Careless Sheep and the Good Shepherd

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“His eyes never slumber, and His hands never rest; His heart never ceases to beat with love, and His shoulders are never weary of carrying His people’s burdens.”
Charles Spurgeon on Christ Jesus our Shepherd
My favorite “I Am” statement of Jesus is “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  It always reminds me of a painting depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd, that hung in the vestibule of a church I worked at years ago. He is reaching from the side of a cliff to rescue one of His little lambs.  Sheep are notoriously clueless and helpless.  They start grazing and fail to notice when they wander too far from the fold or too close to the edge of a cliff.  They love to graze at the edge of the water because the grass is abundant and lush.  But they step on the slippery rocks and tumble into the water. Their wool becomes so heavy they cannot right themselves or climb out.  If the shepherd doesn’t hear their bleating, they will soon drown.
Sound familiar?  It sure does to me.  I have often wandered from the safety of my shepherd’s side following the lush and tempting grass.  But Jesus never fails to rescue me when I cry out.
I love how, in this painting, Jesus has put Himself in a precarious position to bring His wandering one to safety.  What struck me the most about the painting though was the look on the little lamb’s face – absolute confidence in the Shepherd.  There is no worry or doubt that the Shepherd will rescue her.  She isn’t trying to pull herself up the rocky wall of the cliff, but waits for Him to reach her and bring her to safety.   There is no fear of anger from the Shepherd.  Just trust.   This little lamb knows the Shepherd, knows that He is able to rescue her ,and knows that He loves her.
I don’t know what danger you may have wandered into.  You may be trying to get yourself to safety, too ashamed to cry out for rescue. You wonder if Jesus will come and if He will be angry with you.  Beloved, stop trying to rescue yourself.  Cry out to Jesus – there’s no need to be ashamed. He will come and He is not angry.
The Lord is your Shepherd – whether you are safe in the fold or hanging on the side of a cliff. You are His beloved lamb.
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I Can Do All Things . . .

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“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13)

“Let a Christian begin to boast, “I can do all things,” without adding, “through Christ who strengthens me,” and before long he will have to groan, “I can do nothing.” Charles Spurgeon

Philippians 4:13 is one of those favorite “pull-out” verses for believers, and it is a good reminder when we face big tasks.  But do you know this verse in its context?  It really isn’t about strength at all.  It follows up a different principle altogether.

Paul is in prison – and 1st century prisons were nothing like our modern American facilities. There were no cots, no pillows or blankets, and no meals provided. Prisoners slept on hard floors and were at the mercy of others for their basic needs. If family, friends or a kind benevolent soul did not bring them food, they would starve to death in prison. This “strength” verse comes as Paul thanks the Philippian church for their gifts and concern for him.  He wants to assure them that, despite his situation, he is not in despair.  Rather, he says, “I have learned to be content’ whatever the circumstances . . . In any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:11-12).  Paul is making a point about contentment.  And he said that the secret behind his unshakable state of contentment is the strength he receives from the Lord.


This is not a power-lifting verse.   It’s not a touchdown verse (and I do love Tim Tebow). It’s a getting through life verse. Paul is not trying to perform great feats of strength – he’s trying to endure his chains.


The beauty of this verse is that the same strength that sustained Paul in prison is there for you and me in the challenges we face every day.  I can do all things . . . be gentle with my frustrating child this morning – face my overly demanding boss – have a Christ-like spirit towards those co-workers who reject my faith – eat beans and hot dogs for supper for the third time this week – bathe my aging parent who can’t remember my name. We don’t just need Christ’s strength in the gym or on the ball field. We need it in our homes and workplaces and relationships.


Beloved, whatever your “all things” is today, God will give you strength, not just to do the thing that needs to be done, but to do it with a heart of contentment, knowing that One who provides the strength also holds you in the palm of His great and loving hand. Yes, you can – through Him.

I am a Child of God!

