The LORD is my Shepherd…

As we prepare to bid “Adios” to 2017, a year that, for many of us, has been very difficult, we need to be reminded that the same Shepherd that King David trusted in three-thousand years ago is still on His throne and will lead us onward into and through 2018.

I lost my mom to cancer April 4th of this year. She spent the last 2-1/2 weeks in a Hospice facility, and when I went to see her, I read the 23rd Psalm to her right before I left each time. Even though her thinking wasn’t very clear and she was minimally-responsive, when I read this Psalm to her, she would get the most peaceful-countenance about her as she imagined being led by her great Shepherd. It was all I could do to read the 23rd Psalm at her memorial service without breaking down.

Several of us lost a friend and brother to suicide October 12th. He left his young, pregnant wife and three adorable daughters behind. Other close friends also lost family members this year.

October 22nd was the twentieth anniversary of the death by suicide of my beloved wife, Connie. That kind of loss never goes away, and it is a loss that you don’t just “get-over”.

The 23rd Psalm is the best-know passage in the whole Bible, and even unbelievers want it read at their funeral or memorial service, because it speaks of the kind of comfort and security everyone craves. This is a phrase-by-phrase, part-by-part, meditation, and I hope to open up the richest meaning we can get from this marvelous Psalm.

King David, the author, had been a shepherd long before he was anointed as a king, so he knew intimately what the responsibilities of a shepherd were. As he applied it to us, as sheep under God’s shepherding, he has told us both what our Shepherd will do, and what our response should be.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23)

The LORD – The LORD – Yahweh…the most personal name of God, the great I AM. This was the marvelous name God told Moses to use when he went back to Egypt to carry out the mission God commanded him to do…liberate the children of Israel from bondage.

Is my shepherd – The supreme God of the universe is the One who has taken on the task of being my God, provider, guide and protector. There is no higher authority…no better provider.

I shall not want – I shall not lack the necessities of life. We have become a seriously materialistic society, and we often confuse our “wants” with what we actually need. God is the provider of our needs, and we should be thankful for “our daily bread“.

He makes me lie down in green pastures – Lying down in green pastures is a picture of rest…rest in abundance.

He leads me beside quiet waters – In all the hustle and bustle of life, God wants to lead us to a peaceful place, a place of refreshing…quiet waters.

He restores my soul – Our souls are in turmoil. We see nothing but bad news…broken relationships, violence, wars, and personal brokenness, but God wants to repair and heal our brokenness, and restore us to a right relationship with Him.

He guides me in paths of righteousness – Our first parents left us with a legacy of sin and despair. We are sinners by birth, and sinners by choice, but God wants us to depend on Him for our righteousness. Then, with His enabling, we are able to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

For His name’s sake – God has staked His own reputation on us, and if we do what is right, we are a positive reflection of Him. We should do everything for His glory, not our own.

Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death – We will all face the valley of death, and maybe many times, as we lose friends and loved ones, but our Lord Jesus has already trod and conquered that lonely valley, and He will guide us safely through. Even though we all will die, unless our Lord returns beforehand, we should see our death not as an exit from this life, but as an entrance-ramp into eternity.

I will fear no evil – Evil IS everywhere around us, because Satan is on the prowl, but his days are numbered. Our Lord Jesus crushed the serpent’s head on the cross, and in so doing, gained the victory over sin and death. Even though evil men may kill us, our victory is assured in Christ. We need not fear the evil one or any of his schemes.

For you are with me – Is there any better assurance? God is with us, and if God is with us, who can successfully be against us. He is our guide, and He walks by our side and carries us when we need to be carried.

Your rod and your staff – These are pictures of both protection and guidance. The rod is a tool of protection from our enemies, and the staff is used to gently guide and direct us in the path.

They comfort me – What greater comfort can we have, than that we are both protected and guided by our faithful Shepherd, even though the path may be rough and steep. This life WILL bring tough times our way, but our comfort must come from the LORD.

You prepare a table before me – This is no ordinary table. It is a lavish banquet table in a magnificent celebration hall, set and prepared by the LORD Himself. We are His honored-guests.

In the presence of my enemies – Our enemies seek to do us harm, but when we are in God’s banquet-hall, all they can do is fuss and fume on the sidelines. God’s banquet-hall is a place of perfect safety and security. We are better-protected than any president ever will be.

