The Shepherd vs. The Hired Hand

    
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“He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:12-15)

So often I only notice one enemy in John 10: the “thief” (Satan) who comes only to steal and kill and destroy. But Jesus mentions a second enemy, who is equally dangerous in his own right: the hired hand, the one who is in charge of keeping the sheep but doesn’t really care about them.

In a certain sense, the hired hand poses a larger threat to the flock than the thief. You know at first glance what the thief intends, and you do everything you can do avoid him. But the hired hand looks like he is trustworthy & looks like he would protect you. But in fact, he is only interested in a job, and will flee at the first real sign of trouble. Or probably flee if a better job comes along.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, because He knows that this flock belongs to Him, and He will stay with the flock no matter the cost - even if it costs Him His own life.

If I take seriously the calling that God has on my life to be a shepherd to our people, I have to count the costs and know that my calling is to lead my sheep well and lay down my life for them if need be. We all know “ministers”…


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An Economy Of Words

    
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Lately, I have been feeling the conviction of practicing an economy of words.

We live in a world of such great noise, both audible and visual. If we’re not careful, we get swept under by the sheer amount of information and “sound" coming at us. It’s a wonder to sit and watch your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds: a flood of nonstop updates and moments. There is great joy in seeing the world unfold around us, but there is also an inherent danger of the important things getting lost in the noise. This includes the noise in our own conversations.

A few months I was talking with my wife about having kids, as we had been praying and thinking through this decision. It’s a complex subject, with many different associated feelings, and one that can be riddled with fears and anxieties. Expressing those can be difficult! As we were talking, I realized suddenly I had been talking for five minutes and had barely begun to adequately state what I meant to get across. My explanation was filled with filler words: “um”, “like”, “in that sense of”, “you know what I mean?”. It was like speaking in code: take every tenth word and compile a coherent thought. Throw away the others.

I walked away from our conversation frustrated at myself, feeling as if I was unable to communicate with my best friend. And what a tragedy that is! I wanted nothing more than to relate to my closest confidant on a deeply personal level about an incredibly intimate subject, and instead I fumbled to…


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Nehemiah 8: The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength

    
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“’This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then [Ezra] said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’"  (Nemehiah 8:9-11)

After 70+ years of being exiled from their homeland, away from their God-promised home, the Israelites have returned under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra, and have rebuilt the wall and gates of Jerusalem. After they have finished rebuilding, Ezra stands on a platform and reads the Law before all the people, who fall down in worship. The priests help explain the Law to the people. It is a moment of reverent teaching and discipleship.

But as they hear and understand the law, their reaction is to mourn and weep. It is natural: the reaction to such a Word fully received is “woe is me” (cf. Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, Revelation 1). In the face of such a strong realization of what God expects and how He expects us to conduct ourselves, the only realistic reaction is to be deeply troubled and grieved at how we have failed! In the light of the goodness and holiness of an infinite God, our sin is desperately wicked and should shake us to our core.

While this is an understandable - and correct - reaction, Ezra (or possibly Nehemiah, it is unclear) tell the people to instead replace their grief with something else:…


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Genesis 16

    
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“And he said, ‘Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?’ She said, ‘I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.’ … ‘Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction.’ … So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing’, for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.’” (Genesis 16:8,11,13)

God has promised Abram and Sarai offspring, that their offspring will be more numerable than the stars in the heavens. But in Genesis 16 we see them trying to co-opt that covenant and remedy their as-yet childless situation themselves. Sarai tells Abram to sleep with her servant Hagar and fulfill the promise of God that way. It ends in a mess where a pregnant Hagar causes Sarai to be jealous and be hateful towards her.

In the following verses where Hagar flees into the wilderness, we see God’s mercy and grace even on those who aren’t the “firsthand” players of His plans. This chapter is an aside of the main storyline, but it’s such an important chapter to see God’s character, because God actively changes Hagar’s identity to be found only in Him.

In verse 8, the angel of the Lord identifies her as she has been known all of her life: “servant of Sarai”. This is her title, this and this only. She admits she is fleeing, and the angel calls her to return to Sarai. I’m sure that Hagar is downcast, thinking that she will always and only be…


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Genesis 12

    
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“The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’. So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” (Genesis 12:7)

Abram has just been called by God out of his home country - out of everything that he knows and is comfortable with, and is called to “the land that I will show you” (v. 1). He obediently goes, leaving everything behind.

