Sheep and Shepherds

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When people call me “Pastor” they are using the Latin word for “Shepherd.”  My daily prayer is that I will care for the flock of God in a loving, caring, spiritually protective way. Sometimes, when the pain of another overwhelms my heart, I do remind myself, “Jerry, you are not the Savior, you are the pastor.”  My calling is to watch over God’s people, to love them, to lead and teach, and to care.

We all need people who care for us. Life gets turbulent, challenges multiply, spiritual challenges arise. It is a real comfort to know that there is someone who is looking out for our interests, who is ready to care for our soul.  Most important, we can be secure when we know the Good Shepherd.

Jesus saw the needs of people and it touched His heart. Matthew tells us that He traveled through the towns and villages, teaching about the arrival of the Kingdom of God. He was not a tourist, seeing the sights. He was a Shepherd, seeing the human needs. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38, NIV)

Some of our modern pundits like to mock ordinary people by calling them, ‘sheeple’ in the most derogatory way, arrogantly dismissing those who are struggling, who are not able to claim ‘self-sufficiency,’ who need help  – as weak. In fact, we are much like sheep, needing to be cared for.  Domestic sheep, if left alone on the open range without a shepherd, will invariably come to a terrible end! Predators will kill them off. Their wool will grow, becoming a mess of tangles, infested with parasites. They will over-graze the land, exhausting their food supply.  But, a well-shepherded flock thrives.

How are things in your life today?  Are you, in some way, feeling ‘harassed and helpless?’  Our cultural ideal of individualism, of needing no one, is a myth. People who try to live that way end up alone, usually miserable. There is no shame in admitting we need care, that we want to know that we are loved.  Yes, there are evil people who exploit that need and use others to serve their own agenda. Sometimes even ‘religious’ leaders abuse the flock of God. So before we entrust our soul and heart to another, we need to be discerning.

There is a Good Shepherd that loves you! His name is Jesus. He invites us to – “Come, follow me. … I am the Good Shepherd.” In John’s Gospel, He enlarges the idea, speaking of the sheep-fold that the shepherd prepared for his flock at night. There they were safe, gathered in under care.  He tells us that He is “the Gate for the sheep. … Anyone who goes through me will be cared for-will freely go in and out, and find pasture. … I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.” (John 10:7-11, The Message)

“Come, follow me.” Will you take Jesus up on His invitation?  It’s an invitation to adventure, to life that is purposeful and meaningful, and – best of all – to a relationship! He promises that if we follow Him, He will never leave us. He does not promise that we will never be attacked by wolves, go through violent storms, or experience difficult days! But, He promises we won’t face those challenges alone. “I’ll be there,” He says, “caring for you.”

Follow the Good Shepherd. Serve Him. Worship Him. Listen to Him. And, you will ‘have real and eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed.’ That’s the truth.

Here’s a familiar word from the Word. Don’t rush through it!  Savor the promise.
The Lord is MY shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
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 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, NIV)

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Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us
(An older recording of this song by 4Him)

Savior like a shepherd lead us
Much we need thy tender care
In thy pleasant pastures feed us
For our use thy folds prepare
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Thou hast bought us thine we are
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Thou hast bought us thine we are

We are thine do thou befriend us
Be the guardian of our way
Keep thy flock from sin defend us
Seek us when we go astray
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Hear O hear us when we pray
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Hear O hear us when we pray

Early let us seek thy favor
Early let us do thy will
Blessed Lord and only Savior
With thy love our beings fill
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Thou hast loved us love us still
Blessed Jesus blessed Jesus
Thou hast loved us love us still

Dorothy Ann Thrupp | William Batchelder Bradbury

© Words: Public Domain

 

Closer Than You Know

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There is an old story, true or not I’m not sure, about a man who strung a tight-rope across Niagara Falls to show his skills. To the gathered crowd he asked, “Who believes I can push this wheelbarrow to the other side on that rope?” A great cheer went up, universal agreement that he could do the amazing feat.  “Ok, who will ride in the wheelbarrow?” he asked, to a now silent crowd!

Sometimes I think our faith in Jesus is similar to the ‘belief’ in that crowd. We think He can do what He says, but we are not quite willing to entrust our lives to Him, without reservation, radically committed to His way as a disciple. We hope for eternal life through Christ, but that is out on the horizon, in a realm over which we know we have no control, so why not? What’s to lose? Living for Him today is, for some, an entirely different proposition. Will we do what He teaches, even when it challenges our personal comfort? Will we pursue His will, even when it means abandoning some cherished goal of our own?

