Grace to Offer Ourselves to Others

A Shepherd’s Reality
When we consider the life of a shepherd in the field with her or his flock, we are aware that they face heat by day, cold by night, rain or snow at either time, bandits, thieves, Unknownpredators, and all sorts of stuff sheep get themselves into – sore hooves, briers, cliffs, illnesses, holes,
snakes….Shepherding is a never-ending demanding job.

Little wonder that God uses the shepherd metaphor to describe how he relates to us – he pours himself out to us, always tending to as the sheep of his pasture. Our Lord is the Shepherd-King!

Jesus suffered for our well-being. So too do shepherds endure hardship in pursuit of the well-being of those for whom they care.

Like Shepherd, like shepherds.

Gospel Orientation
The temptation is to bear down and just press on in this work. But there is no gospel in “try harder.”

unnamed 2The invitation for all of our life in Christ is him living his life in and through us. Paul’s well-known testimony is “not I, but Christ lives his life in me (Galatians 2:20).”

As shepherds, we abide in Christ that he may  live his life through us as we care for others.

This is not merely a utilitarian relationship. It is one born of sacrificial love. Jesus has given his life for and to us in love for his Father and for us. The Father and the Son have sent the Spirit to bind us to themselves and to pour out life and love into us. As shepherds, this is what (who) we offer to others.

So as we press on in the care of others, even at personal cost to ourselves, Jesus will live his life in us and through us. Outwardly, we may experience all sorts of adversities, inwardly God will be renewing us day by day (see 2 Corinthians 4).

This is the Christ-life manifested in the context of our service to others.

Here is how Paul described it, “He (Jesus) is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (Colossians 1:28-29, emphasis mine).”

Christ powerfully works in Paul. Paul strenuously contends for the maturation of the flocks.

Fear Not Hardship
Fear is one way the enemy causes us to draw back. What if I am rejected? What if I am misunderstood? What if this costs me too much? What if…..?

Jesus knows all these concerns and he continues to pour his life into us. The Gospel orientation in life is that because Jesus is always enough, there is always enough to go around.

Jesus’ all sufficiency is in direct opposition to a scarcity mindset.

So we lean into Jesus and he offers himself to us and through us to others.

Be encouraged. Jesus is with you and in you. The Father sees you and pours his life into yours through the Spirit and the written Word. We are never alone.

How has God been shaping and using you in this area of caring for others?

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New Bible Study Resource

Crossway has just come out with a new format of what they call Scripture Journal Bibles. They have (or soon will) release each book of the Bible individually.  On the left is well spaced Scripture text, on the right is a page for study notes, teaching notes, etc.
So for example, here is a screen-shot of the Book of John:
Screen Shot 2018-11-16 at 6.31.18 AM
If you have some particular books that have been core to your faith journey, these little Scripture journals can be an ideal way to really dig into the text with plenty of room to write out your notes and add to them over the years.
As an application, I was thinking that in one of my organization’s in-house trainings we study the Gospel of John closely. This would be a great format to give to each attendee to record notes for future reference.  These are nice walk-away resources or gifts for retreats and training events.
You may think of similar ideas for your study, retreats, teaching, etc
This is only done in ESV by Crossway – fans of ESV will like this, others maybe not so much….And they are not cheap if one were to buy each book of the Bible. John costs $5.95. Longer books, like Psalms, will be more expensive.  I plan to just get a few of select Scripture books I want to study deeply next year.
They are available on Amazon.
Keep making time to dig into the Word my friends.
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Deserts Can Bloom

Isaiah 35

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy….FullSizeRender

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

 

Desert Darkness Like I had Never Known
2008 was as dark a time as I’ve ever experienced. I was dealing with a mystery illness no doctor could identify let alone remedy. Even after many hours of sleep, I was so staggeringly fatigued – I had to go down the stairs on my rear one step at a time. I’d awake at 2 in the morning in a full blown panic attack – an experience I’d never known
before. To add further darkness to the desert experience, God seemed to have just left me there. No matter how I pleaded, he was silent. He felt distant. It was as if he just up and left….

Alone.Version 2

Afraid.

Undone.

I was in a barren landscape; no identifiable landmarks; lost. I felt cast aside.

I had no idea how I found myself there. I was just going about life and ministry and then the darkness descended. I had apparently lost my health. Emotionally I was unglued. The future was uncertain. It’s unsettling when medical specialist after medical specialist simply says, “I can’t help you” with a sympathetic yet helpless shrug.

