Jesus our shepherd

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Psalm 23

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep….

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

John 10:7,10b,11,14-15

David knew sheep firsthand, and what it was like to be a shepherd. David herded sheep as a boy before he became shepherd of Israel, as king. But David knew that he needed shepherding himself. Scripture tells us that we humans are like sheep. Just as God is like the shepherd of God’s people. Just as Jesus is like a gate where sheep can enter in, become one flock, all their needs taken care of.

The Lord, Jesus is our shepherd through thick and thin, whatever we face, through every stage of life, and beyond. The Lord will take care of it, will take care of us in his love. We are his bleating sheep, forever in the Lord’s care in God’s love. 

It really does help to remember that we are like sheep, and that the Lord is indeed like our shepherd. This puts less pressure on us. As we hopefully begin to experience the abundant life for us, even in this life with all its dangers and sadness. In and through Jesus.

cae

joy, peace and overflowing hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

Interestingly, this more or less ends a section in which Paul is dealing with Christians weak in their faith and how Christians who are strong in theirs are to deal with that. Yes, with a word of instruction to the weak, as well. Much to be said about that within its context. But I’ll just say this about myself. I know I can feel exceedingly weak for one reason or another in my faith. Which is all the more reason to rejoice with Paul’s words of benediction or well wishing here.

Yes, God has this for all of us in Christ: the weak as well as the strong. We’re going through a decidedly difficult season now, with uncertainty ahead about the health and well being of our loved ones, of neighbors, of people in general, and with the economic fallout which is accompanying this.

But this wish is not dependent on our circumstances, but in God filling us. As we learn to trust in him more and more. In and through Jesus.

God as our shepherd in Jesus

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

The Bible aptly uses sheep as a representation of people. We are so easily lost, and in Biblical terms that means lost from God’s good intentions, easily wandering off, and getting ourselves in trouble. And sheep often are hurting as a result.

Scripture’s answer is to point us to God as our shepherd in Jesus, who is called the good shepherd who protects the flock, having laid down his life for them. And gives them life to the full (John 10).

I know I need the good shepherd, who cares for each individual sheep along with the flock. We like sheep are meant to be together in this goodness. Even as we long for everyone else to join us under the Lord’s care. In and through Jesus.

 

lack nothing?

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

In the topsy-turvy existence in which we live, we hardly ever see ourselves not in need of something. Or what the world tells us we need through advertising, or even what the state requires by law. On top of that, we have our own expectations for ourselves, our wishes, even dreams.

Then there’s this psalm telling us that with the Lord as our shepherd, we indeed lack nothing. Of course to know what the psalm means, we have to read on. Lacking nothing is described in terms of God’s provision and protection. So it’s beyond just feeling alright. There are actual reasons given as to why the psalmist, said to be David in the inscription, lacks nothing. It is in terms of having all we need, but still there’s a sense of abundance. Not “the good life” the world projects, but more like the abundant or full life the Lord promises (John 10). Again, we have to read the entire psalm to understand just what the psalmist means when they say that with the Lord being their shepherd, they lack nothing.

So we have to find and learn to dwell in the abundant, overflowing life for us in Christ (John 10). Spelled out for us here in Psalm 23 in real, down-to-earth terms for life in the topsy-turvy existence in which we live. In and through Jesus.

 

the abundant life the Lord speaks of

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10

A post on a recent book led me to think of our Lord’s description of why he came. Jesus speaks of himself as the good shepherd who ultimately lays down his life for his sheep. God is likened to a shepherd to his people in the Old Testament, perhaps the ultimate, certainly must endearing passage being the beloved Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

David who according to the superscription either wrote the psalm, or it somehow is tied to him, knew firsthand what a good shepherd was like since he tended sheep as a boy, having some significant experience in doing so.

Scripture does liken people to sheep, an analogy which was meaningful to many people during Biblical times. Sheep are dependent, and given to self-destructive behavior, in short: rather dumb. They really need a shepherd, and when having a good one, they end up flourishing, taking for granted safety from would be predators, and enjoying green pastures.

