Remembering to Ask The Shepherd…

big horn on cliff

I have been reading the little book by Phillip Keller titled, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”.

The author was a shepherd for many years.  Mr. Keller tells the story of how, during winter blizzards, he would keep a bottle in his pocket with a mix of water and brandy.  While checking his flock regularly, he would “see them standing there soaked, chilled and dejected.  Some would succumb and lie down in distress only to become more cramped and chilled.  Then it was that my mixture of brandy and water came to their rescue.”  He says, “It was especially cute the way the lambs would wiggle their tails with joyous excitement as the warmth from the brandy spread through their bodies.”  (Don’t you love this?)

He goes on to say:  “What a picture of my Master, sharing the wine, the very lifeblood of His own suffering from His overflowing cup, poured out at Calvary for me.  He is there with me in every storm.  My Shepherd is alert to every approaching disaster that threatens His people.  He has been through the storms of suffering before.  He bore our sorrows and was acquainted with our grief.”

He talks about how imperative it is for us to continuously ask for the work of the Holy Spirit in our thoughts as we face each new challenge, large or small.  Like the sheep, we can depend on our Shepherd to give us a place of rest and nourishment.  We can even ask for His presence to drive away our dread, depression or despair.  (Thank you, Lord!)  But how many times do I find myself trapped in emotionally-draining- circles because I forget to ask?

About our thinking patterns, Keller says that our only hope is “…to be conscious daily, hourly of the purging presence of God’s Holy Spirit, applying Him to my mind.”

“And now no matter what storms I face, His very life and strength and vitality is poured into mine.  It overflows so the cup of my life runs over with His life…often with great blessing and benefit to others who see me stand up so well in the midst of trials and suffering.”

The author wants us to understand that a good shepherd loves his sheep and does all he can to keep these truly stupid and helpless little creatures from unnecessary harm.  Earlier he tells us that during the summer, he puts thick ointment on the heads and noses of the sheep to keep flies away because the flies lay eggs in the noses of the sheep.  The eggs become larvae wiggling inside their noses, eventually moving upward into their heads, causing them incredible misery, possible infection and even death.  It is torturous and the sheep often end up beating their heads against trees or anything else they can find, sometimes killing themselves.

He compares our own self-destructive actions to the sheep and talks about the love of our Shepherd:  “To forestall and prevent this sort of thing from happening among His people, our Shepherd loves to apply the precious ointment of the presence of His gracious Spirit to our lives.”

“He is never asleep.  He is never lax or careless.  He is never indifferent to our well-being.  Our Shepherd always has our best interests in mind.”

My prayer for you and for me is that we will grasp the intense love of our Shepherd.  I pray that when fear, dread or despair, confusion, temptation or failure torment us, we won’t delay or forget to ask for the presence of the Holy Spirit.  We must remember to call on His name and ask.  If we stay caught up in our own thought processes, rather than asking for His presence, direction and peace, we are simply making a choice to stay tortured rather than to experience His love, care, direction, peace, wisdom and hope.
Who could ask for anything more?

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“Beyond What We Can Imagine…”

Morning pond

During a long and particularly stressful season of my life, I found myself driving down the road trying to hold back tears and struggling to cope. Not knowing what to do, I asked God to direct me to a place to rest, pray, journal and think. I needed a quiet place but not so secluded that it would be dangerous for a woman alone.

As I ended the prayer, I said aloud and with very little faith… “And, God, it would be so nice if this place would have water.” As far back as I can remember I have enjoyed nature. The icing on the cake has always been a body of water, whether it is a small rushing stream or a beautiful lake. Ocean was out of the question. After all, we are in central Texas!

I continued to pray for God’s presence and direction as I randomly turned off the main street I was traveling, wondering which way I should go next. I took several turns within the neighborhood, all the while looking for a peaceful place to stop. Within minutes, I saw a swing set and pulled toward the curb to get a better look. I found myself next to a uniquely picturesque neighborhood park which included lush trees and grass all around and yes, a lovely lake-like pond, complete with ducks. I was stunned. I kept thinking, “I could have taken one tiny wrong turn …just one…and missed this completely!”

I sat there for a minute thanking God and then sprinted with anticipation toward a picnic table under the trees right next to the pond. A perfect setting to journal, pray and rest! After taking it all in for a bit, and having begun to pray and write, I thought I heard bagpipes. I looked up from my journal and across the pond in a grassy knoll, I saw him. There he was bagpipes, plaid skirt and all. I listened carefully and as he strolled further toward the pond, I began to recognize a rich rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

Ephesians 3:20 “…More than we think or can even imagine…..” I didn’t ask for a spiritually meaningful song. I didn’t even ask for a song. I barely had the nerve to ask for “water”!  Yet, here it was…a song “for such a time as this”.

