Sheep Bite-And the Shepherd’s Calling

Open Bible 1

It was a great day at church. Good worship. A strong word from prospective (CP) church planting partners. Then an afternoon training and great time in D-Groups reviewing and growing in understanding the principle of God’s unrelenting pursuit of rebellious sinners (me).

After this glorious but long day…I was clearing out email…and there it was. An unsolicited epistle, a message from someone not connected to the fellowship…sharing how I had been an offense to them a couple of years ago. Sheep Bite.

No longer are my thoughts on the glorious day I had just experienced. I’m now labored over the complaints, the appropriate response, my own need to justify and respond line by ever-loving line. Sheep bite…and they’re not even my sheep.

Sometimes sheep bite because as a “shepherd,” you get close to a nerve. I once had a dog that had a leg that had been surgically repaired. It was tender. If I touched it too hard or got too close to the bad nerves, she’d turn to bite. It wasn’t that my dog was mean or aggressive. It was that the spot was tender. That’s totally different than if a dog (or in this case, a sheep) runs up to ambush you. The former demands understanding. The second “deserves” a defensive posture. People are sheep. Sometimes sheep bite…not always, but sometimes. It hurts. It is not good. We may want (and can even justify) a retaliatory response. We may start to devise a new recipe for “mutton.” Then it hits me…the reminder from the Lord…Those are His sheep that I am considering barbequeing! I’d never want to take out my Lord’s sheep, even those that bite me…because they are His.

The Lord corrected me. He reminded me that I am a shepherd and He owns the flock. I cannot destroy a sheep for biting me since I do not own the sheep. Well who will take care of this rogue, biting sheep assaulting the unsuspecting shepherd? Obviously not me, and here are three reasons why:

  • One, I was a biting sheep and the Lord pursued me relentlessly and saved me while in active rebellion against Him. He pursued me!
  • Two, God’s Word forbids it. “Do not let kindness (loyalty/loyal love) and truth (faithfulness) leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Prov 3:3). I am not responsible for driveby emails, but I am responsible for maintaining my “loyal love” for the SAVIOR that relentlessly pursued me. He can deal with His own sheep. My allegiance and response is to Him.
  • Three, I need not be concerned with whether my rights have been violated or if my heart needs to be justified in the matter. I have no rights! I was relentlessly pursued by a great Savior that I bit all the time (and unfortunately still do…to my shame)! He is in the business of rescuing biting sheep! If He rescues another biter…and they bite me…it is up to Him to deal with that. The Lord will be my confidence and He alone can insure that I not be overtaken.” (Prov 3:25-26).

“Pastor (you might ask), aren’t you concerned that someone may read this and become more concerned with what was said or who said what?”

Actually, I was concerned about that. I’ve taken a number of steps to try to keep the details to a minimum so I could push the focus to what God is teaching me…so that, maybe, I can encourage/instruct others with the teaching (Psalm 51:13). What I KNOW to be true…”It’s Monday” and there are a number of shepherds being bitten today. Some, because they got too close to a nerve. Some, because they were ambushed. Before reacting with the emotion that was driving me, take your thoughts captive. Do so by focusing on the relentless pursuit of God’s love for you. Then tell the Great Shepherd. He has your back. He knows what it is to be bitten. He’s endured your bites and mine for years.

Pastors SHOULD NOT Skip Seminary…

I have been mindful of the need to express myself with this particular article for quite some time. Back in the summer, I was assigned a text to read (as prep for a doctoral seminar) that greatly challenged my thinking. In it, the writer argued that the world and the Christian faith to be specific needs more (not less) thoughtful people. He then went on to chastise me and an errant (even arrogant) viewpoint I had held and even perpetuated for many years.

I remember my cocky state of mind as I was considering preparation for my newly understood calling to the preaching ministry. It was back in the late 90s and I was an almost 30 year old father, husband, businessman, and Jesus-follower. After discerning a specific call to ministry (which is the subject of another post to come) I sat down with my pastor who advised me to pursue my education as far as I could. He told me that education would help open doors for me to serve in “any position on the field” that God assigned. If I chose, however, to only pursue minimal education (in my field it would be an Associate Degree of Divinity) then there would be many assignments that I would never be considered for by search committees simply because I had not demonstrated a commitment to train. At that point, I made a conscious commitment to pursue school through the doctoral level.

