Gratitude, Day 10—The Shepherd And Guardian Of My Soul


I suppose since I’ve already said I’m thankful for salvation and for God’s kindness, it’s probably apparent that I’m thankful for God Himself. But today I’m specifically thankful for these two aspects of who God is—my Shepherd and the Guardian of my soul. I learn about these characteristics of God from 1 Peter 2:

For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Years ago I read A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller. It gave me a much deeper understanding of that metaphor. The shepherd isn’t just hanging out watching the sheep graze all day. The sheep really do stray, and the shepherd really does hunt them down, steer them away from danger, rescue them from the holes they get in, check them closely for critters that get into their wool, protect them from snakebite, from predators that would carry them off and eat them alive.

The Shepherd of my soul looks out for me spiritually in much the same way.

He also stands guard, the way a watchman does from a city wall. He is ready to sound the alert because he is ever vigilant.

Consequently, I can get a good night’s sleep. I don’t have to worry or anxiously look about, wondering if the next cultural trend will irreparably harm me or my faith. I don’t have to wring my hands at the latest election results or what the new atheists are saying or the progressives who pose as believers, but are not.

Because I have a Guardian of my soul who will not let the evil tear down my faith.

It’s really peaceful to put my trust in the Shepherd and Guardian of my soul. I’m still concerned about the way the world is going, the way western culture is moving into a post-truth way of thinking. I pray for revival. But one way I know I have a Shepherd and Guardian of my soul is that just today I heard another radio sermon in which the pastor talked about praying for revival. He is not the first! Other believers, other pastors, are praying, too.

So yes, I pray. And I do all in my power to be an obedient sheep, following my Shepherd, not one of the other stupid creatures who jump at any loud sound and go running off to hide. I once was straying, but not any more. Now I want to get as close to the shepherd as I can get. I’m that thankful for Him.

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Published in: on November 14, 2018 at 6:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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How Do We Know?


Over and over one of the atheist guys in the atheist/theist group on Facebook of which I’m a member, has asked Christians how we know. How do we know God exists, how do we know the Bible is not just myth, how do we know we have a relationship with Jesus?

The last question is quite a challenge, but as I thought about it, I realized the Bible had answered it already. Long before Atheist Guy had thought to ask. As near as I can discern, Jesus was talking to a group, including a number of Pharisees, about the fact that a healed blind man had been kicked out of the temple.

Essentially Jesus said, the authorities who kicked him out were blind to who Jesus actually was. The Pharisees who were part of the group said, “We’re not blind too, are we?” Jesus gave a kind of confusing answer, then he told a story about sheep.

We don’t know sheep in western American culture, but first century Jews did. So this analogous story was not in any way odd. It was a good choice to make the points Jesus wanted to make. Here’s part of what Jesus said:

“he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Later He explains part of the analogy to the people He was talking to, but the part that clicked with me was the statement that the shepherd’s sheep know his voice. I’ve watched a number of YouTube videos about sheep and shepherds for a few other posts I’ve done, such as this one, but in those I wrote with the Shepherd in mind. But the truth of what Jesus said about the sheep knowing the shepherd’s voice is very clear.

So that was my answer to Atheist Guy. I know I have a relationship with God, that He counsels me, encourages me, answers my questions, reproves me, because I know His voice.

That wasn’t enough for Atheist Guy. How do I know it’s God and not some other entity or even my own imaginings and delusion?

Well, years ago I’d believed—really hoped—something I’d prayed for was true, kind of talked myself into thinking this was God’s answer. But I had reservations, even journaled about them, because I knew in my heart I was not hearing God’s voice buy my own hopes. So I knew what Atheist Guy said was certainly possible.

But then I started thinking about human relationships. My friend can telephone, not say who she is, and without caller ID, I can know in a word or two who I’m talking to. Same with my sister, my brother, and a handful of others. How do I know their voices? Simple. I’ve spent enough time talking to them that I know them.

That’s true about knowing God’s voice, too. If I spend time with Him, I know His voice. And the more time I spend with Him, the more sensitive I am to His voice, so that I “hear” what He’s saying through life circumstances as well as within the stillness of my heart or the revelation from His word.

Was Atheist Guy convinced? No. But I was. Why wouldn’t we know God better and better if we are with Him more and more? It’s pretty logical, and not at all complicated.

Published in: on August 8, 2018 at 6:25 pm  Comments (17)  
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Hearing God’s Voice


Shepherd_on_the_way_to_Hampta_PassToday InsanityBytes posted an article entitled “God Said??” and it reminded me of a video I saw some time ago. In a busy town, perhaps in the Middle East, cars zoomed down the street. On one side stood a shepherd and on the other a small flock of sheep. When there was a small break in traffic, he would call and one sheep would cross to him. The others stayed where they were, though sheep are notorious followers. When there was another break between cars, then another, he would call again and again. One by one those sheep crossed to him, presumably when he called specifically to each one in turn.

