Christianity 201

August 24, 2021

Long Distance Pastors

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
 – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

Last night at suppertime for the entire meal, the discussion around our table centered around a West Coast pastor who is planting a church in the Great Lakes region. I know this pastor, follow him on Twitter, and have read and reviewed his books. I understand how people gravitate to his style of teaching.

Most of what we call church growth is actually transfer growth. While some people say the one area of true growth is in fact, new church plants, most of the people supporting this new venture will be leaving another church. Were they planning this, or it more of a desire to be part of something new and fresh? Were they serving in their former congregation and are now leaving a vacancy? The launch meetings for the new church are free, but are ticketed events, which are sold out. What will be the impact on nearby churches?
It also amazes me that his West Coast leaders would sense a need in a place which, a century ago, was called “a city of churches.”

Many of our modern translations render the word pastor as shepherd. The requirements of pastors (plural) are therefore the requirements of shepherds (singular). The leadership of the multi-site church launching half a continent away would argue that there are local shepherds in place who will tend the flock. But it’s the teaching pastor who will ultimately draw many people to the church.

I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD.
 – Jeremiah 23:4 NIV [The NKJV, ESV and others render missing as lacking.]

One person said that the best small groups are those where you can’t actually tell who is in charge. While that may work for small groups, and while churches with a plurality of leadership are often good and healthy, it’s clear that God’s intention is that in each local expression of the body of Christ, there is someone who is “over them.”

By separating out the roles of teaching pastors from the scriptural idea of shepherds we create situations such as exist in several megachurches in the southern U.S., where after 5-10 years of attending, it occurs to people that they’ve never met their lead pastor, shaken his hand or exchanged any words. Further, these pastors don’t do weddings, funerals, home visits or hospital visits.

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.
 – Acts 20:28 CSB

For many years we were part of a church where the pastor excelled at teaching, but also was diligent about staying in touch with people through various contexts. Granted, it was a smaller church, but I always felt that his mid-week contacts earned him the right to be heard on Sunday mornings. I felt his intimate knowledge of the congregation informed his preaching. It made what would have been good scripture exposition better.

“Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you knowledge and understanding.
 – Jeremiah 3:15

That’s just not possible when you have delegated funeral, wedding and visitation responsibilities to other staff members, although in the case of my West Coast example, he does seem to be able to have those interactions there, but I’m not sure how he replicates this when the other church is thousands of miles away.

Furthermore, I Peter 5:2 seems to indicate that this should be the desire of the pastor. The same character traits and attributes which flow through their DNA in the calling to this service, should also apply to their willingness to embed themselves in the life of their flock for the period where they serve that particular church, in that particular place for that particular time. Peter writes,

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
– I Peter 5:1-14

Elsewhere, as in I Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 we see the more commonly discussed requirements of church leaders (elders) which includes pastors. There is a strong emphasis in those passages on character and ethics. But today, I wanted to focus entirely on the idea of pastors having a heart for individual people, not crowds, and a deep working knowledge of their situations and the issues which are on their minds.

Know well the condition of your flocks,
and give attention to your herds

Be diligent to know the state of your flocks,
And attend to your herds
– Proverbs 27:23 ESV and NKJV

There’s nothing wrong with sitting under the best Christian Bible exposition that is available, but we mustn’t confuse this with the role of pastor, which isn’t something which can be done long-distance.

 

 

 

December 22, 2019

The Tower of Flock and the Birth of Jesus

Recently I reconnected with a longtime friend who is now working for Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. While checking out their website earlier today, I discovered their blog and the article below. Its author Bruce Scott is the director of Program Ministries at The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry and is the author of The Feasts of Israel: Seasons of the Messiah. Click the header below to see the article in full — which deals with context, cultural conditions and historical background in interpreting this type of text — of the following is a portion:

The Jewish Life of Jesus

What Is the Tower of Flock?

