Let’s Rise From the Rubble Again

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I was only a toddler when President Kennedy was assassinated. My only knowledge of that tragedy has come from what I have read and the things my parents told me about those days. I did not experience the shock, horror and sadness the country did.

The events of 9-11-2001 were entirely different for me. I remember where I was (in an industrial paint spray booth, painting dump trucks) when a co-worked told me.

After work that day I sat for hours watching, trying to come to grips with what had happened and worried about what was next. I recall the conversation on the phone with my Dad as his voice quaked in a mixture of outrage and fear.

Getting our two young children ready for bed that night was a challenge as well.

The images of the ensuing days as the rubble burned and smoldered are forever etched in my memory. Many of us prayed for those who might still be alive in all that carnage, that they be discovered quickly.

As the days passed and turned into weeks, then months, our nation began to emerge from the rubble. In my lifetime I had never experienced the national unity we were feeling. We, as a nation had been attacked. And from the rubble, came a resolve to care for one another simply because we were all Americans. We had been hurt and we were scared. But we were together. We wanted justice and we strived to care for one another in the process.

Nineteen years later, we are buried in rubble once again. This time the explosions of hate have come from within. The unity were knew as a country as been obliterated. The idea of helping a stranger simply because they need help and we could provide it is completely foreign to most in these dark days.

My fervent prayer today is that we as a nation can once again rise up from the rubble. The wreckage of racial hatred, the senseless violence and the fractured state of national politics have buried us. There is seemingly no light, no one working feverously to free us from what appears to be total collapse.

Thankfully, there is someone, and His name is Jesus! Only He can lift the boulders of hate and distrust from our hearts. Only He has the power to unite us truly and eternally, not only as a nation, but as a world-wide body of believers.

I am asking you, Dear Reader, if you know Jesus as your Savior, to join with me today. Please pray that our nation rises from the rubble again. Not only rises, but stands united with Christ as it’s headship and that a true spirit community replaces distrust and disunity.

Are we asking for a lot? Yes we are. We are asking for something that is beyond any human power to achieve. That being said, allow me to leave you with the words of Jesus Himself as He discussed matters that were above the capabilities of mankind:

“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27 NIV)

Thank you for reading and for praying,

Pastor Chuck

Believing is Seeing

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(image courtesy of bobrogers.me)

As I prepared some post-Easter messages, I turned to John’s Gospel for some of his eye-witness accounts of the activities of Jesus after the resurrection, paying close attention to the interactions that the disciples had with their now Risen Lord.

As it does each time I read it, the reaction of Thomas, both before and after seeing Jesus, resonates with me. Here’s my paraphrase of those encounters: Thomas, who was not present with the others when Jesus first appeared to the group after His resurrection, did not believe his friends when they told him what had happened. That’s impossible and a crazy thing to say was probably what Thomas said when he heard this. Ever pragmatic, he goes on to claim that he will never believe unless he can put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in Jesus’ side.

In other words, seeing is believing for old doubting Thomas. As critical as I would like to be about him, an honest look in the mirror shows that I too have these same tendencies. It was as I read and subsequently communicated with the author of beautybeyondbones blog (I highly recommend reading it!) that this fact raised its ugly head again.

The author of that excellent blog (you can find it on WordPress) was sharing about the painful loneliness of in-patient treatment for an eating disorder and how this current lockdown from Covid-19 was bringing some of those feelings to the surface again. This brought back vivid memories of my time in detox and rehab so many years ago. Realizing that the shared pain of a similar path was helping me, I have decided to share some of my personal experience of those days in my life. My hope is that these words will touch a life like mine was by that brave author now quarantined in New York City.

Faith, as I often write about these days, is defined best in the Book of Hebrews Chapter 11, verse 1: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (NIV). Hence, my title today, believing is seeing. Though there are times and seasons in my life now when the certainty of what I do not see is clear, that was not always the case.

As your know, Long-time Reader, I have been a recovering alcoholic for nearly 29 years, all thanks to God! I realize I have shared some of the results of that horrible existence; such as the physical, financial and spiritual bankruptcies that resulted from my drunken life. Yet, I do not believe I have ever mentioned in any detail the struggles of those 7 weeks of in-patient treatment.

As I see I am already on page two on my laptop, I think I’ll focus this entry of the initial 3 week stay in the mental health wing of the hospital that oversaw my detox. Actually, to say that they just monitored my detox doesn’t quite speak to what that caring staff did for me.

