Jesus Our Shepherd

One of the most beloved psalms is Psalm 23 written by King David.  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Yea, 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.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Before David was a warrior and a king, he had been a shepherd.  When David wanted to go up against Goliath, here is what he told King Saul.  1 Samuel 17:34-37 “But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it.  Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.’” So, when David described the Lord as his shepherd, he fully understood how the Lord fulfilled that place in his life. 

Few people today understand about sheep and their shepherd, but it was a very common thing in biblical times.  Sheep are fairly defenseless creatures for they have no big teeth or weapons to defend themselves.  They like the comfort of their flock but they also can wander off and get lost. When they have eaten the pasture in one place, they need to be led to other pastures.  They put their trust in their shepherd, recognize his voice, and follow him when he calls.  The shepherd’s job is to take care of the sheep.  If one is lost, he searches for it and brings it back.  If a sheep is sick or injured, he takes care of that sheep.  He protects the sheep from wild animals that would kill and devour them.  He also protects the sheep from robbers who would come and steal his sheep.  The shepherd leads his sheep from one pasture to the next as well as providing them water to drink.  In a spiritual sense, we are like sheep and we need a shepherd.  Jesus said that He is the shepherd.  He told us in John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”  Jesus loves His sheep so much that He died on the cross for them.

Our needs are different than the needs of sheep, but our shepherd supplies our physical and spiritual needs.  Philippians 4:19 “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  Matthew 6:31-34 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Philippians 4:6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” When we feel like our needs are not being met, we can become anxious.  I encourage you to have faith and trust in your shepherd that he will supply all your needs.

Another role of a shepherd is to lead the sheep where he thinks they need to go.  The sheep don’t know where they need to go; they need the shepherd to lead them.  David said, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”  Jesus said in John 10:27-30 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.”  John 10:1-5 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.  But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”  Jesus goes before us and leads us in the way we are to go.  We should know His voice and remain faithful to Him.

Jesus also gave this illustration in Luke 15:4-7 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’  I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”  1 Peter 2:25 “For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”  Jesus, as our shepherd, is concerned to bring back those who go astray.

My closing encouragement is given by Hebrews 13:20-21 “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  Put your trust in your great Shepherd.

Holy

The prophet Isaiah had a vision in which he saw the Lord.  Isaiah 6:1-4 “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one cried to another and said:  ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’  And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.”  The vision describes the Lord and how great and special He is.  He is seated on a throne, high and lifted up.  The train of His robe is so long that it fills the whole temple; this is another way of showing how special He is.  The seraphim are special six winged creatures, unlike anything else.  The fact that the creatures cry holy three times is to emphasize how holy God is.  No one or anything is holy like our God.  A similar description of God is given in the Revelation of John in Revelation 4:8-11 “The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:  ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’  Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.’” The Lord God Almighty is holy and worthy to receive glory and honor and power.

What does it mean to be holy?  The idea behind the concept of holiness is “separation.”  God is separate from every other being; none is like Him.  1 Samuel 2:2 “No one is holy like the LORD, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God.”  There is no evilness with God; there is no one good like God.  Luke 18:19 “So Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.’” God is light and in him is no darkness at all.  1 John 1:5  “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”  God is almighty and has all power – He is called the Lord God Almighty.  He is all knowing and all seeing.  Hebrews 4:13 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”  He is everywhere.  Psalms 139:7-10 “Where can I go from Your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”  There is no one like our God.  I suppose that we can never fully appreciate in this life the holiness of God. 

While there is no one holy like our God, things that are separated and devoted to God are also declared to be holy.  In this sense, the word holy means to be devoted, dedicated, or separated for God.  When Moses approached the bush that burned but was not consumed, this is what the Lord said in Exodus 3:5 “Then He said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’” The tabernacle that the Israelites built for God was holy and had a Holy place and a Most Holy place (Exodus 26:33).  Many things used by the Israelites to worship God were holy.  The priest’s garments were holy; the altar was holy; the anointing oil used by the priests was holy; the Sabbath was to be a holy day; sacrifices to God were holy.  Even the Israelite nation was holy.  God said in Leviticus 20:26 “And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.”  Since the Israelite nation was God’s people, they were to consecrate themselves and not defile themselves and they were to be holy.  Leviticus 11:44-45 “For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth.  For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” 

Christians today are also a holy nation.  1 Peter 2:9-10 “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”  When we appreciate that we are God’s special people, we should come to understand that we should be holy in our conduct and not defile ourselves.  1 Peter 1:13-16 “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’”  1 Corinthians 3:16-17 “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” 2 Corinthians 7:1 “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Peter describes the coming day of the Lord.  2 Peter 3:10-12 “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.   Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?”  You are a holy child of a holy God.  I encourage you to be holy in all of your conduct with godliness.

