Taking Flight

Back on March 20, 2019, Lifeway Christian Resources, the nation’s biggest Christian retail bookstore chain, announced it was closing all 170 stores by the end of 2019, and “shifting its offerings entirely online.” Family Christian Stores shut down all 240 locations of it’s stores in 2016 after 85 years of operation in the midst of mounting debt and bankruptcy. And Cokesbury Bookstores closed all 38 retail stores in 2013 and shifted to online sales, also.

Slate published an article titled, The Decline of the Christian Bookstore,” on July 11, 2019, by Ruth Graham, a writer for Slate who lives in New Hampshire, with a subtitle reading, “Yes, they sell sanitized music and “Jesus junk.” But something important gets lost when Christian bookstores disappear” (quote source here). In the article she states:

The Christian publishing industry, and its distribution arm in Christian bookstores, plays a central role within evangelical culture, even for those who don’t read “Christian books.” Since evangelicalism has no central authority, the publishing industry’s self-defined borders have a huge impact on the people, ideas, and practices that get publicly promoted—and eventually accepted—as “true” Christianity. “Publishers have been really central to granting authority within evangelical culture … and for evangelical celebrities to be created,” said Daniel Vaca, a historian at Brown University whose book,Evangelicals Incorporated: Books and the Business of Religion in America,” will be published later this year. “Publishers have provided a cultural center for evangelicalism.” (Quote source here.)

The Lifeway bookstore near me is permanently closing this week. When I stopped in there last week it was pretty bare from previous closing sales leading up to this last one, with what merchandise was left reduced in price by 70%-90%. I picked up five books I might not have normally thought about reading at a discount of 80% on four of them and 70% on the fifth book. Such a deal! For true blue book lovers, there is nothing quite like walking through a real bookstore and browsing the shelves. Online bookstores just don’t cut it in that way. Besides, there is no chance of having a lively serendipitous conversation with a sales clerk or other customer in the store when buying books online.

Online communication has totally changed the way we relate to the world and to others. What used to be a social event (like actually going to a bookstore and look at real, published books, and communicating with clerks in person as well as other customers) is now going online. See if you don’t relate to this nine-year-old article published on August 13 (which also happened to be a Friday), 2010, in The Guardian titled, Twitter, email, texts: we don’t talk anymore!” by Michelle Hather, mom to three now all-grown-up sons who were still kids nine years ago:

Michelle Hather and her three sons communicate increasingly in a silent world of emails, tweets and texts. Will her boys forget how to speak altogether, she wonders?

It’s 7:28 am and I crack open my laptop and take a crafty peek at my email. I’m not yet out of bed but it’s a simple task to reach across the duvet and pull my MacBook towards me. Emails checked, I click on to my Facebook page, in case I’m missing anything. That’s when I notice my 13-year-old son (and FB friend) is online and doing exactly the same thing.

“Get off the damned computer and go downstairs for breakfast. NOW!!!!” I message. Frantic footsteps rush past my bedroom door.

The night before, as his food sat cooling on the dining room table and he sat in his bedroom, I had texted my middle son: “Dinner ready now! Get down here immediately!!!” Two minutes later, he was down the stairs and sitting at the table.

Then there are the crucial messages I need to pass on to my eldest: “I’m working late tonight”; “Your rugby training is cancelled”; “Where’s the 10 quid you owe me?”; “Can you return my entire collection of mugs, plates and glasses from your room, please??!!!” All sent by email because they have more chance of reaching his brain than actual, face-to-face human- being exchanges.

What has happened to my family? We’re in danger of never speaking to one another again …

I’m not kidding myself that we’d normally be gathered round the dining table discussing anything meaningful – with teenage hormones raging and parental resentment kicking in, I’ve become adept at translating grunts. But I’ve suddenly realized these kids have sucked me into their hi-tech way of doing things. Now I’m communicating with them via message boards, phones and computers – just like their friends.

Gone are the days when we tripped over each other in the kitchen or slumped happily against each other on the sofa to watch a family film. I should thank my lucky stars we had our children before the age of cheap laptops and mobile phones for primary school children, otherwise we might never have known those times.

Fast forward to 2010 and, with four computers in the house, it’s usual to find all five Hathers in five separate rooms, clicking or bashing away on the PlayStation. And when you’re chatting by email to friends in New Zealand, it seems reasonable to slip in a message to your child, sitting in front of his own computer a few yards away on the other side of the bedroom wall.

While we’re at it, why not use unlimited texts courtesy of our phone contracts as a kind of house intercom system? No more bellowing up the stairs – our boys leap on any incoming message with an urgency last seen when they were in short trousers. Crushing disappointment only hits when they realize the message is from mum or dad. I’ve even been known to send them a printed message in the television room, where we keep the wireless printer. As I work in my own office, I can still nag them in red 78-point Ariel Black upper-case letters: “TURN OFF THE PS3 AND GO AND DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!!!”

But with laptops before breakfast, mobiles left switched on by bedsides and iPods stuck in ears as they fall asleep, I do worry my sons will soon lose the power of speech entirely. When I was a kid, I would spend hours gossiping with my mates, hanging out down the shops discussing clothes, boys and other urgent matters. My children are often happy to stay in their rooms and converse by keyboard.

“Switch off the computer and get to bed,” I yell, as I get ready to turn off my own bedroom light.

“Yep, I’m just saying goodnight to my mates,” they tell me.

Should I resist the inevitable march of progress? Is it enough to use proper grammar and spell out text words in their entirety – much to my children’s amusement – or should I be communicating only when I can see the whites of their eyes? After all, I know I’m a hypocrite when it comes to the lure of the laptop … I used to start every day gazing at my children; these days I open my Mac before I open their doors.

Lisa Warner is a parenting expert whose website Fink (Family Interaction Nurtures Kids) produces conversation prompt cards for teenagers. She says you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. “The way we communicate is changing and your family can’t live in a bubble and ignore technology,” she says. “But kids learn how to communicate from their parents and we lose all sorts of things – crucial body language for example – by not talking face to face.

“By all means make use of the new methods of communicating but make sure you take time to talk about things other than the daily routine.”

The Bercow report of 2008 warned that we were all going to hell in a handcart. “If a child is exposed to a relentless diet of TV and computer games and deprived of interaction at home, that is very damaging,” the soon to be House of Commons Speaker told the Guardian at the time. And 2011 is earmarked as the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication.

It’s falling on deaf ears in our house. The more gadgets that appear, the less we have to do with one another. The other night our street was plunged into darkness by a power cut and the boys were truly shocked. Once the excitement of candles and no showers had waned, the horror of the situation sank in and they slunk off to bed. Nothing better to do, you see.

The way they plan their social life has changed, too. Everything is left to the last minute because everyone can be reached immediately, no matter where they are. Hours of no visible or audible signs of communication with their friends are suddenly followed by a slammed front door as they react to an urgent message or email. “What time are you coming back????” I text after them as they disappear up the road. I leave my phone next to my pillow as I try to sleep–comforted only by a bleep-bleep of a response and an eventual key in the door.

Then there’s Facebook. My youngest tolerates me as a friend, but he has nothing to hide… yet. My eldest two won’t let me near them, though I’m sure I could easily hang around unnoticed among the thousands of friends they have somehow collected. Interestingly, some of their peers have added me as a friend and I often spy on my children from a distance. Oh, how I laughed when I read that my baby had thrown up into a gutter during one jolly jape. And don’t get me started on the photos… when did 15-year-old girls learn to pose like that?

It’s not just speech that is disappearing in our house. The handwritten word is an endangered species, too. My boys rarely trouble a ballpoint pen and homework is always produced on the computer; handwritten notes left for me are therefore no more than a scribble. I think back to my own school days, of aching fingers and 90-minute essay exams, and wonder how on earth these children manage when they are not used to holding a pen.

It’s a worry. But then one day you see their online work and hope is resuscitated. They can write, they can express themselves, they do still have a language–they just don’t do it or use it the same way we do. Last month, I asked my eldest son to email me his latest piece of English private study. It was a beautifully crafted piece of work based on Sebastian Faulks’s “Birdsong,” in which my boy used words and phrases I could only dream coming from his mouth. It was thoughtful, moving and nothing like the usual clipped language I get in his texts and emails. You see, it’s all there–it’s just lost inside the computer.

With keyboards or phone pads prompting most communication within the Hather house, it’s easy to forget we are still chatterboxes at heart. So I didn’t hold back when I told my son what I thought of his essay: “It’s really lovely,” I texted. (Quote source here.)

Do remember that this article was published nine years ago. And the issue has only escalated since that time. Does it sound familiar? It reminds me of a phrase that Jesus stated several times–“he who has ears to hear.” GotQuestions.org gives the following answer to what Jesus was meaning when he made that statement:

In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of those who have “ears to hear” at the end of a difficult saying or parable (e.g., Matthew 11:15Mark 4:923). Who is “he who has ears to hear”? Better yet, who is “he who has ears”? Ears are a feature shared by all of humanity—to not have ears would be an unnatural occurrence. Therefore, when Jesus addresses those who have ears, He refers to all who have been given His words—no matter their age, ethnicity, language, or status.

But there is a difference between having ears and having “ears to hear.” Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed contrasts types of hearers: those who let the Word of God pass straight through their ears and those who truly listen and seek understanding (Mark 4:13–20). Some hear the Word, yet they do not allow it to take root because the seduction of worldly pleasures and comfort overcomes them. Others end up rejecting the Word because of persecution or trials. Others hear the Word and open themselves to understand and accept it so that it transforms them. Those who have “ears to hear” allow the Word to bear fruit to the glory of God. It is up to the hearer to decide whether to take the Word seriously and pursue understanding; only a few are willing—the rest have ears, but they do not have “ears to hear” (Matthew 7:13–1424–27).

