Seeking Peace/Battling Anxiety: Thankful For My Shepherd

It’s no secret I have a particular fondness for biblical passages on shepherding.

For over twenty years I’ve kept goats and sheep in varying numbers and every day discover one more way I am a sheep in need of a Shepherd.

I wander, I’m afraid when I don’t have to be, I do foolish and self-harmful things, I push and shove to get that certain bit of food or space or whatever when all the while there is an abundance, and I often make it hard for the One who loves me best to guide me to the safety and rest of His fold.

That’s one reason the Twenty-third Psalm is especially beautiful to me.

But there’s another reason-hidden inside the original Hebrew-that makes it a favorite Bible passage and a very appropriate one for these frightening times: within the verses are references to seven names of God.

Read the rest here: Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace: Thankful For My Shepherd

Making Our Churches Safe Havens for Hurting Hearts

If you have lived a blessed life where the greatest challenge to your faith has been disappointment and not destruction then I am so, so happy for you. Really.

Some of us have dragged our broken hearts through the church doors out of habit with little hope we might find the genuine comfort we need to survive inside.

Because experience taught us that while it is perfectly acceptable to raise a hand and ask for prayer one or two weeks in a row, it better not become a predictable pattern. Patience with unsolvable and messy ongoing situations runs thin as leaders turn the discussion toward “victory in Jesus”.

But that isn’t what Christ came for-not that we don’t have ultimate and even some temporal victory through Him.

He came for the broken and breathless. He came in the flesh because our flesh is weak and life is hard and bad things happen.

We’ve got to do a better job welcoming and ministering to hurting hearts.

We have to.

❤ Melanie

I am a shepherd.  My goats and sheep depend on me for food, for guidance and for their security.

And every day I am reminded that a shepherd’s heart is revealed by the way he or she cares for the weakest and most vulnerable of the flock.

But most of us are far removed from the daily reminder of pastoral life that was commonly accessible to the authors and readers of the Bible thousands of years ago.  So it’s no surprise that we tend to forget the connection between a shepherd’s life and a pastor’s calling.

Read the rest here: Loving Well: How the Church Can Serve Grieving Parents and Other Hurting People

Advent: Unlikely Messengers

Bethlehem isn’t far at all from Jerusalem if you measure the distance in miles.

But it was a world apart if you measure the difference in circumstance.

Like our world today, there was a huge gap between the richest of the rich (King Herod and his cronies, the religious elite) and the poorest of the poor (Mary, Joseph, shepherds and others like them).

Hearts full to overflowing with pride, self-reliance, love of power and money can’t find room for a message that suggests they might need saving.

Empty hearts, hopeless hearts, worn, weary and desperate hearts are hungry to hear that help is on the way.

Maybe that’s why God sent a most spectacular birth announcement to shepherds who were considered the lowest of the low.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Luke 2:8-18 NIV

If you do a little digging you will discover that large flocks were kept in Bethlehem to facilitate worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Since many of the faithful came from quite a distance, instead of bringing a sacrifice they would purchase a suitable animal once they made the trek.

But shepherds rarely got to mix and mingle at the Temple because they were stinky and dirty. It was tough to try to clean up without running water and washing machines. They smelled of sheep, goats and smoke. Not a welcome addition to worshiping crowds.

Yet God deemed these lowly, (probably) uneducated folks worthy of the most spectacular display of His approval and the dawn of a new age of grace. The outcasts became the “in” crowd.

The first messengers of the Good News weren’t priests or royalty, they were regular people.

I know many days I wonder if plodding along in my everyday duties makes a whit of difference in the world. I tire of routine and repeated, ordinary tasks.

But in the Kingdom there is no such thing as meaningless work or unrewarded obedience.

The shepherds were perfectly positioned to receive God’s message and to deliver it to a waiting world.

God has placed me right here right now for His purposes.

I’m not responsible for results.

I’m only responsible for waiting patiently for His direction.

