Archives For Shepherding

I’m no Scrooge. I don’t object to draping tinsel, jetting off Christmas e-cards, or singing inane jingles about jingling bells. I trust that my family understands that–pagan roots aside–the plastic conifer in our living room is not a subtle mark of our allegiance to the forces of darkness. It’s just a (model of a) tree.

We do, however, prefer singing “Hark the Herald Angel Sings” over the misdirected praise of “Oh Christmas Tree,” though I’m not even fanatic about enforcing that.

We tolerate the poetic inaccuracy of “We three kings of Orient are” because it rolls off the tongue better than “We indeterminable number of Gentile scholars of Persia are.”

But… I am nervous about the potential confusion which may cloud a four-year-old’s faith in my honesty. 

Angels on high, a pregnant virgin, God in a manger, a guiding star… are impossibilities. Yet, “all things are possible with God.” [Yes, you need to believe in the virgin birth to be a ChristianWe ask our children to trust us on these claims, with their lives. Then we add a fictitious, omniscient fat guy with a red-nosed reindeer to the mix. At a certain age we matter-of-factly disclose that we were just kidding about the chimney intrusion, the Elven workshop, and the works-based naughty-or-nice judgment. “Those parts are make-believe, the rest is gospel truth. Trust me, son.”

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yoke1The “L” word. It’s one of the ugliest of all words: legalism. Defined as the idea that we can earn right standing with God, it does violence to the glorious gospel of Christ. It says, “No, sorry, it’s not enough,” to the substitutionary atoning work of Christ. It confuses the way to forgiveness, it tarnishes the gospel of grace, it lays up heavy burdens that no one can carry, it crushes hope, and fuels despair. It declares that man possesses finesse to propitiate the just wrath of God due our sin. For that, legalism is deadly and must be opposed at every level. Paul called it another gospel whose proponents are condemned (Gal 1:8-9).

Consequently, labeling something/one legalistic ought to be done with caution. To bring the charge is to say that this thing or person is in danger of propagating an unsavable system and trampling the cross of Christ. So if we label something legalistic, we better thoroughly understand the gospel, the definition of legalism, and what exactly is happening with what we are labeling as legalistic. Otherwise, we are sinning by erroneously labeling something in opposition to the cross of Jesus Christ.

Even so, the legalism card often gets overplayed. More and more I’ve interacted with Christians humbly and faithfully working out their salvation with fear and trembling, only to have the legalism card slapped on them. As such, they’re being fallaciously warned about legalism boogeymen. There are many I’ve heard of lurking in Christendom.

Looking Under BedHere are 5 all-too-common legalism boogeymen we need to shoo away:

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One balmy Summer day in 1997 Rita Rupp (57) from Tulsa Oklahoma, was on a lengthy road trip with her husband Floyd (67). For no reason in particular, she began to sense that they may be in danger. She started thinking, ‘What if someone hijacks our car and kidnaps us? No one even realize we’re missing for days, and no one would come looking for us.’ So she hatched a plan.save me

Rita wrote a note, just in case she got kidnapped. She scrawled the note in appropriately distressed handwriting, “Help I’ve been kidnapped. Call the Highway Patrol.” She also supplied her name and a helpful description of the van they were driving.

This eccentric emergency plan would actually have proven to be a pretty good idea in the event that at some point she had actually been kidnapped, and managed to dispatch the note before being incapacitated.

At the idea was rather harmless, albeit a bit quirky. Except for one unforeseen eventuality. Mrs Rupp’s paranoia would have remained her private problem if on a bathroom break at a gas station the note hadn’t inadvertently dropped out of her handbag. Oops.

A conscientious attendant found the alarming note and quickly notified the authorities who then immediately issued alerts, mobilized patrol vehicles, and set up road blocks in four states. (Here is the New York Times article that proves I’m not making this up).

All the while, Mr and Mrs Rupp were cruising along to their destination, blissfully unaware of the multi-agency, national rescue operation that been launched to save them.