Whenever Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” He is calling for people to pay careful heed. It’s another way of saying, “Listen up! Pay close attention!” Speaking in parables was one way in which Jesus sought to gain the attention of the crowds–people love stories, and the parables depicted events and characters with which they could readily relate. But unless they were willing to tune out other distractions and come to Jesus to understand the meaning of His preaching, His words would be only empty stories. They needed more than ears, however keen they were; they needed ears to hear.

When asked by His disciples why He was speaking to the crowds in parables, Jesus refers to Isaiah 6, which speaks of people who have eyes and ears, yet who have hardened their hearts and chosen to ignore the Word of the Lord (Matthew 13:10–15; cf. Isaiah 6:8–10). Part of the judgment on those who refuse to believe is that they will eventually lose their opportunity to believe: “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Matthew 13:12; cf. Romans 1:18–32).

A similar phrase is found in Revelation in each of the seven letters to the churches: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:71117293:61322). And in Revelation 13:9, immediately following a description of the Antichrist, we read, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” The readers of Revelation are called upon to pay close attention and seek God’s wisdom concerning what’s written.

Who is “he who has ears”? The simple answer: all people who have been or are being given the words of God. Like the parables’ original audience, we must also “Listen up! Pay close attention!” Jesus’ simple request is that we use our God-given faculties (eyes to see, ears to hear) to tune in to His words (John 10:27 –28Mark 4:24Revelation 3:20). “For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open” (Mark 4:22). Seeking God’s truth takes energy and focus; it takes a willingness to be challenged and changed. While the way of God’s truth is not the most convenient or fun path to take, we can be assured that it is the best one (John 1:410:914:6). And so He bids us, “Come” (Matthew 11:28 –30).

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David (Isaiah 55:1–3). (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Jesus stated above and taken from Revelation 2:71117293:61322Whoever has ears…

Let them hear . . .

What the Spirit says . . .

To the churches . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Of Steel and Velvet

I read an online devotion this morning that showed up in my email inbox from Our Daily Bread titled, Steel and Velvet,” by Bill Crowder, Vice President of teaching content for Our Daily Bread Ministries. The title of the devotion is Steel and Velvet,” and here is what he wrote:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”John 8:7

Today’s Scripture & Insight: Read John 8:1-11

Poet Carl Sandburg wrote of former US president Abraham Lincoln, “Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect.” “Steel and velvet” described how Lincoln balanced the power of his office with concern for individuals longing for freedom.

Only one person in all history perfectly balanced strength and gentleness, power and compassion. That man is Jesus Christ. In John 8, when confronted by the religious leaders to condemn a guilty woman, Jesus displayed both steel and velvet. He showed steel by withstanding the demands of a bloodthirsty mob, instead turning their critical eyes upon themselves. He said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). Then Jesus modeled the velvet of compassion by telling the woman, “Neither do I condemn you . . . . Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11).

Reflecting His “steel and velvet” in our own responses to others can reveal the Father’s work of conforming us to be like Jesus. We can show His heart to a world hungry for both the velvet of mercy and the steel of justice. (Quote source here.)

In this devotion, Jesus “showed steel by withstanding the demands of a bloodthirsty mob, instead turning their critical eyes upon themselves.” And he “modeled the velvet of compassion” in his interaction with the woman caught in the act of adultery. He was also firm in his stance with the Pharisees while trying to get them to see the error of their ways.

In a second devotion on the same topic published on June 8, 2010,  titled, Lincoln, A Man of Velvet Steel,” by Dr. Tommy Kiedis, senior pastor at Spanish River Church, and adjunct professor at Lancaster Bible College | Capital Seminary & Graduate School, he writes:

I admire Abraham Lincoln and appreciate his words! Our sixteenth President, who penned the Gettysburg Address, also gave us such memorable lines as:

    • ‘Tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.
    • Sir my concern is not whether God is on our side. My great concern is to be on God’s side.
    • You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.
    • It is not best to swap horses while crossing the river.

Lincoln was a man of resolve, but he was also a man of common sense. There were times to “put up the dukes,” and then there were times to relax the fists and extend a hand of friendship. Carl Sandburg, a Lincoln biographer, described the President as a man of “velvet steel.”  What a great appellation and fitting explanation as to why Lincoln’s sterling reputation has not tarnished over the years. When I open the pages of Scripture I see another person of velvet steel—Jesus! They said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:4-11 ESV). Carry something soft in your pocket today. Every time you touch it, pray this prayer: “God, give me Jesus’ discretion. Help me be a person of velvet steel.”

When people stood before the judge’s bench, Jesus knew when to bang the gavel and when to put it down. He knew when to be compassionate rather than condemning, when to be relaxed rather than rigid, and when to excuse the offense rather than to exact the toll.

Being a person of velvet steel is not easy. It takes divine discretion. “Lord, replace my cold heart with a warm embrace. Give me the wisdom to be a person of velvet steel!” (Quote source here.)

In this devotion, Jesus “knew when to bang the gavel and when to put it down. He knew when to be compassionate rather than condemning, when to be relaxed rather than rigid, and when to excuse the offense rather than to exact the toll.”

The key in all of our interactions with anyone we come into contact with is replacing a cold heart and attitude with a heart of compassion towards others no matter who is confronting us or trying to manipulate us. This was the case of the Pharisees in the above story who were always trying to trap Jesus, and, in this specific case, they also had no compassion for the woman they dragged before Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery, either. And Jesus showed compassion towards the woman whom the Pharisees couldn’t have cared less about. They were using her to get to Jesus trying to find a charge to bring against him.

Every interaction that we have with others clearly shows us our own heart attitude, and that includes even if we are trying to be deceptive by not letting the other person know our true/real motives. For a Christian, this kind of attitude is deadly as it is pharisaical, and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day never saw it in themselves, either.

Ephesians 4:32 states, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Luke 6:31 states, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (that’s Jesus speaking). In a short story based on Luke 10: 25-37 titled, Jesus Teaches How to Treat Others,” by Diane L. Mangum, she writes:

The Jews and the Samaritans did not get along with each other. The Jews did not like the people who lived in Samaria. They thought they were better than the Samaritans and tried not to travel in their land. If they saw Samaritans, they would not talk to them.

But Jesus taught that you should treat people just as you would like them to treat you. Could that mean treating people kindly even if you didn’t know them or if they were Samaritans?

Jesus said people should love their neighbors. But was a neighbor only someone who lived nearby or someone who was like you? Jesus told a story to help the people understand how they should treat others.

In the story a Jewish man was traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. It was a dangerous road that climbed through steep hills. Thieves would often hide behind big rocks and then try to stop and rob travelers.

The thieves attacked the man and hurt him badly. They took his clothes and left him by the side of the road to die.

priest traveling on the road saw the wounded man. But he hurried to the other side of the road and went on his way.

Next, a Levite man came by and saw the injured man. He, too, crossed to the other side and hurried by, not stopping to help.

Last, a man from Samaria came by. When he saw the Jewish man who had been attacked, he felt compassion and stopped to help.

The Samaritan washed and bound up the man’s wounds and took him to an inn, where he could rest and get food. The Samaritan paid the host money to care for the wounded man until the man was well.

The Samaritan showed the wounded man kindness and mercy. He treated him like a neighbor.

Jesus wants us to treat others as the good Samaritan did. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Micah 6:8He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly…

And to love mercy . . .

And to walk humbly . . .

With your God . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” sung by Guy Penrod:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Day of Atonement

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) starts on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, and ends at nightfall on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. It is considered to be the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar.

On my other blog, I recently published two blog posts leading up to this blog post on Yom Kippur. On September 27, 2019, I published a blog post on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which took place from sundown on September 29th through nightfall on October 1st this year, titled, Time to Reboot.” On August 25, 2019, I published a blog titled, Elul and the High Holy Days,” which gives a brief description of the activities associated with the month of Elul leading up to the High Holy Days which start with Rosh Hashanah and end with Yom Kippur.

In an article titled, Yom Kippur,” published on History.com and written by the Editors at History.com (first published on October 27, 2009 and updated on August 21, 2018), the following information is provided:

Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement—is considered the most important holiday in the Jewish faith. Falling in the month of Tishrei (September or October in the Gregorian calendar), it marks the culmination of the 10 Days of Awe, a period of introspection and repentance that follows Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God decides each person’s fate, so Jews are encouraged to make amends and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. The holiday is observed with a 25-hour fast and a special religious service. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are known as Judaism’s “High Holy Days.”

History and Significance of Yom Kippur

According to tradition, the first Yom Kippur took place after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and arrival at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Descending from the mountain, Moses caught his people worshipping a golden calf and shattered the sacred tablets in anger. Because the Israelites atoned for their idolatry, God forgave their sins and offered Moses a second set of tablets.

Jewish texts recount that during biblical times Yom Kippur was the only day on which the high priest could enter the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. There, he would perform a series of rituals and sprinkle blood from sacrificed animals on the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments. Through this complex ceremony he made atonement and asked for God’s forgiveness on behalf of all the people of Israel. The tradition is said to have continued until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D; it was then adapted into a service for rabbis and their congregations in individual synagogues.

According to tradition, God judges all creatures during the 10 Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, deciding whether they will live or die in the coming year. Jewish law teaches that God inscribes the names of the righteous in the “book of life” and condemns the wicked to death on Rosh Hashanah; people who fall between the two categories have until Yom Kippur to perform “teshuvah,” or repentance. As a result, observant Jews consider Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it a time for prayer, good deeds, reflecting on past mistakes and making amends with others.

Observing Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is Judaism’s most sacred day of the year; it is sometimes referred to as the “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” For this reason, even Jews who do not observe other traditions refrain from work, which is forbidden during the holiday, and participate in religious services on Yom Kippur, causing synagogue attendance to soar. Some congregations rent out additional space to accommodate large numbers of worshippers.

The Torah commands all Jewish adults (apart from the sick, the elderly and women who have just given birth) to abstain from eating and drinking between sundown on the evening before Yom Kippur and nightfall the next day. The fast is believed to cleanse the body and spirit, not to serve as a punishment. Religious Jews heed additional restrictions on bathing, washing, using cosmetics, wearing leather shoes and sexual relations. These prohibitions are intended to prevent worshippers from focusing on material possessions and superficial comforts.

