When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.

Mark 6: 34

Sheep are remarkable animals. They can be very productive as they grow that woolen coat that can be made into clothing and many other useful items. They are also used for food, and their skins make great cold weather clothing. Sheep are smaller and so eat less than cattle and more can be kept on a parcel of land. Yet, they do need care and management. Sheep will not take care of themselves and thrive. One of the most impressive sights that can be seen in my part of the world is that twice a year migration when sheep are moved from winter pasture to higher elevation summer ones and its reversal in the fall. Then, large flocks of sheep are moved by a team of shepherds and sheep dogs, and these flocks are so large that their entire group cannot be seen at one time. Still, even in large numbers, they are not safe or secure without that human and working dog care, management, and direction.

People are similar. We may not seem to need the presence of that highly instinctual and well-trained herding dog nipping at our heels to keep us moving in the proper direction, or the skill and knowledge of the shepherd who leads us to places where good water and abundant forage are available. But, when I look at the sorts of challenges, trials, and struggles that people generate for themselves, I am not so convinced that we don’t need a little herding along the course of life. We might fight against the idea of management or control, for we are thinking and perceiving creatures and can sort out the best ways to handle whatever it is that life sends our way. However, it is my observation that people simply don’t always pick the best path, make the righteous decision, or seek to think, speak, and act in a manner that brings honor and glory to God. We need to be taught, we require correction, and we thrive when we are receiving nurture and encouragement along the way.

Christ provides all of this to His people. His Spirit takes us into the deep truths that are contained in the text of God’s Word, and He opens up our minds and our hearts to understanding the application of those words of life to the situations that we are encountering today. When we look at Mark’s account of the events that were happening in those days when Jesus was actively teaching and healing on earth, we see the Lord directly engaged with people in meeting their needs and providing care and comfort to them. This same real and tangible presence of our Lord is with us now, too. Christ gave us His Spirit, and He is at work in and with us on a continual basis. Our Great Shepherd walks through life with us, and He never fails to safeguard our souls or to feed our spirits. The Lord’s truth guides our steps and protects us from the deceptive traps that Satan attempts to set for us. As we navigate life’s journey with Jesus, we are no longer those lost sheep who are without a shepherd, for we are continually cared about and cared for by the one true and eternal shepherd, Jesus Christ, God With Us.    

Advertisements

If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?

Acts 11: 17

Peter had just experienced one of those great moments of eye opening, blast of ice-cold water in the face truth revealed to him by God. He had been thinking that he had a responsibility to perform as a sort of filter on what would be acceptable to God and on how people could be made worthy of entering into the fellowship of people who believe in Jesus. Peter was wrong. He was absolutely and totally off track in his thinking, and his actions followed along after his thoughts. In this same light, it is interesting how much Peter was like me and so many other people that I know and have heard about.

It seems that we humans are very slow learners. Thus, it is a really good thing that the Lord is a very patient teacher. There is one and only one authorized and final judge who has authority over the affairs of people, and that judge is the resurrected One, Jesus the Christ. We are called upon by God to function as a continuation of Christ’s interaction with people here on this earth; for, people who know Jesus are the living Body of Christ in our world. The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we can possess the heart, mind, and the power of Christ in order to fulfill His mission for us of bringing God’s loving grace, restorative peace, and eternal perspective to this sin ravaged world.

There is no person who is so far removed from God that His grace cannot save them. There is no place that the Lord does not want us to go to tell His truth, and nothing should stop us from seeking to follow in Jesus’ footsteps in all aspects of living on a daily basis. When I start to apply standards to others that will get in the way of my ability to speak truth to them with the love of Christ on my lips, I need to stop and consider how my Lord would have approached the same person. These are often situations where my actions are more important than any words that I can speak. In these situations and circumstances service, sacrifice, and simple love are frequently the vocabulary that Christ provides for me to use. At these times of engagement with people, as in all aspects of living as a follower of Christ, I need to seek the Spirit’s leading and ask that Christ open my heart and fill my mind with His loving attitude and gracious words of eternal hope and salvation’s message of redemptive grace.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

1 Timothy 2: 5, 6

Paul has just made the statement that God wants all people to be saved; so, he states the reason and the way that this is to come about. Now the subject of salvation is one that should be of interest to virtually everyone, for we all find ourselves in situations and circumstances that bring forms of peril into our paths. Life in this world is not easy, and the journey that we are on through it is one on which things are guaranteed to get rough. This is just the way that it is in our neighborhood, and all people dwell in a place that has its issues and its challenges. Wealth, social status, nationality, and religion make no difference, for evil is everywhere and all of us are born into a life of opposition to God’s will and one wherein we will encounter strife that is poured out upon us and that is also caused by our own thoughts and actions.

