The Silence of the Shepherds

Sheep and lake

What comes to your mind when you think of a shepherd? For me, it’s wise guidance and protection. I see the shepherd guiding his sheep to a calm, clear lake for a refreshing drink of water and at other times fighting off the attack of a wolf. Perhaps this is why the Lord frequently refers to the leaders of His people in this way.

This is also the reason that the silence of so many Christian leaders and pastors regarding future things troubles me so deeply. A number of outstanding teachers and writers either do not believe in Jesus’ return for His church or just never mention it. For me, it’s sad to hear messages on texts that bring up our future hope where the preachers do not mention eternity or the joy that awaits us there.

This morning, the words of Proverbs 10:28 spoke to my heart anew, “The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” If such anticipation brought joy back then, how much more should it lighten our load now? And why, then, are so many churches quiet about the great joy ahead for us in glory?

I see two key reasons why pastors should loudly proclaim the specifics of our future bliss rather than ignore the matter altogether or settle for vague references to the “sweet by and by” that fail to stir our hearts or encourage us in the midst of sorrow.

Jesus Commands Us to Watch and Be Ready

In His Olivet Discourse as recorded in Matthew, Jesus commands us not only to be ready for His coming, but to watch for it (see 24:42, 44; 25:13). We see this watchfulness all throughout the epistles as the apostles taught those new in the faith to eagerly wait for Jesus’ appearing (see 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Thess. 1:8-10; Titus 2:11-13; and Phil. 3:20-21 as examples of this). The apostles instilled in their new converts an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return to take them home; a hope that endured long past their time.

The Didache, which means “teaching” in the Greek, is a brief document that was popular during early centuries of the church. In chapter 16 of The Didache we read this, “Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come.” Is this not the same imminent hope taught by the apostles? Of course it is.

Yes, there are many voices still today drawing our attention to the wonders of Jesus’ return, but most followers of Jesus have to go outside their local churches to hear messages regarding the imminency of their hope.

The present day emphasis on the Great Commission is excellent. The church must always be seeking to bring others to Jesus and to build them up in the faith. This is a given. We obey the Lord when we use our spiritual gifts, talents, and resources to further His kingdom around the world as well as to teach and build up believers He puts in our paths. These are all aspects of obeying Jesus’ command.

For the apostles, such obedience included instilling in their new converts an eager anticipation of Jesus’ soon return, as we have seen. Jesus told his disciples to teach those new in the faith to “observe all that I have commanded you” (see Matt. 28:20) and from this flowed, among other things, teaching them to eagerly await Jesus’ appearing.

Many pastors today ignore what was for the apostles an essential part of the Gospel message they proclaimed.

Things are different now. Those who stress reaching all the nations with the Gospel rarely, if ever, mention our future hope. Many pastors today ignore what was for the apostles an essential part of the message they proclaimed. As a result, the hope of new believers remains earthbound lacking the joyful anticipation of what lies ahead.

Not only does this silence of shepherds ignore Jesus’ commands, it also exposes their flocks to great dangers.

Sound Teaching on Our Biblical Hope Prevents Doctrinal Error

In Ephesians 4:11-14, Paul says that Jesus gives the church specially equipped leaders such as “shepherds” and “teachers”  both for unity and so that believers will “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” This is precisely what we are seeing in the church at large today . . . in a negative way.

The dearth of sound teaching on our eternal joy has resulted in believers being “tossed” every which way by false teaching. In recent years, some teachers have begun to falsely proclaim that Jesus has already returned just as He promised in Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation.  Such a message has led many unsuspecting believers astray into error and misleading expectations.

Tragically, once these false teachers trap believers in their deceitful web it takes much more prodding, teaching, and the work of the Holy Spirit to enable them to escape than it would have taken for teachers to have established them in sound biblical teaching from the beginning.

It requires much more effort to help believers escape from false teachings than it does for solid biblical teaching to effectively shield them from it. This seems to be especially true in regard to future things as so many hold on to proof texts ignoring scores of other verses that contradict their errant interpretation.

Sound biblical teaching on future things safeguards believers from the many erroneous winds of doctrines blowing about in our day.

Do you see why sound biblical teaching on future things is so necessary? It safeguards believers from the many erroneous winds of doctrines blowing about in our day. It gives them a basis to resist the lure of false teachers who twist Scripture and lead many away from the joy of biblical hope.

This is why I write. This is why I am so grieved for believers who hear so little about the specifics or the scriptural basis of the glorious wonders that await them in forever. I desire to get the word out, either through teaching, speaking, or writing, to followers of Christ who are sadly looking only to the things of this life to bring them lasting purpose and joy.

It’s time to look up, is it not?

Jesus said this in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Jesus says now is the time to watch for His appearing.  Shouldn’t the shepherds of local flocks, those called to lead us, be echoing the words of our Lord? It’s not that the things they emphasize are bad, far from it; it’s just that their neglect keeps the focus of so many believers on the things of the earth rather than eternity where their ultimate and lasting hope resides.

