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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cross – a Culmination of the Bad and the Good

Have you every wondered what Jesus experienced in the garden of Gethsemane? It certainly wasn’t about showing us how to pray better. Nor was it an example of humility for us to follow.

For Jesus it was about suffering. He suffered his whole life, as Isaiah tells us, from men and from devils. Judas, Peter and Satan himself.

The cross was going to be a level of suffering like no one had ever experienced before. It was where Jesus would receive from the hand of his Father all his wrath for sin. It would also be the place the Father would turn his back on Jesus and abandon him.

Think about that. It would be the first time in Jesus’s life where the Father would disengage with his Son.

Jesus did not die for God, he was no martyr. He died under God’s wrath, the justice of God being poured out on him for the sins of the world. It was at the cross that Jesus became responsible for sin. Yours and mine.

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Knowing this, it moved Jesus to pray. He asked his closest friends – Peter, James and John – to pray with him so he would not be alone in his agony. But they failed him. They slept for sorrow because it finally dawned on them that he would not usher in their hopes for a restored Israel. Their dream was shattered. There was no crown for Jesus or for them. Instead there was a cross and death.

Jesus’s prayer included the removal of God’s wrath from him. He hoped for a reprieve. But no matter what, he was willing to submit to his Father’s will. What anchored him was the promise of the resurrection. This hope was Christ’s by right. He earned it. We don’t have that right, nor do we earn it. We have the same hope by faith.

Adam started in a garden that was a paradise, but then he ruined it. Jesus lived in a ruined world, and ended his life in an olive grove where olives were pressed to give their oil. A fitting location in preparation for the Second Adam to be crushed in order to restore us back to God and eventually to a new heavens and a new world.

Talk to me.

 

You’re in the Army

There are two aspects to the church. One is local like the church in your city, the one you are a member of. The other is universal. It’s the church in heaven made up of Christians who have died and gone to be with the Lord. It’s also the church of the ones who are yet to be born, but will one day be born and come to believe in the Savior.

The church that exists today all over the world is called the militant church. It’s made up of fighting men and women. It means we’re at war with the flesh, the world and the devil.

There’s a war going on inside of us because of remaining sin. Our mind, body and emotions don’t always submit to Christ. We fall into wickedness.  photo39

We’re at war with the world, it’s ways and the way people think, feel and act outside of Christ. The world is upside down. We, as Christians, are running toward salvation while the world is running toward destruction.

And the devil is there to destroy God and his people. He discourages our faith and hope in the gospel. He causes us to sin. He loves to create unbelief in the goodness of God. And he is particularly skilled at having us look inward for our holiness, and when we don’t find it there, he causes us to despair. Anytime he’s able to get our eyes off Christ, he’s thrilled.

How do we respond?

First, don’t expect an easy time in this life. Expect a hard life since you’re a soldier. Be disciplined. Know your bible. Pray. Be thankful.

Second, fight and endure with hope and confidence in the promises of God. He won’t let you down.

Third, remember you’re assured of victory because Christ won it for you.

Talk to me.

 

 

 

Jesus in the Storm

Everybody loves the story of Jesus calming the storm. And everyone loves to say to anxious and despairing people, “See, Jesus can calm the raging waters of your soul, too.”

Except that’s not what the story is about.

According to the narrative in Matthew 8, this was not your ordinary storm. It had the force of the devil behind it. It was the equivalent of an earthquake in power and force. No wonder the disciples, experienced fishermen who knew those waters, were terrified. They didn’t know what to do, so they told Jesus.

“Save us, we’re perishing!”   

This woke Jesus up from his nap and he was annoyed with them. He was surprised they weren’t calm.

Instead they were afraid and not trusting God for their safety.

I would have been among them.

With just a word, Jesus rebuked the storm and the disciples marveled at this. They wanted to know who they had in the boat with them.

Didn’t they already know?

Apparently they were suffering from dementia. They had forgotten their Old Testament lessons of God creating the oceans in Genesis, and controlling the seas in Jonah, Job, and the Psalms.

Jesus rebuked the storm like he would a demon and it obeyed immediately.

