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building on the foundation of Jesus Christ

Archive for the tag “The Good Shepherd”

Pursuing the best life

I got a notice a couple of weeks ago that AT&T will be coming through my neighborhood to install a fiber optic line. A couple of days later, there were multiple colored lines spray painted in my yard and on the street. Then the real work began yesterday. Men were digging and drilling holes across the front of my yard. As I was watching them (for at least a few minutes at a time), I noticed there was a particular hard place for them to dig and drill. The place was near another hard place that I found a year or two after I moved into my house. The hard place was really a very large rock that extends from the front of my house to the back of the house; I assume the same rock. I didn’t know though that the rock extended to where they were digging. And apparently under my driveway. They were having a tough time making a trench under the driveway. They had to stop and readjust multiple times. They eventually got around the obstacle, but it took a couple of hours in the hot sun to get the job done.

All this was happening while I was preparing to write this blog. Before the men showed up, I had all the best intentions to write all day. I had several things to get done, but I got very distracted. I get easily distracted when it comes to my writing times. Over the last few months, it’s been a real struggle to sit down and write. It’s been very discouraging. Usually the words would flow before I sat down to write, but it’s not like that right now. However, when I sit down to write and focus on what God puts before me, the words come. The trouble isn’t writing, it’s sitting down to write.

My pastor spoke about focus this past Sunday. We are bombarded with distractions all around us. Everything can get us off track. The enemy uses the world to get our attention. The worldly things draw us away from God. Dr. Tony Evans said in a message last month that God doesn’t want us to love the world because it’s run by Satan. The world leaves God out. God will not compete with Satan. When we focus on worldly things, we worry. We place too much emphasis on things that do not matter; they are temporary and unimportant in the long run. We should look at things through an eternal lens. Will this thing matter to us in 100 years? We are after all eternal beings and will be somewhere in 100 years.

It reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha when Jesus came to visit. Martha was upset that Mary wasn’t helping in the kitchen. Mary had chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus, but Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was needed in the kitchen. But Jesus said, My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42 NLT) Mary was focused on the most important thing in that moment – Jesus. Martha was distracted by her work, and she failed to see the things that truly mattered.

Jesus is the solution for our worry. When we focus on Him, He gives us a different perspective on our circumstances. Only Jesus is bigger than our worries. We should focus on the One who can fix our circumstances; who controls all things.

Jesus told us through Scripture that the most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength (Deut 6:5). In other words, seek Him first and everything else falls into place. The Israelites were instructed to repeat this commandment over and over; to tell their children, to tie this commandment to their wrists and foreheads, and to write the commandment on their doorposts. This commandment was essential to keep God’s people focused on what mattered. When Israel forgot, they were lost and exiled. There were removed from their Promised Land because they chose idols instead of God. They lost their focus on what really mattered.

When our lives are centered on Jesus, He will lead us to the Promised Land; the best place. He doesn’t remove our circumstances, but He gives us peace in it. Jesus is our Shepherd who protects us against the enemy. He leads us to the green pastures and the cool living water to refresh our souls. Jesus said there’s only one thing worth being concerned about. Like Mary, have you found it? Sit with Jesus for a while before you do anything else and let Him be your guiding light. Find eternal value that will matter in the long run.

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective. Colossians 3:1-2 (MSG)

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What Could Have Been

On Tuesday I heard two messages with the same theme. Pain and suffering with the right perspective. One story was shared with Andy Andrews on his latest podcast. The other story was shared with Louie Giglio at Passion City Church. This woman had a stroke with complications. Her and her husband shared the difficulties as they found a new normal. Their story was inspiring and hopeful. Her attitude was one of pure joy. The first lady was looking for a new perspective in the midst of her pain and suffering from her past. She couldn’t get past the hurt of her past. She wanted “what could have been” instead of what she got.

Sometimes it’s hard to move past the past. We play the “what if” game thinking that the other choice would have been better than the one that was made. We don’t know what the “other” decision would have led to; we assume everything would have been better if the other path had been chosen. But we will never know “what could have been” if the choice was different. God allows our struggles. He chose us for this unique opportunity to do the hard thing. He even equips us to endure it.

In the book of James, we are told to count our pain and suffering as pure joy. He wrote that it is a test of our faith. This is where we get honest with God. We admit our part of the problem. We give ourselves over to God for healing and restoration. We are supposed to draw nearer to Him in these hard places. He has seen to it that we need this hard place for our growth and development. We have been counted worthy of this time to learn endurance for God’s glory through it all.

