Hebrews: The Pastor/Shepherd

I spent much of my career serving in administrative roles in churches. I’ve seen churches and pastors with wonderful relationships and I’ve seen churches and pastors with unpleasant relationships. Rarely was the problem with the pastor. Most often the tension arose from within the church and usually involved a handful of people and a power struggle.  The author of Hebrews said, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a Joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17). He was writing about the structure of the church. He was calling the Body of Christ to proper order starting with submission to the leadership.

All through the Bible – particularly the New Testament – God lays out a hierarchy. In the home wives and children submit to the husband and father. In the church, members submit to the pastor/elder whom God had placed over them. The pastor/elder submits to Jesus Christ, the head of the church (Eph 1:22-23). Scripture also says that Christ submits to His head, which is God (1 Cor 11:3).

The godly pastor/elder serves the church by caring for and about its members. The Bible called church leaders “shepherds” over a flock of sheep. A shepherd’s priority is no how much the animals will bring at the market but the well-being of the flock under his care. The same is true of the shepherd of God’s flock. He provides for the sheep. He comforts the sheep. He guides the sheep. He walks beside the sheep through dark valleys. He sets the righteous of God always before them. He fights the enemy on their behalf, prepares them for serving, and blesses them in the name of the Lord. (Reference Psalm 23). He warns the sheep of danger. He even points out their sinful and self-destructive ways. And, the writer says, the Lord who appointed him holds him accountable for how he tends the sheep under his care.

A submissive church is a Joy to her pastor. Barna recently reported that 42 percent of pastors are considering leaving their ministry. The pressures and demands and struggles of pastoring often outweigh the benefits. As church members, you and I play a big part in whether the Pastor’s work is a Joy or a burden. This verse says submission and obedience make the relationship work for everyone. Beloved, will you be a blessing to your Pastor?

Hebrews: In Remembrance of Me

I hated lunchtime in the school cafeteria. Every day I walked around with my lunch tray looking for somewhere to sit. Classmates would quickly throw their purses and books in all the empty seats at their table – the non-verbal way of saying “We don’t want you.” I eventually found my way to an empty table and ate my meal alone. Now, as an adult, I usually gravitate to an empty table out of habit.

This all came to mind because of the verse we’re focusing on in Hebrews: “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat” (Heb 13:10). Remember, the author’s audience is believing Jews that are being pulled back into their traditions and away from Christ. The brazen altar in the tabernacle was where blood sacrifices were made. The priests were allowed a portion of the meat from which the blood was taken as their meal portion (Lev 6:26, 29, 7:28-38; Deut 18:3-5; Num 18:10-20). But it could only be eaten by the priests and the males in his family. No one else was welcome at that table.

But Christians have an altar and a portion that no one else can share – not even the tabernacle priests. The altar is Jesus Christ Himself, and the meal is His flesh and His blood – the portion He gave to His disciples in the upper room before His death (Matt 26: 26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:17-21). The portion He commended to us who believe in Him. We observe this as a sacrament we call  Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist.

I was privileged to serve communion one Sunday, and as I repeated the phrase “The Body of Christ, broken for you,” to each partaker it became a very profound and special thing to me.  As I passed the bread to each person in the line I realized that Christ’s body was broken for every single person – even those who don’t believe and haven’t received Him. I thought about the juice and the bread that would be left over after the service.  It would just be discarded – like grace poured down the drain.  It made me sad that the devil has blinded the world to this amazing gift of Jesus’ blood and body. After the service, I realized I had flour all over my clothes from the bread I had served.  I had the visible witness of the gospel all over me!

You and I carry the gospel with us wherever we go. Let’s make it clear and bold and winsome. Let’s bring as many to the table as we can. Beloved, your life is the best testimony to the world of the grace of God.

Hebrews: A Strong, Healthy Body

In the modern west are individualists. We take great pride in self – too much pride if we’re honest. In fact, we believe that everything revolves around the unholy trinity – me, myself, and I. You can see that clearly in this culture that takes offense at every innocent thing and turns it into a cause for protest. The church is no different. (And again, I’m speaking of the western church, which most of us are.) Our tendency when reading Scripture is to ask “What does this mean to me?”. That’s the wrong question. The Bible was written to God’s people – plural.

