Safe

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John 10:27-30 (ESV) My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will 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 the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

No guilt in life, no fear in death – this is the power of Christ in me. From life’s first cry to final breath – Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man can every pluck me from His Hand until He returns or calls me home – here in the power of Christ I stand. (In Christ Alone written by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend) These powerful lyrics led me to seek out the promise and security of the thought that there is nothing that can pluck me from His Hand. The permanent security in a chaotic life that is substantial enough to “command my destiny” is what I am after. I no longer subscribe to a normal life. It is not possible. Consequences, circumstances and certain conditions wrecked the notion that there is such a novelty. I am absolutely okay with it. It repositioned me by default. I had to make a conscious decision. Would I live a random existence being tossed to and fro or would I choose to live in the reality of my faith?

In John 10, Jesus tells us that He is the Good Shepherd. The kind of caretaker who lays down his life for his sheep. The Lord is dedicated to our preservation. He is the one who will leave the 99 to pursue the one who is lost or fallen. The shepherd who keeps track of each one signifying each one’s individuality and importance to Him. He came with a distinct purpose. Not only is the Good Shepherd devoted to our preservation, but He is intent on our prosperity. He warns of the thief who seeks to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus goes on to say that His Purpose is to give us live and that we would have it abundantly. Our life has potential far greater than may be seen but that has caught the attention of the adversary. The enemy viciously attacks the sheep especially those who wander astray. But the Good Shepherd will continue to pursue us so that He can revive, renew and restore us in righteousness. He saves, heals and delivers us. He is the Good Shepherd.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary offers this insight concerning these powerful promises for our life. “The safety of the saints inferred from these two. If this be so, then none (neither man nor devil) is able to pluck them out of the Father’s hand, not able to deprive them of the grace they have, nor to hinder them from the glory that is designed them; not able to put them out of God’s protection, nor get them  into their own power. Christ had himself experienced the power of his Father upholding and strengthening him, and therefore puts all his followers into his hand too. He that secured the glory of the Redeemer will secure the glory of the redeemed. Further to corroborate the security, that the sheep of Christ may have strong consolation, he asserts the union of these two undertakers: ‘I and my Father are one, and have jointly and severally undertaken for the protection of the saints and their perfection.’” You are safe today. Safe and secure in the Hand of God placed there by Jesus Christ. We must maintain our confidence in the security of God to fight the insecurity sown in us by the enemy. Doubt produces fear that can flush us from God’s Hand due to the natural adrenaline response known as fight or flee. Innately ingrained in us to fight for survive because of our separation from God now must be reprogrammed to remain confidently positioned in righteousness even when the storm rages and the heat of battle ensues.

Proverbs 18:10 (ESV) The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.

You are safe today. Our strength and stability are not what has secured us. Weakness does not take us from it. No, you are safe today because you are held by the Lord in the palm of His Mighty Hand. No one can take you from Him. No one will ever displace us from His Love. It is our confident hope that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. It is God’s Solemn Promise and Divine Character never to lie or change His Mind about us but rather He will hold us gently but tightly forever in palm of His Hand. Sometimes we must declare to our mind, soul and body that we are safe. To remind ourselves that the conditions around us do not indicate our outcomes in Christ. The Name of Jesus is power. There is none above or beside Him. He reigns. He wins. He is life. He is our Good Shepherd who makes us safe.

Psalm 119:114-117 (ESV) You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God. Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope! Hold me up, that I may be safe and have regard for your statutes continually!

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Black Sheep

Black Sheep

Luke 15:4-7 (NLT) “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

On my daily commute, I pass a small makeshift farm. It started as one pen with a couple sheep. Now it is three pens, several sheep, two herding dogs, and some chicken coops. Recently, there were several lambs born with one that is solid black. The sheep and Great Pyrenes are solid white so the little guy sticks out like a sore thumb with its raven-colored coat. Every day I slow down to look for the black sheep. But as of late, the little one is not among the flock.