While Psalm 23 adeptly focuses on the individual, which is of basic importance, passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel and our Lord’s words in John 10 focus on the flock. Humans are meant to flourish together. And as we especially see in the passages quoted above, it’s from the Lord that such abundant living takes place.

In this world there’s no way that life always seems good. There is many a pitfall, and sin diminishes the good that is to come out of a love that is meant to be for all. So Jesus’s words about laying down his life for the sheep figure in there. That ends up being necessary for the good of humanity and the world. And while such flourishing begins in this life, its complete fulfillment awaits the next life when heaven and earth become one at Christ’s return in the new creation

But make no mistake, Jesus’s promise of life to the full begins in the here and now. And that beginning is in itself both an indication as well as guarantee of what’s to come. Lived in all its variety of gifts from God in God’s love. In and through Jesus.

*Bloom* by “Beauty Beyond Bones” –Caralyn

Anorexia. That may seem like a world removed from you, but maybe not. Trust me when I say that while it is deadly serious, indeed life threatening, there are a host of other issues which can take the life right out of us. And there are addictions which are destructive in keeping us from the abundant life that Christ offers.

Enter Caralyn, the young woman behind the popular BeautyBeyondBones blog. She has been free from her anorexia for over ten years now, and is on a mission to help others who find themselves in the same darkness into which she descended, all the light and color of her life so evident before, gone.

Both on her blog, and especially in this book, which is laid out so that it can be a daily journal, she shares with the reader how the light of Christ met her in her darkness and set her free. But don’t think for a moment that it was easy. Within the book enough of her story is told to let us know just how hard it was for her, yet how God helped her listen to his word, the good news in Christ, so that by God’s grace she was delivered from the deception which had completely claimed her life, a lie she had embraced which nearly cost her her life.

I found myself challenged and encouraged especially to understand and by faith live better in the manifold grace and depth of God’s love in Jesus through God’s good news in him.

This book is offered by a young woman as a witness to the mighty salvation that is in Jesus, and the power of God’s word through that salvation. So that no matter what you are facing, God can help you through it, and more than that, recover the beauty he created in you, so that he can radiate his glory in your humanity.  In and through Jesus.

Bloom

From her book: “Not only are we saved by grace, but we are healed by grace.”

 

what keeps us going

There are many ways to become discouraged, and to essentially quit. Fear paralyzes and debilitates. Feeling overwhelmed over difficult challenges in life in which there is some inevitable stumbling. Or not measuring up to some self-imposed standard which one may have imbibed through their upbringing, experiences, ideas floating around, or a combination of a number of factors.

What keeps me going is the faith and hope and love in Jesus. To boil it down, for me, the written word and the Word himself, Jesus. I accept something of the Real Presence in Holy Communion, but I believe something of that is given to us in scripture, as well. So whether I feel like it or not, and I might say especially when I don’t feel like it, I keep going back to scripture, and seek to read it all in the light of Jesus who brings us into the life of God.

For me this isn’t a nice thing I do, or something I find enjoyable so that I do it, though there’s some truth in both. For me it’s a matter of life and death. I have to do this, but I want to want to do it as well. My want is good enough for a number of reasons, but essentially so because of God’s grace, that I just keep on doing it. When I wane in doing so, it’s not long until I feel and see the consequences.

In this is a matter of not just surviving, but in Jesus experiencing a sense of thriving. It seems like faith is always on that edge, the precipice of on the one hand falling into the abyss, though for us in Jesus, underneath are the everlasting arms. And on the other hand, finding ourselves in a kind of paradise right in the midst of a broken down world. That is known even in what can be the aloneness of life. I remember when Paul said that everyone had abandoned him, but that the Lord stood with him so that the proclamation of the gospel would go forward. God’s presence should be even more palpable, or perhaps better put, steadily manifest and tangible amongst God’s people, those in Jesus in his body, the church.