I went to YouTube hoping to find the video, but alas, I didn’t come across it. Perhaps I saw it at church. At any rate, I did find a few other clips that show the responsiveness of sheep to their shepherd’s voice. It’s pretty impressive. The first one brings this passage of Scripture to mind:

he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:2-5)

The second one reminds me of the parable Jesus told about leaving the 99 sheep to find the one that is lost:

“What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. (Matt. 18:12-14)

Not that the shepherd in this next video has to go looking for one of his sheep. Rather, it seems so clear that any sheep not hearing the shepherd could go wondering off. Then too, it appears a wandering sheep might draw away others from the flock:

I don’t know about you, but I am fascinated by sheep. They are so vulnerable, so timid, so prone to wander and so willing to follow, so in need of a shepherd. Watching them makes me understand in a new way why Scripture compares us to sheep so often. I could even see, after watching a few clips, why Jesus said He is the Good Shepherd, not just the Shepherd. There are some task-master cruel shepherds. But their sheep recognize their voice too. We really do respond to the one who owns us.

Peace For The Duration


ambulance-206474-mGod is our peace, and yet there are lots of things in this life that are not peace-inducing. Monday night an ambulance pulled up in front of my neighbor’s house. In due time (after the EMTs arrived and the required fire truck), the attendants wheeled out the daughter on a gurney. The family has been back and forth to the hospital ever since and still don’t know what’s causing her intestinal condition.

Peace? I don’t imagine so.

My dear uncle who has been in and out of the hospital this past year and has been on dialysis, decided to end that treatment. He’s home now and under hospice care.

Peace? It’s hard to think of life without him. Much harder for his children than for me, I’m sure.

And what about the person who lost his job this week or the college girl who’s boyfriend broke up with her? What about the family separated because one of the parents is in the military?

What does peace mean for these folks?

The fact is, nothing changes even though the circumstances change. God is still sovereign and good and can be trusted. He spells it out for us in His world:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)

The important thing to note here is that God does not promise to give us whatever it is we make supplication for. What He promises is His peace.

Our prayers are really a way of turning our problems over to God and saying, There, I’m done trying to solve this. It’s your baby now.

And that’s actually what God wants. He wants to take care of us—to shepherd us. That’s what Psalm 23 is all about. He wants to lead us, provide for us, guide us, comfort us, rejoice with us and over us.

Of course, our expectation is that with God in charge our way will be smooth. But God has so much more in mind than our temporal condition. He has so much more for us than new toys. His desire is for us to become like His Son, which means we have to have rough places sanded off so we’ll conform to His image. Or we might have knobby places chiseled away or dents pounded out, nails pulled or a pin inserted. We may have to be melted down and the dross skimmed from our lives.

This “in His image” stuff isn’t a bed of roses, and it isn’t for the faint of heart. But as odd as it sounds, it’s the way of peace.

Paul said, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

So we can lay aside our anxiety resulting in the peace of God which surpasses comprehension, and we can act in obedience to the word of God resulting in the God of peace being with us. Two very practical ways we can be sure we have peace for the duration.

Published in: on December 10, 2014 at 6:40 pm  Comments Off on Peace For The Duration  
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Theology Versus Morality, Part 3


Shepherdandsheep_1298569I ended Part 2, Theology Versus Morality by suggesting that there was perhaps more than one reason some readers want stories that show a “complete conversion”–one in which the protagonist apparently stops sinning.

The problem, of course, is that the story generally ends when the character conquers whatever problem he’s been plagued by, often by making a commitment to Christ. The implication is that ALL is solved and the character will never face the problem again. I suggested some read or write these stories because they put morality ahead of theology. Essentially they’re saying a moral life is the measure of a person’s relationship with God. It’s the same argument Job’s friends made.

But in the stories I’m talking about, the reward God gives is victory over sin.

And the truth is, God does give victory over sin. However, a new believer isn’t always free from addiction at the moment of conversion. Some people struggle. In fact, my guess is that more people identify with Paul’s statements in Romans 7 about the war between what he wants and what he does, than identify with what he said in Romans 6:

our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (vv 6-7)

Freed from sin, Paul says, but still struggling. Our fiction, however, seems to tell only the first part–freed from sin. Almost automatically. Almost magically. And those stories don’t ring true to readers who struggle with sin in their own lives.

Writers might be penning these stories because they have elevated morality above theology, but they also might write them because they have a philosophy of storytelling that values creating a model for readers to emulate.

A couple years ago I did some study for an article at Spec Faith and discovered that the novel in its earliest forms had two distinct purposes. One was “to invite the readers to mirror the virtues of the story heroes” (“The Point And Purpose Of Reading Fiction”).

I suspect this goal is still the desire of many writers. After all, we as a society copy those we look up to. That’s how fads and fashions catch on. That’s why ad companies use slogans like “Be like Mike,” a popular phrase back in the day when Michael Jordan was at the top of his game.

