The Fright of the Shepherds

shepherdCheck out the audio version here.

Last week we reviewed the journey that Mary and Joseph took to get from Galilee to Bethlehem and why they had to make the trip. We saw what must have been a difficult birth process with only Joseph attending to Mary and what did he know? This was his first child too. We left Jesus in the manger all wrapped up in the swaddling cloths. Let’s keep going and see how the other characters responded to the birth of Christ.

Read over Luke 2:6-20 to get an idea of the context of the birth of Christ.

Luke tells us that there were, “Some shepherd staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.” The shepherds are always part of the story. I want you to put yourself in the place of the shepherds. How would you respond if, “The angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them?” Have you ever suddenly appeared to your spouse? Your kids? They screamed. Do you think the shepherds would have done anything different? Of course not because the text tells us, “They were terribly frightened.” They were scared out of their wits. Frightened is the Greek word phobeo. What’s really interesting is the shepherds of that day were generally not the most well respected, wonderful folks in town. Why the shepherds? Why not merchants? Why not the elders of the city? The shepherds were generally dishonest, dirty, and smelly people. The shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks. It was dark and likely very quiet when all of a sudden, the angel appears.

The angel says, “Do not be afraid.” It’s a little late for that! They’ve just had the fright of their life and they’re already scared, but don’t you do this with your kids? They’re in their dark bedroom and they tell you they’re afraid and you tell them, “Don’t be afraid” and they’re supposed to respond by saying okay. The appearance of the angel is different. Your kids are afraid of what might be in the dark. The shepherds were afraid of what suddenly appeared out of the dark. You’d be scared too. The angel told the shepherds something very specific. “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel speaks directly to the shepherds so make this personal. The angel told the shepherds that the good news was for all people. That phrase good news is from the Greek word euangelizo where we get our English word evangelize. The good news is not only of Christ’s birth, but that there has been born a Savior and He is named. Don’t miss the fact that the Savior has been born for all people. All is an interesting word that means all, not a select number, not a few chosen ones, but all. A Savior has been born. In Matt. 1:21 an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “She will bear a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is the Savior, the long awaited Messiah, our Deliverer, our Redeemer, He is Lord.

In case the shepherds doubted the message, the angel of the Lord told them there was a sign. Really get this in your mind. An angel appears out of thin air and tells the shepherds that the Savior, the One that had been prophesied from the beginning of humanity, the Savior that has been talked about for thousands of years has been born and then the angel tells them how they can find Jesus. He’s in the City of David – Bethlehem, and He’s wrapped up tightly in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger. This is a very specific description to eliminate any confusion in case there was another new born baby in the town. They were given specific instructions on how to find the One. It’s no mistake that the angel appears to these lowly shepherds. Isn’t that the message of hope that we all need? Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous. After Jesus grew up, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lu. 5:32) The angel delivers the life changing news that had been prophesied about from the beginning of time and they get to be a part of it.

What is the collective response to this incredible announcement? “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Here’s the same “suddenly” that we saw earlier. Without warning, the angel of the Lord is joined by his heavenly colleagues. Multitude comes from the same word as plethora. It was the hallelujah chorus. Hallelujah means praise Ye Yahweh. Many people think of Handel’s Messiah. Handel was actually inspired by Rev. 19, but it still works here. Imagine for a moment that you are a heavenly being and you’ve also been waiting for the Messiah, not for yourself, but to see the plan they knew of in Gen. 3:15 come to fruition. There was a boat load of heavenly beings and they were, “Saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” I think it’s important to define the words we so casually say and sing this time of year. Glory comes from the word doxa which means splendor which means magnificence. When the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest” they were expressing God’s incredibleness, His awesomeness, His uniqueness, His majesticness, His greatness, and every other accolade you can attribute to a perfect, holy, righteous, all powerful being. In all of eternity there is none like Him and no one will ever be like Him.

“And on earth peace among men.” The only way to have true peace is to embrace Jesus as Savior. With Him, we can know true peace and it passes all understanding. That word peace means completeness or wholeness. Don’t overlook the significance of this message! If you don’t know Jesus, you cannot have peace. What the world defines as peace is not peace. Jesus provides the opportunity to be complete, to be restored to the relationship God designed for humanity, but it can only come through the gift that was found in the manger. Later in 19:38, Luke says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And in Acts 10:36, “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).” When confronted with the reality of who God is and what He has done there is only one response and that is worship!

