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Author Topic: The Good Shepherd  (Read 3687 times)
Joe Sperling
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« on: February 28, 2009, 01:52:02 am »

I recently was having a discussion regarding our Christian walk, and a discussion regarding the
Good Shepherd came up, and the following came to mind:

The Good Shepherd (speaking to a large group of sheep following him):  "Dear ones,  I paid it all for
you on the cross.  All you need to do is follow me. I am not promising the journey will be easy
at all times.  There will be rough patches we need to cross through, and valleys that may be very
dark and dreary at times,  but just follow me and listen to my voice. Remember, your arriving at
the great REST is not dependent on you, but dependent on ME alone. I warn you, if you are disobedient and stray, you will hurt yourselves, but as the Good Shepherd, I will not fail to find you and lead you home. I promise, that not one of you that the Father has given me shall fail to make it all the way safely home on this journey".

So, the Shepherd and the sheep begin to journey, but some of the sheep following behind begin to get some new ideas.

Legalsheep:  "Hey, everyone, listen to me.  I have a list here of several things we all need to do to assure that we do not fail on this journey. This is going to be very hard work.  I have put together a list of meeting times for all of us to get together, and also another list of stewardships and other works we need to be doing to keep ourselves busy.  We don't want to wind up straying away from the Shepherd.  There is great reward in that place of rest, and we need to make sure that we are being obedient at all times, lest we fail to enter that blessed place".

Littlesheep:  "But didn't the Good Shepherd say that ALL that the Father has given him shall make it to that blessed place? That none can take us out of his hands?"

Legalsheep:  "You weren't listening Littlesheep.  Didn't he warn us that if we were disobedient we would get hurt?  That is all the more reason for us to be diligent to go to all the meetings, and do all the things we need to do to keep ourselves in favor with the Shepherd. We need to show ourselves approved of him by being as very faithful as we can.  I can think of no other way to stay faithful than to be doing as much as we can to please the Good Shepherd, and he is very pleased with us for doing so!"

LittleSheep: "But I thought the Good Shepherd said that all we needed to do was follow him, and listen to his voice.   And by the way, since you have been talking so much Legalsheep, it appears we are falling further and further behind the Good Shepherd".

Legalsheep:  "Actually, Littlesheep, since we are doing what is right we are actually closer to the Good Shepherd than the rest of the flock is. Because they think the Christian walk is some "easy grace-filled experience" they have fallen way behind, and are not the faithful Christians we know we are due to our good works.  I want to let you in on a little secret----only a few are really going to make it into the great "REST".  Only those who have been faithful and true, and have labored and toiled, and proved their great faithfulness will make it, and be "overcomers".  Not all will make it to glory. There are some of these sheep who think they don't need to do anything to get there!!!  They claim everything is ALREADY DONE for them!!   What nonsense!!  They say all you need to do is believe, and follow the shepherd.   That's why they don't come to all the meetings, or do all the stewardships we do.  They think they are worthy but they are not. One day they just might be turned away from the Great "REST" as a result".

Gracesheep (comes running down a hill towards these other sheep):  "Hey!!  why are you guys so far behind!!  The Good Shepherd said you are being disobedient!!  Why aren't you just following him as he said? Oh foolish Sheep!  Who has bewitched you?  Did you begin your journey by following the Shepherd, and now think you will be perfected by following yourselves? You have become so "spiritual" that you have lost the simplicity of just following the Shepherd and his voice!  What is that big list you have there?  And why are you going to all of those meetings?   And what's this I just heard about "only a few will make it"??  You are the ones who aren't going to make it if you don't get a move on!!   Legalsheep, you are burdening Littlesheep with all of these rules.  He was doing just fine following the Shepherd until you came along with all of this "elite" talk of "the few", and the "rules" they need to follow.  Follow me, the Good Shepherd wants to have a word with you!! You're hurting yourself with all of this legalistic nonsense. Let's get a move on!!

Littlesheep immediately began running after Gracesheep to try to catch up again with the Shepherd. Unfortunately, Legalsheep, convinced he needed to be "doing something", stays behind, standing up upon
a pillar, proclaiming a higher and holier way, and warning other new sheep just beginning to pass by to
keep the rules, and warning that only a few of them will make it in the end. He is sure to give them all his
"list of things to do" before they move on.  Soon, Legalsheep has less and less of an audience, as the simple
sheep, in quiet simplicity follow their Good Shepherd. You see, Legalsheep was no longer following the Shepherd---he was following his own teaching of what it means to follow the Shepherd instead.  And in doing so he had burdened himself down with more than any sheep should bear. Legalsheep, like Martha, had much "serving to do" while Gracesheep, like Mary, knew that Grace alone was the key to all. Finally, the Good Shepherd in his great and enduring mercy came one day, and with his staff pulled Legalsheep off of his pedastal. The Good Shepherd was being true to his word, that NONE would fail to make it, even those who insisted they could do it themselves.

