the shepherd’s leading/guiding

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.

Psalm 23:1-3

What makes all the difference for the sheep? What is the difference between life and death for them? The shepherd. And specifically the care the shepherd takes of the sheep. And one important aspect of that: leading and guiding.

In our new hymnal, Voices Together, the Benediction for Morning Prayer reads:

God will guide us continually, and satisfy our needs in parched places, and we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Amen.

Voices Together, 985

Notice that the shepherd leads, the shepherd does not drive the sheep or coerce them. They simple follow the shepherd’s lead. The shepherd goes before them. Jesus leads the way for us. Yes, by his example in trusting in his Father and following even to the point of the death of the cross. But clearing the way for us so that we can live in the same blessing in which he lives.

It’s vitally important for us, as Christ’s sheep to follow the lead of our Shepherd. The Spirit enables us to do that, along with Scripture. We need to be intent in simply following. Not going off and doing our own thing, which we’re ever so prone to be doing. As if we either have to figure it out, or have it figured out. That comes to a dead end, darkness, and finally, death. No, we move only with the Lord’s leading.

That will give us the light we need in our own darkness, in the darkness of this world. In and through Jesus.

concentrate on the matter at hand

I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’

Acts 22:10

A little while back something unusual happened to me. It’s as if the Lord appeared to me and told me that I need to spend time in and concentrate on the book of James. Now it wasn’t like that, though in my imagination it was what it added up to. And as strong as if it had actually happened, with the feeling accompanying that remaining for a little while. But never to return again after that day. You might call it an impression, but whatever may be the case, I took it as a word to me from the Lord to spend time in James.

So that’s what I’ve been mostly doing, or at least more or less consistently so ever since, spending time in that book. Slowly one thought and passage at a time, still a good ways to go. Trying to let is soak in my bones, get into my heart, and into my life.

I think God would have us do one thing at a time. After all, we’re not really good multitaskers if we can actually do that at all. We’re better off most the time, especially in our culture to do less instead of doing more, or even maintaining what’s demanded. Of course we have to do well with the responsibilities put in front of us to make a living, and what we need to do with family, along with the few other things we have to stay on top of. But aside from these, we would do well to try to get a sense of what maybe we ought to concentrate on for a time. What the Lord is giving us to do for the present. And concentrate on that.

In and through Jesus.

don’t go there

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.

Proverbs 4:25

This is applicable in oh so many ways, but whatever it is, good as it may seem, important, usually urgent, or whatever, we can learn what distracts us from God’s peace, indeed from God’s good will. This is part of training in godliness, not to go where we think we have to go, often with the sense of fixing something, maybe even panic over some perceived problem. Or it maybe something that we know is no good, like eating too much of the wrong food at the wrong time. Or something even worse. Often though it can be things that are not at all wrong in themselves in the proper place and space and time. We have to be responsible. We don’t just throw everything to the wind with the idea that the Lord will take care of it. God will, but we’re part of that so that we have to be engaged and responsible in life.

But to the point of this post. No matter what the thought, now urgent it may seem, we will do well and find much help in simply refusing to go there. And a key issue here is distraction. Whatever might be distracting us from what we are doing at the time, the necessary and good thing we’re doing is a sign that God is not in the distraction. It has the mark and scent of the devil. The Lord will speak to our hearts with a strong sense at various times, but always with much freedom. It’s more like an invitation, and never with the sense of rush to throw us into panic. Though there may be directives from the Lord when we ought to act at the time in a specific way. We have to develop a sensitivity to what’s of God and what’s not.

The thought, again in all kinds of ways, just don’t go there, is helping me. We seek to be responsible in everything, in all of life, but always in the love, care and calm of our God. In and through Jesus.

not being distracted from God’s leading

Abraham’s story in Scripture and recounted elsewhere is classic. I mean it’s unique and unforgettable. But true to life, it’s rather clunky at certain parts. God calls Abraham from his country and culture into something brand new. And it really didn’t make much sense. Sarah and Abraham had no children, and she was past the age of childbearing. But God’s promise remained, that they indeed would not only have a son, but that through him and his offspring all nations would be blessed. That Abraham would become the father of all nations. Just breathtaking stuff from what was more than hard to believe in the first place.

I think the same can happen to us. We may pick up some sense of God’s leading and direction. But there’s an elephant in the room. And we get distracted by that. Instead of just trusting in God and God’s promises, we begin to flounder because we just can’t see beyond the one issue or problem.

Whatever that might be, we need to trust God. How do we do that? We quit focusing on what troubles us, and instead seek to remain in God’s leading, focusing instead on the big picture. Often when we’re troubled by this or that, we need to give it over to God. God will more than take care of it. The point is that we need to keep moving in the direction God has given us. God is faithful and will work it out. Yes, for our good, for the good of others, and all of that good resulting in God’s glory. What was true of Abraham is true for us today. In and through Jesus.

one day and one step at a time, and keep going

By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.

