Timely Text–Monday Musing 27 January 2020

Last Tuesday I was on my way to the hospital in Tupelo, Mississippi to see a parishioner and a very good friend who has Stage 4 cancer. I’ve been praying for his healing and it seemed like God wasn’t listening, or at least doing what I thought He should do. It’s about an hour and a half drive from home, so I had some time to do something other than thinking, about my friend and my soon to be 94 year old Dad. He had been having a difficult week. I needed a distraction–not from my driving–but from my thoughts.

I decided to listen to some podcasts from one of my mentors (who doesn’t know me)–Andy Andrews. I find him insightful and humorous. God knows I needed a laugh, and I hoped Andy wouldn’t disappoint me. He didn’t. But about 15 minutes into my hour and a half drive, the podcast was interrupted by a text. So I did the safe thing and found a place to pull over and check out the text. And here is what I saw:

I started to reply with one word: Thanks. But that would have been deceptive by me. So I told my friend, Matthew Winters, exactly what I was struggling with. By the way, Matthew has started blogging again with a new direction. You can check him out HERE! Commercial over, back to Monday’s Musing.

At the moment I needed help, God sent me help. But it took someone else to bring me that help. In this case, it was Matthew. And this morning I’m thinking about a particular passage, Philippians 2:4 (NLT)

Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

That afternoon God spoke and Matthew was listening–and God’s grace once again renewed my heart and mind. Matthew took an interest in me; his heart was directed to me; and Matthew was obedient to God. And here’s the point I want to make, and it’s in the form of a question:

God is wanting to help someone who is in a struggle–and He’s chosen you to send His help. ARE YOU LISTENING?

Only by having a deep walk with Jesus and The Holy Spirit can you be in a place where you can hear God speaking. Like a 911 Operator, God is saying, “Help is on the way!” Make sure you’re “on call” to receive His Dispatch.

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

THE GREAT AND HORRIBLE WAR!

“This morning is hell!” Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Yet this is exactly what many are feeling; not just a morning feeling–but an all day kind of feeling for many. It’s because of the Great War And Horrible War. And yes, even this Preacherman understands this feeling–because sometimes. . .it’s the truth about me. If you think this isn’t you–Remember The Eighth Command–Don’t you dare lie–to others, about others, or even to yourself! I know it says “your neighbor”, but who lives closer to you than YOU?

Satan knows which buttons to push. His strategy in this Great And Horrible War is rather simple–but effective. Successful military strategists understand this and put it into practice–if they want to win a battle. Satan’s strategy is this: Hit At The Weakest Points! He does this daily. . .constantly. And the casualties he causes–though they won’t make the news this evening–are mounting up into catastrophic proportions.

And one of the weakest points in many lives, even mine, is our Will! But something my mentor, Andy Andrews, is teaching me is that our Will is stronger than our feelings. But the Opposing General doesn’t want us to believe this truth. There’s much I could say at this point. . .but I defer to someone with more battle scars than myself–a guy known as Paul. Read carefully what he wrote in Romans 7:14-25. This is my personal autobiography. Here’s what it looks like from The Message:

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Be honest with God. He is GOOD, you know. He will change you from having your feelings into knowing His Will in your life. And more–HE will give you HIS strength to live in that Will rather than your feelings. WE cannot stop this Great And Horrible War, but we can’t stop becoming another casualty by asking HIM to change our “want to”, which is nothing more than our feelings, into Will; and Satan can’t stop that Will. He tried in the Garden of Gethsemane–and failed. He tried on that cruel Cross–and failed. And he tried in that Tomb–AND HE FAILED! Daddy’s Grace is the field hospital where our wounds are tended and our hearts are mended. . .and our feelings are transformed into HIS WILL!

Continue then, to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

THE GOOD SHEPHERD!

He Wants To Be Our Shepherd Even When We Don’t Want A Shepherd.

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Part 5 of my current series “The I Am Sayings Of Jesus”

“I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.  A hired man is not a real shepherd.  The sheep mean nothing to him.  He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf.  He’s only in it for the money.  The sheep don’t matter to him.

I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me.  In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father.  I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen.  I need to gather and bring them, too.  They’ll also recognize my voice.  Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd.This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again.  No one takes it from me.  I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again.  I received this authority personally from my Father.”

This kind of talk caused another split in the Jewish ranks. A lot of them were saying, “He’s crazy, a maniac—out of his head completely.  Why bother listening to him?”  But others weren’t so sure:  “These aren’t the words of a crazy man. Can a ‘maniac’ open blind eyes?” John 10:11-21 (The Message)

You have probably heard this story, but it’s worth sharing again. Two men were called on in a large classroom to recite the Twenty-third Psalm.  One was a published orator trained in speech technique and drama.  He repeated the psalm in a powerful way.  When he finished the audience cheered and even asked for an encore that they might hear his wonderful voice again. 

