Desert Shepard

“He found his people in a desertland,

 in a barren place where animals howl.

He guarded them,

took care of them,

and protected them

because they were helpless.”

Deut. 32:10

God had not intended to have His people living in a barren desert.   His plan had begun in a perfect paradise garden.  But over the ages, their story had spiraled down to a point where they were literally, and spiritually, in a barren desert.   They had become the “prey.”

And God found them there.  The desert had not been His intention, yet He had pursued them to the very place that would destroy them if left to themselves.   He stepped in as Guardian of their lives, providing for their needs in order to survive in this desolate destination of their own choices.  And He stepped in to protect them from all the things that threatened their existence.  They had gone too far to help themselves.  They were not able to protect themselves, or to do anything to escape their advancing demise.  They had gotten themselves into this deadly situation.

Yet, the Shepherd of all shepherds stepped into their hopeless reality:

  • He guardedthem . . . literally placing Himself between them and the danger that threatened their lives;
  • He took care of them . . . providing for their needs. . . food, water, healing, all the practical, day-in-day-out needs that require time, patience, knowledge of health and all that can lead to sickness and death.
  • He protected This requires constant attention to all that could come to threaten, harm, or destroy His people.  He watchfully was poised to intercept any danger that came near to the helplesscreatures He loved.  Sheep are the most helpless animals to care for, as they have NO means of natural defense…except to run until they literally knock themselves out in their frantic attempts to escape their threat.

In the desert refugee camps, I was privileged to know a man – a governor – who lived out a similar reality, as a Good Shepherd:

He led the largest camp with quiet strength, wisdom and vision.  The previously struggling camp was transforming into a vibrant, productive community.  He worked tirelessly toward his goal:  If they can learn to thrive in hardship, they will flourish when they are back in their homeland of Western Sahara.

Often weary and overwhelmed, he would journey alone to  the sand dunes and peer up into the star-studded heavens.  There in the vast quietness, he would pour out his heart to The Creator.  Perspective returned.  Clarity. Purpose.  Comfort.  And he would return to his camp of thousands, ready to face another day.

 

Defender

“But I know that my Defender lives,

and afterwards,

He will rise on the earth.”  

Job 19:25

There are times in life when accusations seem to swirl around us, absorbing our thoughts and emotions. Our hearts cry out, longing to defend ourselves . . . set the record straight.  We can become fully absorbed in rehearsing past situations, thinking about responses we’d like to give, and projecting how we long to see situations change.  The “could be’s”  and “if only’s” begin a spiral effect that can consume us.  The “Accuser” seems to gain strength in the downward spiral which grasps us in his evil clutches.

It’s nothing new. The activities of the Accuser go all the way back to the very first humans.  We are not exempt from his activities.

Job knew the horrible effects of being accused and having no recourse of defense.  He was nearly destroyed.  He had lost everything, by no fault of his own.  And his accusers no doubt felt that their case against him was right.

Yet, in Job’s personal torment, he focused his eyes and mind on the God he knew and followed.

Even though devastating words and actions fought to bring Job to utter hopelessness, He clung to the One he had come to know and follow.  He had already come to know Him as his Defender, and was confident that, in the end, The Defender would “rise on the earth.”

Jesus Himself experienced the Accuser’s powerful words.  Alone in the desert, He faced accusations from Satan himself….the one who devised accusations and the strategic ways to use them to the most devastating effects.  Jesus is our Defender. . . the One who faced and overcame the most powerful Accuser himself.   The desert setting offers no comfort, no distraction, no escape.  Life is stripped down to the bare necessities . . . ‘What do I need to survive this day?  …and tomorrow I will face survival again.”  Jesus, coming into direct, repeated confrontation with the Accuser himself, experienced our human need for a Defender.  And it was after that point in His earthly life, that He began to “rise” on the earth.

Our Defender LIVES….and may our lives reflect  Him in such a way that those around us can see Him rising in our own hearts and lives on this earth.  May we live on the side of “defenders” rather than accusers.  In our personal “desert world”, may we reflect Hope, Truth, and Mercy in a world that stands accused and hopeless.

