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: How and Why I Keep Writing-A Shepherd’s Heart

I am still utterly amazed that since November 2015 I have managed a blog post every day.

At first, I was writing because I wanted to make public the things I was learning in this Valley and to honor my missing son.  

dominic at tims wedding

He had been in Heaven a year and a half by then and it was clear to this mama’s heart that (1) people (including ME before it WAS me!) had absolutely NO IDEA what life after child loss was like once the funeral was over;  (2) one way to redeem this pain was to share how God had been faithful even as I struggled; and (3) I just didn’t see too many honest portrayals of life after loss for Christ followers (which is not to say they didn’t/don’t exist but I hadn’t found them).

So I wrote.

Read the rest here:  How and Why I Keep Writing: A Shepherd’s Heart

Five Years of Faithfulness

For my fellow Christ followers, my early morning post may have been a disappointment.  

We’re all schooled in the “right” things to say in the midst of a trial, aren’t we?  

“God is good!”  

“I know the end of the story!”

“Death doesn’t have the last word!”

And on, and on, and on….

True. Every single one of them.  

And yet…

If we are honest (and often we are not, because spiritual honesty is absolutely underrated in the church) we will also have to admit that KNOWING all those things doesn’t minimize pain.

It only makes it tolerable.  

But I don’t want leave anyone doubting for one minute that God has been faithful these past five years. 

He most certainly HAS.  

He has been a silent Source of hope and strength and breath and grace.  He has lifted my head when I couldn’t do it myself.  He has sent His faithful flock to minister to my needs and the needs of my family.  He has held me when I would have let go.

I have wrestled and questioned and even shouted but I’ve never, ever doubted He was here.  

faith does not eliminate questions but faith knows wehre to take them

I wish I could tell you that there was some super-spiritual moment when He assured me of Dominic’s safety in Heaven, but there hasn’t been.  

I wish I could tell you of a morning when His love and assurance and Presence washed over me to take away the angst, but I can’t.  

What I can say is that the Word I hid in my heart before this awful pain was also lodged there has been enough.  That deep well of living water has been more than adequate to quench my thirsty soul.  The torch of truth has been sufficient light along even this black-as-night path.

walk by faith feet on path

My faith is still just that-faith.  

I don’t have special revelation nor an extra dose of grace.  

I’m just following my Shepherd, trusting that He will lead me Home.  

jesus the shepherd the i am

Weak Knees, Strong Savior

When I was a little girl, I used to wrap my hand around my daddy’s forefinger when we walked together.  His long legs meant that mine had to work double time to keep up. 

But no matter where his legs took us, I knew I was safe-because he was with me, he wouldn’t leave me and he would take care of me.  

When I was afraid, I could just squeeze his hand a little tighter and courage flooded my soul.  

I’m very thankful for the example and blessing of a faithful, loving earthly father because it makes it so much easier for me to trust my Heavenly Father.  

There are many things that terrify me in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

Left to myself, I’d turn and run, hide or just lie down and give up.  

But I’m not alone.  

My Shepherd walks alongside me.  His Presence gives me courage and strength to keep going.  

When I am afraid, I cling tighter to His promises, lean harder on His grace and hold on for dear life to His love.  

fear is what we feel brave is what we do

In the hour of crisis, I may be weak in the knees, but I must step forward. I may bow in my private Gethsemane, sweat blood, and cry for deliverance, but then I rise to take up the cross and move toward yonder marked-out hill of suffering. The fight of faith does not allow me to flee in terror. … I dare not and will not deny the sustaining power of the living God.

When Paul wrote, ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13), he was not boasting of his cleverness or aptitude in mastering circumstances. He was expressing deep confidence that in whatever condition — sickness or health, abundance or poverty, life or death — Christ would enable him to cope, even triumph. He experienced and preached what he truly believed: ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37).   

~James Means, A Tearful Celebration

 

A Shepherd’s Heart

If you’ve read even a few of my posts you know that I have a small flock/herd of sheep and goats. 

I have learned firsthand why God called His most capable leaders from among shepherds.  It’s a tough job and often a thankless job.

But it molds a heart of love and compassion in ways no other work can do.  

The Twenty-third Psalm isn’t just words to me, it’s my life:

One  night, as I went to close the gate to the goat pen, I noticed an older doe was missing-I didn’t have to do a head count, I just looked at the herd and could tell someone wasn’t there.

Sure enough, Bella hadn’t made it back from afternoon foraging.

I hollered out to my son and, flashlights in hand, we went looking for her.  We were pretty certain she must have been knocked down and was unable to get up.  Goats can get kind of pushy if there is a particularly tasty bit of browse and often butt one another.

After exploring all the usual places, he going one way and me another, he found her.

Yep, down and helpless.

In the edge of the woods.

Where, if we left her, she would be dead come morning.

So he carried her back to the pen (not an easy task with a full-grown goat!).

Why? Because that’s what shepherds DO.

welcome home goats

They tend the herd and flock. They don’t rest until every one is accounted for.

And it’s what God calls HIS shepherds to do as well: know the flock, feed the flock, go out in the dark and the briers and find the missing one.

Not to rest satisfied that they will somehow find their own way home.

I am thankful for Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Perfect Shepherd.  

jesus the shepherd the i am

We who follow Him are called to be shepherds of our own flock-the persons He places under our watchcare, the ones He brings across our path that need love, compassion, a healing touch and a guiding hand.

It’s a tough job. 

Often a thankless job. 

But it’s our job.  

feed my shee[

Hard Stops: When You Can’t Ignore the Missing

Most of the time I’m just kind of rolling along.

There are things to do, places to go, people to see, animals to feed.

I get up, get going and get on with it.

But there are some days that are what I call “Hard Stops” on this journey.  They are the days that force my heart to take special notice of the fact that Dominic isn’t here.

Sometimes they are milestone days like birthdays or holidays or the anniversary of that awful knock on the door.

Sometimes they are events where he should be there-like seeing his brother one more time before he deploys half-way around the world.

These days make my heart measure the time since I last hugged his neck, heard his voice, saw his strong, square hands reach across the table for the salt shaker-and I am overcome with how long it has been!

Then my heart shifts to the months and likely years I will have to live with this aching empty place where he should be but isn’t and I fear I just can’t do it!

Many days I’m able to distract myself from the sorrow and to live with the missing.

But these “hard stop” days force me to face it head on. and it is overwhelming. 

Every. Time.

So what do I do? 

When my heart is overwhelmed, I take it to the Rock that is higher than I.  

rock that is higher than i

I run to the Refuge of my Faithful Father.  

sing of strength you are my refuge

I turn my eyes to my Savior Who will redeem and restore.

restore after season of suffering

I put my hand firmly in the hand of my Shepherd Who will not leave me in this Valley of the Shadow of Death.  

jesus the shepherd the i am

And I pray for myself-and every heart having a hard time holding onto hope today-that we will feel the Father’s loving arms around us and that He will give us strength to stand.  ❤