Sheep, Gate, Shepherd

John 10:1-18 and Psalm 113

Preparing for today’s reading, I read a little bit about what sheep are like as animals. Here are some of the ways they are described: stubborn, picky eaters, social, followers, run from danger/easily afraid, playful.

Being a mom, how can I not associate these descriptions with my children?? And following that, associating the role that Jesus describes as with mine as a parent? In this parable, Jesus is talking about sheep (us – his flock), and explaining his role as shepherd (caregiver, protector, authority figure).

It is the shepherd’s role to provide for the needs of the sheep, to keep them safe, to keep them well, and to keep them out of dangerous places. The sheep don’t always like for the shepherd to do these things, especially when the grass seems greener on the other side of the hill and they don’t realize there is a cliff to fall off on that side. It is not the shepherd’s job to make the sheep happy all the time, but to safely shepherd them from one place to the other so they can fulfill their purpose in life. Sheep learn their shepherd’s voice and respond to it, trusting the shepherd to take them where they need to go and provide what they need. The shepherd acts as a gate to keep the sheep in their pin safely, keeping the sheep from leaving without protection, and also keeping harmful predators away from the flock.

My little boy Samuel is almost five. When he gets in trouble, it is almost always because he did not listen to me or his dad. Much of my time is spent explaining to him that if he would just listen he would not be in trouble. I try to explain that when I tell him something, it is to protect him, to keep him from hurting himself, or because what he wanted to do was a really bad idea.

I’m asking myself right now how much I listen for God’s voice. I’m thinking about how the God’s word and instruction is meant to protect us, because God knows what we need more than we do, and He wants us to be happy, to live fulfilling lives, and to be safe and anxiety-free.

In fact, He tells us not to worry – very specifically. Yet worry and anxiety can own my thoughts and even cause physical distress in my life. Why?? Because I don’t listen.

Reflect today on what Jesus as your shepherd means in your life right now. Do you know His voice? Do you come when called? Do you follow where He leads?

Lord, thank you for Jesus and his loving words laid out for us in scripture. Help me to listen for your voice, and to obey without doubt. Take away my fear and anxiety, and cause me to trust and have faith in your promises. 

 

I loved you enough to insist that you save your money and buy a bike for yourself even though we could afford to buy one for you.

I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover that your new best friend was a creep.

I loved you enough to make you take a Milky Way back to the drugstore (with a bite out of it) and tell the clerk, ‘I stole this yesterday and I want to pay for it.’

I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your room, a job that would have taken me 15 minutes.

I loved you enough to let you see anger, disappointment, and tears in my eyes. Children must learn that their parents are not perfect.

I loved you enough to let you assume the responsibility for your actions even when the penalties were so harsh they almost broke my heart.

But most of all, I loved you enough to say ‘no’ when I knew you would hate me for it. Those were the most difficult battles of all. I am glad I won them, because in the end you won something, too.”

Mothers, and fathers, are given an incredible privilege and opportunity to have the primary role in helping shape the character of the children entrusted into their care. Words are important, but our actions and examples are more important. From how to treat other people to the habit of going to Sunday School and church to the teaching of stewardship by giving the child a quarter to put in the offering, we can instill good habits, morals, and beliefs into our children.

Am I a Faithful Servant???

Todays readings come from Matthew 24:45-51, Luke 12:42-48 and Psalm 101. Jesus’ parable about the wise and foolish servants talks about a “faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household” who, having been left in charge of the household, does well with his responsibility and is blessed for it. Conversely, the foolish servant who “says to himself, ‘my master is delayed in coming,'” and does not follow the instructions of the master. The master shows up unannounced and finds the servant’s disobedience, which has pretty severe consequences.

This parable, like all other parables – and all of scripture, for that matter – has a lot going on in it. I’m being spoken to today, though, on the surface context of this passage. There are some basic messages here without having to dig too deeply.

  1. Jesus says we must carry on with diligence while the Lord is gone. We must be that faithful and wise servant who takes care of his master’s business while the master is away.
  2. Jesus also promised that we will be rewarded for our diligence. The servants serve the master, but the master knows how to take care of and reward the servants.
  3.  Jesus warns of having an attitude that relies on a master “delayed in coming.” Instead, we should live in constant anticipation of His return.

Thankfully, we’re not expected to be perfect all the time. But when I think about having to give an accounting for my actions to the Lord, it is always in some far-off future time and place, not in the here and now.

What if in the middle of my workday – or evening at home with family – or weekend visiting with friends – Jesus came and said that it was time to answer for everything. How would He find me? Would I have been in prayer, in communication with him that same day? Would I have been meditating on His words found in scripture?