 

 

Living Water

“He said loudly,

“Whoever is thirsty must come to me to drink.

As Scripture says,

‘Streams of living water will flow

from deep within the person who believes in me.’ “     

John 7:37-38

It was the last day of a huge festival in Israel, in the Fall of the year, when families moved into “tents” to remember the forty years in the desert after fleeing Egypt.  Living in a desert was nearly impossible.  It was a powerful piece of their story… so significant that to this day, the week-long festival continues to be celebrated in Israel.

In the desert, finding “living water” is extremely rare.  Living water must come from a spring under the ground.  It comes up from below the desert floor.  Living water is fresh, clean water.  It gives life.

The bedouin (shepherd) heritage of my desert family knows well the preciousness and necessity of living water.  Shepherds are the ones who know where the springs are, knowledge passed down from generations of shepherds moving their flocks and herds through the desert.  It is a matter of life or death for the shepherd to know where the living water springs are, hidden under burning sand which bakes in the blazing sun every day.  The lives of their flocks  depend on drinking that water.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, had been in Jerusalem for the week-long celebration of remembering God’s salvation of His people through 40 years of refugee desert survival.  He had spent those days surrounded by “sheep” who did not have a Shepherd.  They were in the process of dying of thirst;  not a physical death, but a spiritual death. Like sheep that have no shepherd, death will result.  They will find no fresh, living water on their own.

On the seventh day of the festival, surrounded by throngs of “sheep without a Shepherd”….Jesus could remain quiet no longer.  Love, compassion, crystal- clear knowledge of the life-threatening thirst from which the multitude of “sheep” were suffering seemed to have burst from His Heart.  They were dying from thirst.  He was the Source of the living water for which they were desperately searching.  The Stream would not be hidden under the sands….the Living Water could miraculously spring from within their own hearts and  spirits.  They would neverhave to be thirsty again. As a good shepherd sacrifices his own life for the sheep, Jesus was nearing the time when, in that very city, He would give His life for them.

It was time. He could bear seeing their dying thirst no longer. “COME to ME! LIVE!”

Eye of the Storm

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble,

You preserve my life.”

Psalm 138:7

Sometimes in life, it seems that trouble is apparent on all fronts.  Whether self-created, others-created, or “just happens”….those are times when we can feel the most alone.  And sometimes that sense of being alone is the most intense and painful in the midst of those times of trouble.  It feels like you have somehow stepped into “the eye of the storm,” and it is overwhelming and scary.

In the early years of my “desert life,” I was in the market area when I noticed a sudden scrambling of women gathering their children and rushing toward their tents. The shopkeeper directed my attention to the horizon, where a massive, dark “mountain range” had appeared out of nowhere.  But the “mountains” were moving, rapidly, towards us.  I had never seen anything like it – a massive sandstorm was coming. Immediately, I rushed out the door to head back to the building in which I was staying.  Windows were shuttered, curtains drawn, water bottles readied, team members gathered, and prayers for protection began frantically being voiced.

I could not imagine the tents and shanties withstanding the power that would soon be upon us.  Darkness covered everything as the powerful “mountain-range” rolled over us, dropping sand, stones, debris and even scorpions it had picked up as it had rolled across the desert.

In the midst of that dim, dusty air, there appeared at the door, a woman.  She was carrying a gift which she quietly presented.  Saying nothing, she turned and disappeared into the storm.

Our room was silent. Who? Why? How?  We had no answers.  But her presence in that moment quieted our fears.  She had come in the midst of the storm.  A sense of calm and reassurance filled the dim, dusty room.

God brings His Comfort in most unexpected ways.  Our visitor’s courage to come to us “in the midst of the storm” helped our own faith to grow.  Her example reassured us that this was not an impossible situation.

We sensed that God had sent her, reassuring us  that He was indeed with us, “in the eye of the storm.”

 

A Final Journey

 “When Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem,

 he took the twelve apostles aside

 and said to them privately,

“We’re going to Jerusalem.

