Pastoral

A parent category for all blogs of a pastoral nature

Shepherds of no real interest

Since the world has deconstructed Christmas to nothing more than a single sentimental day-gathering which involves spending lots of money, we turn to God’s Word for more accurate information. As we live in a world which places great importance upon personal recognition and acknowledgement by others, Shepherds of no real interestwe look to God for the qualities which He prioritises. It turns out, more often than not, God uses people of no fame, who have no spectacular abilities, and receive no public recognition. Such were a small group of nobody shepherds God chose to notify first about the birth of Jesus.

Yes, Christmas is all about JESUS. And every person in the Bible connected with the coming of God’s Son simply serve to amplify the greatness of Immanuel’s entrance into humanity (Mat 1:23).

Only Doctor Luke slips the record of this group of shepherds into Luke 2:8-20. Virtually nothing is known of them; no names, no group numbers, and no background information, they simply appear. They were doing what they always did, caring for sheep in the countryside somewhere near Bethlehem. Unexpectedly, the quiet dark of night was abruptly interrupted by the appearance of an angel surrounding them with the glory of the Lord. The angel announces, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).

As if that was not enough, suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14). Understandably, the shepherds were filled with great fear (Luke 2:9). The angel informed them where this baby Saviour was, and curiosity inspired by the anthem of angels singing in the sky caused them to leave their sheep in pursuit of Jesus. Their lives would never by the same. They believed and became the first respondents to heaven stepping into their small and seemingly insignificant part of the world.

These shepherds did not delay. There was no personal evaluation of beliefs, no approval from others was sought, and there was no procrastination; they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:16).

Being first to arrive, even before the important Magi, they stepped into the animal stall at the rear of the local Inn, where Christ the Lord lay in the animal feeding trough. Every facet of this reeked of humility without any of the glitz and glamour our modern-day minds would imagine. These ordinary shepherds introduced themselves to Mary and Joseph with the amazing story of the angel’s announcement.

Just as the angels announced Jesus’ arrival with praise, so these shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen (Luke 2:20). These shepherds were the first Christmas evangelists. They were not the focus of their own stories. Their feelings were not up for public appraisal. No, they simply couldn’t keep the good news to themselves, others had to hear of it. They didn’t simply speak in a matter-of-fact manner about the events. No, they glorified and praised God for all they had witnessed and been enveloped in.

Today, we ordinary people of this world have the privilege and opportunity to proclaim the Jesus of Christmas. Like the shepherds, we get to be Christmas evangelists, declaring that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). We get to praise and glorify God for the gift of His Saviour Son – may we do this with much joy!

P.S.   I now sign off “The Pastor’s Pen” for 2020 and shall join you again in February 2021 should the Lord not return first. I pray the Lord keeps you safe and well as you rejoice in Him over this Christmas period.

God’s Word – Unparalleled and Sufficient

As Christians, we realise our continual need for the truth of God’s Word. The Bible enlightens us with the fact that God’s Spirit empowers God’s Word to accomplish the things within us that could never be achieved any other way.

As believers, we are dependent upon the gift of faith (Eph 2:8) that God’s Word - Unparalleled and Sufficientcomes from hearing… the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Our reliance upon God’s living and active word never lessens, and it alone has the truth necessary for discerning (our) thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). We live in constant need of ongoing sanctification by God’s truth, and His Word satisfies that need fully (John 17:17). Scripture feeds us the required spiritual nutrition so that we will not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our mind, that by testing we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Because all Scripture is breathed out by God it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). In other words, God’s Word is useful in all of life for the purpose of growing and enriching Christlike character in God’s children. Scripture is applicable in all circumstances and it is God’s resource for producing His desired results in your life. In fact, Paul says that God’s Word is so rich in spiritual resources, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

Even though we may fluctuate in our Christian walk, God’s Word is the constant foundation of truth that we stand upon. We come to it over and over for encouragement and refreshment when we are disheartened, for realignment of our thinking when we stray, and for wisdom to respond to life beyond our natural abilities.

