we’re just “sheep”

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

John 10:11

The Bible likens us humans to sheep. I don’t know much about sheep. I do know that their existence has actually been used as evidence for the existence of God, since they’re said to be essentially defenseless. And that they are easily misled or lost. We all like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53).  Scripture also calls God the shepherd of his people. Psalm 23. God identifies himself fully with us as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Bearing our sins and their consequences.

When it comes right down to it, we’re just sheep. Yes, humans made in God’s image, but in the mix and maelstrom of life, just sheep. We shouldn’t feel bad then that we feel bad. Or that it seems like everything is going crazy, and that our reactions aren’t necessarily the best. We’re always and forever in need of a shepherd, indeed the good shepherd himself, Jesus. That’s where we’ll find the help, comfort, and peace we need. In that relationship. Battered and broken though we are. Ongoing in this life. In and through Jesus.

the power of the cross in its weakness is not only about salvation

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

2 Corinthians 13:4

The way of the cross in Jesus didn’t stop when Jesus was resurrected, nor after his ascension. It seems too often, at least to me that the cross is viewed only with reference to salvation. And there’s no doubt that it’s central in that. But that salvation is not only through the cross, but into a cruciform, cross-formed life.

Our life in Christ is an in-Christ life. In the power of Christ’s resurrection insofar as it’s grounded and established in his death. That is the power for how we live the life of the cross. Paradoxically the power of Christ’s resurrection enables us to live out the reality and meaning of his death in this life (Philippians 3:10). And we won’t have to look hard in the gospels, or the letters to find directives which comport with that.

This is the one and only way in Jesus, not only for our salvation, but for all of life.

God’s grace from start to finish

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Acts 11:19-26

I particularly would like to dwell for a moment on one part of this passage.

When [Barnabas] arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.

God’s grace is God’s gift given to those who are undeserving. By simple faith it is received. That gift is in Christ, in God’s salvation in him, forgiveness for our sins through Christ’s death, and new, eternal life through his resurrection.

God’s grace is what we have to depend on. It never ever for a moment depends on us. We can live in this new life only by God’s grace. We are completely dependent on it. In that grace we find the sheer goodness of God, and that God keeps his promise in Christ to those who we no longer depend on themselves, but on Christ.

Of course we can’t merit this gift. As Paul points out in Romans 4, it would no longer be a gift if we could.

Later we read concerning another missionary venture by Paul and Barnabas:

…many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:43b

It is God’s grace, his gift in Christ that we’re always and forever dependent on. Revolutionary to the Jews during that time, who supposed the Law of Moses remained binding on them as God’s people. But still revolutionary in our day. Really in every time and place. We’re to continue and indeed can only continue in the faith through that grace/gift, and nothing else. In and through Jesus.

vindication from God our Savior

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Psalm 24

When I read in the psalms about God vindicating his people, I think how undeserving I am of such vindication. And this is a psalm of David, who doesn’t seem that worthy of vindication when you consider his great sin of adultery and murder. But maybe that is meant to be an encouragement to the rest of us who, while we may have not committed such an act, still know we’re so undeserving because of what we have done, left undone, and because of grievous attitudes in our heart at times.

Just to make it clear what vindication means, it involves someone being proven to be in the right. When one thinks about that, one can’t help but think of God’s grace without which none of us would ever be in the right in the first place.

What especially stood out to me today in reading this great psalm is the line: “They will receive…vindication from God their Savior.” I think that helps us understand how God’s people are vindicated. It’s not because of them, but the God who saves them.

N. T. Wright helped me see from the psalms how God’s righteousness is tied to God’s salvation of his people. God’s saving act includes vindicating his people, who apart from that would never be vindicated. Of course this goes beyond what we deserve, because when we read all of the psalms and the rest of Scripture we understand that no one deserves vindication in themselves. We’re all sinners.

We receive vindication from God because of our faith and the difference God makes in our lives. We are different through and through, not wanting to do what is wrong, but wanting to do what’s right, even while we do fail along the way. It’s God’s working that makes us want to face our true selves, repent, and walk in God’s way, and keep doing that again and again with our ongoing confession of our sins, and endeavor to walk anew and afresh in God’s will for us in Christ.

And so we can be encouraged with this thought. God’s vindication of us is completely not because of us, but because of God, as by faith he credits righteousness to us, and helps us to want to live accordingly, even in the midst of our inevitable stumbling. God will vindicate us, yes, each one of us, in and through Jesus.

 

the light that is beginning to shine even now

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Isaiah 42:1-9

The one true hope for the world is fulfilled in Jesus, and is Jesus himself. That is present today through the gospel and the church, through the pages of Scripture. And even supposed to be through us in Jesus. The light to the world. And nations I believe are held accountable in that light. It’s not like they can do what only Christ can do. But they are to work to the same end, taking care of those in need, and not showing favoritism to the rich, or living “high on the hog” themselves. God will hold not only all individual people accountable, but governments and nations. In and through Jesus.

participation in God’s victory in Christ

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20

On a surface reading, Psalm 20 appears to be about anyone and for anyone. And to some extent that’s true. But we have to see it in terms of its fulfillment in Christ. A number of things are noteworthy for us when we do.

