Posts filed under ‘Religion’
This was origionally posted at For The Church.
The imagery of shepherd is intimately tied to pastoral ministry. In fact, some would argue that the metaphor of shepherding is the primary picture from which we should develop our understanding of pastoral leadership (See Tim Laniak’sShepherds After My Own Heart). The ancient practice of animal husbandry consisted of the roles of provision, protection, and guidance.
The beautiful thing about the shepherding metaphor is that it instructs us on the nature of pastoral leadership with deep emotive insight. In many ways, this is why the Biblical writers employed the shepherding metaphor for pastoral ministry.
Shepherds Nourish Their Flock
One of the most pressing challenges for any shepherd is to provide nourishment (water, food, rest) for their flocks in harsh environments, environments that often withheld essential elements for life and flourishing. A good shepherd knows where to find pastures that are not only lush but safe enough for his flocks to rest in peace.
Eating and drinking bring nourishment (John 21:15-17). Rest is a function of being well provided for. Rest also points to a state of security that comes from the shepherd’s protective presence (Acts 20:29). The church is to be a community of rest, a place for the weary to refresh from the wilderness of everyday life. The call is clear for pastors to nourish the people God has placed in your care.
Shepherds Lead and Protect Their Flock
Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable Psalms that utilizes the shepherding metaphor. In this Psalm David reflects on the confidence one can find in the good shepherds care, even in times of deep darkness. Laniak notes that “even in the deadly shadows that fall at dusk in the desert’s canyons there is safety in his presence. Though easily frightened by nature, this trusting sheep will move through the shadows without fear, (112)” The language of the psalm provides us imagery of the two simple but versatile tools that ancient shepherds carried to protect his flock.
The Rod: This defense instrument allowed the shepherd to be ready for any predator. This short club was a crude weapon for battle, it was also the shepherd’s implement used for counting a flock at night as the flock passes under it.
The Staff: This was the instrument that the shepherd used to nudge wandering sheep back in line, is was a source of comfort because it was used for picking off branches, snagging a trapped animal with the crook, or redirecting misbehaving members of the herd. The staff became a symbol for the protective presence of the shepherd.
Laniak notes that “these two rods may represent the two functions of a shepherd: protector from external threats and peacekeeper among the flocks. (54)”. Pastoral ministry calls for gentle assistance, direction, rescue, and encouragement among the flock of God. Pastors are also called to defend the flock from outside threats and even discipline the flock to avoid dangers from within. The fruits of this authority are security and comfort among the flock because of a good shepherds care and discipline.
Shepherds Intimately Know Their Flock
In his devotional book While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, Tim Laniak comments on the importance of knowing and naming the flock. “Naming is a powerful, tangible expression of the shepherds intimate bond that begins at birth and grows through an animal’s tenure with a flock. In the practice of animal husbandry responsible shepherds know every member of their flocks in terms of their birth circumstances, history of health, eating habits and other idiosyncrasies. One of the most striking characteristics of the shepherd-flock relationship is that control over the flock is exercised simply by the sound of the shepherd’s voice or whistle. This provides a rich depiction of Jesus’ words in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
To know someone requires time and care. Isaiah provides a good picture of a caring shepherd in 40:11, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young”. This type of care would be expressed in the life of the church through pastoral visitation, counseling, and ministry in times of sickness and grief. Shepherds who love their sheep notice when their sheep are hurting and seek to be with them to care for them.
Yesterday I preached my first sermon as the senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, NC (you can watch the sermon here). We began a new series examining the “I Am” statements in the gospel of John. In John 6:35, Jesus declares;
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Earlier in chapter 6, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men, plus women and children. I believe that this miracle feeds into the proclamation of verse 35 that Jesus is the bread of life. In other words, what Jesus did in that miracle of feeding reveals who He is. It helps us understand that Jesus satisfies the deep hunger of our souls. My goal in the sermon was to help my church family fight to find their satisfaction in Christ alone.
All of us long to be satisfied. In fact, the passage states that the crowd sought Jesus out because they ate their fill of the loaves. They had their meal and were satisfied, but were hungry again. Simply put, they wanted Jesus to satisfy their stomach, but Jesus was not there to satisfy their stomachs. Jesus was there as their savior to give eternal satisfaction of the soul.