Where are your eyes today? Is your ultimate hope on the things of this life or are you looking forward to your eternal inheritance reserved in heaven just for you (1 Pet. 1:3-5)?

 

A  Crisis of Hope

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Photo by Pol Sifter

“We appear to be suffering a great crisis of hope.” Those words, written by John Eldredge in his September 2017 newsletter, aptly sum up our nation today.

Despair has replaced hope in the lives of so many. Two-thirds of deaths caused by guns are suicides; many of these are older men who see no reason to continue living. The incidents of suicide overall are going through the roof. Addictions to drugs and alcohol are ever present problems in our nation that grow worse each passing day.

Even among Christians, we see an abandonment of hope. Many have tossed aside beliefs cherished for decades in favor of earthbound expectations that do little to relieve the apprehensions of life or the disillusionments of failed expectations. It’s no wonder that many believers experience many of the same problems as those in the world who possess no expectation beyond this life.

Those who look to the things of this world for satisfaction soon discover that life often thwarts their deepest desires. We do not have to look far to see their fury; it’s readily apparent everywhere on social media where angry venting often rules the day.

The Dangers of Anger

In an age of information overload, unless we hide in a cave all day we will all see things that irritate us or perhaps raise our blood pressure to unsafe levels. We read about injustice, listen as the media proclaims lies as truth, and watch as evil prevails where good should have triumphed. The apostle Paul recognized that at times we would feel such indignation when he wrote “be angry and do not sin.”

However, notice how Paul ends his instructions regarding anger in Ephesians 4:26-27, “. . . do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”

The danger for all of us, regardless of what we believe, comes when we hold on to our anger and let it fester within us. Scripture says that when this happens, we give an opportunity for the devil to work his destruction in and through us.

In my book Shipwrecked Lives (planned for publication next year), I tell the tale of Absalom who allowed anger to destroy his life. He had good reason for his rage, but rather than deal with it in a healthy manner he allowed bitterness to take root and flourish inside him. In the end, 20,000 soldiers died as a result of his rebellion against his father, King David. Absalom, described as the most handsome man in all of Israel, died hanging from a tree as soldiers threw spears at him.

I realize that for all those reading this post, anger will not lead to death or murder as it did with Absalom. However, wrath can be destructive in our lives as well as the enemy of our souls skews our thinking, ruins relationships, and causes a host of health problems that stem from holding on to anger for lengthy periods of time.

The Path of Hope

There is a much better way than the path of anger, frustration, and despair. Hope!

Biblical hope is not positive thinking as some might think of it. You may be planning an outing this weekend with the hopes that you will see sunshine and clear skies. It may rain all day, or worse, despite your hopes for good weather. Our hope is so much more certain than this.

In his newsletter, John Eldredge describes biblical hope this way, “When I speak of hope I mean the confident expectation that goodness is coming. A rock-solid expectation, something we can build our lives on.”  Such hope never ever disappoints us; Christ’s unfailing promises guarantee it.

Amidst the frustrations of life, Jesus has set before us the wonderful path of hope. I love the words of Proverbs 4:18, “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” We know from the New Testament that the righteous are not the “do-gooders” around us but those who know Jesus as their Savior and walk by the light of the Gospel.

Regardless of the outcome of our lives here on earth, this hope will never let us down. If the Lord takes us home through death sooner than we would like, we will be in His presence and experience all the wonderful joys of heaven. If Jesus comes for us today or in the near future, we will instantly possess immortal bodies and be with the Lord forevermore.

No one, upon arriving in heaven, will wish that Jesus had delayed the rapture a little longer.

Disappointment and biblical hope are true antonyms; they never go together. No one, upon arriving in heaven, will wish that Jesus had delayed the rapture a little longer.

1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “. . . he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” The apostle, writing to believers suffering amidst great persecution, pointed them toward their heavenly “inheritance” that was secure and waiting for them. This is one of the wonderful purposes of the promises Jesus makes to us regarding eternity, they comfort us and bring light to our paths regardless of our circumstances.

I remember listening to an elected official speak on the radio as I was driving my car one day many years ago. I felt anger building inside me as he continued to speak (his words distressed me, to say the least). Finally, in frustration I switched to a Christian music station. The song playing at that moment was God is in Control by Twila Paris. As I relaxed and even felt a smile come across my face, I realized that this was no coincidence. The Lord knew I needed the relief that came from remembering His sovereignty.

God is wondrously in control of everything. That’s how we know our hope will never ever fail us or disappoint us. The glories of eternity, immortal bodies, and joy beyond what we can now imagine await us just on the other side. It’s a sure thing; as the Apostle Peter said, we cannot lose the “inheritance” Jesus is preparing for us.