When the author of Hebrews declared: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (12:12), our first thought is “I need to work harder at being a strong Christian.” But look at verse 13: “Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” He is speaking to the collective church.

One of the challenges of being a preacher or Bible teacher is bringing the Word of God to a group of people that are all over the spectrum in knowledge, growth, experience, and motivation. Some people are young in their faith – mere babes. Some have grown into full, mature Christians. This has nothing to do with age and even little to do with how long they’ve been in church.

Read this passage with Paul’s “Body” imagery in mind – in fact, stop right here and read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. We are a Body, not individual parts. Some of our arms and knees and feet are not as strong as our back and thighs. Some of us are immature and need training, some are wounded and hurting, and let’s be honest, a few of us are a bit lazy. The author is calling for the stronger believers to strengthen the weaker ones and clear away any obstacles for those who are struggling. The goal is a healthy church serving Christ together. Strong parts benefit the whole Body.

So are you a strong back or a weak knee? Do you need some spiritual training? Then seek out a mature believer. Might you be the mature believer they need? It’s time to look across the aisle, Beloved, and ask “What can I do to make the Body of Christ whole and healthy?

Pointing Fingers

I’m studying Job in two groups right now – I am sure by God’s provident timing. In the first two chapters of Job, satan comes before the Lord twice to give an account of what he’s been up to. I have a note jotted beside satan’s second appearance before God: “last mention of satan.” This is the last time that ugly face is seen in this book. But it’s not the last time satan himself shows up. You can bet he is the impetus behind what comes next in Job’s story.

You know the story. God gives satan permission to take all that Job has – his wealth, his children, and his health – to prove that Job will never curse the Lord. Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to “sympathize with him and comfort him” (v. 11). When they see him sitting on the trash heap, covered in sores and misery, “they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights” and “No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (v. 13). If only they had kept their mouths shut.

I said that satan’s last mention was in chapter two, but he shows up in Job’s “friends” every time they speak. They all condemn Job for what must be grievous sin in his life. Why else would God bring such harsh punishment on him? But they don’t know what God has said about Job: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8; 2:3). Satan didn’t have to show his face, he just let E, B, and Z do his dirty work. If Job’s friends truly wanted to comfort him, they should have reminded him of God’s faithfulness and love. They should have sang songs of hope, not blasted him with condemnation. Rather than comforting their friend, they added to his suffering.

Here’s my takeaway: Never assume you know a person’s heart before God and God’s reason for their situation. We are called to a ministry of “encouraging, comforting, and urging [one another] to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thess 2:12). We are not called to “straighten one another out.” I don’t want to ever be satan’s tool of misery in someone’s life, no matter how “righteous” my reasoning. Beloved, make sure you are God’s messenger of grace, not satan’s sledgehammer.

The Church Jesus Loves

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“God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians 1:22

Yesterday I wrote about the influence of the world on the church and how the church today has drifted away from God. That is on every member and every leader because we do not go to church, we are the church, and as the people go, so goes the church. But there is hope.  Jesus didn’t establish this band of believers and walk away. He is intimately connected with His church.  

Scripture says that the church is the living, breathing Body of Christ in the world.  And because He is holy, His Body is holy. Look around you today when you gather for worship.  These are holy people.  Not because they wear the right clothes or say the right things, not even because they serve or usher to teach or sing.  They are holy because as Hebrews 13:12 says, “Jesus… [made] the people holy through His own blood.” A congregation of people who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ makes up a holy church.

The church is also the Bride of Christ.  Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Paul’s promise still stands as we wait for that glorious day when our bridegroom will come and take us home.  This is the picture behind Revelation 19:7: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.”  Do you see the beauty in the church being called the Bride of Christ?  The church is to be making preparations for that glorious day when the bride comes face-to-face with her adoring Bridegroom.  Listen to John’s description of her: “[She] shone with the glory of God, and [her] brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel.” (Revelation 21:11) 

Jesus loves the church and will never give up on her – on us. Together with all the saints past, present, and future, we are His holy Body and His beloved Bride.  Let’s get ready for our glorious wedding day.