Our continued reading in Matthew tells us short stories about faith, times when Jesus challenged the people standing around to believe. “Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.” (Matthew 9:20-22, NIV)  “As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored.” (Matthew 9:27-30, NIV)

Faith! How do I believe? Is my faith strong, shaping my choices, or just part of the background in my life, a faith whisper, a tradition summoned for times of crisis only? Before we throw up our mental defenses, arguing that it was a different time, or that the era of miracles is over, or that we would believe if only Jesus were standing there alongside of us, let’s look at the sacred text and ask the Spirit what He is saying. The best commentary on Jesus’ words come from Hebrews: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, NIV)

The baseline for knowing God and His best for us is faith; that assurance, matched with trust, that causes us to shape our lives around His promise and His plan.  Some make Jesus’ words mean that ‘if we believe enough’ we can make miracles happen at our command. I do not believe that, for this reason. Miracles are in God’s hands, not mine. I can’t force them to occur by saying the right words, working up the right emotions, or quoting the Bible loudly enough.

But, if I refuse to trust God with an active faith, I will not experience His power and provision for my life. Oh yes, He is always active, but without faith I will not see His work. How many times are we like those first disciples who prayed for the release of Peter from prison but when he showed up at their door, knocking to get in, they didn’t open it, fearing that it was his ghost. (Acts 12) Their faith was deficient, they did not, apparently, expect God to secure Peter’s freedom.  I have done that, too. After praying for someone or something, when my prayers are answered, sometimes I fail to thank God, chalking the results up to coincidence or good fortune. What a failure of faith.

Two words come to mind for me when I think about faulty faith – one is presumptive; the other is gullible. Faith that is not God-centered will lead us to a place where we mistakenly think that we are in charge of God’s power to heal, to restore, to enrich. No, we are not. We are partners with God in faith, but He never surrenders His right to rule to us. Many are the sad Christians who have been deceived by quacks and false prophets who speak persuasively, who tell grand stories, which lead to false expectations and disappointment because the ‘faith’ of which they speak is not centered on God.

Genuine faith is powerful because it is the connection between God and me. Faith allows me to put my life, my concerns, my fears, my hopes under His care. Knowing that He is a loving Father, a good God, I can radically trust Him. That is faith. And, as He speaks and leads, I can cooperate with Him to see His power brought to our human experience.  Deep and real faith bridges the gap between Heaven and earth in ways that defy my complete understanding. If I could understand it all, if I could reduce it to explanations I could fully grasp, then it would no longer be faith. Most everything we are taught in our present world argues against faith, teaching us that seeing is believing, that only what can be verified by rationale argument is to be trusted. But, what if our natural is too limited, our natural senses insufficient to see and know the living God?  Ah, yes, that is the beginning of faith.

Faith is both a choice and a gift. We invite God, the Spirit, to stir faith in us; and we respond with surrender – heart, soul, mind, and strength – to Him. Faith is primarily relational. Ask the Lord to make this word from the Word alive to you, to meet your doubts with His faith and to transform you into a disciple that knows the joy of being truly Fathered.  “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks. “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:9-13, NLT)

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Closer Than You Know

I tempered the storm though your faith was small
I prayed while you slept and the night waged war
We stood in the fire and we walked on sea
And we drank of the wine that was made of Me

 Don’t turn your eyes (away) from Me
For My love won’t be undone
Don’t hide your face from Me
For My light has surely come
Surely come surely come oh

 I carried that cross and I felt your pain
I took up your crown and I wore your shame
And death was a fire and its teeth were grim
But I left it behind along with all your sin

 Lift up your eyes and see
Heaven is closer than you know
(Know I’ll never leave you)
(So) Lift up your voice and sing
Know that My love won’t let you go
(And I won’t forsake you)
(And My light has surely come)

 Surely come surely come
And I’m closer than you know
And I’m closer than you know

 Lord I hear You I know You’re there
Closer now than my skin and bones could dare
Breathing deep within me
You are always with me
I can see You where eyes can’t stare
Brighter now than the sun could ever dare
Breathing all around me

(God I know You’re with me here)
(God I know that You are here)
For I’m Yours and You are mine
And my soul knows well
You are here You are here
And my soul will praise You
And my soul will praise Your name

Singing holy is Your name
Jesus oh Jesus

Joel Houston | Matt Croker | Michael Guy Chislett © 2015 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

Responsive to Him?

