Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Christian Response to Health Care Reform pt 9

In America today, you would have to be hiding under a rock not to have heard about the health care debate and you'd have to be pretty unusual not to have an opinion on it. I believe that God's word is the answer to any trials we face or concerns we have. With that in mind, I am reposting an exposition of Psalm 23 I did a few years ago as a reminder to all my brothers and sisters in Christ that it is not we nor the government that takes care of us and our needs--it is God. Regardless of how the health care debate shakes out, our God is still on the throne and we can trust Him. Be encouraged.

I am blessed to live in a country where we have the kinds of freedoms that we do. There are a lot of brave men and women who died to make sure that my family and I can sleep in peace in a great country. They provided this freedom at the cost of their very lives. However blessed I am to live here in America, I am fully aware that I will not be here forever. Eventually, my God will take me home to the place prepared for me before the foundation of the world. While I await the day of my heavenly homecoming, however, I know that my God, in His providence, provides for me here on this earth.

This is echoed in the last part of verse 5 where the psalmist writes “My cup overflows”. I have experienced hardship and tough times in my life. From changing careers to going back to school to studying accounting and being laid off 3 times in a row all while dealing with the trials of a first time father, there was a period of a few years there where I honest to goodness thought I was going to crack up. I can still feel the scars, metaphorically speaking. I once described myself to someone as being like a clay pot that had been under too much pressure and had developed small little cracks. I was held together but only barely. However, even in those dark days, my God allowed me to keep food on the table, gas in the car, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads, and diapers on my baby girl’s butt. I didn’t have everything I wanted but I had what I needed. Compared to what my situation could have been, I would definitely say my cup did, in fact, run over. God blessed me abundantly beyond what I deserved. It was by His sovereign grace that I was able to finish school and land this really great job. Even though things looked bad sometimes and I didn’t know how I would make it, God definitely filled my cup to overflowing and I praise Him for that. The psalmist echoes those sentiments in this verse.

Of course, I realize that this world is not my home to quote the old hymn “I can’t feel at home in this world anymore”. I can have joy, peace, and contentment in this world because of my relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I know, however, that the ultimate peace and joy will not come until I reach heaven. I can picture what it’s going to be like when I finally get there as I read the last verse of this psalm. I will experience God’s “goodness and mercy” while I live here on earth, but when I reach heaven where I “will dwell forever”, I will know what true contentment is. The psalmist, speaking as a sheep of the Lord, echoes here his feelings of complete satisfaction. He says “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”. Where else, he might say, would I rather be than here where my Shepherd who has provided for me as we journeyed into the table land of the mountains and back again. My Shepherd loves me and takes care of me. I wouldn’t leave here because I am so bountifully blessed. When we arrive home in heaven, we’ll know—truly know—what the psalmist means. We will experience first hand the blessings that will come from dwelling in the presence of God in heaven forever.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Spurgeon Mistaken in the Downgrade Controversy?

I recently read a blog post where a Southern Baptist pastor tried to make the point that Charles Spurgeon did not handle himself in a manner befitting a minister of the gospel in what was called "The Downgrade Controversy". We see the same sorts of problems creeping into our churches today--a lack of concern for sound biblical doctrine, a lack of care in proper interpretation of scripture, and a willingness to cave in to cultural demands rather than a conviction to stand on the truths of scripture. I highly commend an excerpt from John MacArthur's book Ashamed of the Gospel if you're looking for background on this controversy. I found the following to be most thought provoking.

Some who abandoned the faith did so openly, Shindler said. But many purposely concealed their skepticism and heresy, preferring to sow seeds of doubt while posing as orthodox believers. "These men deepened their own condemnation, and promoted the everlasting ruin of many of their followers by their hypocrisy and deceit; professing to be the ambassadors of Christ, and the heralds of his glorious gospel, their aim was to ignore his claims, deny him his rights, lower his character, rend the glorious vesture of his salvation, and trample his crown in the dust."

