1 Peter 5 – Leadership

Read 1 Peter 5

Leadership is a pretty hot topic these days and those who work to coach and help leaders are doing great work to equip and empower leaders to lead well.  Peter has a number of things to say to the leaders of the church as well as they continue to lead in tumultuous times.  What I think is important to notice about what Peter says here, though, is not that he has given them some great strategy to lead, but rather than he has encouraged them to follow Christ’s example by imitating Him.

There has been a lot done in the last 20 years in the church to create strategies for leadership and development, for ministries and programs that will work to attract more people and grow the church.  The “seeker service” movement along with “contemporary” worship music and coffee bars in the church have all been ways that churches have sought to attract people or be “relevant.”

Now, I’m not at all opposed to good coffee, and I doubt Peter would have been either, but the much of what has been done in the church over these last two decades has completely missed the point of the church.  We aren’t supposed to be building internal programs that bring people in, we’re supposed to be following the example of Christ.  Jesus didn’t set up a church building and then require people to come, Jesus went out to minister among the sick, the poor, the sinners, and the outcasts.

Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t something important about the Church or about the local community of faith.  Indeed there are many benefits to meeting together, of being together, and of worshipping together.  However, if those things become an end unto themselves, we have completely missed the purpose of the church.  If leaders in the church simply work to facilitate the function of the organization so that we can continue to keep our doors open, we’re failing at what we’re supposed to be doing.

Peter’s words call us to imitate the “Chief Shepherd” so that we can show the world who Christ is.  We do this by showing Christ’s love and following His example, ministering among and with the least, the last, and the lost.

John 10 – The Voice of the Shepherd

Read John 10

References to Jesus as the Good Shepherd are a fairly familiar part of “Christian-speak.”  This is yet another one of the “I AM” statements that John records in his Gospel and it is one that we like to resonate with.  The Shepherd both cares for and protects the flock; we like to be cared for and protected.  You don’t hear much about sheep getting “disciplined” or “told what to do.”  We like that too.

But what Jesus says here is important if we are to play well the role of the sheep: Sheep listen to the Shepherd.  The only way that they can do this is if they know the sound of the Shepherd’s voice.  They follow the Shepherd because they know Him, need Him, and trust Him.  Sheep have no natural defenses;

Sheep have no natural defenses; they rely solely on the Shepherd for their very lives.

The fact that this is a metaphor for us (the sheep) and Jesus (the Good Shepherd) may not come as a surprise, however, the depth of the Truth that Jesus presents here could be.  We are born into this world steeped in sin; there is nothing that we can do to get away from it.  Humans possess no “natural” defenses against it.

We need the Shepherd to protect us.

Unfortunately, Christians are becoming less and less able to recognize His voice.  We spend a diminishing amount of time reading Scripture, the Word of the Shepherd, and much more time listening to the cacophony of voices in the world pretending to be “shepherd” like.  Yet Jesus also says that He is the Gate.  Even though we might listen to other voices, the only true way to the fold is the gate and the only way to find the gate is by listening to the Good Shepherd.

If you have moment, read Psalm 23 and then listen to this song:

Day 311: John 10-11; I AM The Resurrection and the Life

As we continue on the journey of Jesus in the Gospel of John, we come today to the end of the “book of signs” that we talked about a couple days ago at the beginning of John.  The first half of this book ends at the climax of Jesus’ miracles, raising Lazarus from the dead in an awesome and unbelievable miracle!  This is also the point at which the religious leaders decide that they are going to kill Jesus somehow… some way… they need to get rid of Jesus if they are to maintain their role as leaders.  But lets not get ahead of ourselves here.

In chapter 10 we see yet another exclamation of Jesus’ “I AM” or “ἐγώ εἰμί status.  Jesus is talking about the people of Israel as being sheep; an apt description of a people that have proven themselves to both be idle followers of whoever is willing to lead them and remarkably dense when it comes to the quality of their leadership.  In this discussion, Jesus is also talking about the leadership of the people over the past years.  Sheep always need a shepherd, someone to lead and protect them lest they wander freely.  The problem in the past has been that too often the leadership that they have had, other nations and gods have indeed led them into the wilderness and really just left them there.  What Jesus is saying is that HE is the GOOD Shepherd.  Remember back to Luke 18 or Mark 10, someone calls Jesus a “good teacher” and Jesus responds saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”  Now, Jesus is calling Himself the GOOD Shepherd, making the point in both the I AM statement and the used of the word GOOD, that He is God and He is their leader; that God that has always been their head.  Not only He their leader, He is also their “Gate.”  Not only is He their leader and their protection, He is also the way in which they enter into that status.  No one can climb over the wall, there is no back door into being one of the people of God; as Jesus will point out later, He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.  John also makes some clear connections here to the parable of the lost sheep and the deep truths of Psalm 23.

