Category: Ezekiel (Page 1 of 4)

Ordained by God and His Church

By God’s grace, we just concluded a smooth, drama-free, Holy Spirit led, and healthy shepherd selection process here at the GCR Church. We have ordained four new elders — Gary Glasscock, Richard Hatchett, Michael Humphries, and Marc McQueen — to join the current group of seven, to give us a terrific team of godly men committed to shepherding this church in the name and manner of our Lord Jesus. The process culminated Sunday in an ordination service that was, by all accounts, a beautiful and inspirational moment for our whole congregation.

We wanted the service to feel like the whole church was participating in ordaining these four new shepherds and affirming and blessing the whole group of eleven. We wanted the charges and pledges to go both ways – the elders would make promises to the church and the congregation would make promises to the elders. Several shepherds and ministers and support staff made wonderful suggestions along the way and we wound up with what I would consider a model for an ordination ceremony.

First, we gathered around our elders and and prayed thanksgiving and blessing over them. We asked all eleven of our shepherds and their wives to step out into the aisles where we could get to them, and we got out of our seats, put our hands on them and our arms around them, and talked to the Lord about them. We thanked God for the dedication of these men and their wives to seeking the Lord and following Christ and serving his Church. We expressed our love for them to the Father. And we lifted each of them up – these men, their wives, their families, their ministries, their service to our congregation – to the Lord in trust and faith.

Next, we brought all eleven couples to the stage and four of our young children from the congregation presented the new elders with beautiful shepherds’ staffs as symbols of godly leadership. We want these staffs to serve as reminders that they are called to lead this church with the same priorities our God lays out in Ezekiel 34: lead us to good pastures, where there is peace and rest; keep the big sheep from running over the little sheep; keep all of us from butting heads with each other; search for the lost and bring back the strays; bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.





And then we charged our elders with the specifics. I started the charge, but we had four other members of the church stand up in the middle of the congregation to also address the shepherds with our expectations. It went like this:

Allan: On behalf of the church family here at Golf Course Road, in the presence of our God, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, believing that we have not acted in haste but have prayerfully depended on our God, we charge you men to be faithful shepherds of our flock.

Then Juan Alcaraz and his family stood up from their seats on the left side of the worship center: Believing that the Spirit of God has called you to this ministry and that you are a gift of his grace to our congregation, we charge you to accept this calling with humility and compassion. We charge you to devote yourselves to prayer, to commit yourselves to the ministry of God’s Word, and to consecrate yourselves to the earnest shepherding of our church.

Elders: By God’s grace, we will.

Then our whole youth group stood up on the right side of the church as Mallory West, one of our high school freshmen, read the next lines: As you shepherd us, will you submit to the Lordship of Jesus and to his example by taking the very nature of a servant and considering the needs of others more important than your own?

Elders: By God’s grace, we will submit to the Lordship of Christ, to his church here at GCR, and to one another. We will sacrificially serve the church with humility and compassion in the name and manner of Jesus.

Then Corene Morton stood up in the middle of the church: Will you diligently seek the Lord in ways that we can follow, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?

Elders: By God’s grace, we will train ourselves for godliness; we will pursue the way of righteousness, faithfulness, gentleness, and love.

Then Ken and Carolyn Arnold stood up from their seats: And will you guard this church as the blood-purchased possession of Christ?

Elders: By God’s grace, we will teach and admonish in humility, encourage and support in love, and faithfully lead and protect our brothers and sisters at GCR as our Lord’s most prized possession.

At this point, I asked the entire church to stand and I asked them two questions, to which they responded in unison: Do you acknowledge and publicly affirm these godly men as your shepherds and receive them as your elders as gifts of God’s Holy Spirit to this church?

Church: We acknowledge these men as elders ordained by God and we receive them as our shepherds and as gifts of God’s Holy Spirit to this church.

Allan: Will you love and pray for these men, will you work together with them in humility and unity and good cheer, will you give them all due honor and support in the leadership to which our God has called them?

Church: By God’s grace, we will obey and submit to these men, so that their work will be a joy and not a burden.

Allan: Let all in the church who agree, affirm so by saying, “Amen!”

