Are You Listening?

Most of us are familiar with Psalm 23, with Jesus as our good shepherd. But how many of us understand sheep? Here are some characteristics that might surprise you.

Sheep are not clean. They can carry fleas, mites, maggots and lice.

They’re stupid. They get into messes and can’t get out. Image result for sheep with their shepherds

They’re defenseless. When in danger their only defense is to flee.

When isolated or under stress, they are prone to depression, hanging their heads and avoiding positive actions.

They get lost easily. They wander off and lose their way.

They bond with other sheep. This is their way of protecting themselves. Community is everything.

No wonder God calls us sheep.

Jesus did not come for the squeaky clean, the hipster, the glamorous, the popular, or the celebrity.

He came for those who are mired in sin, covered in wickedness, lost and depraved.

Sheep’s only redeeming quality, besides being meek and gentle, is that they recognize their shepherd’s voice. They do not follow strangers. The shepherd knows each sheep and the sheep know him.

If the Holy Spirit has called you to Jesus, then you are in his flock, and Jesus is your good shepherd, and he knows you by name. He doesn’t value you for all your good and wonderful traits – you have none – but because he knows you.

Jesus left heaven to come to earth to become your shepherd, to guide you, take care of you, through thick and thin, all the way home.

You are no longer alone in the world. You are a member of God’s flock. You have a trusted guide through life.

Are you listening to his voice?

Talk to me.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Pain is a Gift

According to John Newton, legalism is weariness. Justification is joy. We are forgiven and accepted through the work of Another. It’s done. Our job is to rejoice in that truth and serve God out of gratitude.

I think he was onto something. Paul expressed the same sentiments.

Even though we may know this, we don’t live this way. Instead we live in the mirage of self-sufficiency. It’s our default position. We really do believe there’s something we can do without God’s help. A lot of things. Broken

It starts in childhood. Babies learning to walk shove their parents away and tumble. Toddlers running into furniture when they think they have a clear path for wandering. High-schoolers who think they have the future mapped out only to make huge course corrections when they get to college.

Never mind the daunting tasks of choosing a spouse, the right job, buying a home.

Do we consult God?

No, we’ve been told it’s up to us to hit these milestones.

Some people succeed but many don’t. How many people do you know who are doing everything they want in life? Who are the happy ones in their work, with their children, and their body image?

Maybe you’re one of the unhappy ones. Have you settled in a job because of the security it gives you more than anything else, but now it’s strangling the life out of you? Are you in a loveless marriage with no way out? Or maybe you’re struggling with your health? As a friend told me recently, “I want my old life back.”

Life rarely turns out the way we envisioned it.

Thank God for that.

It’s God’s gift to us. If life turned out just as we wanted it to, we wouldn’t turn to him for anything. It’s a mercy that we struggle and suffer. It’s God’s language reminding us we were made to turn everything over to him because he cares for us. It’s his way of saying that what we long for is not here, but in the new heavens and the new earth, when Jesus comes back.

In the meantime, even as forgiven sinners, we suffer with our fellow human beings, knowing that Jesus himself also suffered for us so we could share in his glory one day.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

 

 

Not Today

I got on the subway this morning and had an option of seats. To sit alone in a one seat with no seatmate or in a two-seat. I chose the one-seat. I could be alone and not have to accommodate anybody. Yay! Usually big, burly construction workers sit next to me leaving me with an inch to breathe. Not this morning. I was going to relax all the way into city. As soon as I sat down and settled my bags, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me. “So. You don’t want to speak this morning about Christ?” Gulp. Before I could argue with him, I said, “Okay. I’ll move.”  Bible4

So I did. At the next stop a young Asian woman sat next to me. So this must be who I’m supposed to talk to, I said to myself. She whipped out a cosmetic sponge with make-up on it, held up the dark screen of her iPhone as a mirror, and put her face on. (Note to self: iPhone screens make good mirrors in a pinch.) I began to read field reports from a missionary agency I support that take the gospel into unreached people groups. I was totally absorbed. When I finished, I looked and my seatmate was sound asleep. Must not be her then, I thought.