Thus within only a few decades, the Puritan fervor that had so captured the soul of England gave way to dry, listless apostate teaching. Churches became lax in granting membership privileges to the unregenerate. People who were, in Shindler's words, "strangers to the work of renewing grace" nevertheless claimed to be Christians and were admitted to membership—even leadership—in the churches. These people "chose them pastors after their own hearts, men who could, and would, and did, cry 'Peace, peace,' when the only way of peace was ignored or denied."

And this, friends, was written about the church about 120 years ago. Sounds eerily similar to what we see today, huh?

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Christian Response to Health Care Reform pt 8

In America today, you would have to be hiding under a rock not to have heard about the health care debate and you'd have to be pretty unusual not to have an opinion on it. I believe that God's word is the answer to any trials we face or concerns we have. With that in mind, I am reposting an exposition of Psalm 23 I did a few years ago as a reminder to all my brothers and sisters in Christ that it is not we nor the government that takes care of us and our needs--it is God. Regardless of how the health care debate shakes out, our God is still on the throne and we can trust Him. Be encouraged.

I have two dogs. The reason I have two dogs is that I do not want 3. Don’t get me wrong, dogs are cute and fun sometimes but mostly they are a big, hairy pain in the neck. Anyway, when I get home in the evening from work, I have to open the gate so I can park. We keep our gate closed not only so our dogs can’t get out but so other dogs can’t get in. After I open the gate, I have to get in and drive into the gate so I can close it. During the time after I open the gate and when I close the gate, my dogs have a clear chance to make a break for it. You know what? They might go outside the gate a few steps or whatever but typically they are back inside before I get out of the car to close the gate. Now, I don’t know for a fact, but I suspect that they have at least enough sense to think to themselves “We’ve got it pretty good here. Food, water, petting, shelter. You know what? I’m going to stay my happy tail right here.” Now, my God is a much better Shepherd than I am a dog-owner. Not only will I experience complete satisfaction when I arrive in my heavenly home, but I can experience satisfaction in my relationship with Him now because He is my loving Shepherd.

First of all, we should observe in the second half of verse 5 is that God provides for us spiritually. The psalmist writes that God has “anointed my head with oil”. As we have noted in our study of this psalm, a shepherd would take his sheep into the mountains during the summer months. During the summer months, all sorts of flying insects pester the sheep mercilessly. Furthermore, the sheep can develop a skin condition called scab which is also very irritating for the sheep. The remedy for this is to apply oil to the sheep’s head. Usually the oil would have some sort of medicine in it as well. David Keller, in his book “A shepherd looks at Psalm 23”, describes how relieved the sheep are when the oil is applied to the areas affected with scab and how much less agitated they are when they are no longer being pestered by the insects thanks to the oil. As he described it, you can literally see the relief on their faces after the oil is applied.

In like manner, we as Christians deal with irritations in our lives. These irritations can range from a small problem like being a few minutes late due to a traffic snafu to a huge problem like finding out we have an incurable disease. However, we don’t have to let these things get the best of us. We have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. For the Christian, this is the “oil” that God anoints us with. We can face the trials and tribulations that come our way with peace because we know that our God works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

The oil that a shepherd anoints his sheep with serves another purpose. Male sheep butt heads in contests where they stand apart from one another, take a running start, and crash their craniums together to try to prove who is the most manly or ramly of the flock. Now, they do have thick skulls but even so, these sheep can injure themselves. Therefore, the shepherd applies some of this oil to the heads of the male sheep. When they line up to butt heads, they slip off of one another instead of hitting square on. The Holy Spirit serves a similar purpose in the life of the believer. God called us as the church to live in unity. Let’s face it, though. Sometimes, I get on my own nerves so I know for a fact that I’m not fun to be around.. However, Christians that are sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit are more likely to let little irritations roll off of their back rather than taking offense.

Aren’t we blessed to have a loving Shepherd who provides for us spiritually by giving us the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

No Posts?? Out Sick.

