I have a vivid memory of a kindergarten class trip that I attended with my son. There were about 25 small children (3-4 year olds), 1 teacher, 2 parent helpers and we were visiting a farm. After touring the farm, looking at pumpkins and picking apples, we stopped at a corn field. The stalks of corn were fully grown, adult head-height at least. The children were then told to go into the rows and pick a few cobs. As the wide-eyed children disappeared into the corn rows, I had a few moments of panic as their little heads disappeared entirely into the field. Anyone who has had a kindergarten-aged child knows how easily they become distracted, disoriented and scared. Some of them have barely ever been away from their mom’s side.
The image of a shepherd and his sheep is an illustration that is used many times in the Bible. It is a representation of the relationship between God and his people. There really doesn’t seem to be any job, in North American society that would have been the same as being a shepherd; a very common profession in Jesus day. The memory of the kindergarten teacher calling out to her students in the corn field came to mind as I was trying today to think of a modern-day equivalent of a shepherd. Sheep have poor depth perception, don’t like the dark, and congregate close together. They have a tendency to follow a leader, but the leader may become so simply by being the first sheep in the flock to move. Sheep become stressed when separated from their flock members.
Their behaviour reminds me of the kindergarten class; small, innocent children running around in the corn field and getting nervous alone amongst the stalks. The image that God gives of himself is that of the leader, the teacher, who cares for each child and is concerned for each one. God refers to himself as Jehovah – Rohi, which means Jehovah my shepherd. It is the name of God that comes from Psalm 23, one of the most comforting passages in the Bible. The scriptures repeatedly speak of God as the shepherd of his people. Isaiah the prophet writes:
“See, the sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
He gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:10-11)
In Ezekial, he says:
“I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Lord.
I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.
I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Exekiel 34:10-16)
Today…Read through Psalm 23. Think of the love and concern you feel for a small, lost child. Pray for those who are far from God that they may realize that the “Good Shepherd” is looking for them.
There are lots of days when I think I am doing a pretty good job at living the Christian life. These are the days where I help people, where I am active in my church, where I don’t lose my temper, and where I feel that I am doing a decent job of following God’s laws and living in relationship with Him each day. Then I read a passage like the one in Romans 3: 9-20. Wow…what a passage to make you feel defeated!
The gist of the passage is that we all fail God. We cannot keep up to his standards. Here is a paraphrase from The Message;
“Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it:
There’s nobody living right, not even one,
nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.
They’ve all taken the wrong turn;
they’ve all wandered down blind alleys.
No one’s living right;
I can’t find a single one.
Their throats are gaping graves,
their tongues slick as mudslides.
Every word they speak is tinged with poison.
They open their mouths and pollute the air.
They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year,
litter the land with heartbreak and ruin,
Don’t know the first thing about living with others.
They never give God the time of day.”
When I read this I feel a little disgruntled…a little annoyed, because I like to think that I am doing a good job of things. And yet, then I remember, that it is not ME who is doing the good acts all on my own, it is God who is living IN me. I, on my own, am a human: full of sin and selfish desires.
I am thankful that God does not keep a record of our “bad deeds”, because the list would be long!
The scripture in Romans 3, however, does not leave us feeling discouraged. The later part of the passage reminds us that God sets things right through Jesus. The Message, says:
“Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.
God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right.”
Phew…what a relief that it’s not all up to me to work my way to God. I don’t need to try to “be” righteous. God has already set things right.
One of God’s names – Jehovah Tsidkenu – means God our Righteousness. Meditate on Romans 3:23 and how we have fallen short of God’s expectations.
What does it mean to be “clothed in the righteousness of Christ”? How does this affect your daily living?
The nation of Israel displayed a “roller coaster” spirituality where the people were sometimes faithful to God and at other times they forgot him and followed the gods of other nations. When they wandered away from the Lord, they encountered serious problems and difficult circumstances and then in anguish they would cry out to the Lord for deliverance and commit themselves anew to serving him. This process was repeated over and over.
I can think of many times in my life when I have gone through phases of counting on and trusting in God, and over time, slowly wresting that control back and thinking that I know what is best for my life and my plans. When I get far away from trusting in God, I start to lose my sense of peace because I spend more time worrying about what I need to do next, and less time resting in God, knowing that He will take care of things in his perfect timing.
The term ‘shalom’ means peace. However, the word implies more than just the absence of conflict; it refers to a feeling of well being and contentment. Jesus was referred to as the “Prince of Peace” because he promised to bring peace. He himself became the sacrifice that enabled people to be reconciled to the Father when he died on the cross. That act paved the way for a genuine relationship with God, a relationship where our sin doesn’t get in the way, because our sins can be forgiven and we are blameless in the sight of God.
When we realize that God has the best purpose for our lives, we can commit our plans to him and experience the contentment that comes with trusting in him each day.
Today… Read Judges 6-7, the story of Gideon. Do you experience peace with God? Does this peace translate into contentment with your daily circumstances and plans in everyday life?