QUESTIONS:

  • When you’ve heard the Christmas story over and over it’s easy to miss historical context and the significance of certain details. But Luke specifically set out to give an account of the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that revealed His deity and God’s purposes. Have you ever thought about how odd it was that shepherds got such special attention and treatment from Almighty God?
  • The shepherds apparently discussed what they had seen and heard among themselves. Can you imagine what that sounded like? Do you think you would have second guessed the experience if you had been there? Why or why not?
  • Once they saw the Baby they could not contain themselves. Do you remember the joy of salvation when (perhaps) you were compelled to tell everyone the Good News of Jesus? Have you lost that urgency? If you have, how might you regain it?
  • People were amazed at the shepherds’ message. I imagine it was partly due to the nature of the story and partly due to the ones who were telling it. Have you ever experienced a time when you were certain the message was from God but the messenger didn’t fit your idea of what he or she should look like? Did you dismiss the message or look past your preconceived notions?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You are no respecter of persons. All are in need of your mercy and grace. You reach out and reach down and reach across divides and prejudices and preconceived notions of who should be “in” and who should be “out”.

Salvation is available to every single heart who chooses to believe in the finished work of Christ. Sometimes I can draw circles around who I think is deserving and who is not. When people don’t look like me, talk like me or think like me I can look down my nose at them and expect You to do the same.

Rescue me from the prison of prejudice!

It’s the worn out and weary who long for a Savior. It’s the breathless and broken who need fresh wind and healing hope.

Thank You for opening my eyes to the truth of the Good News. Help me hold onto the joy of my salvation. May I feel the same urgency as those shepherds long ago to run first to Jesus and then to share Him with everyone I meet.

Amen

Is There A Cure For Our Broken Hearts?

Healing and curing are not the same thing.

Healing is a process that takes as long as it takes and may never be complete this side of eternity.  It’s a folding in of the hard parts of my story, an acknowledgement of the way I am changed because of the wounds I’ve received.  It involves scar tissue and sore spots and ongoing pain.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/04/08/healing-curing-same-thing/

Battling Anxiety/Seeking Peace: Thankful For My Shepherd

It’s no secret I have a particular fondness for biblical passages on shepherding.

For over twenty years I’ve kept goats and sheep in varying numbers and every day discover one more way I am a sheep in need of a Shepherd.

I wander, I’m afraid when I don’t have to be, I do foolish and self-harmful things, I push and shove to get that certain bit of food or space or whatever when all the while there is an abundance, and I often make it hard for the One who loves me best to guide me to the safety and rest of His fold.

That’s one reason the Twenty-third Psalm is especially beautiful to me.

But there’s another reason-hidden inside the original Hebrew-that makes it a favorite Bible passage and a very appropriate one for these frightening times: within the verses are references to seven names of God.

And unlike we who are named according to our parents’ whimsy, God IS His name.

“The Lord is my Shepherd”

Jehovah Rohi (The Lord is my Shepherd and my Guide) – “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will GUIDE you into all truth” ~John 16:13

My goats and sheep will follow me anywhere. Why?

Because they know I won’t lead them into danger and if we happen to stumble upon it, I will protect them and fight for them.

My Shepherd King is so much more trustworthy than I am.

He knows the end from the beginning and loves me more than I love myself. If I will only follow closely behind Him, I can rest assured that wherever He leads, I am in His loving care.

“I shall not want”

Jehovah Jireh (The Lord is my Provider) “My God shall supply all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:19

My critters are utterly dependent upon me to make sure they have the basic necessities-food, water and a safe and dry place to sleep at night. They can’t run to the grocery store if I forget to toss them grain or hay.

But they don’t pace back and forth afraid I won’t do what I’ve always done.

I waste so much energy and time worrying that somehow God will forget to provide what I need.

He won’t.

It’s that simple. I am not promised everything I WANT. I’m not even guaranteed everything I think I need. But I am absolutely certain that in Christ I have the most needful thing-forgiveness of my sins and right standing with the Father.

Image result for phil 4:19

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters”

Jehovah Shalom (The Lord is my Peace — my calm in the midst of a storm) – “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely” ~1 Thessalonians 5:23

Shalom is a big word.

According to Strong’s Concordance (7965) Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.

Peace isn’t a place or only a promiseit’s a Person.

And that Person is Jesus, my Shepherd King.

When my little flock hears something that frightens them, they run straight toward me and wait to see if I am frightened too. My presence brings them peace.

I am often more foolish than my dumb animals! I run to so many people and things of the world hoping one or the other can bring me the peace I so desperately crave. But I can only really rest when I place my full confidence in Jehovah-Shalom-the One who IS Peace.

“He restores my soul”


Jehovah Rapha (The Lord my Healer) – “And by His stripes we are healed” ~1 Peter 2:24 (and Isaiah 53:5)

Anyone who has spent time with me here knows I’m no fan of “sunshine” Christianity. I’m no “name it and claim it” crusader. So I do not believe that God my Healer means I won’t ever suffer.