"The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want."
« Last Edit: February 28, 2009, 03:43:11 am by Joe S » Logged
Joe Sperling
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« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2009, 05:15:10 am »

The below story was inspired by recent conversations I had with another person
who holds to the doctrine that only "some" will make it to "glory", and that only those who
through great "sweat and toil" hold firm to the end will enter the Inheritance.

There are basic things you will notice about this type of teaching. First, there is always quite
a bit mentioned by these teachers about the suffering endured by the true Christian, who "takes up his
cross" and follows Christ.  There is also much taught about obedience, and faithfulness also. Secondly, there is much mentioned about only a "few" making it all the way. Only the Overcomer will be glorified. And lastly, there is ALWAYS much talk about a "higher walk" with God for them, who through enduring all of this have learned something that the "average" Christian has not. They see themselves as being more enlightened than the average believer.

But what it really boils down to is a walk centered on themselves, and what they think they
and others should be doing to please the Lord.  It is all based on US and what we can DO,
rather than on JESUS and WHAT HE HAS ALREADY DONE. They think somehow that believing
that everything is "already done" will lead a Christian to be less zealous, and lead to laziness,
when in reality the opposite is true.

Just as an example:  Imagine there are two groups of people on two different boats.

One group is told that there is a glorious land that is ALREADY THEIRS, with a glorious Lord who
loves them and will not fail them, and that he died so they could be there forever with him. They are
told they are guaranteed to make it to this land once they cast off from the dock, because the Good
Lord of the Land has promised they will get there unharmed. They will face storms and trials, but the
Lord has promised to CONFIRM THEM UNTO THE END.

The second group is told there is a glorious land they are bound for, but there is a good chance that many of them will not make it. They are told they had better stick to the oars day and night, and labor lest the Lord be angry and shut some of them out. They are constantly reminded by their teachers of how obedient and faithful they need to be, and how happy those will be who "overcome" through their great efforts to arrive at that blessed land.

Who do you think will get there first?  The first group for sure.  They are not going to "dilly-dally"---they are going to oar with great joy, in great confidence---and what's amazing is that they are going to go through the same things the other boat goes through---the same ocean, the same storms, etc. without really ever talking about their "sweat and toil" at all!  There eyes are centered on what is ALREADY THEIRS and the Lord who bought them---not on their own works of obedience or suffering. They do not see themselves as "elite" in any
way, for they know the land that is ALREADY THEIRS could never be "earned" in the first place! They truly rejoice in the fact that ALL WILL MAKE IT, and abhor teaching that says any "overcoming few" CAN or WILL make it on their own merit---because they KNOW that ALL IS OF GRACE--and any other teaching is an attempt to add to that Grace, and limits what Christ did on the cross for them.

The second group is going to make it also (though they believe most will not) but there journey is going to be one of fear and dread. They will never be sure if they are going to make it, and several rowers will "give up" at times, feeling it is all too hopeless. This is because they are centering on their own works, and not on what is ALREADY THEIRS (though they refuse to believe it), they will either give up, or talk much about their own spirituality and struggles.  They will develop an "elite" attitude, feeling that they have "endured" and therefore have gained greater spiritual insight.  In reality, they have gone through no more than the people on the other boat have---they have just lived under a completely different belief system--a system relying far more on their own works than the full Grace of God. They talk about the trials that must be endured by them, rather than the trial that Jesus ALREADY ENDURED for them.

This is what the below story is representing.

« Last Edit: February 28, 2009, 06:06:36 am by Joe S » Logged
Mark C.
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« Reply #2 on: March 01, 2009, 09:50:32 am »

Great illustration Joe!

  Why is God's grace so hard for us to accept as Christians?  Our human psychology seems to naturally resist the fact that God wants to give us all we need for a full and complete relationship with Him--- and what a relationship he promises: sons of God!!

  I know that the world has had a head start on us in forming our thinking and from our youth we are impressed with the need to individually merit rewards from what we do.  However, when we become Christians we are supposed to be getting our minds renewed via the gospel of grace. 

