Psalm 23: 1 – 4

The Lord is my shepherd, I will not be in need. He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Yesterday in our discussion of Psalm 138 I mentioned that I was reminded of Psalm 23 so I thought we should have a look at it. Many of you know this psalm from the King James Bible which is poetic and lovely, but it is good for us to look at a variety of versions. This is the New American Standard.

So, I want to use your imagination again today. Picture yourself as a little lamb with Jesus as your shepherd. The first thing represented is provision. The Lord provides for you. You have everything you need. Then we see him leading you to a place of comfort and peace. Here you can lie down and not worry. The pastures are green, ripe with nutritious food and a comfortable place to sleep. There is a bubbling brook there with sweet, clear water, no raging rivers to ford, just a pleasant sound to lull you into peaceful slumber. Of course, this is restorative. He wants you to lie down and rest your mind and body. He is standing guard so that you do not have to worry. Be at peace and rest.

Jesus has a stake in all this. Not only does he love you. Not only did the Father give him charge over you but also, his name is at stake. He leads you in right paths to protect and bless you but if he didn’t, his name would be smeared, his lordship tarnished. He has a duty to lead in right paths. If you stumble and fall off the edge of a narrow trail, his name is besmirched. So, he keeps his little ones from harm.

Lastly, and this reflects back to yesterday, we can be in the midst of trouble, in the very valley of death and yet have no fear. We think of the rod as a disciplinary tool. Jesus thinks of it as a protection tool. The staff and rod show their first use when a ravenous wolf appears. You may be threatened by the wolf but then you see the shepherd’s crook flash from the corner of your eye and the wolf scurry for cover. He also uses his rod and staff to guide you so that you are kept to the safe path. Remember, he is leading us all to fertile fields with creeks of refreshing water. If you stray from the correct path, you will not arrive at Eden. Therefore, Jesus uses his staff to guide you, keeping you on the fruitful path. The path is narrow which leads to the land of plenty, so he is vigilant to guide you with the rod and staff so that you do not stray and find yourself in a thicket.

So much of what Jesus does in our lives is directly spoken to by this psalm. He is obligated, by God Himself, to guide us, to lead us in the way we should go. His rod and staff comfort us because our confidence is boosted and worry eradicated as we perceive the protective guard rails he establishes for us. The moment we begin to wander in the wrong direction he nudges us back in the right direction. He is constantly trying to direct us. Only stupid sheep ignore their shepherd. Ignoring his voice leads to being lost, lonely and without provision. Seek him, yes, but seek also his instruction and guidance. Daily listen to his direction for you.

I hope you were able to enjoy your visual journey as a lamb. Perhaps you added your own images.  It is a good visualization to play with. As you wander, visually, with Jesus, you see the care with which he guards his beloved.

Words of the Heart

Matthew 15: 18

But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and those things defile the person.

Matthew 12:34

You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, express any good things? For the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart.

Jesus said that in the last days, wolves would come dressed as sheep so we must be adept at discerning who is of the truth and who is not. Jesus said you would know the wolves (and the sheep) by their fruit. Yesterday, I sent you the test. It comes out of Colossians 3 and Galatians 5. Here is another way to tell the difference between those who say they follow Jesus from those who actually do. Check the fruit of their mouth.

No one who is of Christ lies. Period. End of story. Does that mean if a person ever tells one lie they are devil spawn? No. It means they relaxed their guard for a moment, perhaps have not been spending enough time with the Lord. However, a habitual liar or one who doesn’t have a strong relationship with the truth is not a Christ disciple. I’ve said it before, lying comes from the devil’s house. You can’t dance to his tune and be in harmony with Jesus.

Other language will give one away too. Is the person’s language kind, gentle, peaceful, patient, filled with goodness and faith? Or are their words harsh, critical, and judgmental. You can tell what is in a person’s heart by what comes out of their mouths.

Ears On

John 10: 27

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

Get ready for a year of lots of good news. That is what the gospel is afterall, right? So let us begin here. God has opened your ear (Isaiah 50: 5). So, now you can hear Jesus’ voice. Our challenge for this year is believing what Jesus said. Could he tell a lie? Do you think he did even if he could? So what did it mean when he said his sheep hear his voice? It seems pretty plain, doesn’t it? The next question is, “Are you his sheep?” I like to think you are and if you do answer this question in the affirmative, then I have some good news for you. You can hear Jesus’ voice! I take that back – it’s not good news, it’s great news!

