Your Love Never Fails

Here are a few words from a song we sang at church last weekend, “Your Love Never Fails” by Chris McClarney:

I know I still make mistakes
But you have new mercies for me everyday
Your love never fails
And when the oceans rage
I don’t have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me
Your love never fails

As we were singing this song, I began to think about the contrast of how I fail quite often, yet God never fails, and His love never fails.  Normally I am very fearful of failure and try my best to avoid it.  This usually results in being indecisive because I’m so afraid of making the wrong decision.  It’s been my experience that people reject you when you fail, and I dont’ want to be rejected.  The good news is that God is not like people.  He does not reject me or withhold His love from me.  His love never fails.  As I thought about this, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of safety.  It’s okay if I fail because I’m safe in God’s love.


1 Corinthians 13:8
Romans 8:35-39

Your Rod and Staff, They Comfort Me Pt. 1

I am continuing on to the next phrase in our 23rd Psalm series.  We find ourselves looking at the phrase “Your Rod and Staff, they comfort me”.  I am going to break it down in two parts so we can see what the Rod is and represents and then look at the Staff and what it is and represents.  Before we dive in I appreciate many of you praying for Tony and I as we traveled the first of this week to North Carolina for his best friends funeral.  It has been a difficult but emotional week for us we see God’s great demonstration of grace all over this.  While we do not always fully understand things of this nature, we can find much comfort in the love of our Abba Father.  He knows what He is doing and will never allow us to hurt needlessly.  This world is not our home and we eagerly await our Savior who is Christ the Lord to come and get us as He raptures His church – the Bride of Christ!  Take heart…for our Lord is coming soon!  We will not be separated very much longer from our loved ones who have gone on before us so take heart and prepare yourselves, Church!  Now….back to the 23rd Psalm…

What is the Rod:  an extension of the owner’s right arm.  It stood as a symbol of his strength, his power, his authority in any serious situation.  The rod was what he relied on to safeguard both himself and his flock in danger.  And it was, furthermore, the instrument he used to discipline and correct any wayward sheep that insisted on wandering away.

 The sheep asserts that the owner’s rod, his weapon of power, authority, and defense, is a continuous comfort to him.  For with it the manager is able to carry out effective control of his flock in every situation.

 The rod speaks therefore of the spoken word of God – the expressed intent, the extended activity of God’s mind and will in dealing with men.  It implies the authority of divinity.  It carries with it the convicting power and irrefutable impact of “Thus saith the Lord.”

 Just as there was much comfort and consolation in seeing the rod in the shepherd’s skillful hands, so in our day there is great assurance in our own hearts as we contemplate the power, veracity, and potent authority vested in God’s Word.  For in fact, the Scriptures are His rod.  They are the extension of His mind and will and intentions to mortal man.

 *The 2nd Dimension where the Rod was used by the shepherd for the welfare of his sheep was that of Discipline and for this purpose more than any other.  If the shepherd saw a sheep wandering away on its own, or approaching poisonous weeds, or getting too close to danger of one sort or another, the club would go whistling through the air to send the wayward animal scurrying back to the bunch.  It has been said of the Scriptures so often, “This Book will keep you from sin!”  It is the Word of God that comes swiftly to our hearts, that comes with surprising suddenness to correct and reprove us when we go astray.  It is the Spirit of the living God, using the living Word, that convicts our conscience of right conduct.  In this way we are kept under control by Christ who wants us to walk in the ways of righteousness.

*The 3rd Dimension is that the rod was used to examine and count the sheep.  In the terminology of the Old Testament this was referred to as passing “under the rod” (see Ezekiel 20:37).  This meant not only coming under the owner’s control and authority, but also to be subject to his most careful, intimate, and firsthand examination.  A sheep that passed “under the rod” was on which had been counted and looked over with great care to make sure all was well with it.  Psalm 139:23-24

 f we will allow it, if we will submit to it, God by His Word will search us.  There will be no “pulling the wool over His eyes.”  He will get below the surface, behind the front of our old self life and expose things that need to be made right.  This is a process from which we need not shrink.  It is not something to avoid.  It is done in concern and compassion for our welfare.  The Great Shepherd of our souls has our own best interests at heart when he so searches us.  What a comfort this should be to the child of God, who can trust in God’s care.

 Wool in Scripture speaks of the self-life, self –will, self-assertion, self-pride.  God has to get below this and do a deep work in our wills to right the wrongs which are often bothering us beneath the surface.  So often we put on a fine front and brave, bold exterior when really deep down below there needs to be some remedy applied.

 *The 4th Dimension of use for the rod is as an instrument of protection both for himself and his sheep when they are in danger.  It is used both as a defense and a deterrent against anything that would attack.

 The skilled shepherd uses his rod to drive off predators like coyotes, wolves, cougars, and stray dogs.  Often it is used to beat the brush, discouraging snakes and other creatures from disturbing the flock.  In extreme cases, such as David recounted to Saul, the Psalmist no doubt used his rod to attack the lion and the bear that came to raid his flocks.

Your rod…..comfort’s me.”  It was the rod ever ready in the shepherd’s hand used in His own encounter with that Serpent – Satan-during His desert temptation.  It is the same Word of God which we can count on again and again to counter the assaults and attacks Satan.

Wow!  What a Rod we have in the inspired Word of God!


