Shepherd’s Staff

Living against the grain by believing the Bible

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221una-lectur_1354119604675Living against the grain…that is what it is like to take a stand for Christ in a culture that does not see eye to eye with biblical faith.  On Sunday at Providence, we took time to explain why the Bible is a trustworthy foundation upon which to build our lives.  We can trust what He says, of course, but in order to live in the fullness of our new life in Christ, we must learn how to do what He says.

Healthy, new-born babies have a natural hunger that compels them to demand food. Their piercing cries in the night will long be remembered by their parents as a clear indication that the little one desired food. Their hunger and cry for food reminded their parents that a new life needs nourishment.

In the same way, when someone has been born of the Spirit of God, the natural, normal response to new life is to hunger for spiritual food. God’s Word is that food. A healthy, growing church is made up of people who have been born of the Spirit–or born again–and who have a real hunger for the Word of God. Just as physical food helps us grow to maturity physically, so spiritual food helps us grow to maturity spiritually.

Since God has revealed His will to His people through His Word, the Bible, it is essential for us to place ourselves totally under the authority of that Word. In order to grow toward maturity, therefore, we must come together as a church to ask ourselves week by week, day by day, and moment by moment two weighty questions: 1) Are you willing to do what the Bible says? 2) What does the Bible say?

The Bible calls His disciples the righteous ones of Christ.  But they will be righteous only as they answer those questions correctly. Paul writes in Romans 2:13: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” The second part of the verse should give us the answer to the first question. We must be willing to do what the Bible says if we expect to please God and so inherit His blessing in our lives. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28)

On this point, we must be very clear. Our willingness to obey puts us under the umbrella of the authority of God’s Word as a rule of life. Therefore, all that is written in God’s Word is applicable to all of our lives. There is no room for negotiation. There is no room for compromise. If we are God’s people, we must be willing to do all that His Word requires of us.

What, then, does the Word of God say? That is the primary focus of our attention each time the body of Christ gathers. As a matter of fact, the role of the pastor-teacher according to Ephesians 4:12-13 is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” I am called to teach and preach the Word of God to the end that the saints of God are maturing in Him through a knowledge of what the Bible says. What that knowledge requires is obedience.

So there it is. Will we do what the Bible says? Then, come, let us find together what it says, and then we will put it into practice so that the God of peace will be with us in all of His fullness!

Pacing yourself

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One of the great things about living in North Carolina is the changing of the seasons.  Crisp fall days with colorful leaves painting the landscape, occasional icy mornings of winter with a light covering of snow that will be gone by noon, azalea and dogwood splashes of beauty on a lush green canvas of well-trimmed lawns in spring, and the sweet summer breezes at the end of toasty days–I love them all!

One of the tough things about living in North Carolina is the changing of the seasons!  Raking up all those fallingleaves, scraping and shoveling the icy remnants of snow and sleet, mowing and weeding and trimming the spring resurgence…and yes, right now, trying to catch your breath when you walk from air-conditioning into the humid oven of Tarheel summers–not always in love with these things!

But God gives us seasonal reminders here that life consists of good pacing, regular cycles built into the created order that provide times for hard labor, nourishing meals, wind-down evenings to relax, refreshing nights of sleep and sabbath rests on the weekends.  Those who neglect the built-in pacing eventually wind down and wear out!

Even the days set aside for sabbath rest can go off track!  Into the frenzy of a family getting ready to leave for church services on Sunday morning, into the bustling church world busily planning programs and activities comes a voice:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…the peace which surpasses all comprehension shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (John 14:27; Philippians 4:7).  This voice of the Lord comes to a people who are overcome by the tensions and strains of lives out of control.

Do you ever feel that you are barely keeping your heads above water because of the strains pulling and pushing you under?  God’s desire for us is to enjoy His perfect peace.  His design is for us to follow His lead and set a Christ-centered pace for our lives.  Just like the seasons of a North Carolina year, there are cycles the Lord gives us to keep us refreshed and enjoying the kind of peace only He can give.  I find that each summer is a good time to evaluate how I have been doing, make any changes I need to make and resetting the course for another year of walking in the peace and power of Christ.

