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

Jesus’s invitation

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I don’t know about you, but I know about me. It’s quite easy for me to take the burden of the world on my shoulders, or mostly the burden of my own world, which of course like everyone else’s, is challenging in itself. Even when I manage to get some soul rest in God, it’s not long before something else becomes concerning, and disconcerting.

Jesus’s invitation is absolute, for everyone at all times in every circumstance. Of course it’s specific: To those who are working hard at carrying heavy burdens and weary. Maybe fearful that they can’t keep it up, or just accepting the inevitable, and plodding on. It is to those that Jesus’s appeal comes. Not to the complacent, or those who think they can handle life themselves.

It’s an invitation to a yoke, an easy one. Alongside Jesus who surely bears the brunt of it, but who teaches us to live as he lived on earth: in complete dependence on the Father, trusting and then knowing that God will take care of it.

Something we need to keep coming back to again and again. And better yet, learn to live in. In and through Jesus.

God’s protection

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

Psalm 116:5-7

This entire psalm is a testament to God’s protection in faithfully taking care of God’s people. The protection goes down to the last details, but when we think about it, it doesn’t mean that God’s people might not experience all that befalls humanity and worse. Somehow in the midst of all of that, God’s protection is present for us.

I like the thought that God protects the simple. The NET says it refers to those who are in formative learning stages. Even though that’s long past for me, I still am quite “simple” in a number of ways. Still learning, something which will go on until the end of life. So this applies to all with an open heart to learn from God directly and indirectly.

God’s ongoing protection makes little sense in a world where random accidents and worse go on (consider Job). People take advantage of others and worse. And Christ followers are not exempt from that. We must never forget that nothing in our experience can ever separate us from God’s love in Christ (Romans 8:35-39). We can rest assured in that. No matter what our experience or what we’re going through, God will see us through. We must hold on to that, not let go of God. God won’t let go of us. We will receive all the help we need to bring glory to God. In and through Jesus.

against an all too common inappropriate response in life

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.[a]

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Proverbs 3:5-6; MSG

We can’t control what actually happens in life, nor can we avoid mistakes which occur for many reasons, or the many questions and concerns we’ll have. But we are responsible for our response to all of this.

This passage tells us in Proverbs that we need to be intent on one thing: trusting in God. The Message refers to God’s voice, and that lines up with the standard translation as seen in the NIV. All too often our response is to react as if God is not in the picture, or as if God might be present, but not in a way that makes any difference.

Instead we’re to see every situation as an opportunity to trust God anew. Do we really trust God? We trust God only to the extent we’re willing to lean on God and submit to God’s will when either something difficult happens, or when we’re troubled with doubts or questions over something. Do we have our hands on the controls so to speak, as if it all depends on us, maybe asking God to help us, but really believing it’s up to us? Or are we willing to leave everything in God’s hands, including letting God’s hand move our hands, the point being that even though we may be quite active, God is the one in control?

This is part and parcel of being a follower of Christ. Jesus tells us to totally trust the Father, to trust God without reservation (Matthew 6). We won’t like everything in life, indeed there are some things we should hate. It’s not a matter of denying reality. But it’s a commitment to put and leave everything in God’s hands. As if anything and everything depends on God, not on us. When we fail to do this we are essentially on our own. But when we truly, inevitably with much weakness, but truly put our trust in God, God will give us the exact help we need. In and through Jesus.

learning to trust God/the Father in everything

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

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Proverbs 3:5-6; MSG

None of us are going to be perfect in this life. We’ll lapse into this or that which is wrong. Though we really should be making progress. And hopefully leave the most hurtful, damaging sins behind, and get help with whatever addictions we have. There indeed ought to be substantial progress in our lives toward Christ-likeness together with others in Christ.

In my own life, though I’ve had other issues, probably far and away the one that has plagued me the longest, and been most endemic in my life is the anxiety issue, which a few times has bordered on panic. A feeling of depression might come in second, though I think for me, anxiety and nagging worry is the clear enough winner. I was glad for those times when it seemed either dissipated or absent, but more often than not, it was present in one form or another. I am surprised in talking with others just how common this is.