Hebrews 11:8-10; MSG

Abraham’s story is a fascinating one and not without a lot of bumps, bruises, and some bumbles along the way. The account given here from Genesis by the writer to the Hebrews looks at it in its totality in a nutshell. What kept Abraham going through thick and thin, as well as the fits and starts he had along the way was the sense of a call from God with a much bigger goal than anything the world could offer, and indeed against the grain of what would surely be expected. The abandonment of all idols to serve the true living God; Abraham built a number of altars in worship of God along the way. And a trust in God’s promise which on the bare face of things was indeed impossible, or at best like a nice dream.

We are called to the same faith as Abraham, yes, for our justification before God in being declared in the right through faith now in Christ’s finished work. And really also for all of life. Like Abraham, we too are blessed to be a blessing. We are part of Abraham’s progeny here on the earth that all nations might be blessed through us, indeed through the Seed which would be the fulfillment and the way of bringing this to pass: Christ, Jesus, the Messiah.

For me that means one day at a time, one step at a time, and to keep going. With eyes on the big picture and on the goal: God’s will and calling for us in Christ Jesus. We have to have a sense of God’s leading in this. We need that, and then we proceed on. Yes, even when it makes little to no sense to us. We press on through the bumps and bruises and indeed bumbles along the way. God has it. We have to trust in God, in God’s promises to us. Together in this with others. In and through Jesus.

follow the Spirit’s leading

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:25

Acts is an interesting book in unfolding something of the history of the early church following the Spirit’s leading. This is both for individuals and for the church at large. Acts is traditionally referred to as the Acts of the Apostles, but is sometimes called the Acts of the Holy Spirit, which makes a valid point. What good the apostles and early church did was always through the Spirit.

In this passage in Galatians (click above link), what is being referred to here is the fruit of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, etc., as opposed to the works of the flesh. Oftentimes we’ve isolated the Spirit’s leading into something like what specifically we should do during the course of a day, week, month, year. What we many times call God’s leading. And that’s perfectly good, even important to ask God to help us in finding a specific job, a good spouse to share life with, a useful life for others.

What Paul was getting at in the leading of the Spirit was not just some personal inventory like whether or not I’m having clean thoughts, am satisfied with what I have instead of wanting more, etc., etc. The concern at hand is how we’re living in relationship to each other. Does love inform and form that? Or do we live in both self-destructive and unloving, unedifying ways in which we’re failing to love our neighbors as ourselves?

The Spirit’s leading is more about relationships with people than anything else. Or at least we can gather that from reading this passage in Galatians. Certainly including the good news of God for all, beginning with ourselves. In and through Jesus.

the Lord over all, including Scripture, tradition, reason and experience

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

According to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is simply gathered from John Wesley’s writings, something he did not explicitly teach himself, we have Scripture, tradition, reason and experience in the mix, to go by. The experience part has been critiqued surely with some truth in that criticism. We can easily be misled by our experience. But actually our reception of any of it is far from foolproof. Hardly a case has to be made to realize that.

Yes, all four have their place I think, and you can show that right from Scripture. But what we need undergirding that is what’s pointed out to us in the above passage from Proverbs. We need God’s hand over and on us, God’s guiding hand. And we need to have the attitude of trust, dependence and submission to the Lord, no less.

Yes, we need to remain in Scripture. Tradition has it’s place, too. How has God guided the church? What has the church gotten right, and what has the church been mistaken in? And perhaps the key point on tradition is that we’re in this together. And God appeals to our reason right in Scripture. The fact that Scripture is a revelation from God given to us in words says a lot in itself. Certainly that revelation has all kinds of ways of communicating: prose, telling of story, poetry, apocalyptic. But the picture given to us is in words. That certainly involves reason.

This is especially difficult when we’re working through issues in which not all of God’s people agree. We need to hold on to humility, and realize we might have somehow gotten something important wrong. But the bottom line is that we need to hold on to trust in God. And look to the Lord to lead us, yes as individuals, but above all, together, as his sheep. We need to look for that as we remain in Scripture, in the light of Jesus’s teaching and what followed. In and through him.

lying feelings lead, truth feelings follow

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Galatians 5:16

This is a difficult one, tricky. It seems like we humans are most often led by our feelings, and only live beyond them when we have to. Like left to ourselves, we might take a long, extended (and maybe even needed) vacation. But that’s not on our calendar, so off to work we go.

Feelings are an important part of who we are as humans. They’re not merely to be thrown on a scrapheap as simply not counting. Feelings can indicate problems we have, or what really are dangers. Fear can be good as well as bad, we call it a healthy fear.