And they did. Then Joe Coffman, one of our former long-serving elders, led us in a beautiful congregational prayer of thanksgiving and blessing over the whole thing.






It wasn’t just four guys on the stage and a prayer. It was our whole church, from the youngest among us to the oldest, in the aisles, on the stage, holding microphones, asking and answering questions, making eye contact, making promises, giving and receiving hugs, saying prayers and being prayed over.

We do not “install” elders; that’s what you do with dishwashers. We ordain them. We affirm them. We charge them and bless them and use holy words to lift them up to the Father. It’s relational. It’s between a church and its spiritual leaders in the presence of God. It’s not an “installation.” It’s a sacred moment in the ongoing story of what the Lord is doing in and through his people in this place. Treating it as such will inspire your church. And it’ll bless your shepherds. And it will honor our God who brings us together in Christ Jesus.



No More Muttering


“The Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'” ~Luke 15:2

“All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'” ~Luke 19:7

The religious people are pictured in the Gospels as continually muttering. When they see Jesus eating with tax collectors and “sinners,” when they observe him welcoming and socializing with “those people,” they mutter and grumble and complain. They gripe under their breath. Because a religious person would never say these kinds of things out loud.

These are the people we’re welcoming now? These are the people we’re supposed to eat with now? Those people won’t give. Those people don’t even speak English. Their kids are too rowdy. They’re going to mess things up. He just got out of prison. She has HIV. He cusses. She smokes. We have to protect our kids. We need to be careful here. Maybe those people should just go to another church where they’ll be more comfortable.

Hey, these are the very people Jesus came for! These are the very ones Jesus left his glory at the right hand of the Father to die for!

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we don’t ever dare to look down on, to distance from, to make fun of, or to ignore any person created by God, in the image of God, loved by God, and died for by Jesus. Ever! Just like our Lord, we look for them. We go out of our way to welcome them, to love them, to accept them, to come along side them in relationship – all of them. We stop our muttering and we join our God in his salvation mission.

We look. We search. We seek and we save. We’re climbing every hill, we’re turning over every rock, we’re going into the cloudy days and the darkest nights to welcome the outcast, to bring in the marginalized, to help the helpless, to defend the defenseless, and to protect the oppressed.

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” ~Ezekiel 34:16



Eyes Off the Hills!

Lots of Christians believe that once they repent and confess Jesus as Lord and begin living in the righteousness of God, nothing bad should ever happen to them again. Christians should not have accidents or arguments with spouses, they should not be misunderstood at work or talked back to by their children. No problems, no pains, no setbacks, no sins, no issues.

Even Christians who don’t believe that sometimes talk like they do. Too blessed to be stressed!

So, when something does go wrong, some Christians don’t handle it very well. Maybe a doubt creeps into your head. Maybe a loneliness moves into your soul. An illness puts you in the hospital or an argument lands you in the doghouse. A misunderstanding leads to anger and pain.  A person walking in the way of faith gets into trouble and starts looking for help.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from?” ~Psalm 121:1

What does this person see on the hills? What’s happening on the hills?

The pagan religions were practiced on the hills. That’s where the pagan gods were worshiped. The high places on the hills are where the nations built their altars to Ba’al and erected their shrines to Asherah. People went to the hills to engage in acts of idol worship they believed would ensure their safety or fix whatever is wrong. You worshiped the pagan gods on the hills to enhance the fertility of your livestock and crops. The pagan rituals would keep you safe from invading armies. The religious formulas and good luck charms would make you wealthy and wise. It would protect you from evil.

Where do your eyes go when things get a little shaky? Who do you look to? Where do you put your trust when things go bad? There are all kinds of things we can look to for help besides God. And all those things are idols.

In the Bible, the hills are where the idols are worshiped. Hosea 4:12-13 and Ezekiel 6:13 are two of dozens of biblical references. 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles describe the high places where God’s people set up sacred stones and Asherah poles “on every high hill.” Think about the altars of Ba’al on the hills of Mount Carmel. Think about King Rehoboam who built his altar on the high place at Dan. Think about the hills of Caesarea Philippi where the temples and shrines were built to Pan and Ba’al and Asherah and where they worshiped Roman Emperors and sacred goats.