Having already taken my belt and shoelaces because I had stated I might harm myself, the staff for the next 48 hours checked on me every 15 minutes to insure I was still breathing because the risk of pulmonary and/or cardiac arrest is heightened when the body is no longer receiving the vast amounts of alcohol it was used to. I will never forget the compassion in their eyes as they not only checked my vital signs but would also stay to hold my shaking hands or wipe my sweat-soaked brow.

I believe the heart-felt care they gave me helped me to be more receptive to the idea of living life without booze. On the third day of that life-changing lockdown, now that I was physically out of the woods, I was given some AA literature to read.

My eyes were drawn immediately to one sentence: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. To this day, I count that moment as the time I knew, without any doubt or hesitation, that this Jesus I had heard about in church as a child was in fact the Savior. My Savior! I asked Him in that moment to please help me. I was lost and so scared, desperate for a way out.

It was then, in His infinite mercy, that He touched me. As He did, He opened my eyes to know that believing was seeing and, all these many years later, our Precious Lord has continued to pour the gift of faith into me, ever honing my spiritual insight that I might see Him at work better as He helps me to believe more completely. Believing is seeing!

I pray that my experience may help someone in some small way to better see through their own eyes of faith today.

Blessings and be safe,

Pastor Chuck

 

What was I thinking!

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(The idea for this entry came out of our Saturday morning prayer group as God downloaded it to my wife Betsy’s spirit.  As she shared it with me, I jumped on that wonderful insight to guide my thoughts for this time)

One of my favorite accounts of God doing over-the-top stuff in the Old Testament can be found in 1 Kings Chapter 18.  In this chapter we read about the Prophet Elijah calling out the 400 or so prophets of Baal, one of the main false gods of the time.

The extremely condensed version goes like this: Elijah had become fed up with King Ahab’s leading of the people astray by worshiping this Baal character.  Basically, Elijah tells the king to make a choice, either follow Baal or the God of their ancestors.  He even makes it a visual choice.  Elijah advised Ahab to gather the prophets of the false god and prepare a sacrifice.  If Baal answers their petitions, he will indeed be the god.

Elijah, full of faith in the God of Israel, allows those poor guys to go first.  They prepare the bull on their altar and begin to loudly plead with Baal to do his thing by bringing fire down to consume it.  This goes on for some time which causes Elijah to speculate, tongue in cheek, that perhaps their god is sleeping and can’t hear them.  The ever more frustrated prophets of Baal become greatly agitated and even begin to cut themselves in a show of devotion to the empty deity they are praying to.

Elijah finally says it is his turn.  Just to make it interesting, he tells the Baal followers to douse his sacrifice three times with plenty of water.  They use so much in fact that the Bible says it filled the trench around the altar Elijah had prepared.  As you may have guessed, Elijah then calls of the name of the God of heaven who promptly answers by sending a consuming fire from heaven that burns up both altars with the sacrifices on them.  Elijah then commands the people who saw this powerful display to gather up the 400 hundred prophets of Baal and put them to the sword.

I share all this as introduction to my main point for today, that being what Elijah did next.  You might assume that after an affirming display like he had just witnessed, Elijah would be going all in and all out for God.  Well, don’t assume.  Reading on in the narrative we find Elijah hiding out in the desert, the very next day, afraid for his life after he learned that Ahab’s wife, the evil Queen Jezebel, has sworn to kill Elijah for what he has done before the sun goes down that day.

I can understand the fear Elijah felt, but not so much the pity party he throws for himself.  The Bible says that he came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.  “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4 NIV)

I have struggled with his reaction for quite some time.  How could he so quickly feel as if God was going to leave him alone after what he has just seen done the day before! Obviously, we can’t know what was going on inside Elijah’s head and heart, but perhaps that’s not the point.

No, I believe the point is to relate to Elijah rather than judge what he said.  Now, I haven’t called any fire down from heaven lately, but that’s not to say I haven’t seen God at work doing wonderful things around me.  In fact, I have witnessed God do two healings that should have me shouting about it on the rooftop of our home.

Instead, I find myself at my laptop at 4 am unable to sleep (again) because of the poison ivy covering my right arm and leg.  Using all my willpower not to scratch as I wait for the morning dose of medicine to kick in, I find myself lamenting what I am currently going through.  My itchy limbs have all put driven the mighty work of God from my mind.