Even Though I Walk Through The Valley…Pt. 2

Hello Friends of NLD,

I am back working on the 23rd Psalm series here on the blog.  Interestingly as I type this Tony and I are on I-85 as we are on our way to Charlotte, North Caroline for the day to visit his best friend since Middle School who is dying with Cancer.  He was diagnosed a year ago with a malignant brain tumor.  He is now down to 4 or 5 weeks left to live and will leave a precious wife and three young children (ages 7, 5, & 3) behind.  We don’t always understand the valley’s we travel.  My Father died at the age of 50 with a malignant brain tumor as well.  Death is overwhelming but praise our kind, good Shepherd who took the curse of sin that was credited to us through the law upon Himself and shed His own blood and presented it in the heavenly temple before God and it satisfied God’s wrath against sin and we have forgiveness, freedom and LIFE! 

This part of the 23rd Psalm has been quite the popular passage to be quoted in those moments when someone is about to pass from this life to the next.  But even here for the child of God, death is not an end but merely the door in to a higher and more exalted life of intimate contact with Christ.  Death is but the dark vale opening out into an eternity of delight with God.  It is not something to fear, but an experience through which one passes on the path to a more perfect life.  But for those of us who remain on earth, there is still a life to live here and now.  So let’s look at some ways our Good Shepherd takes care of us in these “valley’s”

Let’s look at some reasons why the Shepherd takes His sheep up on the mountain ranges and long treks of the spring, summer and early fall.  As with ordinary sheep management, so with God’s people, one only gains higher ground by climbing up through valleys.  And notice it doesn’t say “we die there”, but rather, “I walk through…”.  We will have many “valleys” that we will walk through.  The disappointments, frustrations, discouragements, dilemmas, the dark, and difficult days, though they be shadowed valleys, they need not be disasters.  They can be the road to higher ground in our walk with God.  These thoughts bring me to point number one….

1.  The trek up into the mountains is the easiest route to get us to this “higher ground” with Christ.  We will see this when we receive our trials and adversitys….when we surrender it all over to Him, thanking Him for the dark, difficult days.  We will then see that He is here with us and has never left or forsaken us.  We will see that He is working out all things for our greatest good to the honor and glory of His name.  To come to this conviction in life is to have entered into an attitude of quiet acceptance of every adversity.  It is to have moved onto higher ground with God.  Knowing Him in this new and intimate manner makes life much more bearable than before.

2.  The second reason why sheep are taken to the mountaintops by way of the valleys is that not only is this the way of gentlest grades but, also it is the well-watered route.  Here one finds refreshing water all along the way.  There are rivers, streams, springs and quiet pools in the deep defiles.  During the summer months long drives can be hot and tiresome.  The flocks experience intense thirst.  How glad they are for the frequent watering places along the valley route where they can be refreshed.  Our good Shepherd is Living Water!  He said if we would drink from Him we would never thirst!

As Christians we will sooner or later discover that it is in the valleys of our lives that we find refreshment from God Himself.  It is not until we have walked with Him through some very deep troubles, that we discover He can lead us to find our refreshment in Him right there in the midst of our difficulty.  We are thrilled beyond words when there comes restoration to our souls and spirits from His own gracious Spirit.  Any other “source” we turn to for refreshment will NEVER satisfy and we will remain thirsty. 

Interestingly, the one who can minister to the broken heart best is the one who has experienced a broken heart.  Don’t avoid the valleys….you never know how God might use your experience one day, but know that the refreshment you can find available in Christ will fulfill like nothing you have ever seen!

3.  A third reason why the rancher/Shepherd chooses to take his flock into the high country by way of the valleys is that this is generally where the richest feed and best forage is to be found along the route.  The flock is moved along gently-they are not hurried.  The lambs have never been this way before.  The shepherd wants to be sure there will not only be water but also the best grazing available for the ewes and their lambs.  Generally the choicest meadows are in these valleys along the stream banks.  Here the sheep can feed as they move toward the high country.

Ironically, these grassy glades are often on the floor of steep-walled canyons and gulches.  There may be towering cliffs above them on either side.  The valley floor itself may be in dark shadow with the sun seldom reaching the bottom except for a few hours around noon.  The Shepherd also knows from past experience that predators like coyotes, bears, wolves ,or cougars can take cover in these broken cliffs from their vantage point prey on his flock.  He knows too that these valleys can be subject to sudden storms nad flash floods that send walls of water ramping down the slopes.  There could be rock slides, mud or snow avalanches, and a dozen other natural disasters that would destroy or injure his sheep.  But in spite of such hazards he also knows that this is still the best way to take his flock to the high country.  He spares himself no pains or trouble or time to keep an eye out for any danger that might develop!

Our Shepherd knows all of this when He leads us through the valleys.  He knows where we can find strength and sustenance and gentle grazing despite every threat of disaster about us.  It is  the most reassuring and reinforcing experience to the child of God to discover that there is, even in the dark valley, a source of strength and courage to be found in God.  It is when he can look back over life and see how the Shepherd’s hand has guided and sustained him in the darkest hours that renewed faith is endured.

The person with a powerful confidence in Christ; the one who has proved by past experience that God is with him in adversity; the one who walks through life’s dark valleys without fear, his head held high, is the one who in turn is a tower of strength and a source of inspiration to his companions.  We are going to have some valleys in this life.  “in this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

The only question left then is… will you and I face these valleys?  How will we handle them? 