J. Oswald Sanders suggests a four-part process for finding and maintaining God’s peace, a process which is available and should be used by Christians on a regular basis.

  • The first step toward His peace for the believer is to rediscover who God really is.  He is absolutely sufficient for all things and adequate for every need.  We need to invest the time in Bible study and prayer necessary to know our Lord.
  • Next there must be recognition of ourselves as the primary cause of our tensions.  Jesus did not say, “My anxieties I leave with you” but “My peace!”  When we control the reins of our lives, we inevitably are inadequate which creates further tension and anxiety.  We must realize we are insufficient.
  • Then, renewing our minds is God’s plan in Christ.  It follows logically that a mind free from strain and anxiety will have to be renewed by the Lord.  Hard work does not produce tension and strain, the mind does!  Therefore, the Bible teaches that we should have our minds renewed so that God’s peace prevails there.
  • The last part of this process is regular relaxation and planned quiet times to rest and be restored by the Lord.  He is our peace and we must abide in Him.

So, the next time you feel frazzled by the tensions and strains of your life as it slips out of control, or at least feels unusually hectic, turn to the Blessed Controller of all things and let Jesus Christ be your peace.  With each passing season of life, take stock of where you are spiritually and ask the Lord to reset or restore or renew the “peace which surpasses all comprehension” as He guards your hearts and minds with a peace only He can give!

Shepherd’s Staff — What do you see?

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ShepStaffPeople see things differently.  I have always found it interesting that the same set of facts can be seen in entirely different ways.  A man who had been without water for days would see a muddy puddle quite differently than one who had just finished a large glass of iced tea.  His perspective would be greatly influenced by his need!  A simple soda cracker would seem to be a feast to someone who had been days without any food at all!

When the body of believers assembles as a local church, there are lots of ways to see things.  According to one’s needs or that to which one was images-1accustomed, the way the people see the same facts is affected.  When a visitor comes to Providence from a congregation in a small town, they often see a church family largHillsong-Church-pictureer than their entire community.  But if they come to visit after attending a mega-church, they might be inclined to wonder why we are so much smaller than their previous church!  Therefore, when we look at the church, we must see it through eyes that are not so much conditioned by our previous experiences but by standards that are unchangeable.  Therefore, we must get our perspective from the same source – through the lens of the Head of the body, Jesus Christ!  He alone must set our gaze and focus our vision on what matters to Him.

If a church has not seen the glorious possibilities presented by God’s Word, it will be satisfied with far less than it should.  A great example of this is seen in the book of Ezra.  As the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from exile, the temple was rebuilt.  “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy”” (Ezra 3:12).  The glories of the temple under construction were no match to one God’s people had once known.  Those who remembered the former beauty and grandeur of the old temple wept as they grieved the diminished glory.  Yet, the same circumstance was a matter of great joy for those who had never seen another temple.  This temple was to them one of magnificence because they had never seen anything better, nor did they have great expectations beyond what they saw.

The same can be true in the church today if we do not increase our expectations for what the body of Christ is supposed to be.  Every member should look to Christ and His Word to see the picture of the bride of Christ unveiled in all her redeemed, purified glory!  The standard He sets should always excite us as we look to become what Christ desires us to be as we live in the power of His Holy Spirit.

Some will see a little glimpse of that glory and shout for joy at what has been achieved.  They are like those who had never seen the former temple.  We must be careful not to become satisfied with approximations of God’s best.  Complacency sets in too easily when we think we have “arrived” as the church we are supposed to be.  Longing for what we have never seen requires eyes of faith, but that is how we are supposed to envision the days ahead for the church until Jesus comes again!