Today, I am acutely aware of the black sheep. I am part of a blended family. My parents each brought two children to their union. I have a very tangled family tree so we will stay on this side of it for now. My sister was very young and my biological father adopted her when she was just two years old. My bonus mom as one might call her also had a son. He did not embrace the new family quite so much and gravitated toward his own father and his side of the family. He might even be called a black sheep of sorts. Life for him was very difficult and his struggle very real. He loved the Lord, but had his own wilderness moments along the way. He passed away yesterday. I am sad. Although he was not as closely knit into our family as my brother and sister – I am sad for him. He died feeling that he was a black sheep. He felt like a disgrace who was ostracized. Not because he was not loved and cherished by his family, the enemy wrapped him in up in a lie that would cause him to stumble in life many times.

The tragic news of his death has haunted me. I see black sheep all the time. From the actual animal to the people who wander through life never experiencing the Love of God and all His Fullness. The inability to fully grasp and understand the completeness of God’s Grace and Goodness that He has just for them. Caught up in comparison, tangled in lies and stumbling over stupid things – they wander through life never really knowing, understanding or fully comprehending that which is pursuing them. Have we as Christians and believers contributed in some way? Setting conditions on love and acceptance that God never truly intended? To distance ourselves from the lost, wandering and broken afraid it is contagious? To gravitate toward success avoiding those who represent failure? To forget that we too were once the one lost sheep who was carried home by our Savior?

Matthew 18:12-14 (MSG) “Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way. He doesn’t want to lose even one of these simple believers.”

Where is the celebration when a simple believer is born? When the one who was lost wanders to the altar of our churches? Do we embrace them as they are? Or do we mandate a grace of change from imperfect to perfect in an instant? The Blood of Jesus covers our sin. Over time the Word begins to wash us clean including old wounds. A black sheep cannot change the color of its fur. It is still a sheep. The DNA the same it just looks different. You can shear it a hundred times and its coat will remain black. However, as Christians caught up in religion, we get so bent on changing people to meet our expectations and mandates of doctrine that we forget to love them just as they are. Love is not mean. It is not unkind. It is forgiving. Accepting. Affirming. This is the kind of love that allows the Lord to work out salvation and complete the transforming power offered through Jesus Christ. Where are the beloveds? The Love of God is unconditional. It loves with powerful passion even when it is not wanted or reciprocated. The Perfection of God meets us in our imperfection and loves us just the same. I don’t think we get that. If we did – people would flock to our services to encounter such love – no pun intended.

I Peter 2:25 (NLT) Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.

The example of Jesus Christ is to be a guardian of souls. Our Shepherd is the Guardian of our souls. Guardian means defender, protector and keeper. The one who looks after and is responsible for someone. My mission in life must be to seek the sheep and CARRY them home. It doesn’t say that when he found the sheep that he beat it severely, reprimanded it harshly, or any other form of punishment. It says, “and when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.” He did not wait for the sheep to come to him, but the true shepherd searches for the sheep. He pursues the one that is lost. Religion will only separate and divide unless it becomes about relationship. I tried to change a thousand times going to church and following everyone’s instructions. Yet I still wandered into the wilderness of life, I made countless mistakes. I let God down and failed Him faithfully. When I came back to the Lord, He didn’t berate me. In fact, He wooed me. He loved me. He filled me with more love and grace than I ever thought possible. When I fell in love with Jesus – all the hypocrites and haters didn’t matter anymore. I found love. Unconditional and unfathomable love. It is from that I have learned to love others without expectation. I find that I gravitate toward black sheep and embrace them because I was once lost and now I am found.

My heart is heavy today. I am sad that my brother has passed. I believe that Jesus mercifully came and set him free. I grieve the relationship that could have been and never will be. I am pressed to consider my love for others today. Do I look for the lost sheep as I do the little black sheep each day? Do I show unconditional love to those who are wandering? When they do come to church – are they met with celebration or more condemnation? God don’t let that be me. Fill my heart with the love and compassion that you have for each us. The kind of love and commitment that leaves the ninety-nine to pursue the one. Lord, let my response be rejoicing as I carry them home. Forgive me Jesus for the forgotten ones. Those who I turned a blind eye to or just walked around. All the times that I judged someone for not living up to my convictions or pursuing them with anything but unconditional love. Teach me Holy Spirit to be a guardian of souls. To rejoice over the sinner more than the saints. Be my example Lord for you are the Good Shepherd.