The seas have one master, the Lord. The sea is his servant. He’s king of the ocean and rules it by his word.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus did not pray or ask his Father to handle the storm. He did it himself.

He is God.

He created the oceans.

He is God with us in the storm.

He will not leave us.

This is a promise.

If he didn’t run away from the cross, he will not leave us in our circumstances.

Are you really believing he is with you today?

Talk to me.

 

 

 

Lonely No More

I read a recent article titled, The Lethality of Loneliness by Judith Shulevitz in the New Republic. In it she examines the damage loneliness creates on the body and brain.

She cites Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, German psychiatrist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud; who immigrated to America during World War II to escape Hitler.

Fromm-Reichmann believed that loneliness was “a want of intimacy” that lay at the heart of nearly all mental illness. In her estimation,

“the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world.”

I think Fromm-Reichmann’s observations were profound, but she didn’t take them far enough.  IMG_2472

Loneliness entered the world when Adam and Eve ditched God’s oversight of them and forged an independent path for themselves. (See Genesis 3)

Since then men and women are born with separation anxiety.

We come into the world separated from the One who created us and loves us.

It’s part of our DNA.

No one is exempt.

The symptoms are all around us:

Fear, insecurity, self-absorption, lack of trust, and depression just to name a few.

What can we do about it?

The truth is no amount of therapy will do the job.

Ignoring the symptoms won’t make them go away.

Drugs and alternative therapies, including alcohol, chocolate and high-risk sports, only mask the problem.

So what’s left?

Every one of us has a longing to be known and to be loved, and that is precisely what Jesus gives us.

In all our disjointed attempts at intimacy, there is only One who can bring us into the harmony and approval we crave.

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. – Acts 4:12 (New Living Translation)

It was Jesus who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins (our estrangement), and was raised to new life to bring us to God.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. – Romans 8:38 (New Living Translation)

We don’t know if Fromm-Reichmann ever knew there was a solution to loneliness. Probably not.

But we do.

Are you ready to trade your life apart from God and embrace the One who loves you and gave Himself for you? This goes for the Christian, too!

Talk to me.

Nothing to Say

I’ve been reading the Old Testament, book by book, and then it came time for Job.

I groaned.

I didn’t want to read it.

Some of my friends and relatives were suffering and I didn’t want to hear about one more.

But I knew I’d regret it. It had been a long while since I’d read the book, so I took a deep breath, held my nose, and plunged in.

Here are some insights from my reading:

I was surprised at the many verses I recognized that come from Job.

“For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water.” 3:24 It echoes Psalm 22.

“Can mortal man be in the right before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” 4:17 The psalmist in 119: 9 asks the identical question.

“For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” 5:6 The psalms are full of the woes of man in sin, and so are the Proverbs.

I was also shocked at some of the wisdom that came from Job’s friends. Things like, “I too, was pinched off from a piece of clay.” 33: 6 It reminded me of when God made Adam.

“Where is my Maker who gives songs in the night?” 35:10 That’s from Job in his suffering and confusion. It’s reminiscent of Zephaniah in 3:17 when he tells Israel, as they face judgment, that God will restore and rejoice over them with loud singing.

Towards the end of the book, God finally addresses Job. What astonished me was how God described himself to Job. He could have shamed him into realizing his frailty in comparison to God’s power or verbally whipped him with his wisdom. Instead he asked him questions like, “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?” or “Who has let the wild donkey go free?” or “Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?”

These are rhetorical questions and Job knows it.

God continues to the end of the book to describe the creatures he has made, just as he did man, and no one can take credit but him.

By the time God finishes, Job is speechless.

And I was given a shot in the arm. I came away realizing since God is the creator and caretaker of everything the eye can see, he certainly will take care of me and my loved ones. It’s laughable to think he’d forget me and my prayers.

The only reason I’m still around today is God’s faithfulness to me. I earned none of it. I fail him more than I care to admit. And everything I am and have he gave me as a gift because of his Son.

I’m left speechless, too.

So really my life needs to be a showcase of gratitude.

Talk to me.