Boy Scouts

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Boy Scouts

Ezekiel 34:17-23

As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.”

One of the basic tenets of the Boy Scouts of America that I remember from my very short time as a Cub Scout was that we are to leave a place better than we find it. It is not the first rule of Boy Scouting, but it may well be the underlying purpose behind it all. In fact, this tenet alone could probably be taken up as a life purpose for us all, not just a purpose for Boy Scouts.

It is a little sad to me that I can recall several major pop artists (Michael Jackson and John Lennon for example) who put this purpose to music, while they may or may not have actually lived it out themselves. But all too often it comes across as a very soft and passive approach to life, sounding like advice to a person who is told, if you cannot do anything else, at least try to be a nice person. This tenet was not meant to be something to do if you cannot think of anything else. It was meant to be a first purpose for existence.

Contrast the idea of leaving the world better than you found it with the idea of “carving out a name for yourself”, perhaps reminiscent of those who carve their names on tree trunks as children and on concrete buildings as they grow older. Carving is a basic predatorial attempt to mark your territory – to take something forcefully as your own. You do not have to have any leadership skills to do that. You just have to be strong and fear-inspiring. While the two ideas are not mutually exclusive (you can do both), taking something over does not guarantee it will be better for your ownership and responsibility for it. Often, as in the example of the bigger sheep mentioned above, all the show of force does is ruin the watering holes for everyone as they are used and abused faster than if there were no leadership at all.

The temptation in leadership is to try to remain objective and take yourself out of the equation. If you are responsible, surely you should not be judged by the same standards as the sheep around you. Yet in order to actually leave the place better, you have to do just the opposite. If you would put yourself in the place of judging others, you must find honest and accurate ways to judge yourself first, because your own footprints matter, and sometimes they are even larger than those around you. You and I, as leaders are very much either part of the solution or part of the problem, and no one gets to sit back apart, above and exempt from influence and responsibility. It is the wise leader, the true leader, who recognizes their place in every system they touch and owns up to the brokenness they find around them by making the active, intentional choice to leave it better than they found it.

Hebrews 13:20-21

Benediction

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Who is your shepherd?

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Who is your shepherd?

Ezekiel 34:23-31

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely. I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase. They shall be secure on their soil; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and save them from the hands of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be plunder for the nations, nor shall the animals of the land devour them; they shall live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid. I will provide for them a splendid vegetation so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the insults of the nations. They shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord God. You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture and I am your God, says the Lord God.

Leadership is not a personality trait. It is a commission. This means that without a mission, there is not leadership. It also means that if the mission is not one with (“co-mission”) others: superiors, peers, and subordinates… it probably is not real leadership. There is a created hierarchy to life, and when we are unable to find our place within that hierarchy, we struggle leading.

Let me use Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example of how this worked in the 1960’s. If we flash back to another time when racial and cultural tensions were high here in the United States, we may read about or recall that there were several different factions within both the black and white American people, each looking for different resolutions to that tension. What would have happened if Dr. King had refused to engage the white leaders of the time? What if, instead of non-violent protesting, he had told the people to simply break free of an unjust system and refuse to take part in it. He started down this road, in part, with the bus boycotts. What if he took it further though and told the African Americans not to speak to or even acknowledge the white people around them… to carry on as if they were not even there? If they asked a question or gave a command, to simply ignore it. If they were ahead in line, to push through. If they were crossing the road while you were driving, to keep on driving.

I’m sure you can see how the extremes of disengagement would have adverse affects and would not lead to any good form of reconciliation. We cannot isolate ourselves away and expect to make positive social change in the world. There is a lot of wisdom in that adage about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. I’m also sure that Dr. King had people he respected and looked for wisdom and guidance from who were not only African Americans. Jesus Christ was certainly one of those. He had superiors, peers, and subordinates in his work, and he had a mission that was bigger than himself. That made him a leader, and helped ensure that he was a good one.

