Don’t go to church to get fed.

Go to church to get hungry.

Don’t go to church to get fed? People say this sounds unbiblical. Didn’t Jesus tell Peter, “Feed my sheep”?

That’s the point.

We first hear this idea in Ezekiel 34 where God was speaking “against the shepherds of Israel” who failed to feed the sheep and instead fed themselves: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought … My sheep were scattered with none to search or seek for them …” (Ezekiel 34:4,6)

Imagine the scene. Peter swims up to a beach where the Messiah he denied is cooking him breakfast over a charcoal fire. Just a few days earlier he was warming himself around another charcoal fire when a girl gave him a chance to stand up for a suffering Jesus. He fails miserably, the cock crows, and he flees in shame, lacking faith to believe in a Redeemer who could beat death, much less his sin.

But Jesus thoroughly defeated sin and absolutely conquered death.

Peter now finds himself looking into the same eyes of the Man he betrayed, with the smell of his failure in his nostrils. He then hears the question he never saw coming, with a command that would change his life:

Do you love Me?

Feed my sheep.

When most Christians hear the words feed my sheep they tend to think of reaching in. Going deep. Finding a church that meets my family’s needs. They call it discipleship. For most people feed my sheep means improving existing believers.

But I don’t think that’s what Peter heard.

There’s no doubt that improving and caring for found sheep is part of what Ezekiel 34 had in mind. Strengthen the weak, heal the sick, have meaty Bible studies. One hundred percent necessary. But when you read the story of Peter, you do not find him staying in; he goes out. Central to God’s rebuke to shepherds was their characteristic neglect of lost sheep.

After 2000 years Christians still miss it. We still think feed my sheep means preaching good sermons. (And listen, I’m a sermon guy. I’m sold on well-prepared, expository, Christocentric, Redemptive-historical, gospel preaching) We still act like feed my sheep means helping already-found sheep shine a little brighter. (And just to be clear, I’m all in with with laboring for Christ-like sanctification by faith, a la Galatians 4:19.)

But what if feed my sheep is something more like the great commission.

You know, Go make disciples.

What if making disciples is like making a cake. It certainly includes the icing and the decorating, but it absolutely demands the cooking. Starting with nothing but ingredients and turning this nothingness into somethingness. Sounds a lot like God: “Let there be light.” What if making disciples is exactly what Jesus said it is: teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19-20) What if feed my sheep says loving Jesus means I’ll care about what he cares about. And he feels deeply about lost things.

What if feed my sheep is a lot more like an urgent search for your lost keys when you’re running late for work? Funny how I never hear people passively sit down and rationalize theology with their lost keys. Well, maybe I was predestined to never find these keys. If God wants me to have them, he’ll find a way. Let’s be honest, if we treated looking for lost keys the way we treat looking for lost sheep we’d be unemployed.

Feed My sheep.

I have eight children. That means every now and then I lose one. Can you imagine if I went home to my wife with seven out of eight? As my wife explodes in maternal concern do you think she’d be okay with me saying, “Ruth, calm down. We still have seven. Let’s not be all about numbers. Besides that, the more kids, the less the rest of us get our needs met. The less food for the rest of us. I don’t want us to be a mega-family, I like small-family. All these extra people make it harder to go deep.” My wife would go off.

Because that’s her sheep.

What if your wife-swapping coworker is His sheep, but he doesn’t know it yet? What if your annoying neighbor is His sheep, but she’s never been told? What if feed My sheep means we’re rubbing shoulders with lost sheep all the time, and God wants people with a heart like his?

Which is why He’s asking, “Do you love Me?”

And that’s why I don’t want to go to a church that “feeds” me, in the way a predictable American Christian hears the word feeds. I want to be a part of one that makes me hungry. Hungry enough to go all the way with this gospel I say I believe. And nothing makes me hungry like the uncompromised proclamation and demonstration of the substitutionary death and explosive resurrection of Jesus, among people who burn in white hot passion for their first love, and for the sake of the people He adores. In creed and deed.

Feed My sheep.Feed sheep

“I just want you to hold me.”

I just want you to hold me.