Or would He instead find me binge-watching one of my shows on Netflix, in a messy house with my kids running amok??  Or gossiping with someone? The list could really go on here, but I think you get the idea.

David sets high standards for behavior in Psalm 101.

  • I will sing of (be enthused by!) steadfast love and justice
  • I will ponder the way that is blameless
  • I will walk with integrity of heart
  • I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless
  • I will know nothing of evil
  • I will not tolerate gossip or haughty/arrogant behavior (v5)
  • I will look with favor on the faithful and dwell with them
  • I will be ministered to by those whose walk is blameless
  • I will not tolerate/dwell with those who practice deceit

Let’s meditate on this Psalm and the parable today. Which servant am I? Am I ready for my master to return at any moment?

False Disciples

Today’s reading, Matthew 7:21-23, follows closely our warning of “False Prophets” from yesterday. The leaders and teachers among us aren’t the only ones who can “talk the talk” without truly walking with Christ. There will be those who prophesied in God’s name and did “mighty works” that God does not know.

I can’t help but think right now of some of the criticisms of “church” that I’ve heard from nonbelievers. They go something like, “church is full of hypocrites” and “I know what so and so is like outside of church” and on and on. This has always been a struggle for me because, well…it’s true. But there’s a difference between repentant sinners who are following Christ and trying to live obediently and those who are there just to “look good”. And thankfully, it’s not up to me to judge what’s in someone’s heart. Even so, the true believers – the Christ-followers in a living, breathing relationship with Him, shine out like stars in the night. Not because they’re without sin, or because they show up to church every time the doors are open, or tithe religiously…but because they bear the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). Not necessarily all of them, and certainly not all of the time – but it’s there and it’s evident.

The past 3 years I’ve been attending Eastview Christian Church. It is, by far, the biggest church I’ve ever been involved in. When I first visited there I was so blinded by the sheer size and dramatics of “contemporary worship” that it took another 2 years of church shopping before my family and I returned and eventually committed to making it our church home. Sure – are probably a lot of people there that don’t truly know God. There may even be false prophets there (although I’ve never encountered any that I’m aware of), but there are also many, many believers who come together to worship and, through serving together, I’ve seen and been encouraged by so many people humbly serving the Lord and bearing those fruits of the spirit.

There are 2 main things I take away from this reading today. First, that so long as we are aware of the existence of false disciples we do not need to be afraid of them. In fact, I don’t think we even need to look for them, but instead look for the disciples (Christ-followers) who are bearing fruit. Commune with them, rejoice with them and be encouraged by them. The second thing is how I’ve come to respond to the criticisms about church and Christians I mentioned above. There are believers and non-believers. The believers and Christ-followers are not without sin, but they are repentant and, while they make mistakes, constantly seek to follow Jesus. The non-believers may act like they are Christians, but if they do not know Him they will not live like they do.

Father in Heaven, even as I write these words I know I fall short of living a Christ-like life. Help me to seek you first in all that I do and to live a fruit-bearing life.

Psalm 89

To be forgiven…

Today’s reading is Matthew 6:14-15 and Psalm 77.

What does Jesus mean when he says that if we do not forgive others we will not be forgiven? I don’t think he is holding forgiveness back from us – I think he is trying to get us to understand that the grace that makes forgiveness available to us has to be accepted. How can we accept forgiveness for our own sins (against God and others) if we don’t believe we’ve done something wrong? And, if we know we’ve sinned, and have asked for and accepted the grace of forgiveness, how can we hold it back from others – but still expect our own slate to be wiped clean?

Forgiveness is guaranteed as a response to repentance (1 John 1:9-10). I think with true repentance comes a recognition of our own unworthiness – but thankfully Jesus only asks for repentance, not for perfection. If we cannot forgive others who are not unlike ourselves, then we must not truly be recognizing the condition of sin in our own hearts. When we do recognize our sin, and go to God in humility asking for forgiveness, we receive His mercy. Part of being a Christ-follower is striving to be Christlike in thought, word and actions – even to forgiving those “unworthy” of forgiveness. If we withhold that forgiveness, we are also keeping ourselves from experience the full comfort of God’s grace and mercy. We become trapped in a prison of our own making.

Is there anyone you’ve been unable to forgive? Spend some time in prayer and confession. Ask God for forgiveness, thank Him for his grace and mercy, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with the desire to forgive.