Because the High Holy Day prayer services include special liturgical texts, songs and customs, rabbis and their congregations read from a special prayer book known as the “machzor” during both Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Five distinct prayer services take place on Yom Kippur, the first on the eve of the holiday and the last before sunset on the following day. One of the most important prayers specific to Yom Kippur describes the atonement ritual performed by high priests during ancient times. The blowing of the shofar—a trumpet made from a ram’s horn—is an essential and emblematic part of both High Holy Days. On Yom Kippur, a single long blast is sounded at the end of the final service to mark the conclusion of the fast.

Traditions and Symbols of Yom Kippur

Pre-Yom Kippur feast: On the eve of Yom Kippur, families and friends gather for a bountiful feast that must be finished before sunset. The idea is to gather strength for 25 hours of fasting.

Breaking of the fast: After the final Yom Kippur service, many people return home for a festive meal. It traditionally consists of breakfast-like comfort foods such as blintzes, noodle pudding and baked goods.

Wearing white: It is customary for religious Jews to dress in white—a symbol of purity—on Yom Kippur. Some married men wear “kittels,” which are white burial shrouds, to signify repentance.

Charity: Some Jews make donations or volunteer their time in the days leading up to Yom Kippur. This is seen as a way to atone and seek God’s forgiveness. One ancient custom known as “kapparot” involves swinging a live chicken or bundle of coins over one’s head while reciting a prayer. The chicken or money is then given to the poor. (Quote source here.)

In an article published in 2014 titled, Forgiveness of Others and Ourselves: Yom Kippur Thoughts,” by Laurie Levy, a contributer on HuffPost.com, she writes:

On the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a central prayer is the Al Chet or communal confession of sins committed against others. Rabbi Yonah Bookstein describes Yom Kippur as the time for reconciliation and forgiveness. He reminds us that the Hassidic Master Israel Ba’al Shem Tov said, “If we cannot forgive others, how can we expect God to forgive us?”

This holiday always poses an interesting question for me: Can I really forgive someone who has wronged me? Of course, I am not talking about overwhelmingly traumatic acts that are unforgivable — genocide; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; and other crimes that harm innocent victims. Although there are amazing people who can forgive even these things, I am not one of them.

In a modern version of the Al Chet prayer, Rabbi Michael Lerner asks forgiveness for sins against humanity in general and against the world in which we live. Among those that involve personal interactions, he asks forgiveness for:

The sins of spreading negative stories about people we know;

And for the sins of being passive recipients of negativity or listening and allowing others to spread hurtful stories;

For the sins of not having compassion for one another;

And for not taking care of one another….

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat offers her list of more personal sins she has committed against others. I have to assume people have also wronged her in these ways:

By not embracing those who needed it, and not allowing myself to be embraced…

By poking at sources of hurt like a child worrying a sore tooth…

By hiding love, out of fear of rejection, instead of giving love freely…

By being not pliant and flexible, but obstinate, stark, and unbending;

By not being generous with my time, with my words or with my being;

By not being kind to everyone who crosses my wandering path.

The notion of forgiveness is pretty complicated. In two weeks, I will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of my Chavurah (Hebrew for “friends” or “comrades”). This group of six families came together in the fall of 1974, having no more in common than being 12 adults with 12 kids who happened to live near one another and were disillusioned with formal religion. Later we added three more kids and eventually joined a synagogue en mass. But my favorite memories stem from our early attempts to figure out our own brand of Judaism. And one of our most interesting moments happened when we tackled the issue of forgiveness.

Well, maybe we didn’t exactly tackle it. In fact, with most of us just having crossed into the mature age of 30-something, we had a five-minute talk that devolved into a resounding “Let’s not go there.”

I guess forgiving others is not something that happens until you reach a certain age, if ever. Our Chavurah now has 63 official members. Many of the 25 grandchildren live out of town. Only two of our parents remain, basically making us the older generation. So much has changed. And yet, as our group celebrates 40 years of friendship, I wonder if we are finally old enough to talk about that difficult concept of forgiveness.

I know plenty of folks my age and beyond who are still nursing hurt feelings and something close to hatred for former friends. I have had friends declare they will never forgive people for what they considered deep betrayals.

One thought I have about this is rather obvious. It’s the old “you always hurt the one you love” thing. So I get how it is hardest to forgive a BFF for saying or doing something hurtful. It’s shocking to discover the “B” and the second “F” weren’t really true. So the closer the relationship, the greater the pain, and the lesser the chance of forgiveness.

But lately, I have come to believe the power to forgive is always mine. Exercising that power makes me stronger, not weaker. It definitely makes me happier. Why on Earth would I want to hold on to the pain of hating someone for something that happened 30 years ago? Like Elsa from “Frozen,” my mantra is “Let it go.”

There’s a lot of power in forgiveness. Letting go of the hurt has opened me to the possibility of rebuilt relationships in some cases. In other cases, it showed someone who had bullied me that I was not going to carry that baggage with me, so their words or deeds didn’t have much weight.

Over many years as a preschool director, working with countless parents and teachers, I learned another truth about forgiveness. Much of the time, it turns out the hurtful behavior really had little to do with the target of the behavior. When co-workers or parents or teachers were attacked in various permutations, it was typically a projection of unhappiness elsewhere in that person’s life. It’s hard to look at it through that lens in the heat of the moment, but considering the possibility can help soften the blow. It can give the recipient the power to choose if not forgiveness, then at least not anger and hurt.

So back to the question of whether I can forgive someone who has hurt me: My answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it goes beyond “Can I do it?” to “I must do it to lead a happy and meaningful life.” The harder task is to forgive myself for the wrongs I have done to others. (Quote source here.)

And in a touching story in an article published in 2011 titled, Yom Kippur and the Gift of Forgiveness,” by Annette Powers, also a contributor on Huffpost.com, she writes:

Yom Kippur has meant different things to me throughout my life, but while in the process of getting a divorce, the acts of atonement and forgiveness have taken on new significance.

Like most Jewish kids, Yom Kippur was the one holiday I dreaded. Growing up, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar promised nothing but endless hours spent in a gloomy sanctuary. All the adults, cranky and with bad breath from fasting, stood around muttering droning prayers in a language I didn’t understand.

After my Bat Mitzvah, I felt obligated to fast also, and then Yom Kippur took on a new kind of pain. By mid-afternoon, I was dizzy with hunger and the thought of four more hours in synagogue seemed unbearable. I understood that the point of the holiday was to atone, but thoughts of repentance were overshadowed by thoughts of the bagels and blintzes I would devour at the end of the service .

My feelings about Yom Kippur took a turn for the better when I spent a semester in Israel during my senior year of high school. I was amazed at how the whole country shut down in observance. Even the majority of Israelis, who are secular and didn’t plan to set foot in a synagogue, elected not to drive. The silence in the streets was magical and as I walked through Jerusalem’s stone streets from synagogue to synagogue, I heard the ancient Yom Kippur liturgy with new ears. This experience gave me a newfound appreciation for the solemness of Yom Kippur, yet the luxury of youthful innocence still kept me from really feeling the need to atone or forgive.

As the years went by, age and experience taught me that having a designated time to think about my relationship with God, myself and others is a unique and special thing. It is no longer a burden, but a gift. I am especially grateful for the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are known as the Ten Days of Repentance (Aseret Y’mai Teshuvah.) During this time, we are encouraged to make amends to those we may have hurt in the past and to grant forgiveness to those who ask for it.

As an adult, I have often used these ten days to speak to friends and family and work through old grudges and new grievences, but last year, after discovering the painful truth about my husband’s infidelity and his desire to get divorced, I was too overwhelmed with pain and grief to even consider amends and forgiveness.

Today, it’s a different story. I have had time to heal, reflect and grow and need these ten days now more than ever. Even without being asked, I am anxious to forgive — to cast off my bitterness and start anew, to relieve myself of the burden of anger that tugs at me like a heavy anchor and to free him of the guilt that I heap upon him in both subtle and overt ways day after day. But, the question remains…. Can I actually do it? Making amends is one thing, but being able to forgive is another.

I have a friend who has inspired me with her own incredible act of forgiveness. As a teen, her father was killed in a ruthless hate crime by a group of strangers. Over many years, she found the ability to forgive them from afar. “It was a long road and I will never forget what they did, but I had to let go of all the anger — it was destroying my life,” she said. “Unfortunately, the rest of my family hasn’t been able to forgive and I see how it eats them up inside.”

I too have seen how resentments and anger can devour people over time. I too have seen how forgiveness can liberate. If this friend had the strength to forgive her father’s murderers, surely I could forgive my ex for far lesser crimes!

I want to forgive him. It’s partly a selfish act… I want to let go of the anger so I can move forward with my life. And I need him to forgive me too. While I don’t blame myself for his unwillingness to work on our marriage or his deceitfulness, I recognize that I am responsible for some of what went wrong in our relationship. I recognize some of my shortcomings and can make amends for those. I am sure there are yet others that I can’t see or admit to and for those I can only apologize in the abstract.

And so, yesterday, I sent my ex a note of amends and forgiveness.

I asked him to forgive me for a list of transgressions, from being too critical of him during our marriage to sending him thousands of angry text messages since our separation. I also apologized for “the things I do not know or do not remember that I did — willingly or unwillingly.”

And then came my turn to forgive. It took so much strength to write this: “I know you haven’t asked outright, but I want to tell you that I forgive you. I forgive you and I forgive her. May we all be blessed in the coming year.”

I can’t guarantee that all my resentments will disappear today, tomorrow or in a month, or that I will always be on my best behavior, but this note is my promise to try harder and that is a good start to a sweet new year. (Quote source here.)

During Yom Kippur, maybe now is a good time to think about laying aside that heavy weight of unforgiveness that we’ve been carrying around for a very long time. After all, as the following YouTube song below states:

Forgiveness . . .

We all need . . .

Forgiveness . . . .