We read in Genesis 35:19-21, “So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

The phrase “tower of Eder” literally means “tower of flock.” In those days when a flock of animals, particularly sheep, were being cared for and watched, the shepherd would oftentimes be in a tower overlooking his flock, keeping an eye out for bandits or wild animals. This particular tower of the flock was near Bethlehem of Judea, and it was here that Jacob pitched his tent after Rachel died.

The only other place in the Old Testament where the Hebrew phrase “tower of flock” is found is Micah 4:8:

And you, O tower of the flock,
The stronghold of the daughter of Zion,
To you shall it come,
Even the former dominion shall come,
The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.

Targum Jonathan (an ancient Aramaic translation) sees the word “tower” in this verse as referring to the Messiah, and the word “flock” as referring to Israel. It therefore translates the beginning of the verse as, “And you, O Messiah of Israel . . . .”

Based on these verses, therefore, later Jewish tradition taught that when the Messiah would come, He would be revealed from Migdal Eder, the tower of the flock (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen. 35:21).

No Ordinary Shepherds

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the Scriptures say, “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Lk. 2:8). What is interesting about these shepherds is that according to Jewish law, small animals from herds and flocks were not allowed to be raised in the land of Israel because they could damage people’s fields (Mishnah, Baba Kamma 7.7; Demai 2.3; Talmud, Sukkah 29a; Midrash, Exodus Rabbah 2.3). They were, however, allowed to be raised “in Syria or in the wildernesses that are in the Land of Israel” (Mishnah, Baba Kamma 7.7).

But in Luke 2:8 it states “in the same country,” meaning the same region of Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching their flock. If there was a prohibition against keeping flocks so near a community with cultivated fields, why were these shepherds in the same region as Bethlehem?

When you learn the value of these [Jewish] contexts, they will richly enhance your understanding of the Scriptures.

One explanation could be that by the phrase “in the same country” Luke meant a wider territory than first thought, a territory that included a nearby wilderness area used for keeping sheep.

Another explanation could be this. The rabbis taught that if a male sheep, one year old or younger, had strayed and was found one month before Passover roaming around in the area between Jerusalem and Migdal Eder, or the area equidistant from Jerusalem to Migdal Eder in any direction, then the sheep could be used for sacrifice at Passover (Mishnah, Shekalim 7:4). The inference is that sheep found anywhere from Migdal Eder near Bethlehem to Jerusalem were most likely used for Temple sacrifices.

Therefore, could it be that the shepherds watching over their flock by night when Jesus was born were not ordinary shepherds? Instead, could it be they were shepherds specifically hired to watch sheep that were destined for sacrifice?

If so, then how appropriate it would be that God should first reveal the arrival of the Messiah to those particular shepherds near the tower of the flock not far from Bethlehem. And how appropriate that these shepherds wanted to go to Bethlehem and watch over the baby Jesus, lying in a manger, who was destined to be, as the Lamb of God, the ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice that would take away the sin of the world.

100 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! If you’re already a WordPress blogger and want to consider being an editor here, let me know. In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

 

December 23, 2017

Joy in the Christmas Narrative

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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All week long our friends Stephen & Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement (dailyencouragement.net) have been looking at the theme of joy in the Advent narrative. Here are highlights from the series with a link to each day’s full article.

Day One – Mary & Elizabeth

…In a loud voice she [Elizabeth] exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you [Mary] among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!’” (Luke 1:39-45).

…John was just six months along but made his presence felt by his mother when leaping in her womb. He had also heard Mary’s greeting and apparently had some Spirit-given knowledge of the significance of that greeting. The experience resulted in Elizabeth being filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Scripture highlights her excitement with the phrase, “In a loud voice she exclaimed.”

What follows is a powerful Scriptural assertion of the sanctity of life. Christ had been supernaturally conceived only a short time before this. He was at most only weeks old.

Yet Elizabeth said to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Notice that she identifies Mary as “the mother of my Lord”. Even at this early stage in prenatal development Mary is a mother! …

Day Two – John the Baptist

“He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:14).

