Shepherds in the Headlines – the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
Shepherds

One of the most significant roles described in the Bible is the role of shepherd.

But it’s one that can also be abused.

Lately, our present-day news headlines have been filled with accounts of the worst possible abuse by 21st century pastor-shepherds.

For years, many Christians have watched the Roman Catholic church struggle with a tsunami of scandalous charges. Accounts of gross sexual immorality by clergy who have not only neglected to shepherd their congregations, their abuse of the flock has been egregious.

This past week, a protestant denomination has also been in the headlines. The curtain has been torn away to reveal similar charges of sexual immorality that must grieve the heart of God in ways I can only imagine.

Back in the Old Testament, the prophets of God spoke judgment on religious leaders appointed to shepherd God’s people. For example:

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?… I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock”
(Ezekiel 34:2, 10 NIV).

But God also identified Himself as a shepherd:

“As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them,
so will I look after my sheep” (Ezekiel 34:12 NIV).

And, of course, Jesus said:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I know my sheep and my sheep know me”
(John 10:11, 14 NIV).

If earthly pastor-shepherds are a picture of God’s care for His people, surely the abuses seen today bring sorrow to His heart.

The Puritan preacher, Thomas Watson, once said, “The sins of the wicked anger God—but the sins of professing Christians grieve him.”

There are shepherds—flawed and sinful.

Then there’s the Good Shepherd—perfect and holy.

The question is, will we allow the flaws of earthly shepherds to turn us away from the Good Shepherd? All too often, that’s exactly what happens. Or we judge all earthly shepherds by the failings of a few.

Sometimes, it’s not about the shepherd at all. Sometimes it’s about the stubbornness of the sheep.

This week I was challenged to let the Good Shepherd shepherd me. To submit to His leading. His prompting. His correction. To listen for His priorities rather than push ahead with my own. To examine my good intentions in the light of God’s intentions.

Will I read Psalm 23 not just as poetic literature, but as an instruction for life?

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (ESV).

I was challenged to surrender to the Good Shepherd in thought, word, and deed. Sometimes this means listening when He tells me to lie down and rest. Sometimes it means following as His Holy Spirit leads, even when I feel too tired to continue. But what will never change is that I—a stubborn sheep—am loved, cared for, and belong to the Good Shepherd who is always at work for my ultimate good and His eternal glory.

Don’t allow corrupt shepherds to tarnish your view of the Good Shepherd. And don’t place human, flawed shepherds—even the best of them—on a pedestal so high that they are set up for failure.

Instead, our pastor-shepherds need our prayers and our encouragement as we all love and serve the Good Shepherd together.

So now I extend this same challenge to you. Regardless of the examples of earthly shepherds—good or bad—will you allow the Good Shepherd to shepherd you?


How Much Suffering is Too Much?

Enough. Have you ever said that to God?

Enough suffering, Lord. I’ve had more than my fair share of trouble. When is it going to stop?

Remember the trials and tribulations of Job? His near-perfect life was disrupted by trouble. Lots and lots of trouble. He lost his children, his wealth, and his health in a swift series of events that seemingly defied explanation.

Many of us know someone like Job. Someone who has experienced extraordinary suffering. I have a friend who lost his father, brother, and wife, all within five months. Another friend and her husband have been unemployed for several years and suffer from several debilitating illnesses. Still another friend has breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy in the hope that surgery will be a later option. (Right about now you may be wondering if it’s safe to be my friend!)

I recently learned of another person who received bad news. Joni Eareckson Tada has breast cancer…again.

What did you think when you read those words? Did the word enough spring to mind? After all, Joni has been a quadriplegic for more than fifty years. Instead of hiding in a corner or throwing herself a life-long pity party, she became an author, speaker, and founder of Joni and Friends, an international ministry that shares the hope of the gospel and offers practical help to those impacted by disability.

She is an advocate for those with disabilities and the author of forty-eight at least 48 books. She is also an artist, having learned to paint with a brush between her teeth. Joni does all this and more from her wheelchair.

And after battling Stage 3 breast cancer in 2010, she was diagnosed with breast cancer again two months ago.

Why breast cancer? Why now? Rather than ask these kinds of questions, Joni viewed her cancer through a different lens. She has often said that “our afflictions come from the hand of our all-wise and sovereign God.” This diagnosis is no different.

