Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:14-16)

When Jesus speaks of being the good shepherd, he is saying a lot. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. Jesus says that he knows those who belong to him, those who have been given to him by the Father. Just as sheep respond to the voice of their shepherd, those who belong to Jesus hear his voice and respond. Please notice this: Jesus’ sheep already belong to him before he calls them and they hear his voice! These are the ones for whom Jesus died. His sheep are already his before they answer his call! Those of us who are Christians already know this to be true. How did we ever come to faith in Christ? We heard his voice and responded. But how could we respond unless we already belonged to him?

Jesus goes on to say, I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. Jesus already had many sheep who were not part of the Jewish sheep pen. He had sheep from all the nations and peoples of the world. These would have to come to him as well. But Jesus never went to those nations to call his sheep! How would they come? His followers would go in his place and they would call out the good news Jesus gave them. Listen, this is amazing: When we call people to come to follow Jesus, it is his voice that they hear! They recognize the voice of the Master…not ours!

There will be only one flock with one shepherd. This is the kind of teaching that is speaking powerfully to me in these days. One flock. One shepherd. Not a flock of white sheep and a flock of black sheep and a flock of Asian sheep and a flock of Mexican sheep, just one flock! We are all to be one as Jesus prayed in John 17. There should not be a Baptist flock and a Methodist flock and an Anglican flock and a Reformed flock and a Pentecostal flock. Just as there is only one shepherd there can be only one flock; yet we continue to try to pull ourselves apart to form our own flocks! When will we learn to begin to do the work we must do in order to be the one flock Jesus leads? When will we stop pointing out the flaws in the other sheep of our flock as if we are the only perfect sheep? One flock. One shepherd. These are the words of the Good Shepherd.

Please keep an eye on the bookshelves in your local Christian bookstore. My dear friend, John Armstrong, has a book coming in the next month or so that is a must read on this subject. It is entitled Your Church Is Too Small and will be in your bookstores soon.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


David and Goliath
1 Samuel 17

Sometimes I am surprised by the things that come to my mind when I am reading my Bible. I see things I have never seen before and think thoughts I’ve never thought before. At times my ideas seem so outlandish that I’m afraid to talk to anyone about them. I recently read 1 Samuel 17, the account of David and Goliath.

Goliath was challenging and opposing the army of Israel on a daily basis. Saul and his army sat behind their front lines and listened to the challenges and did nothing. They were afraid. No one was willing to stand up and fight this enemy. They waited and waited while not knowing what it was they were waiting for. And so the church has stood behind the lines for generations while the opposition has strengthened its position and hurled its challenges. The American church has stood on its history while waiting for something to happen. It has become increasingly isolationist and irrelevant as the years have passed.

David arrived on the scene at the front lines and began asking inconvenient questions. Surely older experienced warriors resented his questioning. He showed no fear of the Philistine and wondered aloud why nothing was being done. But David was attacked by his brother for being conceited and wicked. And so some Davids arose in the church and began asking inconvenient questions of church leaders and denominations. Why isn’t the church engaging the culture? Why are we living separately? Shouldn’t we advance in the name of Jesus and listen to what the society has to say and enter into dialogue? But the church criticized the Davids and implied they had become liberal while they were the ones who were holding onto the truth. Suddenly, the opposition was no longer the culture but the church itself.

Saul gave David his armor. “Here, son. Take my armor. I’ve always worn it against my enemies. All the warriors wear armor. It’s the way we’ve always fought.” But David could not feel comfortable in the armor. He was not used to the way the warriors of Israel fought. This was a big problem for the church. The young Davids did not fight in the same way they had always fought. They had their own weapons. They actually wanted to go out and meet the giant without the old armor!

David went forth in the name of the LORD Almighty and confronted Goliath. He went forth in faith. He believed that the battle was the Lord’s and the Lord was going before him to fight for him. It was not the sword or spear that would save him. It was not the weapons of the old ways that would protect him. And so the church has to deal with Davids who fight the battle with different weapons. Perhaps the old warriors shake their heads and sit back to watch thinking the young Davids will be destroyed. Or perhaps they fear that the young Davids will fail because they have abandoned the old ways. They may even believe that the young Davids are not fighting for the church anymore because of the way they fight. But David killed Goliath because the Lord was with him and things were never the same in Israel again.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


1 Samuel 16

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king” (1 Samuel 16:1).

Samuel went to Bethlehem to sacrifice and worship. He invited Jesse and his sons to join him at the sacrifice. Samuel saw Jesse’s son, Eliab, and thought, “Surely the LORD’S anointed stands here before the LORD” (1 Samuel 16:6). But God said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

So the other sons of Jesse came and stood before Samuel; Abinadab, Shammah, and four more! None of these seven sons of Jesse was chosen to be king. Samuel knew that God hadn’t chosen any of them. So he asked Jesse if he had any more sons. Jesse answered, “Yes, the youngest; but he is tending the sheep” (1 Samuel 16:11). In other words, David occupied the lowest position among Jesse’s sons. He was the shepherd. He was the dirty, stinky one. Surely the Lord would not choose him! But when David arrived the Lord said to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one” (1 Samuel 16:12).