Speaking Evil of Another

Are you critical of your brother or sister in Christ?  They are not like you.  Perhaps they understand things differently than you do.  Perhaps they say things you think they shouldn’t say or do things you think they shouldn’t do.  Or maybe they don’t do the things you think they should do.  It is easy to see their faults.  Why do they act the way that they do?  Maybe you even question that they are true Christians.  Do you share your feelings about your brother or sister in Christ with someone else?  Do you speak evil of them?  Here is what James wrote about this situation.  James 4:11-12 “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.  He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?”

The first problem could be that you are judging your fellow Christian.  Jesus warned about this in Matthew 7:1-5 “Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Jesus says that the way that you judge someone else is how you will be judged.  If you are critical and condemning of another, that is how you will be judged.  Then Jesus says that you can be a hypocrite in your judging.  You see a small problem in the life of your brother while you have a big problem in your life; you need to correct the problems in your life before you can help your brother with his small problems.  Or maybe you have the same fault as your brother, but you just can’t see it.  Romans 2:1-6 “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.  But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.  And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?  But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’.”  I encourage you to refrain from judging your brother.  Romans 14:10 “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”  Romans 14:4 “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.”

The second problem may be that you do not love your fellow Christian as you should.  Loving your neighbor is the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39).  Some of the characteristics of love are described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Note especially that love thinks no evil.  If you love your brother and do not think evil of him, you will not speak evil of him.  The apostle Paul thought that the church in Corinth had problems between the members.  2 Corinthians 12:20 “For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults.” Here is Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians.  Colossians  3:12-14 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”

The third problem may be that when you speak evil of another you do not have control of your tongue as you should.  You say things you should not say.  James 3:8-10 “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”  Here is the exhortation by the apostle Paul.  Ephesians 4:29-32 “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

When you speak evil of your brother or sister in Christ, you can be guilty of judging them.  You need to evaluate whether or not you have the love for them that you should have.  And you need to control your tongue and watch what you say.  My encouragement to you is that you guard against speaking evil of your brother or sister in Christ.

Chief of Sinners

Before the apostle Paul believed in Jesus, his name was Saul.  He was one of the main persecutors of the church.  When Steven was stoned to death, Saul consented to his death.  Acts 7:58 “And they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”  Acts 8:1-3 “Now Saul was consenting to his death.  At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.  And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”  Not long afterwards, Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and changed Saul’s life.  Saul, now the apostle Paul, wrote the following about himself.  1 Timothy 1:12-16 “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.  And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.”  Paul considered himself the chief among sinners because of the things that he had done against the church and against believers of Christ Jesus.  But he obtained mercy and became a pattern to those who believe on Jesus for everlasting life.

David was chosen by God to be king over Israel.  Here is a description of the first king Saul and the second king David.  Acts 13:21-22 “And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.  And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’”  David had a heart for God and many of his deeds pleased the Lord.  But David also committed grievous sins.  2 Samuel 11:2 “Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold.”  The woman’s name was Bathsheba and she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite who was a mighty warrior in the king’s army.  David brought her to the king’s house and committed adultery with her.  When it was discovered that she was with child, David brought Uriah from the battle so that he would be with his wife and they might think that the child was Uriah’s instead of David’s.  But Uriah did not go to his wife.  So David sent Uriah back to the battle with instructions to the commander to cause Uriah to be killed in battle.  Afterwards, David took Bathsheba to be his wife.  Therefore, David was guilty of adultery and murder.  Nathan the prophet was sent by God to King David to convince him of the evil that he had done.  David was convinced and confessed his sin.  2 Samuel 12:13 “So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.’”  You can read more of the story in chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Samuel.

Peter was one of the leading disciples and apostles of Jesus.  When Jesus asked his disciples who they thought that He was, Peter was the one who spoke.  Matthew 16:16 “Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”  Later, Jesus was betrayed by Judas and taken to the High Priest’s house where they sought to condemn Him to death.  Peter had followed Jesus to the High Priest’s house.  Matthew 26:69-75 “Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, ‘You also were with Jesus of Galilee.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you are saying.’ And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, ‘This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ But again he denied with an oath, ‘I do not know the Man!’ And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, ‘Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.’ Then he began to curse and swear, saying, ‘I do not know the Man!’  Immediately a rooster crowed.  And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So he went out and wept bitterly.”  Jesus had previously said in Matthew 10:32-33 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”  Peter had denied Jesus.  But Peter was forgiven and became one of the greatest apostles for Jesus.

