Sunday, June 27, 2010

Good Shepherding

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, [son] of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs. He said to him again a second time, "Simon, [son] of Jonah, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon, [son] of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep. John 21:15-17 NKJV

I have often been asked questions about which translation of the Bible I prefer, and what are my reasons for choosing it. You may have noticed by now that I almost always use the New King James Version when teaching, but I wouldn't have you think that is the only one. I actually have four versions I use for study on a regular basis, and others I use occasionally. Why is this? Although I find all to be useful and similar in translation, there is much to be said for one that most accurately conveys the intent and meaning of the words God chose to use.

This passage is a perfect example of that because many believe from reading different translations that Jesus simply repeated Himself three times when instructing Peter. The truth is, however, that Jesus was making three different points. When examined in context we find Jesus was explaining the different responsibilities of a good shepherd. What I want to talk about today is what I feel God is instructing not only Peter, but all believers in regards to others in the body of Christ. So here follows the three responsibilities of a good shepherd revealed to us by Jesus in this passage.

Feed my Lambs...The meaning of feed should pose no problem for any who read this passage, but I think the point is not the word "feed", but rather the word "lambs". You see, here Jesus is making the point that our first responsibility is to the young, newborn members of the body of Christ. I'm sure most of us are familiar with the following passage;

as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby
1 Peter 2:2 NKJ

As a parent, and from my own life experience, I know that the lessons learned at an early age are the ones that tend to stay with you the longest. With a background in construction, I know that the foundation is the most important structure in any building. If that is not right, everything else will be just a little "off". The Bible uses both these situations as examples of how important it is to teach new believers the principles of what God desires to see in us. Look carefully at the following passage from the book of Hebrews where we find this point illustrated.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need [someone] to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.
Hebrews 5:12 NKJV

Somehow these believers got off on the wrong foot, and the point is being made that they need to go back and start over learning the basics. The "first principles" are the most important and our responsibility as a good shepherd is to teach these basic principles to the "lambs" at the beginning of their walk with God.

Tend My sheep...Here we find the word sheep replaces the word lambs, and the word in the Greek refers not only to a mature sheep, but to a flock as well. We also see that instead of feeding, the active word is now "tend". It would seem then that the important word here might be tend because that carries an entirely different meaning than feed. The word in Greek is "poimainō" which means "to feed, to tend a flock, keep sheep, to rule, govern". The point I believe Jesus is making here is that a good shepherd has a responsibility regarding where the entire flock, or in our case the Church, the body of Christ, goes.

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. 1 Peter 5:2-4 NKJV

Many times as believers it becomes easy to believe that it is the "leaders" of the church to decide the direction we go. We then sit back and complain about what the state of the church is, or about what we perceive as it's shortcomings. Yet I believe the point Jesus is making here is that we all, as shepherds, have a responsibility to be involved in determining the direction the flock goes. We should be willing to "speak out", then "live out" the principles we know God expects from us, not just go along with the "crowd" whatever direction they go.

Feed My sheep...Although similar, this command tells us to we have a responsibility to feed the "sheep" as well as the "lambs" previously mentioned. How is that different? I'm sure if you think about it you will realize that the difference is that mature believers have a need for food which is more substantial than the "milk" we received as newborns. Jesus is telling us that as shepherds, we need to be concerned with the type of food given to adults in the flock, because as we all know, in order to be grow and be healthy we need to be careful about what we eat.

Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him."
John 6:27 NKJV

But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, [that is], those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Hebrews 5:14 NKJV

A good shepherd watches closely just what the flock is eating. The food taken in is directly responsible for the health of the flock. Do you watch what is being taught to the body? Are you willing to speak out if you believe something is being taught that does not conform to the principles revealed in scripture? If you are in a position to teach, are you careful to examine what "food" you are feeding? You are what you eat. If the body of Christ is not eating healthy food, it will suffer and be ineffective for the purpose it was intended.

It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking we are just the "sheep" in the flock, and then be content to just "graze" as we wander through life. God wants much more from us than that. I believe this passage makes it clear that God expects us all to assume the responsibilities of a good shepherd, and to fulfill the expectations given in this passage towards the rest of the flock. We all should spend this week examining our lives to see if there are ways we can be better shepherds.