Well, with Christ – we will face them:



and with surety that only with them can I pass through on to higher ground with God.  In this way not only shall I be blessed but in turn I will become a benediction to others around me who may live in fear.

Thank you, Jesus!  You thought of everything we would ever need on this side of eternity!  I’m crazy about you!


Good Friday

Hello NLD Friends,

Easter is finally here!  It is one of my favorite weekends of the whole year and I think my favorite holiday.  Many who are not Christ followers just do not get this weekend.  We know that we have life eternal and life abundant because of what this weekend means.  Hebrews 9:22 states it clearly as it explains that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin!  Christ stepped up and offered Himself as the spotless Lamb of God shedding His own blood on our behalf so that we might experience His forgiveness and grace.  We now have life full and free because of what He did. 

I don’t know what you do on Easter weekend or what your traditions are.  Tony is planting several box gardens this year and today he is at home doing his planting!  Apparently, you must have your seeds in the ground by Good Friday.  This is a new thing for us so I can’t say that it will be a new tradition just yet.  I have already received a phone call from him asking me to make a stop on my way home by the local Pharmacy to pick up “cloth band aids!  This is not a good sign!!  I will do my usual long run in the AM with my running buddy, Kay and we will chat it up solving all the worlds problems and then it will be off to cleaning house.  Tony has a gift card for Stoney River so plans have been made for dinner on Saturday night .  But somewhere in this weekend I plan on sitting down and watching The Passion movie.  That is my Easter tradition.  I don’t watch it any other time during the year except on Easter weekend.  See, I need to remember….I need to be reminded that without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin.  I need to remember afresh what it took to purchase my freedom.  Our sweet Lord paid a high price for our freedom and I want to honor that and exalt His name far above any other.  I’m not sure if we will go to the Saturday night service time or the Sunday morning service time but I can’t wait to experience Easter!  Last year I had the most moving experience ever with Easter.  I had finished cleaning and got myself cleaned up and dressed and then I sat down to watch the Passion.  Just as it was ending we had to jump up and head off to church because we were going to the Saturday night Easter service.  Having just come off watching The Passion movie and straight into an Easter service was….well…..I can’t put it into words.  I know I cried so hard during the WHOLE service that my throat hurt by the time it ended.  WOW!  Oh, the lavish and demonstrative love that the Father pours out on us.  I challenge you that if you need to remember or if you need to be reminded…sit down and pop that DVD in and let yourself get lost in the beautiful demonstration of unconditional love that our Abba Father has for us.

I hope you and your family have a great Easter weekend


Why We Worry

Recently, I have been reading Max Lucado’s book, Fearless.  This part really caught my attention, so I wanted to share it with y’all.  It’s really good insight on why we worry and a great example of the conflict & frustration created when we depend on ourselves. 

Seek first the kingdom of wealth, and you’ll worry over every dollar.  Seek first the kingdom of health, and you’ll sweat every blemish and bump.  Seek first the kingdom of popularity, and you’ll relive every conflict.  Seek first the kingdom of safety, and you’ll jump at every crack of the twig.  But seek first his kingdom, and you will find it.  On that, we can depend and never worry.

Matthew 6:25-34

“Even Though I Walk Through the Valley…”

Wow….it has been awhile since I have been in blogger-ville.  No worries…I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth.  Still here!  It has been a crazy month or so with work, normal-everyday life and some trips out-of-town for us.

I am picking back up with the phrases from the 23rd Psalm.  We are looking at “Even Though I Walk Through the Valley…”  You may be wondering what a phrase like this has to do with sheep but there is a very interesting connection.  As we have said that the whole Psalm tracks the entire year-long season of care between sheep and shepherd.  When we come to this phrase we are looking at the halfway point in the year.  One could imagine that the previous phrases were made by the sheep to other less fortunate sheep in the pen next door but with this phrase we make a dramatic turn.  Spring has sprung and the efficient, good Shepherd leads his sheep out to the high country to the summer ranges. Their summer and fall will be spent in close companionship and solitary care of the good shepherd.  The personal pronouns I and You enter the conversation.  It becomes a most intimate discourse of deep affection.

The terrain that would be crossed would be wild mountains, rushing rivers, alpine meadows, and high rangelands.  When Samuel came to anoint David as the next King of Israel David was not home but off climbing the summer ranges leading his sheep.  He knew from first hand experience about all the difficulties and dangers, as well as the delights, of the treks into the high country.  The good shepherd would not take his flock where he had never been but would have gone ahead to look over the country with care (Oh, the sweet care that our Heavenly Father, the good shepherd, takes with us as well).  All the dangers of rampaging rivers in flood, avalanches, rock slides, poisonous plants, the ravages of predators that raid the flock, or the awesome storms of sleet and hail and snow were familiar to him.  He had handled his sheep and managed them with care under all these adverse conditions.  Nothing took him by surprise.  He was fully prepared to safeguard his flock and tend them with skill under every circumstance. 

Just as I was typing that last sentence and reflecting on how good our heavenly Father takes care of us, I suddenly had my stomach “drop out on the floor” so to speak.  I remembered that last night on the way home from the office I realized that I needed gas bad!  I was on a “wing and a prayer” so to speak.  I had already passed all the gas stations and was just a few miles from home and so I prayed all the way home setting in my mind that I would go first thing this morning to get gas.  Well, I forgot to get gas and came straight on to the office.  Out of the clear blue I remember that I did not stop on the way in this morning so I really am on fumes now!  Thankfully, I believe it was the Lord that reminded me and isn’t that just awesome that He takes care of us even in our ignorance!  Lord, we really are like sheep and we need You to be our good Shepherd!