When we feel indignation bubbling up inside us, it’s then we must remember where our ultimate hope lies. It does not rest in people or in a world careening toward the terrible years of the Great Tribulation. It does not rest in politicians who will fail us many more times than not. Our hope remains secure in Jesus who will satisfy us forever with the wonders of eternity.

Our hope remains secure in Jesus who will satisfy us forever with the wonders of eternity.

Doesn’t focusing on the biblical promises of eternity sound a whole lot better than holding tightly to our anger, which only wreaks havoc within us with bitter or vengeful thoughts?

Jesus offers us unfailing, “rock-solid,” ever-satisfying hope. He offers us the wonderful freedom of His love and a promise of eternity that will be joyful beyond what we can imagine. This glorious journey begins with Jesus’ appearing to take us home to His Father’s house in heaven (John 14:2-3).

Do not let anyone change the focus of your ultimate hope to temporal realities of this life that can never satisfy you. Why stay earthbound in your focus when Jesus is coming to complete your adoption into His family and redeem your bodies (Rom. 8:23)? As Jesus followers, we will live forever with Him in a place where sorrow, pain, death, and tears will no longer exist (Rev. 21:4).

 

Was Life Ever Meant to Be Fair?

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Obsession. I think that in many ways this describes the day in which we live. People become obsessed with an idea, interest, desire, or emotion and soon it dominates social media and the news as it consumes everyone’s attention. Everyone reading this post likely knows the nature of the current obsession.

I admit that the sight of NFL players disrespecting our flag and nation greatly distresses me; I do not like it. But I also see a greater danger in the ridiculous proportions to which this controversy has grown.

People all around us are hurting and suffering; life is not easy.

It’s taking our attention away from what really matters. People all around us are hurting and suffering; life is not easy. Current day obsessions from whatever the source do not help anyone; they only further divide already bitter and angry people.

The Lord never promises us that everything will be fair or just in this life; however, He promises us something much, much, much better than that. . . .

Hope

Hope in Jesus. This is where our focus belongs. I was drawn to Romans 8:18-25 this morning.  If anyone, apart from Jesus that is, had reason to complain about life being unfair, it was the Apostle Paul; he suffered greatly for the cause of the Gospel. Notice, however, his perspective in the midst of his great affliction, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us’ (Rom. 8:18).

Wow! It was hope of a better day that kept Paul looking upward in the midst of his tribulation-filled life.

Paul said that it’s not only creation that currently groans awaiting a better day, but we also groan in our hope of Jesus’ appearing, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). Paul endured the bitter unfairness of life because he knew a better day was coming, one in which his adoption in God’s family would be made wonderfully complete and he would possess an immortal body that would forever enjoy the delights of eternity.

Sadly, so much focus rests on this life, even in most churches.  Notice, however, Paul’s words in verse 24, “For in this hope we were saved. . . .” Hope in Jesus’ return for us is a key part of the Gospel; it’s the future tense of the Gospel. It’s the substance of our hope that both sustains us in this life and points us to a glorious future.

There was a time in my life when amidst great suffering I foolishly lost sight of my hope and became angry with God because of the unjust treatment I felt I had received.

Now, however, I recognize God’s loving hand in all I endured as well as my extreme foolishness for doubting His unfailing love for me. It was my hope in the Lord’s sure promises of a better day, along with His direct deliverance and healing, that eventually changed my perspective.

Paradise

Jesus promises us something infinitely better than a fair or just or even a comfortable life. He has graciously given us eternal life and someday, when He returns, He will take us home to be with Him forever and ever. This will be glorious beyond anything we can now imagine and will more than make up for the suffering of this life.

Yes, there is great joy in walking with Jesus in this life as He comforts us in sorrow, calms our fears, heals our wounds, strengthens us to meet the challenges of the day, and gives us peace in the midst of storms. An even greater joy, however, awaits us at Jesus’ return as we will experience His presence more fully and wonderfully than ever before. What we experience now in our walk with Him is simply a foretaste of what is coming.

Anger and bitter dissatisfaction with life crosses all divides, which is why we need a hope that does the same.

It’s not just NFL players; I see frustration, anger, bitter dissatisfaction with life, and hopelessness everywhere I look (often it’s on Facebook or Twitter). It crosses all divides, which is why we need a hope that does the same. The Lord’s invitation of life is open to all.

Paradise is coming for all who know Jesus as their Savior; but this never-ending time of fullness and satisfaction will never happen this side of eternity no matter how hard anyone tries to make it happen. It’s simply impossible; it cannot happen.

If you have never put your faith in Him, please do so before it is too late. Apart from Christ, any hope you have in this life or for the next will surely vanish like a vapor.

Life on earth ends, but Jesus offers life both now and forever. He offers hope in the midst of despair and deliverance from the wrath that is to come.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Is your trust in Him alone and nothing else for the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life?