So for me, I carry on for a number of reasons I’m sure, all through God’s grace and working in Jesus. But essentially due to the written word which leads us to the Word, Jesus, Jesus actually somehow mediating that word to us through his fulfillment of it, all of this in and through the Spirit. That last sentence is breaking boundaries I ordinarily don’t believe in crossing. I am moving into what is too high for me, too much to understand. Mystery. Yet we know that it’s both the word then the Word, and the Word then the word. All of this, of course, in and through Jesus.

hold that thought

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”

Isaiah 40

There are all kinds of thoughts that come our way in the course of a day, for ill and for good, and everything in between. We are often caught up and captured in such thoughts. Even consumed by them.

But there is only one word which endures, when all the rest will be gone. And that is the word of God, scripture itself, which points us to the Word of God, Jesus himself.

We need to be in the word day in and day out, year in and year out. It doesn’t matter whether we’re always “getting” what we’re reading. We need to keep at it; the Spirit will help us. Of course a big part of how this happens is through the church which indeed has a special place in God and in God’s working: nothing less than in Christ, as Christ’s body by the Spirit. So that is important if we’re really going to be adherents of God’s word, of scripture.

We have to make other things secondary to our intake of God’s word. Of course I’m not referring to the necessities we must do daily. But when all is said and done, we live by one word, the word from God.

…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8

Many thoughts will come to us, and they have varying degrees of significance. But the promise of good both for this life and for the life to come is found in one source: God’s word in scripture, and in Jesus. We live by that word, and die with it in hand, in and through Jesus.

 

dialing down expectations

One of the greatest problems of society, and of us in our lives is the problem of unrealized expectations, or probably more accurately and helpfully put, unrealistic expectations. One of the most in your face and crudest kind out there is that of the health and wealth, prosperity gospel preachers. They are a dime a dozen, and not worth any of it. I would not mince my words to one, whose letters and whatever it was he sent back, was aimed at a poor man who was grasping on to whatever hope he had to recover from the dementia which was setting in, sending in x number of dollars to get this or that blessing from someone who is (or was) exceedingly wealthy himself.

I am not referring here, I hope, to lack of faith, so that we don’t expect God to fulfill his promises, and rather than shoots six or seven or more arrows out there, we only shoot three like that faithless king of Israel of old. Not at all. We ought to trust in God and in God’s promises to us in Jesus, even literally. So that we do expect nothing less than the righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit promised to us in the kingdom now present in Jesus (Romans 14). Yes, we do ourselves and no one else any favor, when we don’t believe God’s promises to us.

But we need to read the entire Bible, not just the precious promise part. There’s plenty in there which you’re either not likely to find, or never would see in a precious promise book, whatever good such books might actually do. Yes, we need the “very great and precious promises” of God (2 Peter 1) for sure, and we need to hold on to them for dear life. But we need to see them in the context of taking up our cross and following, and being ready for “the dark night of the soul,” as well as arming ourselves for the spiritual warfare by being willing to suffer as Christ did (1 Peter 4).

I don’t care for that kind of message, myself, or at least there’s a large part of me which doesn’t. On the other hand, there’s another part of me which does, I suppose the inherent skeptical part, and for the good of me and others, it is best that I swallow the entire revelation of God given to us in the word, and through Christ, not just the parts that I like. The parts which may not taste as well at first, anyhow, may be the most nourishing and good for the soul, but we need it all. We need to really take in, and perhaps dwell at length on sections we might, left to ourselves, ignore, like the book of Lamentations, to name just one book among many other such parts of scripture.

Dialing down expectations might help us sift the wheat from the chaff, as we learn the way and freedom of self-restriction in place of the lie of unlimited freedom (Alexander Solzhenitsyn), the way of Jesus, and as we embrace that way both outwardly and inwardly, the way of the cross. And then find the true love of God and abundant eternal life as we look forward to the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, in and through Jesus.

“let go and let God” -really?

This past summer we enjoyed a wonderful concert by Michael Card at the Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference Tabernacle. At the front on top in the center, I noticed a small sign in large letters, “LET GO AND LET GOD.” In light of my recent read of The Cure, referred to yesterday, and the recent emphasis on trying to better understand and live more fully in God’s grace in Jesus, I thought I would consider this slogan, and its viability in light of scripture and the gospel.