YouTube Video: “Forgiveness” by TobyMac featuring Lecrae:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Sing Anyway

The other day I stopped at a Goodwill Store and I looked over the large selection of used books found in many of their stores. Being a “bookaholic,” I am immediately drawn to the book area of any store that has a book area in it. It’s like I have a book magnet living inside of me… 🙂

I happened to find an old copy of a Baptist Hymnal (copyright 1956) with “Rockwood Baptist Church” printed at the bottom on the front cover, and it was well used and exactly like the hymnal pictured here, and I purchased it for 50 cents. It took me back to my childhood and teen years growing up in a small nondenominational church that I was raised in that primarily hired Baptist ministers.

Before going to bed that night, I turned every page in that hymnal until the very last page (over 500 hymns are in it), and I sang the first line and chorus of at least two dozen of the songs that I remembered singing years ago before going to sleep. It brought back many memories of those years gone by. Back in my younger years I sang in the church choir (alto), and I also sang in some of their musical productions, too.

The church I grew up in was a typical neighborhood church in the Midwest that eventually grew into one of the first of what are now called megachurches after it moved to a much larger facility. I haven’t attended there since my early 30’s, and the church has changed it’s name and moved to yet another location since then. I left that state a few years later when I accepted a doctoral fellowship at a private university in a another state.

Over the years since that time, modern worship music has taken the place of, and in some cases is used alongside, the older hymns that most older folks in our generations today remember singing. I really like the newer modern worship music, too, but I’m old enough to remember the older hymns, many of which are still very popular today (think of Amazing Grace and Great is Thy Faithfulness and, of course, many of the Christmas songs we still sing today, like Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Silent Night).

In an article titled, I Will Sing! Yesterday, Today, and Always!” by Victory Enyioke, wife, mother, and graduate student at SWBTS, she writes:

My recollection of Christian, congregational singing from my childhood and youth days is a repertoire of hymns either from the “Broadman Hymnal,” “Baptist Hymnal” or the “Sacred Songs and Solos” by Sankey. These songs etched in my mind and heart and continue to be my source of musical inspiration, encouragement and help in times of need. These hymns are loaded with spiritual lyrics and most times tied to Scripture.

Growing up, congregational singing was characterized by us holding hymn books by hand and connecting with the words of the song in a very special way. Families had hymn books at home and during devotional times we would pull out those hymn books and sing most times in parts because the songs were at our fingertips. This is a tradition we are trying to pass down to our children even though it is a challenge to match the contest that the sing-along trend of contemporary music poses. The technology of projector screens makes us lazy singers as we wait for the screen to spit out the next phase of the song without which we mumble and fumble.

My experience in recent years is one of bewilderment as I struggle to remember sometimes the very songs that were song in a morning worship service. Mind you, a lot of the songs are spiritual and melodious but not always memorable. And unless you are the type of person who is determined to take the extra time to go back and learn the songs, they fly by like the wind that brushes your face nicely and passes away swiftly. Not to misunderstand me, I do enjoy these new songs, they are Spirit filled and a lot of times are wonderful for worship. However, their life span is short because worship leaders are in a hurry to introduce the next new song.

Today, many reasons are responsible for why church folks no longer sing as the Church used to sing. These range from not knowing the songs to general apathy due to high pitches, complicated melodies and sometimes over repetition. Even though a lot of the modernized songs have rich theological content, worshipers generally have short attention spans and lack the patience to learn complicated musical pieces. Truth be told, most of these songs are designed for the choir and not for the congregation. While the younger generation try their best to follow along, older folks just cannot cope with the singing. While church music most ‘evolve in sorts’ and should not be static, we must not throw away the old as archaic and unusable. Reminds me of the old song that says, “Give Me that Old Time Religion, It’s good enough for Me. It was good enough for Paul and Silas, It’s good enough for me.” (Gospel Folklore)

My worship should glorify God. It is not about my likes nor dislike. Therefore, I should not pick and choose which songs to sing in church. However, worship leaders should strive to balance congregational music between the old and the new. The old folks should be able to sing for as long as their vocal chords can produce sound. While the young should be free to shout in Praise as their strength enables. What I want to be able to do is sing and sing and sing until eternity comes. (Quote source here.)

I agree with what the author above has written. Worship wars have been going on in churches for several decades now ever since modern worship music arrived on the scene. In an article titled, 5 Ways to Battle the Never-Ending Worship Wars,” by Carey Nieuwhof, a former lawyer and the founding pastor of Connexus Church, he writes:

So let me guess: someone recently complained about the music at your church.

It doesn’t matter what style of music your church features or how traditional or edgy your music is; complaining about music is almost a universal phenomenon in the church today.

Some of that is generated by church shoppers (I outlined 5 characteristics of church shoppers here), but the problem is more pervasive than hearing from a few church shoppers.

It’s endemic to human nature and to our consumer driven culture that basically says everything revolves around me. While I think consumer Christianity will die in the future (here’s why), we’re not there yet.

Before we get started, please know this isn’t a slam against any particular style of music in the church.

In fact, I admire all churches that are innovating to become more effective in their mission.

But here’s the challenge.

Many leaders have almost spilled blood getting their church to change in the area of music (or making sure their church doesn’t change).

And yet, despite the battles fought over music, many churches are still not much further ahead in reaching people because of it.

Why is that?

There are five problems I see church leaders struggle with when navigating the sensitive and emotional issue of worship style in church.

(1) You become so focused on pleasing the people you have that you lose sight of the people you’re trying to reach.

Whatever your music style, many church leaders are overly worried about how ‘their people’ will handle the change.

Being aware of the concerns of the congregation is healthy. Leaders who don’t care how their congregation thinks eventually end up leading nobody.

But it’s also a trap. When people’s reactions become an overriding fear, the mission shifts away from reaching new people to keeping the people you have happy.

As a result, leaders:

Abandon change to keep people happy.

Compromise vision to try to satisfy the discontent.

Stop innovating to try to placate people.

These attempts at making people happy virtually never work (I wrote about the problems people-pleasing leaders face here).

What To Do

So what do you do to combat your people pleasing focus?

Focus on whom you’re trying to reach rather than on whom you’re trying to keep.

And when you’re communicating a change to your congregation, focus on why you’re making the change (to reach people) and far more people will accept what you’re trying to do (changing the style of worship).

If you want more on this subject, I’ve written more on leading change here.

2. You define ‘contemporary’ relative to how you used to worship.

Let me name the elephant in the room. Most of what passes for ‘contemporary’ worship isn’t that contemporary at all.

Sure, the church has changed. And there may have been some battles over the change.

But walk into many self-described ‘contemporary’ churches and it feels like 2004, or 1994, or even 1984. The church isn’t actually ‘contemporary’ (contemporary means ‘occurring in the present’).

Tony Morgan makes a great point in The New Traditional Church: If most churches truly wanted to be contemporary, Sunday would have a lot more hip-hop and R&B (have you listened to the Top 40 lately?).

But most church leaders don’t like that style of music or are afraid their church wouldn’t.

What To Do

Be honest. Don’t call yourself contemporary if you’re some paler version of it. Self-awareness and honesty actually matter if you’re trying to reach unchurched people.

Sadly, well-meaning self-deception runs rampant in church leadership today.

Be truthful about what you’re doing. If you are, it might just make you frustrated enough to make you change again.

In the meantime, realize that despite all the change, you might still be miles away from being relevant to the people living around you.

3. You’ve become stuck in “No Man’s Land.”

I learned about No Man’s Land in churches from James Emery White.

It’s a term that describes churches too contemporary to please the traditionalists and too traditional to reach people who connect with a contemporary approach.

I have no desire to ignite a furious debate about ‘blended worship’ (a combination of traditional and contemporary styles).

Can it work? I’m sure it can, done right.

But you don’t have to get too far into the conversation with most church leaders who are in a blended format to realize it’s not an overriding passion to reach the outsider that fuels the change, it’s fear that if they go too much further there will be an apocalypse.

What’s the bottom line? Most blended worship happens because leaders are afraid to go further, not because leaders think it’s the best option.

The attempt to make everyone happy usually makes no one happy.

In my view, the last 10 percent of change is the hardest. When we transitioned from traditional to blended to full-out ‘contemporary’ music a decade ago, the last 10 percent of the change was harder than the first 90 percent. I think that’s how leaders get stuck.

Again, I’m not saying blended services are a bad thing (we’ve chosen to not embrace that strategy at Connexus for very specific reasons). I’m just saying if you end up there, make sure that’s where you want to be because you believe it’s the most effective way to accomplish your mission.

What To Do

Don’t get stuck somewhere you’re not called to be.

Finish the change or make sure where you’re at is honestly the very best way to fulfill your mission.

4. Style has become an end in itself, not a means to an end.

Your style of music and service should serve the mission. It is not the mission.

Once again, this nails all of us: traditionalists, innovators and everyone in between.

Our goal is not to arrive at a particular worship style. It’s to accomplish the mission Christ has given us.

I love how our church does music.

But 40 years from now, I don’t want to be sitting around in a retirement home with my friends complaining that young people today don’t sing enough Hillsong “Young and Free,” play cover tunes at church or make pour-over coffee.

The church should always change, and it needs to change on your watch.

How do you address this? 

Be committed to constant change. Don’t rest.

Your style as church helps you achieve the mission. It is not the mission.

5. Older leaders make decision that belong to younger leaders.

Far too often in the church, I have seen older leaders make decisions that rightly belong to younger leaders.

There is a role for middle-aged leaders and older leaders. They bring wisdom to the table and a seasoned viewpoint almost impossible to find in someone who is starting out.

I’m not slamming others. I am almost the oldest person on our staff team.

Even though I’m fairly up to date on culture, music, and technology, I’m no longer the guy who should be calling the music, design or cultural shots at our church.

I’m not sure most leaders over 40 should be. Not if you want to impact the next generation.

Sitting around the table at our service programming meetings are leaders who are 10-30 years younger than I am (we almost always have a teenager in the mix).