Hey folks. We have all been sick at my house so I've obviously not been able to get ANYTHING up recently. Sorry about that. I'll get back to it next week. Thanks for your patience.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Help For Someone Who Needs It

A recent visitor to my blog left a comment linking to a story about a lady with cancer. Please take a moment to check this out and see if you can help. Thanks.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Christian Response to Health Care Reform pt 7

In America today, you would have to be hiding under a rock not to have heard about the health care debate and you'd have to be pretty unusual not to have an opinion on it. I believe that God's word is the answer to any trials we face or concerns we have. With that in mind, I am reposting an exposition of Psalm 23 I did a few years ago as a reminder to all my brothers and sisters in Christ that it is not we nor the government that takes care of us and our needs--it is God. Regardless of how the health care debate shakes out, our God is still on the throne and we can trust Him. Be encouraged.

Probably the most difficult thing about this Psalm is our familiarity with it. We have heard it read and preached so often that we only half listen when someone is teaching it. We’ve had it memorized since we were little kids and can probably quote it backwards if we ever needed to. This verse, in particular, probably is the one most misunderstood verse of the entire psalm.

Here is what I used to picture when I read this verse-It’s a sunny day. The sky is blue with little puffy white clouds. I’m standing in a clear, grassy spot in the middle of a forest. In front of me is a long table with all sorts of food (fried chicken, mashed potatoes, collard greens, biscuits, etc). There is only one chair. The Son of God stands by that chair what an arm outstretched as if to say “Sit down and eat”. As I approach the chair, I see red, beady eyes peering from the forest all around and hear soft growls. My enemies see me about to eat this huge banquet and are jealous because they can only look on and watch. I sit and prepare to chow down. Did I mention there was a big ol’ jug of sweet tea on the table too?

That, my friends, has absolutely nothing to do with what this verse says.

The shepherd has taken the sheep out from the farm and through “the valley of the shadow of death”. They have now ascended into the mountain. The top of the mountain is called the table. If you remember the old hymn “Higher Ground”, there is a phrase in the chorus that says “Lord, lift me up and let me stand/By faith on heaven’s table land”. I believe this kind of table is what David had in mind when he wrote this psalm because it fits into the kind of work a shepherd would do. In order to “prepare a table” for his sheep, a shepherd would have to go before them and make the table land safe for his flock. He would have to pull up the plants that would be poisonous to his sheep (because that would be the first thing they would want to eat). He would have to make sure there was safe, drinkable water. And sense the flock was in the wild, his sheep would be in the “presence of [their] enemies”. Therefore, the shepherd would have to make sure that he killed off or ran off as many of those dangerous critters as he could. The safety of his flock depended on it.

In like manner, our shepherd has gone before me to “prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”. God providentially guides and directs my steps to keep me within His will. While He certainly never causes me to sin nor is it His will for me to sin, He is able to accomplish His purposes in my life in spite of it. We can go confidently forward to carry out His will knowing that our God not only will go with us but has already prepared the way before us. When you go to witness to someone, you can be encouraged by the fact that God has gone ahead of you to prepare the way as you seek to share the gospel.

Further, we should not be afraid of our enemies. As we read in Luke 12, we should not fear those who can only kill our bodies. They really have no power over us if that’s all they can do. We are coming to a time in this country I believe where the enemies of the gospel are going to try in some way to persecute us who stand for Christ. However, we know that ultimately, they have no more power over us than that which God has granted them. They can’t hurt us in any eternal sense. As hard as it is to live a life pleasing to God and share biblical truth with people that is exactly what God, our Shepherd, has led us here to do. Since He has prepared the way and He will protect us from our enemies let us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, serve Him as He has called us.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Michael Jordan--The World Is Not Enough

Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. I used to love watching him play. My bachelor party was me a two buddies of mine going to see Space Jam at a run down theatre in Scottsboro, Alabama the night before my wedding for Pete's sake. He wasn't my favorite player but he was one of them.

However, when I read about his Hall of Fame induction speech, I came to realize how much it must really stink to be Air Jordan. After all his awards, championships, records, and highlight reels he's basically just a miserable old man who is bitter to his core. The dude flew up the man who was kept on his high school team when Jordan was cut from that team just to take pot shots at him and that coach. How sad.

David Durham over at Christ and Pop Culture has written a great article that sums up exactly where the problem is in Jordan's life.