I would like to focus, though, on one thing. The hope expressed that God would give them the desire of their heart. I see this both collectively and individually. What is our heart’s desire?

When I consider this in terms of God’s fulfillment in Christ, I can see how Christ’s heart’s desire is given to us more and more as we grow in him. His heart’s desire was to do the will of his Father, and to give his life completely for us, yes, as a sacrifice, in sacrificial death, that through that death we might live in his new resurrection life.

And Christ prays for us. God does grant all of his requests. We need to hold on to truth like that. And realize that on the basis of what God has done and is doing for us in Christ, we can indeed participate even for the life of the world (John 6). In and through Jesus.

victory in the stress and strain

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20

There is no end to stress in this life. And at times it’s heightened, so that we call it “distress.”

Our help always and forever is in God. When we’re in over our heads and can’t see our way forward, that’s when God’s salvation is needed. We are unfit ourselves. Our only qualification and ability is received indeed as a gift in and through Jesus, God’s anointed one. We who are in Christ are part of God’s victory in Christ.

It is through Christ’s death and resurrection that we receive this gift. God helps us desire what is really good: God’s will. And answers our prayers to that end. We have to hold on to faith in him through all of that.

Does that mean that all will go perfectly in this life? No. What it does mean is that through the stress and strain of it all, God will give us victory, and enable us to be part of that. Again, not in our own strength and ability. But only in and through Jesus.

 

 

important, but temporary

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.[a]

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[b] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:8-13

Science points out to us that the earth itself won’t last forever, nor the sun, for that matter, not even the universe as seen now. So much mystery lies in this for sure, but there’s no question that the sun (our star) and our home, earth last only so long. Yes, still many many years left, but again, not forever.

One of the ways we live in deception is the idea that we have plenty of time, or like we’re going to live forever, and that we are indestructible. Neither is the case in this world and time.

Whether we like it or not, this world has an expiration date. But the God who created everything in the first place can make a brand new creation which includes us, those who are redeemed in Christ.

Does that mean this world doesn’t matter, that we can do with it as we please? Of course not. The first book in the Bible, Genesis makes it clear that humankind is to take care of what God has given, to be good stewards of it. Creation itself brings glory to God, even in its present state of groaning.

But our primary task now as Christians, those called in Christ is to bear witness in how we live as well as what we say, to the new world coming. Then we in Christ will somehow be made new along with the old world God created. How that will happen is well beyond us, but we hold on to that promise, as we pray for others, that they would join us. And we live with that end in view. In and through Jesus.

 

God will judge

For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David.

Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest.
But I, by your great love,
can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
toward your holy temple.

Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.
Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
their heart is filled with malice.
Their throat is an open grave;
with their tongues they tell lies.
Declare them guilty, O God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Psalm 5

God will judge. And praise God for that. Too often we turn up our nose at the idea of God’s judgment when in reality it’s needed against the evil of this world. Yes, God loves people and hates sin, but in this psalm it says that God hates certain evildoers. Some might say that’s poetic, and just David’s thoughts before God. But it seems to me there’s truth in that thought. Where is the fear of God nowadays? Seems like God is not much more than a big sugar daddy or spoiling grandfather to many, and we’re all his lap children, if God is in the equation at all. And we can do as we please.

This psalm is just an example of the treasure we have in the book of Psalms. It is good for us to go through the psalms on a regular basis and let it soak in. And keep reading all of Scripture along with it, in prayer. Yes, God will judge, and we can be thankful for that. As we live in the grace and salvation given to us in and through Jesus.

the negative condition of humanity: lost

If there’s one word I would use to sum up the condition humanity is in, I might say lost. Like most things in life it’s more complicated than that. There’s something wonderfully good about humankind. Each person is indeed a gift. But not all is well. There’s something fundamentally wrong.

Lost is the condition humanity is in biblically speaking due to sin. Sin is that which is in violation of God’s will, contrary to God himself, and actually against humanity itself, since we humans are made in God’s image. Because of that, we’re lost from God’s good intention for us.

We remember the biblical account of Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden into a condition where life would be hard. The ground would be cursed because of sin, everything cursed actually, including humankind itself. Curse in Scripture is the opposite of bless. Its end result is condemnation and death, whereas blessing comes through redemption which brings life.

We are lost on our own. Being made in God’s image, we are left to thinking that there must be more, much more. But we’re at a loss to find it, indeed we can’t find it ourselves. That is why the Bible speaks of the Good Shepherd finding the lost sheep, the woman finding the lost coin, the father rejoicing over the return of his lost, wayward son. We are lost, pure and simple. No rocket science. That’s just the way it is, and the sooner we come to acknowledge that, the better off we’ll be.

God seeks us before we seek God. In fact it’s only because God seeks us in God’s grace in Christ that we would ever turn a glance his way, and hopefully surrender and come running into the arms of the Father. It’s because Jesus himself was willing to be cursed, and lost for us so to speak, feeling forsaken of God on the cross, that we can be found in him, through simple faith in him, and God’s word: that good news. In and through Jesus.