Let me ask you a question. Do you ever tune out your spouse or a co-worker? That ability to tune out background sounds can be very beneficial. However, your spouse probably isn’t all that excited about your gift. That ability may well operate to tune out Jesus’ voice as well. Everyone who is part of Jesus’ flock has the ability to hear him speak. However, some people hear him and others don’t. Why? Some people have cultivated the ability to tune out much of their sensory data. In order to hear Jesus’ voice many of us have to learn to listen. I will confess it took me some time to hear him speaking to me regularly. Even now, my ability to hear him is dependent on my surroundings. If I do not slow down and pay attention, I will miss his communications.

The good news, though, is that we all have the ability to hear Jesus speaking to us. We just have to develop our listening capacity. We have to turn on and tune in our ears. Journaling is one way to help focus your attention and your tuner. It makes it easier to block out the noise so that you hear Jesus more clearly and even easier.

Let’s put this on our goal list for the New Year, to plainly and clearly hear the voice of God!

Do You Love Me?

John 21: 17

“Simon, son of John Do you love Me? Tend My sheep.”

I have pondered for several years now what it means to be a Christian? We come in so many varieties and place our values on different things. Where is the commonality that makes each of us Christian? Are we simply behaviorists, each with our own list of what a Christian “should do?” If so, which of us has the right list? Truly, most will recognize that we can easily produce a long list of Christian behaviors that we think every “true” Christian will perform. And yet, even as we produce our list out of our heart bubbles the cautionary declaration that we are professing law rather than a covenant of grace.

I have heard people refer to others as not true Christians or not really a Christian even though the person of whom they speak has said the saving prayer and attends church. What are they saying then? I think they are saying there is something about that person’s behavior that makes one doubt that their heart has been touched by the power of Jesus. Perhaps the speaker believes there is a lack of transformation (Romans 12: 2). So apparently some people think that having once said a prayer of salvation is not sufficient for actually being saved and wearing the coveted mantle of “Christian.” These people would, again, seem to be behaviorists. They believe that our Christianity should be recognizable through our behaviors. In this way of thinking transformation is key. We must be remade in the image of Christ. That would make us true Christians.

I do not disagree that we should be transformed. Reading the Epistles of Paul clearly leads us to that conclusion. The problem with this position is two–fold. First, the test of our Christianity is still completely external. Paul talked about our being transformed but we must be transformed on the inside. In other words, Christianity is not something that happens on the outside of us, it happens on the inside and transforms us from inside out. Second, as long as we are judging behaviors we will always have the problem of whose list of do’s and don’ts is correct.

As I pondered this question the Lord revealed the answer to me and it is profound in its simplicity. That which makes us Christian is that we love the Father and Jesus whom He sent. The marker which identifies us as Christian is not the salvation prayer or anything else which may be seen with the physical eye. True Christians are marked in their heart. Theirs is a heart which loves God. David wrote “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139: 23). As this epiphany unfolded before me I said, “Okay Father, you can search my heart and see if I truly love you.” But still unsatisfied I asked another question. “How, Father, shall I know that I really love you?” Can I search my own heart? Can I believe what I think I see there? Perhaps I am only projecting what I want to see. How can I test this transformation to determine if it is real?

His answer was so short, sweet and so profound. “Tend my sheep.” Wow! The foundation of Christianity turns out to be simple. A Christian is one who loves God and the Christ whom He sent. We know that we love God not by a goo-goo feeling within us but with a love for His sheep. I don’t deny that feeling of love for God but Dad says that is not the way to know that our love for Him is real. The way we will know that we have truly been transformed in our hearts is that we love His kids. The transformation of our hearts will surely been seen on the outside but this is the manifestation form that it should take, that we love God’s kids and bless them. So it is not that I go on a mission trip that is important. That again is the behaviorist view not taking into account the condition and motivation of my heart. I may go on the mission trip because I believe it is the thing to do, I may believe that “good” Christians do missions. I may choose a mission trip out of a works mentality. All of this is rot and putrefaction to God. When, however, my heart longs to go somewhere to aid others out of love for them then I may see that yes, transformation is affecting the place where God lives, my heart.

This transformation of our heart should affect us every day. If I go on three mission trips this year but am not kind and generous to my friends and family I might wonder if this is a true transformation or only a façade. Have I become a giver by nature or am I still tight fisted? Are my thoughts continually on me and the things I want or has my heart learned to think about what I can do or give to another. The measure of my transformation, the foundation of Christianity is my tending of the sheep. 

Romans 12: 2 says that through our personal transformation we may “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” It is love which leads us. So in the end the proof of whether or not I am a true Christian turns out to be pretty simple. Am I tending God’s sheep?