how is God’s judgment evident, yes, on God’s people?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Matthew 23:37-24:2

What was true in Jesus’s day is just as true today. God’s judgment is on religious leaders, those supposedly the closest to God, I’m referring now to Christians. Not so much if at all on those they are leading, except to say that this is a case of the blind leading the blind which ends up disastrous for all. But the heavy judgment falls on the religious leaders.

They had their agenda and believed that God was all about doing their bidding, or that’s what they wished. And they got their way. But we see what followed. In Jesus’s day, the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem. We see now religious leaders, prominent, not only defending but even promoting what amounts to an abomination in the eyes of God. Completely oblivious, evidently, to Jesus’s call of judgment on the rich and powerful, and blessing of the poor and marginalized.

The only correct posture before God for us all is one of humiliation and repentance. That is not what we’re seeing today, and we see God’s judgment in letting them go their way, along with the beginning of what follows as a precursor of what may come.

And for those who can’t figure this out, remember, as Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruits.” Good people do what is good, bad people bad. Love for one’s neighbor, in Jesus’s teaching including love for one’s enemies. Love being love, period. Not tied to whether or not they do what we consider or think is right. Unconditional. Like God’s love displayed in Jesus on the cross.

And as some wise writer said, Idolatry is quite hard to get out of, to repent of, and much easier to work at avoiding.

May God give all of us ears to really hear and hearts to really begin to understand.

 

a time for rest

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.

Psalm 23:1-3a

If you’re like me, you nearly always have to be doing something. Or at least that was the case for me for years. I was driven and driven and often felt haggard, quite tired, but you just keep pressing on. But little did I know about rest during that time.

As I’m getting older, I find getting more rest not only easier, but necessary if I’m to get along well, feel well enough to carry on. A part of getting older in my case, but hopefully also a part of growing a bit wiser.

The psalmist, perhaps David who was a shepherd himself casts God as a shepherd, and he a sheep. And what is the first thing we’re told that this shepherd does? Make the sheep lie down in green pastures, leads it beside still waters, restoring its soul.

I like that. I need that. Just to rest, rest and rest some more. Special times of rest.

It doesn’t end there. Then one has to go on through it all. But I take it that this rest should always preface the way. Something we come back to again and again, or are led to again and again by God. In and through Jesus.

living at peace in an unpeaceful world

When the ways of people please the LORD,
he causes even their enemies to be at peace with them.

Proverbs 16:7; NRSVue

This is a post at risk of getting stuck in the weeds. We have terrible conflicts going on in Yemen, Ethiopia, Syria and elsewhere, and now Ukraine. And the victims are just that, victims. So the proverb quoted above really does not apply in every case, yes not in many cases on earth. Didn’t Jesus warn his disciples and by extension us, that in this world we will experience persecution and even possibly death?

Proverbs are maxims. They definitely have important, serious value. And some one can claim with absolute certainty, one famous one an example, Proverbs 3:5-6. But most of them are generally or often the case, with exceptions. And sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line between what one might take as a promise, and what is generally true. But often the proverbs in the book of Proverbs are maxims in the sense of tending to be the case in life, with exceptions.

If our ways please God, then we’ll be peacemakers, we’ll want to make peace. And radically speaking, in the way of Jesus, we won’t engage in tit for tat. We will not return violence for violence. Instead we’ll try to find a way out of conflict, not just escape, but resolution.

The maxim of Proverbs 16:7 quoted above is interestingly fulfilled in a good number of ways, but all related to peacemaking. Naturally the perpetrator, the enemy won’t want to make peace with you unless they have good reason for doing so. Those whose ways are pleasing to God will want to make peace and will refuse to fight back. That is if we’re talking about the way of Jesus.

This was part of the weeds I wanted to avoid. We have to respect those who stand up against great odds and are willing to risk life and limb in defense of their families, their city, their nation. So we don’t want to back down for a moment from giving them due respect and honor. Along with many prayers. But God wants something different from God’s people, if I read scripture and especially Jesus in scripture correctly.

We have to be quick to make right anything we’ve done which might possibly be wrong, or even possibly misunderstood. We have to go out of our way to befriend those who are our enemies since God in Christ has reconciled all people that were God’s enemies to God’s self. We may never end up being friends in the here and now, but we still can be friendly.

We do need to tell the truth at times, but we must do so gently, keeping our emotions, specifically our anger and passion in check. And again, with much prayer. By and large though if we just love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and pray for them, we’ll need to do nothing more.