When you run into trouble or when something goes wrong, you holler help. And if you look to the hills, there it is! All kinds of help! Instant help!

Except for one thing: it doesn’t work. It’s an illusion. Nobody is ever really helped by what’s happening in the hills.

“We will come to you, for you are the Lord our God. Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and mountains is a deception.” ~ Jeremiah 3:23

If you think the next election is going to fix things, you’re looking to the hills. If you believe the next scientific breakthrough is going to heal things, you’re eyes are on the hills. If you think your next promotion or pay raise is going to put you over the top and fill the hole in your soul, you’re looking to the hills.

When you look to science, technology, or politics for help, you’re going to be disappointed. When you put your faith in the economy or your family, your education goals or your career plan, you’re going to be let down. When you try to ignore your pain or distract from your troubles with pills or drinks or vacations or sports or some kind of busyness, it just leads to more pain and more trouble.

“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” ~Psalm 121:2

Your help comes from the Lord, not from what’s in the hills. You don’t need any supplemental insurance from what’s going on in the hills. When your loving Father is the Maker and Sustainer of the Universe, you don’t need your safety or security to come from the hills.

“The Lord will keep you from all evil — he will watch over your life.” ~Psalm 121:7

That doesn’t mean you’re never going to stub your toe. No one gets out of this life without the experience of pain. The promise is that no injury or accident, no illness or distress, no tragedy, nothing that can ever happen to you will have evil power over you. Nothing can ever happen to you that can separate you from God’s purpose for you.

That’s the Lord’s Prayer. That’s the expectation. “Deliver us from evil.” That prayer is answered for you every day. Sometimes several times a day.

Take your eyes off the hills and place them directly on the God of Heaven and Earth who says, “I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who says, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, I have overcome the world!”



Can These Bones Live?

sundaybonesboardYesterday at Central, we concluded a two-month study of Ezekiel with a look at the well-known Dry Bones Vision in Ezekiel 37. The Lord shows his prophet the dead, dry, lifeless, hopeless, valley of bones. The bones represent the people of God who have rebelled against him. They are dead: no salvation, no relationship, no life, no hope. These are not dead corpses; these are dry skeletal remains. No pulse, no blood, no organs, no hope.

And the Lord asks his prophet, “Can these bones live?”

I’m sure Ezekiel’s first thought was, “Of course not! They can’t live! They’re bones!”

But then he remembers to whom he’s speaking. He’s talking to the almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth. So he replies, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

And then God raises the bones back to life. He breathes his Spirit into the bones and they come together and stand, living, breathing, walking, talking, fully alive  — a vast army! God shows Ezekiel that he not only has the power to make the dry bones live again, he has the will to make it happen. See, there’s a big difference between knowing God has the power to bring dead people back to life and knowing he WILL bring dead people back to life. Of course, God can. Praise God, yes, he will! “You will come back to life,” he says!


Because of God’s power and his grace and his will, the prospect for life in the middle of death is real. In fact, it’s very, very real. Because this is what God wants to happen. And the neat thing about being God is that he always gets what he wants. And he wants to give dead people life.

So, yesterday we spent a good deal of our time together writing the names of people we love who are spiritually dead and placing them on a big dry bones mural that was painted last week by one of our members. Our kids and grandkids. Our spouses. Our nephews and nieces. Our best friends and former college roommates and next-door-neighbors. We pout them on the board and we lifted them up to God in prayer and in faith that he really wants to breathe brand new resurrection life into our loved ones.


Our God is the One who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. Our God looks at death and he sees possibility. He sees hope. He sees life.

Thank you to our Central family for your heart-felt participation in yesterday’s worship assembly. Thank you all for you open hearts and confessing spirits and willingness to be vulnerable and transparent in front of one another. And thank you for the honor, the rich privilege, of being your preacher for five blessed years.


summit2016A tradition at Central is that when the ministers go to Abilene for the ACU Summit, we always take our Central kids at ACU out to lunch. And today was the day. We were honored to be joined at Sharky’s this afternoon by Matt, Brooke, Slade, Taylor, and Mikayla. What a joy! Thank y’all for spending the hour with us, for sharing your stories and your laughter and your lives with us. Now, get back to class!