Each of these three, Paul, David, and Peter, committed grievous sins.  But they repented and were forgiven by God and went on to do great things for Him.  Do you remember sins you have committed in your life?   I know that I remember some that I have committed.  We are all sinners and guilty before God.  Romans 3:9-12 “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.  As it is written:  ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.’”  Whether our sins are big or small, we can receive forgiveness from God.  Paul was told to be baptized and wash away his sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).  As a Christian, confess your sins to Him.  1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Isaiah 1:18 “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

My encouragement to you is to have faith in Jesus and accept the mercy of God.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  He will forgive you when you repent and come to Him.

Wait on the Lord

As a child, I was taught to make good decisions.  I was taught to consider the consequences of my choices, use the principles of the Bible, and then be wise in what I did.  This is good training and it taught me to take control of my life in the things I did and the direction I was to go.  What it didn’t emphasize was the work of God directly in my life.

If we are really into the word, reading and studying the Bible frequently, it becomes a part of us.  Psalm 1:1-2  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.”  As we live our lives and situations arise, scriptures will come to mind to guide us in what we should do and how we should react.  While this is true and is one way that God directs us, I believe that God will also take a more active role in our lives if we will let Him. 

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:14 “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” The psalmist David wrote about the leading of the Lord in  Psalm 23:1-3 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.” Jesus prayed in Matthew 6:13 “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”  Each of these scriptures addresses the direct work of God in our lives to lead us and deliver us.  God will work in your life if you allow Him to. 

When we ask for wisdom and direction from God, and He gives it to us, He is leading us.  James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  Sometimes I ask for God to show me what to do.  I do not expect to hear a loud voice of the Spirit, speaking in my ear.  Often it is a small voice or a prompting.  Many times, the Spirit has given me promptings – “say this”, “call her”, “help him”, “forgive”, or “speak or write about this”.  When you go to God in prayer, do you also have quiet time and listen for the Spirit to speak to you or prompt you?  Or maybe things happen in your life where it becomes clear the choice you should make.  It may seem as if God has opened a door for you, showing you the way that you should go.

We are taught to wait upon the Lord.  Psalm 27:14 “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!”  Isaiah 40:31 “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Psalm 40:1-3 “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry.  He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps.  He has put a new song in my mouth — Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.”  Waiting on the Lord can be a testimony to others who will see our faith and, as a result, put their trust in God.

To wait on God means to expectantly look for the fulfillment of His promises and His work in our lives.  Waiting on the Lord requires faith.  It requires patient, confident trust in the Lord and in His promises.  While we wait on the Lord, we should pray for His answers to our requests.  1 John 5:14 “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”  I believe we should be persistent in prayer and ask Him to fulfill His promises.

Sometimes we know the promises of God, but we give up waiting on Him and take matters into our own hands when we don’t see God doing what we want Him to do.  God had given Abram a promise.  Genesis 15:5-6 “Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” But many years went by and Abram still did not have a son.  Apparently Abram and his wife Sarai thought they had waited long enough so they took matters into their hands.  Genesis 16:2-3 “So Sarai said to Abram, ‘See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.  Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.”  Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, but he was not the son of promise.  Later, Sarai gave birth to Isaac who was the son of promise.  Even though God blessed Abram’s son Ishmael, he was a source of problems.  Even today there is conflict between the descendants of Ismael and the descendants of Isaac.  We should learn from the story of Abram and Sarai.  We should not give up on waiting for the Lord.  His timing may not be our timing.  We may come to think that He will not answer our request so we take things into our hands and come up with a solution that is less than the best. 

I encourage you to seek God’s work within you.  Look for His leading.  Trust in the Lord and wait on Him to fulfill His promises in your life.

God Resists The Proud

We can all be subject to pride.  We can be proud that we are rich or we can be proud that we are poor.  We can be proud that we are old or proud that we are young.  We can be proud of what we know or proud of what we have accomplished.  We can be proud of our strength or proud of our skill.  We can be proud of our possessions or proud of our family.  If we play a sport or a game and we win, we can be proud that we are better than our opponent.  Pride can come into our hearts when we compare ourselves to others and we see ourselves to be better than they are.  But pride is not good.  1 Corinthians 4:6b-7 “That none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.  For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”  God makes us differ from another.  Everything that you and I have comes from God.  Since we have received everything from God, we should not boast or be proud as if we had not received it from God.