You anoint my head with oil – Anointing carries with it a two-fold picture. It is a picture of healing, and also a picture of honor. Priests were anointed for their holy service, and we are anointed both for holy service and as a badge of honor in God’s house.

My cup overflows – A never-ending supply, and a permanent place at His table. There is a limitless supply of His wine of grace.

Sure goodness and mercy – Goodness and mercy=blessings and salvation, which come only from the hand of God. They are not things we can earn or merit.

Will follow me – They will not only follow me, but they will also surround me and en-dwell me.

All the days of my life – God, through Jesus Christ, has guaranteed these blessings for as long as we live.

And I will dwell – Live safely and securely.

In the house – We will no longer be out in the “fields” of life. Instead, we will be HOME, never to be put out to pasture again.

Of the LORD – Our eternal LORD is the provider of our “forever-home“. This reminds me of a child who has been in foster-care for many years, and who has never really had a place to call “home“, but when they are adopted, they are taken to their “forever-home“…the home of their new parents. We have been orphans, but God has adopted us, and He will take us to HIS home…our “forever-home“.

Forever – Do we really comprehend “forever“? If we see someone we haven’t seen in a long time, we may tell them: “I haven’t seen you in forever“, which to us means “a long time“, but that time isn’t even a pin-prick on the time-line of “forever“. The problem is that our minds are constrained by MEASURABLE time, so IMMEASURABLE time is incomprehensible. “Forever” is immeasurable, and we can’t wrap our brains around it, but in fact, that is how “long” we will dwell in the house of the LORD.

Is this LORD your shepherd? I pray that He is, and that you find great comfort in knowing that, no matter what kind of trials come your way, you are in good hands…the hands of the LORD.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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A Fresh Start

The “ink” was barely dry on “Mistakes…” when I encountered a devotional called “Start Afresh“, based on Lamentations 3:22-23. I needed that reminder that we have the opportunity to get a fresh start every morning. When we make mistakes, as we often do, we have two choices: allow our mistakes to drag us down, or give them to God and allow Him to enable us to make a fresh start.

The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Boat-anchor or stepping-stone?
Many of us have allowed our past mistakes to become boat-anchors which drag us down. Maybe the consequences of our mistakes are just too overwhelming, or we can’t forgive ourselves, so we can’t imagine that God would ever forgive us, let alone allow us to move forward. Whether it is the consequences or our inability to forgive ourselves, the results are the same. We can’t move forward with our lives in any meaningful way. We are just too burdened to move forward. We have made our past mistakes our boat-anchor.

The Apostle Paul had certainly made enough mistakes to feel like he was “beyond-repair“, but as I explained in “No Rear-View Mirror“, he came to the awesome realization that God could not only forgive him, but that God DID forgive him, so he could forgive himself. The Risen Lord called him to a mission which required him to move forward with his life. His mistakes became stepping-stones to fulfilling his commission. How did his mistakes become stepping-stones? Paul was a learned Old Testament scholar, so he might have recalled those beautiful words from Lamentations 3 when he penned these profound words; “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

Boat-anchor to stepping stone…
Start by telling God all about your mistakes. He already knows about them anyway, so why try to hide anything from Him? Ask Him to forgive you, and believe that He will because He has promised to forgive you. Believe that He has forgiven you, and then start forgiving yourself, and I mean REALLY forgive yourself. Don’t hold your past mistakes like a war-club over your own head. In other words, quit beating yourself up about what you have done, because beating yourself up will only make you miserable. If you really want to live a miserable life, don’t bother reading the Bible and quit reading this.

Do you want a “template” for telling God about your mistakes? Talk about blowing it big-time, King David had committed adultery with the wife of one of his generals, and when he found out that she was pregnant, he had her husband MURDERED (2 Samuel 11). When God confronted him through Nathan the prophet (2 Samuel 12), he penned a beautiful confession to God which has been preserved in the Psalm 51.

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
9 Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You.

14 Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
16 For You do not delight in sacrifice; otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

18 By Your favor do good to Zion;
Build the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices,
In burnt offering and whole burnt offering;

Did you notice the sequence of this confession?
1) David asked God to be gracious to him.
2) He admitted his sin to God.
3) He accepted the consequences of his sin.
4) He asked God to cleanse him of his sin.
5) He asked to be restored to fellowship with God.
6) He asked God to help him move forward.

I don’t see anything about David beating himself up over this. Do you?