It seems that nobody would have chosen David. He had seven older brothers, some of whom really looked the part of a king. But man looks at the outward appearance, the LORD looks at the heart! We see that more than once in this passage. The Lord tells Samuel to quit the mourning for Saul. Yes, Saul was tall and handsome and powerful and charismatic. But that is all outside stuff. His heart was not with God! David was the least of his brothers. But that was all outside stuff too. His heart was a heart after God’s own!

The church has been deceived far too many times by judging according to appearance. People who dress well and come across as polished and fluent and smart and successful, are given positions of leadership and influence. People who are always in attendance at worship are generally considered to be faithful Christians. Those who give generously are thought of as committed disciples of Christ. While those who are poor or less educated or not very well-spoken are not considered good enough for leadership roles. But all this is outside stuff! We must quit looking at the outside and seek to see the heart!

Aren’t you glad that God does not judge by appearances? Aren’t you glad that he is not fooled by how things look on the outside? I am! But at the same time I realize that what this means is that I need to make sure my heart really is where it ought to be. Oh! That God would give me the heart of David! The heart that is after God’s own heart!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Everything that God the Father had commanded had been done. All was very carefully prepared. Gabriel had gone to Mary and explained to her that she had been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah. Then he had gone to Joseph and calmed his spirit by telling him that Mary’s pregnancy was a miracle of God. On the night before Christmas Gabriel was occupying his usual place near the throne, waiting to see if he would be needed yet again. Caesar Augustus had been prompted to take a census of his empire which caused the chosen family to embark on their journey to Bethlehem. The caravansary in Bethlehem was filled so Joseph was trying to make Mary as comfortable as possible in a stable. The shepherds were in position; camping in the fields outside Bethlehem. The Christ star was prepared as a signal to God’s magi in Parthia. The angelic host was gathered for their approaching mission to Earth and the fields of Bethlehem. All was in place and the fullness of time was at hand.

There must have been a sense of great wonder and awe in heaven over what was about to happen. The citizens of heaven gathered close around the throne to listen to the conversation between the Father and the Son. The Son was preparing to take leave of his Father and he was saying goodbye. He was about to set aside the glory that had been his throughout eternity. He was humbling himself, preparing to take on the form of a human being. The angels wondered to one another, “How can he do such a thing?” They struggled to understand the mind of God and his plan.

The time had come. The angels were in place. The star was ready. Jesus said goodbye. What did Jesus say to his Father? What were his words? The farewell message had been given to King David as a prophecy and David had written them in one of his psalms, Psalm 40. The Son fulfilled the prophecy by repeating them to his Father and they are recorded for us in Hebrews 10:5-7.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
"Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, 'Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God.' "

This is what the Son of God said to his Father on the night before Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The Christmas shepherds were in the fields doing what they did every night when the weather was warm and the sheep had been sent out for the season. They rarely went into town during this time of year. Often, even their supplies were brought out to them so they didn’t have to leave the sheep to go get them. It’s important to try to picture the scene in order to grasp the significance of the event that was about to take place. For the shepherds, this night was absolutely no different from any other night in the fields. They weren’t expecting anything at all. That’s when the angel appeared among them. We almost always picture the angel with wings hovering above the shepherds in midair. It may not have been like that at all. He may have simply appeared in their midst looking just like a human being. The dead giveaway was that “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” The very next words in Luke’s gospel can be literally translated, “and they feared a mega-fear.” These men were stricken with a terror greater than any terror they had ever known! Then the angel said his first words, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy…” That was a real relief! There was a superstition that had been hung onto for generations about supernatural appearances. It was believed that any spiritual manifestation was a sign of certain and rapid death. In other words, people believed that angels only brought bad news. These men were terrified because they were sure they were about to die! But the angel continued, “…good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!” He had brought good news! Good tidings of great joy for all the people; even them! This was good news, not fearful news! By the end of their night’s adventure the truth of the angel’s message had turned the shepherds’ fear into joy! They had met their Messiah, the Christ!

In these last few days before Christmas, let us remember the message of the angel. He brought good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Like that herald angel, we have been given the privilege of proclaiming the good news as well. Let us not be fearful or hesitant to tell it because it is the message of great joy. People around us don’t really know what joy is. All they know is a shallow form of happiness and empty fun. We have the good news that fills a heart with joy. And let us not ever forget that our good news is for all the people! Spread the news widely and broadly. Tell the story of the angel and his news and let them all know what Christmas really means!