There were a couple of crossroads in my life that were pretty significant. One was made for me; the other was a bad decision on my part. But God allowed both. The first choice was made by my parents to move a few hours away from my sisters at a critical time in my life at the age of thirteen. I had a hard time dealing with and took me a great deal to overcome.

It was a joke in my family for many years that I would never forgive my parents for making the move. Many years after the fact, I asked my Mom if they had prayed about the decision to move. The answer was yes. At that point, I knew I had to be okay with the past because this was the will of God. I don’t know why we had to move – whether it was for my good or for someone else’s good. But God brought good out of it for me.

“What could have been” if I hadn’t moved seems to be a long list of opportunities I would not have had. I would have never experienced everything that I experienced, traveled where I traveled, met the people I met; things would have been totally different. I would have never gone to college where I went or experienced one of the highlights of my life – winning a national championship in women’s basketball at that college.

Mom asked me before she died if I had forgiven them, the answer was yes. The joke was not really a joke for her. She wanted to know before she left this earth that we were truly okay. It was all good.

The other decision that I made was at a bad time in my life. I made a lot of stupid decisions that led to a lot of heartache for me and my parents. It was not one of my stellar moments. I was in a relationship that was not a good one for me. The one I was seeing had a bit of a control problem. I realized one morning that I needed to get out of the relationship when I woke up with a shotgun close to the bed.

I don’t know if it was a scare tactic or what was explained as safety precaution for hearing something outside that night. The scare worked if that’s what it was. I knew in my heart that I needed to get out but I was deceived into thinking this was a good relationship. But God set me up; my parents were made aware of what was going on. To make a long story short, with the help of my parents I moved on to a new place.

We all face difficulties and have to face the hard times. But God will help us through it. He promises He will never leave us alone. Our part is to lean upon Him. He will give us the endurance to sustain us in those hard times. Pain and suffering is the way we become more like Jesus. God gets the glory win we shine the light on His working through it. Others get the benefit from the wisdom we gained in it. We get the blessing of helping others through their pain and suffering as only we can do as ones who have experienced what we’ve experienced. Yes, we can count it as joy because we have endured the worst and made better for it. It just takes the right perspective to see God at work in it. Lean on Him and watch Him work through it!

Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
Psalm 23:4 (NLT)

The Good Shepherd

Over the last month, I have heard messages about the Good Shepherd. There must be something in this passage that I need to learn. The passage is from Psalm 23. I think we have all heard this passage even if we know nothing about God or Jesus. I think every funeral has this as the main message; shadow of death and all. Yet, do we really know what it means? Do we really reflect on the truth found there?

King David is attributed as the writer to this psalm. King David had been a shepherd when he was called by God to be the next king. He was just a teenager at the time and wasn’t even present when the Jesse’s sons were lined up in front of the prophet Samuel. God told Samuel to go to Jesse’s to anoint the next king. The first son passed before Samuel, and he thought surely this is the one. But God said no. The second was passed by as well, but no. By the end of the line, Samuel must have wondered if he heard God correctly. But Jesse had one more son out in the fields tending the sheep. David was called from the fields and anointed king over Israel. But he went right back out to the fields until the day, God called him to bigger things.

Young David had time to think in those fields. I’m sure he contemplated many things as he drove the sheep from pasture to water and then enclosed them in for the night. The Bible tells us that David was a man after God’s own heart. He had a greater depth of knowledge about God than most do. Maybe he realized God is a Good Shepherd. Maybe David even realized at some point, we are like the sheep – helpless without the shepherd.

Ben Stewart from Passion City Church mentioned we are referenced as the sheep over 500 times in the Bible. Okay – the point is we’re like sheep. My pastor said on Sunday, this is not a good thing. Sheep are stupid. There is not one instance where a sheep has been trained. However, a sheep learns their shepherd’s voice and follows it. They are smart enough not to follow another shepherd. They are also aware that the shepherd is their lifeline.

Okay, maybe we’re not as sharp as sheep. At least the sheep realize their need for a shepherd. We on the other hand think that we can live our lives without assistance. We are brought up to be independent. Yet, how much easier would life be if we lived as a sheep – following a shepherd – not just any shepherd, but a good one! One that we knew that we could trust; one that had our best interest at heart.