My husband, Don, and I often talk about how there are no coincidences with God. If I was telling him this story right now, he would say facetiously, “Coincidence honey…mere coincidence.” This event screamed, “Planned by God, the Perfect Parent, who knows exactly what we need and when.”  At that point, I don’t think I would have been too shocked had I looked up and found writing in the brilliantly blue sky that said, “Just for you, Judy…I love you!” The wonderful part is that it didn’t just encourage me for that day. It continues to encourage me some ten years later. Isn’t that just like God?

Yet, had it not been such a traumatic time, I wouldn’t have thought to ask for “water”. I wouldn’t have been so desperate for a place of calm. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience this unique blessing and recognize it as God’s grace, mercy and provision. Had I not been pressed against the wall, but still God brought me to this setting, my thoughts would have been more like, “How neat…I didn’t know this place was here!”

I would have missed out on the amazement at what God had so obviously done, the joy of feeling so loved, and the memory that continues to touch me to this day. James 1:2 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials….” Without them, we would miss so much!

I still don’t always remember to ask. I still don’t always notice and give Him the credit and the glory. And having experienced His obvious care again and again, I still get tightly wound because I am not completely resting in His arms…trusting His hand. Despite these things He continues to touch my life with His unique and noticeably wonderful care. He is touching yours as well. He simply loves us that much!

Only God!

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Are You Praying From Your Fish Belly?… Never Give Up!

tree shadow on shed or barn

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD His God from the stomach of the fish. Jonah 2:1

Stunning verse.

Jonah had been running hard from what God asked him to do. He couldn’t stand the people of Nineveh. He resented them…was afraid of them. Yet…God had asked Jonah to go share His message with them! How could you, God? He didn’t want those Ninevites to be rescued by God and…He was afraid of what they would do to him.

Jonah ran from the assignment and…from God.

God stopped Jonah and put him in some hard circumstances! Have you ever been put in hard circumstances as the direct result of your own rebellion…your own sin or the sin and rebellion of someone you love?  Looking back do you see that being caught…being put into painful circumstances was not only a discipline, but a rescue?

Where would Jonah have been without that big fish?  He would have drowned!

Where would you or your loved one be right now, had you not been caught and thrown into painful circumstances that stopped the continuing destructive path? Maybe you haven’t seen the good that is going to come out of your particular stinky, dark fish belly yet. If you have, you know the benefit of the chaos that was thrown into your life. If you haven’t but you are praying and seeking God’s direction, mercy and grace for yourself or your loved one…you will one day see how this present intervention and pain is actually a rescue from some level of destruction.

That…is why we can thank Him by faith for what is hurting us so badly today. It is why we can trust Him for each of our tomorrows. Will we still hurt? Yes! But in the middle of our fish belly, if we will cry out to God…our hope will be restored again and again, as long as we continually choose to trust His hand and His heart.

What is your fish belly? Are you feeling hopeless or like it has all gone on too long to ever make any sense?

Pray that He will open your eyes to see what He wants you to see.  Pray that He will enable you to trust His hand and His heart. Pray for strength. Read His words and ask Him to show you His hope.

Remember, His mercies really are new every morning…and all day long…if you continuously seek and receive His outlook and…His hope!

Never…give up!

James 1:2-8 (NIV)
2  Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
3  because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
4  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
5  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
6  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
7  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;
8  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

 

Romans 5:2-5 (NIV)
2  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
4  perseverance, character; and character, hope.
5  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)
1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
2  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)
22  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
23  they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

 

 

 

 

 

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Are You a Word-Sniper…or is Every Word a Gift?

Sea Lions arguing 2

 James 1:19-20 (NIV)
19  My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
20  for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Years ago, when my children were small, I was surprised to find that I was becoming impatient. My words came too quickly and they weren’t “hearing” the fact that I was repeating and getting louder didn’t help.

These verses in James changed my life. I became aware that I was getting impatient because I couldn’t get my point across.  I was desperate for them to listen and obey and I was getting more and more impatient in the process.

But the point in this verse was that the anger of man…my anger…was not going to bring about the righteousness of God in them…or in me.  I realized what would develop character in the three of us, was to learn to be more patient, more strategic in disciplining…not impatience and exasperation.  Taking on this discipline myself would bring new creativity and character into my life, model it to my children and create in them more of the righteous life that God desires.

Fast forward forty-something years later.  Here we are in the world of texting and tweeting and Facebook. Our responsibility to apply these verses is even greater, as our sphere of influence is greater.

