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.
A little review as we get to the last post in our series: Trying to stuff or hide my pain from myself, God and others is useless and unhelpful.
I’ve got to breathe out the sorrow, doubts, angst and disappointment to make room for the life-giving breath of Truth and the Holy Spirit.
And then I need to do one more thing. I must appropriate the strength and courage of my Savior-the Author and Finisher of my faith.
It is possible to endure. It is possible to finish well. It is possible to hold onto hope and follow the Light and Love of Jesus through this Valley.
My friend and fellow bereaved mom, Margaret Franklin, Ryan’s mom, shared a beautiful Dutch word with me “Sterkte” (pronounced STAIRK-tah).
It literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more. It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insumountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.
Not MY strength, but HIS.
It’s the strength Isaiah meant when he wrote:
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31 KJV
This is what it means to appropriate God’s strength:
When my perfectly healthy, strong and gifted son was killed instantly in a motorcycle accident on April 12. 2014 my world fell apart. My heart shattered into a million pieces. And after three and a half years, I’ve yet to even FIND all of those pieces much less put them back together.
So what does a heart do when that happens?Because, try as I might, I cannot stop time.
Even THAT awful day only lasted 24 hours.
When the sun rose again, the pain was still there. And behind that pain and mixed with it was something else-disappointment, disaffection, distrust.
To deny the presence of pain is to diminish the power of the cross.
Dying, Jesus honored His mother’s courage by acknowledging her pain. She was losing the Son she loved and it hurt in a way that only mothers can comprehend. He didn’t tell her that it would “be alright” or that “the ending is ultimately victorious”.
Instead, He looked upon her trembling figure and saw her broken heart.
Cars, cars, cars filled my long driveway and front yard.
People spilling out like ants scrambling after the hill is disturbed.
Oh, our hill was disturbed-knocked wide open by that deputy’s visit.Phone calls to let others know. Phone calls from people who couldn’t get in touch with him and were just checking “in case something had happened”.
If you want to truly appreciate the New Testament you’ve got to begin in the Old.
Jesus is written on every page, revealed in increasing measure in every story.
From Genesis to Revelation, God the Father displays His purpose, plan and passion for His children.
The ultimate unveiling is Immanuel-God with us.
And so the Living Expression became a man and lived among us! And we gazed upon the splendor of his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father overflowing with tender mercy and truth!
John 1:14 TPT
Ever since Eden, humankind was banished from unafraid, uninhibited communion with our Maker.
Sin separated us from His holy Presence.
When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt He led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He had Moses construct a Tabernacle for His Presence to rest in the midst of His people but they still had to remain afar off.
Only Moses could come near. And when he left the Tabernacle, he wore a veil to hide God’s glory reflected on his own face.
And then came Jesus-His perfect life, sacrificial death and victorious resurrection-removed the veil.
He revealed God’s glory and holiness.
But He also revealed God’s mercy, grace and truth.
The Law teaches hearts that no one can measure up.
Christ teaches that because He fulfilled the Law, if we trust His finished work we don’t have to.
Our God who breathes stars, He breathed Bethlehem’s Star, then took on lungs and breathed in stable air.
Our God who formed and delivered the heavens, He waited patient like an embryo in a womb and delivered Himself to free all humanity. Our God who cradles whole galaxies in the palm of His hand, whom highest heavens cannot contain, He folds Himself into our skin and He curls His newborn fist in the cradle of a barn feed trough — and we are saved from ourselves.
We are saved from our hopelessness — because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the nail sharp edge of our sins.
We are saved from our pain — because God pierced the dark and came to the pinpoint of us in the universe and He took the nails.
We are saved from our loneliness — because God is love that can’t stand to leave us by ourselves, to ourselves. The entire cosmos sings it leading up to Christmas Eve:
We are not alone.
We are a pinpoint in the universe that is now nailed to eternity because of the wood of a manger, of a Tree, of a crowning wreath of thorns.
Before they sinned, Adam and Eve enjoyed open fellowship with God. They walked together in the cool of the evening. But disobedience and distrust ruined it. Jesus paid the price to restore fellowship. Have you thought recently about the great value of that gift? How have you felt His Presence this Advent season?
Jesus took on flesh and walked among men as the living, breathing embodiment of God. He wasn’t primarily an example (although He was the perfect example). He came to be a sacrifice. God’s holiness is beautiful but frightening. His grace and mercy are beautiful and inviting. How have you experienced the grace and mercy of the Lord?
Do you ever feel alone, abandoned or forgotten? Does it help your heart to meditate on Immanuel-God with us?
You could have started over and abandoned us. But your love compelled You to reach out and reach down to make a way.
Jesus is that Way.
He came to reveal more than your glory and holiness. He came to reveal your mercy, grace and truth.
He showed us your heart.
It’s a heart of love and good intentions toward me. Help me trust that heart when I can’t trace your hand. Give me assurance of your Presence no matter how dark the night or desperate the circumstance.