February 21, 2011 Devotion Sharing

Consider the fact that God describes His people as His flock, and that he charges human “shepherds” to care for them.  What does this tell us about the nature of Christian community? The fact that God describes His people as His flock and that he charges human “shepherds” to care for them tells me that within the Christian community there are those that are given responsibility to care for others, that is there are leaders who are to specifically to be concerned about the welfare of others in the church. In the church, not everyone is equal. Just as it says in Ephesians 4:11-12, there are some who are called to have different roles in the church to prepare God’s people for works of service and to build up the body of Christ. In addition it says in Hebrews 5:12-13 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 that there are those who are less mature in Christ and need to grow. And so there are different levels of spiritual maturity within the body of Christ. This doesn’t mean anything in terms of salvation or God’s love for each person within the body of Christ; God loves everyone and anyone who confesses that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior receives salvation. Everyone still belongs to His flock. And so in the church, people have different levels of spiritual growth. This means that within the body of Christ, I have different responsibilities relative to those around me based upon our relative spiritual maturity. Towards those that I am more spiritual mature, I am to be a shepherd and help and guide them towards growth. I have a responsibility towards them. I can teach them from my experience and show them how to take steps of faith and to grow in their relationship with God. I am to “care for” and “feed” them. And then towards those who are more spiritually mature, I need to be “cared” for by them. I need to be humble and learn from their experience and spiritual maturity. I have a lot to learn and can grow a lot from their wisdom and teaching.

What words from the text describe what should motivate the shepherd? Ezekiel 34:5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  The sheep that were not cared for by the shepherd and were scattered “became food for all the wild animals.” This is strong motivation for me to be a shepherd for people and to gather those who are lost around me and share with them the Gospel. As I think about the students I am ministering to and that I’ve met around campus, there are so many forces out there that seek to devour and consume people. Media pressure regarding physical appearance, societal pressure regarding image and coolness, peer pressure regarding partying, drinking, and drugs, feelings of isolation that lead people to addictions to internet and media, family or internal pressures regarding career and academics, etc. All of things have the power to consume people and to take their lives away. I’ve seen people’s lives broken by these forces that are out there. Indeed the thief only comes to “steal and kill and destroy” and those that have not found Christ are the most vulnerable.

John 21 “Feed my sheep.” “Take care of my sheep.”  Jesus commands me to feed his sheep and take care of them. Obeying God and a desire to honor him is motivation for me as a shepherd. Indeed, the second most important commandment is to love my neighbor and so I must go out and love those around me as God loved me. 2 Cor 5:14 says that “Christ’s love compels us” to love others around me and 1 John 4:7-8 says that if I know God then I would love those around me.

1 Peter 5:2-3 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  One motivation for the shepherd should be the fact that the flock has been entrusted to him. Each shepherd has been given the responsibility to care for a flock and he should fulfill this obligation. Whenever I am entrusted with a responsibility of course I want to fulfill that responsibility. It’s not because of abstract reason to just fulfill some duty, but because someone has entrusted me with this responsibility. Someone must have given the shepherd the sheep he was to be responsible for and so because of that relationship, he should feel obligated to fulfill it. And so the samething is true with me. As I have been entrusted with the responsibility over specific people (students, spouse, ministry team members) I must fulfill it because of the relationship I have with the one who gave me this responsibility. And ultimately, it is God who gave me this calling to care for them. He trusts me to care for them and that’s an amazing calling. I think about myself and the kind of sinner I am and how hard it is for me to love others and I don’t think I can do it. But God wants to elevate me beyond my sinfulness and will sanctify and purify me so that I CAN and WANT to love those around me. And so this is another motivation for me to fulfill my calling as a shepherd to those around me.

Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  What motivates the shepherd in the Great Commission is the fact that Jesus says he will be with him “always.” The shepherd doesn’t go out and make disciples of all nations on his own or by his own power, this would be daunting and overwhelming. Rather, he receives the support, strength, and encouragement of Jesus and his presence. As a minister, doing God’s work can feel very challenging and overwhelming. There are just so many people that need to be saved and so many obstacles. But having Jesus at my side encourages and motivates me to continue to preserve despite the difficulties I face.

