The Voice of God

Joy has watched 101 Dalmatians at least 101 times. I’m trying to coax her to branch out so this weekend I introduced her to Meet the Robinsons. She loved it. We were snuggled together enjoying the movie when I recognized one of the voices.  The adult version of the main character was voiced by Tom Selleck. I knew it was him because I had watched every episode of Magnum PI in the 80s. I knew his voice well.

Yesterday the Christian radio station posed a question: “How do you hear God’s voice above the noise?” I thought about how I recognized Tom Selleck’s voice in the movie – it was because I had heard it many, many times before. Even without seeing his face, I knew it was him. I realized that the key to recognizing God’s voice is familiarity.

Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Listening implies a couple of things: first, to recognize God’s voice we have to spend time in His Word. Studying the Scriptures helps us to know what God does – and does not say. You can trust the voice you’re hearing if it’s saying the things God says in His Word. If what you hear doesn’t sound like the Scriptures, then that voice is likely not God. He will never contradict His Word.

Another important key to listening and recognizing God’s voice is obedience. James said “Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says” (1:22). When we tell our granddaughter to pick up her toys and she doesn’t do it, we have to ask her again and again. It’s only when she obeys that we know she heard us. (And, honestly, sometimes she determines to not hear us.) Hearing means “to attend to; to consider what has been said.” Hearing means obeying. And obeying opens up opportunities for further communication. I can’t tell Joy we’re going to the park until she has heard and obeyed and picked up her toys.

When you learn to listen and recognize God’s voice it will be so familiar that your spiritual ears will tune in like a mom picking up on her child’s cry in a noisy room filled with kids. Then, Beloved, you will know without a doubt, “That’s the voice of my Father.”

The Valley

This morning I was thinking about something I needed to do, something I didn’t really want to do because it often raised up a temptation I’ve been trying to put down for a long time. I prayed for help and a verse came to mind. It comes out of Psalm 23 – The Shepherd’s Psalm. Verse 4 says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Now, what does that have to do with temptation?

This valley is not a pastoral scene of gentle slopes between the hills but a steep, narrow gorge where the sun never reaches. The valley most attributed to this passage was the Valley of Hinnom outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was a horrible place of death as bodies of criminals and animals and the town’s rubbish were thrown there and fires burned continually to consume them. The ”shadow of death” is a place of extreme danger and thick darkness – an apt description of the valley. It was also a place where kings and priest sent their own children to be burned alive to appease the gods – a horrible sin.

Death and sin go hand in hand. From the very beginning, God told the first humans that when they sin (disobey God) they “will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Paul said that “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The valley was a terrifying place of sin and death. But it was also a place people had to pass to get to the gates of the city. Here’s where this all comes together. You and I will be faced with sin and its consequences as long as we are on this earth. We can’t escape it. But we don’t have to fear it. God is with us. If we walk closely with Him we can traverse the sin and death of this world without falling into it. That’s what God was saying to me this morning. “Don’t be afraid of what you need to do. I am with you. I will not let you fall.” And He didn’t.

Beloved, the world is filled with sin and death, but if you belong to Christ you can face it with faith in your Shepherd. Your very Good Shepherd who died to save you – His precious little lamb.

You Matter

I am just a middle-aged (moving closer to senior-adult) woman from a small community in the deep south. I live a simple life. We rent a good house – but nothing fancy. I go to work every day at a small Southern Baptist college in a small town in Florida. I drive a very modest car. I’m married to a sweet, kind man. We help to raise our granddaughter. I love to write but I haven’t published any books.  I teach the Bible to my Sunday School ladies, but I’ve never stood on a stage. I’m not well-known and that’s okay with me. I am one face among the billions of faces in the world. And I have lots of struggles and hard situations in my life.

This morning as I was reading Isaiah 40, I came to this verse: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (v. 26). I sensed the Lord saying, “I don’t miss anything.” That’s when I realized that as insignificant as I am in the world, God hasn’t overlooked me. The Creator and King of the universe is not only aware that I exist, He cares about me and the difficulties I face. And do you want to hear something amazing? The same thing is true for you. You and I are not just part of the vast sea of humanity to God.

The Bible says that “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . to save the world” (John 3:16, 17). But He is also a very personal God; He who knows the name of every star knows your name too.  Jesus attested to that; He is the Great Shepherd who “calls His sheep by name” (John 10:3). Maybe you feel small and insignificant today like no one notices or cares about you. I understand. I feel that way sometimes too. But nothing could be farther from the truth, Beloved. You are seen and you are known. And you matter. Greatly. You need not worry that you are just a face in the crowd – God never overlooks the one He loves.

When Anxiety is Great Within Me . . .

I’m dealing with some major anxiety this week. Yes, even the Bible teacher gets overwhelmed by life sometimes just as you do. The Spirit led me to Psalm 94:19: When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought Joy to my soul.”  Yep, that’s the verse for me – it’s got anxiety and Joy. This Psalm is a lament; the psalmist is in a hard place because of “the wicked” who trample on God’s people. Hmm, I have something similar going on in my life. He calls on the Lord for help. I found it interesting that he didn’t ask God to remove him from the cause of his anxiety. Sometimes – as in my case – that is not an option. Too much is at stake. So how does he handle his anxiety and the cause of it?

