What kind of shepherd?

Exodus 3:1-5

You know many Christians whose favorite words of the Bible come from Psalm 23. A calming assurance falls over us when we hear together, “the Lord is my shepherd.” And that’s because most of us aren’t acquainted with shepherds and sheep. 

But the image of shepherd is crucial to the Bible’s story.  

Quite often, the image highlights a ruler’s function over the people. That’s not to say people are sheep. But people do follow leaders. The Bible’s concern is what kind of leader the people have to follow. One will be a good shepherd guiding the people faithfully. Or one will go a different route. The difference isn’t just where they are heading. A good shepherd cares for the people.

Exodus 3 places Moses in the desert. It’s years after someone first asked him, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us (Exodus 2:14)? At that point, no one had.  But we already see some of the care Moses has for his people. Even if his first plan backfired. 

In the desert, Moses is a literal shepherd. His next experience with God shows us something about how he’ll shepherd God’s people later. 

I read intrigue, curiosity and wonder into his story. It’s not every day you see a burning bush that doesn’t burn up. Moses also demonstrated a readiness to serve. He didn’t say, “Look at me!” “Here I am,” was his simple reply. Now, the text doesn’t say, but it’s implied Moses listened to God’s command. We assume he removed his sandals as he recognized the holiness of the moment.

In a few verses, we already see some of what will matter to Moses in the future. We’ll see some of these same qualities play out later. And scripture remembers Moses as a faithful shepherd and prophet.

Especially in American culture, we pride ourselves on being our own people. There’s no follower-ship culture–it’s all about leadership. Okay, fine. If you’re going to be a shepherd to others, then, what kind will you be? It matters to our faith. And when you realize we all follow at some point, what kind of shepherds will you follow? That, too, matters to our faith.

Stay blessed…john

Cardboard ministry

1 Peter 5:1-11

I have a new image that illustrates what I do as a pastor. It came to me at one of the toughest times to do what I do. Within the last six weeks, two youth from church have passed away. Let me tell you, burying young people is painful.

Just because we don’t weep as those without hope doesn’t mean we don’t weep. I have. When I first recognized this new illustration, weeping filled the room.

I was standing behind a flower arrangement as people came to pay their final respects. Then I saw it. Actually, I had seen it all along. Then I paid attention. I don’t know what to call it, but I noticed the piece of cardboard that held the flowers up. It was the shape of a heart. Others have different shapes, a box, circle or a cross.

The backside of the arrangement is unassuming. The real action, of course, is up front where everyone can see what the florist envisioned. As a pastor, I’m that piece of cardboard. Not entirely out of the picture, but not at all in the way.

I spend much of my time praying for my church. It is God’s church, of course. So, I want to ensure we follow the Spirit’s lead in the dance of ministry. My job, then, the praying and discernment give shape to what we do. It’s the basic shape God’s people take on as they flourish in ministry. The flowers get arranged by the shape of the cardboard. That’s the beauty everyone else sees.

The world doesn’t need to see the pastor all the time. She “works” for the church. Of course, she’ll talk about the church. That’s called job security. But the beautiful ministry of the children of God is what people notice most. That’s when the world sees the goodness of God. It’d be silly to turn the arrangement around and hide the flowers just to show the cardboard.

Now, to be sure, the pastor isn’t the foundation. No, a three-legged stand holds and supports the entire arrangement. Resting on that sure foundation, it’s a joy to watch the church take the shape of God’s grace and grow. To find fruitful ministry to be God’s presence in the world.

Stay blessed…john

Show offs

Luke 20:45-21:4

Beware of religious show offs. That’s not exactly how Jesus put it. That’s just how I interpret it.

We’ve all probably known a few before. They’ve been with us forever. We read of God’s anger against them in many Old Testament passages. They were there with Jesus and some may sit close to you in worship every week.

But why do we need to beware of them?

Jesus spoke to his disciples loud enough for everyone to hear. So, this is something he wanted everyone to understand. Chances are, he affirmed what people already knew. I mean, you can tell when someone has that kind of holier-than-thou attitude, right? They’re not usually quiet or reserved about it. They not only want the respect and acknowledgement for who they are and what they’ve done, they let you know it.

Again, what’s the danger?

Can’t we let people be who they are? I think so. But Jesus is talking about religious leaders. These were people who had direct influence over the religious life of other people. And they used that position to benefit themselves. To upkeep a particular way of life and power structure. The argument should be made they also kept others in their place. So, even if it’s far less than ideal, I’m okay with giving people space to be who and what they are. We all need to experience God’s grace as we are today. But we cannot let leaders abuse or take advantage of others. What I’m less comfortable with is allowing leadership to carry on with such a posture.

This is where we need to beware most.

Religious show offs do not make faithful shepherds. They’re too preoccupied by what they’re getting out of the service. Whether we like to admit it or not, we follow leaders. Where these leaders take us is not where God wants us to be.

What is admirable is how you treat the poor. The attitude you have about them. The way you interact with those with far less than you. Faithful leaders do not put up with or endure relationships with the poor among them. They cherish them. In their leading, they step over the societal lines that demean their humanity. That’s where Jesus went.

That’s where I want to go, too.

Stay blessed…john