I think that God sometimes uses us BECAUSE of what we have been through, not in-spite of what we have been through. We each bring our own unique perspectives and experiences into God’s kingdom-work, so some people may relate better to someone who has had many struggles in life where they might not relate to someone who has had a “clean” or “easy” life.

I could easily believe that I am not “worthy” to be given a mission in God’s kingdom because of what I have done, but He chose me for a mission anyway, so I am moving forward in the assurance that God HAS forgiven me and wants me to move forward. He has helped me turn what could have been a boat-anchor into a stepping-stone.

We have a sure promise from God that He WILL forgive our sins when we confess them to Him.

“If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

God has given me a fresh start. How about you?

In Christ,
Steve

He Owns The Cattle On A Thousand Hills

I got a SERIOUS shock a few days ago when I opened the bill for my recent hospital-stay. They want me to pay THAT much? When I looked at the TOTAL, I almost had a heart-attack. That is absurd, and it isn’t even an itemized-statement, so I can’t even tell what they are charging me for.

Then, an old chorus came to mind, which I learned many years ago. It is based on Psalm 50:10, “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” God knows about that bill, and He is fully-capable to taking care of it.

He owns the cattle on a thousand hills,
The wealth in every mine;
He owns the rivers and the rocks and rills,
The sun and stars that shine.
Wonderful riches, more than tongue can tell –
He is my Father so they’re mine as well;
He owns the cattle on a thousand hills –
I know that He will care for me.
(Word and music by John W. Peterson)

Satan wants me to fuss and fidget about it and doubt God’s loving-care. God wants me to trust Him to take care of it, in His way, and in His time. The choice is mine, fidget or trust. I am choosing to trust God, even though my trust is far from perfect. God IS my Heavenly-Father.

I know that He will care for me!
Steve

Unity…

Is it any wonder that the Church seems powerless? Is it any wonder that the Church seems to be having less and less impact on society? Is it any wonder that there are more and more “churches” but fewer and fewer Christians? We all claim to be Brothers and Sisters in Christ, but you would never know it by the way we act. Where has our Unity gone?

The more the New Testament church spread, the less unity it exhibited. By the time the Apostle Paul came back to Jerusalem in Acts 15, the seeds of discord had already been sown.

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. (Acts 15:1-2)

What followed that was the Jerusalem Council, which was convened to iron out their differences and formulate a uniform “standard“. The legalists were already making their voices heard and their presence felt.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)

If the legalists had their way, “salvation by grace through faith” would have been replaced by “Get circumcised, and keep the Law of Moses” so you can be saved. Do you remember the Pharisees from “Traditions…”?

“Issues”…
There are a lot if “issues” which divide Christians, even though we claim to read and believe the same Bible, and first “issue” is about which translation/Bible is the “real” Bible.

Bibles…
How can we have so many “Bibles” when they are all supposedly translated from the same “original” documents? Do the same original words mean different things to different people? Every church and denomination has its favorite. A few of the more familiar ones are:

King James (KJV) – because the “Apostles spoke King James English“. Many Baptist churches are KJV-only.

New King James (NKJV) – King James without the obsolete language.

New American Standard (NASB) – an updated translation using more modern English, and favored by many Reformed churches.

New International Version (NIV) – an updated translation done by an international group of scholars.

English Standard Version (ESV) – came on the scene recently, and is favored by many Reformed churches.

Even though this should be a “non-issue“, many churches and denominational-groups make it one.

Baptism…
I heard a “Reformed-Baptist” pastor say “Every time the word “baptize” is used, it should be translated “immerse”. Is how a person was baptized more important than that they WERE baptized? Many churches, particularly Baptist Churches, believe that it IS a BIGDEAL how a person was baptized, because they believe that a person hasn’t really been baptized until they have been immersed. I could never be a “member” of one of those Baptist churches because I was sprinkled, rather than being immersed.

Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) churches accept all modes of baptism as valid, even though they traditionally use sprinkling for baptisms. Is it any wonder that many PCA churches are “melting-pots“, welcoming people from many different religious-backgrounds?

Eschatology…
Why do so many churches and Bible-scholars think it is SO important to analyze every scrap of prophesy to pin down “exactly” how and when the End-times events are going to happen? Do they not have anything better to do, such as spreading the Good News of the Gospel? Can’t we accept that Jesus said that He didn’t even know the time-line? Can’t we just allow God to be God, and leave it to Him to determine how and when?