I Am the Good Shepherd

shepherd3Almost two centuries before Jesus was born, Judas Maccabeus put together a Jewish militia and fought the Syrians who had taken control of Jerusalem and had desecrated the temple. Antiochus IV Epiphanes had established Zeus worship inside the Lord’s temple, including the daily sacrifice of pigs. The Maccabean revolution was a bloody three-year struggle that resulted in Jewish oversight of Jerusalem and the rededication of the temple to the Lord. You can research the origins of Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication to get the full story. But on the 25th day of Kislev, in the year 165 BC, the temple was rededicated and Ezekiel 34, the passage about Israel’s shepherds was read aloud.

The eight day celebration was not just about rejoicing in God’s great deliverance. It was also a time to reflect on the events that led up to those awful years in Israel’s history. It was a time to ask questions about failed leadership, hard questions about Israel’s bad kings or, as they’re called in Scripture, false shepherds. How did the leadership of God’s people lose its way so badly? Where were the shepherds? And how must we shepherd our people today?

Since that day in 165 BC, Ezekiel 34 has always been a part of the worship liturgy for the Feast of Dedication. In John 10, we’re told explicitly that Jesus attended these worship assemblies.

“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonade.” ~John 10:22-23

imyselfYou can bet Jesus heard the readings just like everybody else. And, yeah, Jesus knew about lousy leadership and sorry sheep. So did a lot of God’s people listening to the readings. The man who pays three-fourths of his wages every month to his neighbor who’s paralyzing him with outrageous interest rates. The lady who’s not allowed to come all the way in because she’s divorced. The couple who gets told “You don’t dress right or talk right or act right and why don’t y’all find another temple to worship in!” Ask the woman at the well if she felt like people were staring at her. Ask the lady at Simon’s house if Simon acted like a jerk when she showed up at his dinner party with his well-connected friends. Ask the man in the Gerasenes who was driven away by his own brothers and sisters and chained to a tombstone. Ask the crippled man at the healing pools who always got pushed out of the way by people who were also crippled — just not as crippled as he was. And they all hear the Scriptures being read at Hanukkah. They hear it ever year. God says, “I myself will be their shepherd.”

And the people say, “When?”

“I Am the Good Shepherd! The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep!” ~John 10:11

Right in the middle of the questions and doubts and hopes and anticipation that someday God himself will personally shepherd his flock, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd! It’s me! I’m here!”

imyselfbig“I Am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I Am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep.” ~John 10:11-16

See, in Ezekiel 34, God says I’m going to personally do what the bad shepherds have failed to do. I’m going to do what my people obviously can’t do. God promises to personally intervene. God says you don’t strengthen the weak or heal the sick or bandage up the injured. You have not brought in the strays or searched for the lost. But I will! I will bandage up the injured and strengthen the weak! I will search for the lost and bring back the strays! God’s solution to the long history of lousy leaders and sorry sheep is not a new model, not a new system. He replaces the bad shepherds with the Good Shepherd. God comes to us in Jesus. Christ Jesus comes here to, in his own words, seek and save the lost. He comes here to comfort the weary and heavy burdened, to heal the sick and bring Good News to the poor. Jesus is our Shepherd, fixing things, restoring things.

Jesus knows how to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. To those who rely on their own righteousness, those of us fat sheep who’ve been doing this church thing for decades and think we have all the answers, Jesus rips away all the excuses and he forces us to see our desperate need for him and the Gospel. He says, “I Am the only way, I Am the only truth, and I Am the only life! No one comes to the Father except through me!”

To those who are burdened and marginalized, Jesus pulls them to God. He shows that God does not delight in their death, but he begs them to come to him for eternal life. He makes it clear that there is a place in God’s flock for all weak and sinful sheep. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

The Lord Jesus Christ is our Shepherd. He is bold and courageous and single-minded in his mission to seek and save the lost, to restore the lost sheep of Israel. And he’s so committed to it — he’s so committed to us, his sheep! — that he lays down his life for us. He dies for us. He stands in the gate — he is the gate! — between us and the ravenous wolves and murderous robbers who would destroy us. He’s unwilling to sacrifice even one of us to the enemy. He would die first.