It’s been 10 years plus since then.  I have regained some of my capacities but no where near what I had before the unnamed Asian virus wreaked its havoc in me. I still live with all the symptoms. Some days are not pleasant.  The panic attacks are all but gone. God has graciously helped me to see he was there all along and was doing a deep and beautiful work in me.

Like most suffering, the process really stinks but the fruit can be beautiful.

My Desert Has Blossomed
Two years ago I sat down to write what God had taught me along the way. You can find in  the book titled The Uninvited Companion. That is what I named my new physical reality, “the uninvited companion.”

The cards and letters I have received, the stories I have been told, of those who have read the book had stopped me speechless.

How can God use one person’s desert to be a glass of water for others?

Only God can make a desert blossom. A desert is a desert. Yet when a desert blooms, wow, what beauty. My physical reality still feels like a desert, yet God displays beauty in and around me constantly. This is not self-generated, it is graced.

Yours?
What desert(s) exist in your life?

Divorce. Singleness. Cancer. Betrayal. Poverty. Loneliness. Doubt. Anxiety. Childlessness.

Along our pilgrimages we all find ourselves in desert places. These are places we do not see coming nor choose to go to. Suddenly we find ourselves there. Sometimes its our own fault, sometimes another’s, sometimes pain in a fallen world strikes us.

Regardless of the cause, our deserts do not outstrip God’s redemptive competency. God defines our deserts, our deserts do not define God.

IMG_3102He has made parts of my desert blossom. He will do the same in yours. It may be soon. It may be later in life. It will certainly in eternity. He is able. He loves each of us. He is a Father who sees and knows and is present (even if he does not grace us
with sensing his presence).

What is the name of your desert?

How has God brought beauty into your past deserts?

He will do it again. He is loving and he is powerful.

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Update: TUC Celebration

Thank you to all who helped celebrate The Uninvited Companion’s one year celebration. During 1-5 January, 1783 free kindle editions were download! That is quite the response.

If you find this book helpful, please pass it on as a resource for an applied theology of suffering or as a personal companion to someone who finds themselves in a season of personal adversity.

Thanks!

SES

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2018 Reads List

Here is an annual reads list I share. I trust you will find something to stimulate your on-going learning.

Please, please send me titles you have read of late that you found worth the time.

Thanks!

Keep growing in Christ!

SES

2018 reads list scott e shaum

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Free: The Uninvited Companion

The Uninvited Companion has been so well received – the stories I have heard! I am grateful to how God has used it.

To celebrate it’s one year on the market, the Kindle Edition is free through January 5.

Please pass this onto your contacts.

Thanks and Happy New Year

SES

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Why are We So Tired?

WordPress provides detailed statistics on this blog’s activity. This site has had over 34,000 views. Amidst all this traffic there is one blog topic that stands amongst them all in total views: Exhaustion.

I have written on the subject twice. You can see the first here and then a revised version from a couple years later here.

I find this statistic fascinating. And revealing.

I suspect we are a tired bunch of people.

A Shepherd’s Gathering
I just returned from the annual Pastoral Training in Member Care Conference (next year will be the 30th anniversary – don’t miss it!). One of the observations I made at this conference is how tired all of us care-giving shepherds are.

What’s up with that?

Do we not sabbath or sabbatical?

Do we simply say yes to too much?

Are we trying to accomplish more than our capacities allow for?

Are we need-driven rather than Father-responsive?

On the one hand, there is no way to sacrificially serve others without tiring. God does ask us to lay our lives down for others. Pouring out of ourselves is our calling. Fatigue is a realistic expectation.

Yet many of us cross over from a “good-tired” into a consistent weariness that can spike to a deep weariness that we do not easily recover from. Our efforts to renew on any given day or week simply are not adequate. More is consistently going out than is coming in. Our “fuel tanks” are red-lining way too often.

Time for an Evaluation
Over the remainder of this year, I am taking some time to ponder my own tiredness.  Here are but a few questions I am asking:

Why do I say yes to what I say yes to?

Is what I say yes to the absolute essential work I must be doing? Has the Father specifically told me to do it, or am I simply reasoning I “need” to do it?

Am I living by the cultural mantra that “we can do it all?”

Am I serving primarily from a place of tiredness or restedness? What would it take to shift into the latter? Is this a desirable and/or realistic goal?