Jesus told us in one of his “I am” statements (found in the Gospel of John) that He is the Good Shepherd. In this day and time, at least in the US, we don’t get that reference. We are far removed from the fields. He also said “I am the gate.” At night, the shepherd always moved the sheep into an enclosure to keep watch over them while they slept. The shepherd positioned himself at the gate to keep the sheep in and the predators out. There is no way a sheep could sleep unless it felt safe. There is no way for a sheep to protect itself or find food or good water or anything else to survive. It relies solely on the shepherd.

Jesus said that “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Before young David faced Goliath, he said that he protected his sheep from a lion and a bear; he killed them in order to save his flock. He faced Goliath knowing that God went before him just as he knew that it was God who protected him as he killed animals that threatened the sheep. He recognized he couldn’t do it alone, but God was with him.

Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. Jesus died for all of us – no matter who we are, what we’ve done or what nationality or color of our skin. We all have an opportunity to follow Him. But not everyone follows. A shepherd stays with the sheep – it’s a full time job. Pastor Ben said that the quality of the sheep depends on the proximity to the shepherd. He also said that things make a great gift but lousy gods. If we are running after things, we will never follow a shepherd. We follow after those shiny things that keep us distracted and away from the shepherd who knows what we need. Peace, rest and lots of green pasture with lots of living water and one trustworthy shepherd that would lead us there if we would just look to Him and Him alone. In these uncertain times, it’s time to get our focus right. There’s no better time than the present to follow the Good Shepherd.

 “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice.John 10:1-4 (MSG)

Building a Better Relationship

Relationships are hard to develop and keep in this day and time. We are even busier than ever before. Our culture isn’t conducive to form lasting relationships either – we like our independence and we tend to move about. Last week, I mentioned that we have to be intentional about listening to those around us. But it is also about being intentional about our relationships. There is a spiritual battlefield that is going on around us to keep us from developing true friendships. I believe one of our enemy’s schemes is to drive a wedge in our relationships. The family is especially important to God. And the family has been under attack for the last few years. God put relationships in the Bible in the very beginning. It’s His design for us to depend on one another.

God introduced Adam and Eve to us in the very beginning of His Word. He designed them to need one another but also to have a relationship with Him. God walked with them in the garden. Can you imagine? What a blessing to have that kind of intimate conversation with God! Yet, we are given that opportunity too. But do we take advantage of our opportunity to have a conversation with the living God – Creator of the Universe and everything in it? Again, we have to be intentional about this relationship. We have to spend time listening to His voice. But distractions (one of the enemy’s greatest tools) keep us from hearing God’s whisper.

I have been blessed over these last four years to have the time to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus. But I still have trouble hearing from Him at times. Or if I hear, I start to doubt what He’s saying. Doubt creeps in – especially when I start to act in faith when my toe is touching water! The enemy is hard at work. This weekend is a case in point. I began to make progress in a decision that I had to make. I believe I heard it was time to move forward with a new opportunity. I had a crisis of belief Sunday when I heard a series of messages that made me take my toe out of the water and pause long enough to doubt I heard correctly. The first message was to “wait on God.” The second message was not to “settle for less” and the third was to “not to let doubt take us out.”

Andy Stanley mentioned in his message that Peter started to doubt when he thought this whole “walk on water” thing wouldn’t work out. Each message was really about trusting God. The messages mean that we have to have a right relationship with Jesus in order to hear His voice. Scriptures tell us that Jesus’ followers know His voice. He is depicted as the Shepherd, and we are the sheep. The sheep are pretty dumb animals and are prone to wander in search of another blade of grass to eat. The shepherd keeps his eyes on his sheep and will move them to the place of greener grass and fresh water. I don’t want to be a sheep that is in search of the blade of grass that is in the wrong pasture. I want the right pasture, and I want it at the right time. There is a time to settle in a pasture and a time to move on.

My pastor said that God offers a better plan than what we could choose for ourselves. Andy Stanley says that “You’ll never know what God might have done if we allow our doubt to take us out.” The disciples had no idea what was in store for them when they continued to keep walking the path Jesus set before them. When we surrender to the path, God will do amazing things through us too. It takes intentional time with Jesus and with others to be the instruments that God wants us to be. It is not meant for us to walk the path alone. We are stronger together as a community of believers who listen and are active in our faith walk. One step at a time.

God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus! Romans 15:5-6 (The Message)

The Perfect Place

Last week, I wrote about my love for waterfalls. I would love to live in a place where I had access to such natural beauty. Ideally I would have a view of mountains, a lake or a beach. When I was twelve, my parents and I moved to the North Carolina Mountains. When I went to college, my parents moved further into the hills of NC. Their house was placed amongst rhododendron with a small stream running along the back of the property. A waterfall provided the stream up the hill from the house which flowed beyond our house into a lake. You could sit outside on the deck with the sunlight filtering through in perfect peace. My parents eventually moved back down to the flat lands soon after I graduated from college. I didn’t appreciate those moments when I had them to sit in that perfect place in perfect peace. I was restless to move on.