I am reminded of basketball legend Pistol Pete Maravich. Maravich was a legend too and after his game came to an end he had only one thing to say, “I wasted my life!” Now here was a man who had won awards, championships, and been, himself, inducted into the Hall of Fame. So why did he say that? Because he had, late in life, come to know Jesus and saw, in reflection, not a life lived for Jesus on and off the court, but a man who played a game. Jordan is coming to the same conclusion, only he doesn’t have the Son of God to fill the void left by this game.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, Philippians 3:7-8

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Christian Response to Health Care Reform pt 6

In America today, you would have to be hiding under a rock not to have heard about the health care debate and you'd have to be pretty unusual not to have an opinion on it. I believe that God's word is the answer to any trials we face or concerns we have. With that in mind, I am reposting an exposition of Psalm 23 I did a few years ago as a reminder to all my brothers and sisters in Christ that it is not we nor the government that takes care of us and our needs--it is God. Regardless of how the health care debate shakes out, our God is still on the throne and we can trust Him. Be encouraged.

I can remember clearly when I was a child the times I got a spanking. It didn’t happen much but when it did I certainly learned not to do whatever I had done again. My parents didn’t spank me because they were mean or enjoyed hurting me. They knew, like all good parents do, that children who are allowed to misbehave become adults who misbehave. They loved me and wanted to teach me right from wrong. In the same way, our loving Shepherd disciplines His sheep because He loves us.

David writes in the last part of verse 4 that “Your rod…comfort[s] me”. David, of course was writing this from the perspective of a shepherd and he knew what the rod he spoke of was and what it was used for. A shepherd boy would choose a stick about the length of his forearm to create his rod from. He would carve the stick so that is was balanced, had a handle, and was comfortable in his grip. He would practice using that stick in target practice until he was as deadly accurate with it as Batman with a batarang.

Once he became comfortable with his rod, it became indispensible to him in the protection of his flock. If a predator came calling and threatened the flock, the shepherd would smack that critter with the business end of his rod. This rod helped him protect the flock from danger not only from predators. Sheep, as we have noted in our study of this psalm, are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. If given the choice between doing something safe and doing something stupid, they’ll choose the stupid 99 times our of a hundred. Therefore, when the shepherd saw one of his sheep about to go to close to the edge of a cliff or about to drink of of some polluted water, he would smack it with his rod so the sheep knew that he wasn’t supposed to do that.

Our Shepherd also has a rod that He uses to protect us as His sheep. God uses His word for discipline and protection. As we read His word, we see commands of what we are supposed to do and what we are not supposed to do. In this way, we see the dangers that lie in wait as we are tempted to sin. Furthermore, when we do sin, God’s word is a tool He uses to convict us of that sin. When I have behaved unkindly to my wife (which happens way more often than I care to admit) and I read in God’s word that I am to love my wife as Christ loved the church, I am wounded by the smack upside of my head by the word of the Lord. However, God uses His word to warn us and discipline us in order to conform us to the image of His precious Son.

David notes not only that the rod of God is a comfort, but also that “Your staff…comfort[s] me”. When I think of a shepherd, the first image that pops into my head is a silhouette from a Christmas card of a shepherd. The picture shows the shepherd standing sideways and over the top of his head is his curved staff. That staff, as much as anything, is like the nametag of a shepherd. It identifies him. The sheep may not always be able to see the shepherd. He may be surrounded by other sheep and may not be close enough for some sheep to see him. However, they can always see his staff towering high above everything else. They know the shepherd is there and can take comfort in that. In like manner, we are not able to see our God. He is spirit and therefore invisible. However, we have the real indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that lets us know that He is with us. As we see our spiritual gifts develop and we see ourselves becoming more Christ-like, we recognize the presence of God. Just as David did, we can say to God “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Thought For 9-11-09

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent , you will all likewise perish. "Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
Luke 13:1-5 (NASB)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

We Can Believe What We Want, Right?

Happy Day Before Friday!!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Christian Response to Health Care Reform pt 5

In America today, you would have to be hiding under a rock not to have heard about the health care debate and you'd have to be pretty unusual not to have an opinion on it. I believe that God's word is the answer to any trials we face or concerns we have. With that in mind, I am reposting an exposition of Psalm 23 I did a few years ago as a reminder to all my brothers and sisters in Christ that it is not we nor the government that takes care of us and our needs--it is God. Regardless of how the health care debate shakes out, our God is still on the throne and we can trust Him. Be encouraged.

