The Shepherd’s Heart

Acts 20:28-31 (NIV)  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

 

One of the widely used Biblical metaphors for spiritual leadership is that of a shepherd. Ezekiel talks about good and bad shepherds—referring to Israel’s kings and religious leaders. David is described as a shepherd of the people of Israel; Jesus described himself as a “good shepherd.” He also charged Apostle John to “feed my sheep.” Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders in Ephesus to “be shepherds of God’s flock.” And Apostle Peter calls Jesus the “chief shepherd.”

In all these analogies, there are underlying qualities of a spiritual leader. For instance
shepherds provide for the sheep. They are supposed to ensure that people under their leadership are fed on the Word of God. The Word of God provides spiritual nourishment and the basis for discerning God’s will for one’s life. Just as a parent wants the children to appreciate healthy food over junk food, the pastor’s role is to train the believer to discern truth from error based on God’s Word.

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Leaders should also have genuine interest in the welfare of their people. The parable of the lost sheep reveals the heart of the Shepherd who risks everything, including His own life to bring the wayward sheep back to the fold. The pastor has an unenviable responsibility of rebuking and disciplining believers who do not live according to God’s Word. But at the same time pastors should also comfort and restore those who have been bruised by the consequences of sin. All spiritual leaders are under-shepherds that emulate the Master-Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

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Unmet Expectations

Luke 19:41-44 (NIV)  As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine over ministry expectations. He was not comfortable with my philosophy of ministry and the way we ran stuff at church. Every relationship revolves around expectations. The more these expectations are mutually met, the healthier the relationship. Some expectations may be expressed while others may not. Some are realistic, others aren’t.

It is always fulfilling when our expectations are met. But it can be disappointing or even devastating when our expectations remain unfulfilled. Unrealistic expectations can hurt both us and others, especially those whom we care about. Some people have expectations of their friends and colleagues that only God can meet. This of course puts a strain on their relationship.

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If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace…

It is also possible to have unrealistic expectations of God. The Jewish people during the time of Jesus had a faulty understanding of the person and mission of the Messiah. They were waiting for a charismatic, political and militarily powerful liberator. It’s no wonder that the Jesus Christ of Nazareth could not fit into their frame of reference. He was too ordinary to be the “savior” they had been waiting for. When He came to them they did not recognize Him. They missed the “time of God’s coming to [them]” (Luke 19:44). And their rejection of the Savior had far reaching ramifications. That’s why Jesus wept. They rejected the One who could give them peace—the Prince of Peace. They rejected their King; they One they had been waiting for all along. But that was not all. 40 years later, the city of Jerusalem would be besieged and later destroyed together with six hundred thousand of its inhabitants.

What are your expectations of God? How do you respond when things seem not to be going your way? Could you be in a resisting God’s will because you have misconstrued God’s will and His ways?

What about your expectations of the people around you—your spouse, siblings, colleagues, etc? Are they realistic and contributing to building a healthy relationship?

My prayer is that God may help us to have realistic expectations in whatever relationships we are involved in.

 

Our Humanness and God’s Purposes

1 Kings 19:1-4 (NIV)   Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”  3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there,  4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Fleeing for dear Life

After a powerful demonstration of God’s power (by fire), defeat of Baal’s prophets, and the end of three and a half years of a dry spell which had been pronounced by him (chapter 18), Elijah now faces a death threat from Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife. Jezebel’s reputation for being a nasty and deadly queen is unmatched. Not wanting to take chances, Elijah flees for his life.

1 Kings 19:5-6 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

This story reveals Elijah’s humanness. He is a fiery prophet, powerfully used of God but he is also human. It is easy to underestimate our humanness, especially when God is powerfully using us. Elijah’s life is threatened precisely because he is doing God’s will. This story also reveals God’s concern and care for his servants (vv. 5-8). Elijah was tired; he need to rest. He was hungry; he needed to eat—a lot of food. God provided all that he needed (vv. 5-9).When we find ourselves tired, discouraged and depressed, God is right there to help us. His grace is available for the weak, and tired and desperate.

Serving God and being in His will does not necessarily insulate us from life’s challenges and threats. Yet God cares for us even in the most difficult experiences.

A Gentle Whisper of God

1 Kings 19:11-12 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

At mount Horeb, Elijah has many things to complain about: Israel’s worship and religious systems are dead. There has been severe persecution and killing of God’s prophets. Elijah feels alone, rejected and perhaps suicidal. Here is a stark contrast between the Elijah at Mount Carmel: confident, bold, in charge (chapter 18); and the one at Mount Horeb: distraught, unsure, and desperate (vv. 10, 14).

Elijah encounters God, not in the spectacular phenomena of powerful wind, earthquake and fire, but in “a gentle whisper” (v. 12). The God of Mt. Carmel who answers by fire is the same God of Mt. Horeb who answers in a gentle whisper. God works in and through ordinary people like Elijah (and you and me for that matter) to accomplish His purposes (cf. James 5:17-18).

The Transition

1 Kings 19:15-16  The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.  Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.

Elijah has been faithful to God; it is now time for a transition. He is to anoint other kings— Hazael and Jehu, and his successor—Elisha. Elijah also needs to know that he is not alone. There are “seven thousand in Israel– all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (v. 18). One of the strategies that the enemy uses to discourage us is to make us feel and believe that we are alone; that our experiences are unique and no one really understands us. The truth is that you are not alone. When you feel abandoned ask God to lead you to people who can be of encouragement to you.

Have you ever realized that God’s purposes are bigger than you; than your accomplishments or even your failures? As His servants, we are not in charge; He is.