An eye for an eye…

I can’t help but think of my little boys when I read this passage. Samuel and Andrew are ages 4 and 3, respectively. When they’re playing together it is inevitable that one of them is wronged. Samuel snatches the toy that Andrew was playing with. Andrew’s first response is to strike out and hit Samuel. Samuel then hits Andrew back. You get the picture – this kind of scene is played out for parents and people who are around young children all the time. All of that is usually…well, always…followed by crying and stories of injustice, usually accompanied by pleas for punishment to the other.

Jesus is teaching us here to resist our most natural urge of striking back. Don’t be confused by the language in verse 39 though – “Do not resist the one who is evil.” Ephesians 4:27, 6:11-13, 1 Peter 5:8-9, James 4:7, all talk about resisting the devil with the “whole armor of God.” When Jesus says, “Do not resist the one who is evil,” He is talking about revenge.  He isn’t telling us to be weak and passive; He’s telling us not to be vindictive. Jesus wants us to ask the question, “If someone does something evil to me, how may I respond with only good in return?”

This is a really difficult concept to apply in every day life. My mind automatically jumps to the “big” wrongs – but what about the rest? What if, instead of getting frustrated when someone cuts in front of me in line, I offer to help them unload their groceries onto the belt for them? It sounds nice in theory – but in the heat of the moment it’s not easy to humble myself to offer help to someone that acted rudely or inconsiderately to me.

Jesus wants us to be selfless. He goes on to tell us that if someone sues us for our shirt, don’t only give that away, but our cloak as well. If someone begs, give to them. If someone asks to borrow – give to them as well. The theme here is to “disconnect” from material goods and possessions. I don’t think Jesus wants us to be penniless, but I do think that He recognizes that the things we acquire and that have importance to us can separate us from Him.

The Apostle Paul summarizes what Jesus’ teaches us here in Romans 12:17-21,

“never pay back evil for evil to anyone. respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In Psalm 65 David writes, “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions…We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.” The awesome gift of forgiveness – granted while we were still sinners – needs to be contemplated daily. We need to remember that all we are, all we have, comes from God. Our financial wealth, our knowledge and abilities – they are gifts given to us to use for His glory.

Try this week to return a negative action with a loving response. Look for an opportunity to use what God has given you to help someone in need. Show compassion and grace when you feel a response of anger or frustration.

Lord, please fill my heart with the desire to serve you. Thank you for your constant forgiveness. Help me to reflect your light to those around me and give me the courage to return evil with good. Give me a generous spirit and cause me to look for ways to show generosity. 

Victims of a broken promise…

2 Samuel 21Psalm 53

This chapter of Samuel begins with a famine in Israel for over three years, with David finally asking the Lord why the famine is taking place in his kingdom. God answers that Saul  had broken a vow (or promise, or covenant) by killing the Gibeonites (see Joshua 9 for the origin of that vow – note that the Israelites were tricked into making the promise, but still God expects them to keep it!).

David approached the Gibeonites on how he can correct the broken promise. They demanded seven of Saul’s sons to be killed as an atonement. David had no choice but to deliver and did as they requested (except for Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, due to yet another promise). It was sad but necessary to stop the famine. After this, David went and retrieved the bones of Saul and Jonathan and buried them in the country of Benjamin with Saul’s father Kish.

The chapter ends with the Philistines going to war against Israel. In the battle, David grew faint and was nearly killed by the sons of the giants. Israel decided then that David should not come out to battle any more, so the light of Israel is not quenched – in other words, they didn’t want to lose their king because he was fighting in wars.  [Incidentally, in this war a man named Elhanan killed Goliath’s brother, and David’s nephew Jonathan killed a giant of Gath who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot.]

David was no stranger to covenants with God, or man, for that matter. The 400 year old covenant broken by Saul caused famine and tragedy in David’s kingdom, even though David was not the one to break the promise. It is a good reminder that God takes our covenants seriously. The promises we make to each other, and the promises we make to God, are known by Him and remembered by Him.  It is comforting to think of that aspect when we think of the good things God has promised us in his covenants with us, but scary to think of that in light of all of the broken promises we see between each other and between ourselves and the Lord.

I cannot think of broken covenants without thinking of the covenant of marriage. We all know, some of us with intimate and first-hand knowledge, someone who is either divorced or going through a divorce. Regardless of who and/or what is to blame, the broken promises between two people that had promised to be together “till death do us part” does not affect only those two people. The children, extended families and even friends are all impacted by the separation of two people once married. Yet, even through the sorrow that follows divorce, we do not have to be separated from God. We can still seek forgiveness for the promises broken, we can offer forgiveness for the betrayal, and set an example to others of mercy and grace through a difficult time. Like David, we can seek out God’s will in the aftermath of the brokenness.