In this message, we focused on the shepherds and the angels and there’s a reason for that. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time. The shepherds were scared out of their minds when the angel of the Lord appeared, but the angel told them something incredible: a Savior had been born. The angel even gave them a sign on how to find the One. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned for the next installment as we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

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10 Things Pastors Hate To Admit Publicly

I was fortunate to have a colleague from our sister church in Rincon, GA come for a visit to our church yesterday. I got to sit back and soak in the awesomeness of Scripture as Pastor Mike preached from Matt. 14-22-33. It was a blessing. Since I had a break I decided to post an article I read last month. The original post is found here.

 If you’re a shepherd or have a shepherd’s heart, you’ll find yourself nodding your head in agreement. I’m not saying these things control us. You’ll often hear me say it’s okay to have feelings – God gave them to you, but don’t allow your feelings to control your actions. Times do get rough and tough for me, but I keep going. That’s my mindset, that’s the way I’m made, that’s the right thing to do. I am content right where I am. I have no aspirations to go anywhere or do anything other than love my wife and shepherd the people God has charged me with. So here we go. Read on. The article posted in its entirety.

From Matt Boswell, Pastor/Elder of Redemption Church in Duvall, WA.

mb-postsWhen Ellen and I were first married ministry was not our 20-year plan, the Navy was. We had it all planned out; we were to spend the next 20 years with me being gone for 15. The Navy explained to my sweet new bride how grueling it would be, that I would be gone often and that even when I was around my mind would be elsewhere. Knowing that my particular career path in the Navy would be a marriage destroyer I pursued a discharge for the pursuit of higher education. With the promise of a difficult future behind us we embarked upon an easier dream where everyone would love us and things would be calm: pastoral service.

Twenty plus years later I can tell you it has been a ride we never could have anticipated. So much so that only now do I feel equipped enough to share a few things I either lacked the clarity or courage to share until this season of life. I want to share the 10 things we as pastors don’t really want you to know about us. Now in doing so my aim is not to rat out my fellow pastors. Nor am I doing this so congregants sleep with one eye open regarding their leadership. My intention is precisely the opposite. I hope that from this:

  • Churches will pray all the more for their pastors because they understand the challenges.
  • Churches will be doubly grateful for the fact that so many pastors stay in the saddle despite their fears, hurts and frustrations.
  • People in churches will think twice before engaging in things that sink deep into the soul of their leaders.

Therefore I give a glimpse into what we as pastors don’t like to admit about ourselves.

#1. We Take It Personally When You Leave The Church.

It’s just a straight up fact. We pastors eat, drink and sleep the local church and with that have a deep desires to see it thrive. Therefore when you leave to another church because…

  • you’re bothered by a recent decision, but didn’t ask about it…
  • the new church has a bigger and better kids wing, youth group, worship team, building space, (fill in your blank)…
  • your friends started going there…

… it hits us personally.

For us it feels disloyal, shallow or consumer driven. People affirm that church is a family, thus when you up and leave because the church down the road has Slurpee dispensers, a fog machine or it’s just cooler, well it jams us pretty deep.

#2. We Feel Pressure To Perform Week After Week.

The average TV show has a multimillion-dollar budget, a staff of writers and only airs 22 weeks out of the year; that’s what we feel we’re up against. Where the pressure is doubled comes from the previous point. We know there are churches near by with a multimillion-dollar budget or a celebrity pastor who have the ability to do many more things at a much higher level. From this a sense of urgency is created in our mind to establish the same level of quality, option and excellence to meet the consumerist desires of culture.

Now if this were exclusively in the hopes of reaching new people this wouldn’t be so bad, but increasingly pastors feel the need to do this just to retain people who may be stuff struck by the “Bigger and Better” down the way.

#3. We Struggle With Getting Our Worth From Ministry.

When the numbers are up, the complements are flowing and the people are lively we feel great. When everything is level, it feels like it’s in decline. When things are actually in decline, it’s a full-tilt tailspin in our soul. We almost can’t help but equate the growth of the church with our ability/inability to produce growth. Therefore if there is any appearance of waning we feel defeated and wonder how long before the church board wises up and trades us to another team. The “Idol of Ministry” comes on and off the shelf pretty regularly in a pastor’s office.

#4. We Regularly Think About Quitting.

This comes in two very different forms.

One form is the variation of perhaps leaving ministry all together. While there are some really great things about vocational ministry, there are also less enjoyable realities such as: pastors’ families are noticed (i.e. judged) routinely, pastors’ purchases are observed (i.e. judged) overtly and pastors’ words are weighed (i.e. judged) consistently. Therefore the ability to hide among the masses and not be noticed is very appealing.