OK, being troubled by some nasty poison ivy doesn’t quite compare with a queen swearing to kill me before the sun goes down today, but I hope you catch my drift.  I, like most of us if we’re to be honest, am self-centered to the core.  My current situation almost always takes position in the forefront on my mind, whatever it is.

I’ve been at this Christian life for quite a while now but it’s times like this that make me wonder what, if anything, I have learned along the way.  I stop myself right there! For this is yet another veiled ‘pour me’ line of thinking.  Though I’m no Rhodes Scholar or Mensa candidate, I have learned much on this journey as a follower of Christ.  Most importantly, that God is faithful even when I am not at the top of my game.

This morning, that realization leads me to once again ask our always faithful Lord to forgive my self-indulgence on the pity pot.  My prayer is a simple one, and you may join me if feel so moved:

Dear Jesus, Thank you for all you have done for me and around me.  Please forgive my shortness of sight and thinking.  Help me to stayed better focused on you, the Great Sustainer of my life.  Give me the courage and opportunity to speak often of your Greatness.  Help me to rise above current circumstance that wants to distract or discourage me.  May I never forget how much you love me, itchy limbs and all.

Though I know Jesus knows me by name, I sign this for you, Faithful Reader,

Pastor Chuck

Figuring it all out?

 

As many of you know, I stepped away from full-time secular employment in September of 2016 so that I could devote all my time to our home-based ministry.  This was not a decision we made lightly.  Much prayer and not a few sleepless nights preceded this step.  In fact, my wife Betsy and I nearly took this leap in 2014.  At that time, after carefully going over our home budget, we decided to wait, using the time to downsize and pay down debt.  We were, we thought, figuring it out.

In the Spring of 2016, still waiting for God to show when it was time to make this life-altering decision, we had a prophetic word spoken over us.  The prophet, a man new to the area and whom we had never met, began to pray over us.  He started by calling Betsy by name! Looking back, I’m sure God did this to make sure He had my attention (He did!). The prophecy stated that we were to step out in faith into what God was calling us to by reminding us how He had cared for us in every way through the years.  Armed with this affirmation, we decided to act in faith.  We had it figured out.

I handed in my notice in March of 2016.  This was a job I thoroughly enjoyed at a place where I felt appreciated and was more than adequately compensated for my efforts.  On the very day I told my employer of the decision to leave, our ministry received an anonymous donation of $1500! You can imagine the joy and humility that was in my heart as I opened that piece of mail.  It was with great assurance that we had figured it out at last.

Our home ministry, Lakeside Christian Ministries, was actually birthed from a prayer group/bible study that had met regularly for seven years at our residence.  Again, after much prayer, four of us who served as core members through all those years, believed it was time to start having Sunday services here.  With much anticipation, because we had it figured out, we envisioned our home becoming too small to suit our needs.  This home church was going to reach those who had fallen away from consistent worship attendance.  Though the ensuing two years had times of blessing from the Lord with a few folks giving it a try, the meetings eventually petered out until it was just Betsy and I gathering in our living room to worship.

The two of us went back to our ever-faithful God in search of direction.  We sought only the what and how to of whatever He had planned for us.  At long last, we figured out that we were never going to figure it all out! Yes, we wanted His direction, but what we prayed for fervently was the obedience to simply comply with the opportunities he presented.

And has He presented some! Betsy and I now serve the kingdom in several ways.  Through our friendship and connections with other ministries here in our small city, we let it be known that we were available to help their churches with both worship music (one of Betsy’s many giftings), preaching (something I get charged up about) and leading Bible studies should there be illness or vacations, etc. A number of these fellowships have taken us up on this offer.  This facet of our ministry continues to be a blessing to all involved.

We have also been asked to bring Bible study to people’s homes that are not currently affiliated with any given church.  This has proved a wonderful opportunity to present the gospel on ‘neutral turf,’ if you will.  These folks seem much more at ease and ready to talk and ask questions in their own living rooms.  We have a new group planning to start in September of this year that will examine the Book of Daniel.

Without a doubt, God has showed us that the easiest, most clear way to have things figured out is to simply follow the example of Jesus.  For the most part, Jesus met people where they were, when they were there.  The wonderful account of Jesus and the Woman at the Well in John Chapter 4 has served as our blueprint.  We now meet on a regular basis, often more than once a week, in some of the apartments in what is considered the darkest part of our town.  Our task and approach is simple: to present the truth of God in both word and deed.  We have discovered that by investing time in the lives of these folks on an everyday type basis, they have developed a deep trust in us.  With this trust, we are able to present and explain what the Bible has to say on many different topics.