I’ll finish up this portion of the phrase next week!  So stay tuned!


He Guides Me In Paths of Righteousness for His Name’s Sake

Well, I hope each of you have had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I can tell some of our folks have the January Blues already with the cold weather we have been having.  Stay warm and Roll Tide tonight to all my fellow Bama fans!

In our study of the 23rd Psalm phrase by phrase we find ourselves at David’s thought, “He Guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Let’s dive in a see what this means and what kind of picture the shepherd David was painting for us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are two thoughts that we need to zone in on here.  First off, the Psalmist David would have known that sheep are creatures of habit.  Seriously, if left to themselves they will follow the same trails until they become ruts; graze the same hills until they turn to desert wastes; pollute their own ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites.  Sheep can not just “get along anywhere.”  No other class of livestock requires more careful handling, more detailed direction than do sheep.  This brings us to the second point that we need to focus on…many pastures are ruined beyond repair by overgrazing, poor management, and indifference or ignorant sheep owners.  When this happens, sheep owners get a bad reputation or name.  It was very important to a sheep owner to have a good name and reputation as a shepherd.  David knew that if the flock was to flourish and the owner’s reputation was to be held in high esteem as a good manager, the sheep had to be constantly under his meticulous control and guidance.  Due to the behavior of the sheep and their preference for certain favored spots, these well-worn areas become quickly infested with parasites of all kinds.  In a short time the whole flock can thus become infected with worms, nematodes, and scab.  The final upshot is that both land and owner are ruined while the sheep become thin, wasted and sickly.  The owner’s entire name and reputation depends on how effectively and efficiently he keeps his charges moving onto wholesome, new fresh forage. 

The intelligent shepherd is aware of all this and has a plan of action.  The predetermined plan of action usually centers around rotation from one grazing ground to another in line with right and proper principles of gound management.  This is precisely the sort of action David had in mind when he spoke of being led in paths of righteousness.  The testimony of a good shepherd will attest to the fact that following this plan of action is the one thing that commands more of the shepherd’s time and energy.  He must map out his plan, constantly survey his fields, move his flock at the right times and repair fields that have just been used.  One shepherd said with an adequate field you needed to move your flock to a new field every week.  The shepherd must go over the ground of his fields again and again seeing where his flock will thrive and knowing where the feed is poor.  One shepherd said that a point worthy of mentioning was that whenever the shepherd opens a gate into a fresh pasture the sheep are filled with excitment.  As they go through the gate, even the staid old ewes will often kick up their heels and leap with delight at the prospect of finding fresh feed.  How they enjoy being led onto new ground.

Let’s look at some parallels between us and sheep now.  It is no mere whim on God’s part to call us sheep.  Our behavior patterns and life habits are so much like that of sheep it is embarrassing. 

First of all, Scripture points out that most of us are a stiff necked and stubborn lot.  We prefer to follow our own fancies and turn to our own ways.  Isaiah 53:6 says it best, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”  We do this deliberately, repeatedly, even to our own disadvantage.  This is locked into our own personal pride and self-assertion.  We insist we know what is best for us even though the disastrous results may be self-evident.

Just as sheep will blindly, habitually, stupidly follow one another along the same little trails until they become ruts that erode into gigantic gullies, so we humans cling to the same habits that we have seen ruin other lives.  Turning to “my own way” simply means doing what I want.  It implies that I feel free to assert my own wishes and carry out my own ideas.  I do this inspite of every warning.  Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  In contrast to which Christ the Good Shepherd comes gently and says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me”  John 14:6.  John 10:10 Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Second of all, most of us don’t want to come.  We don’t want to follow.  We don’t want to be led in paths of righteousness.  Somehow it goes against our grain.  We actually prefer to turn to our own way even though it may take us straight into trouble.  Yet, Christ our Good Shepherd comes and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  We don’t want to deny ourselves, give up our right to make our own decisions.  I think some of us…or really most of us, if confronted with this charge, would deny it.  We would say that we are “led of the Lord.”  We would insist that we would follow wherever He leads.  We sing songs to this effect and give mental asssent to the idea.  But as far as actually being led in paths of righteousness is concerned, precious few of us follow that path.  This is actually the pivotal point where a Christian either “goes on” with God or at which point he “goes back” from following on.

The fact of the matter is there are many willful, wayward, indifferent, self-interested Christians who cannot really be classified as followers of Christ.  There are relatively few diligent disciples who forsake all to follow the Master.  Jesus never made light of the cost involved in following Him.  In fact, He made it painfully clear that it was a rugged life of rigid selfdenial.  It entailed a whole new set of attitudes.  It was not the natural, normal way a person would ordinarily live, and this is what made the price so prohibitive to most people. 

If we are to be led in paths of righteousness then we need to adopt 7 fresh attitudes.  They are the equivalent of progressive forward movements onto new ground with God. 