We then see Jesus in a discourse about His unity with the Father.  It is ironic, I think, that this comes at the end of the book of signs.  Jesus has done amazing miracles to the wonder and astonishment of many, and yet the people still ask Him to tell them plainly whether or not He is the Christ.  He responds to their request as says, “I have told you but you did not believe me.”  It’s interesting isn’t it?  How often we are like these people as well.  So much has happened in our lives, things that have taken place that are undeniably acts of God, and yet we still want to just be told plainly whether or not God is real or present.  Jesus then lays it out for them again… and they still don’t believe Him.  He really cannot be anymore clear about who He is and His relationship to God the Father, and they still try to kill Him for it.  How often do we do this as well?  The evidence is so clearly laid out before us, and yet we still choose to do things our own way…

Finally, the climax of the book of signs: the resurrection of Lazarus.  One of the clear signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God has to do with the resurrection of the dead.  This was something that had never been done before and it was something that could only be attributed to God for it was God who created life and therefore only God who could bring back to life.  For Jesus to do this was to indeed claim the place of God, showing that He indeed had power over death itself.  Not only this though, Jesus makes this wild claim that HE is the Resurrection and the Life.  Again, using the “I AM” or “ἐγώ εἰμί statement, Jesus places Himself as God.  He is the “I AM” the very center of being… This claim is abundantly amazing really… Jesus does not simply claim to be the “resurrection,” bringing people back from the dead, He also claims to be the source of life from the beginning.  Think back to John 1, Jesus is living into and claiming this status as being “The Word” that was in the beginning.  Only after this audacious claim does Jesus then show everyone the Truth of it by raising Lazarus from the dead.  It is this that sets events in motion that lead to Jesus eventual arrest, death and ultimately the reality that The Resurrection and The Life is indeed resurrected.

Day 250; Ezekiel 34-36; The Shepherd Feeds His Sheep

Today’s reading is a very interesting dichotomy of shepherding imagery that collides headlong into words of hope and restoration for the flock, which in this case is Israel.  The Word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel the first time speaking against the supposed shepherds of Israel, the leaders who were supposed to be taking care of the people.  In fact, as we read this we see that God’s mandate for the whole of the people of Israel, the counter-cultural lifestyle that they were called to live that was to be honoring and glorifying to God, was very much their responsibility to model.  God says through Ezekiel,

The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.  So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.

This is, in many ways, the climax of Ezekiel’s prophesies against the nations and against Israel herself.  The summary statements of why things were they way they were at the time.  Ezekiel is not discounting Israel’s part in it as a nation, but he points directly to the leaders and indicts them as the culprits for Israel’s wandering ways.  It was them who were supposed to feed the sheep.  In many ways Ezekiel is talking about discipleship.  The Shepherds were supposed to feed the sheep and teach the sheep how to be shepherds themselves.  Instead they are lost and wandering and to make matters worse… the shepherds don’t even care.

It could be done there.  According to the Law, all was lost and God didn’t even need to do anything about it.

But God isn’t done there… No… God has only begun.  The following verses point to God as THE Shepherd and He hasn’t given up on the sheep at all.  Indeed love of the True Shepherd, the Good Shepherd (do you hear the canonical echos here?) is never exhausted!  Not only for the good of the sheep, but for the glory and honor of God’s name, will The Shepherd of shepherd go out into the nations and gather His sheep.

This is the transition from judgment prophecy to restoration prophecy…

God doesn’t stop there either.  He isn’t just going to gather His sheep together back into their pasture where they belong, He is going to take over Shepherding.  God is going to do for them what they could not do for themselves.  Even though the sheep are dirty from their wandering, the Shepherd is going to clean them up and renew them.  He says,

It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.  And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.  I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Again today, we do not simply read about an errant nation whom God has chosen to save, for we too know that we are like those people.  In many ways, Ezekiel is echoing the words of Isaiah,

“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

The “Him” that Isaiah is referring to is, of course, Jesus who picks up this theme in John 10 when He refers to Himself as “The Good Shepherd.”  Jesus hands off this role to Peter, the disciples, and the Church as well when He instructs Peter to “feed My sheep” at the end of John.

As Christians, believers in and disciples of Christ, we too are both sheep and shepherd.  We have been called to be the Shepherds of the world around us, seeking out lost sheep and bringing them back into the fold.  For the leaders of the Church, this call in Ezekiel is especially urgent.  We have been given the role as shepherds of God’s people and it is our responsibility to feed them and care for them.  Time and again we have seen this role corrupted whether by pedophile priests, greedy televangelists, and even some mega-church pastors.  As a whole, the Christian church in America is facing the results of a crisis of leadership, struggling to understand how to feed the sheep and care for them when so many seem to be wandering off into the “greener pastures” of spirituality, culture, and apathy.

Fortunately we don’t have to do this alone.  The Good Shepherd is always with us, guiding and directing the flock.  Our hope rests on Him alone, the Ultimate Shepherd of our lives of who we can say,

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 paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will 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 forever.