Now, while I made a conscious decision to get an education, my heart was not fully convinced. I used to say “God called Moses without seminary” and if God can use “fishermen to start churches, He can use me regardless of what search committees might say.” While these statements are not wrong on their face, they do lack understanding and call for me to repent of the foolishness of my youthful arrogance.

Today, I read an article from Tim Challies in which he advocates for professional training for ministers. This article along with the book I alluded to have prompted me to make a few direct statements and an apology related to seminary education.

  • Seminary cannot hurt you. If simply discussing theology of various stripes damages your faith, it wasn’t very strong to begin with and you’re overestimating your resolve grow and develop on your own.
  • Seminary requires you to submit to authority, a great training ground for ministers. Everyone needs to be under authority. That is a biblical principle and a practical reality. Your self-paced, self-guided education may be an indicator of an unwillingness to “yoke up” with a discipler.
  • You will learn more in higher education than you would discipline yourself to learn without it. This should be self-explanatory, but few people study cross discipline without a reason. (i.e. most bible students don’t love the idea of studying physical sciences, statistics, algebra, English, or Spanish, etc.
  • You are not as smart as you think you are. The value of higher education is it teaches you to know what you don’t know. It is not about indoctrination but inspiration to think and consider truth.
  • You are more missionally effective with an education than without. Just because you’re educated doesn’t mean you have to display your erudition in every conversation; however, no one goes to a surgeon who watched YouTube on surgery and opened a practice. They go to a surgeon who was educated, trained, supervised, and has experience. Why would we think it works differently in the pastorate?
  • A high calling requires deep training. I thank God for Dr. Dunavant, a pastor and mentor to me for a season. He shared that truth with me when I was discouraged because I was “only” doing itinerant preaching and wondered why no church had called me to be their pastor.
  • Thinking is DIVINE STEWARDSHIP for all and to some particularly. In our emotionally driven, self-absorbed culture, we desperately need men who have spent time thinking about life, God, people, theology, ideas, implications of ideas and actions, etc. Jesus gave us a brain…we must use it if we recognize stewardship as essential in our faith.

Finally, I am not arguing that there are no exceptions or that a man cannot go into pastoral ministry without a formal education. In fact, there are times when that might be exactly what God prescribed…but I would contend that this is the EXCEPTION, not the RULE.

As for me, I have repented of making light of thinkers and educated people. Sure…my quips about such people may gain a smile from the crowd and perhaps a few misdirected “amens,” but the heart behind those statements is wicked and boastful. Do I still think some educated people are foolish in their thinking? Sure. I’m foolish in my thinking now and again…and such thinking requires correction and adjustment. I will still refer to “Dr Fluffyhead” as the foolish professor who has determined there is no God as a fool and someone who needs to leave his office more. (Psalm 14:1) But, my objection is not his education nor is his education the cause of his wrongheaded thinking. He just needs to be educated further by an encounter with Jesus. (Hey, it worked for the Apostle Paul).

So, if you’re a pastor or if God is dealing with you about ministry…go and commit to learn your craft as a minister approved by God and a steward of what He has entrusted to you. Your preparation is not wasted but required. The responsibility is tremendous and the honor of shepherding God’s people is great!


A Love That Sacrifices Twice

moses-in-the-river-story-pictureIn most children’s bibles, the story of Moses appears in its expectedly “sanitized rendition” of a clean riverside and a waterproof bassinet. On a leisurely stroll to the river to bathe, Pharoah’s daughter finds the baby, pays for his welfare and frolics away with her giggling entourage back to the palace.

As I grew a bit in my faith and also as a parent, I came to recognize and better appreciate the sacrifice of Moses’ mother in placing Moses in the basket…and the providence of God (particularly) in providing for Moses to be nursed by his own mother while on the payroll of Pharoah’s daughter. (Go God!!) Today, however, as I read this passage again, I came to recognize an additional expression of Moses’ mother’s love that I had previous failed to fully appreciate.

This precious woman not only released her son once to save his life (Ex 2:1-4), but she did so a second time as well…to give him a great opportunity.

Then Pharoah’s daughter said to [Moses’ mother], ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him. The child grew, and she brought him to Pharoah’s daughter and he became her son.(Exodus 2:9-10a, emphasis added).