The Evangelical-Free Church has their eschatology-position as the last point in their ten-point Statement of Faith, and every candidate for church office must agree to all ten points. My wife and I were members of an E-Free church for a while, but I didn’t agree with that last point, so I couldn’t be an officer. The E-Free denomination courted my dad to become an E-Free pastor, but he also didn’t agree with their eschatology position. They missed-out on a very well-studied and scholarly pastor.

God’s desire for unity…

How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
(Psalm 133)

The reference here is to the special oil which God commanded His people to make and use ONLY for holy purposes. Aaron, the first High Priest, was anointed with this special oil when God ushered-in worship in the just-completed Tabernacle in the wilderness.

The “dew of Herman falling on Mount Zion” represents God’s blessing when His people live together in unity. That is how much God values unity…

Is it any wonder that the Church seems powerless? Is it any wonder that the Church seems to be having less and less impact on society? Is it any wonder that there are more and more “churches” but fewer and fewer Christians? We all claim to be Brothers and Sisters in Christ, but you would never know it by the way we act. Where has our Unity gone?

Isn’t it time we quit bickering about things that don’t matter and get on with fulfilling the Great Commission?

In Christ,
Steve

Tears In A Bottle

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?
Psalm 56:8

Do you ever feel like you are insignificant? Do you ever feel like you don’t “matter” to anyone? If you do, you are in good company, because, inspite of everyone wanting to know your business, nobody really seems to care. “Self” has become more important than service, and caring has gone the way of political integrity.

David was the “runt“, the “baby“, of his family, and while his older brothers were off fighting King Saul’s battles, he was sent out into the wilderness to tend sheep. When Samuel, the Prophet, came to David’s family to anoint a new king, David was inconspicuously-absent, still out tending sheep. After Samuel passed over all of the older brothers, David’s father finally admitted that he did have a younger son, who was out tending sheep.

One would have thought that David’s “fortunes” would have changed after He slew Goliath, but that made him a national hero, and a threat to King Saul’s throne. So, David spent the next several years on the run, fearing for his life. There were several times when he was only one step ahead of Saul’s army. Even after Saul died and David became King of Israel, he still wasn’t out of the woods, because his own son, Absalom, thought that he could do a better job.

David never lost his faith in God, and in spite of his horrible “fortunes“, he knew that God never abandoned him. Many of the Psalms came from his pen, including this marvelous verse;

You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?

David knew that nothing escaped God’s attention, and yes, God even paid attention to his tears, his times of pain and his times of sorrow. Is there anything that we can learn from David?

You matter to God…
We all go through times of difficulty, and even when we feel all alone, God is paying attention.

Have you cried tears that never made it to the surface? God caught those too.

Have you pasted a smile on your face while hiding a broken heart? God saw your broken heart.

Have you, when you said “I’m okay“, really meant “You wouldn’t understand“? God understands.

Have you lost a loved-one to death? God caught those tears too, including the ones that never made it out of the well.

Has someone you loved left you without you really ever knowing why? God saw your heartbreak.

Is physical pain a constant, or nearly-constant companion? God feels your pain. God is both your Creator and the Great Physician.

Have you watched someone you care deeply about suffer through horrible physical ailments, but were helpless to do anything about? God was there too.

Talk to God…
Something else that we can learn from David is that he talked to God all the time. No matter what was going on in David’s life, he told God about it. The Psalms are full of conversations David had with God, and many of them are laments, so even if all you can do is complain about how bad things are, God wants you to tell Him about them.

We forget that God never gets “too busy” and nothing that we need to say is “too minor” for His attention. If He knows how many hairs are on your head, and when one of them falls out, He is NOT “too busy” to attend to your needs. God is also NOT offended when we ask Him “WHY?“.

Do YOU need to cry?
Crying doesn’t really come naturally to most of us men, but that is because we have been taught to NOT cry. Jesus was a man, the “manliest” of men, and He cried, several times. You have permission to cry, and don’t forget that God has a bottle for your tears with your name on it. Pour out your heart to Him, and while you are at it, thank Him for caring so much about you. David did that too!

In Christ,
Steve

Welcome Home!

