In the first church I pastored in the late 80s, I remember a special prayer time with the Lord. I was feeling overwhelmed and somewhat discouraged. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and I decided to get away from the office for a time of prayer. The quietest place I knew to “walk and pray” was a nearby cemetery. As I was praying and crying out to God in my heart, my eyes fell on a small grave marker. Beside it sat a stone lamb with these words carved under it: “The Lord is My Shepherd.” This simple truth from Psalm 23 spoke powerfully to my heart as I realized the Shepherd of my soul was right there with me—“on duty”—watching over my heart. This week in my devotions, I again read Psalm 23, and verse four stood out to me: “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.” Our Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, rose from the dead and is equipped with all authority. He has everything we need. His power is more than enough to take care of us in every situation. The shepherd’s staff reveals to us how the Lord gently guides and directs the sheep as needed. Having a curved end, the staff can “catch” the sheep when danger looms. The shepherd’s rod reveals the power of the shepherd to fight the enemy of the sheep—those wolves and bears that try to kill and destroy. As believers, we do not need to fear the rod because it exists for our protection and safety. However, if we as sheep harden our hearts in stubbornness and sin, our Shepherd may use the rod as a form of discipline for our good. If we are honest, we will admit that we need the Lord’s discipline at those times when we persist in going our own way. The Shepherd prefers the gentle use of the staff, but He will use the rod to protect us from reckless paths that lead to death. He is the Good Shepherd in every way, and He knows just what we need! Is He your Shepherd?
The Book of Job fascinates me. God himself declared Job as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Although deeply devout, Job suffered the greatest trials recorded in the Bible. When I read about and meditate on Job, I want to gain insights about how my own heart handles life’s sufferings. For example, we know that Job was a godly man, but he was not a perfect man. Gold that goes through fire becomes even more pure. Job was in the fire! As the chapters of Job’s suffering stretched on, Job caved in to feelings of anger and despair. His responses to his friends grew more combative and self-righteous. Finally, we read in 31:40, “The words of Job are ended.” After Job stopped his verbal barrage, God began to speak to him—first through a man named Elihu. Consider what Elihu said in response to Job’s arguments: “But you have said in my hearing—I heard the very words—I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy” (Job 33:8-10). Elihu recognized that Job struggled with sin—just like we all do. In times of great stress and struggle, we easily defend ourselves, and we tend to blame God. During times when nothing seems to go right, we are tempted to imagine God as our enemy…certainly not our friend. I’m so glad that I live in the time after our Lord Jesus came to earth. He showed us God’s great love, and that he is the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep. Even though we are not spared from life’s problems, Jesus promised to be with us and carry us all the way home! So, instead of giving in to our sinful tendencies of self-justification and blame, may the Lord give us the grace to entrust our souls to Him. May we believe that God is for us and not against us. And remember: “Life is sometimes hard, but God is always good!”
I really like this statement: “We teach a little by what we say, more by what we do, and most by what we are.” Sometimes I wonder what the world will be like in the future, if the Lord doesn’t come soon. Then, I look at the youth and children and say to myself, “This is the future of our world…where they are pointed will determine the destination.” Is there any task greater than investing in the next generation? Is there any job more important than working with children, getting to mold their hearts and minds? The “right now need” is for authentic adults who are willing to teach by word, deed, and life! The Apostle Paul knew well the value of investing in those who follow. Although he probably never had any biological children, he considered himself a father figure to many. Consider his words in 1 Timothy 1:2, “To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” The other day Terry and I had the opportunity to visit the workplace where our daughter, Nicole, is employed. The office supervisor told us how Nicole’s character and work added so much to her personally and to the company. As parents, we are “proud” of Nicole, but we recognize that the power in Nicole’s life to live right comes from God’s grace and mercy. As parents, we can’t force our children to follow the ways of Jesus. But, we can lead in such a way that our children (spiritual as well) desire what we have. This morning we honor the staff and leaders of Spring Garden Academy and Next Generation Ministries. Their desire is to lead in such a way that those growing up will want to live honorably…experiencing peace from the Father and the Lord Jesus. Please pray for those who influence our children every day inside our two churches. And, if you want to change the future, do your part to influence a child and invest in a young person.
Saving faith in Jesus can never be passed down like some family possession. However, we must never underestimate the power of parental influence. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he reminded him of his special heritage. He told Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Because Dad is left out, he may have died or perhaps was an unbeliever. What matters most is that Timothy had godly people around him as he grew up. His mother (and grandmother) made a huge difference in Timothy’s life and the path he chose. On this Mother’s Day, I pray for all you moms who desire to live and model godliness. As I look back, it was my mother who first introduced me to Jesus. Her faithfulness (through many challenging tests) is a major reason I am saved and in the ministry. I thank God for her! So Moms, keep on loving and giving and going after God. Although you may not see results right now, be assured you will reap a reward!
The other day I was chatting with someone about God. He seemed to have a sincere desire to follow God, yet he was trapped in some crippling addictions. He said to me, “I don’t understand why God allows this to happen. Why doesn’t He just take these habits away?” As he spoke, I could tell he was clearly blaming God for his failures. With gentleness, I tried to explain to him the “dual relationship” between God’s sovereignty and our choices. There are things in our lives that only God can do, but there are also things in our lives that God expects us to do. For example, we can’t expect God to take away a sexual addiction if we choose to stay up at night watching porn movies. Also, how will we overcome an alcohol addiction while hanging out with the same drinking buddies at the bar? As I observe the spiritual landscape of America, I see a lot of people interested in God and spiritual life. However, I notice a huge gap. We want the blessings and benefits of God, but we don’t want to discipline ourselves or lead our soul to seek Him. We conveniently put all the responsibility on God. While reading about the kings of Judah in the Book of 2 Chronicles, I discovered something powerful. Those kings who set their hearts on seeking God enjoyed victory and blessing. The kings who were careful to get God’s Word in their hearts and sought to practice His precepts experienced blessings. For example, 2 Chronicles 26:4 declares of Uzziah king of Judah, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…he sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.” Life is a battle. Victory is not easy or automatic. The Lord is willing to give us the power to win. BUT, WE MUST SHOW UP! Faith is the pathway, and every pathway requires walking forward. Do your part!