That’s why I really love the phrase “He restores my soul”.

Because isn’t that really what we ALL want? Restoration of the very core of who we are? Rest in the center of our being?

Jesus has restored my soul more than once.

When I reach out and touch the hem of His garment, He heals the most broken places in my soul.

“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake”

Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Lord is my Righteousness; in Him I have
right standing with God
) “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin
for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” ~2
Corinthians 5:21

Let’s be honest, I can always find somebody that makes me look good. There’s always someone whose a little badder than I am.

Problem is, that’s not how God does things. He doesn’t use a sliding scale or a grading curve to determine who meets the mark and who misses it.

God is holy, set apart, completely righteous, pure and good.

I am none of those things.

And there is absolutely no way I can make myself those things.

But He has provided righteousness for me through Christ’s perfect atoning sacrifice if I choose to believe.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me”

Jehovah Shammah (The Lord is There; He is our Ever-Present God) – “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” ~Hebrews 13:5

This may actually be my very favorite name of God. “The Lord is There” is an amazing concept!

“Immanuel”-God with us! The Lord Himself come down to dwell with men.

Image result for matt 1:23

The God who made the universe, made me. The God who counts the stars and sets them in their place, counts the hairs on my head and set me in this place at this time.

This virus crisis FEELS like the shadow of death.

It feels like some creeping thing slinking around the edges of my family, waiting to devour us. I can’t see it and I can’t stop it.

But I am not alone. Jesus is here.

HE is here.

Right HERE.

RIGHT NOW.

And I can rest in His promise that whatever I may face, I will never, ever face alone.

“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”

Jehovah Nissi (The Lord is my Banner, my standard, He covers me) – “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him” ~Isaiah 59:19

In the Song of Solomon His banner over me is love.

In Ruth, His banner is Kinsman-Redeemer, covering my weakness with His strength.

In the gospels, His banner is victory over sin, death and the grave.

You may be hunkered down in your home, wondering how we all got here- questioning whether this may be a work of evil men or the evil one and when or if we might be rescued.

I can’t answer the why or when.

But I can point you to the Who-the One who wants to love you, to give you strength and to assure you that even death doesn’t have the last word.

“You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

My Shepherd King cares for me when I’m distressed and He fills me with Himself until my soul overflows.

His goodness and mercy pursues and overtakes me!

I have spent many, many hours hunting down a lost sheep or goat. I’ve had some wander off so far in the woods we couldn’t even hear them, much less see them.

But I do not give up. I do not stop looking. I do not go to bed and say, “I’ll find them tomorrow”.

No!

I pursue them until I can bring them back in the fold. There they dwell in safety, fully cared for as long as they live.

I am worth so much more than a sheep. God will not forget me or dismiss me or allow me to wander forever.

He will come find me and bring me home to His heart and His path.

And one day-one glorious day-He will take me to my forever Home.

QUESTIONS:

  • Does the image of Jesus as Shepherd help your heart find hope? Why or why not?
  • Psalms 22, 23 and 24 are considered by most biblical scholars to represent three images of Christ (22-Suffering Savior, 23-Shepherd, 24-Victorious King). Read them together and see if you agree.
  • Is there one of the names of God included in this study that is particularly precious to you?
  • Write out each name of God and see if you can find one other verse not previously mentioned that deepens your understanding of what the name means.
  • What does it mean to say God IS His name? If you have access to an online concordance, find one or two other names of God that might encourage you right now.

PRAYER:

Father God,

You are a good, perfect and loving Father. You are my Shepherd, my Provider, my Healer, my Righteousness, my Banner and YOU ARE HERE.

Help my heart lean into this truth.

Provide the most needful thing-Yourself-as I walk fearfully through this Valley. Restore my soul and flood it with Your peace.

Thank You that You are my righteousness-I am not left in my sins to receive the punishment they deserve. Thank You for Jesus.

Spread Your banner of love over my heart. Spread your banner of strength over my weakness. Spread Your banner of victory over my feeble attempt to ward off worry.

Let me feel Your Presence and help me trust Your heart.

Amen

My Faithful God

As a little girl, temptation looked like cheating on a spelling test or sneaking a cookie from a tray that was supposed to be for after supper.

As a young adult temptation looked like going places and doing things I knew weren’t wholesome or savory.

As a middle-aged wife and mother of four temptation looks like blaming God and forsaking my faith because one of my children is dead.

But God is faithful.

