I am Guided by the Good Shepherd

I am Guided by the Good Shepherd: A Joint Post

A Psalm of 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.

~Psalm 23, NKJV

From Jen:

I remember my dad reciting this Psalm at my grandfather’s funeral. Pretty common practice, I think, except my dad made it personal. He spoke as if he were speaking to God, not reciting to a group of mourners.

Ever wonder if something has become too familiar? I grew up in Colorado, at the base of the majestic Rocky Mountains. I’d lived in those mountains during the early part of my childhood. But I didn’t really appreciate their glory until I was an adult living on the Great Plains of Nebraska. Back when I was a kid, they were the peaks in my back yard. Now they are the astonishing handy-work of God, and every chance I get to go hiking is like an intensive one-on-one conference between me and my Creator.

I think Psalm 23 may be like that. Churched all my life, I’ve heard it. A lot. But this week, what if we hike through it? What if we take a stroll near those still waters? Come to know that rod and staff that are comforting? Taste the goodness and mercy David spoke of?

Maybe it will become more than a backdrop in the yard of our faith. Are you up for it?

From Susan:

I am.  If we begin at the base of this mountain, we begin with the first sentence and the premise of the whole psalm: The Lord is my shepherd.

When I first moved to West Africa, we lived in the midst of a stunning rainforest dotted with tiny villages connected by rough dirt roads.  Each village was overflowing with livestock of every kind, including sheep.  But no one shepherded them.  They just wondered around as they pleased, mingling with the goats and chickens and ducks and guinea fowl.

As my husband and I drove our truck over all the bumps and rocks between the villages, the animals scurried out of the road, except for the sheep.  They just stood there, looking blankly at the pickup, oblivious to the fact that we could squash them.  Undoubtedly, they were the stupidest of all the creatures there. I’d often ask my husband, as we laid on the horn trying to urge one from our path, “Why in the world don’t the Africans shepherd these things?”

I, too, need a shepherd. Without one, I will blithely walk in front of oncoming trucks.  I will make unwise life decisions.  I will choose to stop and nibble on the tuft of grass in the middle of the road. I will seek to meet my immediate needs without considering the long-term consequences.

And the awe-inspiring thing is that God himself has taken the job.  The Creator of the Universe has decided to guide me, to keep me safe, to shepherd me.

May we stand at the base of the mountain and just marvel about Who our shepherd is today.

I am crucified with Christ

This side of the Resurrection

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . . ~ 1 Peter 1:3

The Crucifixion. One of the most brutal, evil moments in the history of man. And at the same time, the most beautiful—because it doesn’t end there.

Jayson D. Bradley writes “. . . the resurrection isn’t part of the Christian faith; it is the Christian faith.” (visit his post here—it’s definitely worth reading)

The Resurrection changes life. Christ died, but that’s not the end. He was buried, and he rose again on the third day, according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:14). That’s a game changer—a life changer. For if I am crucified with Christ, then I too am raised again, born to a new life empowered by the living God who has called me to His glorious will.

Bradley continues, “What reason do I have not to live boldly and courageously? I live on this side of the resurrection.”

Dead to sin, alive in Christ. Death can no longer hold me, because Jesus defeated it. What shall I fear? Remember, daughter of the King, you live on this side of the resurrection.

I am crucified with Christ

No Room for Boasting

Those who want to make a good showing in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised – but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.  For even the circumcised don’t keep the law themselves; however, they want you to be circumcised in order to boast about your flesh.   But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world. Gal. 6:11-14 HCSB

My husband has held a full-time ministry position since I before I married him, and for the time we lived overseas, I did too.  I’ve found that too often, the “lay people” put ministers, pastors and missionaries on a pedestal, and we invariably topple right off that ungodly thing.  

People who get paid to do God’s work are subject to the same temptation to boast in success as the rest of the world, but we might couch it in prettier terms.  “Church growth” is occasionally an euphemism for “look what a great pastor I am.”  That’s exactly the same sort of thing a business tycoon might brag about when his companies’ sales soar. Or, “She gave her life to Christ” might sometimes be “I was so skillful and bold in sharing the gospel.”  That sounds awfully similar to “I am a great salesman/public relations executive.”