I trust their judgment more than mine when it comes to how our services will connect with the people we’re trying to reach.

I have just seen too many leaders in their 40s, 50s and 60s make decisions that alienate younger generations and then sit around and ask where all the young people went.

Don’t be that leader.

What To Do

Ensure you have younger leaders around your leadership table and empower them to make the decisions that drive your organization.

It’s really not more complicated than that. (Quote source here.)

I love all kinds of music from old time rock and roll, to rhythm and blues, Motown, jazz, contemporary (80’s and 90’s and today), country–especially country rock–you name it and I probably like it (well, I must admit that I am not a fan of opera, but there’s still time to for me to acquire a taste for it). And in church I love both the old hymns and the modern worship music. In fact, I even sometimes sing in the shower to get my day started. That’s how much I love music.

So let us not go to war when it comes to worship music. Let’s just sing and enjoy it! I’ll end this post with the words from Isaiah 42:10

Sing to the Lord a new song . . .

And His praise . . .

From the ends of the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Amazing Grace” (1779)  by Il Divo:

YouTube Video: “Freedom” (2018) by Jesus Culture:

YouTube Video: “Moving Forward” (2008) by Israel Houghton and Lakewood Church (this song is a personal favorite of mine):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Going the Extra Mile

Three weeks ago I published a blog post titled, Loving Our Enemies.” It was Jesus who told us to love our enemies in his Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Jesus also had a lot of other things to say about personal relationships which are found in a section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:21-48. Here are those verses from The Message Bible (MSG):

Murder

You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.

Or say you’re out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don’t lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you’re likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won’t get out without a stiff fine.

Adultery and Divorce

You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt.

“Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here’s what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.

Remember the Scripture that says, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights’. Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are ‘legal.’ Please, no more pretending. If you divorce your wife, you’re responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you’re automatically an adulterer yourself. You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure.

Empty Promises

And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

Love Your Enemies

Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.

We live in a very different world today then we lived in even three or four decades ago. Morals and values have drastically changed across the landscape of America, and there is a concerted effort to “silence” the voices of those who don’t “go along for the ride” of the current tide in our society today. And it’s not just a war against Christians in general, or other religious folks. It’s roots go much deeper and involve the history of the United States.

This backlash is very reminiscent of the days leading up to World War II in Germany when Hitler was in control, and continued in East Germany after the war during the Cold War years (1950-1990) in the form of the Stasi. Those who were part of the Stasi made a concerted effort at manipulating the masses and getting rid of those who didn’t “fit in.” The Germans sent them to concentration camps during the war. After the war the Stasi ruined the lives of many German citizens through deception, manipulation, intimidation, surveillance, coercion, serious breaches of privacy, and they operated “above the law” (source here). The following are a couple of quotes from two articles on the Stasi:

Living in East Germany during the Cold War (1950-1990) meant being watched. By your government. By your neighbors. And even, at times, by your own family. The East German secret police, one of the most intrusive and oppressive spying operations ever assembled, collected millions of files on people it suspected of being enemies of the state. (Quote source here.)

The Stasi (modeled along the lines of the Soviet KGB) became a highly effective secret police organization. Within East Germany it sought to infiltrate every institution of society and every aspect of daily life, including even intimate personal and familial relationships. It accomplished this goal both through its official apparatus and through a vast network of informants and unofficial collaborators, who spied on and denounced colleagues, friends, neighbors, and even family members. By 1989 the Stasi relied on 500,000 to 2,000,000 collaborators as well as 100,000 regular employees, and it maintained files on approximately 6,000,000 East German citizens—more than one-third of the population. (Quote source here.)

We have enemies in this life that we are not even aware of most of the time, which makes Jesus’ statement regarding enemies and how to deal with them even more important. How we live our lives and interact with others we come into contact with on a daily basis is crucial because, as you can see from the statements above, you never really know where they lurk in your life. That is not to say that we should become obsessed over who might be an enemy (they rarely show themselves for who they really are at least until after the damage is done, and even then they remain or at least try to remain well hidden). For the most part, we won’t recognize them. That is how the Stasi operated, and the stuff of the Stasi has existed down through the ages, too, and it is found in the history of other nations as well as the same tactics which are still being used today–covertly, of course, just like it has always been.

As an example, it’s might be easy to spot a colleague who is trying to get our job (especially if they verbally told us they wanted it), but it’s often not easy to spot the reason why we were fired if we had done nothing wrong regardless of that employee who wanted our job (and who might have gotten it after we were fired). Workplace bullying (see links here and here) is rampant with this type of stuff going on, and there is usually a concerted effort by other staff that is going on behind the scenes, too.

This life is so much bigger then just our own individual lives. There are always bigger agendas going on around us that we know nothing about. We like to think that we are in control, but the fact is that we have very little control over anything but own our attitudes and reactions to people and what they do to us whether it is good, bad or indifferent.

Jesus showed us how to live in order to navigate this world and our relationships with others in the midst of battles that are often unseen (e.g., and that are other people’s agendas), yet they go on behind the scenes of our lives and directly affect us. This does not mean from the world’s perspective that we will always “win” according to the world’s definition of “winning.” Martyrs down through the ages are a clear indication that “winning” as the world views winning is not always the case for believers. It’s about perseverance, endurance, and genuine love for others including those who have done us great harm, and who couldn’t care less about how we feel about what they did to us or how it damaged us. That’s a hard pill to swallow but it’s a reality about this world in which we live.

I visited a church this past weekend, and there was one song that they sang at the beginning of the service and again at the end of the service with a chorus that states, “There is Power in the Name of Jesus” (the song is titled Break Every Chain). The world laughs at stuff like that but for those of us who truly believe, there is power in the name of Jesus. So when Jesus makes statements like he did in his Sermon on the Mount, we should pay attention. He’s not trying to be a “killjoy” in life; he’s telling us to live this way for our own protection and for the benefit of others, too.

When I was growing up there was a lot more talk in the church about this world being a battleground. The Bible in both the Old and the New Testaments state that fact very clearly, yet so often in the past several decades we treat this life like it is a playground. We rationalize the way we live by saying things like, “God wants me happy.” Or we tell God what we want him to do for us and ask him for his blessing. And we don’t pay much attention to the Sermon on the Mount or anything else he has stated in how we should live, but we expect his guidance and protection anyway. In John 14:15-18, Jesus said:

If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

“Keep my commands” isn’t an option. We can’t excuse off the way we live if we are trying to get over on someone else by spreading gossip about them, seeking revenge, or trying to destroy them in any way, and then expect Jesus to give us the Spirit of truth as we’ve already rejected the truth by our actions. It is the antithesis of Christianity to live like that.

There is one particular verse from the verses quoted at the beginning of this post that I want to focus on, and that is  Matthew 5:41. Here is that verse from the NIV:

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.

The following information is taken from an article posted on March 29, 2016, on Linkedin on the topic of Matthew 5:41 titled, The actual meaning of walking the extra mile and what I learned from it,” written by James D. Anand, Associate Dean, Media & Entertainment, Business Design at WESchool (in India):

Walk the extra mile. That’s an expression I have heard the most in academics and realm of management, I think. It is usually meant to go beyond one’s ability or to make a special effort to accomplish. As they say, stretch oneself. Walk the extra mile is not just to walk more than required.

 It is a biblical expression. Biblically, Jesus is believed to have used it during his sermons as per the book of Matthew 5:41, “whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” Scholarly versions of this verse refer to a practice of impressment by the Roman law on Jews. Any Roman soldier could order a Jewish civilian on the way to carry his baggage, mainly containing armory, for one Roman mile. A Roman mile is roughly 1.45 kilometers. This was a painful task, as the poor unlucky fellow would carry 40-50 kilograms of weight [between 88-110 lbs]. Once the mile is over, the servant could drop it and get relieved. I guess a protest might have lingered over this rule by many. This surely was of a concern to the Jewish community and that’s the reference of Jesus in the context of teachings on human behavior.

In the process of disambiguation of this expression, I learned 3 things.

Lesson 1

Even if others treat you unfairly, how you behave is more important. Treat them generously is the message. We could walk with the soldier one more time, one more mile, generously.

Lesson 2

This walk would result in a rapport with the soldier who is actually a servant of the people. Walking that extra mile with implied patience would let us know about him more. One could walk conversationally. This is more useful in personal life.

Lesson 3

It’s one of the very impressive management learning. The extra mile would be the walk of a business designer with his customer. Walk of a consultant with the client. Walk of a designer with the user. It is the customer service. It is user study. It is unconditional. This is the building block of a star.

To walk the extra mile is not exactly to walk extra. It is actually more than an extra mile’s walk. Generously. Conversationally. Unconditionally. (Quote source here.)

And, it is during that second mile that we might be able to turn an enemy into a friend. The result is not up to us, but if we act generously, conversationally, and unconditionally with an enemy, who knows but that it could turn around the relationship. And even if it doesn’t, we have done our part according to how Jesus would want us to interact with any enemy; in fact, with anyone.

So, let’s be people who are willing to go that extra mile…

Generously . . .

Conversationally . . .

Unconditionally . . . .

YouTube Video: “Break Every Chain” by Jesus Culture:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Let Freedom Ring

I read a brief devotion two days ago that got me to thinking about the topic of freedom. The devotion is taking from Our Daily Bread and it is titled, Tight Circles,” by Mike Wittmer:

Tight Circles

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.Galatians 5:1
Today’s Scripture Insight:Galatians 5:1, 4–14

A classmate gave my family a registered collie that had become too old to breed puppies. We soon learned this beautiful dog had, sadly, spent much of her life inside a small pen. She would only walk in tight circles. She couldn’t fetch or run in a straight line. And even with a large yard in which to play, she thought she was fenced in.

The first Christians, many who were Jews, were used to being fenced in by the Mosaic law. Though the law was good and had been given by God to convict them of sin and lead them to Jesus (Galatians 3:19–25), it was time to live out their new faith based in God’s grace and the freedom of Christ. They hesitated. After all this time, were they really free?