Think about this for a moment. What pain this must have been for Moses’ mother! She not only dealt with the heart-wrenching experience of having to hide her son by the river to save his life…now she has to release him to another woman to be HER son to give him the best life possible. Could she have done differently? Perhaps today she would have hired an attorney and called a press conference. Perhaps today she would have slipped away under the cover of darkness and become a refugee in a foreign land. Still…reverberating in the back of her mind is this thought…”what kind of life would that be for him?”

So she takes him as a young boy and delivers him to Pharoah’s daughter to raise as her own. Now, I am not a mother…but I am married to one and, on top of that, was raised by one. I can say from experiencing them up close and personally, this was perhaps the most excruciating decision a mother could make. Still…it is precisely the decision required of every parent and even of every child of God. We do immensely difficult things for the benefit of others and against our own self-interest. We do so because we recognize that it is far more noble to love others sacrificially than to guard our own self-interest.

Now the applications are endless. Seriously, there are endless ways to apply this. I have a couple of personal applications in my mind now…for me…but what about you?

  • Is it time to risk a friendship to share the gospel and maybe see a friend made so for eternity?
  • Is it time to give up the “mom (or dad) as best friend” status in order to be the best parent?
  • Is it time to risk rejection or failure to do what is ultimately of greater value?

The story of Moses’ mother was not placed here just to give a historical record. It serves as an example of noble living and it calls to us to live and do likewise.

How will you live this out today and the days ahead?

A Pastor’s Swing at Trump/Clinton Race

Just saw this interview of a SC pastor on a liberal news talk show. He was definitely outnumbered.
HERE is the link. A couple of interesting observations from my perspective:
  1. The panel (all of them) have a strong bias. [It’s a talk show so I am not against that, just observing a fact].
  2. DT has said some things that are outrageous and unhelpful to himself, his campaign, and conservative causes. (I don’t think he cornered the market in that regard either).
  3. This pastor may have done a bit better to just say that he disagreed with DTs characterization of HRC and other weird stuff. Just say you don’t agree. We are men of God…so speak for God and let the chips fall.
  4. Al Sharpton speaking about “moral authority” is laughable. I intentionally left the clerical reference off his name since I find his actions to be a blight on the calling of ministry. He is no reverend in my book and I am very charitable in this area. (Does he still owe back taxes?)
  5. AS saying that it is wrong to ask a people to vote for a man who has not laid out all of his policies is crazy and politically motivated. (Hope and change anyone? The POTUS was as light on policy declarations as any candidate I can remember going back to the 80s when I first came of age to consider these things as an adult.)
  6. The pastor’s answer was dead on. Look at the man’s values and convictions. No one knows what policies are possible or likely to be implemented. A proper understanding of our government is that laws are enacted by a Congress and carried out by the Exec Branch.
  7. The pastor’s transparency should resonate with believers. If you are TRULY a follower of Jesus, you MUST consider how a vote will affect things. If you can vote for HRC who is unapologetically pro-abortion rights…you need to be able to articulate how that syncs with your theological understanding…because there will be a test. Judgment seat? If you vote for HRC who sees no value in traditional marriage and supports every stripe of union outside of the ONLY Christian understanding of marriage, you need to be able to square that with your theology. The Department of Education…whatever (who cares?) It is not a biblical issue. In the same vein…if a candidate can and will marginalize a person or a group of persons based on race or religion…you must be able to define how that is reasonable according to your theology. There is a test folks.

I was in a meeting with faith leaders and Republican Party leaders in Pensacola a few weeks back. I haven’t been invited to a meeting with Democrat Party leaders yet but would certainly attend and speak if invited to. This seemed to be a consensus from what I heard at my meeting:

  • DT is a hold your nose and vote candidate for a lot of evangelicals. He is better in most every area over HRC, but it is a hard pill to swallow.
  • A vote for an unelectable 3d party conservative candidate is effectively a vote for HRC. No way around it.
  • An evangelical refusal to vote for any candidate is by default a practical vote for HRC. Her base is in lockstep. They are not sitting it out. You may feel principled in your position but if you truly understand the times in which we live…it is a vote for HRC.
  • You don’t have to agree with every aspect of a Candidate to like them or to vote for them. I disagreed with (I think) every aspect of the current POTUS platform, but I liked him. He was fun…and living during the reign of the first black President is kinda cool. (Yes, I know I said reign). That being said, I can’t remember any candidate that I agreed with everything…but I do generally vote moral/social/religious concerns and let God work out the economy.

