Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13: 20, 21

 

There are a remarkable number of really cute videos available on-line that feature animals that have been trained to do amazing and remarkable things. We have skating cats and dancing dogs, horses that lay in a lap like a puppy, and even a pig that plays soccer and spells words with block letters. Yet, in this entire wide and wild array of video, I cannot think of a single instance where the animal involved is a sheep. I would guess that they are not very easy to train to do anything that is not by nature sheep-like. Sheep are sheep, and they behave like that regardless of the input given or the effort and talent of their human handlers. The nature of sheep is probably an important part of the reason behind their use by the various writers of the Bible as examples of the way that people act and behave. We are stubborn and set in our lost ways.

 

However, there is something critically different in the nature and the character of the shepherd who God has sent to engage with us human sheep from the earthly pictures of that sheep to shepherd relationship. Jesus, our shepherd, has the ability to bring about profound change in the sheep that He tends. This change is extraordinary and unique in all of the world. Christ does not train us to be doers of simple or of even complex tricks, as do the people who train the cute animals. The presence of Christ in our lives brings about transformative change in our nature that leads to a new way of viewing and engaging with our world. Christ is the source of all of the good that is granted to us as a gift from God, and He brings about the ability to use that goodness for the benefit of others and for the redemption of this world from its sin-induced death spiral.

 

Christ is the shepherd who does not attempt to control His sheep. The success of His day is not defined by how many of us stay close to home and do nothing that could place us in harms way or cause the world around us to take notice of our presence. Our Lord and Shepherd places within our hearts and minds a desire to follow Him into the work of sharing the truth of the Gospel message of radical love and transformative grace in every corner of the world. His Spirit grants to us the strength and the courage to place ourselves and even our lives on the line for the sake of justice and in the cause of love and care that is poured out from God upon those around us who have no place and no voice in our society. We bring glory to Christ when we live openly and boldly in our world as His chosen sheep who, unlike the natural sheep of our world, are transformed and reformed by our Shepherd Jesus Christ into a new type of creature who does amazing and even miraculous things in our world and for our culture in the power of Christ and for the sake of eternity come to dwell among us.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Matthew 10: 16

 

Jesus knew the true character of the world that He was living in. He was aware of the poison that was hidden behind the smiles, and He was fully aware of the ancient plot that had been launched to destroy righteousness for the sake of selfish power. Jesus was warning His disciples about the sharp teeth and the claws of pain that were going to cause them suffering and grief. We need to pay attention to Christ’s words today. Pain, suffering, grief, and evil are topics that He knows a great deal about. He wasn’t speaking solely for the benefit of the handful of followers who were there then. These words of caution are also intended by Christ to be viewed as instruction for living in the same depraved culture and fallen world that He was viewing two thousand years ago. All of our scientific and intellectual advancements have done little to change the topography of spiritual battlefields. The war is still fought hand to hand by individuals who decide to sacrifice all for the sake of everything important.

 

Frankly, the image that Jesus set out here is quite odd. No military commander would send the most poorly trained and the defenseless of his troops into battle. Likewise, no business or governmental leader would rationally task a completely untrained and unskilled employee with negotiating survive-or-fail type agreements with wily adversaries. Yet Jesus does this very thing. In fact, He seems to be suggesting that we need to empty our pockets of whatever weapons we might own, and clear our minds of the strategies that we have learned over time. Christ wants us to enter into the struggle for spiritual territory with an approach to the fight that is so radical, so utterly unconventional that it might cause the opponent to die of laughter. He wants us to go about life in the same way that He did, which, by the way, was fairly successful.

 

Jesus left all of His position, power, and glory behind to join humanity as one of us. He brought a loving sincerity and an engaging relational approach to answering the issue of our separation from God. Christ entered into the shattered lives of people and engaged with the devastation that sin has brought to the Father’s exquisitely beautiful creation landscape with righteousness and truth and with the loving grace of God. Jesus is preparing us for our days of laboring in His fields by granting us the same tools of trade. Outside of Christ, we aren’t gracious, we certainly aren’t righteous, and we don’t possess truth. I think that Jesus wants us to humbly submit to Him and to His will. He is telling us to become empty and powerless in our own wisdom so that we can be filled with His perfect understanding, love, and grace. We enter the contest of the day as sheep that are totally reliant upon the shepherd. Then it is that very shepherd who protects our hearts, minds, and spirits while granting us the gift of His love, strength and wisdom to use as our primary tools in winning the world for Christ’s kingdom.

Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord, your God, and cry out to the Lord.