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.  At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:11-12).
The Father’s words over Jesus came at His baptism, when the Spirit descended on Him as He came up out of the water.  God confirmed that Jesus was His beloved Son, and that He pleased His Father greatly.  It was a tender and powerful moment – and it was a moment of preparation for what was to come.  Mark says that “at once” Jesus was led by the Spirit into the place of temptation.  Matthew fleshes out the account of Jesus fasting for 40 days and Satan throwing temptations at him, which Jesus deflected, shutting the enemy down.
What caught my attention this morning are the words of the Father just before the temptation. Jesus was able to resist and reject Satan because the Father’s words were still ringing in His ears.  “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Beloved, the Father speaks those same words over you and me.  “You are my son, you are my daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  Because we are adopted into the family of God when we believe in Jesus, we become His sons and his daughters.  We are as loved by the Father as was Jesus (John 17:26).  Our faith is pleasing to Him (Hebrews 11:6).
Every day you and I enter a wilderness.  Every day Satan tries to drag us into sin.  He dangles temptation before us like a carrot on a stick.  What if, before your feet hit the floor every morning you remind yourself, “I am God’s son, I am God’s daughter, my Father loves me, and He is well pleased with me.”  Would that make a difference in how you respond to temptation?  I believe it would.  What if, when I sense the devil playing his old tricks again, I spoke those words out loud where he can hear me.  I expect he would tuck tail and run. I believe with that assurance in our hearts and on our lips, you and I will be empowered to stand firm against the enemy.
Beloved, if you are in Christ, you are a child of God – it’s not something you have to earn or measure up to – it is your place.  You have every benefit and blessing of being part of His family.  That includes the right to claim your Father’s love and His pleasure over you.  Don’t let the enemy shake you – stand firm in who you are and Whose you are.

Proven Faith

Image: Melted gold flows out of a smelter into a mould of a bar at a plant of gold refiner and bar manufacturer Argor-Heraeus SA in the southern Swiss town of Mendrisio

Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The most precious [metals] are tested in the fire . . . ” The Psalmist said, “For You, O God tested us; You refined us like silver” (Psalm 66:10). Peter said, “These [trials] have come so that your faith – of great worth than gold . . . may be proved genuine” (1 Peter 1:7)
A “proving ground” is a military term. It is “an environment that serves to demonstrate whether something, such as a theory or product, really works.” Say a company has created something they want to market to the United States military. Do you think Uncle Sam is just going to take their word for it, buy this thing and put it into a soldier’s hands. No – they are going to take it into situations and places in which it will be used and they will put it through rigorous tests. They may discover a weakness and will work on that area to strengthen it. And they’ll test it again. Only after it stands up in the proving grounds will it be put into use.
When God wants to “prove” the faith of His child He uses the fires of adversity, struggle, trial, heartache, disappointment, discouragement . . . I think you understand. When you and I ask God, “What are You doing?” The answer will always be, “I am proving your faith. I am finding the weak places so that I can strengthen you. I am making sure you are fit for the good work I have for you.” God is not out to destroy you beloved, He is working to build your faith. The proving ground is the place where your faith takes root so you can produce fruit – fruit that will last. Fruit that will glorify the one who brought you all the way through the fire.

For the Troubled Heart

 

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in Me.” John 14:1

The disciples were anxious because the Lord had told them, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. Where I am going you cannot come.” (John 13:33).  Peter, speaking what everyone was thinking, wanted to know where He was going and why they could not accompany Him (John 13:36, 37).

They were facing a bewildering, unknown future.  After having been with Jesus almost day and night for three years, now He was going away from them?  After all His teaching and all His training – after showing them His power, His miracles, and His authority – He was leaving them behind.  Why would he abandon them?  What would happen to them? What would become of this great movement they had begun?

Jesus understood their fears.  That is why He offered them words of comfort and assurance.  Notice, though, that He did not say, “Now don’t you worry, everything is going to work out – it’ll all be fine – just wait and see.”  He didn’t even tell them, “It’s okay – see this is all part of my plan.”  No, the answer Jesus gave them was:

“Trust in God.  Trust also in me” (John 14:1b).

In His words rested all the comfort they needed:  I am faithful.  I am trustworthy.  He did not soothe their frazzled minds with the common words of assurance.  He was their assurance.  They just needed to remember . . .

They had walked with Him and had participated in His mighty acts.  They had heard His words, experienced His love, seen His power over the storm and in the storm, felt His hands pouring water on their dusty feet.  They knew that He was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  They knew He was their friend (John 15:15).

“Trust in me.”

Beloved, Jesus knows you are afraid and weary.  He knows that you can’t see past this moment – this grief, this shock, this heartache, this very hard season.  He knows you cannot envision the road ahead and you don’t know what will happen.  He knows your anxious heart and He says to you,

“Trust in me.”

Trust in the words He has said – “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you” (Isaiah 41:10).  “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Trust in His love.  Trust in His faithfulness.  Trust in His promise.  Trust in the One who gave His life to redeem you from your sins.  Trust in the One who rose from the dead to give you eternal life.

Trust in Jesus – there is no greater assurance.

Look at This!

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“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” Hebrews 12:2).

