Are You a Shepherd?

At the end of his gospels, Jesus left fairly simple, but by no means easy, instructions to the leaders of his newly created church:

  • “Tend to my sheep” - John 21:17
  • “Follow me” - John 21:19
  • “Go therefore and make disciples...” - Matthew 28:19
  • “...baptize them…” -Matthew 28:19
  • “...teach them to observe all that I have commanded….” - Matthew 28:19
  • “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel…” -Mark 16:15
  • “You will be my witnesses...to the ends of the earth…” - Acts 1:8

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, ultimately in charge, and he created his church to be led by sub-shepherds, who are also sheep.

THE JOB OF THE SHEPHERD IS TO LOVINGLY FEED, NURTURE AND PROTECT THE FLOCK THAT GOD HAS ENTRUSTED THEM WITH.

When one of Jesus’ shepherds begins to drift out of his appointed job description, things can go badly for the entire flock, shepherd included. In our hyper-connected culture it is easy for leaders to become less like shepherds and more like firefighters. With the ability to communicate our sheeply trials and woes over a vast distances instantaneously, shepherds can feel like first responders rushing to the the call of “Fire!”

But firefighters and shepherds operate very differently:

fireshep.png

Firefighters are a vital part of keeping our communities safe, but they are not the same as shepherds. Many church leaders and soul care providers slip out of shepherding and into a fire fighting stance. This role-shift can be exhausting and demoralizing to the one who is called to be a shepherd.

Do you see yourself (or those around you) slipping from the job description of shepherding a flock to responding to every emergency of the attendees of your church?

If you struggle to stay in the role of a shepherd, remember who Jesus is as our shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd even to his sub-shepherds (as they are also his sheep!). Only Jesus perfectly led/leads his church. This is good news for imperfect leaders.

JESUS WAS NOT A HARRIED, STRESSED OUT ENTREPRENEUR. HE WAS A NURTURER AND A LISTENER AND GRACEFULLY LED THROUGH HUMBLE SACRIFICE.

Jesus also knows his flock intimately: who and when members of the flock would go astray and fall into conflict.

Can you call on Jesus and lean on his perfect righteousness today as a shepherd? The good news for shepherds is that you do not need to prove yourself to God or anyone else. His righteousness is now yours! His perfect track record has been transferred to you and now God the Father sees you, shepherd, as he see his Son, the Good Shepherd.

WHERE DO YOU NEED TO REPENT OF FIREFIGHTING? WHAT PROMISES OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD CAN CAUSE RELIEF AND HAPPINESS IN YOU TODAY?

(Caveat: The calling of shepherd does not disqualify one from having other roles/jobs outside of the church context. The calling of a shepherd only disqualifies one from being something other than a shepherd in the church context.

A “side hustle” is a part time job that can be worked alongside of a primary calling to help supplement financial and certain work-related emotional needs.

To learn more about this concept, we commend a great resource in Side Hustle by Chris Guillebeau.)

The Meditating Pastor pt. 2

In the first part of this series we defined meditation as: "The ability, with intention, to pause and focus calmly on one task at a time for an extended length of time.”

In this, the second of our of three part “The Meditating Pastor” series we want to compare the modern idea of “mindful meditation” with the ancient practice of meditation mentioned in the Bible. What the differences between these similarly named practices?

word search of the English Standard Version of the Bible finds 14 instances of the word  “meditate” with the vast majority of mentions occurring in the Psalms. Most of the instances of the word meditate - in the original languages - are written to describe the context in which the author relates to the promises of God in a purposeful, musing, and sometimes even a complaining manner. The Bible poses both singular and dialogical possibilities to the process of meditation. Dialogical in this context meaning thinking/talking to oneself or in prayer to God. A wonderful example of chewing over a text can be seen in John Piper’s “Look at the Book” video series found here.

In his seminal classic “Knowing God,” theologian J.I. Packer defines meditation, in part as:

“...often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God's power and grace.”

Pastor and author Eugene Peterson in his wonderful volume on biblical reading, “Eat this Book”  describes a Hebrew word, hagah, which is found in Isaiah 31:4 describing a lion’s growling over its prey. Peterson discovered that the Hebrew word hagah is oddly enough is found in other verses describing meditation. While watching his dog chew on a bone Peterson describes a having spark of insight about what the Bible really is getting at when talking about meditation:

“Hagah is a word that our Hebrew ancestors used frequently for reading the kind of writing that deals with our souls. But ‘meditate’ is far too tame a word for what is being signified. ‘Meditate’ seems more suited to what I do in a quiet chapel on my knees with a candle burning on the altar. Or to what my wife does while sitting in a rose garden with the Bible open in her lap. But when Isaiah's lion and my dog meditated they chewed and swallowed, using teeth and tongue, stomach and intestines: Isaiah's lion meditating his goat (if that's what it was); my dog meditating his bone.”