To begin, I have noticed critiques of this saying, which cast it on its head as something to be either thorougly rejected, or at least held at arm’s length as incomplete. I think misunderstandings of it are certainly not only possible, but probable, and almost endemic (a given), due to the lack of Biblical, theological knowledge so many people have, even within the church. And even if there is some significant knowledge and understanding gathered from a good number of years of being in the church and reading scripture, I fear that the possible truth behind this slogan can be all but missed, so that in our life and practice, we completely miss whatever might be true in its meaning.

First of all, what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that we’re saved now, and that’s all that matters, so that we shouldn’t be concerned about our lives, or what’s going on around us, that we can let all of that go, and let God take care of it. Since after all, God is on the Throne, and whatever happens here doesn’t change his rule, or will one iota, as if God’s will will be carried out regardless. That’s subtle in that there’s some truth in it, but misses an important point. And it doesn’t mean that what we do, or fail to do doesn’t matter. However that’s tricky, as well, since we often live as if that’s all that matters, or at least is key.

I think what it is getting at is in terms of the teaching of grace as opposed to law. Not a grace that is in opposition to the Law of God, but a grace by which one can fulfill the requirement of that Law, which essentially is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Scripture makes it clear that we can’t fulfill God’s Law, by that Law itself, a repeated theme. We were never intended to be able to do it on our own. The grace of God that is in Jesus is key here, that grace being proclaimed in the gospel. It is only through what God has done in Jesus, in Jesus’s death and resurrection, that we can have life, and really live. It’s not in our own efforts either before, or after coming to Christ for salvation.

Letting go means that faith itself, the faith by which we began the new life in Christ, is necessary in continuing to live in that new life. And it’s a faith that is not in anything at all about ourselves, nor a faith which becomes dependent on ourselves in any way, shape, or form, at any time. It’s a faith only in God’s word in Christ in the gospel, so that the life which we do live is lived only in God’s grace, “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

We will fail. Let that be in not only large letters, but bold ones. We will fail. If it depended on us, this Christian life, then we can sign, seal and deliver that we won’t make it, and not only that, we won’t really even begin to be settled in it, even if God in his grace allows us to have a good taste of it in our lives. No. What we enter into by sheer faith, must be lived out by sheer faith in the grace of God in Jesus. Through his death, death and sin and condemnation are done away with, once and for all. Insofar as we’re settled on that, we’ll begin to experience the difference that should make. The Christian life doesn’t depends on us even a little, but on Christ, and the good news in him. The source for our new life and living, is completely in him, not in ourselves. Even though we find it in his union with us, and the change that brings.

Once we begin to live in this grace, we act not within the constriction of law, as a duty, but the compulsion of grace, as a response to God’s love and gift to us in Jesus. We let go of our own self-effort to commend ourselves to God, knowing that we’re already complete and have fullness in and through Jesus. We are in him, and he in us, and community in Jesus through the church is certainly a part of that. Our identity to find our true selves is in Jesus, not in us. We are identified in him, in his death and resurrection, even in his ascension.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, and say more than any of us can really take in, not that we’re meant to understand all of that right away anyhow, we need to settle in again, on the slogan itself. Do we really believe the good news is in Jesus, and God’s grace in him? Are we willing to proceed with a blind, and naked faith, depending only on God’s word to us in Jesus? Will we step across that line, with a commitment to not turn back, or at least keep coming back when we most likely inevitably do return to our former and dead end way of living?

These are questions which remain, at least for myself. I want to break through into a new sort of life in Jesus, which I have already tasted many times through a good number of years, for sure. But which I’ve at least in large part failed to be settled in. The theme of God’s grace, which has come to my attention in recent weeks, has taken on a new focus, which while not really new in knowledge, may become new in understanding as in application for me, something I hope to better live in and be a witness to in whatever coming days and months and years may remain, in and through Jesus.