…[T]he verse actually isn’t referring to Jesus but to John! (Check the context in Luke 1:5-25). Zechariah and Elizabeth had not had their own children. The Bible informs us that, “Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old” (Luke 1:6,7).

But God had other plans for them and, like Abraham and Sarah, they became parents long after Elizabeth’s barren child bearing age had passed. Today’s text was an angelic assurance to Zechariah from Gabriel.

“He will be a joy and delight to you.” After John’s birth, recorded in Luke 1:57-66, the focus of the gospel turns to Jesus and we have no record of John’s infancy or childhood. Surely Elizabeth had some help from a younger relative or house maiden during John’s terrible two’s stage. However Zechariah had received a promise that John would be a joy and delight and we are sure he was!

“And many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” Indeed at the time of John’s birth he created quite a stir. Luke 1:65,66 tells us “All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, ‘What then is this child going to be?’ For the Lord’s hand was with him.”

The final childhood reference to John states, “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel” (Luke 1:80).

Day Three – The Announcement

“In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, 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'” (Luke 2:8-10).

Joy is the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between himself and the Lord. That can and should be our experience.

The very heart of the gospel is the message the angel proclaimed to the shepherds as expressed in Luke 2:10, “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people”. Just consider the aspect of “great joy” these lowly shepherds received in the message of the Gospel. It was certainly a night unlike typical night watches where shepherds move about in the dark, gathering stragglers and keeping watch for predators and other dangers.

This event had none of the normal trappings we associate with joy today. It wasn’t available to just the Hollywood elite, the intellectual, the wealthy, or the big name politicians. The joy the angel spoke of wasn’t related to flashy consumer goods; there was no big sweepstakes giveaway, no great buy at the mall.

Instead the angel spoke of joy that originates from an entirely different source. This great joy is the result of the birth of Jesus who came to save all people who ask forgiveness for their sins. The angel’s message went on to proclaim, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”

The joy we have in Christ is:
1. A great joy.
2. A lasting joy.
3. A pure and holy joy.

Day Four – Those Filled With Re-Joy-Cing*

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).

Careful consideration of Scripture actually reveals that the wise men who followed the star arrived some time after Christ’s birth. They had first seen the star while in the east and had traveled to Jerusalem to inquire regarding the exact place of Christ’s birth. In the verse following today’s text we read that the Magi came “into the house” (Matthew 2:11).

Just who these wise men (or Magi) were remains a mystery. Possibly they were among those from the Jewish line who stayed in the East (present day Iran) following the Exile or perhaps they were proselytes who were very familiar with the Messianic promise.  After receiving the information that Christ was to be born in Bethlehem they went there with a specific purpose – to worship the Christ Child.

For some reason, after initially seeing the star in the east, it was no longer seen for a period until after they had been to Jerusalem and were on their way to Bethlehem. (Compare 2:2 with 2:9,10.)

These men were earnest seekers. The journey from the east to Jerusalem was likely long and hard, but they were persistent. It was the reappearance of the star on the way to Bethlehem that prompted the response described in the KJV when they “rejoiced with exceeding great joy”. The apparent redundancy in the English is an attempt to convey the richness of emotion that Matthew uses four Greek words to express. The Amplified says, “thrilled with ecstatic joy.”

Why were they filled with such great joy? After all, at this point they had not yet seen Jesus (read the text carefully). Clearly, it was the reappearance of the star that prompted their joy. It reassured them that this was the real thing and also gave them the ability to continue their journey to find the Christ child.

I believe we have here an example of how God reveals Himself to the earnest seeker. They had seen the star while in the East and then went to Jerusalem by faith. The reappearance of the star on their way to Bethlehem gave them an assurance that their seeking was not in vain!

At times the light of God’s guidance is remarkably clear like the star seen by the wise men while in the east. At other times God’s leading is less clear, such as when the guiding star was no longer visible. But like these wise men, as earnest seekers, we walk by faith and obedience to God’s Word.


*my title, not Stephen & Brooksyne’s!  I encourage you to click that particular link and read this one in full.