Thursday, April 27, 2006

New Blog

If you're looking for a new post here, you're in the wrong place. Update your bookmarks, please. Go here:

Faith 2.0

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Special Showing of The Movie

I have been asked by an organization here in Atlanta to participate in a really great event. They are going to rent out a theatre for a private showing of THE DA VINCI CODE on Wednesday, May 24, and I am going to speak immediately afterwards for about 40 minutes. Those of you in the Atlanta area who are interested can register here:

Space is limited to (I think) the first 250 folks, so you might want to register soon.

The Movie Is Coming! The Movie Is Coming!

Are you ready?

The Da Vinci Code movie opens in three weeks, and some churches are trying to get folks ready for the watercooler conversations that are sure to happen on Monday, May 22.

I'm interested. Is your church doing anything? Sermon series? Small groups? Classes? Resource center?

Let me know.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Christ Among the Shepherds

In the story of Jesus' trial and crucifixion, several key characters play the roles of prophet, priest and king. But they were just acting. They weren't really shepherds; they simply played that role for their own benefit.

First, Jesus was taken to the house of Annas the priest. Here's a great example of a shepherd who neglected God and God's agenda for the sake of his own personal agenda. The Bazaars of Annas in the temples were infamous for their ridiculous exchange rates -- bordering on extortion, really. There was one place in the temple where Gentiles could come and pray to YHWH, the God of the Israelites. This was where Annas placed his Bazaars -- keeping the temple from being "a house of prayer for all the nations" as God had commanded.

The position of high priest seems to have been kept in a tight family circle, and at this time, the position was held by Annas' son-in-law: Caiaphas. When Jesus stood before Caiaphas, surrounded by elders and teachers, this shepherd of Israel stood by while God Incarnate was slapped and spat upon. He had been given the task of leading people in the worship of God; instead, he led them into violence against God.

So, Jesus was sent from the priest to the king -- a man named Herod. Here's a king who abused his power by ordering the execution of John the Baptist (a true prophet). Herod responded to the word of God, as it was faithfully delivered by the prophet of God, more like a butcher than a shepherd. He was supposed to defent and protect God's people from their pagan enemies; instead, he offered Jesus up to the Roman governor: Pilate.

As the governor of the land, Pilate's responsibility was to establish truth and administer justice. Though he wasn't a prophet, he did receive a revelation from God -- in a dream to his wife. But when Pilate spoke with Jesus, he knew his decision would have little to do with truth and more to do with popularity and pragmatism. His decision about Jesus wasn't based on justice but on the prevailing mood of the people. Pilate washed his hands and went with the popular vote.

So, as we said yesterday, the Good Shepherd became like a sheep and was "led like a lamb to the slaughter". He sufffered under the shepherds who abused their power, compromised the truth and neglected the Lord. And on the cross he became the sacrificial lamb who would take away the sins of the world.

But on the third day....

Are there any better words than that?

On the third day he rose from the dead. Death is like a dark valley, and Jesus has travelled through it. It may still be a dark place, but it is now a safe place for all who will trust and follow the Good Shepherd through the valley of death. We fear no evil, for he is with us and has promised to see us through to the other side.

Still More Shameless Promotion

Two things today, and I'll probably post something more about Israel's shepherds in the time of Jesus later.

First, Chuck Colson's Breaktpoint Commentary featured our book today. You can read it here:

I actually saw the book in a bookstore this afternoon. It's pretty exciting to see it like that!

Second, the website is almost all the way up now. Go check it out, and let me know what you think:

Monday, April 24, 2006

There's A New Shepherd in Town

God gave very low marks to the shepherds of Israel. He looked at their work and saw terrible abuse of power, a deliberate compromise of truth and a blatant neglect of God. God's flock was malnourished, uncared for and unprotected. The situation was so intolerable that God decided to intervene. But he did so in a very unexpected way. God told Ezekiel, "I myself will tend my sheep" (Ezekiel 34:15).

Ezekiel must have thought, "That sounds great and all, but how exactly is that going to happen? God is way up there beyond the azure blue, and we're stuck down here by the Kebar River."

Roll the clock forward 600 years.

When Jesus was teaching the sheep of Israel, they were still living under the kind of religions leadership that abused its power, compromised the truth and neglected the heart of God. At one point, Jesus looked at the people and saw that they were "like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36).

A little while later, Jesus blasted the shepherds of Israel. He said, "All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers" (John 10:8). They used their authority to pursue their own agendas. Then Jesus identified himself as the Shepherd spoken of through the prophet Ezekiel: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus would do a number of things for the sheep. First, he would feed the sheep with God's truth. Second, he would seek out the lost sheep. Third, he would lead the sheep and protect them from their enemies.

He went on to say, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).

But the shepherds in Israel didn't really like what he had to say about them or about himself. They did not like the truth he taught, the way he led or the life he offered. So, they treated him like a sheep. They abused him, compromised the truth about him and rejected him.

And the most amazing thing is: He took it. He let it happen. The Good Shepherd became like one of his sheep, and like a sheep he was led to slaughter.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Shepherds' Performance Review

God grades out the shepherds of Israel through his prophet Ezekiel. And they do not receive favorable marks.

"The word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not the shepherds take care of the flock?"'" (Ezekiel 34:1-2).

Ezekiel was serving a community of 10,000 people who had been uprooted from their home in Jerusalem and marched 700 miles away. They were living as exiles near the Kebar River near Babylon, and they must have wondered, "What did we do that was so bad? Why did we get taken away while others got to stay home? Why not previous generations? Were we that bad?"