Peace, Love, and, Baseball

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Several years ago my husband was a Little League umpire. He stood behind the plate looking over every pitch and called them “balls” or “strikes.” He also called players out or safe as they came to home plate. His call was the rule on the field. Paul wrote, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (Colossians 3:15). He uses a word that brings to mind the modern-day umpire. He said that peace should always govern everything we do. The context for this passage is speaking of community life (vs. 12-14) and he is saying that we should determine what will bring peace to the Body of Christ and in situations with others and respond accordingly. Let peace be the rule.

Now, this was originally going to just be a post about having peaceful relationships, but two things literally just jumped out at me. First, Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” While his context is the community, this is also a personal word. You let peace rule in your heart. It’s our responsibility. Then the word, “Love.” When he spoke of community life in verses 12-14, Paul said, “over all these [compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness,] put on love which binds them all together” (Col. 3:14). And suddenly it all makes sense. Love is the driving force of peace. I can be compassionate and kind and humble and gentle and patient and even forgive, but if I fail at love – “sincere love” as Paul commanded in Romans 12:9 – I will not have peace. Oh, the exterior may look good, but without love, these actions are forced at best and resented at worst – and there is no peace in my heart. And eventually, that exterior peace erodes. And isn’t that the point of 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter?” If I have gifts and faith and can preach and teach and even perform miracles, but don’t have love – “I am nothing” (v. 2). 

Look at the world around us. What are people crying out for? Peace. But what do they need to have peace? Love. Sincere Love. God’s love. When we “know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16), there will be peace – in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches and communities, and in the world. Beloved, you and I are called to be the catalysts of peace by being the conduits of God’s love in a broken, angry, dark world. Maybe even in your own home. Let love be the rule and peace make the call.

Hebrews: I Need You

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One major blow the pandemic has dealt the church is disconnection. When churches closed their doors trying to keep their members safe, it also isolated them physically from one another. Now that churches are opened again, many have decided not to return. Without the opportunity to come together, many people have grown cold. They just don’t think they need the church anymore.

The writer of Hebrews pointed to one important aspect of the Christian community: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:12-13). This is not a message to individual Christians; it’s a word for the full Body of Christ. “You are responsible for one another.” No, that doesn’t mean you will be held accountable for my sins (aren’t you glad!), but that you and I are called to encourage each other away from sin and into a deeper faith in God. That means being together enough that I notice when your faith is faltering.  That’s one thing I really miss being 100 miles away from my best friend. When we lived in the same town, we spent a lot of time together. She knew when I was struggling just by the inflection of my voice and my posture. She would come beside me and redirect me back to truth and faith. We are called to encourage one another in our daily walk so that sin and unbelief do not harden our hearts and turn us away from God.

In his message on the armor of God, Paul wrote about “the shield of faith” (Ephesians 6:16). The Roman soldier’s shield had a particularly important feature for the protection of the whole troop – a loop-and-locking system on the sides that allowed a group of soldiers to form what is known as “The Testudo (Tortoise) Formation.” By locking their shields together they formed a “safe house” around and above the whole company that covered them from all sides. This is the picture Paul painted of the Body of Christ working together against the “flaming arrows” of sin and unbelief launched by the evil one.

We dare not face off against the enemy in isolation. Beloved, your brothers and sisters need you. I need you. And you need me. Lock your shield with mine and theirs and let’s help one another stand firm in our shared faith.

Caring for the Wounded Body (of Christ)

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“But God has combined the members of the body . . . so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25)
Have you ever noticed when one body part suffers, your whole body becomes invested in the healing process? When I had a severe infection in my leg a couple of years ago my whole body had to be committed to rest and elevation and medication for my leg to heal. My whole body was flat of my back for four weeks.  My arms didn’t grumble about it. My other leg didn’t resent it. My heart and lungs kept doing their job so that the wounded part could heal. No part of my body forgot about that leg for a second.
I think, in our modern “personal” and private religion, we’ve forgotten how to take care of one another. How to give attention to the wounded parts of our body – the wounded people in the Body of Christ. We throw a half-hearted “praying for ya!” in their direction and maybe even take them a meal if we have the time to spare, but I feel like we’ve lost something. Commitment to one another? One part of my ministry is listening to hurting people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “When my life became difficult, my church forgot about me . . .ignored me . . . overlooked me . . . gave up on me.” I know they’re telling the truth because it has happened to me too.  What would our Head think of all this?
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (v. 26)
Am I rambling or is any of this resonating with anyone?

