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The Good Shepherd

June 7th, 2016

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

Christ is describing himself. No one can fulfill this role completely other than him. He is the shepherd and overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). He is the head of the church (Eph 1:22). He is the sacrificial lamb who is able to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He laid down his life for the sheep on the cross of Calvary, but this was no accidental death. It was planned and purposd before the creation of the world. Christ left heaven out of his love for us that he might save us (Phil. 2:6-8).

Yet it is also an ideal, the only standard, for those who would serve as pastors. “Pastor” means shepherd, and whoever would take on the title “pastor” of a Christian church must follow the example of Jesus and lay down his life daily for the sake of the sheep entrusted into his spiritual care.

He lays down his life through prayer and the study of the Word of God. Samuel said, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23). The apostles who served as the pastors of the church in Jerusalem said, “we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). These two matters go hand in hand - prayer must be grounded in the Word of God, and the study of the Word of God must be grounded in prayer. And both of these are at their finest when they are done in a certain earthly context.

When prayer and the study of God’s Word are disconnected from any earthly reality, any real needs of people’s lives, they do not rise to their highest potential. A medical cure must have a disease to treat. Medical research must also be directed to address the treatment and cure of disease. And the study of the Word of God and prayer are also at their finest when they seek to address the needs of human faces and lives and seek to answer real questions that are asked in today’s world.

This is the first and most important work of the pastor, for people in this world need to hear the Word of God. Today, 2,000 years after the birth of Christ, the sermon remains the most important tool in the hands of God to bring people to salvation and to spiritual maturity. The pastor should pray much and study much and seek to feed the people the truth of the Word of God. He must lay down his life daily in the study of the Word, in keeping himself up to date about trends and current issues and the concerns on people’s hearts. He must also know his own people and the struggles and challenges they face.

He lays down his life in counsel and advisement. A pastor must also encourage people and advise them. He lays down his life in the study of knowing how better to do this. Prayer also plays a big part in this role for he often finds himself dealing with situations where only the comfort, power, and grace of God can bring relief and deliverance to situations. He must not just be available. He must also be worth being available, be of such a spiritual life, of such a level of spiritual maturity, and knowledgeable about life and circumstances that he is able to help - as God enables him.

Into every situation he must be Christ and not himself - whether it is comfort, forgiveness, instruction, rebuke, resolution of conflict, or the help for the healing of souls.

He lays down his life in sacrificial and servant leadership. The pastor is a servant but has a leadership role to play. He is to be a leader who seeks to lead the church in the direction the Holy Spirit is guiding the church toward. He seeks to lead the church to do God’s will, not his own. Again, prayer plays a key role in this matter, as do study and experience and the wisdom of other counselors and mentors. He is to be an example to the flock, not a dictatorial leader who lords it over others (1 Peter 5:3).

He lays down his life in preferring the growth of the reputation of Christ and Christ’s people over his own reputation. If a pastor ever makes church and his own ministry more about himself than about Christ, he will have failed. As the undershepherd of Christ for the church (1 Peter 5:4), he must love those who do not love him, must treat them as Christ would even though they may treat him poorly. He cannot tolerate disrespect to the office of pastor - no more than a parent should tolerate their children’s disrespect to their office. Yet he is to teach gently and tenderly, being open himself to a rebuke that might be instructive, even if it is delivered in a poor and rude manner.

He must be willing to lay down his life for the sake of the church even if it means the ruining of his own reputation by gossip and slander. He has the right and obligation to confront those who spread falsehoods, but he must also learn the wisdom of the Bible, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11). He cannot make his main mission in life the defense of his own person. His mission is the care of the body of Christ.

His joy is to see the church of Jesus Christ flourish and grow. His joy is to see people come to faith in Christ, grow in spiritual maturity, and become fruitful Christians. He rejoices not when he is lifted up but when Christ is lifted up, and when the people of God fulfill their destiny, “That [the church] may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom [they] shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15).

Only by living the crucified life, the life of “not I but Christ,” can any man fulfill the role of pastor. We must become less and less and He must become more and more. Our joy is not to hear the praise of man, but to hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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Lift Up Your Eyes!

May 5th, 2016

Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. (John 4:35)

The natural man sees the world through his own prejudices. The lenses he wears retain the color of the sinful nature, the priorities of the flesh, the limitations of his own human imagination, and they will interpret everything around them in terms of what brings them the most comfort.