Friday, December 18, 2009


To obey is better than sacrifice
I don't need your money
I want your life
And I hear you say that I'm coming back soon
But you act like I'll never return

Well you speak of grace and my love so sweet
How you thrive on milk, but reject My meat
And I can't help weeping of how it will be
If you keep on ignoring My words
Well you pray to prosper and succeed
But your flesh is something I just can't feed

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sunday and Wednesday nights
Cause if you can't come to Me every day
Then don't bother coming at all

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts of fire
Not your prayers of ice
And I'm coming quickly
To give back to you
According to what you have done
Remember those lyrics by Keith Green from his album No Compromise in 1978? Keith was a hard-hitting lyricist and singer who had a major impact on my life when I was in youth ministry and I continued to follow his music ministry for years after.

He took the idea for this song from 1 Samuel 15. Samuel told King Saul that God wanted to destroy the Amalekites because of what they had done to the Israelites on their journey from Egypt. Samuel was specific. Saul was to destroy every man, woman, child, infant, cattle, sheep, camel and donkey (1 Samuel 15:3). Saul went on his mission but he and his men saved out the best of the livestock and Saul allowed King Agag to live. When Samuel found Saul after the battle he asked him why he hadn’t done what God commanded. Saul protested that he had done everything God said. And Samuel responded, What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear? (1 Samuel 15:14) Saul defended himself by saying, The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest. (1 Samuel 15:15) And Samuel said, Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22) As a result of Saul’s compromise, the LORD tore the kingdom from Saul’s hands and sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint David king over Israel.

We could use another Keith Green these days. As I look at the American church I fear we are in more danger than ever of making it our own instead of God’s. There are more leaders shaping the gospel into words they find more acceptable. There are more people using absolutely unbelievable ideas on Sundays and daring to call them worship. More and more entertainment and less and less broken obedience.

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts of fire
Not your prayers of ice
And I'm coming quickly
To give back to you
According to what you have done

Monday, December 14, 2009


I have no text on which to comment tonight. Instead, I’d just like to share what I was thinking about last week and shared during worship yesterday.

Every Advent season my thoughts return to Joseph and Mary, the people. Who were they before the Gabriel came to visit them and change their lives forever? What kind of people were they? Were they serious or lighthearted? Were they popular with others of their own age? Did they have really close friends in Nazareth? Did they ever try to explain to their friends or families that an angel had visited them and revealed that Mary was the one God had chosen to be the mother of the Chosen One, the Anointed One, the Messiah?

Apparently Mary went to Joseph to tell him about the angel’s visit. How else would he have known she was pregnant? There had to have been some time between Mary’s revelation to Joseph and the angel’s visit. Matthew says Joseph took time to consider this. His decision was to quietly divorce her so apparently Joseph couldn’t bring himself to believe her. But what a good man he was! He had no desire to humiliate her any more than she would be humiliated after nine months. What an incredible relief it must have been to this young man when the angel came to reveal all to him!

And how was Mary feeling knowing that her man didn’t believe her? Those days between telling Joseph the truth and seeing him again must have been the most torturous days of her life until Calvary. If Joseph was relieved by the angel’s visit, think what joy flowed out of Mary’s heart the day Joseph showed up at her door and told her the angel had come to him too and they were to get married right away!

Mary was amazed when Gabriel showed up the first time. What a young woman of faith! She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” God did something to her and she became pregnant. She didn’t ask for it. She wasn’t asked if it was okay with her. God decreed and Mary responded in faith and believed. Then Joseph didn’t believe her. She must have been heartbroken. I would be amazed if she didn’t go home and throw herself on her bed and cry out over and over again, “God! What have you done to me?” The agony preceded the joy.

Again, she had to travel to Bethlehem when she was nine months pregnant. You know what, she was not required by law to go and register. Although women were included in the taxation, their husbands were allowed to register them. So why did she go? Why would she, most likely a middle teenager expecting her first baby, ever leave home, family, and birthing assistance to make an eighty mile trip? And what kind of husband would ask something like that of his young, pregnant wife? I believe these two righteous, God-worshiping young people knew the prophecy that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem and recognized that the registration was God’s providence sending them there to fulfill the prophecy. And again, the agony preceded the joy.

One more thing that seems extremely significant to me at Christmas time. Jesus’ birth is a type of the new birth. Mary didn’t choose to be the mother of the Messiah. She was incapable of making herself the mother of the Messiah. God chose her. God put life into her through the Holy Spirit. God called her to be what he wanted her to be. God protected her and her baby on the long, dangerous journey to Bethlehem and brought forth life.

We are incapable of desiring God or making ourselves Christians. God chose us. He called us to be his children. He put life into us by the Holy Spirit. And he preserves and protects us every day of our lives until Jesus comes in his second advent or until we die and see him face to face!