The key for Christian writers, I believe, is to show a character struggling, wrestling, working to turn away from evil and do good. After all, the Bible says a lot about morality. It would be one sided to pretend that God only cares about what we believe concerning Him, not what we do as a result of our belief.

But we must see morality as an outgrowth of our belief, not a means to gain right standing with God. And the depiction of morality in fiction must not confuse the two.

Some writers, however, believe that, rather than giving a model for readers to emulate, fiction should be a means to understand the world–natural and supernatural. To accomplish this, the writer must accurately and truthful reflect the world, warts and all.

This last approach creates stories that are in line with ones you can find in the book of Judges, involving such things as gang rape and murder, idolatry, betrayal, thievery, abuse, war. The idea is to discover and understand, “to expose life and society for what it is” (“The Point And Purpose Of Reading Fiction”).

These stories, then, subjugate theology to morality, but not for the sake of establishing right morality per se. Rather, a reflection of society, especially an unrestricted look at the underbelly, which exposes or critiques, is the goal.

Here are the two views, both holding theology at bay:

If we understand reading to be a mechanism by which we learn how to be or as a means for personal growth, then we probably want books that call us to godliness or at least to ethical behavior.

If on the other hand, we see reading as a reflection and critique of society, then we want stories that push our awareness of the world, including the seamy side of society. (“The Point And Purpose Of Reading Fiction”)

What I wonder is why those who want to “push our awareness of the world” don’t see as paramount the need to push our awareness of the spiritual side of the world. And by this, I’m not suggesting we need more stories about demons or angels in the vein of Frank Peretti. Rather, there seems to be a great desire to show cursing construction workers and women who sleep around, and not so much a desire to show a loving God who will tend His people like a shepherd, who will carry us with His arm, or hold us close to His chest, or gently lead us.

This is the picture God gives of Himself in Isaiah 40:11. Do we fiction writers think it’s unimportant for the world to understand God as He has shown Himself? Or do we give verbal assent to it but doubt in our hearts that He really shows Himself as He described?

That, I think, might be the key question Christian writers should ask of ourselves. Maybe that all of us should ask.

(Here are the links to Parts 1 and 2.)

Published in: on February 14, 2014 at 6:42 pm  Comments (4)  
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Women As Leaders Of The Church?


It seems obvious to me that the culture and not Scripture has influenced many people to believe that women too can be pastors and elders (would they be call eldresses? 😉 ) For over 1900 years, it seems, the Church understood the role of pastor to be reserved for men, but now in these last few decades we have scholars who say that actually all those earlier students of God’s Word, for all those centuries, had it wrong.

Why would we think that God would not correct this error long ago, if in fact it was error? Why, in the first place, did the Holy Spirit lead Paul to write something that for centuries the Church would misunderstand?

In reality, I think the Church for all those centuries understood exactly what God intended — that the role of pastor was reserved for men. Here is Paul’s clear instruction to Timothy:

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Tim 2:11-14)

Paul not only gives the principles the Church is to follow, he gives reasons for it. A woman’s role, in part, is established because of the order of creation. It is also set because Eve was deceived, not Adam.

There are several other issues involved too.

One, Scripture gives clear instructions about the relationship a wife is to have with her husband. He is the head who is to love her sacrificially. She is to give him her respect and submission.

That’s not subservience. Her submission is the same as my putting myself under the authority of a principal when I was a teacher. I may have disagreed with how a certain principal wanted to do things, but in the end, the teacher needs to give way to the principal.

That’s the way any organization must work. Somebody has to be in the hot seat where the buck stops. In a family, that “somebody” is the husband.

Each local church also has a leadership structure, with a pastor and elders taking the responsibility.

So what would happen if a woman was pastor — the head or leader of … her husband, a member of her church, who was to be her head? At one point or the other, the leadership structure God designed for the family or for the church would break down.

There’s another issue. The pastor or episkopē and the elders were given the role of shepherding the flock. Luke mentioned this in Acts when he recorded Paul’s farewell admonition to the elders in Miletus:

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28 – emphasis mine)

Peter goes into more depth in his first letter:

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4 – emphases mine)

Is it coincidental that Peter refers to the pastor and elders as shepherds and Christ as the Chief Shepherd? Clearly not. He is likening their role, in miniature, to Christ’s role — just as Paul did when he addressed husbands and said they were to love their wives like Christ loved the Church. In other words, as the husband is to serve as a type of Christ by his sacrificial love, so the pastor is to serve as a type of Christ in his shepherding role.

We should not minimize this function of the pastor — as one who gives us a glimpse of the head/body relationship we enjoy with Christ.

Apart from specialty cases in which God may indeed call and equip a woman for a time, even as He allowed David to eat the sanctified bread reserved for priests, the teaching of Scripture gives the offices of pastor and elders to men. They are to be humble servants and caretakers of their flock, and women, as fellow servants and fellow heirs, are to join in ministry, just not in the lead role.

Published in: on September 30, 2011 at 7:40 pm  Comments (9)  
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