John 10:9-11 (NLT) Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”

In the Valley

in the valley

Psalm 23 (NLT) The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Walking with my husband and fur babies, I become lost in my thoughts. Conversation fades to only the sound of our footsteps on the pavement. I thank God for this wonderful man and soul mate who He created to “do” life with me. I honestly do not know what I would be or where without his precious love. The details of life like a heavy wet blanket burdening my thoughts laying heavy in my soul. Life is hard. Not all the time, but if totally honest most of the time. I don’t understand all the details and how God is able to wrap them into something good and tie a little bow on top like His Word says He will do. The Lord has been good to me. He has been more than gracious to our family. Yet, still there are many details that do not add up. Parts of our life not prospering as the Word of God indicates they would. I know it is a season and just as I get tired during this walk, I will not stop until I round the corner and make it home – it is not my intent to stop in the valley but rather find peace here.

The Word of God tells us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. I am quite certain that He is exactly who Psalm 23 promises Him to be but that doesn’t make climbing the mountain any easier or the valley filled with light on any given days. The Power of the Shepherd in my life is manifested by my willingness to trust and obey His Leading in my life. It is not human nature to give up our way and follow anyone like sheep. Sheep are not known for their intelligence. In fact, just the opposite. Living in dependency to the one who leads, guides and directs them completely is the marked trait of such livestock. They are meek and cowardice. Desiring only basic care and daily needs met if they leave the flock they are immediately lost and fall victim to the environment.

John 10:9-11 (NLT) Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” The confidence of sheep in the shepherd is the quality that produces loyalty. Do you believe that God is good? Do you believe that He provides all we need? Do you believe that Jesus came to give you a rich and satisfying life? Do you desire to walk in His Ways and follow the Lord (the Good Shepherd) all the days of your life? Do you believe that the Goodness of God is for the land of the living? See all of these qualities and attributes of God are valid and true. However, I do not believe them, I will not experience them as I will not follow the Lord very far.

Hope is belief in the unseen. Faith is for those things that seem impossible in the natural. Yet we try to use faith and hope for things that we can have, see and do rather than applying them to the principle of prosperity that is not humanly possible. The kind of prosperity that comes as our soul prospers. Why? Dependency is not a characteristic embraced by our pride. To totally surrender the care of our life to Jesus Christ is way more difficult than one may think. The valley is like swimming so far out in the ocean you cannot see the beach you left and too far away to see the shore on the horizon. The valley requires us to totally depend on God and trust Him. It is not a bad place yet not a favorable condition. Are you in the valley today? The place of walking, waiting and watching. I am. I will admit it so that we both can find purpose and meaning in this dark, low lying place.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.”

In complete honesty, it feels like most of our days are in the valleys if you think about it. I know that the day I decided to follow Jesus Christ for the rest of my life a bright red target was placed on my life by the enemy. Thank God that the bright red blood of Jesus Christ makes it null and void as He assumes the role of Good Shepherd. I must learn to trust Him more. I must learn to follow Him when I cannot see where we are going. I must learn to seek Him when He doesn’t feel like enough. When my hands are reaching for other things, may I not stop grasping until I fully embrace Christ.

The valley is dark but Jesus is the Light of the World. His deepest desire is to live, move and exist in us so that our life becomes glorious light that reflects His Amazing and Unstoppable Love. I cannot share something that I have no experienced. My words are not convincing until I become confident in the words I am speaking. The rod of God’s Word leads me to obedience. He doesn’t punish us anymore because the Grace offered by Jesus Christ is enough. More than enough, now I can be confident in God’s Love and Care for me as His Child. Do I believe God loves me? Do I believe that He is a Good Father with only my best interest in mind? Do I believe that if I seek Him wholeheartedly His Plan will become the destination of my life? If not, I need more of God’s Word to fill the voids that lead to willful disobedience so I am encouraged to live an obedient life. And let’s be clear as I pause for a moment, obedience to the Lord is not a religious effort. It is not strict adherence to rules, regulations, doctrines or guidelines. It is absolute and total submission to Jesus Christ in a loving and committed relationship. His Spirit will lead, guide and direct us in life. Along with the rod, the Good Shepherd has a staff. Again, the Word of God is like that staff. It rescues us with the hook when losing our way. His Word equips us. It feeds our spirit. He guides us with that staff through the valley to the place of promise. Oh Lord, let me fully embrace your Word and your Will for my life today.