The second form comes with the desire for a change of scenery. Pastors are shepherds, thus we love greener grass even more than sheep. To leave for a bigger budget, better building or a place with less difficult people (yeah, we get delusional sometimes) stands out as lush Kentucky Bluegrass when contrasted with the dusty patch of ragged earth called “our current church.” This “Greener Grass Gawking” usually occurs when we become too proud (“My gifts are better than this place”) or too insecure (“I stink and just need to start over”) and flows from #3.

#5. We Say We Are Transparent – It’s Actually Opaque.

Today pastors are generally more open about their struggles than previous generations, but we still sense there is a threshold that is not to be crossed. People want open, honest and real, but not too much. Generally churches want just enough so they feel safe with you, but not so much that it spoils the expectations they have of you. Unfortunately the threshold is a blurry line by which pastors never know how much is too much until its too late. After a couple of infractions we learn that opaque is safe – even if it’s isolating.

When pastors’ wives are polled on how it feels to be the spouse of someone in full-time ministry the #1 answer is one profound word, “Lonely.” They are around hundreds of people every week, but they never feel they can let their guard down because they know people have opinions on how a pastor’s wife should be. Now I know people say they don’t, but literally every church I have served in has shared unflattering stories of the previous pastor’s wife. Many of these stories came from the spiritually mature leadership who considered the pastor and his wife to be their friends. The real irony comes in when later in the conversation I would be told, “But don’t worry, we don’t have any expectations on your wife. We just want to love on her.” Right! Now I don’t blame people for this natural human tendency, but being aware of how things are keeps you relationally opaque. And it’s not merely pastors and their wives who insulate. Pastoral families at large feel alone because there is a certain level of unknown expectations buried like landmines through the field of the church and so there is a constant mode of mostly transparent.

#6. We Measure Ourselves By The Numbers.

Numbers don’t matter! Yeah right. No matter how badly we want to slap that bumper sticker on our Ford the reality is that numbers matter to us. And they matter to us it part because they matter to God. The problem however goes back to #1-3. The absence of growth in our churches can cascade into an internal turmoil by which we begin to scrounge for “The Next Big Thing” that will bring “Radical Growth” “Guaranteed.” So we read books on how to be a “Deep & Wide, Vertical, Purpose Driven, Radical Reformission, Creature of the Word, Big Idea, Center Church.” Then we jet off to a conference with thousands of other pastors who are seeking to glean the secret of success. And what is the first question we ask one another between sessions? “So, how big is your church?” Yep, we measure ourselves by the numbers.

#7 We Spend More Time Discouraged Than Encouraged.

Occasionally people say to me, “Must be awesome to get paid to study the Bible all day.” Every time they do I think to myself, “Must be awesome to be able to give someone the finger on the 520 without people saying, ‘The pastor at Redemption Church flipped me off today during rush-hour.’” I’m not fully sure why that is the comment that flashes across my mental dashboard, but I think part of it stems from what I perceive to be the tone of the comment. Rightly or wrongly I infer they are saying, “Must be nice to have such a cush gig as a paid quiet-time.” In all honestly it is pretty awesome to be paid study the Bible, but it’s a major downer when people:

  • tell you – after 2 minutes of un-investigated reflection – that your 30 hours of study and 2 collegiate degrees were wrong.
  • tell you that they just couldn’t stay awake today during your sermon, but no offense. (How about I fall asleep at your kid’s graduation and we’ll call it even.)
  • tell you how you should have also said…
  • tell you how Pastor So-N-So says…

Aside from these particular examples I find that for most pastors it generally feels like the boat is taking on water more than racing with the wind – regardless of size or rate of growth. Lead pastors particularly suffer from this since much of their job is to focus on seeing things get better, which often translates into focusing on the broken, lacking or unfilled parts of the church more than enjoying what is right and working. Many of the most faithful and fruitful pastors in history have suffered deeply with anxiety and depression for the same reasons.

#8. We Worry About What You Think.

We’re human and we want to be liked. Therefore when we know we’re going to do or say something people won’t like, we worry about it. Now when I say that I don’t mean to infer that it causes us to avoid the hard things. There are some of my fellow pastors who avoid challenging topics or decisions out of fear of people, but most of the ones I run with still choose deliver the mail regardless of the popularity of its message. Yet we still worry about how you may take it.

#9. We Struggle With Competition And Jealousy.