Our pride in comparing ourselves to others results in pride before God.  A proud person doesn’t want to admit that he has shortcomings, faults, or sin.  To admit these things would make him appear smaller or less important and therefore not better than the other person.  So the proud person hides or ignores his faults.  The proud person compares himself to others and concludes that he is more righteous than they are.  It is easy for him to trust in his own righteousness rather than to trust in God and receive His righteousness.  In speaking about the Israelites, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:3 “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”  A proud person doesn’t need God because he believes he is good of himself.  He believes that his ways and his decisions are right, so he may despise others.

Jesus gave the following in Luke 18:9-14 “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:  ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’  And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”  God justified the sinful tax collector because he humbled himself before Him.  Even though the Pharisee had done some good things and had not done the bad things that the tax collector had done, he was not justified because he was not humble before God.  James 4:6 “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:  ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”

Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was proud before God.  Daniel 4:30-32 “The king spoke, saying, ‘Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?’ While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you!  And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.’”  The king was driven from men and ate grass like an ox.  Afterwards, his reason returned to him and he was restored as a king.  He then said the following.  Daniel 4:37 “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down.”  If you and I walk in pride, God will also resist us and put us down.  Proverbs 16:5 “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished.”

The prophet Jonah was sent to the great city Nineveh.  He prophesied that in forty days, the city would be overthrown.  Jonah 3:5-6 “So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.  Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.”  Jonah 3:10 “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”  God did not destroy Nineveh because they repented and humbled themselves.  In the same way today, when anyone repents and humbles himself before God, God is merciful.  “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Each one of us can be guilty of pride.  It comes when we compare ourselves to others and forget that everything we have and do we receive from God.  My encouragement is that you humble yourself before God.  James 4:10 “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”  I encourage you to be clothed with humility.  1 Peter 5:5-7 “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

I pray that your eyes will be opened to pride in your life.  Humble yourself before God and be clothed with humility.

Life Does Not Consist

The following incident occurred to Jesus during His ministry.  Luke 12:13-15 “Then one from the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’  But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’   And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’”  The word covetousness literally means to have a desire to have more – more things, more possessions.   The one from the crowd seemed to have a simple, just request.  Apparently his brother had taken all of the father’s inheritance and was not sharing it.  He was obviously greatly troubled that his brother was not sharing the family possessions. He thought that Jesus, being an honest, just teacher could use His influence to convince the brother to share as he should.  But Jesus did not want to be a judge in such matters.  Jesus reminds us to beware of covetousness.  The tenth commandment given to the Israelites is found in Exodus 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”  We don’t have to desire something that belongs to our neighbor for it to be wrong.  The strong desire for more is covetousness.  Then Jesus makes an important statement:  “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Many people think that they will be happy when they finally have the things that they have set their heart upon to possess.  To the rich man, things that he desires might be businesses or mansions or luxury cars.  To a poor man, it would be something much less.  But rich or poor, we can all be guilty of thinking that we will be happy when we have certain possessions.  Think about it – what do you desire to have?  Whatever it is, realize that things will not bring you lasting happiness.  After you obtain your desired possession, soon the newness disappears and the possession no longer makes you happy as it did before.  Then you might set your heart on something else that you think will make you happy.  Even if you have great possessions, they won’t really give you lasting happiness.  Many rich people are miserable.  And when you die, you can take none of your possessions with you.  Life does not consist in the abundance of the things that you possess. 

So what gives purpose and meaning to life and brings lasting happiness?  In addition to desiring possessions, people have gone after many different things in their attempt to find happiness and meaning in their life.  Some put all of their energy into their work to succeed and get promotions.  Some seek after pleasure or spend their time playing games.  Some give their energy to finding and consuming food and drink.  Some seek to gain a position of importance that others will respect them.  Some seek to be the best in some area that others would consider them to be an expert.  Some live through their children, doing what they can to make them succeed.  The list can go on and on.  People have tried many things to find happiness and put meaning into their life.  But life does not consist in any of these things.