Having been meeting in that area for over a year now, we have seen God grow much fruit.  People that were at first solely focused on themselves and their wants/needs, are now finding life enriched as they reach out to others to lend a hand.  More importantly, we have the privilege of watching their faith grow before our very eyes.  Our times of prayer are rich with the Spirit of God as He leads us all into deeper knowledge of Himself.  The Almighty has answered the prayers of two of these saints by healing their cancers.  The first has the doctors astounded, as this was a terminal diagnosis.  Yet this week’s blood work for this person revealed no trace of cancer! The other miracle occurred when a person’s liver cancer was simply gone, leaving no trace of scar tissue on the organ.  God is moving, for His glory.  There is no other explanation for it.

So, what we have figured out is that God already has everything figured out!
When we walk this truth out in humble obedience, He continues to shine His light on the path He has for us.  This is wonderful but at the same time occasionally difficult for us as both Betsy and I are hands on, do it now type of people.  Figuring out how to do things and solving problems is how we are wired and yet God is using us in these ways, go figure!

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck

There is Life in Hospice

Two years ago I was asked to join our local Hospice organization as part of their pastoral care team.  I was honored by the invitation and gladly accepted.  The Oswego County Hospice has long been recognized as an outstanding provider of care to the terminally ill and their families.  I have known many people who have worked or volunteered for them, and to a person they tell what rewarding work it is.  Helping to bring dignity to the end of life has been some of their most fulfilling work.  When I joined the team, I hoped to discover this for myself.

Truthfully, though,  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Not much of my training or experience had prepared me for what I assumed was to be a monumental task.  After all, much of my ministry background has had me with folks, both saved and not, who seemingly give little thought to their own mortality.  Our primary focus has spanned from helping people meet their daily needs to counselling and leading Bible studies.  All of these types of activities have focused on improving both physical and spiritual life.  This Hospice work was going to bring physical death squarely in my face

Thankfully, Oswego County Hospice has an excellent training program.  It taught me much concerning the physical aspects of the dying process.  This information would be valuable as I entered into the patient’s family dynamic.  Although I knew that each case would be different, I felt that the training I had been given had prepared me for what was ahead.

All this excellent training did nothing, however, to prepare me for the awesome power of God I was (and still do) see! How did God display His power you ask? Has there been miraculous healings of bodies? These are legitimate questions especially when asked in light of Psalm 77:14 where the author describes God as: You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples (NIV).

To answer these questions, I must reply that to the best of my knowledge, I have not seen tumors removed through the power of prayer.  Yet what I do give witness to is at least equal to, or perhaps even greater than, a physical miracle.  What I have seen is unquestionably a move of God.  In His mercy I have seen estranged families reunited and lost individuals coming to realize the full life that the Lord Jesus promises.

Allow me to share some of the ways God has moved through Mary (not her real name), her family, friends and even some strangers during her time under hospice care.

I met Mary a little over a year ago.  As with anyone under hospice care, she faced the certainty of impending death.  On my first visit, she asked me what was going to happen to her when the inevitable happened.  Given this wonderful opportunity, I shared with Mary the Scriptures pertinent to salvation and the promise of eternity in heaven.

As Mary listened, a peace came over her.  Though I did not know it at the time, she had been a regular at a bible preaching church years ago before slipping into what she referred to as ‘the wild side of life.’ Hearing the words of John 3:16-17 and Romans 10:9 stirred in her the truth she had known so long ago.  I could tell that the issue of life after death was settled in her heart.

It was what happened since that initial conversation that has showed God’s power at work.  Mary, with her faith renewed in the goodness of her Lord, has become a powerful advocate for Him.  At any given time in her home there are extended family members, neighbors and acquaintances present.  Each and every time I am privileged to be in her company, any and all others with her are invited to pray with us or to be prayed for by me.

One such occasion allowed me to pray for a young man, Danny.  One look at him as I walked in told me much about him.  He was in a dark place, wallowing in self-pity at the turn life had taken on him.  He was homeless and obviously on the downside of whatever he had taken most recently.  A friend of one of her grandkids, Mary let him sleep on the couch, no questions asked.  After she and I finished our scheduled meeting, Mary asked him if it was alright for me to pray with him.  With a ‘what’s the use look,’ Danny agreed.  We held hands and I prayed.