1.  Instead of loving myself most, I am willing to love Christ best and others more than myself.  What is love?  Any ideas?  Love according to this world is a soft, sentimental, moving and/or passionate emotion.  A feel good feeling.  Love according to God’s Word is a deliberate act of my will.  It means that I am willing to lay down my life, lay myself out, pour myself out on behalf of another.  This is precisely what God did for us in Christ.  “This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down His life for us” (I John 3:16).  The moment I deliberately do something definite either for God or others that costs me something, I am expressing love.  Love is “selflessness” or “self-sacrifice” in contradistinction to “selfishness.”  Most of us know little of living like this or being “led” in this right way.  But once a person discovers the delight of doing something for others, he has started through the gate being led into one of God’s green pastures.

2.  Instead of being one of the crowd, I am willing to be singled out, set apart from the gang.  Most of us, like sheep are pretty gregarious. We want to belong.  We don’t want to be different

3.  Instead of insisting on my rights, I am willing to forego them in favor of others.

4.  Instead of being “boss”, I am willing to be at the bottom of the heap.  Or to use sheep terminology, instead of being “top ram,” I’m willing to be a “tail-ender.”  When the desire for self-assertion, self-aggrandizement, self-pleasing give way to the desire for simply pleasing God and others, much of the fret and strain is drained away from daily living.

5.  Instead of finding fault with life and always asking “Why?”  I am willing to accept every circumstance of life in an attitude of gratitude.  I find it very interesting that we as humans feel entitled to question the reasons for everything that happens us.  I know…I have been there myself.  I have watched many who’s lives become a continious criticism and dissection of one’s circumstances and acquaintances.  We look for someone or something on which to pin the balme for our misfortunes.  We are often quick to forget our blessings, slow to forget our misfortunes.

But if one really believes his affairs are in God’s hands, every event, no matter whether joyous or tragic, will be taken as part of God’s plan.  To know beyond doubt that He does all for our welfare is to be led into a wide area of peace and quietness and strength for every situation.

6.  Instead of exercising and asserting my will, I am willing to learn to cooperate with His wishes and comply with His will.  When men or women allow their will to be crossed out, canceling the great I in their decisions, then indeed the Cross has been applied to their lives.  This is the meaning of taking up one’s cross daily – to go to one’s own death-no longer my will in the matter but His will be done

7.  Instead of choosing my own way, I am willing to choose to follow in Christ’s way:  simply to do what He asks me to do.  This is basically simple, straightforward obedience!  It means I just do what He asks me to do.  I go where He invites me to go.  I say what He instructs me to say.  I act and react in the manner He maintains is in my own best interest as well as for His reputation (if I’m His follower).

Most of us possess a formidable amount of factual information on what the Master expects of us.  Precious few have either the will, intention, or determination to act on it and comply with His instructions.  But the person who decides to do what God asks him has moved onto fresh ground which will do both him and others a world of good.

Now, before you look back over these 7 things and begin to feel overwhelmed or think that you have to do all of these things yourself, I want to show you something.  Some have concluded that the demands are too drastic or that this is impossible to actually live out on a day to day basis.  Well, it would be if we had to depend on self-determination or self-discipline to succeed.  But if we are in earnest about wanting to do His will, and to be led, He makes this possible by His own gracious Spirit who is given to those who obey (Acts 5:32).  “For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey Him and the power to do what pleases Him.”  Phil. 2:13 NLT.  So you see, it is not you doing this it is Christ doing it in and through you.  Rest in Him and in the good paths that He leads you in today.


Accept the Chaos

I was blessed to be able to attend the Glory in the Highest Tour this past weekend with Chris Tomlin & Louis Giglio.  WOW!  It was an incredible worship experience where God spoke to me in a BIG way.  Oh, how I love to hear Him speaking to me.  His words are so soft and tender, yet so powerful!  On this night, His words to me were, “Accept the chaos.”  These weren’t exactly the words I wanted to hear; my flesh was fighting hard against them.  You see, my flesh is highly perfectionistic and controlling, so chaos is the enemy.  How could I embrace this “enemy”?  When things in my life are chaotic, spinning out of control, I feel VERY insecure & anxious.  So, I try to contol things, make them just right, extinguish any choas in order to give myself a sense of calm, peace, and security.  Whoa…now that’s just the kind of self-reliance & self-dependence that God wants to weed out of our lives.

As my struggle gave way to surrender, I repeated through tears, “God, okay, I’ll accept the choas…I’ll accept the chaos.”  I began to hear the truth…I’m okay inside the chaos because God is right there with me.  He is my calm, my peace, and my security.  I don’t have to fight against the chaos to get it under control.  He has everything under control.  I can depend on Him and rest. 

This is Christmas:  Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, has come into my chaos/my mess and given me Himself–His fullness, His sufficiency, His salvation, His peace.

Merry Christmas!

Rebecca 🙂

He Leads Me Beside Quiet Waters

Well, we have made our way in the 23rd Psalm to the phrase, “He Leads Me Beside Quiet Waters”.  It is a pleasant phrase to have roll off the tongue but it is also one of dire importance.  For each of us to survive we must have adequate water supplies.  A sheep’s survival is also dependent on adequate water supplies, even though they thrive in dry, semi-arid climates.

One main key that I want us to see with this phrase is this:  once again, it is the responsibility of the shepherd to provide adequate water for the sheep.  In case you have not caught on just yet….It seems that the responsibilities of the shepherd are endless and the responsibilities of the sheep are simply to follow the shepherd.  The shepherd is the care taker, provider, protector, and leader and the sheep simply live in dependency on him and follow him.  Correspondingly, We worry and fret over to many things that are of no concern to us, only to the shepherd.  Worry, stress and anxiety kill because we are taking on responsibility that was never meant to be ours to begin with.  We were made to rest in, trust in, depend on, and follow the Good Shepherd of our souls, the One Jesus Christ.