No one escapes the need for being saved, and none of us are capable of doing that saving on our own. If being saved were as simple as it is sometimes depicted in adventure stories, then some of us might have a chance at effecting our escape from some of the perils that assail us in this world. But those stories are fantasy, and the conquering heroes that are depicted in them are seldom much like us. Real people have far too little strength, capability, and skill to successfully go up against evil giants and prevail without the intervention of something from beyond ourselves. All of this is even more so the reality of life when it comes to entering into the very real and ever-present struggle with spiritual forces and with the soul-deep need for rescue that we are each born into. Our birthright of separation from God demands resolution, and God has given us the gift of redemption, the One who paid the price of ransom that was required to set us free, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Although this concept is very simple in so many ways, acceptance of God’s offer is often quite hard for people to enter into. For many of us doing this requires us to step out of logic and reason and enter into the most profoundly deep and life-altering relationship that we will ever encounter on the basis of that fragile and mystical thing called faith. This is admittedly hard to do, but God makes promises to us. He is committed to be with us and to take us through life with all that it throws our way. He shows us the greater reality of life whereby the lives that we are living here and now are nothing more than a dim shadow of the ones that we will know if we choose to enter into that relationship with Christ. God desires to be with each and every one of us in an eternal home that is our dwelling place after these days are accomplished, but He also wants for us to join with Him willingly and out of our own desire to be with Him. So, we can choose Jesus Christ and be saved in this life and into all of eternity, or we can reject Christ and be separated from God’s presence for all time. God’s heart and desire is focused on the first of those outcomes.   

Be not wise in your own eyes,

   fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 3: 7

If only it were this simple. Just avoid the trap that is out there ready to spring. In this case that trap is an over abundance of confidence in one’s own knowledge, skill, and competency to sort our life. Then, hold the appropriate level of respect for God, and hold Him in that position of being the better choice as the source of that same desired knowledge, skill, and competency. Finally, we need to turn away from evil, and so, stop doing what is wrong and do what is right. Unfortunately, life is seldom that clear about these matters, and we are also not usually this ready and willing to just set aside the things that we have been thinking and doing and turn to a more righteous way of life. Some of this reluctance to change is based in stubbornness, other aspects of it are grounded in the way that we have learned to survive in this world, and much of it is established in a set of deeply held and complex views of what is right, just, and good.

However, most of the things about the way that we live that God would desire for us to change are grounded in our understanding of who God actually is and are set off against the nature of the position of authority that we ascribe to God in our lives. If we hold God in high esteem and consider Him to be relevant in all areas of our lives and in the operation of the world, we will tend to be willing to yield our wills, desire for control, and self-interest to the Lord and to follow God’s Word as the singular absolute source of knowledge and wisdom. On the other hand, if God is understood as someone worthy of less than this high level of respect and not granted the same ultimate authority over all that takes place in life and in the world, then we will not be so inclined to subordinate our own logic, desires, and wisdom to His. Every person on the earth is traveling through life at some place on the continuum that is described above. Each of us gets to wrestle with our understanding of God and with our willingness to submit to Him and to follow His will over every other influence or source of guidance that we may know or hold as significant.

To me, there is one singular difference making element in this life-long tension that is set up by God’s having granted people the free will to make choices regarding how we relate to Him and in the sources that we will turn to for knowledge, guidance, and the wisdom that is required to sort it all out. God provided the world with His answer to the internal struggle that we are all faced with in the person of Jesus. In turn, He left us with His Spirit to dwell with us in the world and to literally reside within the bodies of everyone who accepts Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Christ’s presence within our hearts and minds establishes a new foundation for understanding the nature, character, and will of God. The Spirit gives the gift of understanding and the perspective of eternal wisdom to all who seek this revelation from God. Christ changes the manner in which our eyes see our world by giving us a field of vision that is framed in by love, grace, mercy, and justice. He leads us into worshiping God in a manner that comes from deep within our souls as Christ within us causes us to turn away from evil’s attempts to deceive our minds and hearts and misdirect our steps away from God’s desired path.          

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

John 15: 13 (NASB)

 

Jesus said this, and we know what He meant by this statement. He would be going to His untimely death in order to provide the sacrifice that sin demanded for the sakes of each and every one of His followers and for all of us throughout the balance of history, too. God holds this strange view of humanity, despite our antagonism toward Him or even our overt rejection of His love, truth, justice, and call to engage in righteous living, God, the Lord of Creation and Ruler of the Universe, is our friend. This is a hard concept to embrace for most of us. When we say the word friend we each probably call to mind certain images and thoughts. Friend is very important to some, and it is vague and unformed for others. God’s idea of what it means to be a friend is very deep and powerful. He literally means that He did give up life in order to bring about the salvation of millions of people that He views as His friends.