We may have the same problem. Perhaps we grew up in churches with rigid rules that fenced us in. Or we were raised in permissive homes and are now desperate for the security of rules. Either way, it’s time to embrace our freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1). Jesus has freed us to obey Him out of love (John 14:21) and to “serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). An entire field of joy and love is open for those who realize “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). (Quote source here.)

After being confined in a small pen for years and only able to walk around in small circles, the poor collie described above had no idea what to do once she was freed from that small pen and given a large yard in which to play. She continued to walk in tight circles and she had no concept of how to play, and she continued to live as if she was still fenced in.

I’ve thought about that collie over and over again in the past couple of days. How often do we feel “fenced in” by circumstances beyond our control that, for example, might be partially caused because they depend on the good graces of others in order to move forward. My own personal search for affordable senior housing is an example. Repeatedly, for several years now, no matter what affordable (as in low income) senior housing complex I’ve shown up at or inquired about online or by email and/or phone, I get told that there is a long waiting list, and even when I get put on a waiting list, I never hear back from anyone. Ever. And even when I do call to inquire where I am on the waiting list a year or two years later I get no response (usually I get voicemail, leave a message, and no one returns my call).

That’s a cause for feeling pretty “fenced in,” don’t you think? While I haven’t been offered a “large yard” like the collie in the above story, I certainly understand her plight when she was finally given a large yard; however, after years of being conditioned to living in a small pen, one doesn’t just change their habits overnight (even if one is a collie).

Some fences we build ourselves, but this particular fence is controlled by others who never call back and offer me an affordable senior apartment in an affordable senior apartment complex, and I’m still stuck living in “limbo land” as I have been for five years now. It’s frustrating with a capital “F” (and I’m not referring to that four-letter word, either).

I want to break out from being fenced in for five years now. Unfortunately, like the collie above, I feel like I’m walking around in tight circles in a big world with housing all around me wherever I go. However, most of it I can’t afford especially long term unless I die really soon (and that’s not in my plans at this point in time).

I ran across an article published in 2010 titled, Feeling Fenced In?” (perhaps you can see from the title why it piqued my interest) by Tiffany StuartTeaWithTiffany.  Here is what she wrote:

Sometimes I feel fenced in, like I’m in some tall, invisible cage. I want out! I can’t explain it well, but there’s a sense that I’m being held back from the greater things of life.

Are you there? Do you feel fenced in?

If so, you are not alone. I understand the battle all too well, and I believe God does too.

There are times when being confined is good for our souls. There behind the fence, we wrestle out our emotions and hand over our dreams to the One who created us. In that small space, God reveals Himself to us in a deeper way. We learn to be content in Him all over again. We feel His compassion and love. It’s a good thing.

Other times, the fence needs to be knocked down and destroyed. The fence is only in our minds and it stops us from experiencing joy. We doubt we have permission to live differently. We feel unworthy of more. We question what life would be like outside our fence. And if we were honest, we’d have to admit we fear what’s on the other side.

The truth is God is calling us to live life to the full. Today! Read John 10:10 which means all make-believe fences must go. We have full permission to open His gate of grace and walk out. [John 10:10–words from Jesus–states: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”]

Take comfort in these words (see below) from the Apostle Paul. If I read this correctly, this means no more fences. Starting now!

You are free, friend. It’s time to walk. . . He’s got you.

“Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!” 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 (MSG). (Quote source here.)

This article refers to “internal” fences we create within ourselves, but the point about fences in general that confine us is well made. Behind the fence we do wrestle with our emotions and, in my case, also our circumstances, and eventually we hand over our dreams to God, and we learn a contentment in God’s provision that we often can’t learn in any other way. However, there comes a time when the fence needs to be knocked down and destroyed.

This post isn’t long, but it’s long enough. I’ll end it with these words from John 8:36:

So if the Son sets you free . . .

You will be free . . .

Indeed . . . .

YouTube Video: “Let Freedom Ring” by Abby Anderson: 

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

 

Loving Our Enemies

For the past several decades, the Church culture in America has focused the topic of our enemies as coming mainly from within ourselves, keeping the focus on our own sins, our own failures, our own weaknesses, and our self-esteem. This coincides with the culture at large when the subject of “self-esteem” became a hot topic back in the 1980’s and 1990’s (see article published in 2017 titled, How the Self Esteem Craze Took Over America and Why the Hype is Irresistible,” at this link). However, when dealing with the subject of our enemies, there is more involved then our own internal focus on ourselves and our self-esteem.

In a series of articles and video teachings titled, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil,published by Bridgetown Church in Portland, OR, the article opens with the following statement:

For millennia, apprentices of Jesus have spoken of the “three enemies of the soul” – the world, the flesh, and the devil. But all three have dropped out of the conversation in the modern, western church. So often [as] we struggle to experience the life God has for us and our world, there’s a sense of opposition and push back and even violence, from within and without. This ancient paradigm has the potential to unlock a new sense of victory and freedom and growth in our life. (Quote source and list of series of videos and teachings at this link.)

For the purpose of this blog post, I won’t address all “three enemies of the soul” listed above. The focus will be on the fact that we do have real enemies in this world (and not just the internal kind mentioned above). For example, while King David had internal enemies of his own that got him into real trouble (just think of what he did with Bathsheba when, as King, he should have been out on the battlefield with his soldiers–see 2 Samuel 11), he also had real external enemies that he had to battle constantly, too.

In an article published in 2002 titled, Ten Truths About Enemies,” by Richard A. Kauffman, Mennonite pastor and author of An American in Persia: A Pilgrimage to Iran” (2010), he writes the following ten truths about enemies:

  1. Everyone has enemies.
    The Bible takes enemies seriously. King David and Jesus had enemies. If having enemies weren’t a part of life, Jesus wouldn’t have had to tell his disciples to love their enemies. Matthew 5:43-44
  2. We either fight or run from them.
    Humans often respond to enemies in two ways: we either fight back or flee. Both are natural responses—our instinct is self-preservation. However, when we flee from our enemies, we can still carry them inside us. When we fight back, we take on the character of our enemies. If we strike back at our enemies, we might set off a downward spiral of attack and counterattack that quickly gets out of control.
  3. We want to curse our enemies.
    Many psalms that deal with enemies make Christians uncomfortable. The psalmist didn’t just pray for them or for his own protection. He often cursed his enemies, seeking bloodthirsty revenge. Instead of dismissing these psalms, we can use them as God-given words for dealing with our own feelings of fear and anger toward enemies. If we pray these words, we release our hate and hostility to God. Then we don’t need to act on our feelings of vulnerability and hostility. Then we can trust God to protect us from our enemies. Psalms 55-59; 137:7-9
  4. God loves them.
    Jesus taught us that God loves enemies and treats them justly: God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” God “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Therefore, we too should “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Matthew 5:45b; Luke 6:35-36
  5. Jesus makes peace possible.
    Jesus didn’t just teach his disciples the way of peace. Jesus is our peace. The apostle Paul said that while we were warring against God, Christ died to make peace with us. Although we sinful human beings were at odds with God, God took initiative to make peace with us—through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. Jesus has reconciled us to God in order to stop our warring madness with God and with each other. Romans 5:6-11; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Ephesians 2:14, 17-18; Colossians 1:20
  6. God’s family makes peace.
    If God makes peace with enemies, then so do God’s children. As Jesus said in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Peacemaking is a family trait in God’s family. When God’s children work for peace, they are demonstrating a family likeness, just as children in human families show traits of their parents. Matthew 5:9
  7. We disarm our enemies.
    Jesus taught his disciples to respond to enemies in unexpected ways—ways that sometimes “disarm” them. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” Jesus’ disciples respond in concrete ways to their enemies. They do not retaliate or seek revenge. They pray for their enemies. They do good to those who want to harm them. Matthew 5:39-41; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27; Romans 12:17-21
  8. Enemies can hurt us.
    “Disarming” actions do not guarantee that Christian disciples will win over enemies. In fact, Christians are still persecuted and even killed by their enemies. It is not an accident that Jesus linked the Beatitude about peacemakers with the one about persecution. But Jesus’ disciples believe there are worse things than dying. We would rather die than take another’s life, since we have hope for eternal life. Matthew 5:9-12; Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 1:21
  9. We “arm” ourselves against the real enemy.
    Christians are not fighting against flesh and blood. We are not struggling with Adolf Hitler or the latest terrorist, but with principalities and powers, dark and evil spiritual forces. Our weapons are not worldly ones but spiritual ones: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Spirit, and the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-17
  10. We can learn from our enemies.
    Sometimes our enemies do us a service. Friends tend to accept or overlook our weaknesses, but enemies reflect back to us aspects of our personalities we don’t like. So we ought to listen to our enemies. What are they saying to us about who we are? What can we learn from them about ourselves? Can they make us better people? We cannot be reconciled with our enemies unless we’re able to see the situation from their perspective. (Quote source here.)

So much in our society tells us to seek revenge when we’ve been wronged, or to try to get even when we are insulted and/or persecuted. Lying and deception is the name of the game today (and it always has been). It’s a very human response. However, Jesus makes it quite clear that the way of “the world” (as in our culture) is not the way for his followers to respond. Yet, too often, we witness those claiming to follow after Jesus in regard to how they treat their enemies trying to get even or get back at them, and too often we, ourselves, do the very same thing. We even do it with each other (Christian to Christian).

In our culture today, our “superheros” are those who can completely and totally annihilate their enemies. How often do we turn on the TV or go see a movie where revenge and deception and violence are key components to the story. It’s everywhere. And we’ve been conditioned to believe that this kind of behavior is okay; that it is our “right” to get even or “settle a score” or get back at someone we think has done an injustice to us; and that it is our right to destroy someone who doesn’t think like we think; or act in ways that are acceptable to us.

Is it tempting to act like that? It is… and how often is that our first reaction? But it’s not the way Jesus taught us to treat our enemies. In fact, it is the exact opposite of what he taught us to do.