“Therefore I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)
This verse in Romans is one of my favorite verses. I like the imagery of giving myself – body, soul, spirit, mind – to God as an act of worship to him. The next part of the verse is the tricky part – not ‘conforming to the world’. God calls us to be ‘set apart’ and to live a holy life, but I think that sometimes followers of Christ use this verse to separate themselves from anyone they view as non-Christian, or activities they don’t deem as ‘appropriate’. However, the evidence of Jesus life on earth reminds us that we are called to “let our life shine before others” (Matt 5:16) – and that means that we DO need to put ourselves in amongst difficult people and in tricky circumstances in order to be a light. Non-Christians want to see evidence of faith lived out in everyday life, and in so doing, will realize God’s work within us and will “glorify our father in heaven”.
One of the names of God is Jehovah – M’Kaddesh, which means the Lord that Sanctifies. To sanctify is to set something apart, to dedicate or to keep holy. God calls us to holiness to participate in his nature, his character and his works. However, he sets us apart so that we can participate in his plans for the world – making disciples of all nations. The book of James reminds us that “faith without works is dead”. It is critical that we are IN the world, showing Jesus to others, while not being OF the world.
Today…consider the ways in which you are IN the world and the ways that you separate yourself FROM the world. Should this balance change in any way?
It’s difficult for me to imagine what exactly a “spiritual battle” is. The Bible talks about the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12), and when I try to imagine this, I envision a scene out of a Harry Potter movie with wizards flying around on broomsticks and people in capes zapping each other with wands. While I am sure this is a completely ridiculous and utterly incorrect image, the Bible does speak about angels and demons and reminds us to “Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6).
While we many not ever know (in our earthly life anyway) what goes on in the ‘heavenly realms’, the Bible does give us an interesting image of battle in the Old Testament. The Amalekites were a persistent enemy of Israel, and one day Moses told Joshua to choose men to fight the army of Amalek. The Israelites must have known that the odds were slim. The Amalekite enemies was well equipped, well trained and they far outnumbered the army of Israel. However, the two armies went into battle. The Bible recounts that Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of a hill to watch the battle in progress. In his hands, Moses held the staff of God. We are told that “as long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (Exodus 17:11). When Moses couldn’t hold his own hands up, his friends Aaron and Hur sat him on a rock and held his hand up, one on each side, “so that his hands remained steady till sunset”. With help to support his arms, Israel eventually won the battle.
At the end of the day, Moses built an alter and called it “The Lord is my Banner. For my hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord”. In biblical times, a banner was a pole with a bright ornament which would shine in the sun. When it was raised, it became a call to the people to rally around God’s cause or battle. It was a sign of deliverance and of salvation. Even though we may not be able to envision spiritual battle, this small passage gives us a good idea of what we need to do when we face spiritual challenges in our lives. God’s presence is absolutely essential for victory. Just as the staff in Moses hand was a symbol of the mighty power of God, the cross of Christ is our banner of God’s redemptive power over the forces of evil. The book of Romans tells us that “in all things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” We just need to claim the victory.
Today…read Ephesians 6:10-18, and think on the concept of God as Jehovah-Nissi: ‘God is my Banner’.
Ever wonder why the church seems so dysfunctional? It’s full of liars, cheats, gossips, hypocrites and all other manner of behaviours. That’s the way it is suppose to be!
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.” (Matt 9:12 – 13)
People who attend church are at various places in their spiritual journey, (some further along than others!)…but they are still regular people with all the same inherent flaws as everyone else. Followers of Jesus are ordinary people who are seeking Jesus help in overcoming their imperfections.
One of the names of Jesus is Jehovah-Rapha, which means Jesus heals. When Jesus was on the earth, he spent a great part of his ministry physically healing people. News about him spread all over when people brought to him were healed of seizures, paralysis, pain, demon possession, blindness and various other diseases. The bible tells us that “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” However, another aspect of Jesus healing ministry included fixing the brokenness of people’s relationship with God. Jesus was able to relieve people of their spiritual and emotional burdens and He told them “Your sins are forgiven”. He wanted people to experience wholeness, meaning, and purpose in life through Him.
A lot of people who love God are still working towards wholeness. That’s why the church is full of sinners, but it is also a wonderful place; because Jesus is there in the midst of the brokenness, loving people and helping them to overcome their failings. The book of Peter tells us that “He (Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
Today…Reflect upon God’s healing work in your life: physically, emotionally or spiritually. Is there somewhere you need to experience healing now? Examine your relationship with God, with yourself, with others.
I don’t know about you, but I have a very difficult time relating to the passage in Genesis where Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering to God.
Try, for a minute, to imagine that you hear a voice speaking to you while you are in the shower, and the voice tells you to ask your only child to walk outside and lie underneath the wheels of your car and for you to run over that child. I’m not sure how you’d feel, but I would be pretty darn certain that I should find the nearest mental institution and commit myself immediately into the care of strangers. That is essentially what God asked Abraham to do.
The situation, as described above, seems ludicrous. And yet, as I ponder it, it makes me think that Abraham must have had a pretty close relationship with God to recognize that the voice asking him to obey was, in fact, the voice of God. It also forces me to recognize that Abraham must have trusted God implicitly to have actually followed through on this plan and walked up the mountain with a pile of wood for the fire. He must have been capable of throwing all his trust on God in those moments instead of running down the mountain.