I don’t have a formula for praying, I simply attempt to quiet my mind so that God can work through me.  I prayed for Danny in this way.  In this case I have no recall of what I said specifically and when I finished, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  At my Amen, Danny looked at me with tear filled eyes and told me that what I had said moved him deeply.  I thanked God and him for allowing me to pray with him.

Though I thought of and prayed for Danny frequently, several months passed with no word about him.  As always, God is working even when I don’t know it! My next encounter with this young guy nearly blew me away.  He had a big smile on his face, was cleaned up and generally had the look of someone who knew he had come through something awful into something far greater.  He excitedly told me about his new job and the nice place he had found to live.  His life had taken a 180-degree turn, at he counted our first meeting as the place it started.

I relate this account to you my friends in order to tell you that God is indeed still in the healing business.  The lesson it teaches me is to be looking beyond what I consider needs to be healed and to anticipate the greater thing God is up to.  There is life and there is joy in hospice care, for all involved.  God is healing.  The bible says that nothing is too hard for God.  Oh, and by the way, Mary has been discharged from hospice!

Thanks for reading and be encouraged, God is working!

Pastor Chuck

How are the New Year Resolutions Going?

Did you make some New Year Resolutions as 2018 turned into 2019? As I write this on January 7th, 2019, I hope you are still going strong if you did.  Unfortunately, statistics on long-term completion of these types of plans aren’t cause for much hope.  My own experience with ‘New Me’ in the New Year resolutions have helped compile the negative numbers.  Diets, exercise regimens and pronouncements to get and stay in touch with family members have all faded, usually before January becomes February.  I can readily relate to any of you who have experienced these same types of short-comings.

As I mulled over my dismal record of changing negative behaviors in my life, I recalled something the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans.  If you have read any of my stuff in the past, you may have recognized I use the New International Version in my studies.  This is my go-to translation, but that doesn’t keep me from reading others (something I highly recommend to all my Bible reading friends).

By doing this, I found what I needed to read this time in The Message, an easy to read, paraphrased version of the Bible.  The verses I read from the letter to the Romans are rendered like this in it: I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. (The Message; Romans 7:18-19)

This description fits me to a T! I feel a need to change something in me, whatever it is, as a new year looms.  I then start, usually with great enthusiasm and not a little hoopla, that This Time I am going to do this! I have neither learned from, or have simply forgotten my past mistakes, making success with this year’s resolutions a certainty.

As noted above, my decision to make a change for the better turns out to be flimsy.  Whatever storm of upset or disappointment comes my way knocks all the wind out of my gung-ho start.  Before long, it’s only a month (or weeks) into the new year and the old ways don’t seem so bad anymore as I slip comfortably back into them.

I know I am not alone in failing to keep New Year Resolutions.  I’m confident that as you read this, you can relate to my struggles.  It leaves the question: What to do with this information?  The first two ideas that came to me are negative ones that I don’t advise anyone to take, like maybe I just won’t try to change anything will be my new plan.  At least that way I only have to deal with the consequences of what my poor choices bring me as opposed to acknowledging another failure on top of going back to the original activity.

Second, and worse still, my warped mind has fantasized about making resolutions that will be easy to keep.  For example, this year I will gain weight.  That’s easy for me, and I have a long track record of success.  Pass the cookies and ice cream please!  Or perhaps I will resolve to continue to avoid exercise; another area of strength, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Thankfully, God’s Word is having a greater influence on my decision-making process these days than my ‘poor me, I just can’t do it’ whining is.  The verses we are considering today are truly helpful.  First, they identify our struggle; we want to do better, but we are largely unable to create these changes on our own.  They go on to explain why this is:  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

With the understanding that something is broken inside of me that is causing my struggle(s), I’m then left with two distinct courses of action: Do nothing or do something about it.

I don’t recommend the first option.  Having tried it, nothing positive comes from it.  Lamenting that I can’t change (and adding, ‘No matter how hard I try,’ for sympathy), is really just giving up.  With this mind-set, I can rationalize to my heart’s content and wallow in self-pity until December comes again and enough guilt kicks in telling me to try, try again.  It is the perfect storm of a cycle I cannot break on my own.

Which leads to the highly recommended other option: making the change (yes singular, change) necessary to break the pattern.  It’s a simple solution, but necessarily an easy one; especially if pride prevents us from admitting our helplessness.