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At my age there is a real possibility of becoming ‘set in my ways.’  The ways I ‘do life,’ the foods I like, the patterns I follow, are comfortable, like a pair of old shoes. And that’s just fine. A real problem arises if I confuse what is ‘comfortable’ for me with what is ‘right’ for everybody. I want to remain a learner, a person who can adapt to new things, new ways, new ideas. Most of all, I want an experience with God that is alive, that has not abandoned the passion of my first love for Jesus.

Matthew records an encounter that Jesus in which some people asked why the disciples were not following some of the ‘old’ ways. Take a look. “Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17, NIV)

Devout Jews of the time sought to please God by fasting and other practices of self-denial. In themselves, such acts of devotion are not bad and they can serve a good purpose; helping a person to focus on God, to listen for the voice of the Spirit intently. However, Jesus tells those inquirers that God is doing a new thing in the world and that they needed to be responsive to Him.

The message of the Kingdom Come was bigger than fasts and feasts. The ‘new wine’ of the Spirit was going to poured into people whose hearts were soft and tender before the Lord so that the message of God’s reconciliation of humanity to Himself through Christ Jesus could go out to the whole earth. That Gospel could not be bottled up in the ‘old wineskins’ of Judaism, could not be expressed through rigid observance of the Law of Moses.

Using simple illustrations, He spoke of the importance of being responsive to what God is doing beyond what is comfortable, familiar, even traditional.  Was Jesus erasing our connection to the Old Testament or to practices of the Spiritual disciplines? Not at all! He says that when ‘the bridegroom is taken,’ in other words when He has gone back to Heaven having established the Kingdom by His death and Resurrection, His disciples would fast, too.  But, they would practice their devotion outside of the old patterns of the Law, without the need for further sacrifice for sin.

His word remains an important lesson for you and me! Each generation risks becoming rigid, exalting their own traditions to the place of sacred law. If we do, we will miss out on what God is doing, refusing to be responsive. A word of clarification here is critical. Jesus is not praising fads, novelty, or ‘relevance.’  Those things become a trap spiritually, too. Seeking some new thing because we are bored, wanting some excitement to relieve the tedium of daily life, can lead us to throw out good and desirable things in the name of revival and/or renewal. Jesus calls us to listen to the Holy Spirit. That asks for mature discernment, for a readiness to spend time listening before we announce God’s ‘next best thing’ to the world.

Has your faith become rigid, your spiritual life without a tender desire for God? He makes us new, even those of us who are old!

The word from the Word is Paul’s prayer for God’s people. Make his words your prayer, too. I do for you, for me. “Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for Christians everywhere, I have never stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people.” (Ephesians 1:15-18, NLT)

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Abba, I humbly bow in Your Presence.
My prayer is that my mind will be clear, my heart will be tender.
Keep me from loving the safe, the familiar, the ‘tried and true’ so much
that I will not hear the Spirit’s invitation.

I pray for a discerning heart that can separate the merely novel
from the work of the Spirit in bringing the Kingdom to this time.

Teach me, renew my love. Preserve me from a living death
so that I will please and honor You for all my days.

In the Holy Name of Jesus.  Amen

Close the Gap

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Who is the real you? Yesterday the political world focused on some past words of one of the candidates. In a video clip that played widely, he made statements that were cringe-worthy about crime and race, his words seeming to reveal some inner thoughts that do not match his public rhetoric. Watching the furor over this, I felt humility because I know there are times when my feelings in the moment drag me towards actions that are inconsistent with my beliefs. For example, I accept Jesus’ call to live lovingly and to forgive. However, were you to mention a few names of people who have done hurtful things to me, my first thought is not to be loving or forgiving. That gap between what I believe and how I act needs confession, grace, and change!

We all have similar gaps, don’t we? For some, they are great chasms of hypocrisy resembling the Grand Canyon. For others, they are there, but smaller, like cracks in the sidewalk. Regardless, they must be acknowledged and confessed. If we allow hypocrisy to go unchallenged in our heart, it will grow. We must never attempt to conceal the gap – big or small – with religious talk. Jesus reserved His most scathing remarks for religious leaders who used pious talk to conceal sin-filled hearts! He told them – “You strain out a small fly but swallow a camel. You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you’re in for trouble! You wash the outside of your cups and dishes, while inside there is nothing but greed and selfishness.” (Matthew 23:24-25, CEV)

 Hypocrisy offends God. It short-circuits our experience of God’s grace. He desires to forgive us and His Spirit will change us from the inside out but not if we are self-deceived, unwilling to get honest with Him. Simplicity, a singleness of heart and mind that is Christ-centered, makes us beautiful, stable, and people who know inner peace. James reminds us that “a double minded man – unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8, KJV) The wisdom of the Word says “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity (Proverbs 11:3, NIV)

Do you practice the discipline of Simplicity – aiming to be no more and no less than the person God desires?  Is your life – each part – surrendered to Him so that the Spirit can work to make you the same – inside and out –  your thoughts, words, and actions aligned. Oh yes, we are all works in progress. The greatest self-deception is that which insists we have ‘arrived’ spiritually, that we have achieved a kind of perfection. No, I haven’t nor have you.