Keep watching.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Road To Armageddon

As I have taught on the subject of prophecy and the current state of affairs in the Middle East, one point I have always chosen to make is that as close as we might feel we are, there has always been one major stumbling block. You see, in Ezekiel we are given a list of countries that join together in an attempt to invade Israel, a response I believe, to the destruction of Damascus by Israel told to us in the prophecy of Isaiah 17. In this list of countries, one has always seemed out of place because of it's friendly relationship with Israel. Which country is that? As you might have already guessed, that nation is Turkey. Lately the world press has chronicled the deteriorating relationship between Israel and Turkey, and some in Israel have already begun to describe Turkey as the "enemy". So what are we to make of the "removal" of this stumbling block? The internet is full of speculation that the war of Ezekiel 38 and 39 is imminent, and could happen any day now that the sides are aligned.

Yet before that can happen, I believe there must exist a reason for these countries to attempt an invasion. This is where the prophecy of the destruction of Damascus given to us in Isaiah 17 comes into play. I have often been asked if I believe the prophecy of Isaiah 17 is somehow related to the situation described in Psalm 83. I believe it may well be, with the Psalm account describing the participants and the Isaiah account describing the conflict. If our chronology is correct, the events of Isaiah 17 and Psalm 83 must occur before those of Ezekiel 38 and 39 in order to produce the necessary justification for the attempted invasion. If the final antagonist, Turkey, has aligned itself with Israel's enemies, does this mean these events are about to take place? I believe the answer is yes, and I believe it may occur much sooner than you think. We are one month away from the Fast of Tisha Be-Av, a fast of mourning in Israel which over time has produced many of the greatest disasters in the history of that tiny nation. Are we about to see another?

One of the main points made to support the position that the prophecies of Isaiah 17 and Psalm 83 take place prior to the events of Ezekiel is the notable absence of the countries mentioned in Psalm 83 when examining the Ezekiel conflict. Another point I believe important is a comparison of the account of the aftermath of Isaiah 17 with the account in Ezekiel 38.

"Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters! The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters: but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. And behold at eveningtide trouble; and before the morning he is not. This is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us."
Isaiah 17:12-14

Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee. Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, [that] at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought: And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, To take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places [that are now] inhabited, and upon the people [that are] gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land.
Ezekiel 38:9-12

Now to people like me who were raised close to the ocean, or have
had an opportunity to spend any amount of time on seashore, this
is an awesome illustration. I spent a lot of time at the beach when I
was younger, and in fact, found it to be a great place to do
homework when I was in college. The sound of waves breaking
on the shore is something one never forgets. There is a constant
roar of noise as you listen to waves breaking on the beach all along
the particular coast where you might be. It's exactly as the Bible
describes it here; a "rushing". You hear two sounds as you listen
to the waves; you hear the rushing sound as they approach, and
then the crash as they break on the shore. God describes the
reaction of the nations to what Israel does as making "a noise like
the noise of the seas", and "rushing like the rushing of mighty

So if you are like me, my first thought is this is definitely
not good news for Israel. The words "multitude", "many people",
and "nations" certainly give the impression that just about
everybody joins in to condemn Israel for its response. It's not hard
to picture the United Nations meeting to universally condemn the
use of nuclear weapons, and the nations of the world demanding
some sort of response to what has occurred. In reading this
passage, however, it would seem that response becomes more
serious than just verbal condemnation. When God tells us that "the
nations shall rush", the picture obviously is that all the nations
band together to make an aggressive move on Israel in the form of
an invasion of its territory with the intention of taking "spoil" and
to "rob".

The similarities in both accounts describing an attempt to invade in order to rob and take spoil certainly makes it appear God is talking about the same conflict. Yet it's the Isaiah account which explains the reason for it, and the absence of Syria as a combatant seems to confirm that it occurs before the Ezekiel account. Is the positioning of Turkey the last piece of the puzzle we need before these prophecies are fulfilled? Are the rumors of a Middle East war and the approach of the Fast of Av just a coincidence? Of even greater interest should be the question "are we going to be around to see it?" This is why we watch. After all, would God have told us to watch if there were nothing to see?

If Isaiah's account is the same one that Ezekiel describes, it would be fair to say that what we are being shown here by these two prophets can best be described as the beginning of the world's walk down the road to Armaggeddon.

Keep watching.