The body of Christ must respond by pressing on to reach the biblical, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled goal set before us.  As the scriptures speak to issues about the church, we must hear, obey and pursue the portrait they paint so that our perspective is not conditioned by our most recent experience, but by what God’s Word says.  Our vision must be determined not by the present progress, not by the foundation being laid, not even by the former temple, glorious as it was.  Our vision, our goal, our consuming zeal must be to grow up and mature as the church Christ has desired us to be in the way He has prescribed in His Word.

How do you see the church?  Let’s see it with one heart, one mind and one spirit as “a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27).  Then, together with Christ we will shout for joy as He accomplishes His purposes in us!

Rarefied Air of Reading a Great Book

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ShepStaffHave you read any good books lately?  If you were asked to list the three books which have meant the most to you this year beyond your study of the Bible, which books could you list?  The thoughts that occupy much of our thinking are directly related to the quality of input we give our minds.

In an age of instant communication and effortlessly received information through television, radio, and recordings, it is difficult for us to come to grips with the need we have to feed our minds quality information.  Paul wrote, “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).  The body of Christ needs more maturity in the level of its thinking so that we can absorb the truths and riches of the depths of God’s word.

The reticence many have experienced in their approach to Bible study is the result of never cultivating a taste for reading.  Have you ever read anything written by an eighteenth or nineteenth century Christian writer that you could comprehend?  A. W. Tozer has this to say on the subject:

 “Why does today’s Christian find the reading of great books always beyond him? Certainly intellectual powers do not wane from one generation to another.  We are as smart as our fathers, and any thought they could entertain we can entertain if we are sufficiently interested to make the effort.  The major cause of the decline in the quality of current Christian literature is not intellectual but spiritual.  To enjoy a great religious book requires a degree of consecration to God and detachment from the world that few modern Christians have.  The early Christian Fathers, the Mystics, the Puritans, are not hard to understand, but they inhabit the highlands where the air is crisp and rarefied, and none but the God-enamored can come…One reason why people are unable to understand great Christian classics is that they are trying to understand without any intention of obeying them.”

With so many distractions and so little commitment, it is little wonder that reading for the nurture of one’s heart and mind has taken a backseat for too many in the body of Christ.  The capacity we have to understand and apply the truths of God’s word will in many ways be related to our capacity to think clearly.  Obviously the Holy Spirit is our teacher and no word of truth can be grasped apart from the grace of Jesus Christ.  Nevertheless, we should be equipped to “handle accurately the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The challenge is before us to turn aside from worldly pursuits and learn what it is to become absorbed in thinking about and meditating on spiritual insights from the pens of God’s men and women who have recorded for our enrichment the golden nuggets mined from many years in God’s word.  It is to our benefit and God’s glory to enrich our minds setting aside worthless thoughts and replacing them with profitable literature.

Paul summarizes this quite effectively when he says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

So, are you ready to read some good books now?

Only When God Leads the Way!

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What would it have been like to be with Moses and the Israelites between Egypt and Canaan?  If ever there was a time when the direction of the Lord was clear, it was then.  By day the Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud and by night in a pillar of fire.  “He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people” (Exodus 13:22).

     Before we start longing for that day of such an obvious manifestation of the Lord’s presence with His people, we must remember that the Israelites were still a “stiff-necked, rebellious people” who grumbled at every inconvenience!  Our desire is certainly for clear direction from the Lord but even more so for His presence to accompany us as we proceed, for His character to reveal itself through the faithfulness of His people.

      At one point, Moses said to the Lord, “If Thy presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).  I share that sentiment entirely!  Since God has brought us a long way in ministry over the past few years, it is crucial for us to continue to go with Him.  We dare not venture out alone in ministry.  If we are not led specifically by the Lord, we will of necessity pray “Do not lead us up from here.  For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Thy sight, I and Thy people?  Is it not by Thy going with us so that we, I and Thy people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:16).3469257-_An_old_photo_from_Moses_Mountain_Sharm_El_Sheikh

     How, then, can we be led by the Lord?  No clouds or pillars of fire present themselves to us.  But in these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son.  In Christ Jesus we are led with assurance both of His direction and of His abiding presence!  When we abide in Him, the Vine, we as branches will bear much fruit giving further confirmation in the changed hearts and lives of people touched by Christ that He goes before us and with us.