We immerse ourselves in God’s Word as the wellspring of God’s knowledge. In Proverbs chapter 2, Solomon summarises the many benefits to be experienced when we explore and apply God’s Word in our lives. And in Psalm 19:7-11, David unfolds for us the comprehensive and practical nature of God’s Word. Therefore, we rejoice in its sufficiency, and we surrender to its supremacy.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11).

We are daily dependent upon knowing God’s truth and apply that truth through obedience. As we humbly apply His truth to our thoughts and behaviours, we experience the blessings. If we neglect or ignore God’s truth, it is always to our detriment. Therefore, our attitude to learning and applying the Bible is critical to our well-being. Then, as Proverbs 2:10 says, wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

I encourage you to bathe in the soothing Word of God. Invite God’s Spirit to wash and refresh your spirit. Surrender to the transforming authority of Scripture. Worship in awe of knowing the beauty of Jehovah and His Son, Jesus Christ. Then, share these realities with someone else as you speak well of the Saviour.

Locust crunching desert dweller – John the Baptist

One man, out of all humanity, only one man was chosen for the role of introducing God’s Saviour to the world. There was no royal decree, no political party announcement, no synagogue introduction classes, and no social media campaign. We know him simply as John the Baptist, who was not selected because of his stylish presentation, not for his public appeal, nor for his popularity.
Locust crunching desert dweller – John the Baptist
John was no fashion statement, as he was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6). But John understood perfectly that he was paving the way for …the Christ, who is God over all… (Romans 9:5). There is much to learn from John’s method of introduction, as it laid the foundation for the very message Christ would proclaim.

Mark 1:4-7 gives the details, John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins… 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. In Matthew 3:11, John adds, I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Although John the Baptist must have appeared as a wild creature crawling from the desert with no social acumen, he skilfully introduced God’s Messiah. He didn’t rent a synagogue or coliseum to launch his campaign. No, he simply began proclaiming in the wilderness. He began with a terrible location in the desert. He had no marketing, no signage, no social media, no visual aids, and no sound system. But key to John’s method was the following: he publicly called for repentance from sin, he pronounced the divine supremacy of Jesus, and he explained the unique ministry of the Christ to input a person with either the Holy Spirit or eternal judgement.

You see, John was God’s man on God’s mission, and God supplied the hearers who were ready to respond. Everything else was secondary. This rugged specimen of humanity had willingness! And God’s purpose was fulfilled through willing John. Today, we often get so caught up with trying to make our ministry prosperous, that we miss Christ’s message all together. Well, John lacked it all. He came simply with a life set apart for God, a willing desire to do whatever was asked of him, and the simple courage to speak up. A right attitude flowing from a sanctified life were John’s only qualifications.

John also had the privilege of baptizing Jesus, and, immediately Jesus went up from the water, behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were all present and active on that occasion. Imagine John’s reaction when the Father voiced His approval of His only begotten Son.

Jesus declared that among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he (Luke 7:28). May we live sanctified lives, willing and ready to be used by God for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ as Lord, nothing more, and nothing less.

 

Significantly Faithful – Stephen

Often, it’s either our best or worst qualities which define us and get remembered. We humans are creatures of extremes, and its these extremes in character that make us aware of our need for Jesus Christ. Similarly, our extremes are often the very things God calls us to refine (sanctify) and use for His glory.

Significantly Faithful - StephenLittle is known of Stephen in Scripture except that which is of greatest value. We are robbed of all but the absolute best information of this man’s life as God stamped Stephen’s character into biblical history. Acts 6:5 records that the Christian community considered Stephen to be a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. The world could not help but notice Stephen’s love for the Lord Jesus. It was these obvious character traits which qualified Stephen to serve with what we assume to be the first group of deacons.

The Lord saw fit to enable him to be full of grace and power, doing great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). By worldly standards, Stephen was a contradiction. While used powerfully by the Lord, he was selected for serving the widows and the daily distribution of food to the needy (Acts 6:1). Take note, spiritual influence for God comes wrapped in humility and a servant heart.