Father, thank you for being a loving God. Thank you for never breaking your promises and covenants with us. Please open our eyes and hearts to your word and allow it to speak to us where we are in our lives today. Help me to be faithful like you are faithful, keeping my promises. God, if there is any promise I have broken, please help me to see that and to make it right. Please help me to turn to you in times of trouble, and to reflect your grace and mercy to those around me. 

Showing Grace

 

2 Samuel 9 and Psalm 41

To understand this chapter of 2 Samuel, we have to go back  about twenty years earlier, when David made a covenant with Jonathan (1 Samuel 20). Jonathan, who was heir to Saul’s throne, was not going to be King because of his father’s disobedience to the Lord. Samuel had told Saul that his kingdom would be taken away and given to a better man. Despite that, David and Jonathan had a very close friendship. Jonathan, instead of siding with his Saul to secure his position to the throne, accepted that David would be king and made a covenant with him. He had David promise him to show him and his family after him the unfailing kindness of the Lord, as long as they lived.

We don’t know what precipitated David’s question –  “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” But all these years later he was prompted to remember his promise to Jonathan. David seeks out what remains of Jonathan’s family and pours love and kindness out to Mephibosheth by giving him all of the property that had been Saul’s, then giving him a place equal to that of David’s own sons.

David didn’t just give money and land and material things – he welcomed the son of Jonathan into his home and gave him a place of honor.

David showed Grace to Mephibosheth. He didn’t question him about his worthiness, didn’t put stipulations on his gifts, and didn’t just give him monetary gifts to satisfy a promise or sense of guilt – he loved him! He treated him like one of his own sons.

Grace is difficult for me. It is difficult for me to accept God’s grace, his promise of forgiveness and his love for me despite the sins that bring me guilt and shame.

Grace is also difficult for me to give. It is sometimes easier to write a check and drop it in the plate at church than to stop and take time to show love to others. David’s behavior is such an amazing example of how grace should be shown. Wholly, unconditionally and without limit.

 Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
    In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
    he is called blessed in the land…Psalm 41:1-2

 

Do we really want to hear what God has to say to us?

Psalm 291 Samuel 28

In 1 Samuel 28, Saul, at the end of his rope, visits a medium to get advice on how to salvage his kingdom. He has the nerve to ask for Samuel to be called up from the dead in hopes that the prophet will give him useful knowledge from beyond the grave.

This is a really unusual event – Samuel actually appears from the dead and prophesies to Saul. But the prophesy doesn’t do Saul any good. Saul wanted knowledge that would help him  win, but that isn’t why God gives us his word. God gives us his word to teach us that he alone is God and that we have no hope outside of him.

God speaks directly to us through scripture. Do we actually want to hear what he has to say? Is our desire to hear some additional word (outside of scripture) a sign of our devotion, or instead is it a desire to ignore what has already been revealed through scripture?

Lord, help me to listen to your word with an open heart and open mind. Please help me to seek you first, and not to look for truth in other places. Thank you for sending Jesus to take away our sins, and for the promise of forgiveness.

Spend More Time on Your Heart

 

Psalm 171 Samuel 16

We live in such an image-driven world. The fashion industry, cosmetic industry, health and fitness industries – the list goes on and on – all constantly pull and tug on us for time and attention. I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time choosing what to wear and fixing my hair and makeup every day. I glance in the mirror and critique my wrinkles and blemishes. I try to suck in my belly and make myself look more trim. I can be consumed with my physical appearance.  Continue reading Spend More Time on Your Heart

Is prayer a “last resort” for you?

1 Samuel 4Psalms 5

Today’s reading in 1 Samuel tells of massive defeat of the Israelites by the Philistines, including the theft of the ark of the covenant. The news of the deaths of Eli’s sons and the taking of the ark caused Eli to fall to his death, and his daughter-in-law went into labor at hearing all the news, and died in despair.

What a tragedy. Why did these people not turn to God? Why did despair overcome them? For the same reasons that we allow our faith to be dampened by the troubles we face. It is too easy to forget God’s faithfulness, and too tempting to wallow in depression when things go wrong.

In Psalm 5, David reminds us to go first to God with our troubles, requests, and also with praise.

I’ve heard people say, and have been guilty myself of this, “there’s nothing left to do but pray.” It’s not necessarily an untrue statement – but it’s premise is that there ever was anything else more important or more pressing to do than to pray. Rather than waiting until all other options are exhausted, let’s try to remember to go to God first (and last) with our concerns. It seems like we should know and do this already, but I for one need constant reminders of this.

“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” Psalm 5:11-12