There are few things in this life that we can be sure about. The weather changes very frequently and the stock market is up and down like a roller coaster it seems. However, we know that there is one event every person will face in their lifetimes-death. The fact that our physical bodies do not and cannot live forever is one of the constant truths of our existence. It affirms the fact that we are created beings and that our existence on this earth is finite due to the effects of sin. In spite of this, the Christian has no reason to fear death or mourn for the dead as unbelievers do. We can be encouraged as we read this Psalm and reflect on the fact that our God is our Shepherd.

First of all, as we look at verse 4, we should remember that David was writing this Psalm under God’s inspiration from his perspective as a shepherd himself. During the spring/summer months, the shepherd would take the sheep from the ranch through the valley and into the mountain where it was cooler. Obviously, there was some danger involved in this trek. The flock was no longer in the controlled environment of the ranch. The shepherd did not have access to every resource in the field that he would have if he were at his home.

With this in mind, David writes “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Observe, first of all, the pace that David describes here. He says “I walk” (Hebrew-halak). This is not a hurried pace. David does not describe being driven furiously or running in fear. He is walking. The other day, a colleague of mine told me he had talked to one of the supervisors at work and she had mentioned to him that she had ran 4 miles that morning. He said to me “If you ever see me running 4 miles, you can be sure that someone behind me is chasing me with a gun AND that they know how to use it”. Running is for someone who, for whatever reason, is in a hurry. David doesn’t describe being in a hurry even though the environment he is in presents danger. Likewise, a Christian doesn’t have to fear death regardless of the circumstances.

David also recognizes that this is simply a journey, a transition from one place to another. He is walking “through the valley”. Now, we know that you can’t have a valley without mountains. In the same way, we can’t have physical life without physical death. It is simply a natural transition. He is moving from one place to another. In like manner, we as Christians will move from one place (here on this sinful earth) to another place (in heaven forever with our Lord and Savior).

Next, notice his perspective on the dangers he faces in this valley. He describes it as being “the shadow of death”. Shadows simply result from the blockage of light. They are not the object but simply indicate the presence of that object. As the author of Hebrews said, the things in the temple and the ordinances performed there were only a shadow of the real things in heaven and the spiritual truths they represented. In much the same way, death for a Christian is not the same thing as death for the lost man. As Isaiah wrote in the 8th verse of the 25th chapter of his prophecy, death and it’s power have been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. For a Christian, death is no real threat. It is only a shadow. The eternal sting of death is swallowed up in the overcoming work that Jesus finished. We don’t have to fear because we will never face the “real thing” but only the shadow.

Because of his perspective, David has peace. He says “I will fear no evil”. Because of the love of his wonderful, loving Shepherd, David is totally comfortable in this journey. He completely trusts God and knows without a doubt that anything that could happen will not cause him harm. This peace comes not because of blind faith or a warm, gooey feeling in his heart. He trusts God because of his relationship and because of the faithfulness that God has demonstrated. If God has been good to us before, and has kept His promises, it stands to reason that we can continue to rely on Him to be faithful and keep us safe just as He has promised.

In conclusion, David says he has this peace because “You are with me”. The presence of his Shepherd is a source of comfort for David as a sheep. The flock can relax in the valley just as they did on the ranch because of the loving, attentive care of their Shepherd. Likewise, when we or our loved ones face death, we can take comfort in the presence of God. We don’t have to fear because He will be with us.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Is There a Narcissist in Your Pulpit?

Do you know the signs to look for in order to identify a narcissist if they were in your pulpit? The World Health Organization in its ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioral Disorders describes narcissism as:
“Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a disorder in which a person has a grandiose self-importance, preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, a driven desire for attention and admiration, an intolerance of criticism, and disturbed self-centered interpersonal relations. They are often referred to as being conceited. They generally have a low self-esteem, as well. They act selfish interpersonally, with a sense of entitlement.” I would say that someone who feels this way about themselves would not be biblically qualified per 1 Timothy and Titus to serve as a pastor. Here as some warning signs to look for:

“Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is an all-pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behaviour), need for admiration or adulation and lack of empathy, usually beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts. Five (or more) of the following criteria must be met:

1. Feels grandiose and self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements & talents to the point of lying, demands to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements). For instance, someone who brags "I've got 20 years experience and a doctorate" when the doctorate they have is from an unacreditted diploma mill.