When discussing the mission of Christ, the disciples were divided among themselves because they saw the matter through the wrong lenses. One would say to another, I don’t like your idea because it is too expensive. And another would say, I don’t like your idea because it is not my idea. Still another would say, I don’t like your idea because I don’t like those people. The lenses of the flesh are (a) the manifestations of the sinful nature and (b) the values of this fallen world system.

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:20-21)

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

Our great need is to see the world through the eyes of Christ, to see our resources through his eyes, our priorities through his eyes, the people around us through his eyes, and especially our own hearts through his eyes. When we dislike the ideas of another, when we distrust the motives of another, we should make sure that it is not a response simply from our own pride. We can be right in our words but wrong in our hearts, and ultimately it is what goes on in our hearts that will determine the words of our mouths.

Christ called the disciples to get their eyes out of their own circumstances, to throw away the lenses of the flesh, to stop seeing people through their own prejudices, and instead to look up. Instead of dwelling on what they could do or could not do in their own flesh, He called them to see the world through the eyes of grace.

For example, a parent may see the struggles of someone else’s child and have merely a general moral concern about the matter. But if it is his child who is struggling, the entire matter becomes urgent. Someone else’s suffering touches us slightly in our own flesh, and we may feel pity for them, but not real “compassion” - compassion comes from Latin compati, “to suffer with.” But once we put on the lenses of Christ’s love, now we have a new concern and motivation, and we are willing to suffer with them.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love” (Gal. 5:22).

We cannot get away from this principle, that until we love like Christ loves we cannot see the world properly. Someone will object, But CAN we love like Christ? We certainly cannot love like Christ in the flesh. But neither can we ever work our way up to loving like Christ except by the help of his Spirit. The way God puts love in our hearts is through his Spirit, and the only love he puts in us is his own.

We will find our own limitations of the flesh, because of the old sinful nature still within us. But let us never imagine that God would put anything in us other than his great and unconditional love. He doesn’t say that he will just put in a little human sympathy - we can do that on our own! He puts in us his love that is all compelling.

If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:13-16)

The Christian is the one who has lifted up his eyes to see the world as Christ sees it. And though there are many layers of the old sinful nature’s legacy in our hearts to work through and to throw off, God will not turn back until we are transformed fully and made into the spiritual image of Christ (Rom.8:29).

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Let me add a few thoughts as a pastor to my fellow pastors:

A tension in our lives is the calling of God to serve in those places where he is moving, and to invest our hearts wherever he has called us. Christ gave the method to us of looking for the “son of peace” (Luke 10:1-12). If he is there, or if we find response to our ministry, we are to remain there serving. But if we do not find him, then we are to shake the dust off and move on elsewhere. But not all “sons of peace” are identical in their responses, for each of them are struggling with their own issues.

Yet the issue of compassion - “suffering with” - still impacts our own ministry. We cannot use the excuse that “those people” to whom we are called are hardhearted and uncaring, as long as the son of peace is there in some capacity. God’s call then in our lives is to love them as He loves them, and to lead them gently to be open to God pouring his love into their hearts. “Those people” must become “these people,” or even better, “my people.” God calls us to suffer with the people we pastor and seek to lead them to a greater understanding of and experience in his love.

It is hypocritical to preach their need to love others like Christ loves, if we are not loving them like Christ. We need to see our mission through his lens of love, if we will led them to see others through the same lens.

Miles Stanford wrote:

We often come across Christians who are bright and clever, and strong and righteous; in fact, a little too bright, and a little too clever-there seems so much of self in their strength, and their righteousness is severe and critical. They have everything to make them saints, except … crucifixion, which would mold them into a supernatural tenderness and limitless charity for others. But if they are of the real elect, God has a winepress prepared for them, through which they will some day pass, which will turn the metallic hardness of their nature into gentle love, which Christ always brings forth at the last of the feast. (Principles of Spiritual Growth, “Process of Discipleship,” by Miles Stanford)

May it not be said about us that we have everything about us to make us saints except crucifixion. It must be Christ and Christ only in us. The only battle he calls us to is his own. He does not call us to be engaged in fighting our own battles. He will fight those on his own terms.

But the spiritual pastor will always bring the divine perspective to the places he serves and that will create tension. (See Matthew 10:34) The mark of a godly pastor’s ministry is not necessarily that everything is peaceful and everyone is happy, but that they are becoming more and more like Christ. Anyone who seeks to do something good in this world will face opposition. Of course, only a fool would start fights and dissensions for no purpose whatsoever - “the man of God must not be quarrelsome” (2 Tim. 2:24).

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