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

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?

Are All World Religions the Same?

The beginning of a new year is often a time for introspection. A time for new year’s resolutions. Even a time to explore religion and spirituality as a way to start the new year “right.” But are all world religions the same?

Some people think so. And if all religions carry equal weight, then it’s easy to cobble together aspects of various religions to satisfy their preferences. They view religion as menu items on an old Chinese take-out menu—pick one from column A and 2 from column B and you’ve got a version of religion that meets your inclinations.

So let’s take a look…are all religions really the same? Of all the current world religions:

…how many of their founders were prophesied to come?

It doesn’t take much for someone to appear on the scene without any warning and make authoritative claims. It’s an entirely different situation for hundreds of prophecies over thousands of years to point to one person…and have this one person fulfill them.

Only Jesus Christ was prophesied to come. Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled more than 300 prophecies—a statistical impossibility by human standards.

…how many founders of world religions have died and remain buried or cremated?

All of them…except one. The founder of every world religion has had their death documented. Their burial sites (or cremation) have also been documented.

But Jesus Christ is the only one whose tomb is empty (Mark 16:6). Multiple historical evidences prove the resurrection. For more information, please check out The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

…how many founders not only claimed to be God, but proved it by miraculous acts documented by eyewitnesses?

Jesus Christ performed miracles attesting to His claims and authority—miracles documented in the Bible (Matthew 9:5-6). Now before you dismiss the Bible as a biased book written by His followers, remember there were thousands of unbelievers present at the time the New Testament scriptures were written. Any of them could have refuted the documented events included in the Bible if those events were not true.

…how many world religions require a life of good works to achieve heaven?

When religion requires a life of good works, it creates a conundrum. In simple terms, how many good works are enough? How do you know when you’ve met the minimum requirement? Do you even know what the minimum is?

Christianity is the only religion that starts by saying we cannot do enough good works to be accepted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9). It’s impossible for sinful humanity to clean itself up to meet a holy God’s standards. Instead, God came down to us—He became man in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only person to live a perfect life, die a sacrificial, substitutionary death on our behalf, and be resurrected (I Corinthians 15:1-4).

No one else offers this grace. Grace gives us what we don’t deserve: God’s love and acceptance. A good thing, too, because we could never earn what God gives freely.

…how many world religions provide you with a divine Helper to assist you in living a life honoring the One in whom you believe?

Only one: Christianity. Before Christ’s death, He promised to send the Helper who would indwell every believer (John 14:16). While our good works cannot earn us a place in heaven, they are our way of showing our gratitude for the gift of salvation. If I have been saved from eternal death, how could I not want to live a life honoring the One who saved me?

The Holy Spirit lives and works in every believer (I Corinthians 3:16) to prompt, convict, encourage, and empower us. This enables us to live in a way that testifies to the power of God in the life of His children.

Religion or relationship?

Christianity may be characterized as a world religion, but in reality, it’s more of a relationship than a religion. Christianity, in its truest, biblical form, is personal. It’s an individual choice to surrender to the God who created you, loves you, and saved you.

Before you dismiss it as just another world religion, you owe it to yourself to explore the claims of Jesus Christ. Read the Bible and ask God to show you the truth.

If you do, your life will never be the same.

Israel and the Phoenix

israelWatching the news this week reminded me of the phoenix.

Ancient Greek literature contains references to a phoenix, a beautiful bird that would live for hundreds of years, die in flames, and rise from its own ashes to live anew. Later references can be found in Dante’s Inferno as well as Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.

Of course, the phoenix is a myth. Still, anyone who has been paying attention to the news in recent weeks might have experienced a similar reminder.

IsraelIt’s difficult to not think of a phoenix as we watched the celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary as a nation. Now, 70 years may not seem like much in light of the history of other nations. Even the United States is a relative juvenile on the world stage compared to many European nations.

But Israel’s birth as a nation 70 years ago is not so much a birth as it is a rebirth. Approximately 4,000 years ago, God promised to give the land to the descendants of Abraham. Several hundred years later, Moses led the fledgling nation out of Egyptian slavery to take possession of their new homeland. That trek should have lasted 40 days. But because of unbelief, the Jewish nation wandered for 40 years before being led into the promised land by Joshua.