In an article published on April 5, 2018, titled, How to Love Our Enemies,” by Kathy Ferguson Litton, leader of a national ministry for pastors and planters wives at the North American Mission Board (an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention), and she developed and manages a website for pastor’s wives called Flourish at flourish.me, she writes:

“Love your enemies” — Jesus

Perhaps this is among Jesus’ most revolutionary statements — and certainly most humanly counterintuitive. We already were struggling to “love our neighbor,” and then He throws this at us. Seriously, Jesus? Our enemies?

He did have plenty. And even a frenemy or two. Yet in His Sermon on the Mount, He shockingly resets what people and their lives should look like in the Kingdom of God:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:43-48)

Jesus even defines enemy for us:

    • He means people who oppose us, try to hurt us.
    • People who have harmful intentions and clear hostility toward us.
    • Those who literally persecute us.

Then He points out what we should do:

    • Love them.
    • Bless them.
    • Do good toward them.
    • Pray for them.

I don’t know about you, but this is what I do for my family, not my enemy. Our enemies run the spectrum from mild hurt, to a serious offense, to one who devastated our lives permanently. Our enemies may attack us physically or merely gossip about us. They may even persecute us because of our beliefs. In our highly charged religious and political climate, our enemies may be in the Middle East or just on the opposite pole of current American politics. Racial and ethnic tensions are very high, creating battlefields and enemies in communities and hearts. Ironically, churches themselves have people who powerfully oppose each other — and some even have harmful intentions.

Jesus tells us we have to respond counter to our hearts and counter to our culture. He says plainly, “Don’t just love those who love you, love your enemy.” He says we then will be true sons of our Father in heaven. In other words, we would be treating them like He treats us…. (Quote source here.)

In her article she also mentions the following story:

Martin Luther King Jr. in his sermon, Loving Your Enemies, delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Montgomery, Alabama, Nov. 17, 1957 [stated]:

Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must not do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.

Keep in mind the very volatile context. The hate was strong against him and his movement. His followers being struck, hosed with water, fire bombed, killed, etc. This is not a small moment, but a highly charged one. And eventually King was killed by an enemy.

I love Martin Luther King’s language in these thoughts:

When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.

Reading this helped me see how very slowly God has changed my perspective toward my enemies. When I thought of my enemies as “bad” people, they remained my enemy. They were just like me–living in an evil system of sin. But in time I began to see my enemies through a gospel lens. I saw them as sinners who are deceived by sin.

I am caught in the same system of sin. My enemies really aren’t the issue; sin is. Diverting my attention from them to sin and deception has gone a long way in helping me love as Matthew 5 suggests. When I readily relate my enemies to the idea of sin and being deceived, I am more prone to dispense love and grace — as my Father dispensed to me. This is the beautiful, powerful love MLK called for. And modeled by Jesus Himself: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24) Let’s be countercultural and love our enemies. (Quote source here.)

It is Jesus who has the final word on how we should treat our enemies (Matthew 5:44)… But I tell you…

Love your enemies . . .

And pray for those . . .

Who persecute you . . . .

YouTube Video: “Bleed the Same” by Mandisa, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Footprints

A very popular poem in the past several decades titled, Footprints,” and sometimes titled Footprints in the Sands,” has been attributed to three different authors with three slightly different versions of the same poem. The first poem appeared in 1936 and it was written by Mary Stevenson (1922-1999); the second version of the poem appeared in 1963 and it was written by Carolyn Joyce Carty; and the third version of the poem was published in 1964 by Margaret Fishback Powers (b. 1943). (Source including all three versions is available at this link.)

For the purposes of this blog post, I will be referring to the version of the poem by Margaret Fishback Powers since I found another book published by her in 1998 (republished in 2006) titled, Footprints: Scripture with Reflections Inspired by the Best-Loved Poem by Margaret Fishback Powers,” at a used bookstore yesterday, and there are a few quotes from that book that I also want to include in this blog post. Her version of the poem is as follows (found on page 2 of the above mentioned book):

FOOTPRINTS

One night I dreamed a dream.
I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
one belonging to me
and one to my Lord.

When the last scene of my life shot before me
I looked back at the footprints in the sand
and to my surprise
I noticed that many times along the path of my life
There was only one set of footprints.

I realized that this was at the lowest
and saddest times of my life.
This always bothered me
and I questioned the Lord
about my dilemma.

“Lord, You told me when I decided to follow You,
You would walk and talk with me all the way.
But I’m aware that during the most troublesome times
of my life there is only one set of footprints.
I just don’t understand why, when I need You most,
You leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child,
I love you and will never leave you,
never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”
(Quote source: “Footprints: Scripture with Reflections,” page 2.)

Many people have received inspiration from the words of this poem (or similar versions) over the years since it was first published. The book mentioned above takes each line of the poem and makes a chapter out of it that includes several verses from the Bible that refer to that particular line. The line I am highlighting from that poem above is found in a chapter titled, “God Is With Us… When We Need Direction” (pp. 67-72). Here is that chapter including the line from the poem above that it refers to:

“And I questioned the Lord about my dilemma.” (A line from the poem above.)

When a transit strike brought our recently purchased business to a standstill, I found myself wondering if we had made the right decision to get into this new business. The choice had seemed to be the right one at the time, but then, I wasn’t so sure. How was I supposed to sort out what we should do next? When we face questions of this kind, we need to get our arms around God’s wisdom… [Note: Scripture references below are from NIV, 1984]

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.James 1:5

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you and watch over you, [says the LORD.]Psalm 32:8

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make your paths straight.Proverbs 3:5-6

For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.Proverbs 2:6

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”Isaiah 30:21

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.John 16:13

Show me your ways, O Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.Psalm 25:4-5

This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you what is best for you,
    who directs you in the way you should go.”Isaiah 48:17

God doesn’t mind our questions when we come to him with a seeking heart. God is bigger than any question we can ask. And he often will give us the answers we seek in his Word.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light for my path.Psalm 119:105

For this command is a lamp,
    this teaching is a light,
and correction and instruction
    are the way to life.Proverbs 6:23

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.Joshua 1:8

Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise…
for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart

    and have all of them ready on your lips.
So that your trust may be in the Lord
.Proverbs 22:17-19

When we find ourselves questioning God’s reason for allowing certain things to happen, we must stop, remember God’s faithfulness, and depend upon his grace. Whatever our questions, whatever our circumstances, God is still in control.

The Lord delights in a man’s way,
    he makes his steps firm;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,

    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.Psalm 37:23-24

Since you are my rock and my fortress,
    for the sake of your name lead and guide me, [O Lord.]Psalm 31:3

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your love, O Lord, endures forever—
    do not abandon the works of your hands.Psalm 138:8

Let us acknowledge the Lord;
    let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
    he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
    like the spring rains that water the earth.Hosea 6:3

For this God is our God for ever and ever;
    he will be our guide even to the end.Psalm 48:14

When we need direction, we must trust that the Lord will take our faith, limited as it is, and make something of lasting value out of it. God has a plan for us. He cares about our dilemmas, hears our heartfelt cries, and will answer us in ways that will astonish us and fill our hearts with songs of joy.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”Jeremiah 29:11 (Quote source: “Footprints: Scripture with Reflections,” pp. 67-72.)

I can’t think of any time in a Christian’s life when it is not wise to seek direction from the Lord, not only in difficult times, but also when things seem to be going smoothly as that is when we tend to let our guard down.

In an article published on June 11, 2014 on Proverbs 31 Ministries titled Lord, I Don’t Know What To Do,” by Leah DiPascal, speaker, writer, and communicator with Proverbs 31 Ministries, she writes:

“Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow.”Psalm 25:4 (NLT)

Do you ever feel like you’re going in circles and not making any progress? At least not the kind of progress you were expecting.

Are the constant appeals of our world pulling you in a million different ways, causing you to question if you’re headed in the right direction?

If you’re like me, you have plans and dreams you want to fulfill. But life is confusing at times. And most days it seems like you’re just surviving instead of living out those dreams or accomplishing your goals.

Numerous distractions.

Too many choices.

Endless interruptions.

There have been days I’ve felt like one foot was fixed to the floor, while my other foot scurried in every direction. Expending a lot of energy and mental fatigue, but going nowhere. Can you relate?

Wouldn’t it be awesome to wake up every morning and be assured you’re on the right path towards your goals? To know with certainty that you’re headed in the right direction? To feel confident with each step, without constantly questioning yourself?

Too many times I’ve second-guessed a decision I was confident about. I want so desperately to follow God’s will that I’ll pray, but then feel uncertain, not wanting to make a wrong move. I wonder: “Maybe this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing. Maybe this isn’t part of God’s plan for my life.”

As I’ve wrestled with indecision and insecurity, I’ve sought God’s Word for help. A few months ago, I found a priceless nugget of truth in the Bible. It addresses our desire for guidance and shows us what to do when we need clear direction.

King David composed these words in a beautiful psalm, tucked within the pages of the Old Testament:

“Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you” (Psalm 25:4-5).

These verses reveal David’s humble and teachable heart. He wanted to be guided by God and led by His truth. David knew God was his Savior and placed all his hope in the One who created the right path for him.

We find the answers to David’s request for guidance only a few short passages away. Promises we can claim for our own lives:

“The LORD is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. The LORD leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands” (Psalm 25:8-10, NLT).

Based on these verses, when our hearts are humble and truly seeking God’s will, we can be confident of this:

1. God will always show us what is right for us.

2. When we get sidetracked, God will direct us back to the right path.

3. We are not alone. God leads and teaches us along the way.

4. God leads those who obey Him with unfailing love and faithfulness.

If you’re unsure about some things in your life, don’t wait another day to figure it out on your own. Ensure your heart is in the right place of humility, and then ask God to help you. Once you’ve asked, trust that God is directing you.

If you know you’ve gotten on the wrong path, seek God for direction instead of looking to the world for answers. As you take steps to follow and obey God’s voice, He will lovingly show you the way.