One of the laws of nature has always been divide and conquer. ”A house divided against itself cannot stand.” So it is with leaders. Once you have been singled out, set apart, and cut off from those superiors, peers, and subordinates, you lose track of your mission, and before long you are lunch for the hungry lion prowling about looking for his dinner. It is not just the weak, the sick, and the old that get eaten first. It is the ones who get cut off from the flock.

So, in approaching your own leadership, the first question you need to ask yourself, for the sake of holistic(spiritual, emotional, mental, social, etc.) maturity and health is: Who is my shepherd? Be careful not to fall into the trap of believing only God can truly lead you, for that is pride speaking. You need others who God works through, to help keep you grounded in reality, instead of hung up on a flight of fancy. Such unanchored leaders, like Icarus all to often fly too close to the sun and end up going down in flames – taking everyone with them. On the contrary, Jesus teaches that we can be no greater leaders ourselves than the shepherds we follow.

1 Peter 5:1-5

Tending the Flock of God

Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for

“God opposes the proud,

but gives grace to the humble.”

The Life Journey of Worship

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The Life Journey of Worship

Psalm 23

The Divine Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil;

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff—

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

my whole life long.

Worship done in spirit and in truth moves us.

David worshipped in the field for most of his life. If you follow the account of 1 Samuel you will see that, for the first half of his adult life, he was hunted by King Saul and forced to live in the wilderness and in foreign countries. He had less access to the temple than most of the people of Israel. Yet this did not prevent him from sharing his own worship in ways that would influence the people of God for over 3000 years.

Psalm 23 is an excellent example of this field worship. This is David’s story that can become our own story as well. YHWH is my shepherd, he writes. He knows this metaphor well from his own days as a shepherd. Because he knows what it takes to be good shepherd and because he knows God so well, he knows he will be provided for… he shall not be in want. The first step of any journey is preparing provision and David found all the provision he needed for his journey in God.

David then describes how God brings that provision. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. Note the directness of that verb. God does not set up a buffet of food options and let us choose. He takes us to the food and makes us stop to eat. The water God leads him, and us to, is not wild rushing water, but smaller springs that we will not drown in. It is there we are provided for and our souls are restored.

Having established the preparation and provision for the journey, David pulls out the map and notes the path we are taking. He leads me in paths of righteousness… Why? For His name’s sake. What does that mean? It means that where we are going and especially how we get there matters. What happens on our journey is going to affect more than just ourselves. We make this journey as a witness of Who God is, not just who we are or hope to become.

Where do these paths of righteousness lead us? Not always to the high mountaintop experiences and comfortable surroundings. These paths of righteousness will also lead us into the valley of the shadow of death itself. That’s right. The path of light and life leads through places of darkness and death. Normally, that would be enough to turn us all away, but then David reminds us (The LORD is my shepherd) so I will fear no evil. The same rod and staff that keep me on the path and in line, are used to protect me from any enemy that would come my way.

But it doesn’t stop there. Our good shepherd leads us straight through the valley of the shadow of death into the the heart of our enemy’s land, and there He proceeds to throw a party. He not only invites but surrounds us by our enemies, and there, in their presence, He anoints our head with oil showing the love He has for us. It is there, in the belly of the beast, not in the green pastures, that David proclaims, “My cup overflows!

If God can bring blessing in the darkest of places like that, as we faithfully follow Him along the path He leads us, what do we have to fear? How can we doubt that His goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life? Perhaps it is only in making this journey with God that we come to realize that to dwell in God’s house is not just to be in a place of peace, joy, and love, but to realize that place is wherever we can be with Him.

Does your worship take you along this journey?

Can you take your worship on the road, out into the field, and follow God to wherever your worship of Him will lead you?

Worship and the Lost

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Luke 15:1-71

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

One of the biggest controversies in worship that has been debated in the last few decades has been around the concept of “seeker-sensitive” worship. The term alone sets off bells and whistles in the minds of most church leaders today, although, to be fair, the heat of that conflict has gone a bit underground in the last decade.