Joel 1: 14

 

The prophet Joel was speaking about a time when the news was bad, and it showed all of the signs of doing nothing but getting worse. The crops were failing, the air and the water were being polluted, and the political processes, regardless of your personal views or persuasions, were undependable and in total disarray. The pressures and the challenges of life were causing people to have grave doubts about the future, and those concerns were causing people to become isolated, separated, and defensive. Those were tough times, and God gave Joel some very special wisdom regarding the best way to respond to them.

 

The Lord wants His people to focus our attention on Him alone. He wants us to set aside time and energy so that we can concentrate solely on seeking His will. God knows that we need to make this the primary activity of our days; thus, He tells us to stop doing even the most basic of ordinary daily functions in order to give our total attention to Him. However, the Lord wants much more from us, for He also knows that people tend to become isolated and to work independently when we are placed in stressful situations; thus, God wants us to purposefully come together with others during this process of seeking out His will. I believe that He is also telling us to make these gatherings as inclusive as we possibly can; then, the true Body of Christ is gathered with all of its gifts in order to stand strong in the face of the intense opposition that we face continually.

 

Finally, the Lord wants us to speak out with the passions of our hearts and the pain that is in our souls. As we gather together we can let our words pour out in the intensity of our concern, pain, loss, and suffering. God wants to hear the deepest fears and the greatest longings of our hearts, and He wants us to share them with each other in the process of speaking them to Him. When we gather together as the Body of Christ and cry out from our hearts as we seek the Lord’s direction and will, God will respond. He grants to us the wisdom of the ages that has guided people from the beginning of time and that is still the only truth that exists in our world. As we listen to the voice of the Lord, He will send us into the world with His plan for delivering the Lord’s blessing to the hurt, the oppressed, and the lost.

 

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;

With my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 89: 1

 

In our world thoughts and expressions of love are easy to find and highly prevalent. Love can be found on almost every street corner and in most of our gathering places. We pledge it to other people, and we express it for everything from snack foods to vacation locations. Yet, we live in a lonely and a frustrated society that is filled with unfulfilled yearnings and painful rejection and loss. With so much love afoot, there are very few people who seem to know it at a deeply personal level. Although there is a great deal of chatter about love, there seems to be only a slight glimmer of understanding of it in our world.

 

So, God wants us to sing a different song than the ones that are popular in our days. This is why God wants us to sing about His love for us. This is the need behind His desire for those whom He loves to express that love openly and publicly. The Lord has no personal need for people to let Him know that we love Him. God is aware of everything, and He is absolutely secure in this knowledge and in His position. When we express our love for God, we are the ones who benefit. It is this expression that helps us solidify in our hearts and our minds the fact that God does love us in ways that are total, absolute, and unchanging. He quite literally brought love into this world which has become heart sick with sin. Christ came into our world in an act of sacrificial loving of all of humanity so that we all could know God’s face-to-face embrace of love in this life and for eternity.

 

Still, knowing God’s love in a profoundly personal manner is not enough. Christ does not intend for each of us to keep it to ourselves. His heart is pained by the loneliness and the fearful anger that people endure while attempting to live in this world. Our Lord wants to be the salvation and the restoration for the hearts of each of these lost souls. That is why He implores His people to sing out in choruses of recognition and praise for the reliable and true love that is ours from God and in Christ. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we also gain in our understanding of His love in ways that should make its expression to others a part of who we are. God’s infinite and perfect love is expressed when we reach out to embrace the unlovely, when we yield our comfort for the rights of others, as we speak truth regardless of the personal risk, and in our world through lives that are openly and freely committed to Christ.

 

 

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Hebrews 10: 23

 

This is not exactly the message that we usually hear in a setting where confession is the action under consideration. At least for me, I try to fill in this line with faith or with Christ, but I don’t automatically go to hope as the idea to fill in the blank. Yet it seems that hope does actually supply these others thoughts along with it. Hope is something that comes to us in and through Christ. At least this is true for me, for I find that most of the hope that I possess is directly related to Christ. It comes about because of His presence in me and in my life. This hope overcomes the awful forces that are at work in the world around me and that seem to be conspiring to crush the life out of everything good in our world. Yet, Christ brings a perpetual spring of renewal and life giving love and grace to these same battered and broken lives and situations.

 

The hope that comes about because of Christ’s redemptive love that is at work in my life and in the lives of many others seems to be made even more tangible and real as I express it openly. It is something much greater than just a good attitude or an optimistic outlook. The hopefulness that God has granted to His people is deep enough to hold on when hardship hits with the force of a flood-driven river, and it is strong enough to outlast season upon season of drought-like sorrow and grief. Christ gives us the ability to understand the hope that comes through our faith in Him as we grow in our knowledge and appreciation of God’s character and nature. For me, this growth happens as I seek out God’s presence and dwell meditatively upon it in on-going and regular times of prayer that are based in and upon God’s Word. As I listen to the Spirit speak to my heart from within His own words of Scripture, I grasp the fact that my Lord has been and continues to be with me in all that comes along in life.