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November 19, 2013

Help with holiness

by Steve Meister

We must be holy, because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world [2 Cor 5:15Eph 5:25-26Titus 2:14]… Jesus is a complete Saviour. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more – He breaks its power (1 Pet 1:2Rom 8:29Eph 1:42 Tim 1:9Heb 12:10).

 J.C. Ryle, Holiness

I’ve recently preached a mini-series on holiness for our congregation (audio here). We began with Lev 10:1-11 and 1 Cor 6:9-11, and concluded with Heb 12:1-14.

After being a Christian for nearly 20 years, I can unfortunately say that personal holiness has not been a topic that’s received great emphasis in the churches and ministries with which I’ve been in fellowship. In Rediscovering Holiness, J. I. Packer points to the same reality.

Packer identifies 3 evidences that Christians today evidently do not think personal holiness is very important:   Continue Reading…

ET and the MoonI always thought Halloween was delightful and charming. I guess I always knew deep down that it had scary roots—either something to do with ghouls and witches, or Catholic holidays. But the freckled, buck-teeth kids interrupting my important sitcom watching hardly seemed sinister. I confess that, I actually found it quite charming to be greeted by the Smurfs, glow-worms, princesses, Darth Vaders,  and other beguiling alter-egos salivating on my welcome mat.

Little did I know how dastardly this holiday was. Like a razor blade in a Snickers bar, Satan had impregnated my spiritual life with his malicious influence.  How naïve I was to think I could glorify God and enjoy a cultural holiday at the same time. But I’ve been enlightened.

I’m grateful for the plethora of e-mails and blogs I encountered last week that warned me of the noxious effects of  Halloween. Who knew that what erstwhile druids touted as flagrant demonic wickedness would one day evolve into something so deceptively cute and harmless.

It piqued my curiosity that perhaps there were other apparently harmless days that were laced with esoteric dangers. Since most of the helpful anti-Halloween rhetoric emphasized the poisonous roots from which the holiday sprang, I began my detective work in the same place—the origins of benign days.  To my horror I discovered a day more insidious than Halloween: Mondays!

It turns out that the roots of Monday are as pagan as you can imagine!

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The New Testament often describes the church as a building. Jesus is the “living stone” that makes our foundation, but all believers are also “living stones…being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5).

Paul uses this same metaphor and stresses the progressive nature of it. He writes that believers are “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). But then he notes that, “the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (v. 21-22).

building prjoect

In other words, the work is on going. We ARE being built…right now the work is continuing. And if the church is an ongoing building project, that affects the way pastors view their work. In fact, this is exactly Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 3:9-14). The work is ongoing, and that should seriously affect the way pastors view their work.

Here are eight brief ways the building metaphor should affect how church leaders view their ministry:   Continue Reading…

September 27, 2013

The Minister as Waiter

by Mike Riccardi

Reposted from August 26, 2011.

In Acts 6, we find that famous passage in which the occasion comes for the Apostles to designate the priorities of the Christian ministry. The twelve make it known to the congregation that, above all other ministerial responsibilities and worthy pursuits, they will devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Ac 6:4).

The Greek word translated “ministry” in that passage is diakonía. It comes from the verb diakonéō, the normal New Testament verb that is translated, “to minister.” While it eventually takes on the more technical connotation of what we think of as “Christian ministry,” its most basic meaning is to serve. In fact, it’s used this way in the very same passage. In Acts 6:1 we’re told of the problem that prompted the Apostles’ response: the widows of the Hellenistic Jews “were being overlooked in the daily serving (diakonía) of food.”

And the word is used in this most basic sense frequently throughout the gospels.