Here are a couple of truths I have settled on based on evidence, not party talking points or FOX/CNN/MSNBC bias.

  • HRC lied about Benghazi. People died and she lied. She was in the “know” and possibly complicit in the decision to leave an Ambassador and Security personnel in jeopardy…but she continues to avoid responsibility. (She lacks character!)
  • She lied about her emails. She intentionally broke security protocol, mishandled information, and withheld cooperation in the investigation in substantive ways. (She lacks character).
  • She mishandled classified material. (Lack of responsibility for job performance).
  • She scares me on national security issues.
  • DT has a sketchy past. He has done some goofy stuff and seems like a pragmatist in many ways. (Several question marks about his character).
  • DT seems like a patriot. I assume HRC is also patriotic in her motivation.
  • DT could not serve as a pastor, deacon, or small group leader in my church. I’m not sure he could even be a member. What I am sure of, is he is not running for any of those positions in November.
  • I have a Christian responsibility to seek the welfare of my nation and as far as I can tell, faith alone cannot be a valid litmus test for either candidate…or they both lose because they are both sketchy.

Love ya. Feel free to chime in…

Wisdom and Kindness

cropped-039.jpg“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Prov 31:26.

This is but one of the incredible observations/affirmations of the “virtuous wife” in Proverbs 31. As I read this today I reflected back on a recent conversation with my precious wife Jodi, and was mindful of how this verse describes her. Now, this post may come across a bit sappy…and I get that…and it is not unintentional in that regard, but I want it to serve as an example to us all…if, in fact, we desire to follow biblical examples of virtue.

First, she “opens her mouth,” which speaks well of the absence of apathy or complacency. In a world of subjective truth and self-centered focus…many people refuse to open their mouths at all. Eventually when someone does…others whisper that they thought the same thing but just did not say anything. There is something to be said about those who will take the initiative to make their corner of the world better for all.

Second, she speaks with “wisdom.” Biblically speaking, this word is pregnant with meaning. It affirms true knowledge of God; not simply facts ABOUT Him, but wisdom acknowledge His character and sees the beauty in His person…His existence. Many know facts and doctrines about God but miss the beauty and majesty of His person. Further, wisdom relies on practical knowledge of life. It is one thing to know how a four cycle engine operates and to have gotten a perfect score on your written driving exam, but wisdom drives the car in an efficient and effective manner. This is the product of listening, learning, experiencing, and acting.

Finally and perhaps most admirably…”kindness” typifies her words. As a practitioner of communicating with words, I know that words can both edify and destroy. They can hit you in the head as with a blunt object, or they can pierce your soul as with a sharpened dagger. They have the ability to multiply confidence, or leave the hearer in a pool of tears and self-conscious paranoia cowering in a darkened corner of the room. But words spoken KINDLY edify even when they are difficult to hear. They communicate motives of love and encouragement.

I know a number of wise and kind people…but I know no one who typifies this verse better than Jodi. She recognizes the responsibility of her life…a responsibility to speak up, with wisdom and kindness/graciousness in every syllable.

How can we apply this?

  • Take the initiative to speak up.
  • Figure out how things work. Process that information and consider carefully the implication. Don’t simply blast out 140 character twitter rants! Discover why that thought is important to you, to others, and how it relates in the meta-narrative of life.
  • Finally, with a purified heart that seeks the betterment of others over our own benefit…speak with the kindness of God.

This is beauty. This is the virtuous charge and commendation of Scripture. This is Jodi.

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: If you want to read or hear more about Jodi and her ministry, visit her on her site:


Our Values on Display

Open Bible 1I was blessed this morning in my morning Scripture reading as I began the Gospel of Luke (after many, many months in the Old Testament Prophets). In the first chapter I was struck afresh by an observation from a passage in the Gospel of Luke.

In Luke 1:13-16, the angel Gabriel announces to Zacharias the priest that he will have a son in response to his prayers and according to the purpose of God (See Galatians 4:4-5 for a little perspective on God’s timing and purpose). These are the “broad strokes” of the announcement:

  • Your wife (against all odds and outside of what is expected to be physically possible Lk 1:18) will bear you a son.
  • You will give him the name John
  • Many people will rejoice at his birth
  • He will be great in the sight of the Lord
  • He will be consecrated to God by solemn vow (drink no wine)
  • He will be filled with the Holy Spirit
  • He will turn many of the sons of Israel back to God!
  • He has been chosen by God to be the forerunner to the Messiah.