I think I would be more creative in natural surroundings. I think my creative juices would flow best if I could hear the rustic sounds of nature just outside my door. Right now, I’m here in the midst of the blaring music, dogs barking and rushing cars flying down my neighborhood street. One day maybe I’ll pack up and move to a less hectic place. But where would I go? As I contemplate my perfect place, I realized as I walking my neighborhood one morning there is no perfect place. There is always something that would cause me some irritation.

I do not like critters – snakes, spiders, or crawling bugs invading my personal space. If I was at the beach, there would be all sorts of bugs encroaching on my territory. If I was at the mountains, there may be a few bears, lots of snakes, and other sorts of critters that would keep me in constant flux! Maybe if I moved to an island in the Pacific, I would find peace amongst the swapping palms; if the mosquitoes didn’t eat me alive. I’ve been to Maine and Alaska in the summertime. There are issues with bugs there too, not to mention the unfavorable weather for a hot climate girl like myself.

Maybe the perfect place is the place where I am right now. God gave me instructions to move here several years ago. Until I get direction to move again, I am in His perfect place. Every time I have moved in my life, God has given me opportunities in those new places to learn something about Him that I might not have known if I stayed where I was. Sometimes we have to move in order to grow. Sometimes in the midst of staying we learn patience and endurance. God has placed me in different places for different reasons. I can be content right here and right now because God has something for me to learn in this place and in this time. I can’t rush the process of learning. Is it perfect for my creativity?

My house may not be in the ideal place for my creativity. But I have made a place in my little area where birds are welcomed; where squirrels lounge on my deck; where flowers bloom and trees grow. I have a little space of quiet in the midst of a busy neighborhood. And God has given me peace here. No matter what my circumstances, I have found my rest in Him. I have found my perfect place. And it has nothing to do with my physical dwelling. I will stay in this place because I don’t want to be anywhere else a part from Him. I am resting in Jesus’ loving arms, feeling His presence and soaking in His peace. Thank you Jesus for being my perfect place!

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Psalm 23:1-3(NLT)

New Beginning

Every turn of the year, I like to reflect a bit of what has taken place over the past year. Then I like to contemplate what God wants to work on for the next year. As I sit down to think about a few things, I recall the word for this past year was trust. In every trial that I faced, trust was the word given. Wait has also been a word that was received with frequency. I asked and God said “wait.” Wait on the timing. Wait on the next thing. Wait and trust that God is working it all out for those who are called to His purpose – that’s me.

I didn’t have in mind to go on a mission trip before the year began last January. Yet, it was one of the highlights of the year. I struggled with getting the shots and getting the resources to pay for the trip. But it all worked out. When I was there, I trusted God with my food issues, and it too worked out – probably better off there than here. I trusted God in a couple of financial battles that ensued this year. And I made it through another year by God’s grace alone!

I haven’t conquered the trust issue by any means, but I am further along the path to completely trusting no matter what; even when I can’t see the outcome. I trust that when God puts an opportunity in my path, no matter what, I can trust the outcome to Him. My obligation is to be obedient to what I know to do in the circumstance. One thing about being obedient in the difficult times, my reaction to obedience has shortened and my trust muscle is growing stronger.

I am reminded of a t-shirt I saw one day when I was working out. “Winners train, losers complain!” It got my attention immediately. I tend to complain more than I should. My mouth gets to running more than my feet do. I am on the winning side with God, so why should I complain? Are the circumstances not up to my standards? There is nothing that should warrant complaints. God has chosen the path I am to take. The obstacles are made for my endurance. The rocks are there for me to climb over to strengthen me. The roots are not to stumble on but to see them for what they are; a snare of Satan’s. This is the path for me alone, and I will choose to walk as a winner. I will endure the hardships with a confidence in God. For God alone is my strength; He is my stronghold. Nothing will shake my confidence in Him. I can trust Him!

So for 2014, I don’t know the word that the Lord will put before me this year. I do know there is more work to be done in me. I will press on reaching for the prize made possible through Jesus. He is my Shepherd and I will follow Him. Even if I stumble, He is there beside me every step of the way. This year I pledge to trust more; train harder and longer, and complain less. Let my feet do more running than my mouth!

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25

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