     More days of stretching and growing are before this body of believers.  We will follow wherever He leads.  We will wait until He does lead and then with the boldness, power, and authority of a people who bear the name of the King of Glory, we will not be diverted by lesser callings!

      He still leads with clarity today in His Son, by His Word, through His Spirit.  With the evidence of His presence and the promise of His presence, we must keep our focus on our exalted Head so that His name is held in honor by all who recognize His presence among His people.  

What’s different about you?

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ShepStaffIf you could look back over the past few years, what are the three things about you that are different now?

In the physical sense, we could come up with the answers rather easily.  Recently someone who had not been to Providence for several years told me that I could not be the pastor who was here before.  That pastor, they said, had dark hair rather than the white hair they saw on my head!  I was glad they did not go on to mention that he was much slimmer as well!

Most of us can point out ways that we have changed in outward appearance, but what can you say has changed about things not easily seen?  Are you different spiritually than you were three or four years ago?  Have you made any progress with the personality traits that you have wished you did not have?  What unhealthy attitudes have been abandoned and which new ones have been cultivated?

If we as believers aspire to grow to maturity in Christ, as we certainly should, we must be aware that such growth requires change.  Change usually does not meet with an enthusiastic response for most of us.  Therefore, if we expect to be different in the days ahead, we need to recognize some factors necessary to overcome our natural resistance to change.

Few of us are honestly satisfied with the way we are and so we need to know what it takes to make a difference in our character, in our behavior, in our lifestyles, or in any other area where change is necessary for us to become what Christ would have us be.  As obvious as these things may be, permit me to mention four things every growing believer must have.

 1.  A Desire to Grow and Mature in Christ.  Without a desire to grow, failure to do so is virtually guaranteed.  How often do you find that you have not even considered your rate of growth in Christ for months, even years at a time?  If it is not on your mind and heart, if no internal motivation compels you forward, you will be stalemated and your lack of progress cannot be disguised.

Only a genuine passion to be conformed to the character of Jesus Christ will result in the kind of impetus necessary to press on in spiritual growth.  Whether we express it like the psalmist (who longs for the Lord like a deer panting for water) or Paul (who was willing to forsake all else that he might gain Christ), next year or the year after will make no difference in our lives relative to personal maturity in Him until we have a desire to be like Jesus.

 2.  A Willingness to Discover, Admit and Yield My Weaknesses.  If changing means that all I have to do is enhance what is already strong, I can live with that.  But when I realize that the Lord wants to delve into my weaknesses, I struggle with whether I really want to be different than I am.  After all, coming to grips with the ways I have failed forces me to face matters I would prefer to avoid.

Therefore, if I am willing to get at the weak areas of my life, I have to agree to do two things.  First, I have to develop the habit of asking questions about myself.  I need to learn how to ask and answer those questions of myself.  Then I have to branch out to ask others to assist me in identifying my weaknesses, my blindspots, which are hidden from me but readily apparent to others.

Second, I have to take a different approach to the Scriptures by looking at them as a source for the Lord to reveal His Son to me, and as a place where He reveals to me what His Son sees in me.  In other words, I must apply the Scriptures in such a way that I see how far away I am from the Father’s design for my life.

 3.  A Commitment to Change.  Once I have seen what the Lord wants me to see, I have to choose between remaining as I am, or allowing Him to change me into what He wants me to be.  Here is the watershed for most believers.  Discovering our weaknesses, or acknowledging that the Lord wants us to be different in many ways, does nothing unless followed by a commitment to do something about the problem.  GirlAtMirror-500In the book of James, we are exhorted not to be like one who looks in the mirror, sees what is amiss and then chooses to go away without doing anything about what he saw.  Those who long to grow in Christ must be committed to be different after He shows us what He wants to do and how He wants us to change and become more like Him.

