Editorial: Hearing the Shepherd and Listening for Truth

(Spectrumbot) #1

I live on five wooded acres, which would be a vast kingdom for my dog—if my dog came when called. But she does not, so Sandy’s activities are limited to a small fenced play area with sporadic supplemental walks on a leash. When touring the renovated Birmingham zoo, my family was pleased to see the elephant space had been expanded to include several acres of tree-speckled terrain. When the zookeeper showed us the sturdy structure at one end, which could house the elephants during periods of severe weather threat. I asked, “How do you quickly get them inside during tornado warnings?” The zookeeper replied, “I call them by name.”

What freedom we can have if we recognize God calling us by name and guiding us. Yet, if we have not learned to recognize His voice, we would be better off in a limited enclosure with less space to explore. How do we know the nature of God’s call to discipleship in 2015?

Competing voices surround us. Living in Alabama, I take note of the tension in discerning the roles of various branches of government. A recent skirmish involves the Alabama Supreme Court, local probate judges and a federal district judge litigating the constitutionality of an Alabama amendment forbidding same sex marriage. Alabama has a history of tension in deciding which governmental agency will rule the day, regarding immigration, civil rights and more. To which government authority should the probate judges listen?

It can be a confusing time within our denomination as well, with loud, intense, and varied voices claiming to be authoritative for all. We have no urim and thummim, and sometimes the fleeces that are placed for guidance may be open to interpretation. In addition, plainly reading the biblical text can seem to support contrary conclusions. We are in a war of words—a polemic—a battle for our minds.1 In the midst of this epic Great Controversy, would not it be imperative that we emphasize discipleship and learning to recognize God’s voice?

The Gospel of John refers to the sheep who recognize the shepherd’s voice. Why did others not recognize Jesus? Was it because He challenged their status or their preconceived notions? Was it because He befriended their enemies? Or, perhaps, it was because Jesus was not definitive enough for their tastes. Maybe the most important question through the ages is how did some of His sheep know His voice? Jesus gave the small group that did truly hear Him special instruction about living in a hostile world. They were assured of God's special protection and presence through the Holy Spirit. The gospel of John is unique in its extensive references to the benefits of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of all the conflict, there is comfort. There is promise.

How do we learn to hear His voice? Referring to scripture, Ellen White says we need a Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul, because the minds of men differ.2 So today with diverse peoples and temperaments in our world would there exist a variety of authentic walks with God? And what strategies should be employed to help individuals develop a keenness in hearing Christ’s voice?

Many believers would say that we live in the era of the Laodicean church, and should heed the noteworthy counsel to buy gold and white raiment and to use eye salve. Could the eye salve be a remedy to ensure an accurate hearing of God’s voice? Is the implication that the Laodicean church would strive for a more mature discernment which would go beyond merely agreeing with recommendations of others? True discipleship surely must mean more than agreeing with certain respected figures. Could it be that God is looking for people who will use the promised eye salve and who can see for themselves the ultimate course to pursue?

Jesus describes a final judgment in which some who claimed to work for Him actually did not know Him at all. So how do we go beyond claiming a label and genuinely fully participate in end-time discipleship? Through the ages, it seems that God’s guidance for the pilgrimage has come through passages from the Bible, particular circumstances, and impressions from the Spirit. While there is a recognition of a certain interdependence among these three, does one trump the other two? Often we hear that the Bible is the gold standard and the only address for hearing God. But, increasingly we are faced with the question of whose interpretation of the Bible. In seeking to hear God’s voice, do we humbly ask if we are grappling with the passages correctly? After all, we must concede that infallibility in discerning the mind of God is not a part of the human condition, and it should not be expected in our relationship with God. We will make mistakes. Nevertheless, He will be with us. Being no mumbling trickster, God will communicate, and He will communicate clearly if needed.

We are to be “Thinkers not mere reflectors” as Ellen says. In seeking to hear God, we cannot be groveling robots or obsequious, cringing sycophants and still call ourselves children of God. Such creatures do not bear the family resemblance. A son or daughter is not, merely, a family toady. “Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.” (Psalm 32.9 (NLT) We are not robots, but we are created in the image of God with ability to think and freely choose.