I was struck by how this “father” must have valued the announcement of his son’s future life. Nothing was said of John’s success in business, academic achievement or how many trophies he would receive playing sports. Noting was spoken about his prom date or the beauty of the woman he would marry. These are things we tend to value, but they are (I suggest) not the most significant. John’s existence had everything to do with his relationship to the Messiah and his usefulness to the purpose of God as the forerunner of the Christ.

Here is the value question: If God announced to you that your child will be a great missionary and live in obscurity; or, your child will be greatly misunderstood and vehemently opposed by many because of His religious faith; or, your son will be a preacher whose stance on truth will cost him his life…do WE value the purpose of God in that announcement the same as we do the promise of academic, athletic, or business success? Are we as “stoked” about our child sharing his faith as we are his receiving a $1,000 scholarship for a high school essay?

Ultimately, the answer speaks more about our heart and our values and our view of God’s sovereign calling…than it does about anything our child achieves or has assigned.

Perhaps we should seek the answer from the One who looks deeply into our souls. Perhaps in so doing, we will recognize error in our values…or maybe we will be affirmed in them! There is no greater place to be than in the midst of the will of God. To this end, we should pray, and yield, and seek, and long.

Lord bless!

The Discipleship “Double-Standard”

lightSuppose you’re about to undergo knee surgery. You interview the doctor and he shares with you that he really didn’t study anatomy in school. He did, however, spend a lot of time thinking about anatomy and looking in the mirror, so he felt he was pretty good at repairing knees.

Perhaps your child comes to you and says she has a huge history final this week that is weighted for 25% of her grade. In essence, this test could make the difference on a college scholarship. As you discuss her strategy to preparing, she tells you that she doesn’t see the need to read her textbook or study her notes. After all, she has been thinking about the test and “the past” and all she heard in lectures. She feels very confident that reflecting on these things is sufficient preparation.

Hopefully, I am not the only one who would look for a reason to put off the surgery until I found a real doctor and certainly I cannot be the only one beginning to perspire over the approach of the daughter. The fact is, we KNOW that if we are to be adequately prepared for life, it requires study. Study doesn’t have to be boring or conventional, but it is intentional and it is oriented toward an objective.

Far too often, as I discuss spiritual development/growth plans with friends, I find that they too choose the doctor’s or the daughter’s approach. They have no strategy to focus on studying Scripture. If they do, it is a verse or a paragraph and 300 words of internet commentary. Prayer time is reduced to a brief statement or two between songs while stuck in traffic and asking for God’s blessing on a meal…even if it is a silent request. Fasting is non-existent, financial stewardship is an anomaly and don’t even bring up sharing our faith. That’s for EXTREME Disciples!

What if God expects more? What if the same logic and expectations we have for others on important matters MIRROR God’s expectations for us…because growing to maturity in Christ IS an important matter.

How do you start an intentional strategy?

  • START. Don’t gloss over this. It is far easier to steer a car on the street than in a garage. Do something more than attend church once or twice a month and listen to a preacher for 40 minutes.
  • COMMIT. Don’t commit to convenience but pursue results (Philippians 3:7-14).
  • INCREASE. Prayer time may be 2 minutes when you begin but if you have nothing more to say to God after 3 years of walking with Jesus than “forgive me for my sins and bless all the missionaries” you’re missing the boat.
  • LISTEN to God for you. Stop thinking sermons are about other people. God prepared it for you. If you’re only led to think of how it applies to other people, you’re again missing the boat. Who cares whether Dr. Doolittle’s classmates studied anatomy unless you’re getting a referral to go see them.
  • ASK. You’re not the first person to engage in this process. Don’t let your superficial pride prevent you from asking a pastor or another believer with “spiritual fruit” about their discipleship practices. Ask them to mentor you. I get five or six requests a year from people wanting to know if we can meet. Sometimes we do. Sometimes I connect them with better mentoring fits. That’s what pastors do. We coach people to maturity and we bring authoritative instruction from God.

We know study is important for our doctors or our daughters. Shouldn’t it be just as important for us as disciples?