2. Is obsessed with fantasies of unlimited success, fame, fearsome power or omnipotence, unequalled brilliance (the cerebral narcissist), bodily beauty or sexual performance (the somatic narcissist), or ideal, everlasting, all-conquering love or passion. For instance, a pastor who leads a church to take out a mortgage requiring over 30% of it's budget to pay the payment because he assumes with all the new houses being built in the area the church is going to grow huge very quickly.

3. Firmly convinced that he or she is unique &, being special, can only be understood by, should only be treated by, or associate with, other special or unique, or high-status people (or institutions).

4. Requires excessive admiration, adulation, attention & affirmation - or, failing that, wishes to be feared and to be notorious (narcissistic supply).

5. Feels entitled. Expects unreasonable or special & favorable priority treatment. Demands automatic and full compliance with his or her expectations. i.e. A pastor who believes a salary of 50% of the churches receipts is reasonable because he has "20 years experience and a doctorate" when, again, his doctorate is from a diploma mill.

6. Is "interpersonally exploitative", i.e., uses others to achieve his or her own ends. For example, a pastor who uses congregation members to relay conversations they have with members or fomer members to keep tabs on them or a pastor who asks congregation members to try to hack annonymous emails.

7. Devoid of empathy. Is unable or unwilling to identify with or acknowledge the feelings and needs of others.

8. Constantly envious of others or believes that they feel the same about him or her.

9. Arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes coupled with rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.” For instance, mocking a congregation member when asked a question about why something is being done that appears to violate the Bible or telling that member "Don't you DARE walk away from me" when the member is walking away to avoid further confrontation.

If you see these qualities in your pastor, might I suggest getting the heck out of Dodge for your own sake? You can read the whole article here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Christian Response to Health Care Reform Pt 4

In America today, you would have to be hiding under a rock not to have heard about the health care debate and you'd have to be pretty unusual not to have an opinion on it. I believe that God's word is the answer to any trials we face or concerns we have. With that in mind, I am reposting an exposition of Psalm 23 I did a few years ago as a reminder to all my brothers and sisters in Christ that it is not we nor the government that takes care of us and our needs--it is God. Regardless of how the health care debate shakes out, our God is still on the throne and we can trust Him. Be encouraged.

The ultimate purpose of everything in creation is to glorify God. In the first commandment, in fact, the Israelites are told that God is a jealous God. He is the only one in the whole universe who deserves our praise, honor, and loyalty as our first priority. Because God is holy and righteous, He rightfully expects us to be holy and righteous as well. Luckily for you and I, we are not responsible for living a holy life under our own power. As we read in the second part of verse 3 of this psalm, we are led by a loving Shepherd.

As we read this, we need to step into the sandals, as it were, of a shepherd. During part of the year, the shepherd and the sheep live at the ranch. However, the shepherd later takes the sheep out from the pasture near the home through the valley to the mountain plateau or “table land”. It is this part of the year that I think David has in mind as he writes this verse.

Remember, as we’ve observed before, sheep are not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree. They get themselves in trouble if left to themselves and make poor choices about what to do or where to go. Actually, that’s not too dissimilar to you and me, is it? Therefore, they need someone to show them where to go.

David declares here that God provides that direction for him just as He does for us. David writes “He guides me”. David doesn’t have to figure the way out for himself. He doesn’t need a GPS or mapquest. God guides His sheep. Notice that God leads the sheep—He doesn’t drive them. The word “guides” is a translation of the Hebrew word “nachah” which is normally used in the Old Testament to indicate someone going ahead or infront of someone to lead them. God has given us His word and His Holy Spirit to let us know the path we should take. We don’t have to use our intuition or reasoning to figure things out. We can trust God because just like He guided David, He will also guide us.