As is always the case, it did not take the enemy long to recognise the Lord’s character in Stephen, and the attack began. Acts 6:9-15 details the public confrontation by evil religious fanatics’ intent on silencing Stephen. They disputed publicly with him, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. Failing this, they conspired false accusations, supported by false witnesses, then they dragged Stephen into a cooked-up court. While they vented their hatred at him in court, all who sat in the council saw that his (Stephen’s) face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:15). Praise God, Stephen did not respond in the expected way, despite the seriousness of the situation.

Acts 7:2-53 recounts Stephen’s defence speech, which turned out to be no defence at all. Instead, this courageous Christian retold Israel’s rebellious history. It was direct, and it was cutting as he confronted his opponents. You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you (Acts 7:51). Grinding their teeth in rage, they noticed as Stephen full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56).

Well, that was just too much for this idolatrous bunch. Blocking their ears, they cast him out of the city and stoned him (Acts 7:58). Interestingly, unsaved Saul, later to become the apostle Paul, was present and approving of this bogus execution (Acts 7:58; 8:1). As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:59-60). Faithfully gracious in the most extreme of sacrifices for Jesus, yet seeking forgiveness for his executioners, Stephen was ushered into the presence of His waiting Lord and Saviour.

By God’s grace, may our Saviour mould us to follow Stephen’s example of faithfulness and graciousness. May we set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2), as we speak well of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The final frontier of self – Part 4

Possibly the most seductive weapons against Christians are their own desires for self and self-preservation. Desires to satisfy self is one thing, but when selfishness is protected and preserved, it becomes a weapon that delivers staggering damage to Christian values and priorities. Once a sense of entitlement is given to self-desires, the sinful flesh wars to retain that position of authority. Surrendering the inner ruling throne of self to Jesus Christ as Lord is often fought against vigorously. Consequently, the battle rages between submissive obedience to Christ as Lord, or, to only put on the appearance of submissive obedience.

The final frontier of self – Part 4Into this bloodthirsty battle for the heart steps the Bible’s example of the scribes and Pharisees. Woe 5 – Mat 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
The public appearance of these religious leaders looked nice and righteous, but inside, they were evil. They looked religious and appeared to fear God because of their attention to detail. Yet, they were hypocrites because inside they were loaded with many sins of the heart that people could not see, but God saw it perfectly (1 Samuel 16:7).

In Matthew 23:25, Jesus identifies two prevailing sins. The first is obvious, their hypocrisy. Their double standards. Their untrustworthy two-faced character meant their outward living was just a mask covering their sinful hearts. Secondly, inside they were greedy and self-indulgent. Greed and self-indulgence are two expressions of the one sin – selfishness. These two sinful qualities work together to express the motives and desires of the heart that loves self-first.

Greed always looks for ways to get more for self. It makes no difference if it is looking for more attention from others, more freedoms, more authority, more possessions, or more money. Greed always demands more, often wanting what belongs to others, those things which it is not entitled to. Greed then creates ways of justifying and getting those things. Then, self-indulgence spends the things it accumulates on self. A self-indulgent heart has all its priorities upside down; it is always making excuses for neglecting others for the sake of self. Self comes first, and there is no room for anyone else, including God.

Jesus response is, “first clean the inside… that the outside also may be clean” (Matthew 23:26). Jesus’ point is this, right behaviour flows from a right heart. And only Jesus Christ can transform a sin-focused, self-preserving heart into one that desires to be ruled by Christ through righteous attitudes and behaviour. Only then, can the healthy heart produce healthy fruit.

Only Jesus Christ is able to save us from the many sins of self. Jesus saves us not because of works done by us in righteousness (self), but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Trusting that Jesus was loaded with our sin, and that He was judged and died in our place on the cross because of our sin, launches spiritual rebirth into a Christ-dominated life. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). This spiritual transformation enabled Paul to say, the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14), to me to live is Christ… (Philippians 1:21), and not self.

Only the Lord Jesus Christ can conquer and dethrone self with its recurring desire to rule your heart and behaviour. May we today, by faith, live Christ-dominated lives.