6/21/10: FYI Great article at;

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lacking Courage?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you heard the term "gutless"? Or possibly any number of other phrases that refer to a lack of "guts"? It certainly isn't something many of us would care to hear, yet with a background in athletics, I heard it rather often. Most often it was used in the context of someone not willing to put forth the effort required to achieve success in whatever task they were attempting to perform. The dictionary defines it this way;

gut·less: Pronunciation: \ˈgət-ləs\ Function: adjective Date: 1900
1 : lacking courage : cowardly
2 : lacking significance or vitality — gut·less·ness, noun
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

The thing that struck me about this definition is the reference to courage, or lack of it. I suppose I was thinking more along the lines of effort, and not considering the mindset that produces a lack of effort. As I thought of this, God led me to what I believe is a beautiful passage that explains this predicament very well, and it occurs in the Old Testament story of Joshua.

Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:7-9 NKJV

Now this passage surprised me because like many of you, my impression of Joshua has always been of a very courageous warrior for God. Yet here at his commissioning we find God giving him some very pointed advice concerning courage. In a way, I read this and thought to myself that God was in essence telling Joshua to "suck it up and get some guts" much like my old coaches did. Of course, the difference here between my old coaches and God is that my coaches were simply telling me to put forth more effort, where in this passage God gives Joshua a blueprint for success. So let me share briefly what I see here as God's "Three Steps To Victory".

First of all, God reminds Joshua that the objective is "strength and courage". Now at first I thought this was two separate words, but when I looked it up I found that it is a phrase in the Hebrew, and the definition is a little more complicated than I expected. In the Hebrew it is one word, 'amats, which is actually a phrase which means to be "strong, alert, courageous, brave, stout, bold, solid, hard". It is also a verb, which if I remember correctly from my High School English class means action. Now I learned a long time ago that in order to get stronger you need to exercise, so if I'm right, God is telling Joshua that first of all there are things he has to DO, not just wish for. So I think that what God is telling Joshua, and we as believers, is that we are going to be required to put forth effort if we want to be "strong and courageous".

Once we are willing to do that, God gives us His three requirements regarding His Word. The first is;

Speak It. Have you ever heard the phrase "put up or shut up"? I know in athletics, we were always encouraged to not only set goals, but share them with our teammates. I suppose it was a way to put the pressure on ourselves to live up to what we said we were going to accomplish. As believers,, when we share the fact we have chosen to accept Christ into our lives, it puts pressure on us to live according to His guidelines. Knowing people are watching our behavior is wonderful motivation. When God told Joshua to not let the Word depart from his mouth, He was telling him to be bold enough to tell all that he had chosen to live according to the law, and in essence proclaim his choice for all to see.

Study It. Now you might say that this one is no surprise, but I would challenge you to look at exactly what God said. He said meditate on it "day and night". Oops. In todays vernacular that would be 24/7 right? How many of us are content to give God five or ten minutes a day and then call it good? As you may have noticed by now, I enjoy looking up the definitions of many of the words in the Bible simply because they tend to mean much more in the original Hebrew and Greek. The word for meditate is no exception.
Hagah (meditate): 1) to moan, growl, utter, muse, mutter, meditate, devise, plot, speak
Now the first thing I thought when I read this was a lion. Why? I guess when I think of a lion I see an animal that walks around always thinking about where his next meal is coming from. They moan, growl, mutter, devise, plot, always thinking of just one thing; dinner. Is that how you approach God's Word? Even if you aren't reading it, do you think about what you read, repeat it, memorize it, consider how to use it, all 24/7? That is what I believe God is saying here.

Live It. I'm sure that I am not alone in finding it difficult at times to live as a believer should. Yet God says that step two actually results in step three being easy! It follows then that if you meditate day and night, living the life and observing or obeying God's laws becomes easier. I know my coaches were always asking what my "game plan" was for winning my race. After I had "meditated" on my tactics, it was easy to put them in motion because I had mentally memorized exactly what I was going to do. If we as believers study and meditate on God's Word, it becomes easier to observe them because we have an intimate knowledge of what God expects from us. I'm always encouraged to read the account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness because His knowledge of scripture was all the defense He needed to repel Satan's temptations. Living the life God expects from us is always easier if we know and understand what His expectations are.