There is a lesson in grace to be found in the life of King David. He was a flawed man, one who sinned grievously. Yet, God loved him. Why? Because when his sin was pointed out to him, when his hypocrisy was challenged, he cried out: “You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil. You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair. I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born. … God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.” (Psalm 51:4-5,10, The Message) Confession heals us when it is deep, true, and desires change.

Are you living a double life? How about that gap between what you profess and what you possess? Are you allowing the Spirit to lead you to close it, humbly following His lead, listening to His voice? Are you in close fellowship with other Christians who love you to wholeness?

Choose to practice the discipline of simplicity – saying only what is true, avoiding exaggeration, refusing to hide behind an image.

Here is a word from the Word.  “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:8-10, NIV)  Guilt and shame is not His desire for you. There is restoration and reconciliation, so kneel before the One who “became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.”

Take a couple of minutes to listen to the prayer-song below. Fernando Ortega sings words that inspire, that invite the change that brings us peace.

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Jesus, You Are My Life

You are my life,
O precious Christ!
You are to me
The pearl of greatest price.
My love for You will never die.
Jesus You are my life!

 I come to You.
I run to You.
There’s no greater joy
Than knowing You.

 O holy fire, Love’s purest light!
Burn all desires ‘till
You are my one delight.
My love for You will never die.
Jesus You are my life!

 O conquering King,
Conquer my heart!
And make of me a pleasing gift to God.
My love for You will never die.
Jesus You are my life! 

Jesus You are my life!

Jesus You Are My Life- Steve Fry © 1994 Maranatha Praise, Inc. (Admin. by Maranatha! Music) Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

Not him!

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I am not an athlete and so in teen years when athletic prowess is so important, I had no skills necessary for the games in high school phys ed class. When the appointed captains picked teams I always felt humiliated. I stood there listening to name after name called, mine being one of the last. Then I was assigned some insignificant position from which I was basically an observer. I did not get to ‘play the game’ or experience the glory of the home run or touchdown. It’s been a half century and that feeling of being the one excluded can still return.

Many of you can identify with the feeling of rejection or devaluation in others ways. You were told you were not smart enough to get the job. You figured out that Dad loved your sister more than you. That person you fell in love with chose not to love you in return.

We all want to ‘belong,’ to be included. And, most of us find closed doors in front of us from time to time. There are no closed doors to the Kingdom of God! Oh I am not naïve enough to think that all churches are accepting, or that all Christians love everybody, but God does!

In my ongoing reading of Matthew, there is a story about Jesus at the beginning of His ministry and He’s choosing a team. Those disciples were invited to be with Him, learning His ways, hearing His words. In just 3 years He would send them with the Good News to the ends of the earth. Who was worthy of the calling? Who did He choose?  It was not the Jerusalem ‘insiders’ nor was it the ‘scholars.’  It was not those with a network of connections to positions of influence. He chose ordinary men, even some that society considered outcasts!

Here is one of those stories. “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-14, NIV)

Matthew was an outsider in the worst sense of the word. He was labeled by the town because he cooperated with the occupation army of Romans as a tax collector. Shunned for their work, tax collectors avoided the synagogue which was the center of Jewish life. Thus they were also labeled, ‘sinners.’ Jesus saw past the job title and the social label into the heart of the man and there he saw a desire for God. And, He called him – “Follow me!” It was scandalous. How could the Rabbi, a teacher about the things of God, invite a person so compromised in character (in the opinion of most) to become His friend and associate?

Those who were thought to be closest to God because of their scrupulous observance of the Law of Moses were confounded. “Why does your Teacher eat with these ‘low-lifes,’ these nobodies, these people who are not worthy of our God?”  Jesus overheard the conversation and defined His mission for them. He was the Advocate of the broken, the Healer of the spiritual sick, the Giver of mercy to those who had failed. And, He still is.

