being assaulted. The fabrications being expressed were indeed lies, from “Hell,” from the Devil, or maybe just from carnal nature, but they were conveniently packaged to promote his own “holiness.”

My heart pounded; I realized that there was a very real and dark presence in the room that was not of human origin.  I believe that the Lord allowed me to see through a window: the Accuser, the Father of Lies was in full control of the individual, pulling every “marionette” string.  My heart began to race, and I began to visibly shake. Fortunately, I was seated at the far end of the table, off the radar. I thought to myself, “How could I have ever trusted this person?”

It obviously had me questioning my own theology. Was he an unbeliever? How was he, as a believer, able to transmit that level of spiritual darkness? How was he even able to do that?! Was he so spiritually blind that he could not see the truth? Was he willfully acting as a conduit to this level of deceit? Did he even know his willingness to be a pawn to the underworld? It was a rare time that I felt I was staring “demons in the face.”

It has taken me some years to digest the events. But, I have come to realize that evil is part of the package of shepherding the flock of God. Heresies, evil actions, ambushes, lies and distortions will never be in short supply in the Enemy’s arsenal. Satan is constantly seeking to devour the soft pink flesh of God’s flock. He uses any willing or unwise agencies to secure that ground. Looking back, I feel that God was allowing me to learn something of what it takes to be a true shepherd; a shepherd who is not a hireling, one who would not run. Rather, one who would see it through for the health of the flock, even at his own loss.

Such words of Jesus Christ are found in the Book of John:
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep” (John 10:11-13).

Satan was looking for a hired hand who did not care about His flock. Satan sent a wolf, to drive me away so the sheep may be scattered. I wish I could say that I pulled through with the highest of marks–that was anything but the case; but I did pull through–I did not leave. And, I am still here.

“Not today, Satan. This is His flock. Not today!”

Some pretty unusual events to say the least, but they did not, and they do not define me; I am who I am in Christ! In every case, God had me, all along He had me. He was allowing me to be tested, but He had me, dead center in the palm of His hand. He has authority over all the spiritual forces of darkness, yet, for His divine purposes He permits some levels of intersection from time to time. But, every step of the way He oversees His true sheep, His true shepherds, and His true flock.

“For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work his woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.”

“The Prince of Darkness grim,—
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure,—
One little word shall fell him.”

“Not today, Satan. Not today!”

The Last Bite (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

I remember the image well. The Tramp and Lady have tug-o-warred over a spaghetti noodle and at long last Tramp has conceded the final meatball on the plate. He gently rolls it over to her side of the plate with his nose, a certain sign of giving to one who he truly holds so dear. One of the most notable demonstrations of pasta chivalry imparted to celluloid. The scene is from the movie, “Lady and the Tramp,” though, his behavior is anything but trampish.

I must confess that that sort of chivalry has not been evidenced all too often in the Larson household, at least when there is food, and especially where desserts are involved. And when it comes to the sharing of Hula Pie at Duke’s all bets are off. Macadamia ice cream in an Oreo crust, topped with macadamias, fudge and whipped cream… Delectable. Continue reading “The Last Bite (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Thorns and Thistles

I hate thorns. I hate thistles. I have never liked or appreciated them. And, when they hurt me, I do find a certain amount of adolescent enjoyment condemning them to a flame when afforded the opportunity. I don’t know if I have ever observed anything about a theology of thorns and thistles though there may well be. Originally absent from the event of creation in the Garden, they were an introduced consequence to the sin of man; but where did they come from? Did God introduce something “Not good” after producing only good and order from His spoken word? Or, were they contrived by an outside agency?

Just to remind us of the indictment after the Fall, God said to Adam:
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17b-18).

I would first suggest that the one who contorted these little organic nuisances was Satan himself, and that “thorns and thistles” are those areas over which God has yielded some authority to Satan, after all, he is prince over this earth. Now, Satan did not (does not) have creative license to create something out of nothing (ex nihilo) as does God, but apparently, he does have ability to deform something which was declared good.