Satisfaction is one of the good gifts of God. The problem comes when we seek satisfaction in the gifts of God, and not in God himself.
There are many people that seek satisfaction in food and drink in order to find comfort from their troubled life. There are many people that seek satisfaction in money and possessions to find meaning and purpose. There are many people that seek friendships and relational intimacy in order to satisfy the deeper longings of their hearts.
But in these things no one will never be fully satisfied. There is always more, there will always be a rumbling in the stomach, an emptiness. However, the call of this passage is clear. Jesus satisfies the deep hunger of our souls.
It would seem that it is not lack of desire that keeps people from Jesus. We all have a desire to be satisfied. What keeps people from Jesus is having misaimed desires or wrong ideas about how those desires can be met. Sometimes this is true of Christians also.
What if we really believed that Jesus satisfied the deep hunger of our souls? It would change everything.
Instead seeing food and drink as a way to satisfy our longing for comfort, we would find our comfort in Jesus Christ alone. Instead of seeking meaning or purpose in money or possessions, we would find our meaning and purpose in Jesus Christ alone. Instead of demanding others fill our needs of love and companionship, we would find that where others let us down, Jesus will always be more than enough.
The fight of the Christian life, the work mentioned in verse 29, is to truly believe that Jesus is the answer to all human need, our primary source of nourishment.
It is not an accident that Jesus used the analogy of bread here. Bread is the most basic food of nourishment, even in third world countries today. It’s not like filet mignon, something only a select few can enjoy. No, bread is available to everyone.
Oh that we would be satisfied in Jesus, the bread of life. When we taste and see that the Lord is good, our satisfaction in Him brings Him the glory, and allows us to lay down all the things of this world for the cause of Christ. May we also invite everyone to the table to feast and be satisfied!
Jesus alone satisfies the deep hunger of our souls.
“Many Christians have unwittingly embraced the idea that “church” is a once-a-week event rather than a community of Spirit-empowered people; that “ministry” is what pastors do on Sundays rather than the 24/7 calling of all believers; and that “discipleship” is a program rather than the normal state of every follower of Jesus.”
Jeff Vanderstelt, Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life
This blog was origionally posted at The Gospel Project.
Bible Reading and Spiritual Formation
We consume countless messages day in and day out. It has been estimated that the average American is exposed to more than 5,000 marketing messages a day—most of them involuntary. It’s also been estimated that most Americans voluntarily consume 9-11 hours of media a day. That is a lot of information consumed both voluntarily and involuntarily.
The messages we are exposed to tend to shape our thoughts, feelings, and decisions over time. As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Accordingly, it follows that lasting spiritual change comes from the prayerful study of God’s Word as God’s Spirit conforms us to the image of Christ (see Heb. 4:12).
Therefore, it is important that we take time to consider carefully how we ought to listen. I fear that far too many Christians allow God’s Word to pass through their eyes without changing their heads, convicting their hearts, or conforming their hands. So here are three intentional ways to approach Bible reading that will shape your spiritual formation.
Allow God’s Word To Change Your Head
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2
In Romans 1, Paul talks of the pagans who exchanged the truth of God for lies and were conformed to the patterns of the world. Implicit in Paul’s argument through Romans is that the present evil age still threatens the formation of those who belong to Christ. That which forms our minds affects our lives.
As our minds are made new as we “discern” God’s will through the study of God’s Word, we thus pattern our lives after God’s will. The first step in reflective Bible reading, therefore, is allowing God’s Word to register in your mind. The command “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” is just that—a command.
We must focus our minds on God’s word so that over time transformation will take place. So when we read God’s Word, our minds must be fully engaged. Being attentive requires self-discipline. If God is speaking to us through His Word, we should listen.
Allow God’s Word To Convict Your Heart
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered 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 3:2-3
In this portion of 2 Corinthians, Paul focuses in on the work of the Holy Spirit. In this passage, Paul contrasts the old covenant, in which God wrote on tablets of stone, to the ministry of the Spirit that writes on the tablets of the human heart when the word of God takes root.
