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.

We are All Theologians (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

For the most part, people can be divided into categories; male/female, Americans/ Europeans, tall/ short, rich/ poor, etc. There are extreme lines of delineation between the two categories. When it comes to theology, this doesn’t hold true. People cannot be divided into theologians and non-theologians; because, WE ARE ALL THEOLOGIANS. One way or another, everybody is seeking to identify who “god” is in his or her life. Everybody is in search of God, everybody.

Some will come to the conclusion that the God of the Bible exists. Some will conclude that their god is pantheism, meaning that god is in everything, trees, water, air, man, and animals. Still, some will come to the conclusion that they themselves are their own god. And finally, some will come to the understanding that there is no god to be found, atheism. Still, every one of these people has undertaken the challenge to study god; they are all theologians. Even if their study is only an attempt to prove that He doesn’t exist. And even if they conclude that no god truly exists, by default, they have concluded that they themselves are their own gods, that they live to serve themselves, that they themselves are their own authority.

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Anything Goes! (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

Recently, I was reading some words from an old song and I was amazed at how they speak to the state of the culture today.

Times have changed,
And we’ve often rewound the clock,
Since the Puritans got a shock,
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
In olden days, a glimpse of stocking,
Was looked on as something shocking,

But now, God knows. Anything goes.
Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four-letter words,
Writing prose. Anything goes.

If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
Why, nobody will oppose…Anything goes.

The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today, 

Anything goes.

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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.  

Rule of Faith (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

[This is a piece that I co-authored with my very dear friend, Ed Kruger who has gone home to be with the Lord – I praise the Lord for Ed’s example and heart for the Lord!]

I love working with wood… I remember working on a project with a friend. We were designing a very special piece made from very expensive clear, solid oak. Before I knew it he had glued a few of the pieces together and had them clamped up to dry. Come to find out he had failed to use a square. Anyone who has worked with wood knows if you begin with a project which is “out of square,” it will not be square in the end. Which means that each subsequent addition to the project needs to be individually custom fit costing valuable time and compromising the overall integrity of the effort. It will not be the desired masterpiece, but a hideous eyesore, and a very expensive piece of firewood.

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The Final Breath (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

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.

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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). 

Not to Us, O Lord! (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

After 70 long years in captivity, the people of God are allowed to return to Jerusalem. They were exiled many years before because of their dishonor of God; they had forsaken Him; they had worshipped other gods; they had defiled the Temple bringing other gods into it. Their hearts were rock-hard toward Yahweh–the consequence was many long years in a foreign land under pagan rule. But, after their divinely appointed “time-out” to think about what they had done, they are permitted to return to their own land.

However, it is indeed a different lot of people who find themselves freshly navigating the Promised Land. Many of those exiled have perished over the length of 70 years; it is a new generation, many of whom have never set eyes upon the city, which is in ruins. The many stories they have heard of the grandeur of Zion are amended as they witness the broken walls, the devastated infrastructure, and saddest of all, the iconic Temple which lies in ruins. Yes, it is a different lot.

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A Manner Worthy (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

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?

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All Blogged Out

No, this is not a blog about my desire to wrap things up here at TheShepherdsPen. Nor is it intended to be a rant about the follies of social media, though that itself is a long overdue article; anyone with computer access could justify its dissolution in some measure. This is simply a caution about values and time – using a most precious resource to our spiritual benefit.

In antiquity it’s my understanding that the oral tradition served mankind well for centuries in the transmission of information. Pictures in the dirt and sand paved the way to greater clarity. Along the way, I gather that sticks and maybe even stones were used to facilitate the narrative of instruction. Over time, various figures were carved into rocks and drawn upon hillsides in order to further the great cache of information to future generations. Eventually, mankind employed drawings upon elements which became the precursors of the paper world. Mediums were fabricated; “paper” out of papyrus, and vellum, or “leather paper.” Though new mediums of storage had been created, I would imagine that only the most valuable information would have been committed to these precious pages of real estate.

The manufacture of paper and ink was the natural outflow in order to transmit this data, it’s perceived valuable data to future generations. Though available and abundant, it was the elite of mankind who could read and write and so, were solely privy to the depths of information which had been gleaned over the years. 

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The Myth of Pastoral Authority (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

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

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

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Letters of Christ (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

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 one of 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).

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!

A Currency of Contrition (Shepherd’s Echo)

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

If there is one thing in which we as humans seem to excel, it is the ability to sabotage our relationships with God. The unimpeded intimacy mankind had in the Garden was brutally severed by sin. Through disobedience, Saul destroyed the relationship he had with God, and lost the anointing. David seemed to do this with regularity, and with efficiency. Israel got it down to a science; how to resist the grace of the Lord.  In fact, we have all tasted of the distance between us and God, all caused by a lack of our own faithfulness.

Back to David, the shepherd, who in Psalm 23, had enjoyed the anointing and nurturing of the Shepherd; I would guess few have savored that level of extended, fostered care from Yahweh. And yet, later, by the time of the 51st Psalm, it is a very different picture as David has just pronounced the words, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Indeed, he had.

Called to account by the prophet Nathan, David had no option but to recognize his own sin. But, it had taken him some time to get to that place.

From high atop his palace, he had eyed a beautiful woman. Desired her. Took her. Got her pregnant, and set in motion the elaborate plan of deception, betrayal, and murder. Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, returns from battle, refuses to go to his home preferring to be near his king. David seeks to send him home to his wife in order to cover the tracks of sin, but that was not to be; Uriah still remained at the palace. For his loyalty Uriah would receive a letter from the hand of the king, a death sentence, sending him to his death in the line of battle.

This man David had coveted another man’s wife, committed adultery, he had betrayed, placed Bathsheba, and indeed his own desires as a god before him. In all, he had in one fell swoop violated or broken a majority of the 10 Commandments, dishonoring God and man. So, how is it that David is considered a man after God’s own heart? How could these words be those which would describe one of the vilest offenders of grace in all of Scripture?

May I suggest the clearest answer is the way he sought restoration with God?

Psalm 51 indeed finds David in a very different place, as he confronts his sinful nature. He pleads forgiveness for his sin, and not only that, but for a total transformation of his heart.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

The word create is used only to speak of divine creation; only God is able to transform the darkened heart of man. But David also pleads for the continued desire to do that which is right in the eyes of God.

All this is good and necessary, yet I believe what really sets David apart is the gleaning of truth he reveals in verse 16-17 of this Psalm.

“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

David had vast amounts of wealth to bring to the altar. He had livestock to spare. At his disposal could have been hundreds or thousands of animals which could have been sacrificially used to “absolve” him of his sin…but that wasn’t the way God wanted it. God was not looking for trite displays of remorse. You see, David could have provided countless sacrifices which cost him nothing. No investment. No sorrow. No contrition. And David understands that; he knows that God wants more than a superficial demonstration of contrition; what God wants is an individual whose heart is rent at the thought of failing to walk faithfully in the grace of the Lord.

For all that David gets wrong, he gets this right. What God desires brought to the altar is a spirit which is broken at the thought of violating God – a heart which is repentant.

So, how do you approach God when sin has set a chasm between the two of you? (You didn’t think I was going to let you off the hook, did you?). A rote prayer? A glib confession? A bill casually tossed in the offering plate? A donation to a charity? Gracing a church with your presence every so often? Flat-out denial of any wrongdoing? Yeah, I know, huh? Ouch!

God wants your heart. Let me suggest the next time you seek to restore communion with the holy Sovereign, you bring your heart, your contrite heart as the perfect submission to our holy God.

That currency of contrition is redeemable 24/7.

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.