We like to hold ourselves above the petty fray and reiterate, “It’s all about the Kingdom,” but in reality pastors are a competitive bunch. As soon as one pastor asks another, “How big is your church?” the game is on if the two churches are within 20 miles of each other (past 20 miles we lighten up a lot and think each other is pretty cool). Within 20 miles however we begin to assess one another’s style, focus, message, sophistication and marketing. We gauge to see if it’s a “Goldilocks Church” – not to deep, not too shallow, but just right (like us). If you’re too deep we benchmark you as internally focused. If you’re too shallow we brand you as consumer-driven. If however we conclude that you too are a “Goldilocks Church” we then figure out how our church is still better than your church. If you have lame amenities, we critique that you will never grow until you reboot that 70’s sanctuary. If you have awesome amenities, we criticize that you grow only because people are shallow and care more about stuff than Scripture.

Yes we know it’s not right. We know that it’s ego driven, but we still fall victim to it. We believe our church is the best church ever and we can’t understand why everyone doesn’t see it.

#10. We Feel Like We Failed You More Than We Helped You.

Most pastors will never be famous. Most churches will never break the 100 mark. Yet we all entered ministry to change the world and reach the masses. With this we know it is the expectation of churches that we accomplish this very thing. Every job posting reinforces the idea with the sentence, “We are looking for a man that will take our church to the next level.” Then when the next level isn’t hit in the way anticipated or within the timeline envisioned – we feel like we failed you. This is especially true in light of the reality that we are our own biggest critics. We came in with expectations higher than anyone in the church. You look to us for direction and when we feel like we failed to produce we feel like we failed you.

Grave Danger

FoamYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we began to look at the woe oracles. Jude mentioned Cain, Balaam, and Korah as examples of rebellious men that God judged. They were destroyed because of their actions that stemmed from an unrepentant heart void of Jesus Christ. Jude touched on those three men comparing their actions to the creepers and now he provides some graphic descriptions to help us understand the creepers even more.

Jude 12-13 says, “These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.”

In v. 12 Jude mentions three of the creeper’s dangers.  First, “These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast without fear.” That’s kind of a mouthful so we need to break it down. They are hidden reefs. Hidden reef may also be translated blemish, stain, or spot. The parallel verse in 2 Pet. 2:13 tells us the false teachers, “suffer wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you.” Love feast sounds like something out of the 1960s, but was common in the early church. A love feast typically involved sharing a meal with a group of Christ followers. Following the meal, the Lord’s Supper would be observed. The creepers were, “hidden reefs.” If it seems like Jude is mixing metaphors, he is. A hidden reef is extraordinarily dangerous to ships and their crews. On the surface everything looks great right up until you run into the reef that lies just below the water. On the surface, the love feast looks awesome and wonderful, but not all is as it seems. The creepers were hypocrites, pretending to be something they were not. Remember they denied Jesus Christ. They misrepresented God’s grace and yet they were sitting there acting like they’re just one of the disciples. They snuck in pretending to be something they were not with the intention to lead people away from the truth.

Second they, “feasted without fear.” They ate during the love feast even though their lives were not characterized by the love of Christ. Do you see people today engaging in things that are not biblical or godly and there is no sorrow, no shame, no guilt, or conviction?  Finally Jude goes on to say the creepers are, “Caring for themselves.” What’s so wrong with that, everyone needs to take care of themselves, right? Other translations have this phrase as, “shepherds feeding themselves.” This phrase is reminiscent of God’s words to Ezekiel in 34:2, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock?” The creepers had taken on a leadership role in the church even though they were not Christians. They looked like Christians, but their theology was unbiblical. How can one be a Christian yet deny that Jesus is the Christ? They were leaders that were unconcerned for the people they supposedly led, and they were in it only for themselves.

Jude now provides four illustrations of the creepers from nature. They were, “clouds without water, carried along by winds.” This area of the Middle East is dry and dusty. They need rain to sustain the people, the crops, and the animals. When we’re particularly dry, we anticipate the rain; we pray for the rain. We see the storm clouds come with the promise of rain, but the winds push the clouds away and when no rain falls; we’re left disappointed and discouraged. These creepers promised hope, but brought despair. They were, “autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted.” Yet another example of promising something, but getting nothing. Jude’s not talking about missing the opportunity to pick fruit and it’s all gone. He’s talking about a fruit tree that is supposed to produce fruit and does not. Try not to think about the beauty of the fall colors. That’s not the purpose of the tree; it’s supposed to produce fruit. Doubly dead is a bit more difficult to understand. It could indicate the second death after physical death. It could mean that no one expects a tree to produce fruit if it is no longer rooted in soil. It could mean the creepers produce no Christ like fruit in their lives. The precise meaning is unclear, but Jude is attempting to convey the utter hopelessness of following these men. They were, “Wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam.” Shame can also be translated indecent behavior which lines up with the fact that they defile or pollute the flesh from v. 8. Think of a time at the beach where the waves are really crashing and all this foam builds up. Jude is illustrating that the creepers leave behind something that is not appealing.   He may be thinking to Is. 57:20 that says, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up refuse and mud.”