The original conflict grew out of the disconnect between tent meeting revivals that attracted people and brought about changed lives, but sometimes could not transfer the same spirit and passion into the regular Sunday mornings of local churches. But it was not just the folks outside of church that were drawn to these. Regular church folk are drawn to the food, fellowship, and musical performances – the entertainment value of these services as well. So are the performers. These services are often set up with names attached to draw people in. Sure you can advertise that your church is going to do a revival and that you expect God to be present and working there… but if you really want to draw a crowd, bring in a popular music group and get a well-known speaker, and everyone will come out to the show.

These kind of revivals are about coming to get something, not coming to give something. Generally, the only people who prefer normal Sunday services over those special worship events are the clean up crew, who pick up the mess left by everyone who came for their religious experience and then went back to live their life again. There are exceptions to this of course. I’ve participated in several revival services that incorporated a day or at least part of a day of community service where people came to give instead of just receive – but these are typically not perceived as “seeker-sensitive”.

It’s not just seekers that push us to ask less of church people, it is everyone. It is easier to be encouraged than challenged. It is easier to be the encourager than to be the challenger – especially if you are challenging in ways that involve supporting them with follow up and help after the service ends. In the last decade, as church attendance in many non-seeker-sensitive churches has dropped, it seems that the practical arguments to the debate have ended and we are now looking at being seeker-sensitive or closing our doors for good. The original arguments against entertainment based services and simplified gospel teaching are still there. Mature Christians still think that watered down gospel will not bring people to God or to the Church, and they may not be wrong… but the number of people outside the church, the seekers themselves, are far greater than those mature Christians inside the church. So many have taken those arguments underground for the sake of attendance, financial obligation, and just keeping the doors open.

Jesus taught that the good shepherd leaves the 99 safe sheep and goes after the one that is lost. It is this kind of philosophy of letting mature Christians fend for themselves while a church focuses its effort on the lost that some have used to justify “seeker-sensitive” worship. The problem arises from how we identify the parties in this analogy.

         For Seeker Advocates  
         - Seekers (non-believers) are the lost sheep  
         - Believers are the 99 "found" sheep  
         - The Shepherd is the Church worship leaders/organizers  

Here is my struggle with this perspective: It is too impersonal. Jesus emphasis is on the importance of the individual here. The lost are not 20 or 30 some people, it is a single sheep. The Shepherd is not a nameless/faceless leadership, it is one leader. The only corporate group is the 99, and even they are counted individually. He did not just say “the rest of the sheep”. Every individual counts.

I think a more literal and accurate application of this parable to worship would be to simply postpone worship until everyone had been personally invited. We won’t start church until we knock on every door in our neighborhood and make sure everyone is 1.) safe and 2.) personally invited to come to worship Jesus with us. I’m not talking about hanging posters or dropping fliers in mailboxes. The good shepherd did not just go post lost sheep posters around the towns. I mean person to person checking in and inviting. We would would hold off the service even starting until we had done that if we truly believed that their needs for God were even equal to our own, let alone more important, as Jesus teaches in this parable.

That would be kinda crazy and impractical, depending on your community, and it certainly would overturn the tables of expectations and leadership in most congregations. It is a practical exaggeration, just as the parable itself is. Yet it is the absurdity of it on a practical level that brings to light the true point Jesus is trying to make. In the absurdity of leaving 99 for 1, I believe, lies our true relationship and purpose with the lost sheep of our neighborhoods. The question is not about what we do with them once they come to church (although those details are certainly important). The question we have not been asking for some 30 years, that we need to be asking is: How are we reaching the lost sheep of our communities before they come to church?

Ezekiel 34:1-10

Israel’s False Shepherds

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

We, the Church, (meaning all those who have chosen to follow Jesus, making disciples in His name) are called to be good shepherds, but we have turned down the task. It has become to hard for us to try to bring salvation to people and then bring them to church. It is more convenient to my time to let the church building, the church programs, the church staff,… maybe even just God Himself go after those lost sheep. Yes, Jesus, I know You gave me the commission, the command to go out into all the world, look for Your lost sheep, and take the salvation I received from You and share it with them. But if I’m honest, sometimes I just don’t want to. I would rather just keep You to myself.

How does your own personal worship affect the lost in your community?

Who are the lost sheep that God has brought to your attention?


  1. (Mt 18:10–14)