At every step of my life, when tempted to do what I knew in my heart was wrong, He has provided a way out even when I refused to take it.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'Gord is (에aa He WILL NOT ALLOW THE TEMPTATION TO BE MORE THAN YOU CAN STAND. WHEN YOU ARE TEMPTED, He WILL SHOW YOU A WAY OUT so THAT YOU CAN ENDURE / Crmatnne 10:13'

Little children are often constrained by the thought that their parents might find out and punish them. Teens and young adults might be afraid they will get a ticket or get kicked out of school or end up needing bail. By the time you get as old as I am, you’ve figured out that there are lots of things you can get away with and no one but you will know.

God knows.

And He cares.

When the enemy of my soul whispers, “What good is serving a God who didn’t save your son?” the Holy Spirit answers, “Eternal good, even in temporary pain”.

Image result for light and momentary troubles"

When doubts creep up and flood my mind, truth steps in and pushes them back.

When I feel the pain of loss in every cell of my body, overwhelmed by the weight of it, undone by the thought of years and years to carry it, my Shepherd King reminds me that He bore it all-the sin, the pain, the shame and the awful separation from the Father-so that I could stand.

Am I tempted?

Yes.

Often.

Am I doomed to give into that temptation and turn away from the only Source of strength and hope I have?

No.

Absolutely not.

I can reach out (it’s really just a short distance because He’s never far), grab hold (He’s already holding on to me) and lean in to my Father’s arms as He carries me past the doubts, the fears, the worry and brings me Home.

A Little Getaway Is Good For A Heart

My birthday is in a couple of weeks and my daughter has arranged for us to have a little getaway together this week.

She had no way to know when she made the reservations four months ago how badly we both would need it.

But God knew.

Nothing takes Him by surprise even when it blindsides me.

I often have to remind my heart of that truth.

Especially when blow after blow lands hard and knocks me off my feet. Especially when I feel that I might be crushed under the load. Especially when my mind is so full of fear and anxiety there’s no room for much else.

I’m thankful for a daughter who thinks ahead and a God who knows.

Some quiet time is precisely what our hearts are longing for this November. We will sleep and talk and walk and wander. We won’t have to answer to a clock or a phone.

It will be glorious.

Scripture Journal Challenge: My Good Shepherd

I have been a shepherd for twenty years.

The longer I care for my sheep and goats, the more I understand why God put His leaders through this school of discipleship.

Many days it’s a thankless job-my charges often do foolish things that place them in peril, they work hard to tear down the fences I’ve erected for their safety and they wander away forcing me to chase after them and bring them home.

But I never give up on them.

A shepherd’s heart is revealed in how she (or he) takes care of the weakest animals.

I cannot lay my head down at night without taking mental inventory to make sure they are safe, secure and well cared for through the darkness until morning dawns afresh.

David spent years and years in “shepherd school”.

It prepared him to fight Goliath.

It molded his heart to lead God’s people.

The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always.
He provides me rest in rich, green fields
    beside streams of refreshing water.
    He soothes my fears;
He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.
Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

Psalm 23: 1-4 VOICE

I could write for days on what these verses mean to my own heart. I could tease out dozens of lessons from the picture David paints of tender care, abundant mercy, amazing love.

But the one thing I’ll share now is this: I never, ever, ever abandon my flock.

If all I had was a stick and my voice, I’d fight off every enemy.

I am never too busy nor too distracted to tend to their needs. I never forget to feed them, water them, check on them and call them home in the evening.

They know my voice.

They follow me because I am trustworthy. They allow me to tend their wounds because I am gentle. They come running to me when they are afraid because they know I am a fierce defender.

If I-a mere, fallible, fragile mortal-am this concerned about my little flock, imagine how our Good Shepherd cares for us!

Don’t rush over these verses because they are familiar.

Go back, read them again.

Know that the Lord God loves you.

He LOVES you.

He loves YOU.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you remember the first time you encountered this Psalm? Does it hold a special memory?
  • How has the Lord given you rest in the midst of weariness?
  • How has God provided necessities for you?
  • What does it mean to you that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd? Read that passage in John 10 and notice how He defines what a good shepherd looks like. How might that encourage your heart when walking in this Valley of the Shadow of Death?
  • I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to find an old, lame or nearly blind goat or sheep that wandered off and got lost. I do what it takes to bring them home. No matter how far you wander, Jesus is coming to get you. Can you relate a time when Jesus reached out in a special way and helped you make it back home?
  • What do you need from your Shepherd today? Ask Him for it.

