Leviticus 9: Next Aaron presented the offerings of the people.
The sacrificial system has been explained, the priests ordained, and now it’s getting underway. Moses, God’s representative, puts everything into place and now Aaron, the newly anointed high priest initiates the first sacrifices. Before he presents the offerings of the people he has personal business to attend to. He makes offerings of his own in preparation for serving the people. The animals are killed and their blood is applied, a reflection of Precious Blood that will be shed many years in the future. It’s only after Aaron has done that that he turns his attention to the offerings of the people. This passage speaks to me as the leader of my congregation. I want to serve the people who are under my care but I must never forget that I have needs of my own. If I fail to bring them to the Lord I’m bound to fail my people. In addition, this is not a one time effort. In spite of what those outside the clergy think, we pastors stand in need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness on an ongoing basis. Today, as I read about these events of long ago and regardless of the huge cultural and practical differences, I find myself identifying with these priests of old as they take care of their own business before they can serve their congregation.
Take Away: If we’re to help others we need to deal with the needs of our own lives first.
Pastor to people
2John: My dear congregation, I, your pastor, love you in very truth.
Compared to some books of the Bible, 2John isn’t much of a “book.” It’s more of an “email.” It’s just a few lines, written as a quick placeholder for a congregation by their pastor. He’ll fill in the material in person. He greets them by declaring his love for them. I can’t help but think, as I read this opening line, that’s it’s a beautiful thing when a pastor loves his or her congregation “in very truth.” Because of that love-based relationship John starts his note to them by encouraging them, telling them how happy he is with them. Anyone who thinks the pastor’s job is to “tell it like it is” and “set people straight” needs to spend some time here. John tells his church how much he loves them and how pleased he is with their faithfulness to Christ’s command that his followers love one another. It’s only after doing that that he moves on to warning them about some false teachers who are taking advantage of gullible Christians. He has more to say to them, but until he can be with them personally, he thinks this little “email” will do. The brevity of this letter speaks volumes about the friendly, loving relationship between this pastor and his congregation. I can’t help but think that sometimes saying less is saying more.
Take Away: Pastors need to love and appreciate the churches under their charge. Churches, on the other hand, need to love and appreciate pastors who lovingly care for them.
Jeremiah 23: You’ve scattered my sheep…you haven’t kept your eye on them.
This passage is clergy oriented so pastor types like me need to sit up and take notice. The Lord’s displeased with the spiritual leaders of Jeremiah’s day. He pictures them as shepherds who are given the responsibility of caring for the Lord’s flock. These leaders are entrusted with the spiritual welfare of God’s flock but they’re betraying that confidence. Instead of loving the flock, leading and caring for it, they’re taking advantage of things for personal gain. In some cases they’re actually harming those they’re supposed to protect. Otherwise, they’re neglecting them or even driving them away. God’s disappointed in these leaders and is angry with them. Sometimes I think that church people are too pastor oriented, giving way too much authority to the pastor, including letting the pastor do their thinking for them (or, standing on the sidelines and cheering as the pastor works him/herself to death – but that’s a subject for another day!). Today, I’m reminded that there’s a strong biblical foundation that supports some having spiritual leadership. The Lord has wired us in such a way that we look to some as “shepherds” acting as God’s representatives. These leaders are to be servants who put the interests of those entrusted to their care before their own needs. In this passage Jeremiah reminds me that as a pastor I’ve been honored with the position of leadership, but with that position has come accountability, not just to the congregation I serve, but to the Lord, himself.
Take Away: Church leaders are to be good shepherds of the flock of the Lord.
Preaching to please people
Jeremiah 15: Let your words change them. Don’t change your words to suit them.
The Lord called Jeremiah to be his spokesman but Jeremiah’s words aren’t well received. In fact, they get him into a lot of trouble. As a Sunday sermon preacher I like it when people are energized by my words. It hurts when folks can hang out in the foyer chatting while I pour out my heart in a sermon. I have to admit though, that Jeremiah’s situation gives me a whole new perspective on things. Not only did his listeners reject his sermons, they actively tried to silence him. Having folks who are angry with me and out to get me over a sermon would be much worse than their simply wanting to chat about other things while I preach on Sunday! Facing such opposition, Jeremiah’s tempted to adjust his preaching a bit, to downplay the “gloom and doom” and focus on things like God’s love instead. The Lord, though, is having none of that. He looks Jeremiah square in the face and tells him to stand up and take it like a man. If he has to decide between his congregation not liking his sermons or the Lord not liking them, he’d better land on the side of the Lord. The Almighty says to Jeremiah, “Don’t let the congregation craft your sermon. Be faithful to my directions and your words will change lives.” We preachers need passages like this to remind us of the spiritual facts of life. We aren’t preaching to please people. Instead, we’re preaching to change their lives. It isn’t so much what they want as it is what they need. There’s only one in the audience who must be pleased no matter what. I need to spend time with him as I prepare a sermon, lean on him as I deliver it, and then leave the results of it all in his hands.
Take Away: It’s a good thing when the congregation is pleased with the sermon. It’s even better when the Lord is.