That commitment to change needs to have both practical steps and regular means of measuring our progress.  Are we more like Christ today than yesterday?  The answer is difficult to know.  But if we set out some practical, measurable steps by which we can see the milestones as we go by, then we can rejoice and give thanks that Christ is producing in us His wonderful character.  Some progress you can monitor yourself (Did I have time to read the Bible and pray today?  Was I kind to my enemy today?  Am I still talking too much about others…or perhaps too much about myself?)  Other progress will need the evaluative insights of honest, close friends.  Assess where you are and determine that by the grace of Jesus Christ you will refuse to remain the same.  You are committed to grow, to change, to be different as you become more Christ-like.

4.  A Perpetual Process.  The process never ends this side of heaven.  We could be easily discouraged were it not for His promise to continue the work until it is complete.  The old saying goes, “Yard by yard, life is hard; but inch by inch, life’s a cinch!”  Little by little, day by day, the Lord wants to transform us.  What a wonderful and perpetual goal it is for us to anticipate the hand of the Master shaping us and molding us to make us worthy of His presence!

What three things do you think the Lord would like to change in you today?  Why not begin right now to seek the answer to that question and then allow Him to do whatever it takes to make you different for His glory?

The Shepherd’s Staff — September 27, 2013

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ShepStaffWhen you have to wait for something, do you take it personally?  It is amazing how many people do!

Much of the marketing and developing technology of our day is designed to address our frustration with having to wait.  Whether it is in the retail store advertising “no lines, no waiting” at the check-out stand, or with the continued efforts of computer manufacturer to increase the speed by which data can be processed, the emphasis in all of our culture is on removing the need to wait.

I don’t know about you but that appeals to something inside of me, that subtle perception that I am too important and my time is too valuable to have to wait on anything.  The problem, of course, is that when I feed that natural, human, selfish instinct, I make it that much harder to learn what it means to wait on the Lord!

Can we ever reach the point where we view waiting as a gift rather than a curse?  Is it possible to turn waiting times into profitable times?  I believe that I have a lot to learn in this area that cannot be found in the frantic pace of a society racing ahead with the accelerator stuck to the floor with no idea of where we are going and what we expect to find when we get there!  It is the classic illustration of the driver who says, “I have no idea where I’m going, but I am making great time!”

 All through the scriptures, God speaks to us of the value of waiting.  In fact, there are so many verses containing either the word “wait” or ideas regarding waiting that one could spend an extended period of time just looking all of them up!  But to put this matter into a biblical perspective, here the words of the psalms:  

“Wait for the LORD; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord…, Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him…” (Psalms 27:14; 37:7).

waitingNot only are our lives filled with examples of failure at this point, but we also find that throughout the Bible there are many who stumbled badly before the Lord because they could not be content to wait on Him.  Abraham knew that the Lord had promised to build a mighty nation of descendants from his seed, but when Sarah remained barren for so long, he took it upon himself to “help God” by taking Hagar to be the mother of his children.  The results were disastrous because of his impatience with God’s delay in keeping His promise.  When Moses was with the Lord on Mount Sinai receiving the Law, down below the Israelites gave up and conspired with Aaron against the Lord by making a golden calf to worship.  They became impatient and launched out on their own course of action.  Saul waited for a while for Samuel to come to offer the sacrifices before the impending battle, but when Samuel was delayed, Saul impatiently substituted his plan for God’s plan and suffered the consequences of that needless urgent act for the rest of his days.  Examples are too numerous to mention here, but the problem of impatience is just as great in our lives today.