  Somehow, though we are reading the same bible, some interpret the word as a challenge to self improvement (with God's help of course) while others see it as a trust in the power of God's grace (knowing that they are helpless). 

  In making the issue a totally theological discussion there are ways to develop biblical arguments that can defend either view.  All you have to do is avoid all the verses that talk about grace and spend your time pointing out all the verses that deal with our responsibility for our sins.  Of course, the "Overcomer" teacher would say that the "grace" teacher is omitting all the "warning" to disciples passages.

  If salvation, and our lives as Christians, is all of grace why then does the bible contain all of the exhortations to avoid certain behaviors and urges us to strive in accomplishing very lofty moral and spiritual goals?  If we isolate out some of the calls to discipleship in the Gospels they talk of developing self mastery to the point where I should be able to "love God with all of my mind, heart, and strength."

  I have yet to meet a Christian who expresses such a self mastery, and though I've struggled for many years to attain this goal myself, I must admit to being an abject failure.  I've thought that maybe it was just me though; that I was somehow defective in my ability to "lay hold" on the secret to finding the "victory."

  However, I've noticed in reading these same Gospels to the end that the recipients of the original call to discipleship (the Apostles) also seemed to fall short of "entering into" the higher life.  They all abandoned the Lord and left him to die alone at Calvary.  One of them, Peter, denied with an oath that he ever knew him---- this denial was not to a ruler who could kill him but to a young girl!!!

  Yep, some hefty bit of overcoming going on with this bunch!  "But", you may say, "that was before they received the Holy Spirit.  After this they became a different sort."  I would agree that something did change for the better after they received the Spirit, but I think it's obvious who should get the credit for the improvement; it appears it was the Spirit of God, not the effort of the disciples, that produced the fruit we see in the book of Acts.  Peter also demonstrates he still retains some of his non-overcomer tendencies (Gal.2) and gives all the praise to God for whatever good is in his life (I: Pet. 1:3).

  This vs. above (I:Pet. 1:3) declares, "God's great mercy"; not just "mere", or "initial" mercy, but a mercy as great and wide as the eternal God himself!  For me, I think Peter's life explains for us why Jesus and the Old Test. pound away at the message of the need for holiness:  The natural tendency toward desiring a relationship with God based on merit can only be broken as we actually make an attempt to do it---we don't seem to understand, without the trying, that our efforts will be in vain.

  The only true hope for those who trust in the strength of their own wills (though they claim they need God's help) is to come to the point the disciples did where they see how sinful they really are.  At the point of honesty the truth will set us free.

  Shouldn't Christians be more than "just forgiven", and express a "higher life"?  A Christian, by definition, is "just forgiven" and that means a personal relationship with God.  Any non-Christian may have a finer character than a "just forgiven" person, for that is not what "makes" for a relationship with God.  Better to be forgiven, and have some deep faults, then to be not forgiven with sins that are not apparent to others.

                                                                                                God Bless,  Mark C.     
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Joe Sperling
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« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2009, 01:50:37 am »

Mark---

Thanks. "Why is God's Grace so hard for us to accept as Christians?" you asked.  That is an
excellent question.  These verses come to mind:

"Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her". (luke 10: 38-42)

Some people are so busy "serving the Lord" that they never sit at his feet. Their concept of what "pleases God" is one of constant "works". This can result in a church which has (5) meetings a week, prayer for the sake of prayer (what I mean is they pray because they think God is pleased with that, rather than really being concerned about whom they pray for, and believing God loves to answer prayer. They are more concerned with "praying" than the people they are praying for). "Let's pray all night because God will really be pleased with that effort" might be a sentiment that would be used. "Let's stand for the entire worship service because God will be pleased with that" might also be used.  Wink

My girlfriend has a habit of making me a hot cup of coffee most mornings when we drive to work. She does it out of love, and doesn't "have to" to do it. She knows I love her, and out of her own love for me she does this small favor. I always tell her "Thanks!" (and I really mean it because I make terrible coffee)  Smiley   

But imagine if she gave me the cup of coffee in the morning, and then later said "I hope that coffee met with your approval, and you love me more as a result. I have been trying to do more things that will please you lately. I really want you to love me more. Is there anything I might be able to do differently so that I don't lose any of your love for me?"