Yesterday my husband and I went to the store and walking through the parking lot he saw several people looking up at the sky and taking pictures. (I was on a mission with list in hand so I didn’t notice.) He stopped and said, “So that’s what everyone’s looking at!” I turned around and there was a beautiful rainbow in full arch. I grabbed my camera and took a picture and others stopped to see what we were looking at and started taking their own pictures. It’s as if, by our actions, we were saying, “Hey, look, all eyes here!”

That’s our job as believers in Jesus Christ – to draw attention to our Lord, saying “All eyes here!” Anything we do, anything we say, everywhere we go, everything we are should point others to our Savior. In the roll of our daily lives, we should remember that our greatest responsibility is to help others see Jesus. How do we do that? By looking at Him ourselves. What drew our attention to the rainbow was other people looking at it. When we “fix our eyes on Jesus,” people will want to know what has us so mesmerized. They’ll want to see what we see.

Friend, are you looking around at the world and your troubles or are you drawing all eyes to Jesus?

Fear Not

Fear not

“Fear not . . .”  Isaiah 43:1

“Fear not” – words that make us stand a little straighter and feel a little stronger.  “Fear not,” (and words of a similar context) are found in the Bible more than a hundred times.[1]  We’re taught that fear and faith cannot coexist.  A fearful saint is not a faithful saint. But if you – like me – find yourself in a tumultuous situation, that contrast between the two extremes is a very real and present tension.  Like the father in Mark 9, we find ourselves pleading – “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (v. 24).  Over and over I pray: “God, I know You’ve got this.  I know you are faithful.  I know You will never leave me nor forsake me.  But I’m scared God.  I don’t want to be.  I’m trying not to be.  But I am.”  And He understands.  He doesn’t chide or rebuke me – He just gives me reasons not to fear.

Fear not . . . for God has heard (Gen. 21:18)

Fear not for I am with you (Gen. 26:24) (My favorite)

Do not be afraid, the Lord will fight for you (Deut. 3:22)

Do not be afraid . . . for the Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6)

Fear not; I will help you (Isa. 41:13)

Today, at the suggestion of my sister-in-love, I’ve been meditating in Isaiah 43 and found some incredible words of hope that fit my life perfectly:

“This is what the Lord says – He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters” (v. 16); “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (v. 19).

At this moment I am both drowning in the sea and wandering through a desert.  Seems as odd as faith mingled with fear but let me explain.  My emotions seem like an overflowing river, thoughts rushing this way and that, pulling me under and threatening to take my very breath.  For a split second I come up for air – “I believe!”  In the next the waves crash over my head again – “But I am afraid!”  God promises to make a way – a path through the waters of fearful thoughts and discouragement that threaten to drown me.  He promises dry ground to cross over to the other side.

Yet I am in the desert where nothing grows and all seems lost – walking through a season of drought.  Health issues.  Disability.  Unemployment.   Multiple applications with no nibbles.  Interviews with “no thank you.”  Watching the funds dwindle as the provisions dry up.  The reality of what we’re facing beats down like the scorching sun as we wander looking for an oasis.  God promises to make a way here too – to provide streams in this wasteland .  Mind you not to drown us like the sea, but to refresh and restore us.

He meets our needs for rescue and refreshing.  He gives us dry ground and cool springs.  He never fails to notice us wherever we are – even when we’re in two places at once.  Oh, my drowning, wandering friend – let me throw you a lifeline of hope.  You don’t have to fear because God hears you, He is with you, He fights for you, He will never leave nor forsake you, and He promises to help you.  He knows where you are right now, and He knows what you need right here.  He will make a way.

 

[1] The NIV records some 110 references; other translations will have a slightly different word count.  Despite how good is sounds, there are actually not 365 “Fear not” verses.

Looking at Life from Higher Up

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“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).