The answer is this: Have some humble pie; it has no calories and it will open the door of your heart and mind to receiving the perfect help that is always available.  I speak of course of our Loving God, who wants us to enjoy our relationship with Him to the fullest.  It starts by realizing He has to be the priority in this.  When you do that, many other things that have been out of alignment in your life will begin to straighten out.

As always, Jesus says it best.  In Chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains to a crowd of people that God the Father knows of all their concerns and is more than able to meet all their needs.  The Lord sums this all up by saying, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV)

God will indeed give you the desires of your heart, so long as your priorities are in proper order: God first, everything else after that! This is how many before us have learned to overcome the difficulties in their lives.  Trusting Jesus for salvation, as awesome as that is, only starts the life God has for us.  When we can humble ourselves to let Him have control over all the aspects of our lives, the need for a New Year Resolution becomes obsolete.  May we all experience this wonderful change that only God can orchestrate. Then we won’t have to swear off destructive, non-healthy behaviors, but instead ask only for more of Him in our life.  That is truly being done with the old to be filled with the new!

Thanks for reading!

Pastor Chuck

 

 

 

 

It’s Personal: Part 3

 

Though the Christmas season is filled with joy and excitement for many, it isn’t that way for everyone.  As I stated in part one of this series, I have been given the honor of speaking at several gatherings recently that recognize this fact.  The first was a Hospice Commemoration service, where families who have lost a loved one over this past year gathered to remember family members and friends who have departed this world.  These folks came together to support one another in their shared grief and to hear the words of hope that our All-loving God has for us.  The other gathering was similar, where the entire community was invited to a ‘Blue Christmas’ service.  Again, people were encouraged to recognize the loss and emptiness this season can bring as loved ones are missed.  In both I used Psalm 23 as a means of expressing God’s love and care for these tender and hurting hearts.

I’ve broken this blog into smaller parts (knowing how busy we all can be), to allow you, my friends, the opportunity to read each one in its entirety.  Each one has attempted to bring to light the personal quality of the relationship God extends to those under His care.  Let’s consider the last two verses of this wonderful Psalm today:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (NIV)

Once again, please note the personal way David, the author, addresses God.  In the first four verses he recognizes the deeply caring relationship the Shepherd has for His sheep.

Moving ahead to verse five, the table being prepared isn’t like what we would call to mind in the West with linen and silverware.  The table referenced in the psalm would most likely be a flat area of ground where the shepherd could inspect each sheep individually.  If a wound was discovered during this exam, oil would be poured on it to cleanse it and to promote healing.  Saying that this is done in the presence of enemies tells us that we are truly safe and secure under the watchful eye of the Great Shepherd!  Even when we think we are most vulnerable, the Lord has us protected all the way round.

David concludes his thoughts in verse six by stating the ‘now and not yet’ promises of God: Saying that surely (which might be better translated as always) goodness and love will follow him all his days is living in the realization of God’s promise to never leave or forsake His children.  And writing that he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever speaks of the eternal promise of heaven for all those whose faith is in the saving power of God.  Though the appearance of Jesus on the earth was still many centuries away, David believed that God was going to provide a way for mankind to be with Him forever.  Those of us living on the other side of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have seen this promise come to fruition.

According to the NIV Cultural Background Bible, the metaphor in Psalm 23 of a shepherd was a royal one, with connotations of strong leadership but tender care. I can give personal testimony of having received this kind of tender leadership from the Lord.  He has met every need I have ever had.  As He cares for the sheep in Psalm 23, I can relate in His watch over me.

Because of this, I have learned it’s ok to be a sheep.  I know they get the rap of not being very smart animals, but haven’t I displayed a similar lack of sense in many of my thoughts, actions and words? By acknowledging I have some sheep-like tendencies, I therefore must admit that I need a shepherd to guide me.  Sheep, like me, will never make it alone.

I need the loving guidance that God freely provides.  Only He can fully heal all my hurts.  It is Jesus, whose birth we celebrate this month, who is the Great Shepherd.  It is His personal touch that leads us to the pastures He has for us and His personal care that reveals His love.  He is our comfort, our protector and our Savior.  He takes you personally, I invite you to do the same with Him.

It’s Personal: Part 2

 

Before we dive into Part 2, allow me to thank everyone who takes the time to read/comment on the thoughts I share.  It warms my heart that you would choose to spend some of your precious time with me.  As always, your thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome.  I only want to honor God in this venue; any suggestions you might have to help me do so will be greatly appreciated.