And he did.


bobbywilson6Another walk off win. A two-out, two-run, game-winning double in the bottom of the ninth. The 45th come-from-behind win for the Texas Rangers this year. And the magic number is down to six.



Lousy Leaders & Sorry Sheep

imyselfbandage“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them… I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered… I will bring them into their own land, I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel… I will tend them in a good pasture… I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down,’ declares the Sovereign Lord. ‘I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.'” ~Ezekiel 34:11-16

God speaks through his prophet in Ezekiel 34 about lousy leaders. God points out the kings and elders, prophets and priests — shepherds — the leaders of God’s people who only cared about themselves. The leaders were fat and full and happy. But the people were neglected and forgotten. The shepherds ruled harshly and tough. They didn’t pay attention to the weak. They didn’t minister to the sick. They didn’t care for the injured. They only thought about themselves. Their first priority was to maintain their control. Their main goal was to hang onto their position. They enjoyed the power. They relished the status. And God’s people suffered. They were scattered. They didn’t have any guidance or support, so they looked to the idols in the high places. They made deals with the world and the world ate them alive. And nobody cared.

And God says that’s not going to happen anymore! “I myself will be their shepherd! I’m going to fix this. I’m going to restore everything. I’m going to make everything right. I myself will be their shepherd!”

badsheepEzekiel 34 is also about sorry sheep: older women who think they run everything, younger men who think they know everything, rich people who think they own everything. And they only care about getting their way. They use their experience and knowledge and education and wealth to get it. They don’t just want the blessings of God, they want the blessings you’re getting, too. It’s not enough to have a lot, they want more. And if they need to take it from others, they will. They assert their opinions about everything. They ignore or completely discount the opinions and feelings of others. These sorry sheep push and shove and they leave a trail of devastated people behind them. Hurt feelings and broken relationships. And it’s driving the sheep away.

And God says that’s not going to happen anymore. “I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep! I will save my flock. I’m going to fix this problem. I’m going to make this right. I myself will be their shepherd!”

I read Ezekiel 34 and sometimes it makes me sick.

badshepherdsBecause sometimes we can be really lousy leaders. God rips into the bad shepherds because they’re ignoring the fat sheep who are running over the other sheep. Sometimes church leaders don’t want to challenge church bullies because they don’t want the conflict. Sometimes the fat sheep are the big givers. Sometimes preachers just preach safe messages — they don’t confront the pushing and shoving — because they don’t want anybody to leave. Elders and ministers don’t always take care of the weak sheep like we’re supposed to. Taking care of wounded sheep is hard and painful and time-consuming. It’s work. Sometimes we pay more attention to and rule in favor of the fat sheep who can yell down or outspend the broken sheep. Sometimes church leaders crave the attention themselves. Some of us are tempted by the spotlight. And sometimes we do want our own way. Sometimes we’ll do something or say something only to save our own necks. And our selfishness and inconsistencies can sometimes drive people away. God help us.

If you have ever felt run over by anybody in church, I’m sorry. If you have ever felt like your feelings have been dismissed or your opinions have been discounted by any church leaders, I’m sorry. If I have ever used my position as the preacher to shove you or run over you, please forgive me. I’m sorry. I’m know I’m capable of those things. God, help me.

We can also — all of us — be sorry sheep. We can be territorial about our ministries or our preferred practices or our pews. We can not let anybody in. We can shove our brothers and sisters out the door by being dogmatic and unyielding about our own personal beliefs. We can push people to the curb by insisting they believe and think and worship and parent and dress and pray just like me. We’re so good at it, sometimes we’re oblivious to it. We can actually use a weak sheep position as an 18-pound sledgehammer to bully and head butt and ram other sheep into my comfort zone and inside my lines and behind my boundaries. There are sheep in your flock who’ve been in your flock for years and don’t have any friends. That’s the truth. There are sheep in your church who don’t feel like they matter because we’ve run over them on the way to our next committee meeting or service project. There are people in your congregation who sit by themselves every single Sunday. In your building. God, help us.

If you are a broken sheep, if you’re wounded and weak, if you’re tired, if you feel neglected or ignored or flat-out pushed aside by the people or the programs or the culture of your church, please forgive us. I’m so sorry. I know we’re capable of those things. God, help us.



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