The urgent drive we have to gratify instantly our desires overcomes our statement of faith that assures us that it is better to wait upon the Lord.  This impatient urgency which persists in us thrusts us right through many of the times of quiet, the times of stillness where the voice of the Lord and the heart of our Savior can be discovered.  Whenever I think about this great loss, this failure of our souls to gain the knowledge of the Holy One, I am reminded of the distressing words in a little book by A. W. Tozer called The Knowledge of the Holy.

“We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence.  Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit.  The words, ‘Be still, and know that I am God,’ mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century” (p. 6).

If that were true in the middle period of the twentieth century, do you think it has gotten better?  If anything, we are more driven, more impatient and less inclined to wait on the Lord now as at any point of human history!

What can be done?  The answer is the same for all of us.  We need to learn how to wait upon the Lord.  Each of us must come to terms with how we are to do so, but the basic solution is what it has always been.  In the midst of our urgent and impatient agendas, we must recognize and welcome the divine interruptions in the course of our busy schedules and welcome them as oases in a dry land.  The long line at the stop light, the telephone operator who puts you on hold, the appointment who shows up late — rather than being impositions become privileges, moments to enter silently into the presence of the Lord and be refreshed!

 Besides these unplanned moments, we must also build into the very core of our days some time to wait, to listen, to abide quietly before Him in “adoring silence” so that He can reveal to us those things that He will never shout to us in the midst of a crowd.  “…Those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength…”(Isaiah 40:31).  What hope and encouragement that promise brings as we learn to wait patiently on Him!

The Shepherd’s Staff — September 13, 2013

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ShepStaffWhen the Lord speaks, His words always penetrate the heart. For some time now I have been meditating on a particular passage which the Lord has deeply embedded in my heart and mind. As we move into our busiest season of the year as a community with school starting and a new fall schedule developing, I find that I can easily get distracted from my priorities as a disciple of Jesus Christ. These verses have helped me recently in getting back in focus.

The words are from Isaiah as he speaks to the people about the coming of the Light of the world into their midst. Of course, we know that the light has come to us in the person of the Lord Jesus and the brilliant radiance of His glory is now shining through those who are identified as His disciples.
Hear what he says and think with me about the implications for our lives together in ministry.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Isaiah 60:1-3 (NIV)

The unique calling that He gives to His people to serve Him brings with it a unique responsibility to exercise great faithfulness in carrying out His purposes. As we enter the fall with its increased level of activity, let me offer these observations from this passage which have been a great challenge and encouragement to me.

We Have Been Honored by His Presence. When the Lord lets us know that His light has risen upon us and that His glory shines upon us, we are assured that He is present with us. I don’t know how that makes you feel, but for me to realize through the simple reminder in these verses that the Lord God Almighty abides with us so moves me that I feel that the highest of all honors has been bestowed upon us. The Nobel Prize, Congressional Medal of Honor, World Championship trophies, Olympic gold medals and any other human honor you can name become nothing more than litter compared with the ultimate honor of His abiding presence. Think of it. The radiant splendor of heaven has shone forth upon us in the appearance of the Lord among us as His people. What an honor to be with the Lord!

We Have Been Transformed by His Power. Can we remain the same once we understand that He abides with us? Of course we can’t!  His very presence alters everything about us if we are conscious at all of what His presence means. His holiness demands that we be holy. His righteousness compels us to be righteous. His radiant glory transforms our darkened lives into channels through which His light shines.  His joy races through our hearts and appears without shadows on our faces.

bible_light

Through every relationship we have, in every activity in which we are involved, in every word that we speak, we either advance the light of Christ and direct it into the darkness of the lives of those around us, or we hinder the light and dull its brilliance by casting shadows on it and tarnishing its brightness. The Lord wants His disciples to be transformed by the power of resurrection and live as new creatures who represent Him as His light in the midst of the darkness which covers the earth and the deep darkness which covers its people.

As the darkened world around us awakens to that light, they will be drawn to the Source of that light, Jesus Himself. When we are transformed by the power of Christ, our lives will reflect His glory and radiate His perfect light.