King Solomon was very rich and had the power and the time to search for what is meaningful in life.  He wrote the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes that describes his search.  He set his heart to know wisdom but found it to be a grasping for the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:17).  He next tried mirth and pleasure but found them to be vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:1).   He made great works – houses, vineyards, gardens, orchards, and more.  He had great possessions and riches.  Whatever his eyes desired, he did not keep from them.  Yet he found this all to be vanity and grasping for the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:11).  I encourage you to read the book of Ecclesiastes and see all that Solomon tried and found to be vanity.  In the end, he made his conclusion.  Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.  For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

When one searches for meaning in life, he may make the mistake of thinking that this life is what it is all about.  That is why more possessions seem to be important.  But the real truth is that this life is merely preparation for the life that is to come.  Our faith is that there is life after death.  Jesus gave proof to that by His resurrection from the dead; as He was resurrected, so will we be resurrected.  1 Corinthians 15:20-23 “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.”

Jesus showed the way to what is really important in life.  Matthew 16:24-27 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.’” Deny yourself now.  Don’t attempt to save your life for what you can enjoy and gain here.  Instead lose your life for the sake of Christ.  Then when Jesus comes back, He will reward you for your works.

My encouragement to you is to find the real meaning of life.  This life is not what it is all about.  Prepare for the life that is to come.

Towards Sodom

Abram was called by God to leave his country, his family, and his father’s house to go to the land of Canaan.  Abram obeyed God and left with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot.  Before long, Abram became very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.  Lot also became rich with many livestock.  There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.  Genesis 13:8-13 “So Abram said to Lot, ‘Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.  Is not the whole land before you?  Please separate from me.  If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.’  And Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere (before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar.  Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.  Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom.  But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.”

Abram gave Lot the choice of where he would go with his livestock.  Lot thought he made a good financial decision to take his livestock where there was plenty of water and plenty of good pasture for food.  What he didn’t consider was the wickedness and sinfulness of the people of the area.  As the story unfolds, we find that the Lord heard about the sinfulness of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The Lord spoke with Abraham in Genesis 18:20-21 “And the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’” Abraham knew that Lot lived in Sodom and he wanted to save Lot.  Genesis 18:23-24 “And Abraham came near and said, ‘Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it?’”  The Lord agreed not to destroy the place if He found fifty righteous there.  Abraham continued to bargain with the Lord by reducing the number of righteous found there until the Lord agreed to not destroy the place if he found ten righteous there.  But there were not even ten righteous found there.  The Lord allowed righteous Lot to escape the city before He destroyed the area with brimstone and fire.  Lot lost all of his possessions and his wife. 

From Lot, we are reminded that there are consequences for our decisions.  You might decide to move to a location where there is no church or where the people are known for their wickedness or where the people condone sinful practices.  Such a decision might have negative spiritual consequences for you and your family.  I’m not suggesting that God will destroy the place with fire and brimstone, but you might be tormented by the wickedness that you see and influenced to accept some of their practices.  1 Corinthians 15:33-34 “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’  Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”

Some Christians decide to marry non-Christians.  There are negative consequences for such a decision.  As a Christian, you live by the principles laid out in the Bible whereas a non-Christian does not.  This difference will cause conflict and potentially end in divorce.  2 Corinthians 6:14-15 “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?  And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?”  We have instruction for a widow to only marry in the Lord.  1 Corinthians 7:39 “A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.”  I think this is also good guidance for those being married for the first time.  I believe that the guidance to not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers applies to marriage but it can also apply to other partnerships, companionships, places of employment. or other things that you may join yourself to.  If you are careless in this area, you may suffer negative consequences for your decisions.

Since wrong decisions that you make can have negative consequences in your life, I encourage you to seek guidance from the Lord.  James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  Let God lead you in the decisions that you make, especially the major decisions in life.

Abraham was different from Lot.  Abraham listened to the direction from God.  He walked in faith and trusted in God.  As a result, God blessed Abraham.  Direction you receive from God may not bring you the most immediate financial success or comfort.  But God cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).  He will work all things for your good if you love Him.  Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

My encouragement to you is to ask for God’s direction in the decisions that you make.  Trust Him that He will lead you in the best way that you should go.  Do not move towards Sodom.

Thorny Ground

The gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke each give the parable of the sower.  The account given by Luke is found in Luke 8:5-8.   If you are unfamiliar with the parable, please read it.  Jesus explained the parable in Luke 8:11-15 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.  Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.   But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.  Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.   But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” 

Four types of ground or hearts are described in the parable.  The first type of ground is by the wayside; Jesus said that these are those who hear the word and the devil takes the word out of their heart so that they don’t believe.  Since you are a believer, this does not apply to you.  The second type of ground is rocky; Jesus said that these are those who hear and receive the word with joy and believe for a while but fall away in time of temptation or adversity.  May you never give up your faith because of problems, trials or temptation to sin.  The third type of ground is thorny ground; these are those who continue to believe but bring no fruit to maturity.