God says to him: “To your offspring I will give this land.”

Two main things jump out at me:

1) God is promising a place for His people. He knows that they need a place, and He wants that for them. He is offering that one day, there will be rest for their souls. The Lord Himself will be the one that provides for them. And we know that what He ultimately means is that Jesus will be our homeland, our peace, our rest. (cf. Hebrews 3-4). And although Abram may not yet have any full understanding, he knows that it is an extremely personal and intimate thing that the Lord would provide this.

2) The reward wouldn’t be coming to Abram. I hadn’t really caught this until reading Genesis 12 today what Abram might have been feeling at this moment. I always think of this Scripture as showing the magnificent promises of God for sinful man, and while it definitely does do that, this is another test of faith for Abram, as God practically tells him: “I’m going to give you a home and a place of peace and rest… but I’m giving it to your offsprings, not to you.”

What a challenge this must be for Abram’s faith:…


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Ezra 9

    
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"‘Oh my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens … But now for a brief moment favor has been shown by the Lord our God, to leave us a remnant and to give us a secure hold within his holy place, that our God may brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery.’” (Ezra 9:6,8)

Ezra 9 is mostly just extolling God for who He is and what He has done. Ezra presents the character of God plainly and thoroughly. In this particular instance, he is overwhelmed with grief that Israel has broken God’s direct commandment not to intermarry with non-beliveving nations. Israel should be a nation set apart from those who do not follow God.

He begins by grieving and feeling shame and guilt over how they have abandoned God’s law. Their sins are “higher than their heads” and their guilt has “mounted up to the heavens”. As a leader of God’s people, Ezra is dismayed over this turn of events and the revelation of their sin. He sees their exile and conquering from Babylon as a direct result of their sin (v. 7).

But - what grace! - God has not abandoned them. He has shown that, in the midst of a guilty, shameful people, He will act and not utterly destroy them all. God Himself will be the one who comes to them and brightens their eyes in the midst of their slavery, so that they will not feel abandoned or alone, or without hope.

He will preserve a “remnant”. The…


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Matthew 3: Repent

    
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“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 3:1-2)

The word “repent” really struck me today as I was reading Matthew 3. I tend to skim past the word and write it off as an old-fashioned “fire and brimstone” type word, used by preachers who point their fingers at you. But it is the first word out of John the Baptist’s mouth, and the first main message recorded from Jesus’ teaching (especially in Mark). It is obviously important, much more important than I realized. As I sat and pondered, I realized that I don’t give it the credit that it is due. It is selling the word so short by only thinking of it as “turn from your ways” (although this is part of it).

In truth, there are so many powerful implications wrapped up in the word “repent”:

1) Something is wrong. Things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. In the world, yes, but also in my own life. And I must start there. My sin is not right. The way I choose to live my life, and the things that I elevate and worship are not the right things. It is broken and skewed.

  • “Repent” tells me that all is not right.

2) It’s not good that something is wrong. I shouldn’t be okay with the fact that something is desperately broken. It is one thing to realize the brokenness, it is an entirely different thing to hate that brokenness. Because of God’s grace and revelation, I see my sin, and because of His image in me, I hate that sin. I don’t…


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John 5

    
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“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has fives roofed colonnades.  In these lay a multitude of invalids - blind, lame, and paralyzed.  One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, 'Do you want to be healed?'  The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’  And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked."  (John 5:2-9)

 

Here is a picture of the pool of Bethesda when we went to Israel a few years ago. It would have been filled up near the top in Jesus’ time. I didn’t get a great picture of what the surroundings looked like, but suffice it to say: it was a large area, and surrounded by the crippled, it would have been an overwhelming site. It would have been a place that most people who have avoided, at the risk of becoming “unclean”.

One of our tour guides mentioned to us that while it is unclear exactly what it was that caused the pool to be stirred up (v. 7), the most likely explanation is waste water being occasionally emptied into it by richer people further up the hill. This pool is so deep that any rainwater or chamber pots that were emptied in the “sewer” system they had would probably find its way here.

These…


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