By the way, Jesus never told ‘sinners’ to keep on living the same way they were when He found them. He accepted people and led them to change and transformation. Oh how I pray He would give Christians today the sensitive and loving ability to do the same.  We tend to fail at one extreme or the others. Either we determine that only the ‘select’ are good enough for God and our fellowship, our spiritual pride making us ugly and exclusive; or we make grace cheap and we are unable to ‘speak the truth in love’ and thus, to invite people to become like Jesus, to wrestle with those parts of life that need to be restored to the will of their Father.

The inarguable fact is this – Nobody is beyond the reach of God’s grace.
A second  truth is that everybody can be transformed by the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
He loved me and is changing me, day by day, into Christ’s likeness. How about you?

Have you been told you were the wrong … gender, color, age … not smart enough … too scarred by your past … to be included in God’s love, to be invited into His Kingdom? Those are lies. Reject them and listen to the Spirit of God who says, “You are invited.”  Respond with faith and God will put you on His team, equipping you for spiritual service, preparing you for an awards banquet where He will overlook nothing, forget no one.

Here is a word from the Word. I pray it will invite ‘outsiders’ in and remind all of us to open the doors to Christ to ALL. “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful.

God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important, so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God. God alone made it possible for you to be in Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and he gave himself to purchase our freedom.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-30, NLT)

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Who You Say I Am
(Are you living in this amazing grace?)

Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me
I was lost but He brought me in
Oh His love for me
Oh His love for me

 Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

 Free at last
He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep
While I was a slave to sin
Jesus died for me
Yes He died for me

 In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

 I am chosen not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me not against me
I am who You say I am

 (Oh) (Yes) I am who You say I am

Ben Fielding | Reuben Morgan © 2017 Hillsong Music Publishing Australia (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055

Ultimate Authority

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We all tend to feel some level of discomfort when another person shakes up our understanding about how the world works. This is not just true about the ‘big’ idea things. We tend to think that the way Mom made meatloaf is the way it’s done, right? When traditions get challenged, our response is often emotional. We tend not to ask, ‘is this reasonable?’  Instead we react. The more personal a tradition, the more it disturbs our sense of well-being, the stronger our reaction.

In our reading in Matthew today, Jesus takes on tradition and provokes a strong reaction in some religious leaders who saw His words and actions as a direct threat to the established ideas about spiritual authority. “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….”

Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matthew 9:1-8, NIV)

Most people viewed the paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus with some pity, but also with judgment, assuming that his condition was the result of his sin and therefore, the judgment of God. They believed that there was a direct connection between suffering and some personal sin. The religious leaders heard what Jesus said and to them it was presumptuous.  He was stepping into a place that belonged only to God. No human being had any business ‘forgiving sins’ unless there was involvement with the ritual processes of the sacrificial system and the priesthood – so they thought. That’s why Jesus’ words to the man were so controversial.

He was revealing something about Himself that would change the world, literally. Jesus, in his interaction with this paralyzed man, makes a declaration that He is God, that He has the ability to heal more than the body. He can heal the soul, giving eternal life, restoring the relationship of the sinner with God!

Two questions for your thoughts today.

First, what limits of understanding keep you from experiencing the full power and authority of Jesus?

We may say we have faith that He can do anything, that He is Lord of all, but then our words reveal a different conclusion. It happens to us all. In my prayers today I was praying for someone who’s life is full of suffering, addiction, so many tangled issues of brokenness that hope for transformation seems impossible. Hearing my own rather faithless words, my prayers that were without heart, I stopped and got honest with God. “Lord, this person’s life is such a snarled mess that I have no idea even how to pray.  I confess that I need an infusion of real faith to think that even You can make a difference.”

I do not think I am the only person alive who has experienced that kind of inner conflict, that kind of limited vision. Are you willing to admit to yourself and to God that you need a gift of faith?  Remember the father who brought his son to Jesus. He wanted his son healed but knew something of his doubts, so he prayed- “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  (Mark 9)

Second, are you humble enough to respond with faith when God shakes up your world?

Jesus purposefully offended those religious leaders that day with His words. Was He just trying to make them angry? Of course not. He was confronting them, hoping to make really think, to consider what they believed to be true. All of us develop traditions and reach conclusions that seem true to us. There is comfort in such ideas about how the world works, who God is, and why things happen. But, God wants us to grow in faith, to know Him beyond the sentimental song, to trust Him so deeply that we find an unshakeable confidence, not in ourselves, but in Him. To do that, He will let us experience things that challenge us, bring people into our lives that are uncomfortably truthful, and speak to us through the Word and His Spirit. What then?  Will we grow and know Him as He is, or will we retreat to our comfort?