It is the shepherd who knows where the sheep can find adequate water.  In fact, very often he is the one who with much effort and industry has provided the watering places.  And it is to the these spots that he leads the flock.  When sheep are thirsty they become restless and set out in search of water.  If not led to the good water supplies of clean, pure water, they will often end up drinking from the polluted pot holes where they pick up such internal parasites as nematodes, liver flukes, or other disease germs.

In the same since, Christ, our Good Shepherd, made it clear that thirsty souls of men and women can only be fully satisfied when their capacity and thirst for spiritual life is fully quenched by drawing on Himself.  Matthew 5:6 He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, let him come to me and drink.” 

So what does it mean “to drink” of Christ Himself?  In spiritual terminology it means “to take in” or “to accept” or “to believe”.  That is to say it implies that a person accepts and assimilates the very life of God in Christ to the point where it becomes a part of Him.  Sometimes men and women who are thirsty for God, meaning they have a deep inner sense of searching and seeking; who are in quest of that which will completely satisfy, often are unsure of where to look or really what they are looking for.  Their inner spiritual capacity for God and divine life is desiccated, and in their dilemma they will drink from any dirty pool to try and satisfy their thirst for fulfillment.

Saint Augustine of Africa summed it up so well when he wrote, “O God! Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our souls are restless, searching ’til they find their rest in Thee.”  Only God, the Good Shepherd knows where the still, quiet, deep, clean, pure water is to be found that can satisfy His sheep and keep them fit. 

One of the main sources of water for sheep is the dew on the grass.  Most are not aware of the fact that sheep can go for months on end, especially if the weather is not too hot, without actually drinking, if there is heavy dew on the grass each morning.  Sheep by habit, rise just before dawn and start to feed.  Or if there is bright moonlight they will graze at night.  The early hours are when the vegetation is drenched with dew, and sheep can keep fit on the amount of water taken in with their forage when they graze just before and after dawn.

Interestingly, in the Christian life it is of more than passing significance to observe that those who are often the most serene, most confident, and able to cope with life’s complexities are those who rise early each day to feed on God’s Word.  It is in the quiet, early hours of the morning that they are led beside the quiet, still waters where they imbibe the very life of Christ for the day.  This is more than a mere figure of speech.  It is a practical reality.  The biographies of the great men and women of God repeatedly point out how the secret of the success in their spiritual life was attributed to the “quiet time” of each morning.  There, alone, still, waiting for the Master’s voice, one is led gently to the place where God and man can commune together.  This one is able to come away from this time refreshed in mind and spirit.  The thirst is quenched and the heart is satisfied and ready to face the day.

When sheep are able to graze like this they can fed heavily and contentedly.  As the sun rises and its heat burns the dewdrops from the leaves, the flock can retire to find shade.  There, fully satisfied and happily refreshed, they can lie down to rest and ruminate through the day.  From things that I have read about shepherds is that for the responsible, good shepherd this is the site that he works so hard to see.  Nothing pleases him more than to see his flock lying down, contented and restful. 

This must be the same reaction of our good Shepherd when we chose to meet the day like this with Him.  He loves to see me contented, quiet, at rest, and relaxed.  He delights to know my soul and spirit have been refreshed and satisfied.

Sadly, this is not true for most Christians.  They often pursue almost every other sort of substitute to satisfy their thirst.  Many pursue knowledge, career, money, possessions, culture, music, prestige, hobbies, athletics, relationships, sex, and on and on the pursuit goes.  All of their pursuing just leads to more frustration, conflict and just a general sense of being miserable after their fascinations wear off.  That is the thing with the world….nothing lasts!    After the pursuit of all these other things, one is still left with the haunting, hollow, empty, unfilled thirst within.  I am reminded of what the prophet Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 2:13 “For my people have done two evil things:  They have forsaken me-the fountain of living water.  And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!”  It is a compelling picture.  It is an accurate portrayal of broken lives-of shattered hopes-of barren souls that are dried up and parched and full of the dust of despair. 

Christ invites us to follow Him.  He invites us to put our confidence in Him.  For He is the One who best knows how we can be satisfied.  He knows best that the human heart, the human personality, the human soul with its amazing capacity for God can never be satisfied with a substitute.  Only the Spirit and life of Christ Himself will satisfy the thirsting soul.

The other two sources of water for the sheep are deep wells and spring or streams.  In his book, “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm” Phillip Keller tells of one incident in Africa while tending sheep.  He was watching the native herds being led to their owner’s water wells.  Some of these were enormous, hand-hewn caverns cut from the sandstone formation along the sandy rivers.  They were like great rooms chiseled out of the rocks with ramps running down to the water trough at the bottom.  The herds and flocks were led down into these deep cisterns where cool, clear water awaited them.  But down in the well, stripped naked, was the owner bailing water to satisfy the flock.  It was hard, heavy, hot work.  Perspiration poured off the body of the bailer, whose skin glistened under the strain and heat of his labor.  Keller says as he stood there watching the animals quench their thirst at the still waters he was again immensely impressed by the fact that everything hinged and depended upon the diligence of the owner, the shepherd.  Only through his energy, his efforts, his sweat, his strength could the sheep be satisfied.  He goes on to remind the reader that the Christian life the exact same applies here.  Many of the places we may be led into will appear to us as dark, deep, dangerous, and somewhat disagreeable.  But it simply must be remembered that He is there with us in it.  He is very much at work in the situation.  It is His energy, effort, and strength expended on my behalf that even in this deep, dark place is bound to produce a benefit for me.