We arrived into the city and she woke up. It’s now or never, I said to myself. I pulled out a gospel of John and handed it to her.

“Would you receive this as a gift?” I said.

She looked at the booklet in bewilderment. “No,” she said.

“Have you ever read the bible?” I said.

She shook her head no.

“Try it, you might enjoy it. It changed my life,” I said.

“Okay, I’ll read it,” she said and took it. She got up and left the train at her stop.

I felt accomplished.

Not.

I was prepared to ignore the world this morning. That’s the truth. But the Holy Spirit is always on duty.

Talk to me.

You Want Me to Love Who?

I don’t know about you but I’m not very good at the loving your neighbor thing. If I’m honest, I much prefer my own company, my own thoughts and my own projects. Putting others first is like asking a zebra to switch its stripes to polka dots.

But there it is. Jesus said to love one another, and John said it too. In fact, John said something else that’s disturbing. If we don’t love other believers it’s proof we’re not Christians!

Ouch! photo (1)

And not just believers we like, or share the same doctrine with, or understand life in similar ways. We’re called to love our brothers and sisters in Christ who are totally different from us. Those whose politics we hate. Those who barely read the bible. Those who relate to God in emotional ways.

So why such emphasis on this love thing?

Because it’s like God. God is love. After all, he loved us when we were unlovable. He loved us before our sins were forgiven. He served us in our misery and wretchedness. He gave us Jesus before we knew we needed him.

God is always loving, even when we’re not. Jesus suffered the wrath of God for us. He satisfied the justice of God. Jesus is the ultimate proof of how much God loves us.

We do not love well. But Jesus loved his Father and us, his children perfectly. And that perfect record is ours by faith in Christ. Knowing that, we can go out and love others not so well, knowing Jesus covers all our imperfections.

That’s another gift we don’t deserve, but it’s ours because God loves us.

Talk to me.

 

We’re All Prodigals, Or Are We?

I was thinking about the prodigal son. How he asked his father for his inheritance before the father died. How the father gave it to him. How this son of his spent it on his lusts until it was gone. How this son was very far away from home.

Then one day he looked up. That’s always a good place to start a recovery program.

He took stock. Another good decision. Where did he get his wisdom all of a sudden with such a track record of debauchery?

He came to his senses. Now things are coming together.

He was living in squalor, in a foreign country, feeding pigs. It couldn’t get more crazy than this. He started off with a fortune in his pocket and ended up hungry, thirsty and living with pigs, wishing he could eat their food.

He decides to go home.

The Father is waiting.

He runs to meet his son and throws his arms around him and kisses him.

Me? I would tell him he needs a bath.  IMG_0112

I’d be offended that it was his growling belly that brought him home and not me.

But God was in the hunger. God was in his thinking. God was where home was.

Home many of us have wanted to come back to, but haven’t been able.

Perhaps for you there’s no home to come home to. No family because they’re dead.

Or maybe you’re the older brother that never left home. You’ve shouldered the responsibility for the family, you’ve been the dutiful one, and your father has never taken notice. You were expected to take the mantle. That’s what older sons are for. To continue running the business you never started. It’s your father’s livelihood you’ve inherited, not your own. Maybe your heart’s not in it, but there you are because you’re the only one left standing. It’s yours by default. Your younger brother never cared to do the right thing. Your faithfulness allowed his unfaithfulness.

The father throws his wayward son a party he’s so happy to have him back.

The elder brother is not happy to see him back. He’s resentful, angry, hurt. Did the father throw him a party because he was dutiful and faithful? No. Did the father throw his arms around him and kiss him out of gratefulness for his obedience? No.

Why not? Remember this parable was directed to the Pharisees and Scribes who were listening.

