The Good Shepherd

Do you feel lost sometimes?  At times vulnerable and confused?  That is the way Jesus saw the multitudes around him, “distressed and downcast, like sheep without a shepherd.”   (Matthew 9:36)  He knows that some of the trouble we find ourselves in we have brought upon ourselves.  “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)  He knows our desperation.  But He feels compassion for us and welcomes our dependence, as He considers Himself our rightful Good Shepherd (John 10:11).  So He opens His arms to us in welcome.

His role as Shepherd-Messiah was prophesied from long past:

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“He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.”                Isaiah 40:11

This nurturing, protecting role is natural for Messiah, as it is what God the Father has done for eternity for those choose to follow Him:

I have cared for you since you were born.
    Yes, I carried you before you were born.
I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.
”                                        Isaiah 46:3-4

Thank You, dear Lord, for Your great patience, Your loving pursuit of me, for putting me on Your shoulder to carry me back home again, and Your faithful, tender care along the way.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”                     John 10:27-30

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Evangelism

In Acts 17, Paul’s usual strategy is repeated three times – that of starting his ministry to the population of a town at the Jewish synagogue (2, 10, 17).  This may have been a calculated decision to begin with the “low-hanging fruit,” those who are already God-seekers, open to an unseen world beyond their own senses and to Someone who has set the rules for life and holds them accountable.  That is a reasonable strategy.  Not that others should be ignored – God can move whomever He wants to seek and find Him – but it is reasonable to start with the ones God has already been working with, those whom He has made responsive to Him.

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A second strategy Paul used in evangelism was in the content of his message.  As Jesus did with the men on the road to Emmaus, Paul explained the prophecies of the Messiah and how these were teaching about Jesus.  He encouraged them to gladly welcome the long awaited, promised Messiah, who was Jesus, recently crucified and raised from the dead.

We should be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us to explain our faith to them.  (1 Peter 3:15)  But we must also be alert for those seekers God has already prepared for us to engage, that we may finish the job that the Lord started in their hearts.  This is the teamwork He has called us to.

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But I am a clumsy speaker!

In Exodus 6, Moses repeats his complaint that God has chosen the wrong man for the job of leading His people out of Egypt.  He is clumsy of speech, Moses says.  Neither Pharaoh nor his own people will listen to him, he thinks.  In his opinion, he has no credibility.  Furthermore, his people are no longer interested in leaving, but only to be relieved of their suffering as abused slaves.

The Great Commander who issued Moses’ orders had previously said, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go!  I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.”  (Exodus 4:11-12)

Moses’ concern is also our natural response, if we focus on our human resources, rather than the supernatural empowerment of God within us.  The Lord tried to help Moses beyond this thinking by highlighting the new name by which He addresses him – Yahweh, the Lord, their personal, caring, hearing, seeing, empathetic Father. Yahweh speaks to Moses from a different posture than that of El Shaddai, God Almighty, by which He was known by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then He reminds Moses of all that relationship entails:  I will free you, rescue you, redeem you, claim you as My own, and give you the land I promised you.  He speaks reassuringly to Moses, as a very personal God, who will Himself see to their perpetual care.

Other wonderful giants in Bible history have had mission-threatening fears and self-doubt, such as Jonah and Jeremiah.  Isaiah is encouraging:

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
    O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
    I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”                                Isaiah 43:1-3

Help us, Lord, not to wring our hands over our human powerlessness.  Help us to realize the battle is not ours to fight, but Yours.  Help us to lean into You, watching expectantly for Your power to work through us to accomplish what You desire.

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Legalism

In Acts 15, the legalists came from Jerusalem with their unsolicited and unendorsed opinion that Gentile converts must be circumcised and follow the other laws of Moses to be forgiven and to have eternal life.  This doctrinal challenge spurred the first church council in Jerusalem to arrive at an official opinion regarding the essentials of saving faith.  Peter, after the long discussion among church leaders, summarized their conclusions succinctly that, “We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” 11.  He pointed out that God made no distinction between Gentiles and Jews in the way they received forgiveness and eternal life.  “So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?”  9-10

Today, we also need to guard against the well-meaning tendency to load additional, non-essential burdens on new believers, extra baggage we attach to the gospel we share with seekers.  Sadly, this can keep them from being able to rejoice in the free grace of God.  We naturally develop personal habits that we think help us to live the life He wants for us —  things that we think will help us be better children of God, more useful servants of His.  But we get so earnest in keeping our new applications of practical faith, that they become a set of rules which we then press others to do.  We are sure that what has helped us in our Christian walk will help them, too.  We inadvertently create a new religion of rule-keeping that can take us and our disciples far from joyful gratitude for grace.

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“They had been with Jesus.”

After healing a man lame from birth in Acts 3-4, Peter and John are arrested by Jewish priests and Sadducees, challenged as to what authority guided this action and their teachings, and forbade them to preach Jesus any longer.  Yet, these officials were amazed at their boldness and confidence, due to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit within Peter heals lamethem.  Does “and they began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” mean that they recognized their same inexplicable power, confidence, and quiet authority in the teachings and manner of their Master?  Under the threats of the religious leaders (who had just seen to the crucifixion of Jesus), they did not pray for their own safety, but for boldness in continued preaching of God’s word.

Lord, give me, too, this same boldness and confidence!

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Wait’ll they see this!

As I walk into the room in the Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, LA, that is dedicated largely to the paintings of Peter Ellenshaw, I stop in my tracks, catching my breath.  I stop, stunned speechless in wonder at the majesty of his painting of the Himalayas, which occupies all of one wall.  Besides being arrested by the natural beauty depicted, I immediately want to know, “Who painted this?”  Did he spend time there?  How did he come upon this particular captivating view?  What is he trying to say?

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God speaks to us in the same way — through what He has created.  He places us in His museum of Creation, hoping that we will pause and want to know the Creator of all of it. I can imagine Him saying, as He takes great pleasure in creating unusual and clever designs, “Wait’ll they see this!” — with a grin on His face.

IMG_1064For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”              Romans 1:20

 

 

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Misusing God’s Good Gifts

 

In Genesis 3, Eve is tempted by the Serpent to doubt God’s word and to doubt His character (vv 1, 4-5).  Likewise, we tend to think that God is a kill-joy, keeping us from enjoying things that seem attractive to us, not knowing that they can kill us and kill our relationship with Him.

When they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, “their eyes were opened,” then realizing they were naked.  This realization could have been sudden, or gradual.  Why did it not previously occur to them that they were naked?  Perhaps in their innocence, they just appreciated their differences and embraced them as God’s loving plan for them.  One would assume the thought never crossed their minds, before the Fall, to misuse God’s good gifts to them. As they became aware of their nakedness did the man  insatiably hunger for sexual satisfaction and abuse his strength, pressuring Eve provide herself for his pleasure any time he wished?  Or was Eve tempted to misuse her seductive power over Adam, manipulating him with sexual attraction to get him to do as she wished?  Were this the case, they would be acting as God feared they would, becoming their own little gods, exercising their will selfishly upon others.  It would be too dangerous to the world for such selfish little gods to live forever by eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, so the reluctant Father banished them from the Garden – temporarily.

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