In Part 1 of this series we looked at the first three verses of the 23rd Psalm.  In them we discovered God describing His caring relationship toward us as a shepherd tending to his flock.  This truly is awe inspiring when we consider it is the Creator of everything who extends to each of us individually His care, guidance and protection.

This time let’s consider verse 4 (if you have a bible nearby it may be helpful to re-read all six verses of the psalm first).  There is a big change when we reach verse 4.  David, the author, is no longer talking about the Great Shepherd, he is talking to Him!

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. (Psalm 23:4 NIV)

Verse 4 begins with the recognition of the darkness that often engulfs us in this life.  The shadow can refer to physical death and the sadness it brings, or any other challenge in our life that wants to turn our attention away from God.  Grief can certainly be a culprit, just as disappointment and discouragement can be as well.

One of the important things to remember, especially when sadness and loss want to overwhelm you is that Lord, as your personal Good Shepherd, never leaves you.  The times in my life when I couldn’t/wouldn’t sense His presence was because I allowed circumstances to interfere with my awareness of Him.  One of the many awesome characteristics of our Shepherd is His omnipresence, He is always everywhere all the time.  I can’t explain it, I just know it to be true through faith.

Much as the psalmist now recognizes the personal presence of the Lord, we must too.  Acknowledging His presence doesn’t mean we simply bury our heads in the sand with regard to our pain.  To the contrary, being aware of the loving guidance of our Shepherd ought to encourage us to open our hearts to Him.  Verse 4 states that I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Here is another key point for us: We are to walk through this valley.  In other words, keep moving! Don’t get stagnant and wallow in a pool of self-pity.  Yes, the loss and pain you feel hurts.  Let it hurt, but don’t allow yourself to get comfortable in your pain.

We need to then find the way that works best for us to deal with our hurt or loss.  The best example of how to do this can be found in what David wrote next; I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Fearing no evil tells us to have complete trust in God, that His very presence as our Shepherd is the balm we need for our wounds.  His rod and His staff comfort us as well.  These are the tools the shepherd used to protect his flock from danger.  The rod was a club used to beat back predators.  The staff was used to guide the sheep along the right path and was also used at days end to count each sheep as it passed into the pen.

For us to know this level of godly care, we must allow the imagery of the shepherd protecting and caring for his flock to bring us comfort.  Our Great Shepherd knows exactly how to guide us so that we can live in His peace.  He can care for every wound we might receive as we occasionally veer off the path He makes for us.  It is this level of personal care that only God could extend to each of us.

If you are aware of your personal Shepherd’s presence today, I rejoice with you! If, however, you are not in that place, I gently remind you of how the Lord feels about the sheep that have wondered: He leaves the ninety-nine in safety to go retrieve the one missing.  Why? Because it’s personal; to Him as well as us.

It’s Personal: Part 1

 

Over the next several weeks, I will have the privilege of speaking at two events.  The first will be a commemoration service for the local Hospice organization I volunteer at and the other is a Blue Christmas church service.  At each the focus of my message will be the hope that God brings to people in their darkest hours.  I have endeavored to pray, study and meditate on the familiar words of Psalm 23 in order to share what I have discovered and experienced about God’s comfort in the context of His promise to care for us always.

For my blog, I imagine this will be broken into several different entries and as always, your feedback is desired and appreciated.

As it is rendered in the New International version, Psalm 23 begins:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down on green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

That the relationship offered by God is personal can be seen here at the very start: The Lord is my shepherd (emphasis added).  He’s not just someone else’s shepherd, He is mine! Think about that.  The God of the universe, creator of absolutely everything, considers you important enough to be your personal shepherd.

With the LORD as my Shepherd, I can also experience the wonder of having all my needs met.  I read this in verse 1 as it tells me I won’t have any wants.  Logically, this informs me that with my needs met, there won’t be any wants.  Being honest, I don’t always live in the midst of this promise.  My mind can often wander, considering how nice it might be to own this or to have that.  Usually, and thankfully, God will grab my attention back from dreaming about these totally non-essentials.  When He does, I re-set my focus on Him.  As I do, He then makes more of His peace available to me as I again realize the abundance of gifts I receive while under His care.

In some ways, I find this personal relationship that God offers mind-blowing.  After all, what do I bring to it? It’s when I realize, again, that it’s all about Him and not about me, that the idea of the Lord being my Shepherd resonates deeply within me.