God then tells us that the result of obeying these three steps is exactly what most of us are looking for; "then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success". Will it be easy to do these things? Of course not, yet God not only tells us that they work, and what the result will be ahead of time, He also gives us a final word of encouragement.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 NKJV

What I see in this final verse is that God asks a question. Did you notice that He asks "Have I"? He is not making a statement, rather He is reminding us that these words are coming from Him, the God of the universe. God wants us to know our strength and courage come from Him, and not from our own efforts. Most of all we can know we have God's promise that He is with us wherever we go. We are never alone, and there is nowhere we can go where God is not with us. Just like Joshua, we can be strong and have courage if we follow God's three steps to victory.

Keep watching.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Fish Stories

Now that my daughters have grown and left the nest so to speak, I find I have a little more time for me, which is something that most parents would agree is hard to come by while raising a family. The last few months a good friend has begun to take me fishing with him, and it has reawakened my interest as I spent most of my childhood fishing with my father and grandfather. So this week I was fishing alone for my favorite species, largemouth bass, and while doing so began an interesting conversation with the Holy Spirit concerning fishing. Now that may sound funny to some, but we do talk a lot ( I mostly try to listen ) and He shared some things with me this week that I believe pick up from where we left off last week talking about doing His business.

Then Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." Mark 1:17 NKJV

This was the first thing the Spirit brought to mind as I was fishing, and then He asked a question; "why do you think so many of the disciples were fishermen"? As I thought that one over, it occurred to me that obviously there must be qualities a good fisherman must possess which are uniquely suited for spreading the gospel. As I then thought about that, I came up with what I will call the "essential three".

A good fisherman is always prepared. When I go fishing, I always try to take absolutely everything I think I might need in order to be prepared for anything that might happen. Things like extra tackle, rain jacket, life preserver, power bars, water, you name it I probably take it. How often and how many examples I could give that I was lucky I was prepared. As my friends like to say, if it can happen, it will probably happen to me. Did I mention the first aid kit? I will leave that story for another time.

A good fisherman is always patient. I think anyone who has ever fished understands the need for patience, for on any given day your luck can change. I remember fishing one day in a lake high in the Rockies that I had hiked two days to get to on the advice of a guide who had taken people there. I began fishing mid morning and for the next six hours caught NOTHING. I was so tempted to leave, but the guide had been adamant there were fish there. So I decided to finish the day, and brother was I glad I did. About five or so the entire lake just erupted with fish trying to get dinner and I had an hour or so of fishing like I had never, ever experienced. I literally never threw a cast that did not result in a strike.

A good fisherman is persistent. You know, there are days where it seems all you do is lose fish. Just this week I had a day where I got strikes, saw fish following my lures, and even hooked several large ones. Yet I never landed a fish. Frustration is easy to come by on a day like that, and I think it is pretty easy to call it a day and decide to try again later when things like that happen. Yet I do recall someone telling me once "it's called fishing, not catching, for a reason". Persistence pays off eventually, so it's better not to get discouraged if you have a day of bad luck for there is always tomorrow.

As I was thinking of all of these qualities, the Spirit then told me to read the following verse and tell Him what I saw.

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV

What did I see? Well, Jesus said if we follow Him, He will make us fishermen. So when He says "preach the word" I see it as telling us to go fish! As far as "be ready", I would certainly call that the same as being prepared. "Convince, rebuke, exhort" certainly looks a lot like being persistent, and there is no question "longsuffering" means be patient. So as always, my question to Him was, "is it really this simple"? His answer was, as you might expect, another question; "how are people like fish"?

So this one took a little more time to figure out, but here is what I came up with. In my experience, there are basically four types of fish out there.

1. Those that reject. No matter what you throw out there, they are not interested.
2. Those that are curious. They will follow your lure, maybe even play with it, but never bite.
3. Those that nibble. They want a taste, but they won't swallow the hook.
4. Those who accept. They are not only interested, they swallow hook, line, and sinker.

After I thought of this, I realized that when teaching the Parable of the Sower, Jesus also said there were four types of "ground". As I have shared before, I do so appreciate the simplicity of the scripture. God has taken pains to write His message in such a way as to be simply shared and understood. As we "fish" by sharing the Gospel with an unbelieving world, remember the message from Paul to Timothy by being prepared, patient, and especially persistent. and never forget we are called to be fishers of men.

Keep watching.