We won’t be perfect in this of course, but we have to do the best we can, saying we’re sorry, working on ourselves and our attitudes, trying to make all the necessary changes in ourselves as first priority along the way. And also caring about the good of others, including those who either want to harm us, or actually are. In all the wisdom needed for every different situation, different actions required depending.

God wants us to be peacemakers, to not quit even when the peace God wants seems impossible, and to some extent is, in this present existence. God is present in Jesus to help us lambs even in the midst of wolves. In and through Jesus.

who are we the sheep following?

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

John 10:1-5

We sadly hear and read about “sheep” leaving churches. In biblical language, God and Jesus are called “my shepherd” (Psalm 23) and “the good shepherd” (John 10). There are women and men gifted to be what has been called “under shepherds” commonly called pastors. And the rest of us are called sheep, though in a certain sense that designation includes everyone.

The question today is simply: Why is there the scattering and division of God’s flock? If the sheep were all listening to and hearing the voice of the good shepherd, they would be together, one flock with Jesus. And under shepherds as we take in the rest of the New Testament are in the mix and arrangement as well. Of course the under shepherds themselves, that is the pastors need to be listening and hearing the good shepherd, Jesus, so that they might lead their flocks and be examples to them. But alas, today we have a crisis of sheep being scattered.

And why? Unfortunately we sheep are too often not animated by just the Lord’s voice, if by the Lord’s voice at all. But there are a cacophony of voices causing discord and confusion, along with division. The consensus is gone which can only be present when everyone is intent in following the Lord’s voice only.

What is the cure for this? Simple yet profound, and not easy once we’ve gotten off track. We need to get back to the basics, assess just what we’re hearing, what’s influencing us, and repent of whatever is interfering with the Lord’s voice, so that we can’t even hear him, or are not properly understanding what he is saying.

Not one of us is exempt from this. We need to pay attention to those who are over us in the Lord, as they commit themselves to hearing our Lord’s voice. As we too seek to hear that same voice day after day, and find our way back into safe, verdant pastures. Now and forever with, in and through our good shepherd, Jesus.

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

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.

the Lord as “my” Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd…

Psalm 23:1a

It was pointed out to us in seminary, rightfully so I think, that spirituality in the Bible is communal, or meant to be lived in community. Yes, and we lose so much when we don’t understand this, or take it seriously. We are so steeped in an individualistic mindset in our western culture, that we see most everything in terms of individuals, rather than of each individual as part of the whole. And God though One is also revealed as Three, so that while there’s only one God and God is One, in that Oneness somehow, God is also Three: Source, Word, and Spirit, one way of putting it; or Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So that God is also in God’s Self, communal. So when we read a Scripture like Psalm 23, one might say that we’re considering one important aspect of our existence: the reality that we are an individual, and that God deals with us as such. The Lord takes seriously each one of us as individuals. And this most classic of all the psalms one might say, probably most loved and memorized brings this out clearly.

I was sharing this psalm with our grandson this week, and later meditated on it for myself. Yes, the Bible repeatedly likens us humans to sheep. We’re so easily lost, flustered, and then upset. Bleating, often injured, and again lost, again and again. This is the reality we live in. I personally am amazed at my own experience, how a kind of deep settled peace can be so rudely interrupted by what sets me back into an unhappy state, where I no longer feel at home, but long for home as something like the idyllic state which is touched on in this psalm. But we have to read the entire psalm. And happily remember too, who it was attributed to: To David, himself a shepherd as a boy, who became shepherd of God’s people Israel, and who certainly did not live an unblemished life.

If we read the entire psalm, we see that the Lord has us covered. That the Lord as our shepherd, yes “my shepherd” is present with us through everything, through the mess and the hardest times, as well as the good times. Through all of our days, right to the very end. What if we really believed that? What difference would that make?

It doesn’t mean that life becomes easier, that circumstances change, that all is well and good. It does mean that through the better and worse, even through the most troubled and troubling times, the Lord is with us as the shepherd each one of us needs.

I want to dwell on this psalm for a time myself, let it soak in. So that hopefully I can begin to much better appreciate the faithfulness of the Lord as my shepherd whatever circumstances and experience I’m going through. In and through Jesus.

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;[a]
he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
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[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

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.

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.

more cushion

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:14-15

Jesus is our shepherd, and he knows each one of us. A good pastor knows his people. He understands their felt needs, their propensities, what they need to realize their full potential- what God created them for, to be fulfilled in the new creation in Christ. And it comes out of a heart of love. Pastor is another word for shepherd, and Jesus knows us, his sheep through and through. Out of a heart of love, he gives us the cushion we need, grace to continue on in spite of ourselves and all the troubles we face. We then pass that same love to each other, as we continue on in our quest to follow him.