It is possible that you or I could be those who bring no fruit to maturity.  We continue to believe, continue to count ourselves as Christians, but our lives do not show the fruit that God wants.  God wants each of us to bear much fruit.  John 15:8 “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”  John the Baptist taught the necessity of bearing good fruit or being cut down.  Matthew 3:10 “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  It is important to God that we bear good fruit.

There are various kinds of fruit that we might bear for God.  One type of fruit is to be a light in the world and to be active in sharing the gospel with those who are lost so that they come to believe and obey the gospel.  But not every Christian is going to have a major part in bringing someone to Christ.  The Bible talks about other fruit that we bear.  Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”  The result of the Holy Spirit truly living in you and working in you are these nine characteristics or fruit.  Sending aid to those in need is also described as fruit.  Philippians 4:16-17 “For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.  Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.”  I believe this is teaching us that doing good works from our heart is fruit God wants us to bear.  There are multiple types of spiritual fruit.  The point is that we each should bear fruit for God.

Now look at what can hinder us from bringing fruit to maturity.  In the parable, Jesus taught that we can be “choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”  The first hindrance is cares.  It is very easy to become consumed with living a busy, everyday life and forget about God.  Maybe it is problems that you have in your life – health issues or relationships with family members or co-workers.  Maybe it is taking care of your children and participating in their activities.  Or maybe it is being a caregiver to someone.  Maybe it is trying to earn a living for the family.  There are a lot of potential cares in life that can distract you from the spiritual matters that are more important.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:33-34 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

The second hindrance is riches.  We are taught in 1 Timothy 6:9-10 “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”  Jesus also taught in Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Mammon is understood to be riches.  Seeking after riches will hinder you from bearing fruit for God.

The third hindrance is pleasures.  This is the gratification of the natural or sinful desires.  James 4:1-3 “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?  You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”  Seeking pleasure in life is selfish whereas love seeks the good of others.  We are to deny ourselves.  Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’”  I don’t want to imply that we can have no pleasure in life, because there are many good things in life that we can enjoy and thank and praise God.  But living for selfish pleasures will choke the word of God so that we will bring no spiritual fruit to maturity.

I encourage you to not be choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life so that you bring no spiritual fruit to maturity.  Instead, be the fourth type of ground – the good ground that keeps the word of God and bears much fruit with patience.

The Will of God

Jesus was sent to the earth by God the Father; He came to do the will of the Father.   John 5:30 “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”  He restated His purpose in John 6:38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”  When Jesus approached His crucifixion, His will was different from the will of the Father.  He did not want to go through the pain and anguish that was before Him; He did not want to have to bear the sins of the world upon Himself; He did not want to die upon the cross.  So He prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane and asked that this all could be taken away.  Luke 22:41-42 “He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’” Jesus did not want to go through the death upon the cross, but He wanted more to do the will of the Father.  Hebrews 5:7-9 “Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”  Hebrews 12:2 “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Jesus came to the earth to do the will of the Father; He completely did His will, to include dying on the cross.

Just as Jesus came to do the will of the Father, you and I are also to do the will of the Father.  Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”  If we do the will of the Father, we will enter the kingdom of heaven.  Otherwise, we will be rejected.  I want you to understand what the will of the Lord is for your life.   Ephesians 5:15-17 “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  I believe the following scripture gives a general description of the will of God for you.  1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.  For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.  Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.”  I encourage you to seek to know the full will of God for you.

It should be your desire to cease from sin, from the lusts of men, and live to do the will of God.  1 Peter 4:1-4 “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.  For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles — when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”  We each have spent enough of our past lifetime doing our own will.  Now we should have the same mind as Christ and desire to do the will of God.

The Bible gives us a description of the kind of life that is according to the will of God.  That is one reason why we should each read and study the Bible – to discover that will of God.  But sometimes God has specific things that He wants a person to do.  For example, Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus and chose him to be a main spokesman to the gentiles (Acts 9:3-19).  You and I are not likely to see a blinding bright light and hear the voice of Jesus telling us what to do.  But you may be given opportunities and spiritual leadings of things that are the will of God for you to do. Don’t ignore these.  Listen to the Holy Spirit within you and do His will. 

Doing the will of God has benefits, to include eternal life.  1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

I encourage you to seek to know and follow the will of God for your life.  As Jesus did, yield your will to His will, whether that includes the kind of life you live or whether it includes the specific things He wants you to do.  Hebrews 10:36 “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.”