The Spirit’s work of changing the Christian’s hearts is a result of the ministry of the Word. There is a spiritual connection between what’s in our hearts and what comes out in our behavior. In Luke 6:43-45, Jesus tells us that we live out of our hearts and uses the example of a tree. There is an unbreakable connection between the roots of the tree (heart) and the fruit of the tree (behavior).
In the Bible, the heart represents the center of our being. Out of the abundance of the heart our lives speak. God’s Word must take root in our heart for change in our behavior to take effect.
Allow God’s Word To Conform Your Hands
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. – James 1:22-25
The central theme of this section in James is everyday Christianity guided by “the word of truth.” James argues that true Christianity is characterized by deeply “hearing” and then decisively “doing” what God’s Word calls for. Being doers of the Word, and not hearers only is the only proper response to the Word of God.
Obedience to the Word is the mark of the true child of God. Looking intently at one’s face in a mirror and then forgetting what he was like demonstrates the foolishness of examining oneself in the mirror of God’s Word and then doing nothing about it. When one sees imperfections (as when looking in a mirror), common sense says something should be done.
If we are honest, there are times that we do not want to be obedient to God’s Word. However, the Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel. Pastor and author Eugene Peterson argues that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quickly than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Being obedient, even when we do not feel like it, will eventually reshape our hearts from seeing God’s commands as mere duty to enjoying them with genuine delight.
Strategies for Spiritual Formation in Bible Reading
There is always something God wants us to do in response to His Word. We must allow God’s Word to change our heads, convict our hearts, and conform our hands. Here are a few strategies to let God’s Word richly dwell in you (Col. 3:16).
Prayerfully take notes as you read. This is an excellent way to stay focused while studying. It is also a valuable aid to memory. The physical act of writing something down helps to fix it in our minds.
Talk about God’s Word with others. We gain added benefit from studying the Bible when we talk about it with someone else. Moreover, working out the implications of a Bible passage in conversation with others can not only help reaffirm those truths in your own mind but can also benefit you by hearing the insights of others.
Allow the Spirit to search your heart as you read. In other words, apply Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.” While studying God’s Word we should be asking the Spirit of God to search us at our very root, deep in our souls, and reveal sin and teach us godliness.
I recently picked up Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction at a used book store (I love the title). I have always found Peterson’s writing soul stirring. In this book Peterson offers an honest and reflective journey through the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). Consider this thought on worship based on Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (ESV)
But very often we don’t feel like [worshiping], and so we say, “It would be dishonest for me to go to a place of worship and praise God when I don’t feel like it. I would be a hypocrite.” The Psalm says, I don’t care whether you feel like it or not: as was decreed, “give thanks to the name of God.”
I have put great emphasis on the fact that Christians worship because they want to, not because they are forced to. But I have never said that we worship because we feel like it. Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshiped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith. Paul Scherer is laconic: “The Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel.”
We live in what one writer has called “the age of sensation.” We think that if we don’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.
The Bishop Basil of Caesarea is well known in church history for being one of the most influential theologians of the early church. Basil was a stout theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early church. At the same time, Basil was also known for his care of the hurting and neglected. It was once said of Basil that “his words were like thunder because his life was like lightning.” This is powerful imagery for pastoral ministry, imagery that connects our pastoral calling with our Christian character.
When one examines the character qualifications for pastors in the New Testament, especially in the Pastoral Epistles, it becomes clear that there is a standard for spiritual and moral maturity (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9). In short, pastoral character is vital for faithful ministry. Don Carson has said on many occasions that what is most remarkable about the qualifications for a pastor is that they are so unremarkable. In other words, the quality of character called for in pastors can be found mandated for all Christians in other parts of God’s word.
So, while the pastor is not expected to be the ideal of perfection, pastors are to be mature exemplars of the character demanded of all Christians. One way to think of it is that pastors lead with a limp. While not perfect, pastors are to set an example in Christian character (1 Peter 5:3). This has several implications for pastoral character, and for the development of Christian character within the congregation.