The ‘crowd’ that day saw what Jesus had done for the paralyzed man and simply trusted. They did not get wrapped up in ‘how’ or ‘why.’ They experienced awe and responded with praise to God. May we be like them, ready to see, quick to worship, always faithful.

Here is a word from the Word. “Do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord, no matter what happens. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. And a righteous person will live by faith. But I will have no pleasure in anyone who turns away.” But we are not like those who turn their backs on God and seal their fate. We have faith that assures our salvation.” (Hebrews 10:35-39, NLT)

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:14-15, NIV)

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10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord)

Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

 The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

 You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

 And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

 Worship Your holy name
Lord I’ll worship Your holy name

Jonas Myrin | Matt Redman © 2011 Atlas Mountain Songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

sixsteps Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Authority

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When I have a problem with an organization that needs a solution, it’s great to find someone who has the authority to take action. A few months ago, an account with a utility that provided service to the church was somehow messed up, with charges made that should have been credits. Several calls to service representatives were made and each was accommodating, promising to ‘look into’ the issue, but nothing happened. Finally, through a contact, we were able to reach someone in the utility who did not need to send the decision to a manager. She was empowered to make the changes and the situation was remedied! She enjoyed authority.

In our Scripture passage today, we find two men in desperate need of someone with true authority. Matthew says that they were ‘demon-possessed.’ Evil had taken over their minds and bodies, making them violent, dangerous, and tormented. The darkness that overwhelmed them led them to live among the dead, intolerable to the living! Now before you ‘judge’ the passage as mere superstition of a past era, let me encourage you to read it prayerfully.

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.” (Matthew 8:28-34, NIV)

An honest student of Scripture will admit to some puzzling details in the story. How do pigs and demons mix? It does not serve any real purpose to speculate about that. What is clear from the story, and the reason Matthew included the passage in his Gospel about Christ, the King, is that it is a follow-up to the story about His authority over ‘wind and waves’ that was in the previous text. Here we see Jesus as the Man with authority over the spirit realm, the darkness of evil.

Christians cannot effectively understand the world in we live nor can we do the work of God as fully as we must IF we ignore or reject the reality of demonic evil. There are demons, who are spirit beings, that do the work of the Devil, their singular aim being to destroy the beauty and good of our Creator Father. Their primary work is done with deception, attempting to make sin attractive, to cause those who are deceived to stumble ever more deeply into the darkness. A few people are like the two men in Matthew’s account – ‘possessed,’ owned by evil, driven to despair and destruction.

All of us deal with demons at some level. BUT, the wonderful truth for those who are ‘in Christ,’ is that the One who lives in us is greater than the demons that would deceive us!  We know the Lord of Heaven and earth, Jesus, whose word can send the demons of doubt, fear, temptation, despair, and deception packing. Matthew does not tell us the end of the story, but two other Gospel writers tell us that “they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind.”

The One with authority gave freedom, new life, and restoration to those that sin had tried to destroy.  And, He still does!  I would be the first to acknowledge that there is way too much foolishness taught in the Name of Jesus by those who mistakenly see a demon hiding in every situation. It is both tragic and comical to see the antics of that person who is constantly ‘rebuking’ this or that demon for causing human distress in everything from the common cold to cancer! But, the error of the few must not blind us to the reality about of the evil that comes from every source – the world systems that are corrupt, the ‘flesh,’ and the Devil and his demons. God has given us the ability to discern, to be wise, and the authority of the Name of Jesus Christ, equipping us to become whole and holy people.

As you head into a new week on this Monday morning, pause to thank God for the victory of Christ Jesus that makes you ‘more than a conqueror!’ Pray for a discerning mind that sees the reality of evil and meets it with the proper authority. Keep yourself in the love of Jesus.

Here is a word from the Word. May the wonderful declaration of His power and authority that operates on our behalf fill us with confidence to live in the beauty of the Lord.  “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:2-4, NIV)

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Surrounded (Fight My Battles)

There’s a table that You’ve prepared for me
In the presence of my enemies
It’s Your body and Your blood You shed for me
And I believe You’ve overcome
And I will lift my song of praise
For all You’ve done

 This is how I fight my battles
It may look like I’m surrounded
But I’m surrounded by You
It may look like I’m surrounded
But I’m surrounded by You

This is how I fight my battles (3X)(This is how)
This is how I fight my battles (3X) (This is how)
It may look like I’m surrounded
But I’m surrounded by You
It may look like I’m surrounded
But I’m surrounded by You