Further, notice that David knew that God guided him in “paths of righteousness”. We are told in Psalm 1 not to walk in the council of the ungodly. Also, in Colossians, Paul admonishes us to walk in a worthy manner. Therefore, it seems evident that where we walk is pretty important. Therefore, God not only leads us but He leads in what are literally “right paths”. These paths are safe. These paths lead us to where we need to go. When God tells us to abstain from sexual immorality, He is leading us down the right path. He isn’t a killjoy who wants to take all the fun out of life. He knows we can get hurt and hurt others if we take the wrong path. He knows that sheep are prone not only to go astray but lead others astray. Therefore, He leads in the right paths so that we can safely reach our destination. Jesus spoke of this path in Matthew 7 when He said there were two roads. The Lord, as our Shepherd, will never lead us down the path of destruction, but rather down the path that leads to eternal life.

He leads us down the right paths, as David notes, “for His names sake”. As Albert Barnes observes in his Notes on the Bible:

“It is not primarily on their account; it is not solely that they may be saved. It is that He may be honored:
(a) in their being saved at all;
(b) in the manner in which it is done;
(c) in the influence of their whole life, under His guidance, as making known His own character and perfections.”

As I stated in the initial paragraph of this post, the ultimate goal of all creation is to bring glory to God. Therefore, God leads us as a Shepherd in the right paths in order that we might bring glory and honor to His name. As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:9, we should proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Let our lives reflect that kind of change—darkness to light. Let us always be humble to follow the leading of our kind Shepherd who leads us in the right paths.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Are You Covering For A Spiritual Abuser?

I recently came across a great post about an often overlooked aspect of spiritual abuse--I call it the enabler. Someone who, by turning a blind eye to the abuser, allows them to continue to perpetrate their abuse unchecked. I've reposted the whole article below.

Signs you may be covering for a pastor who abuses the flock spiritually:

*You've noticed a pattern of people leaving the fellowship, but don't ask your pastor about it and don't delve into the reasons behind the exits.

*You've seen your pastor act in retribution for slights or criticism by removing people from ministries, publicly or privately shaming them or refusing to listen to them.

*You excuse your pastor's wrong behavior: he's young, he doesn't understand the people who are unhappy, he has a little trouble relating to people, he'll grow out of it, I'm probably not seeing the whole picture, God will show him his weaknesses and he'll handle things better soon.

*You find yourself blaming victims. You justify harsh behavior by your pastor by focusing on the sins of those who are shamed or shunned or criticized or punished.

*You feel that to protect the name of Christ in your community you need to keep secret the alarming behavior by your pastor or leaders in the church.

*You feel it's your duty to think the best of your pastor, no matter what charges are brought against him, but you don't extend the same courtesy to those who feel they've been abused or harmed.

*You feel it's okay for your pastor to build up your church by cutting down other churches with "inferior" doctrines or practices, but it's not okay for anyone to question decisions by church leaders if it looks like criticism.

*You enjoy being flattered by your pastor and seek to please him often. You spend a lot of time in church flattering and being flattered.

*You fear being criticized by your pastor or having your special ministry taken away.

*You've seen your pastor flatter those he can use and then later turn on them.

*You would feel uncomfortable asking to see financial records of the church, and you just assume that they are being used in a godly manner.

*You feel constantly pressured to help more in church or to give more, or both.

*Going to church often seems like a burden, but you don't want anyone to know you feel that way.

*You have criticized other churches or individuals with your pastor.

*You like the feeling of being in the "inner circle," and you feel you have the pastor's confidence.

*You feel superior to Christians who don't witness as much as you, or who don't practice their faith as well as you, or who don't emphasize certain doctrines like you do.

*You feel that no one quite understands the scriptures, delivers sermons or reaches out to the weak and poor like your pastor does.

*You are exhausted.