We see some of Jesus’ flexibility in discipling people as He spoke to Peter. Jesus uses a play on the words which one would miss when reading in English.

“Peter, do you agape me?” Peter says, “Yes, Lord, I philos you” “Feed my lambs.”

Then a 2nd exact exchange— “Peter, do you agape me? “ Peter replies “I philos you.” Jesus says “Shepherd my young sheep.”

Then, a third time— Jesus asks “Do you philos me?” Note the switch from agape to Peter’s level of love which was philos. Peter, replies “You know that I philos you,” acknowledging, perhaps with sadness, that Jesus knew exactly the quality and level of his love. Jesus, nevertheless, charges him with the responsibility of feeding his young sheep.

Is God flexible and adaptable in teaching and leading each of us like He was with Peter? (Note Jon Paulien’s discussion on John 21). Should not we adopt the same stance with each other?

Even as we recognize the latitude God uses with each person, how do we know truth for ourselves? “It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones” (The Desire of Ages, p. 83 1898). Could our frequent meditation on the real and the true protect us from counterfeit voices? Federal agents don’t learn to spot fake money by studying the counterfeits. Rather, they study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing. It is only then that they will reliably recognize the bogus currency. Maybe the apostle John had discernment in mind when He frequently used the terms “real” and “true”; true light, true vine, real bread, real judgment. He understood that it is important for genuine discipleship to distinguish the true vs false. In fact, we see in John 14.6-12 that Jesus clearly claimed that He had shown them the Father. I find this instructive in learning to hear God’s voice. Look to Jesus for the real thing. Perhaps that is the key to hearing His voice, to knowing His voice, to finding truth.


1Sigve Tonstad, Saving God’s Reputation, 2006. 2Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, Mountain View CA: Pacific Press 1913, p. 432.

Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the parent organization of Spectrum Magazine.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6722


I did not know that. That made my day. Thanks!

(Marianne Faust) #3

Thank you very much Carmen! Yes, ist all about knowing him and being known by him.
I did not have acces to this page yesterday…was that my computer’s fault?

(No, we had a major outage with Discourse. I don’t know the reason. Our techies were looking into it but I don’t know if they did some fixing or it just came back on its own. It’s running slow for me this morning so perhaps there are more issues left. - website editor)

(jeremy) #4

that’s just what i thought…this is a great article…

(Steve Mga) #5

Go to Scripture4All. Greek.
When the NT chapters appear, click on John 21.
This is Interlinear.
Gives the Greek. Gives the English sounds. Gives the English words.
It is in Greek construct, so you have to put it “English Talk”.
But it is there, it is NOT in the King James or many other Translations.
Peter keeps saying to Jesus “I like you”. Jesus rephrases the question to "Do you like me"
What is it about Agape that is scary to Peter when talking to a man-Jesus, Messiah-Jesus, Son of God-Jesus?
Maybe he has never allowed himself to express his emotions all his life. And this is the first time he has REALLY been asked to reveal a side of him he has kept secret, lock in a closet. And this is the BEST he can verbalize, and even this is emotionally painful to say.
Actually we see a different Peter is his 2 letters later in life. A more emotionally comfortable, mature person. The closet door open.
Could this be a side of Religion Seventh day Adventists are AFRAID to discuss? The release of our Emotional side? In some places EGW talks about NOT being emotional, having a continuous sober emotional state. Are Seventh day Adventists asked to be like Peter? Keep our emotions locked in a closet?

(Steve Mga) #6

Mine acted up too. Must have been a problem on Spectrum side.

(George Tichy) #7

If this Spectrum blog is ever deactivated, @elmer_cupino and I will have lots of new patients who went “bananas”…

(Thomas J Zwemer) #8

The love that Peter had for Christ compelled him to request being crucified head down. I hear Peter responding with a closer love. which Christ then accepted and charged Peter to use that love in service of others. If a husband loves his wife, when does he tell her her slip is showing , before she leaves the house or after they are in a crowd? Certainly Des Ford loved the Church enough to tell the Church it was wrong on its exclusive understanding of Dan. 8:14.