Is there any place you would rather be than at home? Even though I am sure that there are people with such a wander-lust that they really don’t call any place “home“, but for the majority of us, Dorothy had it right when she said “There is no place like home!“. Even though Toto was by her side, she wasn’t in Kansas. If this reference is unfamiliar to you, Dorothy is the young girl in “The Wizard of Oz“.

We all long for a place to call “home“, and if we do have a “home“, when we are away from home, there is a level of uneasiness that won’t go away until get get back home. Whether it is a mansion or a cardboard box, home is where the heart is.

I traveled a lot during the early years of my working career, and sometimes I was gone for several weeks at at time, but there was no sweeter sight than the faces of my family waiting for me at the exit of the jet-way. Even though the airport wasn’t “home“, Albuquerque was, and the airport was in Albuquerque. Arriving at that airport meant that I would be home soon, to greetings of “Welcome Home Dad!“.

I didn’t spend any of my time in the military overseas, so I can only imagine what it feels like to be HOME from an overseas deployment, particularly from a combat-zone. It must be the most wonderful feeling on earth.

In 2011, I made a 31 day, 5,200 mile odyssey across the US of A. I spent a night with my baby brother, Rocky, on my way west. His daughter spent the night with a friend so that I could use her bedroom. That was very sweet of her. I hadn’t seen Rocky since about 1974, so it was wonderful to be together again.

I spent the next few days at the home of my brother Darrell, or should I say, his former home, because Darrell wasn’t there. Yes, his name was still on the deed, but that wasn’t his home any more. Darrell was HOME!!! Cancer had claimed his body, but his Lord had claimed his soul, so Darrell was in a far better place. All that was left of Darrell on earth was a handful of ashes. The chapel at the funeral home was packed, much to Darrell’s surprise, because even though he thought that he really didn’t have many friends, he had touched the lives of many people, and through our tears, we were there to celebrate his life.

I spent the next few days with John and Sue, dear friends from my time in Albuquerque. John was my traveling-partner for quite a few of those work trips. In Spanish, they say “Mi casa es su casa“, for “My home is your home“, and they sure pulled out all the stops to make me feel at home. They insisted that I sleep in their bedroom while they slept on the sofas in the living room so that I could have private sleeping-quarters. As much as they tried to make me feel at home, I wasn’t home.

I journeyed on west to spend some time with Rich and Phyl. I have known Rich since the early 80’s, so we go WAY back. They don’t have a guest bedroom, so I slept on a mattress on the floor of Phyl’s office. Being with them was more important than where I slept. We had a great time together, but I was still over 2,000 miles from home.

I spent all but one night on the rest of the trip in a motel room. Motel rooms ARE NOT home, as nice as they can be, because that room is only “yours” as long as you pay the “rent“. None of the places I had been or stayed were “home“, because I didn’t have my OWN bedroom or my OWN place at the table.

As I pulled into the driveway of MY home, it was good to be HOME. Mom met me with “WELCOME HOME!“, because I WAS HOME.

Many people would think that the little place I call “home” is way too small, but it is “home” to me. I don’t have to compete with anyone else for any part of the house. It is not that I wouldn’t share it, but at this point in my life, I don’t have to share it.

I go up to see my mom once in a while, and even though her place is technically mine also, it isn’t really “home“. I am ALWAYS ready to come back HOME.

As much as we feel like this Earth is our home, if we are Christians, this is NOT our home. We are sojourners for a finite period of time. As with Darrell, so also with Connie and my own father. They aren’t here any longer. They are HOME. They are in their “FOREVERHOME“. They have joined a myriad of saints who have gone before them, saints who have left their earthly-dwelling behind, and are now dwelling in a place that was not made by human hands. They have already heard God say “WELCOME HOME!“.

David, in that glorious 23rd Psalm, said “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever“. The “house of the Lord” IS our forever-home. This “home“, this earthly-body wears out, gets diseased, and ultimately dies, but it is only our temporary home, because God has given us an immortal spirit which lives on even after our body is long-gone. Yes, we WILL get a new body, a body that is not subject to decay, disease and death, a body not-unlike Adam and Eve’s bodies before their fall into sin. We will be restored to our true and full humanity, because being human isn’t “bad“, it is WONDERFUL. We, among all of God’s creation, are the only beings made in His image. Jesus showed us what it is like to be fully-human, and what we should strive for in our earthly-sojourn is to be more like Him.