Isn’t our Abba Father just amazing!


He Makes Me Lie Down In Green Pastures

Well….you may be like me and wondering what in the world does this have to do with us as humans.  Those were my exact sentiments.  I think you will be just as amazed as I was when you see the deeper meaning here.

In order for sheep to lie down and rest, four requirements must be met.  The unique aspect of the picture is that it is only the sheepman (shepherd) who can provide for these requirements.  The health, stability and survival of the entire flock all depends on the shepherd.  It is actually he who makes it possible for them to lie down, to rest, to relax, to be content and quiet and flourishing.  Let’s look at these requirements one by one.

1.  Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear.  You may not know that sheep are very timid and panicky.  Just one site of the smallest unexpected creature popping out and the entire herd will stampede.  When one startled sheep runs in fright a dozen others will bolt with it in blind fear, not waiting to see what frightened them.  In Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, he tells of his horrifying experience as a shepherd when he awoke and went out to check on his flock and found nine of his choicest ewes, all soon to lamb, lying dead in the field where a cougar had harried the flock during the night.  He says after that experience he slept with a .303 rifle and flashlight by his bed and at the least sound of the flock being disturbed he would jump out of bed calling his faithful collie and rush out to protect his sheep.  One of the things that he soon learned through his experiences was that nothing so quieted and reassured the sheep as to see him in the field.  WOW!!  That is incredible.  The presence of their master and owner and protector put them at ease as nothing else could do, and this applied day and night.  In the Christian’s life there is no substitute for the keen awareness that my shepherd is nearby.  There is nothing that dispels the fear, the panic, the terror of the unknown.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit that makes known to us the presence of our Good Shepherd.  He comes quietly to reassure us that Christ Himself is aware of our dilemma and deeply involved in it with us.

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

2.  Because of the social behavior within the flock, sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with other of their kind.  Believe it or not there in the fold lies tension, rivalry, and cruel competition.  Just as there is the “pecking order” among chickens and the “horning order” among cattle, there is a “butting order” among sheep.  It is usually the arrogant, cunning, and domineering old ewe that will be the boss in the flock.  This ewe will maintain position of prestige by butting and driving other ewe’s or lambs away from the best grazing or favorite bedgrounds.  Succeeding this one in precise order the other sheep all establish and maintain their exact position in the flock by using the same tactics of butting and thrusting at those below and around them.  Because of this rivalry, tension and competition for status and self-assertion, there is friction in the flock.  The sheep cannot lie down and rest in contentment.  Always they must stand up and defend their rights and contest the challenge of the intruder.  Again, it is the presence of the Shepherd that will attract the attention of the sheep and they will forget their foolish rivalries and stop their fighting.  Occasionally the shepherd must use his staff and discipline the older ewes and we will see more of that in the phrase, “His rod and staff, they comfort me.”

We are just as these sheep.  The struggle for self-assertion and self-recognition goes on and on.  Most of us fight to be “top sheep”.  We butt and quarrel and compete to “get ahead” and in the process we hurt ourselves and others.  I’m remembering what James said in chapter 4 verses 1-3

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?  Isn’t it the whole army of evil desires at war within you?  You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it.  You are jealous for what others have, and you can’t possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them.  And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it.  And when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure. (NLT)

We must remember that when our eyes are on our Master they are not on those around us.  This is a place of peace.  In the end it is he who will decide and judge what my status really is.  After all, it is His estimation of me that is of consequence.  Any human measurement at best is bound to be pretty unpredictable, unreliable, and far from final.  So, to be close to Him, conscious of His abiding Presence, made real in my mind, emotions, and will by the indwelling gracious Spirit, is to be set free from fear of my fellow-man and whatever he might think of me.  I would much rather have the affection of the Good Shepherd than occupy a place of prominence in society….especially if I had attained it by fighting, quarreling, and bitter rivalry with my fellow human beings.

“Blessed [happy, to be envied] are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”.  Matt. 5:7

3.  If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down.  This is essential to the contentment of sheep.  As we know it is in the summertime that flies are at their worst.  During this time sheep can be driven to absolute frustration by nasal flies, bot flies, warble flies and ticks.  They can not rest when tormented with these pests.  They are up on their feet stomping their legs, shaking their heads, ready to rush off into the bush for relief from their pests.  Again, we see that it is the diligent care of the shepherd who must keep a constant look out over his flock to know when they are being harassed.  A good shepherd will take swift action and use the application of insect repellents on the sheep.  He will also see that they are dipped to clear their fleeces of ticks.  He will also make sure that there are shelter belts of trees and bush available where they can find refuge and release from their tormentors.  All of this entails extra care and expense on the part of the shepherd.  The primary purpose in the shepherd’s mind is the aim of keeping his flock quiet, contented, and at peace.

Similarly in the Christian life there are bound to be many small irritations.  There are the annoyances of petty frustrations and ever-recurring disagreeable experiences.  What is the antidote?  Can any of us come into quietness and contentment despite them?