Various empires would repeatedly scatter the Jews from their land throughout history. It wasn’t until 1948 that Israel once again formally possessed the land promised to Abraham 4,000 years earlier.

From the moment Israel was reborn, neighboring nations determined to destroy her. This piece of land, slightly larger than the size of New Jersey, became the focus of hostility for all 70 years of her existence and continues today.

Sadly, the rebirth of Israel has also meant suffering for many displaced Palestinians. First, they lost the land they occupied for centuries when the Jews were a scattered people. And second, these refugees have become pawns in a political and religious war, a war in which many of the combatants demand nothing short of the annihilation of the Jews.

It’s a conflict almost as old as time…one that began with the birth of two brothers: Isaac and Ishmael. As Proverbs 18:19 (ESV) tells us, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.”

Still, Israel remains. A national illustration of the phoenix, rising from the ashes of history to take and hold her promised place among the nations.

A story is told of Frederick the Great, the King of Prussia in the 18th century. During that time, he asked his chaplain, “Can you prove to me in one sentence that the Bible is true?” The chaplain said, “I only need two words to prove that the Bible is true and that God doesn’t lie. Those two words are ‘The Jews!’”

Israel’s 70th anniversary as a nation proves God keeps His promises to them and to us.

And that’s no myth.

God Wink

God winkEver have God wink at you?

You’re going along through your routine day, and something unusual or special happens.

Others might call it a coincidence, but the sense of joy you receive tells you it wasn’t merely a convergence of random circumstances. Rather, it’s a personal reminder that our loving God is actively involved in the lives of His children.

It could be the most ordinary of events. Or it could be something extraordinary. Sometimes it’s not so much about the event as it is about the timing.

For example, hubby and I were talking about how we haven’t seen much wildlife around our home in the past several weeks. We usually see rabbits, snakes, sandhill cranes, and other birds and animals, but the fauna had been hiding lately. Then, within two days, I saw 2 large rabbits hop across our lawn, a shiny, 2-foot black snake slither across the grass, and our family of cranes strut across the backyard.

Coincidences, you say? Then how about this one…

Hubby’s mom lived with us for most of our marriage. You’ll never meet a sweeter woman. Sadly, in her last years, she suffered from a variety of illnesses, including dementia. We struggled to find things that would bring a smile to her face and make her eyes light up the way they used to.

One day, during an outing to the local mall, she saw a store selling electric organs/pianos. The joy that lit her face was almost tangible, so we purchased a small organ and she loved playing with it for the remaining months she had with us.

Well, for the past 18 years, that organ sat in a corner of our home, unused. We finally decided to sell it earlier this year. I listed it on various marketplace sites, to no avail. I displayed it at a garage sale—it almost sold, but the buyer changed her mind at the last minute.

Finally, I listed it on Craig’s list. Within 2 days we received an email that said:

I’m interested in this because my 85-year-old grandmother has dementia and all she talks about is how she played the piano in church when she was younger. She lives in a mobile home, so we’re looking for something small that will fit there.

A day later, the buyer picked up the organ and that evening texted a picture of her grandmother sitting on the piano bench, hands on the keyboard, and smiling the broadest smile you would ever want to see.

God orchestrated events so that the electric organ that brought joy to someone with dementia would be held in reserve until it could bring joy to another person with dementia 18 years later.

Coincidence? I don’t believe that for a minute.

I recently completed a Bible study of the Book of Romans. The last chapter is one many people skim through, or often skip altogether. Why? It’s filled with a list of names—most of which mean little or nothing to us today.

But those names tell me that God cares about individuals. He knows your name and mine. He is actively involved in the lives of His children. Sometimes He does it as His Holy Spirit gives an extra measure of peace in a difficult situation. Or He might do it by opening an opportunity you thought was closed.

Sometimes He does it with a wink.

Have you experienced a God wink? Share it in the comments!

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