Enemies are a real threat to sheep who become separated or isolated from the flock. It is vitally important to maintain our relationship and close proximity to Jesus Christ. We need Him every day not just on those days that are particularly difficult. Many years ago, I had a dream. At first, I would have called it a nightmare. But not anymore, my family was visiting a state park. Our youngest became separated from us. I found her in the presence of the enemy. He kept changing forms and becoming the face of many ordinary people before taking form. I could smell the putrid burning of flesh. I prayed and cried out to the Lord. The enemy pushed my daughter into my arms unharmed. Then in the blink of an eye, I could feel his hot breath on my neck as he seethed, “If it wasn’t for the Blood of Jesus I would kill them (my children) all.” I believe that the Blood of Jesus is our protection from the enemy’s attack and assault against our life. I also believe that Jesus doesn’t stop there but actually flaunts His Love, Care and Protection of us in front of him. To trust the Lord with our life and our loves is one thing, but to live confidently in that place means we do not have to fight the enemy but simply live in the Presence of Jesus Christ who won the battle already. The enemy is powerless in my life because I believe Jesus won it all.

John 1:1-5 (NLT) In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

The Good Shepherd is the Light of the World. He is the Word who came wrapped in flesh to share God’s Love Story for us. He did just that. When He died on the Cross, He removed everything that separated us from God. He opened a river of overflowing grace that rushes through every valley in our life whether led there or wandered to that place. God is with us. He will never leave us or forsake us. He goes before us to make our way straight. He fills in valleys. He levels mountains. He unbends curves and smooths out rough spots for us. (Isaiah 40:3-5) He comes in behind us pursuing us, wanting us and desiring our love more than anything else. Most importantly, Jesus lives in us. He is our Source of Life. Jesus prospers us and shapes our life so that it becomes a rich and satisfying one as He promised. Many times, it is in the valleys of life that this is discovered because it is those dark times and places that the Light of His Love becomes our desire. The places where disappointment and unmet expectation lead to dissatisfaction which is contrary to the Promise. We must learn to believe and depend on Jesus Christ to have the life that never leads to disappointment. A life of faith and hope. A life that learns to prosper and rejoice in the valley just as much as in the field of harvest or on the mountaintop of worship. We have the opportunity to live in the Presence of God. The one true Almighty God who loves us more than life and proved it by laying down the life of His One and Only Son, Jesus. We learn to trust the Lord in the valley.

We also experience new hunger and thirst in the valleys of life. When the details of our life do not add up to the Word of God or the vision in our heart, desperation sets in. Our desire increase for the One who makes all things new and gives life to new creation. If you have experienced the Light of His Love just once, you are hooked. It is impossible to not want more of His Love, Joy, Peace and every other good and perfect gift coming from Heaven. Trust is the only way to accomplish a true relationship with God because it is evidence of the reality of our confidence. I will not trust anyone I lack confidence in. Struggles and challenges give us the opportunity to trust the Lord just a little bit more. In our desperation, we finally cry out to the Lord who immediately comes rushing in to save His Sheep from despair or destruction. (Isaiah 41:17-20) God is leading to a place of full satisfaction. (Isaiah 49:10-12) It is on the other side of the valley.

Psalm 27:12-13 (NLT) Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

I don’t think it is possible to ignore the depth of the valley or see through its darkness in our natural abilities. I believe that the only way to successfully navigate the deepest valleys in life is with the Light of His Love and our confident belief that Jesus is a Good Shepherd. Life is a series of peaks and valleys that keep us leaning, trusting and depending on the Lord with good reason. We have a hope worth having that cannot be seen and only obtained by faith characterized by absolute confidence in God’s Saving Grace. It must believe that the Blood of Jesus is enough to overcome sin, death and the grave. We must hold tight to our hope without wavering making it the anchor for our soul. (Hebrews 6:19) What better place than in the valley when we cannot see or even find the bottom yet confidently trust the Lord. He provides in the valley. He protects in the valley. He even will prosper us in the valley. The Lord does it for those who love the Shepherd, know His Voice and follow Him to the other side. I am really not sure where the Lord is leading me or my family today. What I do know is: Jesus loves me. He died for me. He will lead me to the other side. I will have a rich and satisfying life. He is the Good Shepherd. I have all that I need to achieve what He has called me to do and prosper as my soul prospers. Amen. And Amen.

John 10:14 (NLT) “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me…”