There the Son of Man will be betrayed

to the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings.

They will condemn him to death and hand him over to foreigners.

They will make fun of him, whip him, and crucify him.

But on the third day

he will be brought back to life.”  

Matthew 20:17-19

It is nearly impossible for me to imagine this scene.  Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem for the last time.  He had known for eternity that this earthly moment would come.  Now it was here.  And the weight of the world rested on His shoulders.

It boggles my mind to imagine how Jesus, in His Divine Perfection…having never experienced sin, was about to experience it for the whole world.

Yet, in the midst of purposefully moving toward Death itself, He pulled His dearest followers aside to clearly spell out what was ahead.  Like a mother who  is about to go through surgery in order to be well.  She pulls her child near and tries her best to prepare him, telling him the primary things she will have to experience, trying to lessen the fears. But the most important point is that, after the surgery, she will be well.  All the pain that had led up to this point would be finished. Life will change.

He spoke as if He was talking about someone else.  It was a description of what His chosen humanness would experience. . . the humanness He had chosen for the Love of the whole world, including us…now.

Each step…each moment on that final journey walking toward Jerusalem was His choice to give His life, not for His benefit, but for theirs.  The love behind each word He spoke to them was moving toward the ultimate act of love that would forever change them, and the future of the whole world.  He was specific.  The description was solid, without any pull for sympathy.  With no regrets.  With an intentionality that would change all of eternity.

Did they hear Him?  Reading of those last days of Jesus’  human experience, it seems they didn’t.  And He would have known that.  But He told them anyway. . . out of love.

 

 

Fisherman to Fisher of Men

“Because of this, make every effort to

add integrity to your faith;

and to integrity add knowledge;

to knowledge add self-control;

to self-control add endurance;

to endurance add godliness;

to godliness add Christian affection;

and to Christian affection add love.

If you have these qualities and they are increasing, it demonstrates that your knowledge about our Lord Jesus Christ is living and productive.”

2 Peter 1:5-8

Dear, honest Peter!   This earthy, hard-working fisherman was quite the character….before and during his time with Jesus.  Fishermen are pretty tough.  They understand fish.  They understand the feel in the air…the effect of the wind….and the sense of “they’re bitin’….let’s get out there!”   And they like old, ratty clothes and often smell bad.

When Jesus disrupted Peter’s life, he had a lot of struggles trying to contain his “fisherman ways” as he was learning to walk with Jesus.  And he learned – changed – SO much.  Here we read an amazing list of what Peter had been learning and experiencing.

I’d like to reverse the order of his words, in a way of looking at why one characteristic needs the other.  I have a feeling these were all coming from his own life experience as He learned to follow and walk with the Good Shepherd Jesus, and to see Jesus’ Divine Nature begin to reflect in his own old fisherman’s nature:

  • Faith needs Integrity: Integrity grounds and solidifies Faith…Integrity keeps Faith honest;
  • Integrity needs Knowledge: Knowledge adds factual substance to upright character;
  • Knowledge needs Self-Control: You can know a lot, but without self-control, it may not be lived out in the day-to-day of life.  Knowledge needs to translate into real life.
  • Self-Control needs Endurance: It’s easier to control one’s self on those “good days”, but it becomes harder in the long-haul;   (“I’ve given up chocolate” days)
  • Endurance needs Godliness: “I can…I can…I can…” can be all about ME, not about God, or the people in my life.
  • Godliness needs Christian Affection: Living “in the spiritual clouds”  or in “righteous ways” can lose touch with the human needs for affection and emotional connections;
  • Christian Affection needs Love: ..emotional connections… can go off in wrong directions rather quickly.  Love is not an emotion….it’s the choices and actions that put the “other” above my own needs and priority.  Love lays down one’s own life for the “other.”

Peter’s list is wonderful.  They’re all good things…greatly needed to be lived out in this world.

Three Questions

“…Jesus asked Simon Peter,  ‘Simon, son of John,

Do you love me more than the other disciples do?”

Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus told him, ‘Feed my lambs.’

Jesus asked him again, a second time,

‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’

Peter answered him,

‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’

Jesus told him,

“Take care of my sheep.”

Jesus asked him a third time,

“Simon, son of John,

Do you love me?”

Peter felt sad because Jesus had asked him a third time,

“Do you love me?”

So Peter said to him,

‘Lord, you know everything.  You know that I love you.’

Jesus told him,

“Feed my sheep.”

John 21:15-17

Jesus was alive again, and for a third time was with His disciples.  He had made them breakfast.  They knew who He was.  Then, Jesus asked Peter, specifically,  an important question, three times.  Why 3 times?  Where was Peter’s head each time?  What is it about something repeated three times that makes a difference?

First time:    A question comes in the midst of “something else” going on….my mind is focused on something at hand…things bombarding my mind at the moment the “new” topic comes up.   Distracted.  Focused elsewhere.  Experiencing something else at that time.

Watch children, for example.   “Seth…come here and _________.”   Didn’t even hear me.  Fully absorbed in his present moment.  

Second time:   “Seth….you’re not listening to me.  Come here and ________.   RIght now!”       Now he’s aware of the conflict he’s feeling.   He wants to keep doing what he was already doing.  I’m pulling him / his thoughts away from something else that has captured them.  Awareness begins…a choice is being required.  Continue what he’s into or choose to change his focus….probably to something that will require some kind of change in his actions.   An internal struggle begins.  He’s going to have to make a choice. 

Third time:  “SETH!”   Seth has not yet given his focus to me.   I must go to him, put his little face in my hands and require him to look into my eyes. It’s the only way I can truly get his attention.  His eyeballs are still going all over the place…avoiding looking in my eyes. That requires a “connection”  with me.  He is going to have to make a choice….either continue his own way, or give in to obedience to me.

What happened with Peter?  He was a fisherman.  His “catch” didn’t require long-term, 24/7 care.  Fishermen don’t develop a relationship with the fish.  One hard whack on the head – done!   Peter knew how to do that.  He knew fish.

What Jesus was asking him to do would require his life.  24/7.  Challenging, tireless, physically demanding, time and life-sacrificing.  It would require being away from home and comfort for months at a time.  Lonely. And Peter didn’t know how to do it. Fishing he knew.  Feeding sheep he didn’t.  It required a completely different skill set and temperament.  It would require everything.  It would require his life.

What is happening in my own life, my own heart as Jesus is asking me that same question?

THE END POINT:    IF YOU LOVE ME, FEED  MY SHEEP.  It’s about “the others”….no matter how bedraggled, skittish, dirty, wayward, flea-ridden, head-butting, stubborn, needy, troublesome, sickly,  funny, odd, disobedient or loveable.

This is the whole goal of a good shepherd….find food so that they can eat, and make them feel safe enough to be able to eat.  Whether it means months away from home so that they can be in good pasture, or whether the good pasture has been prepared for them right at home…

Loving Him must play out as “feed My sheep.”  It will require everything.

 

Anything but Cowards

“God didn’t give us a cowardly spirit

but a spirit of

power,

love,

and good judgment.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Cowardly:   Fearful, unwilling to stand  against opposition, ‘runs from’ rather than ‘stands for.’

God does not want this to describe nor define the spirit He has given each of His children.

The Spirit He has given us, designed to live within us, is very different:

      Power,   (controlled strength, focused on a clear objective needing change)

   Love,    (patient, kind, not self-focused, …1 Corinthians 13 list.)

and  Good Judgement  (clear thinking, accurate perceptions and decisions).

What does that look like?   What is the interplay between those three words?  They’re each uniquely different, yet allgiven within the very spirit of each person who is one of His Children.

All three are powerful words, yet under control, and employed to the benefit of “the other person.”   It’s not about personality….isn’t tied to being a quiet or a loud person.  Introvert or extrovert.  It’s deeper within than that, and impossible to contrive or fake (at least not for very long!)