Finally Jude says they are, “Wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.” Throughout history, the stars have aided people in finding their way. We know the wise men were guided by the star in the East to find the Christ child. (Matt. 2:9) Star comes from the same word that we get our English word asteroid and is also translated planet. Planets are not used for navigation because they orbit around the sun – a star. Stars are fixed in the sky; planets are not. If you want to get off course in a hurry, follow a wandering planet. That darkness points back to v. 6 and indicates wrath and judgment.

These creepers are bad news. Jude has gone to great lengths to graphically illustrate how these people are not what they appear. They snuck into the church without anyone noticing, but they should not remain this way. I wonder how many creepers are in the church today?

Don’t be a Victim

TruthYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week Peter told us that false teachers and false prophets were already among us. They’ve introduced heresy into the church and they even deny that Jesus is the Christ! The best way to combat false teaching is to be a student of God’s Word. This morning Peter elaborates on what these false teachers do.

2 Pet. 2:2-3 warns us, Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

Now that is truly disturbing. Don’t underestimate the impact false teachers can have on a congregation, a Sunday School class, small group, or other teaching type venue. Don’t think, well they’re just one person. The wrong person in a key position can cause damage that is very difficult to repair. This can also occur in one on one relationships. Peter says, “Many will follow.” He’s talking about Christ followers. Not just a few people will be deceived, but many. False teachers are like an infection. Unless treated, their heresy will spread. You need an antibiotic to cure an infection. False teaching needs the antibiotic of Scripture. You don’t go around pointing out the falsities: that takes too much time. You simply speak the truth in love.

What are the people following? They follow after the sensuality of the false teachers. Sensuality means behavior completely lacking moral restraint. The false teachers embrace licentiousness – a license to sin. If it feels good do it, after all, everyone else is. Most people are glad to follow someone like that. So what happens as a result? Here’s the progression. A false teacher teaches something contrary to God’s Word. A Christian falls for the false teaching because they’re too trusting, too naive  too gullible, too spiritually immature, or too ignorant to spot the error or too lazy to find out the truth. Acts 17:11 speaks about the Bereans that were more noble than the Thessalonians because they searched the Scriptures to see if what they were being taught lined up with God’s Word. You can’t know everything that’s in the Bible, but if you are an active student of God’s Word, you’ll know the character of God, you’ll have the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit, and you will, at the very least, be able to conclude if something just doesn’t sound right.

That’s bad enough, but Peter says, “Because of them, the way of the truth will be maligned.” The way of the truth Peter refers to is the Gospel.

  • In Ps. 18:21 David said, “For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.”
  • Is. 35:8, “A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it.”

Scripture is filled with verses that expect holy living. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (Jo. 14:6) How can a life not be transformed by the power of the Gospel? It can’t and that’s why the world points out inconsistencies and contradictions in Christians. “The way of the truth is maligned.” Maligned and blaspheme come from the same word. Unbelievers see our behavior and conclude, “What’s the point of following Christ if we all act alike?”

What motivates these false teachers? It’s just one thing. It’s not a desire to selflessly shepherd the flock. It’s not a desire to see others live authentically for Christ. It’s not the desire for people to discover truth for themselves and then live a life that reflects the glory of God. In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gekko declared that, “Greed is good.” That’s the same motivation these false teachers have. When we think of greed, we tie it to money, but it’s also a desire for power, or food. The Scriptures are filled with warnings regarding teaching and money.

  • Rom. 16:18, “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”
  • Paul told Titus these rebellious men, “Must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.” (Titus 1:11)
  • Paul told the church at Corinth, “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.” (2 Cor. 2:17)
  • The love of money is the root of all evil according to 1 Tim. 6:10.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.” Their greed drives them to, “Exploit you with false words.” They’re snake oil salesmen. They make stuff up that sounds good, sounds spiritual, but is not consistent with God’s Word. They are present in the religious sphere today. Like David, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel among others, we ask, “How long will the wicked prosper?” Peter is clear, “Their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” Don’t assume that since you don’t see judgment, God somehow approves of false teachers. A day is coming in which they will be judged. At the very least, they will be taken care of on judgment day. All their made up stories will be exposed, but it’s still best to be a student of God’s Word right now so you don’t fall victim to their slick words.