Continuing with the example of Psalm 23, verses 2 and 3 are further expressions of God’s personal care for His sheep.  Sheep won’t lay down when they are hungry and also will not drink from fast moving water.  Once again, the psalmist is telling us that our needs are being met by the Great Shepherd.

To me, these are clear indications of God’s caring heart toward those who would follow Him.  But before going any further, let me ask, “Are you o.k. with being a sheep?” Sheep are totally dependent creatures.  They can’t fend for themselves and on their own they are no match for predators.  They’re not known for being overly smart.

I’m not suggesting that we simply lay about in the natural, waiting for someone to come and take total care of us.  On the contrary, we are to see not only to our needs but also to the care of others (Philippians 2:3-4 has more on this).  Rather, it is in the spiritual realm that me must trust and rely upon God alone for our care.  It is when I muster this child-like faith that I can more fully realize the working of God around me. In my opinion it certainly is o.k. to be a sheep in God’s fold, because His faithfulness to me (and many others) has taught me this!

In closing for this time, please consider what we read in verse 3, he restores my soul.  The simple implication here is that we have a soul that needs to be restored! Does yours? Mine certainly needs it from time to time.  Once again, the Great Shepherd is the One who can/will accomplish this for us.  His is an all-inclusive care package.  A member in God’s flock can have the joy and peace that only He can provide and remember, this is not a cookie-cutter, one size fits all peace, it is personal! Created and molded for each one individually, the perfect fit from the Perfect One, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

My Chains are Gone. Now What?

 

I’ve been asked if I have a favorite Bible character.  The answer is no, simply because during the various seasons and times of my life, different characteristics (both good and bad) of the folks mentioned in it have had deeper meaning to me.  Jonah’s running from God, David’s sinning and Peter speaking without always thinking first have, like so many others, given me insight into my own faults and shortcomings.  Likewise, the miracle of Bartimaeus receiving his sight and the transformation of Saul from being deadly opposed to Christ to Paul who goes all-in for Him have been powerful encouragements to me.

When asked if I have one particular account in the Bible that I cherish above all else, the answer is a resounding yes! It is the telling of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment and miraculous release found in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles: 16:16-34.

I encourage you to read it for yourself in its entirety, but for now here’s a brief description of the events.  Paul and Silas were in Philippi spreading the news of Jesus Christ as Savior.  They were thrown into prison after Paul upset some men as he cast a demon out of a slave girl these fellows were making money using.

Without trial, Paul and Silas were severely beaten and then put into the inner cell of a prison, their feet locked in stocks.  Around midnight, and in spite of their pain and uncertainty of what was going to happen to them, they were singing songs of praise to God.  The Bible then says that as they were, a powerful earthquake hit the area, so strong that the chains that bound them fell away.

It is what happens next that makes this account so deeply meaningful to me: Paul and Silas not only talk the jailor out of taking his life, but they present the salvation message to him! We are then told that this man and his whole family came to faith in Christ that night.

This all brings me to the point of the title of this entry: My Chains are Gone, now what? Many of you who regularly read these jottings know of my life of alcoholism.  That chain held me completely in the dark and hopeless of any way out.  The ‘earthquake’ in my experience was realizing the saving power of Jesus as I sat in a detox center.  The chains of addiction fell away that day as I admitted my sins before Him and asked His forgiveness.  I give Him all thanks and praise for it.

The journey I began those 27 years ago has led me to being an ordained minister.  No one, myself at the top of the list, saw that one coming way back then!  Though I was not instantly cast into a position of bearing the Good News like Paul and Silas were, I can still see the similarities in how God works.  He removed my chains for me so that I would in turn work for Him.  Because He chose to do this for me, I live with a peace that can only come from Him.

If He has removed the chains that bound you, won’t you join me in spreading His love that is so desperately needed in our hurting world.  Share your story, take the time to invest in the lives of others so that relationships can be built.  No matter what blessings you have received from the freedom granted you by God, there are greater ones still awaiting if you will only acknowledge the wonderful work God has done in/for you.  These blessings probably won’t come in some material form.  More likely it will be you realizing more deeply than ever how much God loves you.

The chains He removed from us make us uniquely qualified to help others find the freedom that only God can give.  I would never for a second go back to the life, it you could call it that, that I was chained to.  But today I remember how it was so that I can always remember the depths from which God saved me.  My chains are gone.  Today I willingly submit the life God transformed to Him, that He use me in ways that promote His freeing power to all who would accept it.