It seems to me that God might be trying to teach me a new radical trust. I’m not talking about sinless perfection, since there is none of that in this life. Instead what I’m referring to is a new habit of life, learned over time. The Scripture quoted above from Proverbs might seem idealistic and really beyond our reach in this life. But really? Didn’t Jesus both exemplify and teach us to trust the Father without reservation (Matthew 6:25-34)? Again, we won’t do that perfectly in this life, and even when we have our times of doing it better, we’ll certainly flub up along the way.

I think what the Father wants us to get accustomed to and acclimated with is the idea that he’ll take care of us, he’ll take care of everything. That we need to and indeed can settle into that reality, and develop a new disposition corresponding to that. And that if we don’t trust the Father in one particular matter, then we’re failing to trust him. This isn’t at all like an Authoritarian ready to beat us with a club if we don’t trust them. But a most loving, caring Father.

This hit home to me, because there are a number of matters about our house which have given me grave, likely a bit of undue or overblown concern, but real issues, nonetheless. It probably doesn’t help for me to downplay them, because then trust in God really isn’t going to matter that much. It’s not like I should be negligent in what I know I need to do, or have to do. And I’m not. But does involve weighing everything, and trusting God with the resources God gives us to make good decisions. And above all, for the likes of me, to simply trust God. A simple trust. That God will work things out, that I not only need not worry and fret. But that indeed, I should not. That God will take care of it, whatever that ends up involving on my part. All of this as with everything else in and through Jesus.

the very hairs of our head are numbered

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:28-31

We in Jesus need to live as if the words of Jesus are true. Here within the context of potentially dangerous mission, we’re told not to be afraid. That the Father’s care for his children is down to the last detail, even the number of hairs on our head. We need to let that sink in when we’re worrying about this or that. Granted, that thought might be taken out of context, but since we’re God’s children, in whatever circumstance we’re in, it applies.

Does the Father love us or not? And just what does that mean? Can we rest assured in him regardless of what’s we’re facing? I think sometimes we just have to take a deep breath and say to ourselves that no matter how we feel, or what we’re thinking, we are committed to the truth that is in Jesus. And part of the heart of that truth is God’s immense, immeasurable love for his children. I want to add too that God loves the world with all of God’s heart, which is seen in the cross. But to enter into that love out of the destruction and curse of our own ways, we must commit ourselves to faith in Christ, simply trusting in him, and God’s gift of salvation in him.

But back to the main point: God- the Father in Christ with the Spirit- loves, and has a special family love for those who have been born from above, and adopted into God’s family. So no matter what, we must commit ourselves to that. The sense that comes with that will come to us, as we hold on by faith. But we also need to remember that within this is a world of grace, God’s grace meaning gift and favor, which is greater than any “true” thought or fear we might have. Instead of this having reasons because of us, though I do believe God loves all he has created, it is also like “Just because.” I love Ted, or put your name in the blank, just because, and with all my heart.” But that also includes the wonder in God’s creation of all of us and his personal delight in design of and for us to more than fit into his family. We need to learn to go with that, out of our fear into God’s immense and personal love for each and everyone of us. In and through Jesus.

the Lord is my shepherd; I 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 Scripture God’s people are likened to sheep in need of a shepherd. God put shepherds, that is leaders over his people, but often they just took advantage of them, fleecing the sheep, and even feeding themselves off the flock, all of this metaphorical, of course.

I too am a bleating sheep, hurt in the past, and usually struggling over this or that. Just like the rest of us. Thankfully in Jesus, God is our Shepherd. In giving Jesus the name that is above all names, Yahweh (Tim Gombis), translated LORD here in most English Bibles including the one above, though that doesn’t come out on my copy, we have in Jesus the good shepherd who willingly in love gave his life for the sheep.

God is this shepherd in Jesus. And because of that we lack nothing. God will take care of everything, all of our needs. We don’t need any particular elected official or government of this world to do that, though God does hold all such accountable for what they do especially to their own people, as well as to others. Christians need to develop the mindset and attitude that the Lord can and will take care of everything.

Notice that the psalm is attributed to David, who may well have written it even as a young shepherd himself. He knew intimately firsthand what went into good shepherding and what sheep were like. He could actually identify with both.

Given the scope of David’s life, the great triumphs and utter failure and aftermath, and what followed, yes, we’re glad a greater David came in Jesus, the son of David. But it’s a great encouragement to us who have stumbled and failed along the way, that yes, God can make us into people and individuals who are people after his own heart, like David was said to be.