We Have Been Humbled by His Plan. This is perhaps for me the observation that has impacted me the most. The Lord has chosen to entrust that light, the light of His presence, to folks like us. As the body of Christ, we have been given the privilege of carrying the light of His glory.

At the beginning of the Olympics, it is a high honor to be asked to carry the torch that lights the Olympic flame. What a greater honor to be asked to bear the light of Christ, to carry His torch, when we know that we do not deserve to do so. He has humbled us by entrusting us with this holy and glorious duty.

When you start to feel the pressures coming upon you as you get busier this month with your fall schedule, just remember that the Lord has chosen to bestow upon you more than a burden of busy-ness. He has poured out upon you the light of Jesus Christ and He wants you to rejoice in His presence. Each day that comes brings with it the opportunity to let your light shine or to generate a cloud which hides that light.

I long for Providence to be a place where the glory of Christ shines forth. As the fall begins, let’s accept our calling as His disciples to

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you…And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

The Shepherd’s Staff – August 30, 2013

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ShepStaffIf you found yourself in an emergency situation, who would you call?  What if you fell into the middle of an intense emotional struggle…to whom would you go?  Suppose you got some fantastic news that thrilled you no end…again, with whom would you want to share it?  All of us should have those “go-to” people in our lives who want to know about our ups and downs, our joys and our sorrows.

The basic nature of our city has become that of an uprooted people, a people removed from the support structures that extended family used to provide for our parents and theirs before them.   The mobility of the culture has changed all that.  So where do we go to find counselors or cheerleaders as we need them?

One of the characteristics of an uprooted people is a developing spirit of independence and self-sufficiency.  Without that kind of attitude, we are afraid that we would be very susceptible to be hurt by the indifference of people around us.  Rather than risk new relationships that call on us to give as well as receive, we have a tendency to pull back and retreat into a subtle isolation in the midst of the crowds of people we pass every day.

This sadness can be found even in the church, a place that should be the very center of loving community and caring fellowship.  The sadness surrounds us when we find that in the midst of Bible-believing disciples of Jesus Christ, the same kind of indifference and isolation confronts us that we see in the non-Christian world around us.  That should never be!

People in churches know that they are supposed to express concern for one another.  Good intentions abound toward that very purpose.  But in the final analysis, we often do not really care enough to reach out to others in need because of the threat of inconvenience it might bring into our comfortable, self-sufficient worlds.

Obviously that reaction and response is not God’s design for His people!

Christians are to have the reputation and character of a people who are loving, selfless, giving.  That is only possible when we are willingly sold out to Jesus Christ and totally available to see the needs of others with His compassionate eyes.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ…As we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:2, 10).

“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves” (Romans 15:1).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

The burden for breaking out of the world’s mold of apathy and indifference is placed directly on you and me as followers of Christ.  Until we consider how to meet the relational needs of one another in more tangible ways, the love of Christ will not be shed abroad.  Our orthodox beliefs will be nothing more than intellectual affirmations–knowledge that puffs up but does not build up!

Large Group of Happy People standing together.

In an age of radical change and constant mobility, should we not expect the church to be that one place where people can find what Christ intends for it to be–a place filled with people who are looking for ways to engage with one another in living lives that matter!  Will we be the kind of people who break out of the mold and take to heart the call of Christ to express our faith with practical expressions of love for others?

Are the people you would call in times of trouble, confusion, joy–are they your fellow members in the body of Christ?  Are the people who openly and freely invite you to share life with them?  Are they the same folks who reach out, “especially to those who are of the household of faith” and call you friend?

We are the body of Christ and it is both our privilege and responsibility to live in and enjoy community together.  For many, the church is that for them.  But that is not so for many others.  What can you do?  Who can you embrace?  To whom will you go and issue a loving invitation to “do life” together?  We must not give up until all know what it is to love and be loved by Jesus Christ through people just like you and me!