We can hide and snipe and think we do no harm…maybe even do a little good.  Don’t kid yourself. We are creating impatient character within ourselves and…stoking the fire in others.

When you think of where our nation (the world) is today…the lack of harmony, the killing, leaders who snipe at each other, lie and harm to gain whatever it is that they want, at times you might feel helpless. I know I do.

But we can pray, and we can do our part in our own sphere of influence. We can decide to take these verse on as our own…right within our home…and beyond.

Too little influence?  Whether in your family or outside your family, your example…your life…is influencing the character of those in your sphere!  Period.

Whether or not you have chosen to be a word-sniper in your home, or on your electronics, you are (directly or indirectly) influencing lives. You might be influencing the life of someone inside or outside of your family that you have no idea is paying attention. It could be the life of someone who is confused and hurting and you don’t even know it.

Maybe even someone with a Facebook account and…a weapon in a closet that (because of your choice to take on the discipline of living by these verses) will never find its way into his or her hand.

Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
29  Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

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Teach Us Lord…Keep Us Corrected and Faithful…

orange green black bird san diego

Psalm 119:33-40 (NIV)
33  Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.
34  Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
35  Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
36  Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.
37  Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.
38  Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.
39  Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good.
40  How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your righteousness.

Yes LORD…for us all.

This…THIS…is what we need.

You are Creator-God, Loving-God, the Beginning and the End.

You created beauty that we cannot fathom in nature…the whimsical, beautiful, stunning touches…the humor.

Thank you for loving us that much!

Teach us these Psalm 119 things, LORD…may we do each of those things and truly be humbled and repentant when we do not.

Amen…

 

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Memories…Jesus is Your Friend…

butterfly Lighter

Memories…Jesus is Your Friend…

Think about two or three of your favorite memories. You know, the ones that bring a smile to your heart. That heart-smile sometimes even makes its way to your lips…though it may have been years ago. Maybe it was as recent as this morning!

Are the memories more about where you were and what you are doing…or who you were with?

Had you been with someone else…even just laughing with someone else, the memory would not have the same impact…the same joy.

You and your daughter, son, spouse or friend connected in that particular conversation or excursion in a way that it could not have happened with anyone else. If you are remembering it right now…you are feeling it. Each time you remember it…you feel the joy.

Here is my blessing for you:

Go with God.

Literally.

Walk and talk with Jesus in all that you do. As Him for His Presence. He is the healthiest relationship you will ever experience.

No matter the events of today or tomorrow your joy will be fuller, your peace better, your wisdom and restraint ever growing more complete.

And tonight…when your head hits the pillow and you think of the events of the day, some of your most precious memories (whether losses or gains) will be of how obvious it is that He was with you.

Jesus…is your friend. The One who makes your joy more complete.

John 15:9 (Phillips NT)
9  “I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. You must go on living in my love. If you keep my commandments you will live in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and live in his love. I have told you this so that you can share my joy, and that your happiness may be complete. This is my commandment: that you love each other as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this – that a man should lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I tell you to do. I shall not call you servants any longer, for a servant does not share his master’s confidence. No, I call you friends, now, because I have told you everything that I have heard from the Father.

 

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Your Assignment…Should You Accept it…

pretty good - eye is clear

Your Assignment…Should You Accept it…

Here, Paul instructs Timothy (and us) on how to live his life:

2 Timothy 2:22-26 (ESV)
22  So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
23  Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.
24  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,
25  correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,
26  and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Does this paint a picture of what you feel is being lived out in our nation’s leadership or in the people of our nation? If it was the true nature of our nation, do you think we would hear much about it in the media?

But what about in our own lives? Do those verses describe the way you are pursuing life and therefore leading by example for those in your sphere?

Everything about this passage (and so many others in God’s word) tells us to do life patiently, lovingly, wisely and in doing so, we give those in our sphere the best opportunity to live life well.

We want to be informed. Yet, since media information constantly highlights the irreverent dishonesty of our leaders and the destructive voices/actions of our fellow Americans, being informed can leave us feeling nearly hopeless.

Still… we have a responsibility to be informed!  At the very least, being informed will light a fire under conservative Americans and propel us to get out there and vote! Being informed will make us aware that we could lose the house and senate in a couple of weeks unless we do vote!

Honestly though, rather than focusing purely on despair about what is going on in our world, we really must look at our own lives. It is the only hope to make a difference for today…and the generations to come!

You want to feel there is hope? You want to make a difference? Take responsibility for your own life and make a difference in your own little sphere. This is the part of the nation God has assigned you!

The best way to start is to begin praying this prayer daily…and mean it!

Psalm 51:10-13 (ESV)
10  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13  Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

 

 

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