Sometimes I wish that God would call me HOME, but I know that as long as I am still here, He has more work for me to do. Should we “settledown” here? I believe that we should only “settlelightly“, because nothing we accumulate here will cross over with us. Only what we do for the furtherance of His kingdom and for His glory really matters. Those are what will follow us HOME.

Are you ready to go HOME? Are you ready to hear “WELCOME HOME!“?

I am!
Steve

Come and Eat…

When we are hungry, those three words are music to our ears, and when they carry with them a restoration of lost relationships, they are even sweeter. Some of a family’s sweetest and most cherished memories are made while eating together, and nothing says “family” quite like eating a meal together. Eating a meal together carries an even more special significance in the Bible.

David, the psalmist, points us to this special significance in the 23rd Psalm.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5)

The prodigal son…
What image comes to mind when a person is described as a “prodigal“? Rebel? Wild-child? Black-sheep? If we are honest with ourselves, there is a bit of “prodigal” in every one of us. No matter how “good” you have been, there is a “prodigal” hidden inside…

11 And He said, “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. 13 And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. 14 Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. 17 But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:11-24)

Can you imagine the father laying awake at night worrying about his son? Can you see the father keeping his eyes peeled, scanning the horizon for a glimpse of his son, day after day, day after day?

What did the son look like when he approached? Was he a “sight for sore eyes“, or an “eyesore“? To his father, he certainly was a “sight for sore eyes“. Otherwise, he smelled like a pig-sty and looked like he hadn’t had a bath in months. He was barefoot, and what little clothing he had on had seen better days. He probably looked very little different than the homeless people who wander the cities of America.

By rights, the father could have had his son stripped and flogged, but he didn’t. He celebrated, but the celebration wasn’t the robe. The celebration wasn’t the ring, or even the sandals. The celebration was a FEAST, a BANQUET, a PARTY!!! He was ALIVE! He was HOME!

Peter…
Loose lips may sink ships, but Peter got caught in his own mouth-trap. It was far more serious than “open mouth and insert foot“. Peter did one of those infamous “I will NEVER…”‘s. Do you relate? I sure do, and if I had a T-shirt for every time I said “I will NEVER…“, and did it anyway, I would have to turn my home into a closet. I must have inherited some of Peter’s bragadocious genes.

Peter already had a well-deserved reputation for being bold, brash, impetuous and even a bit arrogant. He was also the “toughguy” of the gang. Don’t forget that Peter was the one packing “heat” (a sword) when Jesus was arrested. Either his aim was a bit off, or his sword-wielding skills were rusty, because he “only” cut off the guy’s ear. So much for “protecting” Jesus from arrest…

Shortly before this, Peter’s tongue had gone from being “golden“:
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

to “talking trash“:
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

What did Peter do that was SO bad?
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.

34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:31-35)

Does this all sound familiar? “I WILL NEVER…

69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.

70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”

74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed.

75 Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:69-75)

Peter blew it – big-time, and he knew it. He had done what he promised to NEVER do, deny His lord. If this story ended with Peter’s denial, all that would have been left would have been a very despondent Peter, but this story DOESN’T end this way. It is time for another meal, time for another restoration.

21 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.

6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14)

Who could blame Peter for going fishing? He had been a commercial fisherman before Jesus called him, so fishing was the one thing that he DID know how to do. How could Jesus ever trust him with carrying on the ministry after He ascended back into heaven, after he made such a horrible blunder?

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19)

Peter not only was restored to fellowship with His lord, he also received a new commission.

The Last Supper…
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:27-29)

This is the meal which we still celebrate, the Lord’s Supper. This is also a meal for restoration. Jesus didn’t say “Drink it when you are perfect“, or “Drink it when you have your stuff together“. He said “Drink from it, all of you“.

We will never be “worthy” to partake in this meal, that is, if we are depending on our own “worthiness“. We will always fall short, but this meal isn’t about us. It is about what Jesus Christ did for us. Only He can restore us to a right relationship with God the Father. I will never understand why He chose me, but He did. All of these meals are truly love-feasts, not because any of us deserves to be restored, but because Someone, who loves us more than we love ourselves, bids us come to His table.

In the presence of my enemies…
No, I didn’t forget that part of Psalm 23:5, although I am not going to touch on the last two phrases of the Psalm. We have an enemy. Satan is our mortal-enemy, and he loves to trip us up, and then make us feel ugly about ourselves after he trips us up.