Those were the syllables streaming off the lips of my new bride on the first night of our marriage. Just to give you context, we waited. And waited. And I can’t overstate how ready I was to fully know my wife. Biblically. As Jesus followers we were saving our sex for our marriage. And as a Bible guy I knew that my strongest desire was supposed to be the Lord’s return, but I had a different prayer: Please wait until after my wedding night. I had nightmares about seeing my beautiful wife, in bed, giving me the look of desire as I leapt through the air, toward my lover, just as the trumpet of God sounded. You get the idea.

But when my long-anticipated night approached, my bride was far from the frisky, disciple of desire I had imagined. She froze up. She just wanted me to hold her. How do you define hold, I wondered. But it was no use. In the aftermath a dozens of well-intentioned Christians loading down my wife with every conversation and book about the holy-act-of-marriage-wild-woman-intimate-joy experience, I was done for. Maybe we could try in the morning, she suggested. I set the alarm for 3:00AM.

I tell that story because of the way I see so many Christians approach the Holy Spirit. All you have to do is thumb through the book of Acts or the writings of Paul, and you discover a far more intense relationship and openness toward the Holy Spirit than you see today. They treated Him like a person. They expected holy interaction. They approached Him as God. Because the Holy Spirit is I Am. Transformation itself “comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) I hear many people profess a theoretical submission to Jesus as Lord; but how many have functionally allowed the Spirit to be Lord? Everything Jesus was to His followers, the Holy Spirit is. Helper, comforter, friend, advocate, counselor. For as much as we Bible-Christians pride ourselves on our commitment to Scripture, it’s stunning how shallow we have gone in the truth of the experience of the Spirit.

A little explanation.

Every believer has the Holy Spirit living inside of him or her. “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4:6) Like a pilot light that will never go out, the Spirit begins to live in us from the moment we first believe. However, every believer is not always walking in a real-life experience with the Spirit. This is why Paul says in Ephesians 1:13 that all believers were sealed with the Holy Spirit, but then four chapters later he says to “not be drunk with wine … but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18).

According to Paul, the experience of being filled is something like coming under the influence of alcohol. You lose some of your natural inhibitions; you have more boldness; your tongue gets loosed; and you aren’t afraid of what people will think. It’s like what happens when the pilot light is allowed to grow into a fire source that boils your water. You don’t need a new flame, you need to go all the way with the flame you’ve got.

This is why in Acts 19 Paul’s opening question to a group of disciples was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2) A real relationship with the Spirit is a game-changer because you are different when you are under the influence of the Spirit. There are crucial conversations you should never have until you are filled. There are painful memories you should not even think about unless you are filled. There are some activities you were never meant to attempt until you get filled. There are commands in Scripture that are downright impossible without the influence of the Spirit. Forgive your enemies? Bless those who curse you? Articulate the gospel in an awkward environment? We spend too much time striving to do with a pilot light what can only be done with a raging fire.

And this is where all the controversy and family feuding is so counterproductive. It freezes people up. It turns the Spirit into an it about which we theorize instead of a Person with whom we relate.

We get tripped up over terms like the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the various manifestations of the Spirit. When Charismatics over-emphasize specific experiences, they fail to recognize that believers have Spirit encounters all the time. If you’ve ever walked into church cold and then walked out on fire; if you’ve ever been in an intimidating situation and an unusual boldness came over you to articulate the gospel; if you’ve ever felt lost and someone spoke a word of encouragement that had a God-centered effect you could not explain … then you have come under the influence of the Spirit. It’s almost like drinking spiked punch you thought was kool-aid; it just happened to you. You came under the influence accidentally. On the other hand, what non-Charismatic Christians under-emphasize is the biblical mandate to intentionally pursue this experience. Coming under His influence is supposed to become a lifestyle. So ask for the Spirit (Luke 11:13) Charismatics are correct in pointing out the possibility of an experience subsequent to salvation. But they seem so obsessed with the initial infilling that they under-stress the call to live a life of being filled again and again and again.

He wants to do more than seal you for the day of redemption. He wants to fill you today. Is fear closing in? Ask for the Spirit. Are you in trouble? Ask for the Spirit. Having trouble praying? Ask for the Spirit.

It really is tragic. While the world has become more spiritual, Christians have become secular. Natural. You were never wired to be satisfied with a purely natural life. Lay aside every unbiblical inhibition, set your gaze on Jesus, and wait for the Spirit.

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