What tasks and responsibilities are the shepherds charged with? The shepherd is charged with taking care of the flock, prioritizing the flock over himself, feeding the flock, serving the flock, and growing the flock. God entrusts and calls the shepherd to be responsible over the entire welfare of the flock. The shepherd is to consider the flock more important than himself and to give greater concern for its welfare than over his own. As I am called to be shepherd, what does this mean for my own life? I have been called to bring people to God and share the Gospel with them. I’ve personally been called to Minnesota to share the Gospel with the people that I meet here. The people that I meet at work or on campus or around the apartments I live at are all people that God has asked me to take care of. And the people that are coming to church or our fellowship group, I am to disciple them and help them grow and mature as Christians. I am to feed them God’s word, teach them to obey His commandments, and to show them what a life given to God looks like. And all of this means being other-centered in life. Other people need to take greater priority in my life. When I am tired or feeling like being alone, but there is a student that needs to ministered to or a fellow minister that needs help, I need to deny myself and fulfill this responsibility to care for those around me. This is the responsibility that I have as a shepherd of God’s people.

Consider Jesus’ final command to his disciples (the “Great Commission,” as Christians call it) in light of the rest of the passages.  What is the difference between “teaching them” and “teaching them to obey”? The difference between “teaching them” and “teaching them to obey” is that the latter requires more personal interaction. Teaching people something is fairly straightforward, you tell them the truths behind some concept and make sure it’s clear in their mind and then let them go. These sorts of things can be learned. You teach things to people at school, at work, etc. in this way. You give them a manual or a textbook and people can learn from them. Teaching people to obey, however, especially in the context of the church, means something different. It means demonstrating it and living it out and showing them the validity of obeying. Showing them what it means to obey God because the commands of the Bible need to be played out in real life. It’s not just some “fire-and-forget” sort of thing that often comes with academic-style teaching where the teacher just tells formulas and equations and people just “learn” it. Rather, obeying God needs to be shown in concrete ways. And this is what it means to disciple another person, and in this context, what it means to be a shepherd. The shepherd needs to show the way for the sheep to go and I need to be that kind of example if I am to teach those around me to obey God.

How do these passages answer the question of Christian priority?  i.e., what must be our highest, most urgent priority? According to these passages, the highest priority for the Christian is other people. The most urgent priority in my life should be the lost sheep of this world who are going to be devoured by the “wild animals” out there. Jesus calls me to make disciples of all nations and that is what I should be focused on. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that I should take care of myself and love myself over others. In fact, there are many verses that tell me to deny myself and to love others instead. As a person who’s eternity has been settled through the cross and Gospel message, I am now free to focus on the salvation of other people’s souls. There are many souls out there that need to be saved. My heart needs to be broken by the needs of those out there. And to be honest, for me it’s hard at times to have that kind of sensitivity and concern for others. I can get so caught up in my own little world of work deadlines, household chores, life responsibilities, and my own selfish desires. But as I strive to obey God’s commands and go out and interact with people out there, I hear people’s stories and that’s what causes my heart to soften and to break. It’s things like Valentine’s Day of Compassion and meeting an elderly gentlemen who can’t get out of the care center that much or meeting a student at the cafeteria who is a junior and doesn’t have any friends to hang out with and just surfs the Internet in his free time or to hear about a student who’s going through a difficult time that comes from a broken family whose parents are going through a divorce that get me to think about others. Thinking about these kinds of people softens my heart and gets me thinking outward instead of inward. These people need to hear the Gospel and how God loves them and wants them to have an eternal relationship with them. And sharing that message needs to be my highest priority.