The answer for the Christian is “YES”!  This is one of the main functions of the Holy Spirit.  In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is often symbolized by oil-by that which brings healing and comfort and relief from the harsh and abrasive aspects of life.  The gracious Holy Spirit makes real in me the very presence of Christ.  He brings quietness, serenity, strength, and calmness in the face of frustrations and futility.  When I turn to Him and expose the problem to Him, allowing Him to see that I have a dilemma, a difficulty beyond my control, He comes to assist.  Often a helpful approach is simply to voice aloud, “Master, this is beyond me-I can’t cope with it-it’s bugging me-I can’t rest-please take over!”  He does in His own wonderful way.  He applies the healing, soothing, effective antidote of His own person and presence to my particular problem.  There immediately comes into my consciousness the awareness of His dealing with the difficulty in a way I had not anticipated.  And because of the assurance that He has become active on my behalf, there steals over me a sense of quiet contentment.  I am then able to lie down in peace and rest.  ALL BECAUSE OF WHAT HE DOES!  If you notice here….there are no “three points and a poem”.  There is nothing that you do other than call out to Him and He does the rest.  He is a Good Shepherd!

4.  The fourth and final requirement that must be met for sheep to lie down and rest is they must be free from a feeling of hunger.  In the areas of the country that are known as great sheep countries of the world there is a dry, semi-arid climate.  This happens to be the very best climate for sheep to flourish.  They are susceptible to fewer hazards of health or parasites where the climate is dry.  But it is very interesting that these regions are not natural places to find lush, green pastures.  David kept his sheep near Bethlehem which is a dry, brown, sun-burned wasteland.

These green pastures that the sheep so desperately need did not just happen by chance,  Green pastures were the product of tremendous labor, time, and skill in land use.  In order for green pastures to be made the shepherd must go in ahead of time and clear rough, rocky land, tear out brush and roots and stumps; he must plow deep and carefully develope the soil and make it ready for seeding and planting special grains and legumes.  Then there is also the matter of irrigating with water with careful, watch of the crops of forage that would feed the flocks.  To top it off he must also have several pastures prepared for his sheep. 

 All of this represents tremendous toil and skill and time for the careful shepherd.  If his sheep were going to enjoy green pastures amid the brown, barren hills, it meant he had a tremendous job to do.  But these pastures are essential to the welfare of the sheep.  Even when lambs are maturing and the ewes need green, succulent feed for a heavy mild flow, there is no substitute for good pasturage.  Incidently…no sight so satisfies the shepherd as to see his flock well and quietly fed to repletion on rich green forage, able to lie down to rest, ruminate, and gain.

Now, a hungry, ill-fed sheep is ever on its feet, on the move, searching for another scanty mouthful of forage to try and satisfy its gnawing hunger.  These sheep are not contented, they do not thrive, they are of no use to themselves nor to their owners.  One shepherd described it as, “…they languish and lack vigor and vitality.” 

What is the application for us as Christians here?  Well, focus now your attention on the “Promised Land” that God mentioned in Scripture.  This is the land that God worked so hard to lead Israel to from Egypt.  This land was described to the children of Israel as a land “flowing with milk and honey.”  When studying the scientific technology involved in agriculture you will find that this term “a land flowing with mild and honey” is not only figurative language but also scientific terminology.  In agricultural terms they speak of a “milk flow” and “honey flow”.  By this they mean the peak season of spring and summer when pastures are at their most productive stages.  The livestock that feed on the forage and the bees that visit the blossoms are said to be producing a corresponding “flow” of milk or honey.  So a land flowing with milk and honey is a land of rich, green luxuriant pastures.

When God spoke of such a land for Israel He also foresaw such an abundant life of joy and victory and contentment for His people.  For the child of God, the Old Testament account of Israel moving from Egypt into the Promised Land is a picture of us moving from sin into the life of overcoming victory.  We are promised such a life.  It has been provided for us and is made possible by the unrelenting effort of Christ on our behalf.

Picture this…He works to clear the life of rocks of stony unbelief.  How He tries to tear out the roots of bitterness.  He attempts to break up the hard, proud human heart that is set like sun-dried clay.  He then sows the seed of His own precious Word, which, if given half a chance to grow, will produce rich crops of contentment and peace.  He waters this with the dews and rain of His own presence by the Holy Spirit.  He tends and cares and cultivates the life, longing to see it become rich and green and productive.  All of this shows the unrelenting energy and industry of an owner who wishes to see his sheep satisfied and well fed.  It really shows that my Shepherd’s desire is to see my best interests served.  His concern for my care is beyond my comprehension, really.  At best all I can do is to enjoy and revel in what He has brought into effect.

Now, this life of quiet overcoming, of happy repose, of rest in His presence, of confidence in His management is something few Christians ever fully enjoy.  Why?  I think it is because of our own stubbornness and perverseness we often prefer to feed on the barren ground of the world around us.  We don’t want to take the time to open ourselves up to our Good Shepherd and let Him do the work in our hearts to bring this about so we go off on our own looking for spiritual forage to satisfy our deep inner longings.  For those who do long for those pastures, there they will find peace and plenty.

Psalm 63:1-8  

“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you.  My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. 

I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.  Your unfailing love is better to me than life itself; how I praise you! 

I will honor you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer.  You SATISFY me more than the richest of foods.  I will praise you with songs of joy. 

I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night.  I think how much you have helped me; I sing for joy in the shadow of your protecting wings.  I follow close behind you; your strong right hand holds me securely.”  

Thank you, my Abba Father!