Years ago a choir director told us altos that the best way to hit a high note was not to try to climb up to it – that almost always caused us to flatten the note – but to see ourselves gliding down onto to it from above. He was trying to get us to approach the difficult note from a different – higher – perspective.
Some of you know the struggles we’ve faced for the past several months. My husband was injured at work and had to leave his 23-year career. At the same time I lost my job and couldn’t find another. Two months ago we moved back home to start over. During the move and for weeks after, I dealt with a serious health crisis – with no insurance. I’ve been diligently looking for a job and many of you prayed for me when I went on an interview last week – but I learned yesterday that I did not get the job. We have been without any income for 3 months and our meager resources are almost depleted.
So how do I deal with all this disappointment and life-shaking change? I have two choices – either look at it from the pit of despair, or approach it from a higher perspective. Will I see it all as a hard blow or as God’s shaping and strengthening my faith? Will I roll around in hopelessness or stand in confident trust that God has a purpose and a plan in it all?
Believe me – I haven’t been a shining example of faith. I’ve struggled. I’ve cried. I’ve worried and I’ve questioned God. But I realize that I can either drag myself into misery or climb up on the Rock that never fails.
Beloved, I don’t know your struggles – but I know that your perspective affects your faith and your ability to face it all with confidence and hope. And perspective has everything to do with how you see God – as faithful or fallible, as near and caring or as distant and unconcerned. I know God is here with me. I know He is faithful. I know I can trust Him. I know He will come through. He is my Rock – a high place on which I can stand. Climb up here with me and let’s watch Him work wonders.

The God I Know

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“They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world’” (John 4:42).

Like most couples, my husband and I have some significant differences – like the way we drive.  I am a “straight-shot” driver – give me the most direct route with the fewest turns possible.  He likes to take -shall we say – alternate routes as he drives.  He is constantly trying to tell me his “better ways” to get from point A to point B, and I usually smile and go my own way. One of his shortcuts is a wide swing on a country road to avoid a city with heavy traffic.  I usually fought through the traffic because I wasn’t sure I could navigate his preferred route.  Until we moved a few months ago and we actually live right on this very road.  Now, because I travel this road all the time, I am confident I can navigate it successfully and I’ve found it really is a better way.

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, He changed her life and she ran to tell her neighbors that she had found the Christ.  They came to meet this man and heard His message in the two days He stayed in their town.  John says, “Because of His words many more became believers.” (v. 41).  They didn’t believe the woman’s claims about who Jesus was until they saw Him with their own eyes and heard Him with their own ears.  Then they understood that Jesus was indeed God’s Anointed One – He was the better way.

In every life challenges and difficulties come and situations take us by surprise.  Health struggles, joblessness, relationship battles, loss and heartache happen and we’re left wondering where to turn.  My family is experiencing some of those right now and we are turning to God.  Why?  Because over the years, we have come to know Him through experience.  We’ve found Him to be able and faithful.  We’ve tried Him and are confident of His love and care.

Every challenge in life is an opportunity to discover who God is.  Sure, you read about Him in the Bible and you’ve heard other’s talk about what He’s done in their lives, but what do those stories mean for you?  Not much until you experience Him for yourself.   A recent health issue reminded me that God is my Healer.  In this present season, we are trusting in God as our Provider.  A dear friend recently experienced loss and now confidently claims God as her Comforter.  You can’t really know who God is until you have tried Him and found Him to be exactly what you need. Just as He said He would be.

Beloved, whatever your season, whatever the need – may I encourage you to try God?  I am certain you will find He is able and faithful.  Then you can say with confidence – “I believe because I have experienced Him for myself – I know He is everything He claims to be.”

One Step at a Time

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“The Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.”  Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do.’ ”  (1 Samuel 16:2,3)
 
“Lord what do you want me to do?”  “What is the plan?”  “How is this going to work?”  Ever asked those questions?  I know I  have and so have scores of others.  It’s human nature – we want to have the full plan laid out before us before we start.  No builder would begin a house without a complete set of blueprints – down to the location of every wall socket and light switch.  A business proposal outlines a long-term plan and prospectus for the success of the project.  No smart business man would buy into an idea that wasn’t fully developed.  In our lives we set out a plan for the day, the week, the month and the year – and even for years ahead.   We want to know how things will turn out in the end.  We want the whole picture.
But God doesn’t give us the whole picture.  He gives us one step at a time, just as He did for Samuel.  He told the prophet to go to Bethlehem and prepare to make a sacrifice with Jesse and his sons.  That’s it.   “Do step one and I will show you step two.” 
God delights in obedience – the kind that doesn’t wait for the full plan but willingly acts on step one.  In fact, I don’t know of anyone in the Bible – except Jesus – who knew the end from the beginning.  Success in God’s eyes is not completing the whole task in one grand push; success is doing the one thing God told you to do and waiting for the next instruction.  Besides, if you knew the whole plan you would be a) completely overwhelmed and/or b) set off doing things your own way which results in c) a mess.
Beloved, God has a plan – a vey good plan, but it requires your daily, step-by-step obedience.  You can trust Him – He will not forget you or leave you stranded.  He will see you all the way through.  Today determine to obey what you know to do – the rest will come – on time and with the strength you need.  One step at a time.