From start of finish, yes through everything, God will take care of it. We have to trust him for that. After all, we’re always sheep in this life, forever in need of the good shepherd who will be with us always and forever. In and through Jesus.

living in the moment

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

Søren Kierkegaard wrote about living fully in the moment, and how that faith is to be understood as far as how we live it out, in that context. I am just beginning to wade into Kirkegaard, so I can’t represent his thought well even on this. But I too believe that we find faith and God’s sufficiency in what we meet each day, the challenges as well as blessings.

That each moment can be full of God is a revelation in and of itself. Faith is not about wallowing in the past with its “what ifs” and regrets. Nor is it about dreading the future, or trying to figure out, even map out what’s ahead. Instead it’s living responsibly and fully in the present.

Jesus tells us that as we make following him and seeking God’s kingdom in him first, we don’t need to worry about anything else. We take one thing at a time, even from our list of many things, yes. I’ve found that I really can’t multi-task. I’m used to juggling, but really we can do only one thing well at a time. And it’s been said that to try to do more than one thing is actually debilitating to us.

There’s plenty on the plate in life. It really does behoove young disciples to try to carve out a lifestyle in which there are less concerns. If you accept what society and the world tells you that you need, your life will be full of many cares, inescapable problems. God meets us where we’re at, so it’s not like we’re abandoned in the midst of all of that. God will help us through as we trust in him moment by moment. Just good if much of that could be avoided so we could concentrate more fully on following Christ.

So that’s what I hope for as I begin a new week. To live more fully, yes fully in each moment. Before God, for God, and yes, even in the many dead spots. To take just one thing at a time. To not worry about the rest. As I hopefully learn more and more about what following Jesus in this life, and in my life means. In and through him.

effort needed to overcome anxiety

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

God is the one who relieves us of our anxiety and worry through Christ. Only God can do that. But it does require our effort. That is clear in the above passages. We have to pray instead of worry. But when worry overcomes us, we cast that on God. That requires our effort.

Anxiety and worry is not God’s will for us. We sometimes hold on to it as if it’s our duty, or like it’s God’s will for us. We somehow think we’re to take care of the underlying issue, solve the problem causing the worry. When all God wants us to do is pray, telling him the problem, giving him thanks, with the promise that the peace of God beyond our understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In other words, God will keep us from anxiety and worry, or take it away from us. We’re also told to cast all our anxiety on God, because God cares for us.

That requires effort on our part. We can’t just wish God would do something about our anxiety, and we certainly shouldn’t hold on to it as if it’s our duty and responsibility. Instead we’re to relinquish the problem entirely to God in thankful prayer. To cast what anxiety we have on God. God wants us not to be overcome with anxiety, but sometimes we will, too often for some of us. God doesn’t say we’re on our own when that happens, but tells us to cast all of it on him. Because he cares for us.

Something I’m working on, and have to do off and on. In and through Jesus.

Peter’s short prescription for anxiety

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

Yesterday I received some encouragement from Discover the Word of Our Daily Bread Ministries in a program entitled Waiting In The “In Between” with the simple observation that we will worry and be anxious, even though we’re told not to be, that we’re to trust our faithful Father who will take care of it all.

God in his grace makes provision for us in our weakness. We will have anxiety and worry when really we ought not to, when if we had a perfect faith, arguably we would never struggle that way, certainly not in the way we often struggle.

Ironically the thought that we will get anxious can help us relax and by grace grow toward a place where such anxiety and worry can be diminished.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t keep going back to Philippians 4:6-7 again and again to help us not be anxious or when pulled that direction, to ultimately find the peace of God that goes beyond understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Of course we need to keep doing that.

But provision is made for us when we are overcome with anxiety. Doing it as Paul says in Philippians 4 is one way of casting our anxiety on God. Peter doesn’t go into detail how we’re to do that. He just says we’re to do it, because God cares for us. I like that simplicity. On the one hand we have to like and appreciate the details Paul gives us. On the other hand, we also have to appreciate and like the open-ended approach we see with Peter. Kind of like the idea of working it out with our loving Father, our loving God, our loving Lord.

Something we have to do: cast that anxiety on God. God will help us, and will take care of it. And we may need to do it again and again over the same matter. That’s okay. Let’s do it. I want to get better practiced at it. In and through Jesus.