Christianity 201

February 18, 2021

With So Many Saying So Much With Such Confidence…

by Clarke Dixon

My Mum often used an expression when playing the piano: “I’m playing the wrong notes with confidence!” Hearing so many Christian leaders say so many different, even contradictory, things, is it possible that many of us are “saying the wrong things with confidence”? Speaking with confidence doesn’t make things so.

Of course the internet is only making things worse. You don’t need too many clicks to hear differing voices on so many issues; do this, don’t do that, vote this way, vote that way, think this, thank that, and on it goes.

With so many confident, competing, and often less than complimentary voices, how do we know to whom we can listen with confidence?

In the days of Jesus there was no shortage of voices clamoring for people’s attention, leaders speaking with great confidence. There were the Pharisees, “listen to us, and let us become better than everybody else.” There were the Zealots, “listen to us, we are better than the Romans so help us kick these Romans out.” There were the Saducees, “listen to us, life is better with the Romans, so lets just get along with them.” There were the Romans, “listen to us, our Caesar is divine, we build great roads, and besides, if you don’t listen to us, we will crucify you.”

Among all these voices, another speaks up, it is the voice of Jesus:

Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it. . . . I myself am the shepherd.

John 10:1-5,11 (MSG)

There is one true shepherd we can follow with great confidence; Jesus.

In this passage Jesus is not just speaking about himself as the good shepherd, he is also speaking about the other leaders of the people. They were saying the wrong things with confidence. Even though they thought they had it right, they were so far off that Jesus called them sheep stealers and hired-men. We should note here that all these religious leaders thought that they were honouring God, and that by following them people would be honouring God. Even people who think they are honouring God may say the wrong things with confidence. Perhaps that sometimes includes you and me?

In fact, let us consider the Christian teacher, living or dead, that we hold in the highest regard, for whom we have the greatest respect. You likely have someone in mind, it’s probably not me. We have great confidence in what they tell us. Yet they likely got some things wrong and at some point have said the wrong things with confidence. Every Christian leader will stand before our Lord someday and have their theology corrected. That includes me, of course.

There is one true voice for the sheep to listen to, and that is the true shepherd. Am I as a pastor helping people hear his voice, or are people under my care only ever hearing my voice? I sometimes say the wrong things with confidence. We can always have confidence in Jesus.

We can listen to Jesus with confidence because he is the true shepherd, but also because he is the good shepherd:

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.

John 10:11-13 (MSG)

Even good religious leaders will try to protect themselves. We can imagine many pastors who, if they were pastors today, would be highly revered, yet in Germany in their day did not raise a voice against the Nazi regime. Perhaps some were blind to what was going on. No doubt some were quiet out of fear. Or we can imagine those who today would be known as great pastors and leaders, yet in their day they did not speak out against slavery. Perhaps some were blind to the sin of it, but we can be sure some kept quiet out of fear.

Jesus is the fearless shepherd, willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus is the fearless shepherd, willing to speak the true things that would get himself killed. He did put our well being before his own, he did lay down his life for us, for the forgiveness of sin and our reconciliation to God. He did fearlessly speak the truth and he did get killed for it. He is the Good Shepherd. We can listen to his voice with confidence.

Jesus is the true shepherd, Jesus is the good shepherd, Jesus is also the God-shepherd. What do we mean by that?

Let us consider these words from the prophet Ezekiel:

Then this message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty.

Ezekiel 34:1-4 (NLT)

The leaders, both religious and political, had done an awful job. They were supposed to be taking care of the people, but were taking care of themselves. Perhaps, sadly, that sounds like some religious or political leaders we can think of today?

Let us go on to consider the promise of God:

For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD

Ezekiel 34:11-15 (NRSV emphasis added)

It is in Jesus that the prophecy of Ezekiel 34 finds its greatest fulfillment. God has come to us, in Jesus. The LORD is our Shepherd and Jesus is the Shepherd. God, Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, takes care of the sheep like no one else can.

Since Jesus is the true shepherd, the good shepherd, and the God-shepherd, are we tuned into His voice? Or have we become too dependent on certain voices claiming to speak for him? There are many who help us hear the voice of Jesus, but there are none who can take his place.

The best way to learn someone’s voice is to spend a lot of time listening to them. Therefore we can seek to grow in prayerfulness. We can commit to attentive and thoughtful reading of the Scriptures, especially spending time with Jesus in the Gospels, paying attention to his teaching, but also the example of his life.

With so many saying the wrong things with confidence, let us tune in to the voice of Jesus.

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. The full sermon video for today’s devotional can be seen as part of this longer “online worship expression”)

December 3, 2020

It’s All a Mess, But There’s Hope!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

What a messed-up Christmas this is likely to be! Even more people than usual will be dealing with loneliness. Family and church traditions will be messed-up including carol sings. And of course, COVID-19 is not expected to take a holiday for the holidays. Then there are those who will spend Christmas in the hospital. In fact, this is not just a messed-up Christmas, it is a messed-up year.