What we do see initially is that this agricultural menace was to torment those who would work the earth. In other words, the advocacy of the earth to produce sustenance would be hindered. After the Fall, the earth would still yield fruit, but at greater cost, time, and effort to the individual. So, is this curse of the ground relegated to only those who toil in the soil? I propose that it does not.

We would be foolish to think that, as a result of sin, only agribusinesses were affected by “thorns and thistles.” I would rather suggest that thorns and thistles are any hindrance in any line of work in which Satan desires to frustrate, confound, confuse, or discourage us. Satan introduces chaos wherever possible to frustrate people, or to the greater extreme, challenge their faith. He is in agriculture. He is in the business world. He is in technology. He is in automotive repair. He seeks to disrupt communication. He is in construction. Boy! Is he in construction! And where he gets me most is in cords, all kinds of cords. He frustrates me each time I deal with cords. Computer cords. Headphone cords. Extension cords. They tie themselves up in knots, and catch on every snare possible. Those irritations affect my vocal chords! Well, let’s just say that sometimes…I bubble over.

Though seemingly innocuous, these impositions are more than simple irritations, they are part of the corpus of schemes of Satan – the methodology, or system to introduce chaos into God’s good order, and into the lives of men. Just one of the little ways in which the Adversary is seeking to assault our spirit. Though work is deemed good before the Fall, it is still good, but now it becomes an agency through which we can be tempted…to…react…poorly.

And, Satan uses thorns to choke-out growth of the Gospel in the hearts of people (Luke 8:7, 14). Am I saying that Satan is under every rock, and responsible for every evil in the world? No, I am not saying that! Mankind cannot get off the hook that easy. But, he is lord of the thorns. How would that look on his tax return?

Some may contend this “theology” is a little fanciful, and they may be right…somewhat… but if what I say is correct then it falls in line with Satan being given authority to spew evil into our lives, to mess with us, to taunt us, to annoy us (And sssnicker?) If I am indeed wrong then somebody needs to explain why such a prominent role the thorns and thistles play in the Edenic indictment.

How interesting it is that the soldiers surrounding Jesus at His impending death would shove a crown of thorns upon His brow (John 19:2), a brutal reminder of the curse placed upon the ground for the sin of man…What would compel anyone to do such a thing is beyond me, even at the level of evil demonstrated by the Roman guards. However, it was yet another affirmation that Christ, on the Cross, would bear the consequences of the curse–all the consequences of the curse. And, He would be victorious!

I can’t get the image out of my mind about the lion with a thorn in his paw; it reduced him to begging a mouse for relief. Not to say that we are lions, or that God is to be equated to a mouse. My point is that sometimes we need relief from an outside agency-notably divine assistance from these diabolical denizens, just to make it through the thorns of life. Each time we get attacked by one of these little agents of Satan, we are reminded of the curse upon Creation. But, they are temporary. Yes, Satan is prince of this world, but his days are numbered. There will be no thorns, and no thistles in Heaven.

Thank you, Lord Jesus!

Honor Guard (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

What a blessing the Honor Guard is to those in military service! It demonstrates high standards of appearance and conduct. They provide funeral honors for fallen comrades, guard national monuments, and defend the flag. In effect they act as ambassadors, or sentinels of honor.  But what does it actually mean that they guard the honor, or protect the honor of the military? It means to guard or demonstrate respect, esteem, affirm, and even cherish those they hold to be of value. They get it! They realize the benefit of affirmation, and ascription of honor to individuals so deserving. But this is nothing new to the wisdom of God. Continue reading “Honor Guard (Shepherd’s Echo)”

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!

God, or Something Like Him (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man, which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ”– So contends Blaise Pascal, the famous French theologian, and philosopher. Now, I am not aware of any such Scripture specifically affirming the statement, but Romans 2:15 speaks of the Law as being written upon the hearts of men. Though the metaphor may be limited in some capacities, the imagery is profound. Continue reading “God, or Something Like Him (Shepherd’s Echo)”