Don’t be fooled by people that will tell you what you want to hear.

The Warning

Maybe you want to listen to the podcast.

Last week we looked at Peter’s admonition to the young men to submit to the authority of the elders. We saw that humility is an essential factor in unleashing God’s grace on us. God really does care for us and we can throw all the cares of this world on Him and He will cover us with His mighty hand. This morning, Peter gives us a very stern warning.

1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

Get ready. Peter says, “Be of sober spirit.” This is a reminder of what he has said earlier in this letter. In 1:13, he said, “Keep sober in spirit.” In 4:7 he said, “Be of sound judgment and sober spirit.” In each of Peter’s warnings to be sober, he conveys the idea of being calm, being self-controlled, and temperate. He means for us to have a cool head. “Be on the alert.” Be on guard, be watchful, be careful, be vigilant. The second general order of a sentry in the Navy is to, “Walk my post in a military manner, keeping always on the alert, and observing everything that takes place within sight or hearing. The eleventh general order is, “To be especially watchful at night, and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority.” That’s the idea Peter is conveying in this passage. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Don’t let anything catch you by surprise. Keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t let your guard down, don’t be complacent. Remain alert and watchful.

What’s the reason for the warning? We are to be sober and be on the alert because, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The Bible is filled with word pictures and beautiful imagery to help us understand what it’s talking about and what it means. I believe this is an accurate, real world representation of what the devil is doing to Christians. What’s more disturbing than that though is that many Christians fail to realize it. The devil is your adversary. Adversary has a legal connotation. It means an opponent in a lawsuit. It also means enemy. It reflects the O.T. picture of Satan as the accuser of the brethren. In the book of Job, Satan is pictured as sort of a legal prosecutor of Heaven bringing accusations before the throne of judgment. Job 1:6-7 says, “Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.’” It looks like Satan was roaming the earth collecting evidence. Satan is not pursuing justice; he attempts to discredit God, His Word, and His works. In Zechariah’s vision, the Lord showed him, “. . . Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.”  (Zech. 3:1)

Now we come to a great example of Satan’s subtlety. I hope you’ll take the time to look up Matt. 4:1-11. In this passage we see just how crafty Satan is. He attacks Jesus’ deity, attacks everything that Jesus stands for. Satan’s subtly is evident in the way he quotes Scripture to Jesus. Satan is opposed to everything good and right and pure and holy that exists. He is against anything we do that is in obedience to God and His word.   Jesus handled Satan’s attacks over and over. In Jo. 12:31-32 as the cross of Calvary loomed ahead, Jesus said, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.  And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” In Lu. 10:18, Jesus told His disciples, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” Why is Satan so angry? Rev. 12:12 says, “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.” That’s why Satan is so formidable as an enemy. He knows his time is short and he doesn’t know when it will end. His anger against the Lord and those who love the Lord grows with each passing day. Sometimes Satan attacks the church from within by disguising himself as an angel of light. Jude told us, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”  (Jude 4) According to Rom. 16:20 we know the, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

In Ja. 4:7 we are reminded to, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” It’s not that we don’t have weapons to fight Satan, the danger is that we won’t resist the devil, that we won’t watch and pray, the danger is that we won’t heed the warnings of Scripture. The danger is that we won’t put on the whole armor of God and take up the sword of the Spirit. The danger is that too many Christians don’t think that Satan is real. A 2011 Barna study revealed that 56% of American Christians don’t believe Satan is real. If Satan is to be resisted, if we are going to stand against the devil, we have got to watch and pray; we have got to be vigilant.

“Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” There are some key things in this verse that you need to get a hold of. First, the devil prowls around. Prowl carries the idea of secrecy or moving about in darkness. It has the idea of moving about in a predatory manner usually in an unlawful manner. Second, the devil is like a roaring lion. The lion is a very cool animal. He is the king of the jungle, but there are some things you may not know about the lion that we can draw some very close comparisons to Satan. The lion is not a very fast animal – about 35 mph. His favorite meals are wildebeests and gazelles which can run about 50 mph. So how do lions catch dinner? Stealth. Lions are very good at hiding; they blend in well with their surroundings. They stalk their prey to get as close as possible and then run at them with a burst of speed. The lion surprises his food, catches them, and devours them. Satan roars like a lion to scare you, but he is tied to a chain held by Christ. Satan can tempt you, but “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”  (1 Cor. 10:13) Satan may be the prince of the power of the air and the lion may be the king of the jungle, but Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus is the King of kings. Fourth, the devil is seeking whom he may devour. He is on a mission.  He wants to destroy you. Devour gives us the idea of completely eating up. Satan wants to totally consume you. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

Peter has warned us and given the reason for the warning. Satan wants to defeat you, discredit you, and destroy you. Be aware of this and don’t be caught off guard.