The prodigal son certainly didn’t feel “worthy” to be taken back into his family, and if his older brother had his way, there wouldn’t have been any restoration, let alone a feast, but he received both. His older brother was the Devil’s advocate, but while the older brother moped, the rest of the family feasted.

Some would say that Peter had committed an unpardonable sin, and I am sure that Satan was having a gay old time reminding him of what he did, but Jesus wasn’t having any part of Satan’s celebration. When Jesus said “Come and eat“, Satan turned tail and ran.

Satan also wants to remind us of how rotten we are. There is just one problem with that. If we are in Christ, we ARE forgiven, and He has given us a permanent invitation to dine at His table. As Jesus dismissed Judas before that special meal, He also has forbidden Satan to interfere with His supper now. Every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded that we can’t fix ourselves, but Satan is also reminded that we no longer belong to him. We can partake because we have been restored.

Come and eat!
Steve

Accidents…

Have you ever not quite made it? Have you ever had that “oops” moment? There are times when certain body-functions, which are normally under our control, take charge of us and we lose control. I have been there, as have many others. We are embarrassed, but should we be ashamed? Embarrassment is normal, but what about shame?

Babies have no control of those body-functions for the first couple years of their life until they get old enough for their parents to “pottytrain” them. We tend to forget that God built these functions into our bodies for our good. We can’t go indefinitely without emptying our bladder or our bowels, or seriously-bad things happen to us. If we don’t heed that “call of nature“, sometimes the automatic system takes over, and we have an “oops“. Sometimes we eat something that doesn’t “agree” with us, and it goes through us like Drano on speed. Been there, done that.

Several years ago, my wife and I were in Wisconsin for a family reunion. On the morning of the reunion, as we were pulling into her parent’s driveway, my bladder decided to cut loose. I didn’t make it to the bathroom in time, so I wet my pants. She understood, because she had the same problem and way more often, so she wasn’t surprised when I asked her to get me a couple of “pantyliners“. I used a “pantyliner” and carried a spare with me every time we went out for several months thereafter. She always carried her “diaperbag” with her which had a change of clothes and some underwear. When we went to her parent’s for a game-night, she always sat on a water-proof pad, because it was not a matter of “if” she was going to leak. It was a matter of “when?”.

My neighbor has had a LOT of problems with her digestive tract, kidneys and urinary-tract, so she has had a LOT of “accidents“. When I first started getting to know her, she had a hard time admitting that she was having “accidents“, both from the embarrassment and from false “shame“. After I shared with her that I also have “accidents” and described some of mine to her, she started relaxing and getting less embarrassed about it. Even though I am normally catheter-dependent, once in a while, all those damaged “circuits” will make contact and my bladder will have a mind of its own with an “accident” as the result. Now we shamelessly share our “accident” experiences with each other, because we are each other’s “support-system“.

This really isn’t about whether “accidents” happen, because they do. It is about our response when they do. Embarrassment is normal, particularly if we are in public when it happens. We often confuse embarrassment and shame. We SHOULD be ashamed when we deliberately do something wrong, but we should NOT be ashamed when an “accident” happens. Embarrassed – maybe, ashamed – NO.

You might now be asking “What does this have to do with being a Christian and a naturist”? The reality is that it has everything to do with it, because if we are going to accept ourselves as God made us, we must come to accept that God made us this way. If God had not built into our systems the ability to go on “automatic“, we could find ourselves in a world of hurt – literally. Part of being “Fearfully and wonderfully made” is that God DID design our waste-disposal systems and He DID “program” them to go on “autopilot” when necessary, but sometimes that “autopilot” kicks in at an “inconvenient” time. That is nothing to be ashamed of.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

God bless!
Steve

The LORD is my Shepherd…

The 23rd Psalm is the best-know passage in the whole Bible, and even unbelievers want it read at their funeral or memorial service, because it speaks of the kind of comfort and security everyone craves. This is a phrase-by-phrase, part-by-part, meditation. Please join me in unpacking the richest meaning we can get from this marvelous Psalm.

King David, the author, had been a shepherd long before he was anointed as a king, so he knew intimately what the responsibilities of a shepherd were. As he applied it to us, as sheep under God’s shepherding, he has told us both what our Shepherd will do, and what our response should be.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The LORD – The LORD – Yahweh…the most personal name of God, the great I AM. This was the marvelous name God told Moses to use when he went back to Egypt to carry out the mission God commanded him to do…liberate the children of Israel from bondage.

