Sunday, October 22, 2017

THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP (PART 1)

The Flock of the Good Shepherd
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said. “I know my own, and my own know me” (John 10:14 NAS).

Throughout the Bible, God illustrates his relationship with his people as a Good Shepherd caring for his flock of sheep. From the early days of the patriarch Jacob (or Israel, as he was known in his later years), God was viewed as a shepherd of his people. When the man Israel was in his last days on earth, he told his son Joseph this: “God…has been my shepherd all my life to this day” (Genesis 48:15).

The prophet Isaiah said of the Lord: “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock; in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom. He will gently lead the nursing ewes” (Isaiah 40:11, NAS).

It is true that throughout the Scripture, the Lord is seen as a God who is concerned for the individual, but in addition to that, he is shepherd of his whole flock.

In our present day, with so much emphasis on individual perspectives, we do not speak or think much in terms of the whole church as a flock. Our emphasis is more on the specific aspects that exist for the individuals within the church. We think more about our individual needs.

Because of this, it is easy for us to lose sight of how important the concept of the flock is to God. We are often less interested in the importance of the whole of the Christian church and instead more captivated by programs of self-betterment and individual goals and achievements. These may also be worthy pursuits, but they can easily become centered only on self. It is true that we, as individuals, are important, but it is also important to see the grander perspective of God.
 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

WHAT I SAID TO THE GRADUATING CLASS OF PASTORS IN CUBA


Love and Competition

Several years ago I was asked to travel to the island nation of Cuba as part of a humanitarian aid group. There I was to give the commencement address for the graduates of a small pastoral training school. There were twenty or so graduates.

I had no idea what an appropriate message should be, and I was given no advice concerning things that I should or should not say in that communist society. Before that time, I had given commencement addresses in other Latin American countries, but Cuba was its own case.

For most of us in the United States, Cuba has been a closed country. At least, it was for me. I had not known much at all about what was happening on that island nation. However, as I prepared my sermon, I was drawn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians because some of Paul’s words seemed to express what I was also feeling at the time.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST (Part 3)

To help us understand part of what it means to be a Christian, the Apostle Paul likened our position to being an ambassador for Christ.

In the previous two posts, I spoke much of what that position entails. However, there is another aspect in the life of an international ambassador that helps us to understand the Christian life. When considering what it means to be an ambassador for Christ, it is also helpful for us also to consider the existence of the foreign embassy. 

The Embassy as an Overseas Extension of Home

Embassies are interesting and rather unique places. The embassy is the seat of representation of a foreign country within another country. It is also often the dwelling place of the ambassador.

The first embassy that I ever visited was the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, when I was not yet even twenty years old. I remember my visit well. I was living in a small village in northern India in a situation far different from the life I had left not long before in Wisconsin.

After being in my village in India for some months, I made a trip to New Delhi and visited the embassy. I had spent the months before in my village and the neighboring areas eating the local food in dark, little tea stands and in the homes of friends. I had grown to like the cuisine of the country folk well enough, but by now I was eager for some American food. So upon my arrival on the embassy grounds, the first thing that I did was to go to the restaurant there. To my great delight, the embassy restaurant looked a little like a Denny’s or a Perkins restaurant in the US, and had a real menu that was printed in English.

Because of local customs and religious beliefs in the village where I lived, and because meat simply was not available, I had eaten no meat for all those months. So as I sat down at the table, I did not need to look at a menu. I already knew what I wanted before I entered. I ordered a steak and a baked potato. As I looked around me and saw the food that was being served, it appeared to me that everything that the restaurant served had been imported from the states: the meat, the coffee, even the catsup. I still remember being impressed by the catsup. Certainly, I must have been American.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST (Part 2)

Moses the Ambassador: One Who Intercedes

In the final part of the previous post, in discussing the personality of God, we strayed somewhat from our subject of being an ambassador for Christ. However, in order to see this role of Moses, it is important to understand some of these concepts concerning who God is as our authority. We cannot be God’s representatives without understanding him as well as we can.

But returning now to our topic of being ambassadors for Christ, and using our example of Moses, we see in the story of the golden calf and the giving of the Ten Commandments that Moses was acting as a representative of the people before God. When God threatened to destroy the people, Moses intervened. Moses interceded for the people and he also identified with them. 

As ambassadors for Christ, we also have this ministry of intercession. In another incident, when the judgment of God was again falling on the people of Israel by means of poisonous vipers, the people pleaded with Moses.

“We have sinned,” the people said, “because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people (Numbers 21:7 NAS, emphasis added). 

“Pray for one another, so that you may be healed,” James tells us. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16 NAS).

 When we pray for people—for their health, for their salvation—is this not the ministry of intercession? Are we not bringing their case before the throne of God? We are, as Moses was, acting in this role as an ambassador for Christ. We are coming before God, representing the interests of others before him. As Moses spoke with God on behalf of the people, we see him in this role as intercessor.

Moses the Ambassador: The Representative of God before Men

Standing on the peak of Mount Sinai, we have seen that Moses represented the people before God. However, when he came down off the mountain, his role as ambassador changed. When he approached the people and stood before them, he was now representing God before the people.
Do you see the difference?