(Sirje) #9

Love, for Adventists, is shown through action - “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Emotions are seen as transient. While love does get expressed in action, its motivation must reach deeper, it would seem.

It’s difficult to love an abstract concept of God. This is one reason God had to show up as a human being with whom we can have interaction. Jesus said, we love him to the degree we love our fellow man/woman. Again, that’s not easy either if we don’t get to know people at the level where we actually care about them. We can say we love everybody, but that seems unrealistic. I guess it comes down to humility in the face of others in our lives.

(Elmer Cupino) #10

Just like a parent who talks to their children according to their children’s cognitive functions, God talks to us according to our cognitive functions. Siblings frequently argue among themselves as to whose parental version is best and their discourse should only be used as an index to gauge their psychological growth and maturation. So likewise in theology. There in nothing so complex to understand about this. Anything more than being tolerant of others is a control issue and will never be resolved in a church setting but in a therapist’s couch instead.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #11

Peter was saying, I love you as a Brother, or more likely as a child to a Parent. Christ would have us love Him as and Adopted Parent to as the Bridegroom. To the Church? The point is Jesus was not offended by the response. he asked three times in response to the three times Peter had denied Him just days before. That is the primary reason for the three repeats. It seems the author is telling the reader, “How does one tell the truth to power?” The primary answer is one does not shade the truth. Des Ford attempted to soften the exegesis by finding a multiple application to no avail. How we view God’s judgment does not impact on how or when God judges. Christian civility is built upon the reality that we were all under the same condemnation and have been redeemed by the same Blood. The dimensions of our love is based upon the depth of our understanding of the Divine love that prompted that gift. Tom Z

(Rheticus) #12

Do these statements become any more true because EGW said them? She was hardly the first or the last person to make the observation.

We have a choice. We can either look for the EGW quote or, heaven help us, try thinking for ourselves.

(Yung Lau) #13

Ahhh – you are in essence speaking to the point of the writer and demonstrating the counter attitude. What is true is true and each may need a different way to see it. So while you may not find EGW confirmation of a truth helpful and even offensive, others do find her affirming. We would do well to not limit any of God’s methodologies despite how it appeals to us as individuals.


“obsequious, cringing sycophants”?

(Thomas J Zwemer) #15

The primary reason for the three times was not to determine the level or kind of love, but to reestablish the relationship and to give assurance to Peter after he had recently denied his Lord three times. Recall Jesus ask to tell the disciples and Peter. the point was Jesus never lost His love for Peter. that is the assurance we have as imperfect disciples in a world gone mad? Tom Z

(Rheticus) #16

True - http://www.challies.com/articles/counterfeit-detection-part-1


Hello Tom, yes I was aware of that. I just found it very interesting the 2 words used by Jesus and Peter in that conversation. Thanks.

(George Tichy) #18

This would be a serious violation of an almost secret code in Adventism.
When people join Adventism they are automatically expected to immediately conform in full to a believing format that is based on EGW. The “neophytes” are not considered to be mature Adventists until they “speak the house language properly.”

Questioning EGW on anything usually generates immediate reaction and is, more often than not, considered to be a “red flag” that indicates that the “unbelievers” may be losing their faith.
(We need to have an agreed upon hyperbole emoticon, so you could place one after the above riff. That would avoid some people thinking you were totally dead serious and avoid you risking getting tagged for it by the moderator. - website editor)

Someone said wisely, “heaven help us, try thinking for ourselves” …

(Carolyn Parsons) #19

U+1F4A9 :poop: This system doesn’t have it but it is encoded.

(George Tichy) #20

WebEd @website_editor:

I am open to hear which part of my comment you din’t like, which supposedly should not be “totally dead serious.” Honestly, I am not getting what your opposing comment is about. From my perspective of a long term Adventist I didn’t say anything that does not correspond to reality. But, again, I am open to your input.