Somehow, I just don't think that coffee would taste quite as good. And a lot of people "do things" for God out of that same kind  of motivation. Instead of realizing that God ALREADY loves them totally, and did from the day they were Born-again, they think they can "do things" that will "earn" them MORE of God's love. And believe me, I am pointing the finger back at me on this, as I have often fallen into that legalistic mode of thinking.  Sad

Martha talked only of her own works.  She even asked the Lord to tell Mary to come and help her. Sound familiar?  Some Christians bemoan the fact that other Christians "do far less, yet think they are going to enter the same glory as the hard-workers are"! And they say this because their whole vision and motivation is on what they are doing, rather than on what Jesus has already done.

But Jesus said of Mary  "one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that good part". Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet because she WANTED to be there. She knew that Jesus already loved her and she sat adoring him as a result. A heart like that means more to Jesus than all the "works" we could ever perform.  I am not implying that "service" isn't important, and that all we do as Christians is "sit around all day".  But the above story speaks a lot about what MOTIVATES US. And that is what we really need to look at.  Is it Grace?  Or is it because we think we can "earn" something from God, or cause him to love us more, through our faithfulness and obedience? It's good to examine ourselves from time to time and ask if we are a Martha or a Mary?

Jesus doesn't say he loves Mary more than Martha. Not by any means. I think he loved them both equally. It's just that one of them, Martha, was concentrating so much on her own works, that she was missing out "on that good thing" that Mary was experiencing. Jesus wasn't saying "Martha, Martha" out of anger. I think he was saying in a sense "Martha, Martha, can't you just accept the fact that I love you with all of my heart already? Don't try to "earn" my love, just accept it as Mary has".

What we believe motivates us--either in being "cumbered about much serving", with the result of being "careful and troubled about many things", OR in "choosing that good thing that shall not be taken away from us".   You hit the nail on the head Mark---"why is God's grace so hard for us to accept as Christians?"
 
« Last Edit: March 07, 2009, 04:39:17 am by Joe S » Logged
Mark C.
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« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2009, 01:19:52 am »

Joe,

  I asked the question, "why is grace so hard to accept as Christians?", but it was a rhetorical question as I think we know the answer to it already.  The truth should be pretty obvious when we honestly reflect on our own lives.

  There may be biblical interpretative problems when we try to organize our theology into a view that reflects what it really means that I'm saved and what I should expect my experience as a Christian should be as a result.  We have to try and work through these problems honestly by considering them based on reality vs. a kind of idealized set of expectations. 

  "Higher life" folks (or variations on that same theme) don't deny the necessity of the grace of God, the imperative they stress is "God has given you that grace; so what are you going to do with it?!"

   In other words, it is our responsibility to take what God has freely given and "make" it into a functional reality that expresses God's sinless life.  "After all," some have said, "the bible teaches---'be you holy as I am holy."  Doesn't that seem to clearly point out that we as believers in Jesus Christ can "be" holy by the simple determination to do so?

   "Perfect holiness? no problem.  All I have to do is to take God's free grace and apply it every second of everyday to the "very root of sin" in my heart and destroy it!  This action of mine not only kills all self centered motivation it also "releases" a perfect life just like God's!" 

  This kind of process above describes a mechanical kind of method that reminds me of the comparison between a stock car vs. a high performance race car.  In my analogy God gives us a factory specd. model by his grace and from there we are expected to finish an upgrade via our own engineering and mechanical skills.  Those that put the effort into the high performance rebuild will get what God wants and those that accept the "freely given" stock model will not be able to perform up to snuff.

  The rewards for our efforts to build and tweak our inner machinery, according to some, will be a sanctified life that will cross the finish line as the victor.  In reality, when we do the rebuild we end up participating in the race with something like an old milk truck in a figure 8 race of destruction derby! Wink Grin (Anybody old enough to remember these old races?)  Wink

  It all comes down to your concept of how great the grace of God really is and the truth of how utterly incapable we are of changing and/or improving our basic nature.  God's grace is not a stock Gremlin, and if it were, we still would be incapable of turning it into a Indy car.

  God's grace is not given as a kind of basic commodity we have to convert into a usable substance through learning the right methods to harness it's power.  Grace is not a thing, it a personal relationship that has been "made" by God through his efforts alone!  We have absolutely no part or ability to improve on what God has provided in his perfect gift of salvation!  Nor, do we need to; for the bible teaches our salvation is complete.

  There is more to say about this, as we do have responsibilities as Christians re. our behavior, but these moral imperatives are not to be confused as the means of a merit based relationship with God. 

                                                                                      God Bless,  Mark C.

 

   
« Last Edit: March 08, 2009, 05:29:56 am by Mark C. » Logged
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