  • Peter’s mother-in-law began ministering (diakonéō) to Jesus after He healed her. What was her ministry? The NASB says, “…she got up and waited on Him” (Mt 8:15, NASB).
  • Similarly, the alert slave waiting for his master’s coming is said to wait on (diakonéō) his master and his guests (Lk 12:37, NASB).
  • In Luke 17:8, the “unprofitable servant,” who is not thanked for doing his duty, is said to serve (diakonéō) his master while he eats and drinks.
  • Finally, Martha complains to Jesus about Mary leaving her “to do all the serving (diakonéō) alone” (Lk 10:40), which of course included the practical preparations for Jesus’ visit to their house (see also John 12:2). Here again, ministry takes on this connotation of waiter- or waitress-like service.

If we seek to follow in the Apostles’ footsteps in devoting ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word of God, we must adopt the attitude of a diákonos in the various contexts of the Christian ministry. The biblical shepherd is to be a servant—a waiter who supplies the food of the Word of God appropriately according to the various hunger pangs of the flock that Christ has entrusted to him.

As I reflect on the implications of this illustration of the minister as waiter, I find that there are some really insightful parallels between the pastor and the waiter. Here are five of those.

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September 24, 2013

Moderate Mourning

by Jesse Johnson

tearsWhen a Christian dies, other believers find themselves pulled by two competing emotions both clamoring for obedience in the heart. First, the ones left behind have the desire to grieve their loss. The father who is not there, the mother who is gone, or the child who precedes her parents in death—when someone dies there are those left who will be missing their loved one, and grief is an urgent and inevitable reality. This is why Romans 12:15 commands us to mourn with those who mourn.

But Romans 12:15 also commands us to rejoice with those who rejoice, and here the Christian finds his heart pulled in the other direction.  We desire to celebrate that a person we love has run their race, finished the course, and now resides in glory. We want to be glad because we know they are exceedingly better. Thus our hearts are simultaneously pulled to joy as to grief.

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Monday’s Navy Yard shooting ended with twelve innocent people murdered. One of them was Marty Bodrog.

half mast

Marty, along with his wife Melanie, was a faithful part of Immanuel Bible Church. He was the kind of guy who causes people to conclude that God gives certain men the grace to father daughters; Marty was gregarious yet gentle, towering yet kind. Indeed he had three daughters, Izzy, Sophie, and Rita—two of whom are still in high school, and all three have their father’s wit and gentleness.

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September 16, 2013

Living with Grizzlies

by Clint Archer

English: Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis...Grizzly bears are arguably the most significant animal threat to humans in North America. Unlike my homeland, South Africa, where the man eating predators are almost exclusively confined to areas where people are safe from them, many national parks in North America allow campers and hikers to explore areas where bears roam freely in the wild.

Grizzly means golden haired, but a famous pun was institutionalized by naturalist George Ord when he classified them, “not for their looks but for their grisly character,” as he averred. “Grisly” means “causing horror,” so Ord classified the mainland Grizzly as urcas arctos horribilis, or “horrible American bears.” The mainland grizzly is the largest and most aggressive species in America. They grow to be over 360kg. And at 2 meters tall and 1 meter wide they are the dimensional equivalent of meaty, man-eating, Ford Fiesta.

These deceptively docile-looking fuzzy creatures are notorious for their dexterity at killing humans with a casual swat, but then also feasting on the carcass. Since they can move faster than the average cyclist, there is no use trying to outrun them. Your best defense (apparently), should you have the unhappy privilege of encountering one in the wild, is to lie in a fetal position, play dead, and hope its not hungry.

Unless you are Timothy Treadwell.

Treadwell was nicknamed the Grizzly Man. He spent a total of 13 months, or 35,000 hours in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, living with bears. He captured some of the most intimate and spectacular footage of grizzlies. Over time the bears began to accept him in their presence. He could walk right up to them and stroke them like a domestic pet, something no other human being has captured on film. Treadwell was not afraid of the bears, nor were they afraid of him. And that became a problem. The park officials viewed him as “misguided at best, and at worst, dangerous.” They were concerned that his example could lead others to believe the bears were harmless, and venture to approach them. All other bear experts agreed that the grizzlies were still wild, still dangerous, and that Treadwell was treading on thin ice by being near them. And the experts were right. Continue Reading…