 In the valley I know that You’re with me
And surely Your goodness and Your mercy follow me
So my weapons are praise and thanksgiving
This is how I fight my battles

 My victory’s in Jesus’ name
(My victory’s in Jesus’ name)
My victory’s in Jesus’ name
(My victory’s in Jesus’ name)

Elyssa Smith© 2017 UR Global Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

Speak now, Jesus

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A couple of nights ago, I restlessly tossed, unable to fall asleep. Who knows exactly why that happens? Maybe too much caffeine, too late in the day? Perhaps too many concerns about life piling up? As I lay there in the dark around 1 am, the thoughts began to tumble, a jumble of grief, worries, problems – real and imagined – all magnified by fatigue and the dark of night.

Knowing that God has given me authority over my thoughts and that there is the promise of His Presence, I prayed for the Spirit to quiet my mind, to fill my heart. Taking a cue from the story in Acts when Paul and Silas sang at midnight in that prison, I offered songs of worship… and finally feel asleep.

Matthew tells us about panic moments on the Sea of Galilee when he and the other disciples learned about the power of Jesus. “Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27, NIV)

When you are feeling the rising sense that life is out of control, when you realize that you cannot control that person, that sickness, that situation that appears to be threatening – turn to Jesus! The disciples did not present a request that was carefully worded or that obliquely sought help. They shouted over the storm – “Lord, save us!” Apparently their cry was motivated more by panic that faith, given Jesus’ first response that noted that their faith was so small.

But, He spoke to the storm and their faith grew deeper as they saw clearly that He is the Lord. Those men in that little boat that day knew the most important thing – that Jesus was in the boat with them. May we remember that He promises “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  What comes from that assurance? “So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6, NIV)

My own experience as a Christian is that sometimes He stills the storm so that peace returns and sometimes He stills my heart so I can ride it out. Regardless, I have learned to trust Him; not perfectly as my restless night shows, but with an ever growing faith. Will you trust Him today? Will you ask Him to speak to your heart, to reveal His mastery of it all?

Here is a word from the Word. Join David in your declaration of dependence! “My soul, wait silently for God alone, For my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved.” (Psalm 62:4-6, NKJV)

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In Christ Alone

 In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light my strength my song
This Cornerstone this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love what depths of peace
When fears are stilled when strivings cease
My Comforter my All in All
Here in the peace of Christ I stand

 No guilt in life no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Keith Getty | Stuart Townend © 2001 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

CCLI License # 810055

 

Missing the boat?

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The ‘truth’ is an elusive thing these days. It is a bold person who will tell the truth to a society that is filled with traps of offense. How many times have we known something to be true but we are warned “Don’t say that. People will get their feelings hurt.” So, we pretend, avoid, and ignore the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ and the truth is lost to us, increasing the deception that deepens our confusion.

Truth is often difficult, but when we are committed to it, Jesus promised that Truth would set us free. I make no case for rudeness or cruelty, but we need to recover the ability to say and hear challenging things, to enter into dialogue even about things we find disagreeable. We are all better for those discussions. Sometimes we discover that what we cherish as ‘truth’ is not really true, at all. We gain new perspective, deeper understanding, if we love the truth more than we love our own comfortable place in this world.

Jesus told the truth and to our modern ears His words are harsh, even insensitive. His Gospel was shaped around entering God’s reign, a choice that made the rest of life pale by comparison. He made no compromise, no accommodation. Take a look.

“When Jesus noticed how large the crowd was growing, he instructed his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake. Then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you no matter where you go!” But Jesus said, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own, not even a place to lay my head.” Another of his disciples said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me now! Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own dead.” (Matthew 8:18-22, NLT)

Those challenging words come after two miracle stories, the healing of a Roman centurion’s servant of paralysis and Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Jesus displayed a kind of spiritual authority that was capturing the attention of many. A man who belonged to the religious elite was caught up in the drama, excited by the possibilities and blurted out his intention to follow Jesus. But, the Lord saw deeper and told them man the hard truth. “Following Me involves a real cost.” It means making the comforts of life in this world secondary to God’s call. In so many words, He told that man “You haven’t thought this through and I don’t think you will make it, so go reconsider your words.”

Another follower spoke up about his desire to take care of his parents. Jesus’ words to that man are harsh to our ears. He is not relieving us of responsibility for aging parents, by the way. In many places the Word speaks of being loving and caring for family. Jesus is reminding us that He is first in our loyalties, that even the most noble of obligations must be secondary to His call. “Seek first the Kingdom of God” is about everything, every relationship, every job choice – all of life.