Then the other man, who was much older repeated the same words—“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”  But when he finished no sound came from the large class.  Instead people sat in a deep mood of devotion and prayer.  Then the orator stood to his feet and said, “I have a confession to make.  The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend and what you heard from me is this:  I know the Psalm my friend knows the Shepherd.”  I wish I could say something as deep and profound as this little story.  One could call for the invitation hymn and the benediction and go home.  But I’m not going to let you off that easy.

Here’s the one thing you need to remember:  He Wants To Be Our Shepherd Even When We Don’t Want A Shepherd.  To Navigate This Life Successfully, And Reach That Ultimate Prize Of Unending Life, You Need The Good Shepherd.  Deny this; disagree with me on this; argue with me about this—truth is, we cannot navigate this life on our own nor with any other guide.  Do not forget, that as Jesus is speaking, He is using the Eternal Name of God, that Name to be remembered for all generations when He said:  YAHWEH the Good Shepherd!  If you miss this then you have missed the whole point that Jesus is trying to make, and the word He has for us today.  I need you to see this with the same impact as when Jesus spoke these words.

Unfortunately, for many of us, we have the tendency to, what I call, “Americanize” the Bible.  We allow our cultural images to often influence how we see a passage.  The mental image of shepherds, or what the American version calls sheepherders, is not the same today as it was then.  Most of us have been influenced by all those old and great western movies.  Sheepherders were often portrayed as weak and defenseless people who were harassed and abused by the cattle barons.  It often took a hero in a white hat to save the day for them.  But that is not the shepherd of those times.  Shepherds were strong and rugged men.  They were more like cowboys because they had to be.

  • They were often in the wilderness for weeks, even months at a time. 
  • They had to protect the flock from wild animals and thieves.
  • They had to be self-reliant and self-sufficient during those times.
  • They were on the move looking for pasture and water in a desert region, so they needed endurance. 
  • They needed an understanding and knowledge of the sheep’s behavior.

Shepherds were not what we call “entry level” jobs.  It took above average knowledge, above average courage, above average strength, and an above average commitment for the task.

There are some things about sheep you need to know.  They are not the smartest animal, the sharpest tool in the shed, or the brightest light in the box.  Don’t get mad and report me to PETA or the Humane Society, because it’s a fact.  Did you ever see a trained sheep act at a circus?  Have you ever seen a sign that read:  “Beware!  Guard Sheep On Duty!”  You have seen the law enforcement vehicles which were labeled “K-9 Unit”, but have you ever seen one that said, “Sheep Unit”?  Have you seen TSA officers walking around airports with sheep trained to sniff for drugs or explosives?

Here is something else about the nature of sheep.  They can and sometimes will eat themselves to death.  David wrote in Psalm 23, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”  Sheep must stop eating to digest what they have eaten.  If they are standing up, they can eat until they die from over-eating.  But they will not eat if they are lying down.  As the expression goes, “They have to chew their cud.”  They will not drink from a stream of water that is moving fast. And they tend to NOT pay attention, so they wander off.  So in addition to being strong and courageous, shepherds also needed to be patient.

So when Jesus says I AM The Good Shepherd, they understood this image as was someone rugged, fierce, patient and kind.  Like I said, these are the cowboys of their day.  And this image of The Good Shepherd tells us more about God’s Eternal Name.  There are some lessons here that we need to learn, and principles we must abide within if we are going to find the life our hearts hunger for.

1.  He’s The Good Shepherd Because He Knows Us

He knows our limitations and our capacities.  He knows and understands the natural tendency of our wills and our spirits is to sin. We tend to get off track and off balance.  Isaiah leaves no doubt about this when he said in Isaiah 53:6—“All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.” 

He is the Good Shepherd because He’s the one who goes looking for us to bring us back.  He knows that sometimes we don’t know our limitations and, like sheep that overeat, we overload ourselves.  But the Good Shepherd invites us to rest.  David didn’t say “He suggests I lie down” but “He makes me like down.”  I don’t mean that God strikes us down, but that He keeps urging us to rest, rest in Him.  The rest we need is found only in Him.  He knows that we can’t fight off the Enemy, so He equips us for the battle, giving us His strength, and fighting for us with a passion like none other.

He not only knows our limitations, but He knows our capacity to do far more than we can even imagine.  Remember that saying:  He Doesn’t Call The Qualified, But Qualifies The Called.  He is the Good Shepherd and the emphasis on that name needs to be on GOOD!

Whatever it is He wants you to do, Remember That He Is GOOD!  The tasks and missions He calls us into are those that He knows we can accomplish with His help.  At times He calls us into tasks and places that quite frankly, can scare the living daylights out of us.  I know from my own experiences He knows what I am capable of. 