Am I responding to internal fears and external demands more than Father, Son, Holy Spirit invitations? What would a deepening of response to God look like?

What would allow me to engage others from a welling up of inner spiritual vibrancy on a consistent basis?

These are but a sample. Create some of your own.

May I encourage you to hold these prayers before God over the coming months?

Resources
Here are two titles that may be of some stimulation. As best I can tell, these two authors are not Christ-followers. At least these books are not written from a typical Evangelical bent. Thus, they provide a different perspective on the topics. Some of the findings in Rest is research-based. These books have me thinking and praying from different angles.

Do you have a resource to suggest?

IMG_2892

 

 

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less  

By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2891

 

 

 

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

By Greg McKeown

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The Shepherd’s Work of Spiritual Mentoring

In the previous two posts (here and here) I have put forth definition of spiritual formation and implications for our shepherd work.

Our working definition of spiritual formation is:

Spiritual formation is the ongoing process of the Holy Spirit drawing us deeper into the love and life of the Father and Son; which shapes us into Jesus’ image of love for the Father and for the world.

From that definition, we added that the shepherds first, foremost and primary role is to shepherd others to this place of communion with Jesus:

Unknown“Shepherds are willfully complicit with the Holy Spirit’s concern of drawing all into communion with the Father and Son.”

What we are advocating for is a trajectory of growth in communion with the Father and the Son by the Spirit. Yes, the path is circuitous. It is not linear. This is the messy stuff of relationship. Yet, in the Spirit, we grow in our abiding in Jesus. Shepherds seek to facilitate that relational growth.

Because we are bent on trying to make life work on own best efforts, we are reminded that we do not throw people back on themselves with self-determining efforts. God is the one who grows us.

An Observation
Over many years of shepherding workers around the world, I have made an observation. This is general in nature, but it will serve our purpose.

We all have a spirituality that “works” in our own culture. We know how to navigate culture; we have resources and a community around us; we experience less (or at least Unknown
different) stressors; and we can become familiar with the enemy’s ploys in that context.

When we move into a new country, all bets are off. Suddenly we are faced with a deluge of stressors; we are confronted with spiritual oppression that overwhelms; we may have little to no faith community.

We now have a spirituality crisis as the spiritual practices we observed in our home culture can be quickly outstripped by the demands of life and ministry in a new context.

Our spirituality is no longer adequate for the life-ministry context we find ourselves in.

What is the Spirit up to? Well, the same as always. He is inviting us in deeper still.

In human terms, our input must far exceed our output. But many workers do not know what to do and have not been shepherded into deeper waters of faith.

Spiritual Coaching and Mentoring
Here is where shepherds can become ground-level practical in their shepherding.

When faced with workers who are distressed and showing symptoms of emotional thinness and spiritual malnourishment, shepherds can offer practical ways forward.

The simple fact is that God is inviting each of us to spend far more time with him than we likely ever have before. And this on a daily basis.

We require lengthier time in the Word, reflecting, pondering, chewing all in a spirit of openness to God – not just for more knowledge or to prep for our next teaching session.

God will invite us to lengthier times of sitting with him in prayer – in whatever form that takes.

Sabbath and a day of solitude and prayer a month are no longer optional.

Necessary too are spiritual directors, mentors and pastors of our souls.

Creativity can Breath Life
IMG_3102Particularly in our prayer practices we can invite creativity. There are a multitude of well-known practices: intercession, silence, meditation, contemplation, Examen, on and on. Whatever faith stream you come out of (e.g. reformed, liturgical, charismatic, contemplative, etc.), there is a rich heritage of prayer practices.

What’s more, many will find great enrichment in creative expression – walking and praying as you go; painting; praying with a friend; writing poetry; playing an instrument. The fact, though, is that few of us have been given permission in these area. Nor do we know how.

Take Examen for example. This can be a profoundly insight reflection practice. But how does one go about it? What is the purpose? How do I learn to discern what the Spirit wants me to see? Who can help me gain some perspective?

This is the practical encouragement and mentoring spiritual shepherds can provide as we shepherd others deeper into communion with God.

There is a great need for newer workers to be mentored into deeper ways of responsive abiding in Jesus. What a gift we can offer by providing such guidance.

As always, I would love to hear from your experience in this area – how others have assisted you or what you have found beneficial in your care of others. Thanks!

Would you mind doing me a favor and share this site with 3-5 friends or colleagues if you think it worth their time? Thanks!

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