I’m certainly not saying all full-time ministers think those things.  I’m merely saying it’s tempting to grab a little glory for oneself, no matter what your vocation.  And I picked full-time ministers as my example because the author of these verses, Paul, devoted his life to ministry.  When he said he wasn’t going to boast about anything but the cross, he meant exactly what I’ve described.  “I won’t boast in your conversions or the size of your churches.  I won’t boast about whether or not you’ve followed some rule like circumcision.  All that worldly success stuff?  I’ve crucified it.”

Paul had one thing to brag about, and it was about something he had nothing to do with.  He boasted about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  He willfully killed all that was in him that would have liked to take credit for himself.

May I die to myself in the same way.  May I keep Jesus alone on the pedestal.  Only then it is godly.

I am crucified with Christ

Life Changes

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” ~Romans 7:25a, NIV

Life changes.

Somehow that phrase always seems to have a negative bent. You know, you’re reading along and suddenly something happens to a character, and life changes. We know it can’t be good. Life was good before. And then it changed, and we’ve got trouble.

But what if it wasn’t. Trouble, that is. What if it were different, positive – life CHANGING! Take a man, for example whose zeal was red-hot while his heart was stone cold. What a contradiction; passion pouring out of a lifeless soul. How does that happen? The need to be right? A desire for significance? Maybe a misguided intent; an arrow, sharp and deadly, fired into the blackness of night. It slices what it cannot see, destroys what it does not know.

Such a man condones unmerciful violence – murder in the name of righteousness. “Leave your coat at my feet,” he says. “The blood of this rebel, this blasphemer will not taint your spotless robe of self-righteousness.”

“But his words are true!” One may dare to argue with the man of stone. “His claim comes from the prophets, from the mouth of God. How can you ignore the truth?”

He cannot hear. His ears have been stopped. He cannot see. He has not vision. Only passion, coupled with arrogance. And so the innocent is crushed, with our heartless legalist looking on with approval. Nodding grimly. Counting… one down, so many more to go.

So many more to go. And he goes.

Until Truth blinds him. Until light casts him into darkness and he cannot see his way to persecute.

“Who are you, Lord?”

“It is I, the Christ. The one you are persecuting.”

And suddenly life changes. The heart of stone is melted into one of flesh. Blindness gives sight to that which cannot be seen, and new vision births purpose. Purpose is joined with passion. Saul is no longer, Paul has been born again.

Praise God, life changes.

I am crucified with Christ

Tounge Tied and Crucified

When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom.  For I didn’t think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.  My speech and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a powerful demonstration by the Spirit, so that your faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power. I Cor. 2:1-5

The little girls in tattered dresses held their bellies and guffawed behind the African hut.  One of them was putting on quite a performance to entertain her friends.  “Good morning,” she hooted through her nose, distorting the words, screwing up her face in concentration.  “Did you sleep well?” The other fell against each other in fits of giggles.

That was the phrase I had been practicing that morning in their language — their blasted, twisted, tonal, impossible language.  And I’d obviously said it quite wrong.  Jesus said to love the little children, but at that moment, I found it rather difficult.

I had to learn two African languages during my 12 ½ years in West Africa, and both times I achieved what some would label “fluency.”  Could I share the gospel in those languages?  Certainly.  Could I do it eloquently? Nope.  My accent was thick and my phrasing awkward.  Yes, Paul, I exactly understand what it is like to open my mouth without “brilliance of speech or wisdom.”

Yet, hundreds of West Africans came to Christ while my team, our U.S. partnership churches, and I labored among them.  Why?  Most definitely not because of my stellar language skills or cultural knowledge.  It was entirely because of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The power of that story – the story of a God who loved them so much that He died for them – arrested them.  It didn’t matter that the story was told haltingly with grammar blunders.  It was the God of the story, not the story-teller, who drew people to Himself.

For me, it was a new take on being “crucified with Christ.”  The day those girls mocked me, and hundreds of other times while I lived in Africa, my pride was absolutely crucified. It was painfully obvious that the birth of West African churches had nothing to do with me or my skill or expertise.  It seemed all that was required of me was my attendance.  I just showed up, made mistakes, and watched God work miracles.