The Shepherd’s Staff – August 16, 2013

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ShepStaffWhen a church decides that it needs to check its progress, what are the criteria it must use to do so? For the small business or the large corporation there is an easy way to measure success by checking out the “bottom line”. They can determine whether or not they are making progress by seeing what their labor is producing relative to their goal, profitability.

But how does the church measure its progress? We have a difficult time determining what the “bottom line” is since we are dealing with many intangible issues and with the hearts and lives of unique individuals whose progress cannot always be measured by objective standards. Yet we cannot ignore the need to evaluate and determine whether we are indeed making any progress simply because the task is somewhat subjective.

Since our goal is to grow to maturity in Jesus Christ personally and to introduce others to Him, it only makes sense that we should be able to ask ourselves some probing questions about the presence our absence of several marks of spiritual maturity. Here are eight categories in which to ask ourselves how well we are measuring up to the standard to which we attain as disciples of the Lord Jesus.

Satisfaction with Our Portion. Have you learned to be content with the knowledge that the Lord Himself has promised to be your portion? It is extremely difficult to resist the constant barrage of influences around us telling to be more ambitious, to settle for nothing less than the best. With our children, our homes, our jobs and in every other imaginable way, we are flooded with the thought that what we have and who we are is not enough. When we have been given life in Jesus Christ, we can learn to be satisfied and rest in Him.

Sensitivity to Sin. Am I more aware of aspects of my character that are unworthy of Christ now than I was before? One of the most obvious evidences that we are growing to maturity in Christ is the extent to which we are aware of the presence of sin in our lives. The closer we get to Christ, the more His light exposes the areas darkened by sin. Therefore, we should be recognizing more areas of our lives which need to be changed to be more like Christ and become more sensitive to our sin.

Servant’s Heart. Do I have a heart to serve others and to love them as Christ does? Whenever we walk with Christ, the immediate impact upon our hearts is the presence of a servant’s heart in our Master. We cannot escape the fact that He came to serve and that to follow Him we must also develop the spirit and attitude of a servant. Maturity in the church will always be characterized by a servant’s heart.

Scriptural Soundness. Is what I believe based upon the teaching of the Word of God? The marriage of belief and practice is such an alien concept in our society that an editorial in the local paper some years ago expressed dismay that evangelical Christians were dangerous because they allowed their “religious beliefs” to influence their social and political thinking. Do we dare plead guilty? We better! Our beliefs must be biblically based and practically expressed.

Submissive Spirit. Am I willing to yield what I want for the sake of others? Until we find an attitude in our lives which willingly submits to others, we will not be able to function in the unity of the Spirit nor enjoy the bond of peace which maturity in Christ promises.

Strategy for Non-believers. Are we concerned enough about those who do not know Christ to invest ourselves in developing a strategy that introduce them to Him? We should always be looking for ways to share the good news of salvation in Christ with an ever-increasing circle of non believers. The tendency most of us have is to divest ourselves of most of our relationships with those who do not know Christ. We need to build up more regular contact with those who need to meet Him.

Stewardship. Am I growing in my understanding of the biblical truth that I am just a manager of the resources that God has entrusted to my care? Am I giving faithfully to the work of the body of Christ so that I can share in the blessing of knowing the joy of obedience? When a church is mature, its people are generous and faithful, often sacrificial, and seldom need to be reminded of their responsibility in the area of personal stewardship.

Stable Prayer Life. Is my personal prayer life growing and the content of my conversations with the Lord giving evidence of a deeper walk with Him? The depth and breadth of the prayer life of the body of Christ serves us well in determining something of the spiritual vitality and health of the congregation. Prayer must be an integral part of our personal spiritual lives which adds to the richness and depth of our corporate experience of prayer.

What’s the Bottom Line? If we want to be the kind of church that “measures up”, that is growing in maturity, why not ask ourselves these questions? As you and I can see, we are not what we once were, but we are not yet what we are going to be!

Let’s press on toward the goal together!