 

In seeking out the presence of the Lord in my life and in the world around me, I am continually reminded and made ever more aware of God’s eternal faithfulness. He is true to His promise to provide the way and the means for people to come into relationship with Him and to be redeemed from the brokenness that sin has surrounded all of creation with. In Christ we are set free to live fully in the open as people who have a future that is filled with purpose and that is bathed in the grace of Christ so that we are able to face into the challenges of life with a confidence that overcomes all doubt and fear. As God is unrelentingly faithful to His word and Christ has come into the world to bring fulfillment to those promises, I am filled with the hope of my salvation, redemption, and purpose as a follower of that same Christ. So, in light of this hope, I can do little else except to live it out steadfastly through the days that God has granted to me in this life.

 

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

2 Peter 1: 3, 4

 

God is a maker of promises. He is also one who keeps them, all of them and all of the time. The Lord is completely faithful and absolutely trustworthy. This is my opinion that is based upon God’s involvement with and in my life over its entire course, and this is also the understanding of God that has been held by thousands upon thousands of other witnesses throughout history. We have experienced the presence of God in our world and in our own stories, and this real life involvement with us has been the singular thing that changed us for the good and that positively and permanently altered the direction and the nature of the lives that we lived. Yet, these promises that God makes are interesting in themselves.

 

God has made a significant number of rather specific promises regarding the way that He will engage with us and about the nature or the quality that life will hold when we follow the Lord and obey His will. However, I think that we are mistaken when we place too much emphasis and importance on gaining specific benefits from believing in God’s promises and through seeking after certain specific blessings from Him. Thus, I think that what matters most in all of this is the promise that God has made regarding His authority, nature, and character. Christ is Lord over this world, and He alone has the authority to rule it and all of its people. It is Christ’s blood that saves us from the living and the eternal death that our sinfulness has condemned us to, and Christ goes before the Father to present and to proclaim the righteousness that we have obtained by and through Him. So, the greatest promise of all and the one from which all others operate is the Gospel message of Christ’s lordship and the salvation that is ours through faith in Him alone.

 

God did not need to provide us with this assurance and certainty. This was the Lord’s gift o His creation. In setting out this commitment to us, God took us in to life within His kingdom come upon this earth and provided us with a dwelling place in its halls of glory. This is an act of trust and great mercy on the part of the Lord, for there is no other place in this world wherein a person can find love, truth, and righteousness that are pure and unmodified by the desires and the wishes of people. As we come to dwell within the borders of God’s grace, we are also given great responsibilities to carry forth. God’s promises are relational in nature, and they are intended to bring us into an ever-deepening understanding and connection with our Lord. In so doing, we are sent into our world to be people who live out the character and the nature of God in our own lives. We are to be faithful and trustworthy workers who operate out of the same love and grace that saved us in all that we do. This new and transformed life of purpose and commitment is the outworking of God’s greatest promise by which His love has been poured out upon us.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation.

Psalm 68: 19

 

Your story may be something like mine, and you may be able to say that salvation is something that was secured long ago; or, you might have very recently recognized the need for Christ in you and surrendered your life to Him. Another possibility is that you haven’t made that decision, and Jesus is still someone that you know something about, but He is not your God, your Lord, and your Savior. Regardless of how your story reads, God is your salvation; for, this has proven to be true for me, and it has been true throughout the long history of human existence on this earth.

 

Christ is actively in my world, and He isn’t just existing in the background or involved in only the church oriented aspects of my life. The Lord is working in every area of this world, and He has an involved interest in how even the most routine events and situations play out. As he was writing this Psalm, David might have been thinking about the many times that God had revealed Himself to him, and he could have been recognizing the fact that he had been saved from harm and death by the hand of God on what might have seemed like a daily basis. During David’s many days of wandering and his numerous struggles he had witnessed simple and profound times when God reached into his world with His loving touch that brought a safe place to rest, a pool of fresh water to drink, a friend to offer encouragement, and His Spirit to speak truth when David’s mind was filled with the deceptive voice of evil.

 

I know from experience that the Lord desires to help me go through this day with a lightness to my step that comes from the support and the encouragement that He gives me. Christ provides me with the only true and clear picture of how to navigate through the numerous twists and turns that life will throw at me today. The Lord does not want to tell me exactly what to do or specifically how to respond throughout my day; instead, He wants me to draw near to Him and to be so filled wit His presence that my thoughts and actions are fully influenced by His Spirit and are informed by His Word. There is no time in this life when I am strong enough to go it on my own, and there is no moment of my day when I am beyond my need for Christ’s salvation.