PRAYER:

Lord,

You ARE the Good Shepherd. You love me. You care for me. You lead me to places of rest when I am overcome with weariness. You walk beside me and offer refuge when I am afraid.

This grief journey is hard. Sometimes I wonder if You are really here or if You have abandoned me. Help me hear Your voice. Help me run to You for safety.

Teach me to follow You always, even when You lead me in dark places and I’m fearful. Thank You for leaving us with a beautiful picture through David’s words of Your heart.

Lead on, O Precious Shepherd. Lead on!

Amen

Scripture Journal Challenge: My Righteous, Raging King!

They say there’s nothing more terrifying than a mama bear protecting her cubs.

If you’ve ever witnessed one come charging across a clearing, changed from a lumbering giant to a fierce killing machine you believe it.

What seems safe at a distance is oh, so terrifying up close and personal.

I think many folks picture God as the great Granddaddy in the sky, looking down benevolently at the earth and showering blessings on its inhabitants.

God IS love. Scripture says so.

But God is also a fierce Father who will protect His children.

That’s the image David brings to mind as we continue Psalm 18:

In my time of need, I called to the Eternal;
    I begged my True God for help.
He heard my voice echo up to His temple,
    and my cry came to His ears.
Because of His great anger, the earth shook and staggered;
    the roots of the mountains shifted.
Smoke poured out from His nose,
    and devouring fire burst from His mouth.
    Coals glowed from Him.
He bent the heavens and descended;
    inky darkness was beneath His feet.

Psalm 18: 6-9 VOICE

I’m so thankful that God in all His glory, majesty, strength and might is both my Savior and my Shepherd. He’s ready to defend me against the enemy of my soul and He’s made perfect provision for my eternal future. He’s also my constant Companion and guide as I journey toward Heaven.

I appreciate the passages in Scripture that talk about God as loving Father, as Comforter, as gentle, meek and kind. Those help my heart when I feel emotionally vulnerable.

But when I’m under attack, I want a Warrior to come rescue me!

When I cry out, I’m looking for a righteous, raging King to ride in and vanquish my enemy.

This is no battle of equals. Satan doesn’t stand a chance. The end of the story is already written.

I don’t fear my Father.

I know that in Christ His wrath is perfectly satisfied. I’m a child of the King, safe and secure in my position and my inheritance. He will defend me to the end.

“No weapon formed against me shall prosper.”

That’s a promise.

QUESTIONS:

  • When you’ve cried out for deliverance do you feel the Lord has always answered? Why or why not?
  • If He answered, was His deliverance what you were expecting?
  • I’ve written before that some of us (myself included) might need to admit God has disappointed us.* If you feel like He hasn’t done what you expected/needed Him to do, are you prepared to voice that? Are you ready to breathe out the pain, the doubts, the disappointment-even anger-and make room for Him to minister grace and healing to your broken heart?
  • David’s imagery is definitely at odds with most popular depictions of God the Father as a Santa Clause type figure. Do any of the words he uses challenge your own idea of who God is? Are they comforting, frightening or something else?
  • What is your takeaway from the verses we’ve looked at so far in this Psalm? How can you make it personal?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Too often I want to stuff You in a box where I can pretend to understand You. Or I lean too heavily on verses that describe Your love and compassion and gloss over the ones that emphasize Your holiness and righteous anger. Truth is, when things are going along alright, I don’t really enjoy being challenged much.

But the “god” I design or understand is not You at all. You are more than I could ever comprehend. Your ways are not my ways. And when I’m forced to come face to face with that truth, it’s a little frightening.

Give me the courage to read and heed ALL the verses. Guide my heart to embrace the full revelation (so far as we have it) of who You are. Grant the grace to to receive Your love and Your correction.

Thank You that you are both Savior and Shepherd. Thank You for fighting for me and singing over me.

Amen

*Here are links to a couple previous posts about trust after loss and “forgiving” God:

Repost: My Cup Overflows

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

~Psalm 23:5b

I remember standing in our field with my husband at sundown one day, thankfulness and grace and mercy and wonder flooding my heart-and I whispered, “surely my cup overflows!”

Surely, God’s hand is in this, is on our lives-He has brought us to this place of blessing.

And that’s how I used to always think of that verse-the cup overflowing with goodness and blessing.

But what about when the cup overflows with sorrow?  

Read the rest here:  My Cup Overflows