When she was first diagnosed eight years ago, Joni noted with her characteristic sense of humor, “Although cancer is something new, I am content to receive from God whatever He deems fit for me – even if it is from His left hand (better from His left hand, than no hand at all, right?!).”

Joni did not ask why because she was already sure of the answer. She went on to say, “Yes, it’s alarming, but rest assured that Ken and I are utterly convinced that God is going to use this to stretch our faith, brighten our hope, and strengthen our witness to others…”

She added, “For years I have hoped that my quadriplegia might encourage people struggling with cancer… now I have a chance to truly empathize and journey alongside, affirming that God’s grace is always sufficient for whatever the disease or disability.”

After receiving this repeat diagnosis, Joni said, “What good is it if we only trust the Lord when we understand His ways? That only guarantees a life filled with doubts.”

It’s easy for us to quote Scripture when life is pleasant. But when we’re confronted with a dreaded diagnosis, the death of a loved one, or a financial loss, can we say with Joni, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:5-6)?

When confronted with suffering, often our first inclination is to ask, Why? Perhaps a better question to ask is, Why not? We live in a sin-sick world. God never promised us a life free from trouble. However, we can choose how we will respond to the uncertainties and difficulties of life.

I love how Joni puts it: “Faith isn’t the ability to believe long and far into the misty future. It’s simply taking God at His Word and taking the next step.”

What next step is God calling you to take today in faith?


Outrage is Not Enough
Outrage

I’ve been inundated with outrage this past week. Righteous indignation filling my social media feeds. Outrage expressed in face-to-face conversations. And outrage at the outrage of others.

So what?

So what that Christians are outraged at the recent passage of a bill signed into law in New York State? A law that removes even the veneer of civilization when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us?

So what that Christians are outraged that a practice which ends life is now not only legal, it was celebrated with applause and landmark buildings lit up for the world to see?

And so what that the outrage of Christians is spilling into most of their conversations?

What are we doing about it?

Yes, Christians can feel like salmon swimming against the current in a society that no longer even pretends to share our values and morals.

Yes, Christians can become discouraged, citing the adage, “You can’t fight city hall.”

And yes, the political landscape seems skewed toward running away from God and His Word instead of to Him.

But we still have options:

When was the last time you made a difference—and not just expressing your outrage on social media?

Have you donated financially to a ministry such as Care Net Pregnancy Services of the Treasure Coast?

  • If money is tight, have you donated your time to such a ministry? There are opportunities for peer counselors and mommy-mentors. Training is provided.
  • Have you participated in a Walk for Life or hosted a table at a fundraising banquet to give other people an opportunity to donate through your efforts?

Have you come alongside other ministries? Will you explore opportunities with organizations such as:

  • Embrace Grace: “inspiring and equipping the church to love on girls with crisis pregnancies.”
  • Youmoms: a local group whose mission is to “encourage, equip, and empower young and expectant mothers and their children. And to equip the church to be a safe place for them to thrive.”
  • YoungLives: an organization that mentors teen moms
  • Mary’s Shelter: another local group whose mission is to “save lives by empowering and equipping homeless, pregnant young women for lives of dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency.”
  • Hannah’s Home: “provides a safe and loving Christian environment for single pregnant young women. Through counseling, life skills and continuing education, we offer hope and transform lives.”

If these organizations are not available in your area, find ministries with similar missions.

Have you considered how you might encourage foster families?

  • If you can’t foster, how about adopting a foster family? Come alongside to support them in the call on their lives.
  • Or donate to a local foster closet to provide for needs of foster families.

Don’t have an organization in your area similar to the ones I’ve referenced? Then perhaps this Bible verse can apply to you:

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 ESV).

Yes, this verse is specific to an event and a person. But the principle still applies. We have been brought into the kingdom of Jesus Christ at this time, in this place. What will we do with the privilege of representing the Savior in the place He has planted us?

In the interest of transparency, I’m a board member of our local crisis pregnancy center, Care Net Pregnancy Services of the Treasure Coast.

But there was a time when I talked a good game of righteous indignation and moral outrage without doing anything. And one day I realized that had to change. I started small by attending a fundraising banquet. The next year, I hosted a table, inviting others to learn about this ministry. Further involvement culminated in my board role.

I say this, not for kudos, but to encourage you to start somewhere.

Start with outrage…but don’t stop there.


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