First, he remembers that God is his Avenger (v. 1); he doesn’t have to seek revenge or demand his rights. He noted that even though his enemy doesn’t acknowledge God (v. 7), God knows everything that is happening to him (v. 11). He reminds himself (oh, that’s so important) that God will grant him relief (v. 13), He will not reject or forsake him (v. 14), and will be his Defender (v. 16). The Lord will help him (v. 17). He will hold him up with his love (v. 18). He will bring him comfort and Joy (v. 19) (did you hum that Christmas song?). And the Lord will be his fortress, his rock, and his refuge (v. 22). I don’t know about you, but after all that, my anxiety has decreased to near-manageable levels.

But consider this too. God never chastised him for being anxious. I know, you’re going to ask me why did Jesus say, “Do not be anxious (or worried) (Matt 6:25, 30, 34) .” Context. First, Jesus was teaching in vs. 19-24 about storing up treasures on earth vs. treasures in heaven. He was saying that wealth will not bring peace. But the Father does. In vs. 25-34 Jesus spoke of God’s goodness, care, compassion, and faithfulness. When He said “Do not be anxious,” He wasn’t barking out an order, He was reminding the people that “your Heavenly Father knows” all about the needs of His “little flock” (Luke 12:32). Those are words of tender, fatherly love.

We don’t want to walk around like tight balls of anxiety, but the struggles of this life are unavoidable, and some of them are really hard. The best way to cope is to focus on all God brings to us in our time of need. Hope. Peace. Compassion. Love. “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I need to know.”

The Good Shepherd

The Lost Sheep, Painted by Alfred Usher Soord (1868-1915), Oil on canvas, Painted in 1898, © Alfred Usher Soord

My favorite “I Am” statement of Jesus is “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). It always reminds me of a painting that hung in the vestibule of a church I worked at thirty years ago depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd. 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 things of the world. 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 call out for help. 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.

Lost and Found

See the source image

In Luke 15: 3-7 Jesus tells of a shepherd who leaves his safe flock to go after the one sheep who has wandered away. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (15:5-6a). The shepherd had ninety-nine other sheep, but his heart would not let him abandon the one who was lost.

Your Heavenly Father has the same heart for you. Whether you are in a place you never expected nor wanted to be, or you are in a season of life that is hard, painful, and seemingly unending, God has promised He will find you there and bring you safely home. In truth, He doesn’t have to look very hard, because you never left His sight when you wandered away. That’s because He never left your side. His promise is and always has been: “I will never leave you nor forsake you. Your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5, 9). Wherever you and I go, if we are God’s children, He is with us. Even if you get caught up in the glamor of the world and wander, or you run away in outright rebellion. Even if I go so far away from His fold that it seems impossible to get back. No matter where we roam, in physical places or seasons of life, God’s heart never leaves us. He never forgets about His children.

Something else I noticed – probably because I’m extra aware of seeing my granddaughter’s name in the Scriptures – He brings the lost sheep home with Joy. Not begrudgingly, not with words of anger or impatience.  Not with frustration or resentment over the trouble the sheep caused. He’s just so happy to have His little lamb back with Him.

Are you in a difficult place? Are you in a hard season? Trust in God’s faithful love for you. Did you carelessly wander away because you were distracted by the glitter and lights of the world? Did you stomp your feet and run in rebellion. Beloved, God is not mad at you. He wants you to come home. Call His Name from wherever you are right now, then watch for His rescue. There is no place that His love will not reach.

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.

The Lord is my Shepherd

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One of my favorite images of God is as my Shepherd.  I remember a painting at a church I once worked at of a sheep caught in the brush on the side of a steep cliff, not a secure place to be.  What drew my focus was the look of absolute peace on the animal’s face because it was watching the shepherd who had climbed down the cliff and was reaching out to rescue his little lost sheep.  He trusted his shepherd and was sure that he would be saved.  The Bible often describes God’s people as sheep and Himself as their Shepherd.  I read a book by a Phillip Keller, who had spent several years as a shepherd and put these passages into perspective.  Where we look at sheep and see sweet faces and fluffy white wool, a shepherd sees an animal who is helpless on his own and utterly clueless – the truth is sheep are dumb animals.  How does that make you feel now 😮 ?  Sheep tend to put their head down to graze and never watch where they’re going, never notice danger nearby and can graze their way right off the edge of a cliff.  Hmm – that sounds like me sometimes.  Sheep who get to close to the water’s edge often fall in, soaking their wool making them too heavy to climb out and they often drown.  Sounds a bit like us and sin doesn’t it? We are sheep – clueless, helpless, defenseless – and desperately in need of a shepherd. 

David identified the Lord as his Shepherd in whom he placed all his confidence.  He knew the Shepherd would meet his every need, whether for protection, comfort, food or rest.  Jesus reaffirmed that Shepherd identity in John 10:11 saying, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  The Good Shepherd knows His sheep, He knows their name, their habits, their character and how they get into trouble.  In Luke 15 we learn that a Good Shepherd will search for His lost sheep.  That’s comfort to the heart of this little lamb with a tendency to wander and lose my way.  When I am in danger from my own foolish actions, my Good Shepherd promises to find and rescue me.  The beauty of it is that we are never really out of His sight.  Where a human shepherd has to search before he can rescue, the Good Shepherd knows exactly where we are; we can be assured He is on His way. 

Rest yourself in the care of the Good Shepherd my friend, He knows you and loves you – so much that He gave His life to rescue you.  The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I need to know.