Is my shepherd – The supreme God of the universe is the One who has taken on the task of being my God, provider, guide and protector. There is no higher authority…no better provider.

I shall not want – I shall not lack the necessities of life. We have become a seriously materialistic society, and we often confuse our “wants” with what we actually need. God is the provider of our needs, and we should be thankful for “our daily bread”.

He makes me lie down in green pastures – Lying down in green pastures is a picture of rest…rest in abundance.

He leads me beside quiet waters – In all the hustle and bustle of life, God wants to lead us to a peaceful place, a place of refreshing…quiet waters.

He restores my soul – Our souls are in turmoil. We see nothing but bad news…broken relationships, violence, wars, and personal brokenness, but God wants to repair and heal our brokenness, and restore us to a right relationship with Him.

He guides me in paths of righteousness – Our first parents left us with a legacy of sin and despair. We are sinners by birth, and sinners by choice, but God wants us to depend on Him for our righteousness. Then, with His enabling, we are able to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

For His name’s sake – God has staked His own reputation on us, and if we do what is right, we are a positive reflection of Him. We should do everything for His glory, not our own.

Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death – We will all face the valley of death, and maybe many times, as we lose friends and loved ones, but our Lord Jesus has already trod and conquered that lonely valley, and He will guide us safely through. Even though we all will die, unless our Lord returns beforehand, we should see our death not as an exit from this life, but as an entrance-ramp into eternity.

I will fear no evil – Evil IS everywhere around us, because Satan is on the prowl, but his days are numbered. Our Lord Jesus crushed the serpent’s head on the cross, and in so doing, gained the victory over sin and death. Even though evil men may kill us, our victory is assured in Christ. We need not fear the evil one or any of his schemes.

For you are with me – Is there any better assurance? God is with us, and if God is with us, who can sucessfully be against us. He is our guide, and He walks by our side and carries us when we need to be carried.

Your rod and your staff – These are pictures of both protection and guidance. The rod is a tool of protection from our enemies, and the staff is used to gently guide and direct us in the path.

They comfort me – What greater comfort can we have, than that we are both protected and guided by our faithful Shepherd, even though the path may be rough and steep. This life WILL bring tough times our way, but our comfort must come from the LORD.

You prepare a table before me – This is no ordinary table. It is a lavish banquet table in a magnificent celebration hall, set and prepared by the LORD Himself. We are His honored-guests.

In the presence of my enemies – Our enemies seek to do us harm, but when we are in God’s banquet-hall, all they can do is fuss and fume on the sidelines. God’s banquet-hall is a place of perfect safety and security. We are better-protected than any president ever will be.

You anoint my head with oil – Anointing carries with it a two-fold picture. It is a picture of healing, and also a picture of honor. Priests were anointed for their holy service, and we are anointed both for holy service and as a badge of honor in God’s house.

My cup overflows – A never-ending supply, and a permanent place at His table. There is a limitless supply of His wine of grace.

Sure goodness and mercy – Goodness and mercy=blessings and salvation, which come only from the hand of God. They are not things we can earn or merit.

Will follow me – They will not only follow me, but they will also surround me and indwell me.

All the days of my life – God, through Jesus Christ, has guaranteed these blessings for as long as we live.

And I will dwell – Live safely and securely.

In the house – We will no longer be out in the “fields” of life. Instead, we will be HOME, never to be put out to pasture again.

Of the LORD – Our eternal LORD is the provider of our “forever-home”. This reminds me of a child who has been in foster-care for many years, and who has never really had a place to call “home“, but when they are adopted, they are taken to their “foreverhome“…the home of their new parents. We have been orphans, but God has adopted us, and He will take us to HIS home…our “foreverhome“.

Forever – Do we really comprehend “forever“? If we see someone we haven’t seen in a long time, we may tell them: “I haven’t seen you in forever“, which to us means “a long time“, but that time isn’t even a pin-prick on the time-line of “forever“. The problem is that our minds are constrained by MEASURABLE time, so IMMEASURABLE time is incomprehensible. “Forever” is immeasurable, and we can’t wrap our brains around it, but in fact, that is how “long” we will dwell in the house of the LORD.

Is this LORD your shepherd? I pray that He is, and that you find great comfort in knowing that, no matter what kind of trials come your way, you are in good hands…the hands of the LORD.