First, as pastors, we must apply God’s word to our own lives as we call the congregation to do the same. The unique element found in the qualifications for pastors, other than being a recent convert, is that a pastor is to be set apart for the teaching of the word. As we know, the teaching of the whole counsel of God includes how to live a God honoring life (1 Timothy 4:16). Pastors must submit their lives to the word they proclaim. For example, it is hard for us to call the church to care for the hurting and neglected, unless we too are committed to the same.
Second, pastors are to lead in repentance. Philosopher Charles Taylor has described our secular age as “the age of authenticity”. Taylor’s analysis is helpful in showing us that confession of weakness and repentance can actually help to endear us to our people. Our people need to see that the character in the Christian life isn’t marked by the sinless life; it’s marked by the repentant life (1 John 1:9). Christ is the only sinless shepherd. We cannot call people to repentance when we are not repenting ourselves. In many ways, the bedrock of pastoral character is a willingness to repent (Ephesians 2:8).
Third, pastors are to commit themselves to the community of faith in which they serve. The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone, even for pastors (Hebrews 10:25). The church community is the primary context where Christians are called to work out the application of God’s word. Moreover, the church community is the place where your need for the gospel is powerfully revealed. This is why it is important for the pastors to be deeply invested in the community of the church (Ephesians 4:11-16). God uses those around us to reveal our sin and encourage us to godliness.
I think all of us want churches full of people with honorable Christian character. This starts with the hard work of developing character within our own lives. Too often pastors want the rain of God’s blessing in their ministry without passing through both thunder and lightning. Pastor, we are expected to lead the congregation not just with the words of our lips, but by the fruit in our life. Our words will be thunder when our life is like lightning.
This post is excerpted and adapted from the Christ-centered Exposition Commentary on Galatians (1:6-7). You can get the whole set in WordSearch right now for $69.95. Here are three important truths accompany a person’s tragic turn from the gospel, by Tony Merida.
When you turn from the gospel, you turn from God Himself
Paul says that the Galatians are turning away from “Him,” not merely from a set of principles. When you turn from the gospel, you are turning from the God of all grace. You are turning from the Christ “who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age”. Paul says he is amazed that the Galatians are turning from their Redeemer, the fountain of all grace. When you turn from the gospel, you turn from God Himself. Disbelieving the gospel is no small error. If you miss Christ, you will lose everything.
When you turn from the gospel, you turn from the grace of Christ
“The grace of Christ” is a synonym for the gospel (cf. 5:4). Remember, the Judaizers believed salvation was Jesus + circumcision and the requirements of the OT law. But salvation is not Jesus + anything. Why? Because salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. Notice how the words “called” and “grace” are together in Galatians 1:6 and in verse 15. The Galatians were called by grace, and they were called into the realm of grace. This type of call denotes God’s sovereign action and believers’ experience. When God calls you to Christ, you sense His power. You sense God dealing with you. Just as He called Abraham, Moses, and Paul, He calls sinners to Himself today. He calls us not because of any good in us but because of His grace.
When you turn from the gospel, you have nowhere else to go
Paul tells the Galatians that they are “turning to a different gospel,” but adds, “not that there is another gospel”. In other words, Paul says the false teachers’ message is no gospel at all. There is only one gospel. In all likelihood the false teachers were saying that their gospel was not different from what Paul taught. But Paul says, “Yes, it is.” There is nothing else like the gospel of Christ. Unfortunately, false teachers have been using the same “Oh, we believe in Jesus, too” line for centuries. But when you go deeper into the teachings of any cult, you realize that it presents a [another] gospel (cf. 2 Cor 11:3-4).
The point is that there is no other way to be right with God, to experience forgiveness of sin, apart from the gospel of Christ Jesus (see John 14:6-7). It is difficult for people to embrace the exclusiveness of the gospel when they swim in a sea of religious pluralism and philosophical relativism. We often hear, “All religions are equally valid, and there is no one truth.” But finding right relationship with God is not like selecting a deodorant. You may choose any of a number of antiperspirants to keep you fresh, but that is not the case when it comes to securing eternal life. Only one path to God will do: Jesus. He has no equal. He is not one among many religious leaders. He is the one and only Messiah.