If many of these items speak to you, it might be a good idea to evaluate what your role in your church really is. Are you a source of narcissistic supply for your pastor? Is your main role to make him look good? Do you equate making him look good with powerful ministry in your community? You can serve many years, believing you are doing good in your church by covering spiritual abuse for your leader, while really doing great harm. Check out the signs of spiritual abuse. If they look familiar, and you feel you may have had a hand in perpetuating it, all is not lost. You can recognize the harm and turn from it, just like with any other sin.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Chrisitan Response to Health Care Reform pt 3

In America today, you would have to be hiding under a rock not to have heard about the health care debate and you'd have to be pretty unusual not to have an opinion on it. I believe that God's word is the answer to any trials we face or concerns we have. With that in mind, I am reposting an exposition of Psalm 23 I did a few years ago as a reminder to all my brothers and sisters in Christ that it is not we nor the government that takes care of us and our needs--it is God. Regardless of how the health care debate shakes out, our God is still on the throne and we can trust Him. Be encouraged.

Once, when I was 6 years old, my Dad and I were at the beach in Fairhope, Alabama with an uncle of mine who was in town and some of my cousins. I followed my cousins out into the water and eventually found myself in water above my midsection. Quite suddenly, the undertow pulled my feet out from under me. At that point, I did not know how to swim and was on my way to drowning. My dad rushed into the water, scooped me up, and saved my life. He’s done that more than once over the years. There was absolutely nothing I could do to save myself. If he had not intervened, I would be dead right now. In much the same way, David describes the predicament of a sheep in a most dangerous situation.

A point that I think should be made here is that as we read this psalm with which we are so familiar, we really need to get into the head of a shepherd. As I had stated in the original post of this series, David Keller has written a book called “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm” which has provided me quite a bit of insight into this psalm and, admittedly, has shaped a lot of the material I have included in these posts. You can get information on this book here.

When I read this psalm, I usually thought of the phrase “He restores my soul” as meaning God gives us encouragement when we are down. I knew of Psalm 42:5 talking about David’s soul being cast down and of course I’d heard about people having their faces downcast. To me, it seemed pretty reasonable to assume that improving our mood was the topic David had in mind. Actually, that would probably be a pretty common interpretation in today’s me-centered, feel good, prosperity pseudo-Christianity. After all, according to most TV preachers, it’s all about you and your significance in God’s plan.

However, as I studied more about this term, I found out that it had nothing to do with making me feel better. That wasn’t even in the ball park. In fact, the situation David describes here is nightmarish to the sheep. A cast sheep is one that has been turned over on its back. This sheep is in dire straits. In fact, without help, this sheep will die a slow and painful death. When a sheep is flat on its back like this, there is no way for it to raise itself upright again. When 98.46% of your body weight (ok, that is a slight exaggeration) is contained in your upper body, you don’t have enough mass in your lower body to move your center of gravity. A sheep in this state is totally helpless. In addition to being at the mercy of predators, the gases inside of a sheep build up in its abdomen as described by David Keller so that the sheep will suffocate. This is no laughing matter. This sheep is going to die and there is nothing—I repeat nothing—that he can do about it.

Luckily, this sheep belongs to a loving and gentle Shepherd. The Shepherd restored this cast sheep. Now the sheep is free from its death trap. The Shepherd has saved the day. However, notice that David says that the Shepherd “restores my soul”. David, therefore, describes his soul as being in the predicament of a cast sheep. He, too, is in a death trap and he, too, is unable to help himself.

Friends, you and I were in that same death trap before we came to faith in Christ Jesus. The book of Ephesians tells us that we were dead in our trespasses. Now, we were in a condition much worse than the sheep. The sheep was helpless but it was alive at least. It didn’t have to be resurrected. However, you and I, prior to coming to faith in Christ, were dead. Not close to death, not nearly dead, not sick with a terminal disease. We were dead. There was no way we could save ourselves. There was no way that we could turn to Christ and repent of our sins. We all had turned away from God and had sought to go our own way (Romans 3:10-3:18).

Because we were helpless and hopeless, God restored our cast souls. The English word translated “restores” is the Hebrew word “shub”. It means “to turn back” and in this case means to set right. Our soul was in the grip of death. God, in His mercy, elected us to salvation through His Son and gave us the faith to believe and repent thereby restoring or setting right our cast soul. We couldn’t have done it for ourselves. We didn’t even have the faith to choose to turn to Him. Apart from His love and concern as our Shepherd, none of us would be saved. However, because He is our loving Shepherd, He does “restore [our] soul[s]”.