This will not be the first messed-up Christmas. God’s people were in a big mess that very first Christmas. How did they end up there? God created humanity. Humans rebelled. God had a plan to reconcile humans to himself which included the calling of a special people, the Hebrew people known as Israel. God entered into a covenant with them, which if you are not sure what a covenant is, marriage is a covenant complete with covenant promises, known to us as vows. As is the case with marriage, there are consequences when one of the partners breaks the covenant. God’s people broke the covenant and as a consequence things did not go well, they went into exile. God promised restoration. Though an invading army had taken the people out of the promised land, He promised they would return. They did eventually return to the land, but it felt like God did not. First the Greeks invaded. Alexander the Great was not that great if you were Jewish. Then the Romans invaded. They were the ones in charge when Jesus was born. The Romans installed Herod the Great as the king, even though he had no right to the throne. Herod the Great was not that great either, if you were Jewish.

This was not how things were supposed to be. God had promised to bless Israel and to bless all peoples through Israel. But here were God’s people under the thumb of the Romans. The Romans were ever present, God seemed far away.

As often happens when people are in a mess, things get messy. When people are in messy situations, they tend to divide over how to deal with it. We see this in God’s people at the time of Jesus’ birth. Some were known as zealots. They were calling for everyone to rise up against the Romans and fight for freedom. Some were known as Pharisees. They were calling everyone to double down on being religious. Some, including those known as Sadducees, were calling people to accept the status quo. Then there were those like the Essenes, who had given up on everyone else and were trying to create their own, smaller, but better, community.

We see these four responses among people anytime things get messy. We see this today in nations, families, indeed any people group. I have seen it in churches:

  • “Pastor, we need to fight for what is right.”
  • “Pastor, we need ensure greater purity among our people.”
  • “Pastor, we need to just go along with the powers-that-be.”
  • “Pastor, I’m outta here.”

Perhaps you have heard these kinds of responses as well . . . or responded to messy situations in these kinds of ways.

With all the mess we are in and the mess we stir up in response, is there hope?

Isaiah predicted that the people would be in a mess following their exile. He had a message of hope for them, and for us:

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2 (NRSV)

If it felt to God’s people in Jesus’ day like the exile never really ended, that the covenant with God was broken forever, that God had finally walked out of the relationship completely; take comfort, He did not. The people are no longer suffering the consequence of breaking the covenant. God is still in love with people. God still has a plan of blessing.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 40:3-5 (NRSV)

If it felt to God’s people like they came back from exile, but God remained far away, they were to take heart, for God was on the way. Isaiah used imagery here of preparing for the arrival of someone very important to the city, making sure the road is suitable for the king.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Isaiah 40:6-8 (NRSV)

If it felt to God’s people like they would never get their act together, that their “constancy is like the flower of the field,” that they would never be that faithful people God deserves, they were to take comfort, for God’s promises still stand: “the word of our God will stand forever.” God is still on ‘plan A’ and God’s people are still part of ‘plan A’ even if they had trouble sticking to it.

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah 40:9-11 (NRSV)

Though the Romans seemed to be in charge, though the people were divided, God was on the way. God is powerful, and can deal with every mess created by every enemy. God cares for his people like a shepherd cares for a flock.

The message of Isaiah 40 was clear. Despite the mess, God was on His way.

Enter Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark does not contain the Christmas story. But it does begin with the fact of Christmas:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’ ”

Mark 1:1-3 (NRSV)

The Gospel writer goes on to tell us about John the Baptizer who prepares the way for Jesus. The message is clear. God is on His way, and through Jesus He is here. Merry Christmas!

The Gospels go on to connect Jesus with the Isaiah 40 passage, particularly the image of God coming as a shepherd:

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. . . . And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass.

Mark 6:34, 38-39 (NRSV)

When Jesus feeds the five thousand with just a few loaves and fish, the image of Jesus as shepherd is unmistakable. In fact when Jesus has the disciples make people sit down on the green grass we are even reminded of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;

Psalm 23:1,2a (NRSV)

Additionally, Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd in John 10:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:11 (NRSV)

The hope filled message of Isaiah, chapter 40, of God coming to us, and being a shepherd among us, is fulfilled in Jesus. He promises to be present with us always:

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:20b (NRSV)

With the mess we are in, where is our hope today? Is it found in,

  • fighting, and using violence in words or actions, like the zealots?
  • doubling down on being religious like the Pharisees?
  • acquiescing to the status quo like the Sadducees?
  • separating ourselves from the others like the Essenes?

Our hope is in walking with Jesus. He is the shepherd who will lead us through the mess, feeding us, binding up our wounds, carrying us, dealing with the enemy, even the greatest of enemies:

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:26 (NRSV)

When Jesus came into the world it was a very messed-up world. It was a messed-up Christmas. God’s people were in a mess and in trying to deal with it, they just made things messier yet. A baby was born on that first messed-up Christmas, and with him, hope was born.

Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. The full reflection (sermon) can be seen as part of this “online worship expression(online service). Previous posts by Clarke can be found here, or at

April 9, 2020

Jesus the Leader; The Good Leader

by Clarke Dixon

Click here to watch a 7-minute video of today’s devotional.

We have been seeing world leaders, from Prime Ministers and Presidents, to mayors and health officials, take to tv to lead us in our response to the COVID-19 crisis. As they take centre stage, we see what kind of leaders they are.

These leaders have reminded me of my own leadership journey which began with an excruciatingly shy and extremely quiet boy. Loving airplanes as I did I joined Air Cadets as a young teen. One year in, and having achieved the lowest rank of “leading Air Cadet,” we moved to a new town, which meant joining a new squadron. This was a brand new squadron, with a very successful launch, meaning many new recruits. Despite my one year of experience, and despite being the lowest rank possible, I suddenly found myself as one of the most experienced and highest ranking! I was placed over my own “flight” of cadets and immediately had to start training and teaching these new recruits. This excruciatingly shy, inexperienced and low raking cadet was instantly identified as a leader! And lead I did! I have often said that I would not be a pastor today, if it were not for Air Cadets. However, my quietness and shyness would forever colour the kind of leader I am, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem, he does so in a way that indicates he is a leader. In fact, he is the leader!

This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,
“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
‘Look, your King is coming to you.
He is humble, riding on a donkey—
riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

Matthew 21:4-5 (NLT)

In entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus indicates that he is not just a teacher and miracle worker, he is the king! Pontius Pilate seemed to be in charge, but in fact Jesus is the rightful king.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem in a way which also indicates what kind of king he is. Many leaders throughout history have thought that leadership is about power, and brute force. Where I come from we have an expression, “brute force and ignorance.” Some leaders lead with that! Jesus rides on a donkey and not a war horse. He brings peace, not war. He does not need brute force. There is a gentleness to Jesus, a humility, an approachability. He is a ruler who really cares for the people, as anyone who experienced his teaching and miracles could tell you.

Speaking of miracles, Jesus gives another hint to the kind of king he is:

Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass.

Mark 6:35-39 (NLT emphasis added)

Does that miracle remind you of another Bible passage?

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

Psalm 23:2 (KJV)

We are reminded of Psalm 23. In saying “The Lord is my shepherd” king David is saying “God is my king. I might be the leader of the people, but God is my leader.”

David knows what kind of a sovereign God is. God is a great king, a leader that cares for him. The kind of king who . . .

  • provides for my needs (verse 1)
  • makes me lie down in green pastures (verse 2)
  • restores my soul (verse 3)
  • leads me in paths of righteousness (verse 3)
  • is with me, capable of dealing with any enemy (verse 4)
  • cares for me in the face of adversity (verse 5)
  • promises his presence forever (verse 6)

Jesus goes on to say that he, himself is the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep in John 10:11. Jesus is later described as the shepherd who even leads beyond death into eternal life in the Book of Revelation:

They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:16-17 (NLT)

What kind of leader is Jesus? The leader with authority, even over life and death, yet the leader who is humble enough to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. The kind of leader you can approach. The kind of king who is not just kind and generous to his subjects, but who desires to adopt them into his royal family. The kind of leader willing to forgive.

David said “the Lord is my shepherd” Is the Lord your shepherd?

This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced our regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. The full worship expression can be seen here. For now, all Clarke’s sermons are “shrunk sermons”! For a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here.

June 15, 2010

If I Could Sit With You

This is from the blog, 300 Words a Day by Jon Swanson

If I could sit with you, I would tell you that sometimes we can hear God talking and sometimes we can’t. I would tell you that when we hear him talking, you don’t actually hear anything with your ears. I would tell you that you hear it anyway, that is probably isn’t an essay, it’s probably just a couple words. But you know when it’s God.

If I could sit with you, you would ask me how you know for sure. Because, you would say, all the time you have thoughts that you think could be God talking, but you want to be sure they aren’t wishful thinking. Especially when those thoughts are telling you how stupid you are. Especially when those thoughts are too convenient and fun.

Then I would tell you about a shepherd, one that never calls sheep stupid.

Think about a shepherd who spends time around his sheep, talking enough that they know his voice enough to recognize it. They have heard that voice talking to the sheep around them. They have heard that voice talking to assistant shepherds. They have heard that voice talking to them, calling them by name.

How would a sheep be confident about the voice of the shepherd? By knowing that there are strangers who wander by. By knowing that there are hired hands who don’t really care. By knowing that it is important to listen. By spending as much time listening to that voice as possible, listening for tone of voice, for topics, for style of talking, for consistent concern with sheep welfare.

Then I would ask how much time you and I spend actually listening, reading letters, reading stories, being open to hear. We may not hear much, but we will hear more clearly than if we never listen.