It’s because real sons of the Father know what pit they were dug from. They know they don’t deserve the Father’s love. They understand the condition of their own hearts and without the Father’s compassion and mercy, they would not be any better than their resentful elder brothers.

It’s the condition of the heart of faith that is the subject of this parable. The Pharisees and Scribes didn’t have it. The elder brother didn’t have it. Only the prodigal in his filthy rags of repentance demonstrated it.

Talk to me.

 

The Craving of Dreams

Do you know people who say they can’t believe in God because they hold a list of grudges against him?

The list goes something like this:

God didn’t deliver what he promised.

God didn’t heal my loved-one.

God didn’t give that promotion I asked for.

The list goes on and on.

It’s a list that produces a brittle and bitter heart.

Underneath the reasons for this refusal is anger at God, and then disappointment with God, and finally a willful decision to not believe in God, an attitude of revenge.

But is it justified to have a grudge against God? Do we have any examples in Scripture?

We do. The people who left Egypt and moved into the wilderness give us an example. Never mind that they were slaves and mistreated by the Egyptians. Never mind that they were spared the death of their first-born son while everyone around them was wailing their misfortune. Never mind that God gave them a leader to bring them out unscathed through the Red Sea crossing. Never mind that God protected them by day and by night. That he fed them. He gave them water to drink. He gave them himself in the wilderness and was leading them to the Promised Land.

They did nothing to deserve being rescued.

What was their response? photo(73)

“They spoke against God. ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Can he give bread also? Can he provide meat for his people?’ They tested God in their hearts by asking for the food of their fancy.” (Psalm 78:18-20)

Note the phrase, “the food of their fancy.” That’s  where the problem lies. Just like the people in the wilderness, who had experienced firsthand God’s deliverance from Egypt, they were bristling against the conditions of life in the desert and wanted to return.

Their expectations didn’t match their experience. They didn’t like living in tents, nor trudging through the heat, nor eating manna everyday, and being thirsty. So they complained and demanded the type of food they left behind in Egypt.

Their real problem was not having a correct view of God.

God was giving them a new life, but they wanted the old one. He was giving them an intimate relationship with him, but they preferred the Egyptian idols. They were happy to use God as their butler for their cravings, but were unwilling to submit to the new life he had prepared for them.

Could it be that people with grudges against God are really saying the same thing? That God didn’t deliver on the goods they envisioned for themselves? And since he didn’t deliver, they were leaving and going home?

God does not promise the things we want in this life. He certainly gives us more than we deserve, but not everything. He prefers we get to know him, and love him whether he gives us our dreams or not. Ultimately, we will have everything our hearts desire and more when we’re in the new heavens and the new earth, but in the meantime, our greatest craving should be a deeper knowledge of him.

Therefore, give up your grudges against God. God gave up his grudges against you when he put Jesus on the cross in your place. Let that bathe your heart today. God’s love for you in very great.

Keep God’s love fresh in your faith.

Talk to me.

 

Jesus Won the War

A war movie is an apt metaphor for life because we’re all prisoners of war. Everyone of us, from the rich and famous to the homeless person sleeping in a doorway. We are born in bondage to sin. There is no other identity. We can thank our first parents for that. They threw us under the bus when they chose to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit. Ever since that day all of us are born broken, needy and rebellious.

The bible calls it bondage to sin, Satan and the wrath of God. The trio of horror, except we don’t recognize it as such. We think it’s normal. We have no other reality to compare it to.

Self exacts a gravity that pulls us deeper and deeper into itself. We are the compass we live our lives by. The darkness is light to us. Selfish behavior is the stuff of life. The only god that rules is ourselves.

But God. He has redeemed us. FullSizeRender (53)

He’s pulled us out of our misery.

Sin no longer has dominion over us.

Satan’s slavery is broken.

We’re free from the wrath of God.

Jesus paid the price for our freedom.

He has given us his nature.

We live our lives in His light now.

Hallelujah!

Talk to me.