Peter’s Shift in Age

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Last week Peter spoke of the elder as overseer and he talked about the nature of the elder. Elders are examples not just to God’s people, but to people everywhere. This week Peter closes out this section by speaking to younger men.

1 Peter 5:5-7 says, You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

Peter shifts from speaking about elders to the younger men, but what does younger mean? Some people get really hung on this phrase. Remember that Peter is writing to believers scattered across Asia. In 5:1 he speaks directly to the elders among the church. In light of this, it is likely that Peter is speaking to the younger men among the people as a specific age group. Why would Peter call out young men? The answer comes from what he says next. He says, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders.” Likewise – just like everyone else in the congregation. It’s a reminder to the younger men. Why them? Think about the young men you know. As a rule, are they compliant? This isn’t the first time Peter mentions the idea of submitting to authority. In 2:13, he told us to submit to every human institution. In 2:18, he told servants to submit to their masters whether they were good and gentle or unreasonable. In 3:1 and 5 he told wives to be submissive to their own husbands. The idea of submitting to others is not new. But it’s the younger men in particular that Peter reminds to submit to those in authority. There seems to be a rebellious streak in young men that may not be as prevalent in young women and Peter wants to be firm in his reminder to submit to those in authority. But it’s not blind obedience for any follower. We saw earlier that Peter told leaders not to use their authority as dictators. If teaching or guidance is given that is contrary to God’s Word, it shouldn’t be followed. At the same time, people should be inclined to follow the leadership and submit to their authority and not complain about everything that goes on.

Now Peter shifts again. “And all of you.” If there’s any doubt, he includes the entire congregation scattered about. “Those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (1 Pet. 1:1) Everyone who is reading this letter, who is having this letter read to them. “And all of you clothe yourself with humility.”  Smooth relations will exist in the church if we have a spirit of humility. If we simply have the attitude that everyone is important, things will be smooth. If we have the attitude that we’re all on a journey of discipleship, we’ll get along just fine. Problems can arise when someone wants to exercise some kind of power over another, or wants to dictate how something must be done, or gets upset if their idea isn’t adopted or supported. The foundation of Peter’s challenge is found in Prov. 3:34: Though He scoffs at the scoffers, yet He gives grace to the afflicted.” James quotes the same proverb in 4:6 of his letter. God is against the proud. It’s as simple as that.

Peter’s concludes by saying, “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on Him because He cares for you.” Let’s look at the first phrase. The “therefore” is there to tell us that since God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, we need to be humble. When we humble ourselves, we’ll experience God’s grace. We know contextually that believers are suffering through trials and persecutions and afflictions for their faith in Jesus who is the Christ. Believers are challenged to persevere regardless of their circumstances. We need to accept the suffering that God allows in our lives as part of His plan for our purification that Peter spoke of in 1 Pet. 4:7. He will lift you up at the proper time. When is that time? It may not be in this world, but we’re under God’s mighty hand.

The second phrase is one of the most often quoted verses in times of trouble. All you have to do, troubled Christian, is throw the cares or worries of this would to the Lord. It’s that simple! But too often, those words are hollow reminders of our inadequacy and we continue to worry over matters that are beyond our control because no one ever told us HOW to do that. Cast is a verb – an action word and it’s connected to the phrase humble yourselves. It tells us how to actually cast all your cares on Him. Here’s the relationship between the two. Believers humble themselves by casting their worries on God. If we continue to worry, then we are giving in to pride. How can anxiety and worry be characterized as pride? No one would argue that at the very least, worry could be a lack of faith, but pride? When we worry – also a verb – we’re convinced that we must do something to fix or control a situation. We’re trusting in ourselves. When we throw our worries to God, we acknowledge our trust in Him. We acknowledging that God is Lord and He is sovereign over everything. Peter knows the church is suffering; he knows they are under persecution and affliction. Casting your worries on God wouldn’t bring comfort if God wasn’t able to provide help in time of need. You wouldn’t tell someone your troubles or concerns that’s apathetic, cold hearted, or cruel. You wouldn’t do that because they don’t care. Giving your worry to God makes great sense, “Because He cares for you.” God is not indifferent and He’s not cruel. He has compassion on his children and will sustain them in every distress. Ps. 55:22, “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Affliction and trials will either drive you into the loving arms of God or will separate you from God. You think Peter doesn’t know a thing or two about pride? Peter told Jesus in Matt. 26:3, “Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you.” I’m sure Peter’s pride haunted him.