The Body and The Bride (Part 8 in the Apostles’ Creed)

 

THE APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord;

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Crucified, dead and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven,

and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit; The Holy catholic Church;

“God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” 

Ephesians 1:22

In the beautiful text of the Apostles’ Creed we come to the church; not a clapboard steeple, new multi-purpose building, or a towering cathedral.  We are talking about the living, breathing Body of Christ Jesus our Lord.  We do not actually go to church.  We are the church. If you are Christian – a follower of Christ – then you and I together make up the “holy catholic Church.”

In the original Greek language, “holy” means that which has been consecrated, or set apart, and declared acceptable to God.  Look around you on Sunday morning.  These are holy people.  Not because they wear the right clothes or say the right things, not even because they serve or usher to teach or sing.  They are holy because as Hebrews 13:12 says, “Jesus… [made] the people holy through His own blood.” His blood alone has the cleansing power that makes us acceptable to God – that makes us holy.  A congregation of people who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ makes up a holy church.

And why are we claiming to believe in the Roman Catholic Church when we are not Catholics?  This is not speaking of denomination, but of universality.  The “catholic” church is the universal church – the world-wide body of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Believers in Florida, believers in China, believers in Australia, believers in North Dakota, and believers in Haiti – all make up the universal catholic Church.

We have already established that the church is not the buildings, but the people.  The church is defined in two distinct ways: as the Body of Christ and the Bride of Christ.  The church is the Body of Christ in the world today.  As Jesus walked on earth, He reached out His hands to bless and heal.  Now He reaches out to the world through the hands of His church.  In His words to the disciples Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:11).  How is that possible?  Jesus could only be in one place at a time, but when He returned to His Father in heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit to fill every believer and to enable us to do as He did.  Now, with Spirit-filled believers scattered all around the globe, the work of Jesus is multiplied thousands of times over.

When we say that the church is the Bride of Christ, we can look to a couple of specific Scriptures for support.  Paul wrote to the church of Corinth, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him.” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Paul’s promise still stands as we wait for that glorious day when our bridegroom will come and take us home.  A little Bible lesson here may help.  In John 14:2-3, Jesus tells his disciples that He is going back to the Father to prepare a place for them, that they may be with Him.  The disciples would have understood that Jesus was referring to the Jewish traditions for betrothal and marriage.  The prospective groom’s father would approach the father of a young woman and make the arrangements for their children to be married.  The groom would then return home and begin building an addition onto his father’s home for him and his bride.  Meanwhile, the bride is busy with her own preparations, making her bridal clothes and other necessary things for setting up her own home.  Only when the groom’s father was satisfied with the finished work would he allow his son to go get his bride.  The groom and his friends would make a noisy party through the streets as they went to the home of the bride.  She had no advance warning, so she had to be ready at all times to be swept away to her own wedding and her new home.  This is the picture behind Revelation 19:7: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.”  Do you see the beauty in the church being called the Bride of Christ?  He has gone to prepare a place for His bride, and when His Father deems the home ready, Jesus will come back for His beloved and we will be whisked away to heaven.

The church is to be making preparations for that glorious day when the bride comes face-to-face with her adoring Bridegroom.  Listen to John’s description of her: “[She] shone with the glory of God, and [her] brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel.” (Revelation 21:11) Oh, how we need to be ready for the Bridegroom’s return!

Jesus loves the church, because she is his hands and feet in this world, and because she is the bride that He longs to bring home.  You and I are the church.  We are the Body and the Bride.  If the church is to be ready for her glorious wedding day – it is up to you and me.  Are you anticipating the return of your Bridegroom?

Father in heaven, as my Jesus prepares a place for His bride, help me to work with a heart full of love, and my eyes on the skies, watching for His return.  Amen.