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?


 
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.


 
Public Discourse vs. Public DisCOARSE

Public discourseSocial media and the evening news are both making me tired.

Sad.

Discouraged.

Done.

Today, I hit my limit.

A friend posted a link announcing the president had signed an executive order correcting a difficult, complicated, and sad policy.

(I’m not taking a politically partisan position here—just making an observation.)

Her post acknowledged the Executive Order stopping family separations. She simply wrote “Thank God!” with a link to a major news outlet.

The comments that followed made me cringe. Instead of acknowledging something positive had occurred, comments ranged from “Trump will still get criticized” to “How is the genius planning to reunite the children with their parents?” One person wrote, “So he is now fixing an ‘issue’ started under the Obama admin.” Another wrote, “There is nothing to celebrate…this was a chance for Trump to show off.”

Let me say again, I am not taking a partisan position here. The point I’m making is that as a nation, we’ve lost the ability to discuss anything even remotely related to politics, civics, or culture in general.

Public discourse has deteriorated to public discoarse.

Namecalling.

Hyperbole.

Personal attacks.

I’m sure you’ve seen and heard some of these quotes:

  • “You can’t fix stupid.”
  • “I’m unfriending anyone who supports this.”
  • “USA. Like it or leave it.”

Do I have strong opinions on civic, moral, and political issues?
You bet I do. Most of us do.

But when 50% of our nation appears to despise the other 50%, I’m reminded of Jesus’ observation in Matthew 12:25 (ESV), “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.”

Celebrities have called for the death of the president. Supporters of the current administration vilify his critics.

The two sides are talking over each other.

At each other.

But they’re not talking to each other.

Allow me to amend that last sentence: We’re not talking to each other. Because it’s not us versus them. We’re all us.

The people who voted for the other side (whatever “the other side” is for you), are the same people who you:

  • grew up with
  • went to school with
  • attend church with
  • or share DNA with.

Delete KeyHave we come to the point where we cut people out of our life—or our social media feeds—simply because we disagree with them?

If so, we’re choosing to live in an echo chamber, hearing only what affirms our preconceived opinions. Demonizing the other side instead of seeing them as people like us who have different beliefs.

How can we hope to persuade others if we’re preoccupied with vilifying them?

And for those who are Christians, how can we follow Christ’s command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 ESV) if we’re obsessed with demeaning them?

As the originator of the post I mentioned above noted:

“At some point, we begin to sound like nothing more than clanging cymbals.”

Hmmm…clanging cymbals. That’s how the apostle Paul describes us when we speak or act without love (I Corinthians 13:1).

So the next time you and I hear someone we disagree with, will we determine to:

  • Converse instead of criticize?
  • Discuss instead of demean?
  • Persuade instead of pummel?
  • Dialogue instead of demonize?

And if the “other side” refuses to dialogue, will we at least resist the urge to vilify?

Most importantly, will we purpose to love instead of loathe?


 
Wildlife Warnings and Wild Life Warnings

Warnings - DangerWildlife has been especially wild lately. Although June is barely two weeks old, a decapitated rattlesnake bit a Texas man. An alligator killed a Florida woman. And in Minnesota, an unidentified wild animal killed a five-year-old boy.

Last month a hungry cougar killed a mountain biker in Washington state. And the month before saw a man in North Carolina killed by a coyote. In March, a crazed river otter jumped into a kayak and attacked a woman.

Some blame the increased animal attacks on the loss of wildlife habitat due to construction. Still others claim the problem is often due to people who intentionally draw close to wild animals despite clear warnings.

Whatever the reason, wild creatures should be given wide berth. Still, cautious behavior is wisely applied to more than just the animal kingdom.

How many times have you and I flirted with disaster when we ignored warnings in other areas of life?

Warnings from parents to children. Advice from doctors. Cautions from law enforcement officers. Yet too many of us ignore wise counsel in favor of desire or convenience.

Which brings us to the counsel and cautions found in the Bible, many of which we want to follow…until something else distracts us. Consider this sampling from Proverbs:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV).

This verse sound terrific, until we get to the word submit. Submission is a dirty word in our culture, frequently equated with weakness. We say we trust the Lord, but our actions reveal otherwise. Truth is, we trust ourselves more than we trust Him.

In what area are you claiming to trust God, but are not submitting to Him?

 

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12 NIV).

Appearances can be deceiving, or so the adage says. In the moment, a temptation looks good. It looks right. We justify our choices with phrases such as “What’s the harm?” and “It’s only one time.” But sometimes once is all that’s needed to bring irreparable damage.

How can you cultivate discernment in differentiating between what appears right and what is right?

 

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 NIV).

If you’re like me, guarding your tongue is a full-time job. When faced with anger, I want to answer gently. Yet a defensive spirit and harsh words seem to rise up before I can stop them. Of course, I know the result will be increased trouble even as I speak, but my desire to defend myself often overrides my desire to de-escalate the situation.

How can you develop a habit of responding with “a gentle answer”?

 

Those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but those who confess and renounce them find mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

Secrets possess power. What we try to hide ends up controlling us. But when we bring that thing—whatever it is—into the light, it loses its power over us. That thing could be shame over abuse committed against us, or guilt over behavior that hurt others. It could also be attitudes of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness that hurt ourselves. The first step is confessing it to God. Sometimes an added step of confession to another person is needed for accountability.

What are you concealing that should be brought into the light? Will you confess it now to God? If accountability is needed, will you find a trusted accountability partner?

 

Wise warnings encourage us to avoid contact with wild animals for our own safety. Wise warnings also encourage us to seek a close walk with the Lord and to keep our distance from sin…also for our own safety.

What warnings will you heed today?


 
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