It also makes me think that God sometimes asks us to be prepared to do some seemingly crazy things in obedience to Him.
Just as Isaac was about to be sacrificed, an angel of the Lord cried out to Abraham to stop. He says, “Do not lay a hand on the boy…Now I know you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son your only son’. Abraham looked up and there in the thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son”. So Abraham called that place Jehovah Jireh, ‘The Lord Will Provide’. (Genesis 22:11-14)
The story exemplifies what God did in reality…giving up His only son to provide atonement for our sins. Just as it would break Abraham’s heart to offer up his son, consider what it cost God to offer up His son, Jesus, for the sins of the world.
Today…think about one of the names of God: Jehovah Jirah ‘The Lord Will Provide’, and remember how God has provided for you. Ponder anew the grace of God in taking the sacrifice for sin upon himself.
Ever have one of those days where you wish you could just start over?
One of those days when you get annoyed and yell at the kids, or fight with your spouse over something totally insignificant, or fly into a rage when someone cuts you off in the car and then take your anger out on someone else? I am totally having one of those days today. I’m not sure why I am in such a state…maybe a bit of underlying stress that is eating away under the surface of my consciousness, compounded by a few small incidents with people, and voila…. my true self rears its ugly head! And now it’s evening, and as I reflect on the events of the day, I wish I could take back my reactions, and just start again.
And then I come to scripture and the passage I am reading is on thanksgiving, of all topics! Why not the earth opening and swallowing up the Israelites or something?
It is realistic, or even possible, to expect people to offer thanksgiving and praise to God regardless of the frustrations of each day?
There are a lot of scriptures that talk about giving thanks.
- “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing” (1 Thess. 2:13)
- “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love endures forever” (Ps. 136:1)
- “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because he counted me faithful…” (1 Tim. 2:12)
Giving thanks has many benefits including: readjusting our frame of mind; forcing us to look at the ‘bigger picture’; magnifying the Lord; and paving the way for prayer and the peace of God.
I’d like to think that I, through the power of the Holy Spirit, could go more than a few hours without anger and frustration, but some days, it just doesn’t happen! I suppose those are the times when I need the ‘enabling’ power of God that is mentioned in the verse in 1st Timothy, above. That’s where I am today, coming back to God each time I fail, and feeling thankful that through God’s grace, each time is a fresh start.
Last week, we examined the concept of how our prayers for the needy need to translate into doing something for them. This week we broaden our scope to look at a practical way that we can be engaged in prayer in the Community.
Praying for Our Community
There are a few different ways that we can become more aware of the needs in our community-at-large. One of the ways is through reading the paper and praying about an issue or a problem that strikes you. Just before Christmas, I read an article about how some Nova Vita apartments in my area had been burned by fire. The residents, women and children who were victims of Domestic Violence and were trying to build a new life for themselves, had lost many of their belongings and Christmas presents in the fire. For some reason, the article stuck with me. Yet, until this very moment, I didn’t think to pray for them, I just thought about them. Maybe God was prompting me to pray about it by bringing it to mind?
Another way we can engage in prayer in our community is through ‘prayer walks’. Prayer walking is simply walking around your neighbourhood, trying to see it through the eyes of Christ, and praying for the people and places in it. We could pray for our neighbours, for our relationships with them, for the children in the area and for ourselves to reflect Jesus to those around us. This may be an especially enjoyable way to walk and pray, to be alone with God, and to enjoy His presence and His creation.
When Joshua was given the leadership of the nation of Israel, the Lord told him “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites, I will give you every place where you set your food, as I promised Moses”. (Joshua 1:2-3) As they moved forward they claimed the promises of God and eventually entered the Promised Land
Last week, we connected to God through prayer for physical healing. This week we open our eyes to the needs of those around us.
Praying for the Needy
Do you ever walk past the man or woman sitting on the sidewalk hunched over begging for money and feel a conflict in your heart about what to do? Do you give some change and feel like you have done your ‘duty’? Do you not give money because they might spend it on drugs or alcohol? Do you give to the church or a charity and feel that you are ‘covered’ because there are organizations already caring for these people? Just by the nature of the fact that you are reading this blog online means that you are probably reasonably well off. The others are called the ‘marginalized’.
God is greatly concerned about the poor and the oppressed. God’s call is to justice, righteousness and compassion. As followers of Jesus, do we have compassionate hearts? Do we care about the poor? Do we seek justice for the marginalized? Do we pray for them and does our prayer lead to any action? It’s a cop out if we have time to sit in church every Sunday talking about ‘religion’ when we don’t find time to do anything about it. Consider the words of God in the Book of Amos:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5: 21-24)
I constantly need to remind myself of the words in James 1:27 “Religion that our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Religion doesn’t have anything to do with sitting in church week after week even though I sometimes convince myself that it does. There are lots of days that I don’t take the time to spend with even those around me that I know could use a helping hand. After I take a few moments to pray for them, I need to take a few moments to pray for myself to be the hands and feet of Jesus to them.