Those who think that a God-follower is weak, or a person who needs “a crutch,” don’t have any accurate understanding of the very Spirit He has placed within those who are His.  These are leadership qualities.  They describe people who make a difference in their circles of relationship.  ..people of influence.  These are those who have impact and are catalysts of change in their personal world and beyond.   And notice there is no distinction of male or female here.

When God’s Spirit is invited into someone’s life, impact and influence will be a direct outcome  if we cooperate with the Spirit He has given us…put inside of us.

Every tiny or grand corner of our world needs this.

So pull up those bootstraps and…. BE!

Let His Spirit BE within you!

God is Faithful and Reliable

“God is faithful and reliable

 

“God is faithful and reliable.

If we confess our sins, he forgives them

and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong.”  

1 John 1:9

 

I was in a quandary this morning regarding a decision I had to make.  I had gone back and forth on whether to do something or not.  I knew that either choice would be “OK”…but I wanted to be more sure of making the best decision.

Then, this verse popped out to me, and the reminder that He is faithful and reliable.   It is stated as such a strong fact.  As I struggle with circumstances that seem to be changing by the hour, I needed to return to that grounding fact that God is faithful and reliable.  What follows seems to be an example . . . one of the most basic facts of our faith.  We hold to that fact as a foundational example  of our faith:

Confession, Forgiveness, and Cleansing “from everything we’ve done wrong.”

I can easily trust God to forgive and cleanse me.    Confession, forgiveness and cleansing are the foundation of why I can even havea relationship with Him.   It is easy for me to accept, practice and believe.

It gets a little harder to keep in the forefront of my mind this verse’s two named facts of His very Character in the day to day circumstances that call for decisions and actions.  When I’m not sure of what I must do or not do, I need the reminder of His faithfulness and reliability.  No matter which decision I make (when it’s not a matter of sinful actions), I need to remember that He is faithful…..He will continue to be with me, hold me in His Hand, and walk with me through whatever is ahead.   And He is reliable.  He doesn’t come and go.  I can be confident that He might let a rug be pulled out from under me, but will BE there with me, no matter what is going on around me.

If I can trust Him to forgive me and that He has removed that barrier of sin that had barred me from spending eternity with Him, then I can also trust Him to  be faithful and reliable….both qualities I need to keep in mind in the daily, moment-by-moment decisions and actions that I take.  It would be easier if He’d just shoot a memo to me with clear directions of what to do or decide in my daily life.  But that’s not been my experience.

So, knowing Who He Is in my life, I can walk through my day and make the choices and decisions that seem to be right.  And His Character, especially faithfulness and reliabilityare with me each step of the way.  Even in the “mis-steps”, His unchanging faithfulness and reliability will be there to guide, correct, and calm my heart and mind.  He will is there, present, to guide me through whatever may come.   What a sweet reassurance!

 

Nothing Can Separate

Nothing Can Separate image

 

“We know that all things work together for the good

 of those who love God

—those whom he has called

according to his plan.”

Romans 8:28

 

In the context of talking about the impossibility of ever being separated from God’s Love  for those who love Him, we see this beautiful encouragement.  It helps to put everything that happens in our lives into God’s Perspective.

He called your name.  He called my name.  And since we experienced  His Call …. perhaps a whisper…. He has been working out the Plan into which He has written our names.  We can be sure that it’s allgood.   No mistakes on His part.  Nothing missed or forgotten.  Nothing random.  Nothing too messed up for Him to weave into His Plan, and create something even more amazing by using the flaws He lovingly works into His Artistry.

He has Called your name, because of His Love for you.  He has chosen to weave you into His

Plan . . . for Eternity.

Whatever our pain . . . loss . . . failures . . . tragedies . . . His Plan has not changed. Set in motion before this world existed, His Plan moves forward.  And, oh so patiently, He has chosen to weave us, flaws and all, into His Masterpiece.

And someday, we will see the unveiling, including our own beautifully flawed piece, of what He has been creating.  It will be finished.  And all we who love Him will see . . . and at last understand.