Jesus spoke to both of those would-be followers just before He got into a boat to go to the other side of the lake and it would appear from the text that both of them ‘missed the boat’ that day and perhaps in the larger sense. A decision made in a moment can change destiny!

What is Jesus saying to you, where is He calling you to go? Maybe His call seems hard, even harsh. His words may even appear insensitive or beyond understanding. The call to discipleship is hard, irrational even, unless we are willing to enter the Kingdom with the understanding that the richest rewards may not be found until He comes again or we step over time’s threshold into Eternity. IF we love ourselves more than we love Him, we too will ‘miss the boat.’

Is there something in your life that Jesus is asking you to put under His mastery? Is there a choice, maybe not all that significant in terms of the world, but big to you that He is asking you to make for Him? Say “Yes!” Invest in spiritual treasure. Die to Self. Choose life over death. Love the Truth and He will set you free.

The word from the Word is a truthful promise received by faith. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40, NIV)

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I have used this song in CWTW often recently.
It just speaks to my heart so powerfully. I hope it inspires you.

Build My Life (a link to the song)

Worthy of ev’ry song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You

Jesus the name above ev’ry other name
Jesus the only one who could ever save
Worthy of ev’ry breath we could ever breathe
We live for You
We live for You

Holy there is no one like You
There is none besides You
Open up my eyes in wonder and show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me

I will build my life upon Your love
It is a firm foundation
I will put my trust in You alone
And I will not be shaken

Brett Younker | Karl Martin | Kirby Elizabeth Kaple | Matt Redman | Pat Barrett © 2016 Martin, Karl Andrew (Admin. by Arkyard Music Services Limited)

Kaple Music (Admin. by Bethel Music Publishing) Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

Solid, Steady, Resilient

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I am sure you have already figured this out  – but just in case – here goes:  Storms are going to come your way in life. Regardless of your preparations, your defenses, your strategies, and your plans it is impossible to eliminate all risk, to avoid the hard things. About twelve years ago, life was rolling along. I loved the pastoral work that I was privileged to do.  Bev was enjoying her teaching career immensely. We had purchased the home we thought would be ‘just perfect’ for retirement, at that time just a distant thought.

Then…

Dad got cancer and died after a long struggle. Two years after his death, Mom’s doctor called me to tell me that she had advanced lung cancer.  There were still adopted children in her home. Bev and I turned our lives upside down to buy a larger home, moved Mom in, and to start over with her family in our care.  She died and life was complicated, to say the least. Just when that storm was subsiding, Bev learned that she had end stage cancer and left for Heaven two years later! That’s not to seek sympathy, just to remind you that in spite of your best laid plans, things go awry.

What then?  Jesus reminds us that we need to be building life on a foundation that can keep us from falling apart when the tempestuous winds of life blow over us. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27, NIV)

What or whom is the foundation of your life, friend?
Is your security resting on your financial resources?
The economy can change, the job can go away, in the blink of an eye.
Is your life wrapped up in a great loving relationship?
Celebrate it, but be honest enough with yourself to remember what the Psalmist wrote: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NLT)

Perhaps you are ready to stop reading today, convinced that Jerry is too grim, a terrible pessimist. No, I have experienced the reality of life’s uncertainties of which Jesus spoke. Yet, here I stand, as Paul said,  How? It is not just because of courage, or grit, or denial. I stand because my foundation of life rests squarely on the eternal promise of God that life is more than my stuff or even those I love.

Life’s only true and lasting hope is found in Christ – knowing, serving, and loving the Living God as we anticipate that moment when we transit from this world into His Presence, beyond the reach of sorrow, disappointment, or suffering. Is your hope resting on the salvation that is a gift of an eternal God?

The word from the Word is FULL of hope. Make it yours today. Writing from a prison, confined on false charges, Paul says: “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Timothy 1:12-14, NIV)

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Living Hope
(Listen, learn, love)

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness Your loving-kindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished the end is written
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Who could imagine so great a mercy
What heart could fathom such boundless grace
The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior I’m Yours forever
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Hallelujah praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ my living hope

 Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me (REPEAT)

Jesus Yours is the victory
Jesus Christ my living hope
Oh God You are my living hope

Brian Johnson | Phil Wickham © 2017 Phil Wickham Music (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

Simply Global Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

Sing My Songs (Fair Trade Music Publishing [c/o Essential Music Publishing LLC])

CCLI License # 810055