But all too often we humans are led by our feelings. “If it feels good, do it,” is a sad slogan that is all too often our practice. We don’t feel like doing the hard necessary thing, what needs to be done, so we either put it off, or cancel it all together. Or we feel like doing something we know is not actually good for us, like eating one cookie after another until they are all gone. Or something worse.

Scripture indicates to us that God’s word to us is to lead us, with God’s promises following. So that means we have to place our faith in God’s word and act accordingly regardless of how we feel about it. We are led by God’s word, often in spite of our feelings. And so led by God.

But we’ll inevitably find at least in time that feelings confirming God’s word follow. What I mean here is that the confirmation will be that we have understood God’s word to us, and that God is blessing us in that understanding.

In the Galatians passage quoted above, we’re told not to walk by the flesh, but by the Spirit. The flesh here stands for what’s in opposition to God, and oftentimes is feeling oriented. We do in our sinful state what comes natural. And even as those who have been made new in Christ, we still have old habits that are not necessarily easy to break.

God calls us in Christ to walk by the Spirit. This will often, in fact I think most often, at least in my experience, will mean that we aren’t led by feelings. We instead are led by God’s word and by God’s Spirit. As we earnestly endeavor to be open to, and do that, then God will open that up for us. It may take some time, but if we persist, that experience will come. And the feelings will follow. And the fruit of the Spirit especially having to do with our relationships with each other, will follow.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Galatians 5:22-26

In and through Jesus.

 

are we willing to be led to who knows where?

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8

One of the fundamental certainties of life is uncertainty. We not only can’t tell for sure what a day may bring, but we can’t be all too sure about any number of things. Like what the best decision is for us to make about this or that. Or even how to think about this or that, in the first place. Or what is reliable and what is not.

That is when we can, and hopefully before all those conundrums, go to God. We want to hear God speak to us, yes in the silence and amidst all the sounds of life, through life itself, and especially through Scripture.

Our goal in Jesus in this regard is to be led by him. We want to be followers of our Lord by the Spirit. We want to be led by God.

When you read the account of Abraham’s life in Genesis, you will see that he didn’t always get it right, that he sometimes didn’t really trust God like he should have, that sometimes the details of his life contradicted his commitment of obedient faith to God. That’s actually an encouragement to us. We won’t always get it right either, but we can depend on God’s faithfulness. God will lead. We need to listen and follow. In and through Jesus.

 

taking our eyes off the Lord

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31

If there’s one thing I’m probably good at, it’s getting focused on, and honed in to a problem, and spiraling down, when the problem can’t easily be resolved. It’s not like we’re supposed to ignore reality, or pretend problems don’t exist. We do carry plenty of responsibility in this life, and we’re to endeavor to stay on top of things insofar as we possibly can.

Why our Lord would walk on the water is an interesting question. Some might say to display his Deity, others, only to demonstrate the difference faith can make. Peter, as did the other disciples, saw himself as a follower of Jesus in the sense of following a Rabbi (Teacher), which meant he was to imitate, or do whatever the Teacher did. So it would be natural for him to assume that if Jesus could walk on the water, than he could too. Certainly bold, as well. And yes, that’s precisely what he did, Jesus responding to his request in the affirmative.

This reminds me of how the Lord has helped me in not ignoring a problem, but bringing it to him, entrusting it into his hands, and then proceeding in peace. Addressing the problem in a more sane, relaxed manner, and moving to, as well as settling in what seems to be the Lord’s leading, and remaining there.

But it’s all too easy, either ourselves, or maybe especially when someone else in our lives, points to the problem in near panic, to follow suit, cave in, and then lose out. Just what Peter did. He saw the waves whipped up by the wind, immediately became afraid, and began to sink. In faith he cried out to the Lord to save him, and Jesus certainly did. Yet Jesus rebuked him, I’m sure gently, for his lack of faith.

This so much reminds me of myself. Just how easily I can get my eyes off Jesus onto the problem, and then inevitably what faith I had is gone, and I’m left on my own to deal with it. God somehow wants us to deal with issues of this life with the help of what will be common place and completely natural in the next life, completely at peace in God, even in sync with God so-to-speak. That is neither an easy lesson for most of us to learn or hold on to, since we’re so used to taking matters in our own hands apart from God, and used to bad things happening if we don’t.

We don’t pretend the issue doesn’t exist, but we endeavor to commit it to God, and either God will help us work through it or let it go, trusting in his direction that it’s alright. The Lord calls us, so to speak, to walk on the water with him in this life. That what would ordinarily sink us doesn’t; we keep on walking, because our eyes are fixed on him. Always in and through Jesus.