APPLICATION

Today’s text challenges me to re-prioritize my life and to become more other-centered as a shepherd and a minster of the Gospel. There are many people out there who don’t know God and it’s my responsibility to go and share the Gospel with them. As a recipient of the Gospel, I am free to now live for other people. My salvation is guaranteed and I don’t have to worry about things in this world. However, there are many others out there who I need go out and “feed” and “take care of.” I cannot allow my self-centered tendencies to prevent me from thinking about myself only. I need to be thinking about the needs of others around me and to be that shepherd in people’s lives. For the younger Christians around me, this means being a model and example of them. I need to spend time with them, interacting with them, getting to know them, working together with them, and modeling the truths of the Gospel that I’ve come to learn. I cannot follow my natural desire to be by myself when I am tired or just to read a book on my own during my free time. God calls me to be a shepherd and to help those Christians around me grow and mature. And for the non-Christians around me, I need to also spend time with them developing my relationship with them and sharing biblical truths with them in a winsome and attractive manner. My life needs to be that living testimony of what a life given to God looks like. This may take time to work through the hang-ups they may have towards Christianity and to develop that kind of trust and relationship. But it needs to be done if I am to share the Gospel with them. In addition, I need to spend time finding non-Christians and developing these kinds of relationships with them. There are non-Christians at work and on campus and I can definitely invest more time into these relationships so that I can one day share the Gospel with them.

Submitted by Andrew Iskandar
Gracepoint Minneapolis


I just returned from a packed weekend. It was not what we had originally planned. We had originally planned for a morning departure, full day and night Saturday and then return Sunday for service. But our plans did a last minute adjustment to make room for the un-planned on passing of sister Christine’s grandmother on Wednesday. For that, we planned for a funeral Saturday morning and shortened our Sierra Lodge trip with our college students.

Yet, this was a small snapshot of what it took to take care of God’s people. First of all, it meant that my time, agenda, schedule was driven and determined by the needs of others. Going on a SL weekend for a snow play for the sake of bonding was for the sake of taking care of the students given under us. Adjusting that and holding a funeral at the last minute was also taking care of God’s people. As a minister of God’s people for many years, I’m learning to be led by the needs of others.

The funeral brought back memories of the many we held for our church members there. There have been many unexpected hospital visits we had to race to, and people we had cried out for as they lay dying. It reminded me why I, like many other leaders at our church, have experienced my days getting completely re-arranged by a phone call about someone that required that I drop everything else.

If we look at this from the perspective that here I am volunteering my time to serve God, then one might think that I’m doing quite a bit for God and for His people. Yet, if my identity is being the shepherd for God’s flock, then it’s simply what is expected in that role, nothing grandiose or dramatic about it. Isn’t this what a shepherd is only supposed to do?

Going further, if I were to examine my time and energy spent on whether I have searched out for the lost, those who have scattered, and whether I have actively bound up the wounded and healed the injured, then I fall woefully short.

So, when do I become a negligent shepherd as described in Ez 34? For me, I think it’s when I get dull to the message of John 21, the fact that it was Jesus who forgave me and called me to feed His sheep. It’s when I get dull to the fact that His ask of me to express my love for Him is to love His people to the point of complete self-death, to the end, as He did.

We had recently visited a Convalescent home. When people get elderly, they truly do need help to be fed, to be led, and often they have very little say in where they can be. But Jesus was not talking about this kind of helplessness that comes with old age. He was referring to a man who could yet choose not to do whatever he wanted to. He was referring to dying to self and submitting to going where he did not want to go – in short, a life of cross bearing, of following in His footsteps.

It’s easy to get comfortable with the level of service I give to God today, because my days do often get filled by the needs of His people. But, I need to be calibrated properly against the Bible’s definition of a shepherd, not my own or even others who do less than I. I need to return to the piercing Words of Ezekiel 34, where I have to do the honest business with God and see whom and how have I neglected those in need. I need the Word of God, and the community of God that also calibrates against the truth so that I can accurately examine myself and not be deluded.

Otherwise, the consequence is that I allow God’s people to scatter as if they have no leader, or that I lord it over them without willingness or love, thereby leading them even further astray. I am so thankful, first that Jesus gives me this incredible privilege and trust to entrust His people under my care. Secondly, I am so grateful that He keeps me grounded to the truth and reality by His Word, so that I can truly love Him.

Submitted by Ahmi Kim
Gracepoint Berkeley

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