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The Centrality of Worship

In the beginning…

God is Holy and demands that the people He created worship Him. Simply put, we were created to worship the One living God. When God created mankind, Adam and Eve, he put them in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). This was their act of worship. There was neither temple nor altar in the Garden of Eden because the fellowship between God and people was unbroken. But because of sin, mankind could no longer have direct fellowship with God. As a result altars, temples, sacrifices and priests became necessary. You see, the heart of worship is obedience. We cannot worship God on our terms. God has set the terms and conditions for those who worship Him. To worship God is to acknowledge Him for who He is and what He does.

Let my people go, so that they may worship me (Exodus 10:3).

The encounters between Moses and Pharaoh in the book of Exodus highlight the centrality of worship. God’s purpose is delivering the children of Israel from Egypt was “that they may worship [Him]” (Exodus 9:13). “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go” Pharaoh asked Moses (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh’s response to Moses signifies how the devil’s primary mission is to stop or distract us from worshiping God. So, in this sense, worship is spiritual warfare.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Revelation 21:22 22).

Jesus Christ reiterated the centrality of worship when He told the Samaritan woman that the Father seeks for worshipers who worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). In the Book of Revelation, the worship ideal is restored. There will be no temple in the new earth and new heaven because God’s presence will be with His people (Revelation 21:22). This is the ultimate goal of life—the sommum bonum; to find pleasure in the presence of God. May we all strive to make worship the center of our lives.

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Worship and the Authority of God

Worship is one of the subjects widely discussed in the church circles today. Most of the discussion has more to do with forms and styles than the essence of worship.  Of course styles and aesthetics have their place but the essence of worship should not be sacrificed at the altar of forms. In his book, Return to Worship, Ron Owens states that the “fundamental problem with much of our worship today, and with our lives in general, is that we don’t see God as the God whose throne is really above the world. We don’t see Him as the God who lives outside of time.”

Theology and worship are closely related. In fact theology influences worship. How people worship is a reflection of their understanding of God. Whenever people lose the sense of the transcendent, they turn to idolatry. People have a tendency to depend on what is visible and tangible but true faith causes us to trust in the One who is invisible but sovereign.

Worship goes beyond our feelings and experiences. God has revealed Himself in His Word as the creator of the universe, the redeemer of the world, and the One seated on the throne.  As Owens puts it, “may we never forget that the One we approach to worship is the One who is from everlasting to everlasting. He has all authority and power. To Him be all blessing and honor and glory and power.”

Whenever we lose the sense of the Transcendent

Reference: Owens, Ron, with Jan McMurray. Return to Worship: A God-Centered Approach. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 1999.

Death Demystified

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 (NIV)  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

A few months ago my mother died. She was the sweetest woman I ever knew. She faithfully served the Lord for over 70 years. As a way of honoring her life we chose a celebration theme for her funeral. We sang songs of praise to God. We even danced. A friend of mine who watched a video clip of the funeral commented that it was a funeral of a different kind.

But even with all the testimonies and celebrations, facing the reality of my mother’s death was the hardest thing I have ever dealt with. A day before her death, my wife and I agreed that we would pray and surrender our mother’s life to God’s will—and that was the hardest prayer we ever prayed. Although we knew in our minds that it was time for our mother to go to the place she had always longed for, we were not emotionally ready to let her go.

Death is perhaps the scariest experience on the face of the earth (if you doubt, just google “death” and checkout the images that show up). It is a grim reality we have to deal with. The reality of death is very painful, whether it is the death of a loved one or us facing it due to a terminal illness. Death is an intruder. It is unnatural. It is something we can never get used to because we were not created to die.

What scares you most about death

However, death this is not the end. Just like sin, death has no place in heaven. Therefore, our faith in Jesus Christ makes a great difference in how we deal with death. Satan’s victory in the Garden of Eden was temporary but Jesus’ victory on the cross was decisive and final. On the cross, Jesus demystified death. We can encounter death with confidence. There is hope beyond the grave. For a Christian, death is an irony. It is a moment of pain, especially when we lose a loved one. But is also a moment of victory, because those who die in Christ will certainly live again.

What scares you most about death? Even the scariest thing on earth has been defeated by our Lord. We can, therefore, say with confidence, “Where, O death, is your victory?” We have victory over death because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

Save Me!

Psalm 69:4 (NIV) Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal.

The psalmist uses an image of one who is drowning to express his dire need for help. He has no foothold. He feels outnumbered and overwhelmed by his enemies. Although he might be suffering for his sins, his enemies take advantage to torment him even more. The situation becomes more desperate when he calls but God seems to be nowhere. But he knows that unless God intervenes, he is sure to lose.

Many of us have been there when we were in desperate and urgent need of help. When we knew that we had run out of options—and even more importantly, out of time. I have witnessed horrible scenes of motor accidents. A victim is trapped in a wreck of car with a body drenched in blood and pieced with broken pieces of glass. She is visibly experiencing excruciating pain and longs for someone to come to her rescue. She wants to shout—to call out to anyone can possibly help—but she cannot. She gasps for air and mutters “help; save me”!”

“Save me” is a cry of desperation. It is an acknowledgement that something is wrong. It is an acceptance that unless Someone intervenes in our situation, we will be lost; we will perish. It is an admission of our inability to help ourselves out of our predicament; an admission that we have failed. It is a declaration of one’s hope in the Other who is stronger.

A cry for “help” is also an expression of humility. Proud people can hardly accept that they need help—even when it is very obvious to everyone else that they are in desperate need of it. “Save me” is the only prayer one who is sinking can afford to pray. And it is the one prayer that will never go unanswered. Thank God that He has promised that everyone who calls on His name shall be saved. The name “Jesus” means Savior. Not only has He saved us from our sins and eternal damnation, but He is always there to help us when we need Him.