Mindfulness has a lot of press right now. So, what is it? A good, simple definition of mindfulness is:

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”

Mindful meditation is an intentional process that only requires three simple step, described by ABC journalist and author of “10% Happier,” Dan Harris:

“One, sit down with your spine straight and close your eyes. Second, try to notice where the feeling of your breath is most prominent, and try to focus on what it feels like every time it comes in and goes out. And the third step is the key. Your mind is going to start wandering like crazy. Every time that happens, every time you catch your mind wandering, forgive yourself and bring your attention back to the breath. That moment is the bicep curl for the brain.“

That last statement is the key of it all. Mindful Meditation’s great benefit is in its ability to strengthen weakness in the mind. The American Psychological Association states: “Researchers theorize that mindfulness meditation promotes metacognitive awareness, decreases rumination via disengagement from perseverative cognitive activities and enhances attentional capacities through gains in working memory. These cognitive gains, in turn, contribute to effective emotion-regulation strategies.” The other benefits of mindfulness include: reduced rumination, stress reduction, boosts to working memory, increased focus, less emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility and increased relational satisfaction.

As we’ve seen, Biblical Meditation is like sitting down to chew on and digest the Word of God. Biblical Meditation is the practice of attempting to relate with a text that is alive and accepting its invitation to enjoy it and the God who wrote it. Stereotypes of biblical devotion often imagine sterile, quiet and even boring reading sessions but true meditation on the Word of God seems to be more like enjoying a favorite meal with best friends.

Mindful Meditation is exercise for your brain. Unlike any physical workout, mindfulness only involves sitting still, focusing on deep breathing, and bringing the mind back to breath-focus when it inevitably wanders off to the million other thoughts it wants to have. Another simple definition is: “Mindfulness is the ability to know what’s happening in your head at any given moment without getting carried away by it.” Stereotypes of mindful meditation seem to picture the practice as a spiritual emptying when in fact - if practiced with enough frequency - it fortifies the mind in order that we can more enjoy better things like biblical devotion for longer.

Even though both share the similarities of stillness, focus and intentionality, Mindful Meditation and Biblical Meditation are not the same thing. The two practices share the english word “meditation” but are different in essential aim. Difference in aim, though, does not negate a potentially powerful complementary nature that Mindful Meditation brain training and Biblical devotion can share.

Next time we want to answer the questions: How can mindful meditation be leveraged by the Christian as a tool to strengthen mental and emotional deficit? Can mindfulness help the Christian to love God and people more?

Look for the third and final part of this series next week to learn about the devotional potential of synthesizing mindful and biblical meditation in your life.

Quiz: What is Your Emotional & Spiritual Age?

As Christians, we should consistently be seeking growth towards greater and greater maturity in the areas of spiritual and emotional health.

Take this quiz to see in which one of the four categories of maturity you currently find yourself in, it may surprise you (Note you do need to give your email to take the quiz):

The Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Personal Assessment

Growth is a community activity, we can't do it alone. If you would like to talk to a counselor about a little extra help in your journey please reach out to us.

The Meditating Pastor: Part 1

We all have that “inner narrator” in our head that starts blabbing the second we wake up to the minute we go to bed. Your inner narrator may even, as you read this, be going on about how you need to be doing this and that and not reading a blog post about meditation, because meditation is a bunch of hoo-ha.

Now, when we talk about an inner narrator, we are not talking about “hearing voices,” we mean simply that boring commentator that keeps a running, judgmental monologue going in your head from sun up to sundown. For most of us that voice is a total jerk who seems to want only our discouragement, discontentment, and distraction. Are we destined to just deal with this surly pontificator for entire life? We don’t think so and we think meditation may be a key in wrangling this unhelpful copilot.

Meditation exists to help strengthen the part of the mind that keeps that voice from commanding too much mental real estate, thus freeing you to be happier, more focused and even allowing you spend more time loving God and people uninterrupted.

  • WHAT IS MEDITATION?

  • ARE THERE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BIBLICAL MEDITATION AND OTHER FORMS OF MEDITATION?

  • IF THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BIBLICAL MEDITATION AND OTHER FORMS?

  • IS THERE ANY PRACTICAL OR EVEN SPIRITUAL BENEFIT OF “NON-BIBLICAL” MEDITATION TO THE CHRISTIAN?

Over the next three weeks we want to be able to answer these questions towards the goal of making you the most informed you can be about the topic of meditation. This week we simply want to define what the practice is.

We will be the first to admit: the idea of meditation has a lot of strange and conflicting connotations surrounding it. At once images of cross-legged, floating gurus who have reached a mystical level of enlightenment enter into our minds. Also for those who have spent any time reading their Bible, we recognize that its authors filled the Scriptures with mentions of the practice of meditation. So, which is which? Are they the same thing? First we need to define what meditation it:

"THE ABILITY, WITH INTENTION, TO PAUSE AND FOCUS CALMLY ON ONE TASK AT A TIME FOR AN EXTENDED LENGTH OF TIME.”

This practice can be as simple as focusing on your breathing for five minutes and as complex as attempting to calm the each muscle group in your body over a time frame like 30 minutes or an hour.

The skill of calmly focusing without giving into distraction for even a very short amount of time is challenging to many. Some good news is that this inability is normal. A lack of this skill is typical as the normative and encouraged stance when living life and working in our culture is to be able to multitask and jump from thing to thing without pause. If you’ve ever used email communication as key part of your job you know how enticing and easy it is to lose focus on the task at hand and to look at who just emailed you.

Now, meditation is not a cure-all. Some people and groups will talk about meditation like it is a miracle-working practice that heal everything from extreme mental pathology to cancer. A healthy level of skepticism is important here as the old maxim has it: “A cure-all cures nothing.”

Now that we have simply define the practice of meditation we will move on next week comparing the practice to the biblical idea of meditation and see if the two can co-exist or even complement each other.