 

This idea of salvation carries with it some important aspects as well, for we are saved from spiritual death for sure, but we are also saved into a relationship with God that begins at the moment of acceptance of this gift that we know as Christ, and it cotinues onward for all of the unending duration of the eternal existence of our souls. Here is where I make a bit of a left turn when it comes to considering what Jesus said. This is that strange moment when my GPS tells me to make that unexplained and frankly impossible change in direction as it says, “Turn right (or left)” when there is nothing but air and precipitous drop-off in that direction. Well, I think that my thoughts are sounder than that electronic lunacy. It seems to me that Jesus is also speaking to each and every one of us regarding the way that we care about and for others. Christ would have us adopt the wildly radical concept that our worlds are populated by people that we need to consider to be friends.

 

He also would have us enter into those relationships, whether deep and long-established or of shorter duration and shallower, with the sort of commitment and even passionate desire to serve the needs of these others that He demonstrated in His willingness to give His life for each of us. We encounter friends with every turn of the road throughout all of our days. We also pass by and bounce off of people with needs and hurts and brokenness that need love and care. Jesus wants for us to open our eyes, be available to hear stories, give of our hearts and our resources to meet those needs. In Christ, we have more than we will ever need in this life, and we certainly possess more than will be required to engage with people’s lives and help them with what they need to get through the day. For the most part people do not need our wealth or our possessions, they are dying for a listening ear, suffering alone when a companion for the journey would ease the burden greatly. People need friends who will set aside the urgency of their lives in order to walk a mile with them. We join Christ in laying down life in order to save when we see the people that we encounter as He does; that is, as friends.

For Pete, Hollie, Barry and Tracie you know what I mean.

Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Isaiah 42: 1

Here the prophet Isaiah is giving us a forward-looking picture of Jesus which states God’s perspective on the Savior. This is the Messiah that God was going to send into our defeated world. Yet, I think that Isaiah was also telling us considerably more than just how the Father would view the Son, Jesus the Christ, for I think that we can see some really great things about how our Lord views us, as well.

Jesus came into this world as a man in order to make God tangible and to connect us totally with our Creator. So, when we enter into a relationship with Christ, we gain much of these same blessings that God granted to Jesus. With Christ in us, we are viewed by God as His chosen ones, and the Lord will literally move heaven and earth in order to hold us up in and through everything that life brings our way. We become the delight of God’s eye. We also become workers in the Lord’s field and keepers of His kingdom come to earth.

However, there are responsibilities that come with our position as God’s chosen ones. We are called upon by the Lord to bring His grace, love, mercy, and justice into the world. Thus, most of us will be required to live differently than we have in the past in that we are being asked by God to care little for ourselves and to be totally involved in demonstrating His redemptive love by and in all of our lives. Standing up for justice, for peace, and for redemptive love in a world that values oppressive power and restrictive rules can be a very lonely and even a dangerous thing to do, but when we do that, we are accomplishing exactly what God wants us to do, and we are standing squarely in the center of His delight.

 

Give us this day our daily bread.

Matthew 6: 11

 

When you think about bread, what comes to mind? Perhaps it is the picture of a great bakery where many styles, flavors, and colors greet the senses as you walk in. Think of bread and your mind may return to a morning when the sleep of the night was pushed aside by the aroma of fresh baked goods coming from the oven. That same commodity, bread, might be the primary item that sustains you and prevents hunger from winning the day. It seems that bread is rich and sumptuous, and it is also basic, fundamental, and even necessary. Thus, when Jesus used bread as the item to seek after from the Father, He was talking about much more than just filling the stomach.

 

Jesus was talking in terms of life and of life-giving. Praying about the provision of bread was entering into faith, trust, and dependence at the same time as it involved active participation in living out God’s will and calling for life in His kingdom. Jesus helps us to recognize the way that God has always engaged in granting to people the basic necessities of life at the same time as He has given to us all that we require to have our deep, spiritual longings satisfied. From the garden to the wilderness and on to the cross with its attendant empty tomb and forward to today and tomorrow, God provides the bread, that perfect substance of life, to anyone who is willing to seek and to receive it.

 

Although we work, we grow, we produce, and we earn in order to have the food that we eat, all that enables and empowers those activities is a gift from God to us. At the same time all people possess souls that are hungry to be fed with the substance of eternal truth, and God has also given that to us in the person of that same Jesus who spoke these words about bread when He was, in fact, seeing the presence of God, the Father. In and through Christ we are fed, and the food that we are invited to consume is lush and exquisite in its bounty and in its variety. Christ satisfies in ways that exceed the capacity of all else that we might seek after and experience. He brings life to our souls and to our hearts and minds. Jesus invites us to trust God for the provision of all that we need and then to follow Him into living fully in expression of the truth of that abundance as we share its life giving and sustaining properties with our world.