Regardless of your affliction or trials, God really does care for you. When you trust Him, you acknowledge His mighty hand, His power, His strength, and His sovereignty. When we humble ourselves before Him, it opens the floodgates for His grace to pour down on us.

The Elder as Shepherd

You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Last week Peter encouraged us with the fact that more trials are coming and we ought not be surprised about it. But he also said that judgment is coming and it will begin with the house of God. As we move to Chapter 5, Peter begins addressing a group we haven’t seen to this point.

1 Peter 5:1-4 tells us, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”

Peter talks about the elder as a shepherd and mentions the term elder here for the first time. He addresses the elders who are among you in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. He counts himself among them as a fellow elder. Peter exhorts them. This is an interesting word. It means to encourage or address in a manner of comfort and instruction. It was not a word that describes sternness or a command to obey. Peter says, “I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder.” Peter was an elder like those he was addressing. He did not approach them with the authority of his apostolic office. He did not use these words because he was the head of the church; or because, he had any pre-eminence over the other elders. Remember Alexander Haig? He was the Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. After the assassination attempt on March 30, 1981, Haig was quoted as saying, “I’m in control here.” Do you think Peter would he have used this language if he was the “head of the church” on earth?

Peter wanted the elders to understand that he was one of them, not over them, but a fellow elder. He speaks with humility and compassion. Remember, he just told them, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” Peter is concerned about the order and government of the church as well as submission and devotion. It is with this background that Peter speaks with the elders, those who are leaders, administrators, and judges in the church.

Let’s look at the term so we can get a better understanding of what it means. Eldership in the N. T. church followed the example that the Lord established for Israel. Gen. 50:7 speaks of elders in the house of Joseph. Elders of Moab and Midian are mentioned in Num. 22:7. Abraham’s servant is mentioned as having charge over “all that he owned” in Gen. 24:2. During the exodus from Egypt, the elders of Israel formed a definite group whose authority was recognized in Ex. 3:16-18. The ordinance of Passover was given to Israel through the elders as recorded in Ex. 12:3. Moses structured the government of Israel to include judges to govern groups ranging in size from 10 to 1000. 70 elders of Israel were granted a vision of God in Ex. 24 and were later filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied in Num. 11. Elders continued in a governing fashion during the exodus, through the exile period, and after exile. Each Jewish community had a council of elders or presbytery as mentioned in Luke 7.  In Chapter 20, Luke also mentions, “the chief priests and the scribes with the elders” in the temple confronting Jesus. When Christ made atonement for sin on the cross, His sacrifice eliminated the need for a priestly office, but the government of elders continued. Paul distinguishes the gift of rule and the gift of teaching when speaking of the functions of the office and ordained elders in the churches he planted. Administrators as well as teachers served the church. Jesus spoke of scribes that seemed to indicate these men were specially gifted in teaching and preaching. The ministry of teaching elders is emphasized in the New Testament, but Peter seems to emphasize the governing aspect of elders and likens an elder to a shepherd, a term that means feeding as well as oversight.

Elder comes from the Greek word presbuteros, which means elderly. Some denominations are governed by a group called the presbytery or elders. There are several words for the office of pastor that are used interchangeably in the New Testament. Each describes a different function of the office. Here, Peter concentrates on the shepherding aspect of an elder. Peter exhorts the elders to, “shepherd the flock of God among you.” Shepherd comes from the word poimaino. Peter knows about this word first hand. It is the same word that Jesus used to describe Peter’s responsibility to His sheep in John 21 when He called Peter. Shepherd covers two aspects of an elder’s responsibility. The first is feed which represents the real aspect of feeding.  It is providing nutrients. For the shepherd, it means leading the flock to green pastures. It means making sure the flock has everything necessary to ensure their physical well-being. The second aspect of shepherding addresses the care, guidance, and protection of the flock. A shepherd was to offer proper food for his flock and to govern it.  We call this exercising the office of pastor. It means, as a good shepherd provides for the wants and needs of his flock, the pastor of the church is to furnish food for the soul so the faith of believers may be strengthened. Notice the elder is shown as a shepherd leading his flock rather than a cowboy driving them. Sheep do not respond well to force and neither do the people in God’s flock.

It takes a special man to shepherd the flock. It can be discouraging and disheartening when the sheep don’t follow the lead. But you don’t quit. The sheep need proper nourishment.