Now that I am back in the States, my focus should be the same.  But here, I am competent.  I speak and write well.  I get the culture.  I’m not socially awkward.  It’s tempting to take a little credit for myself.  Tempting, but erroneous, for even in my native land, I am crucified with Christ. Any good that I do comes from His giftings, His empowerment, and most of all, from His grace.

Praise the God of the cross, and may He always obscure me.

I am crucified with Christ

I have been Crucified With Christ: A Joint Post

We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners” know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.  And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified.  For through the law I have died to the law, so that I might live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. Galatians 2:15-20

From Susan

“Do you know for certain that if you died tonight you’d go to Heaven?” This is the question Evangelism Explosion uses to open a presentation of the gospel.  It’s pretty hard hitting, but sometimes, when the time is right and the conversation fertile, I use it.  Most often, I get a response similar to this:

“Well… I hope so.  I mean, I want to.  I’ve tried really hard to be good.”

Salvation by works. It’s not just Americans who fall prey to this deception.  The types of works may vary by culture. Americans volunteer at soup kitchens and try not to speed. Some West Africans try to do the right animal sacrifices. Ancient Jewish people?  They measured the number of steps they took on the Sabbath. But the sentiment is the same: Maybe God will accept me if I’ve done enough good deeds.

Paul tells us here that we’ve got to nail that mindset to the cross.  It’s humbling to realize I can never please God. But when I admit that my best efforts fall short, when I accept that the only hope I have is His sacrifice for me, then I’ve crucified myself and my pride.

Crucifixion is execution.  I’m dead, but Christ lives in me.  What does that mean?

From Jen

Christ in [me]—the hope of glory.[1] Words penned by the same man—a man who understood what it was like to forever be working, trying to establish a wisp of a hope for God’s acceptance. To the Philippians, Paul listed his ‘good works’ resume. A Hebrew of the Hebrews, a coveted Pharisee, marked by his zeal, flawless in his version of the law . . .[2]

And after his encounter with Christ, Paul considered it worthless. Because he’d been crucified with Christ. No longer was he Paul, the man working for the approving smile of God. He’d been raised with Jesus, a new creation. Holy, accepted and pure.

In Philippians, Paul bursts into this statement of purpose: I want to know Christ—yes to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him . . .[3]

Christ lives in me. Sitting here, pondering life—feeling like mine is forever on pause—I’m soaking in these words. As I continue reading, I’m realizing that once again my gaze has fallen from God to myself. From heaven to the ground. From hope to frustration.

Christ in me, the hope of glory. Lift your eyes and see. Open your ears and hear. Truth shines in Him, and He is in me. Life eternal—life right now. I am crucified with Christ, and now I truly live.

[1] Colossians 1:27

[2] Philippians 3:5

[3] Philippians 3:10

I Am Hidden In Christ

Hiding in Him When I’m Hurt

God, hear my voice when I complain.  Protect my life from the terror of the enemy.  Hide me from the scheming of wicked people, from the mob of evildoers, who sharpen their tongues like swords and aim bitter words like arrows … The righteous one rejoices in the Lord and takes refuge in Him; all those who are upright in heart will offer praise.  Psalm 64:1-3, 10 HCSB

I love King David.  He was so real, and I am so thankful he poured his imperfect heart out in all these Psalms.  Sometimes I wonder if his willingness to tell God everything he felt was what made him “a man after God’s own heart.”  God longs for relationship.  He longs to be my best friend, which means he wants to hear … my complaints.

I complain to my husband, my sister, and my mother.  I tell them the yucky parts of my heart as well as the good.  And here David complains to his creator.  “These people are being really, really mean to me.  They are talking horrible about me, disrespecting me, hurting my reputation and undermining my authority.  And, they are just plain old hurting my feelings, too.  Hide me from them, God.”

That’s the part that drew my attention today.  “Hide me from the scheming of wicked people.”  David sought his solution in God alone.  He didn’t take it upon himself to punish his enemies.  He didn’t go slandering them around town.  He took his wounded heart to God Himself.

And by the end of his psalm, he was feeling better … better enough to offer God praise.  He trusted God to take care of the problem.

May I do the same. May I take my conflicts with others to God Himself, asking Him to work out the solutions instead of trying to manipulate circumstances to “fix” them on my own.  When I am hurt, may I hide in Him.