God wants them to understand that this punishment is not for the sins of one generation. There has been a pattern of disobedience, disloyalty and dishonor. And, as the old saying goes, the fish stinks from the head down. God had trusted the shepherds of Israel with the tremendous responsibility of leading his people, and they had done a terrible job. Disaster came upon the people of God because of a massive failure in their leadership.

Specifically, God brings three charges against the shepherds of Israel: (1) the abuse of power; (2) the compromise of truth; (3) the neglect of God.

I think it's interesting that he chose those three charges. The leaders of Israel were certainly guilty of a number of violations -- multiple wives, blatant immorality and sinful behavior. Why do you think God would focus in on these three charges?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

More Shameless Self-Promotion...And Embarrassment

The people who published my book THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE DA VINCI CODE wrote a nice article about it here:

"New B&H Book Sets Record Straight on Worldview Behind The DaVinci Code"

And thanks to all the folks who ordered pre-release copies, they have had to print more. But that's what they do, right?

Also, here's my first embarrassing story about being an author. I've had several people ask me to autograph copies of the book for them. And, like most Christian authors, I figured I was supposed to sign my name and write some Bible verse under my name. Very classy.

The problem is there are two books in the Bible I always confuse: 1 & 2 Peter. I honestly cannot tell one from the other -- it's a mental block or something. So, the verse I wanted to write under my name is the verse where Peter says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). I figured that would be a good fit for this particular book.

Unfortunately, what I actually wrote under my name was not 1 Peter 3:15 but 2 Peter 3:15.

I imagine there were several confused people who went home and looked up the following: "Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him."

Prophets and Priests and Kings...And Shepherds?

In the Bible, all three of these leadership roles (prophet, priest and king) come together in one word-picture that encompasses all three dimensions of biblical leadership: Shepherd.

A shepherd feeds sheep -- that's the role of a prophet, to feed the people of God a healthy diet of the Word of God.

A shepherd seeks sheep -- that's the role of a priest, to find sheep who have wandered off or are injured.

A shepherd leads sheep -- that's the role of a king, to give direction and protection to the flock.

So, when God talks about shepherds, he's speaking about all three dimensions of leadership together -- revealing, reconciling and ruling; preaching, pastoring and leading -- everything that is involved in leadership among the people of God. He is probably not thinking of one person filling all three roles. Few people in history have ever been able to fill more than one at any given time (Moses, Deborah, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah -- anyone else in the Old Testament?).

The shepherds of Israel would have included some who were prophets, some who were priests and some who were kings. Together they provided leadership for God's people. And, as we shall see tomorrow, they did a pretty lousy job of it.

For today, let's think about these three distinct roles and try to apply them to our churches. Most churches expect one person to fill all three roles at once (even though they'll only pay him for one role at a time). Or they want one person to fill the first two roles while a group of men fills that third role and act as if they are "above the law". If the "kings" of a local church don't like what the "prophet" has been saying (or how well he has balanced his prophetic duties with his priestly ones), they fire him and get someone else who is foolish enough to sign up for two jobs' worth of responsibility with no job's worth of authority.

Hmmm...I've stared at that last paragraph now for about five minutes trying to figure out whether that's appropriate for publishing or not. I think that is an unfortunately accurate assessment of many churches I've encountered. I know there are churches out there who have a healthy balance of all three roles in place. Thank God for those churches. But the majority of churches I know are struggling with this. So, I'm going to keep that paragraph as is, and I eagerly await the avalanche of email I'll get about this one.

Understanding these three roles, and the balance they provide, allows a church to ask itself some helpful diagnostic questions:

Is there a good, healthy diet of teaching here? Does some of the teaching we hear make us uncomfortable? Does it merely re-affirm what we already believe or tickle our ears with what we want to hear? Does it make sense biblically? Does it help us live more Christlike lives? Are people being spoken to on behalf of God?

Is there a place where people can bring their needs and have them lifted up to God? Are lost people being sought? Are wounded people being helped and healed? Is prayer a vital part of our church's life? Is God being spoken to on behalf of people?

Is there clarity of purpose? Are things well-structured and organized and administrated? Is our church practicing good stewardship? Are people being protected and guarded? Is the whole church pursuing the purposes of God?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Prophets and Priests and Kings...Oh My!

By way of background as we look at another theme in the Book of Ezekiel (God's scolding of Israel's shepherds in Ezekiel 34), there are three distinct leadership roles in the Old Testament. First, there was the role of the prophet -- someone who would receive the Word of God and communicate it to the people. Prophets gave leadership in the realm of truth.

Second, there was the role of the priest -- someone who would bring people into the presence of God by offering prayers and sacrifices. Priests were the mirror image of prophets. Prophets spoke to people on behalf of God; priests spoke to God on behalf of people.

Third, there was the role of the king -- someone who would lead the people into battle and protect them from their enemies. He was also responsible for leading the people in the right paths.

These three leadership roles are woven through the entire Bible story. The prophet brought God's truth to the people. The priest brought the people of God into the presence of God. The king was supposed to lead the people in the right way of living. You could say the prophet was about revealing, the priest was about reconciling and the king was about ruling. These three functions, when properly combined, reveal God's plan for stable leadership.

Ideally, these three roles provided a system of checks and balances for Israel. The king ruled, but the prophet spoke the Word of God -- sometimes confrontationally -- to the king. Nathan is a good example of this with David. Elijah spoke this way with Ahab (with decidedly different results). Same with Jeremiah and King Zedekiah. Prophets were supposed to hold kings accountable.

Also, the king ruled from the palace, but when he came to the temple, he was not allowed to offer a sacrifice. Only a priest could do that. So, a king could not enter the presence of God without the help of a priest.

By the way, God's people still need balance in these three areas of leadership today.