After my divorce, I was really struggling with that beast called Recovery.  There were many times I felt like I just couldn’t handle it.  There were moments I wanted to give up.  There were dark times when I felt like I wasn’t worth the effort.  But He reminded me again and again, that He IS Good.  He knows our capabilities, so…

  • Count on what He is doing,
  • Count on what He is providing
  • Count on His strength and most of all,
  • Count on His wisdom.

Because He is the Good Shepherd He knows what we can do when we rely completely on Him.

2.  He’s The Good Shepherd Because He Cares About Us

He cares about our hopes and dreams, shaping them into a drive and passion in our life.  He gives us opportunities every day to experience His love for us through so many ways. 

When we are hungry for Him, He’s right there.  When we are thirsty, thirsty for the assurance of His love, He freely gives us that living water.  He is the Good Shepherd because He genuinely cares about us even if it feels like He doesn’t.  When it feels like He doesn’t care or has forgotten us, remember that this is coming from the enemy. 

His care isn’t an emotion or sentimental feeling.  His care is an active and progressive care.  His care is seen through all He provides. 

  • He provides grace when we need forgiveness;
  • Mercy when we are beating ourselves up for our failures;
  • Comfort when we are grieving;
  • Living Hope when the world caves in around us;
  • Joy through all the good things that come our way;
  • Strength and Power when the road is rough and steep;
  • And Peace that covers us when chaos is all around us.

His care is tender and filled with His desire to see us become everything He longs for us to be.  He never forgets us.  He is the Good Shepherd because He knows our name.  Our names have been engraved in those nail scarred hands.  He promises that we are always in His thoughts and best of all, in His heart.

3.  He’s The Good Shepherd Because He Protects Us

In your deepest and hardest struggles, He is the Good Shepherd who is right there to help you

  • When Satan tries to steal you away, He Won’t Let Go Of You.
  • When Satan tries to crush you with fears and doubts, He Will Deliver You From All Of Them.  
  • When Satan tries to devour you with innuendoes and threats, Jesus Won’t Back Down
  • When Satan is tempting you so much that you can’t handle it anymore, Jesus Steps In To Fight In Your Place.  He’s right there at your side.  And when the Good Shepherd is there, He Fights And When He Fights, Satan Runs

One of the things about shepherds is how they protect the flock at night.  There would be areas, man-made or made by nature, that provided a pen for the sheep at night.  There was only a single opening into that pen.  There was no wood gate because they wouldn’t last. 

Just an opening, but the Good Shepherd, after He has led the flock into the sheep pen, counted every one of them, would then make His own bed right there in that opening.  If someone tried to sneak in, He knew it.  If one of the sheep tried to slip away, He was right there to keep it safe.  You are safe with the Good Shepherd.  Everything you dream and hope for may or may not come true. 

But when our plans fail to work out, He is right there to protect us from the destruction and damage that comes from the pain.  And because He is the Good Shepherd, He longs for us to know Him.

Notice what Jesus said:  I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me.  How do sheep know their shepherd?  It’s not by their outward appearance, but by the Voice. 

A man was visiting the Holy Land when he noticed several shepherds in one area.  He asked them, “How can you tell which sheep belong to whom?”  One of them replied, “They know our voice.  Each sheep will only follow the voice of their shepherd.”  Somewhat doubting it, he asked them to do an experiment and one of them agreed. 

The man swapped clothes with one of the shepherds.  He had one shepherd first call his sheep.  Some of the sheep followed that man’s voice.  Dressed in the clothes of the other shepherd, he began to call out to the sheep.  He knew the native language and he used it, calling out “Menah” the Arabic for “Follow me”.  And do you know what happened?  None of the remaining sheep moved.  Then, wearing the clothes of the tourist, the real shepherd called out “Menah” and the sheep began to follow him.  The real shepherd said, “Sheep will only follow another voice when they are sick.”

This is why Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He knows His sheep, and He knows that His sheep recognize His voice.  Do you know the voice of the Good Shepherd?  You can know His voice the same way those sheep knew the voice of their shepherd.  You Know His Voice By Trusting Him.  You can trust Jesus because He has given His life as the sacrifice and atonement for every sin in every life, even your life.  You can trust Jesus, because He and He alone is the Good Shepherd!

Your Next Steps

  1. Is There A Place In Your Life Where You Are Not Following God?  It is either a place where you won’t give up control.  Or, it is a place where you feel uncomfortable and you do not fully trust that God is good.  Shepherds lead, sheep follow—but you can’t follow when you resist.
  2. Are You Willing To Follow God, Who Is Leading Us Into A New Way Of Being The Body Of Christ?  Without knowing what it looks like, or what it will require of you, to Follow The Good Shepherd means you make up your heart and mind now, to Follow Where He Leads.