Months ago I asked the Lord to etch these verses onto my heart and mind, so I’d always have them with me—especially on days when I feel like I’m going in circles and lacking direction.

Today, I’m praying these verses over you.

Truth For Today:

Psalm 32:8, “The LORD says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.'” (NLT)

Psalm 90:17, “Let the favor of the LORD our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (ESV) (Article and quote source available here.)

I’ll end this post with this great reminder from Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV): Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him…

And He will make . . .

Your paths . . .

Straight . . . .

YouTube Video: “God Will Make A Way” by Acapella–Christian Vineyard Music:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Sound of Silence

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

“Christian truth is about as welcome in today’s culture as a wet shaggy dog shaking himself at the Miss America Pageant.” That’s the opening sentence of Chapter 3 titled, “The Sound of Silence,” in a brand new book titled, Talk the Walk: How to Be Right Without Being Insufferable,” by Steve Brown, radio broadcaster and Founder of Key Life Network, Professor Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, Visiting Professor of Practical Theology at Knox Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary, host on the radio talk show, Steve Brown, Etc.”, Bible teacher, keynote speaker, author of over a dozen books, a former pastor, and, yes, even a former disk jockey. He is also a personal friend of mine, and I’ve written posts on a couple of his previous books (see here and here).

Steve’s wealth of knowledge and wonderful sense of humor never fails to amaze me with each book I’ve read that he has written and published. If you personally know Steve, you know he’s truly “one of a kind.” His latest book (linked above at Key Life and also available on Amazon.com at this link) is exceptionally timely given all of the rapid changes going on in our society today.

The book is specifically written with a Christian audience in mind; however, skeptics of Christianity might find it interesting to read, too. I want to back up just a bit from that sentence quoted above that opens Chapter 3 with the following from Chapter 2 titled, “The Gift of Truth.” Steve writes:

There is the old joke about a businessman interviewing applicants for a position in his company. He asked each of them a simple question, “What is two plus two?” He got a variety of answers, including, “I don’t know, but I’m glad for the opportunity to discuss the issue,” and a lawyer who referenced case law where two plus two was proven to be four. The final applicant got up from this chair, closed the door and the blinds, sat back down, leaned over the desk, and then whispered, “What do you want it to be?”

He got the job.

So often today, truth is whatever “you want it to be.” Whatever you want it to be includes religion, gender, morals, marriage, race, and political truth. Not only that, but anybody who questions the freedom to make truth what one wants it to be is labeled intolerant, bigoted, or worse.

Have you ever had anyone say to you, when you have expressed a deeply held conviction or a truth that had changed your life, “I’m glad it’s true for you”? What? I do not know anything that makes me spit and cuss more than someone speaking that kind of drivel. Frankly, I do not want to fly with a pilot, be treated by a doctor, or have a mechanic work on my car, who is that cavalier about aeronautical, medical, or mechanical truth.

So here at the beginning, let me make two statements that are quite controversial to a whole lot of people: there is true truth, and the Christian faith is true truth.

First, believe it or not, there is truth, and that truth is true apart from my perception or anyone’s opinion. Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying that “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” “True truth” (as my late friend and Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer called it) is not adjustable. I may not know that truth, I may miss it, and I may be wrong about it. But truth is there, and it is there aside from what anybody believes about it. For instance, God is personal, or he is not; you are forgiven, or you are not; I am loved by God, or I am not…. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 2, pp. 13-14).

Now I don’t want to leave you hanging at this point–Steve does go on to write in Chapter 2 titled, “The Gift of Truth,” that there are five truths that the book covers: (1) There really is a God; (2) God had not remained silent; (3) God’s love is unreasonable; (4) Christians aren’t called to be fixers; and (5) Truths 1-4 are the main thing (a brief explanation of those five points is covered in Chapter 2).

Returning to the sentence at the start of this blog post and it is also the first sentence in Chapter 3 titled, “The Sound of Silence,”  Steve continues with the following:

Christian truth is about as welcome in today’s culture as a wet shaggy dog shaking himself at the Miss America Pageant. Truth does not matter, but intolerance does. If the subject is salvation, Christian truth suggests that there are those who are saved and those who are not. If the truth is about sin, than some things are right and others are wrong. If it is about hell and heaven, it means that one place is hot and the other place is not. If it is about forgiveness, then some are forgiven and others are not. Truth feels intolerant–and frankly, when I speak Christian truth, it sometimes feels that way to me.

Truth, by its very nature, divides and offends. That is what Jesus meant when he made the startling statement that he had not come to bring peace but to set children against parents and to create enemies of one’s own household (Matthew 10:35-36).

The presupposition of this book is that Christians are called to speak truth and, much of the time, to speak it to people who do not want to hear it. And they are constrained to do so. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Paul was saying that he could not keep quiet.

Jeremiah the prophet had the same experience, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). This is the normal experience of every Christian who knows the truth.

But with all of that being said, we Christians must be careful in what we say, how we say it, and even if we are to say it at all. Jesus cautioned that we should “not give dogs what is holy” nor “throw your pearls before pigs lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6). The truth we have is precious, dangerous, and explosively powerful in the way it can heal or hurt.

There are times when silence really is golden….

Silence, for instance, is better than saying too much that would be confusing and unduly irritating. A young seminary student was once asked to preach in a small country church. There was a major snowstorm, and only one farmer showed up for the service. The young preacher asked the farmer what he should do. The farmer told him that when only one of his cows showed at meantime, he fed this cow.

The preacher–with only the one farmer in attendance–went through the entire service and preached the entire sermon. When the service was over, the student asked the farmer how he had done. “Son,” said the farmer, “when one cow shows, I feed him… but I don’t give him the whole load.”

It is often enough to say, “Jesus loves you, and I do, too.” Other people do not always need to know the differences between Reformed and Arminian theology, the intricacies of the biblical view of law and grace, the Christian disagreements about biblical interpretation, or a Christian critique of politics and culture.

I recently was asked to visit an older man who, after a lifetime of atheism, was thinking about the Christian faith. He had started asking questions, and had even attempted to read the Bible each morning. We spent most of the morning talking about his questions. None of them had to do with theology, hermeneutics, culture, or disagreements within the Christian church–not one. Answering questions that are not asked, defining issues that are not raised, and going places that are not presently important is offensive and a waste of time. It is better that Christians remain silent.

Silence is also appropriate when a Christian has not been given permission to speak. Christians should not shilly-shally about who they are, and should at least give an indication of what they believe. But more information requires permission, and that permission is often given in the questions that are asked. If there are not questions and if no interest is expressed, it is wise to remain silent.

My friend Jake Luhrs, the front man for the Grammy-nominated metal band August Burns Red, is a Christian. Jake wrote a devotional book,Mountains,” and in it he writes [on page 6]:

I never thought I’d write a book, let alone a devotional. To be honest, I didn’t think the day would come when I would share some of my proudest (and not so proud) moments with an audience who might even care to listen…. If you know anything about me you know that I don’t push “religion.” I don’t want to promote a religion. But I do want people to have the same relationship I have with Jesus. I want them to feel loved and understood. When they’re scared, I want them to see him as the ultimate source of love, hope, help, strength and forgiveness.

Why did Jake write his book? He did it because so many of his fans had questions. In fact, he formed a nonprofit community called HeartSupport that touches 70,000 people each month with counseling, help, and acceptance. He started that community and wrote the devotional book because so many people granted permission. Jake told me that when he was on tour, there were so many who wanted to know about his faith, but because of the tour and the necessity of moving quickly to the next city, he simply did not have the time to say what needed to be said and to answer the questions that had been asked.

Christians do not have to give others the whole load. When asked, Christians can say, “Yeah, I am a believer, and it’s the most important thing in my life. If you ever want to hear about it, just ask and I’ll tell you.” Or in my case as a religious professional, when I am asked what I do, I sometimes answer, “I tell people ‘who want to hear’ about Jesus.” Or perhaps when Christians think they have a message that will help someone in trouble, they can say, “If you want me to, I’ll be glad to share it with you.” Permission opens the door to speaking truth. If permission is not given, silence is good practice. Silence is also a wise practice when spoken truth is spoken for the wrong reasons. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 3, pp. 21-25).

Chapter 3 continues at this point with the topics of “Speaking truth from guilt” (i.e., as in feeling guilty about not speaking up), “Speaking truth to get power” (i.e., looking for power over others by being right), “Speaking truth from self-interest” (i.e., speaking with an agenda of self-interest), “Speaking truth from ignorance” (i.e., not being informed about the nature of the truth they speak), “Speaking truth to help God out” (i.e., God does not need anyone), and “Speaking truth with silence” (i.e., sometimes it is best to be silent and to let love, freedom, and joy do the talking).

Obviously, I have not even scratched the surface of all that is contained in this book, or even the two chapters mentioned above. Steve ended Chapter 3 with the following paragraphs written under the title  of “Speaking Truth with Silence”:

Sometimes it is best to be silent and to let love, freedom, and joy do the talking. There are some things Christians cannot say without words, but there are other matters that are only confused by words. My wife, who is a musician, has often said to me that music is the universal language. Sometimes it is best to remain silent and hear the language of music. Just so, sometimes it is best to speak the language of silence.

It is a cliché, but nevertheless there is some truth to believing that Christians are the only Bible unbelievers ever read. However, with due respect to that point of view, let me say that most of us sin so much, betray our principles so often, and fail so obviously in our Christian walk that the message is mixed and muddled.

But what if we remained silent by not defending ourselves? What if we remained silent when others are condemning those whose lifestyles, politics, or religious views are deemed unacceptable? What if we remained silent and refused to be the social, political, and religious critics of every opinion that wasn’t our own? What if we remained silent in the face of rejection? What if we refused to share the secrets we’ve been told or tell the stories we’ve overheard? What if we remain silent and overlook the foibles of others? What if we looked at the pain of our neighbor and just loved him or her, instead of trying to fix the unfixable? What if our response to confusion, fear, and guilt was simply, “I know”?

There is a powerful witness in that kind of silence. (Quote source: “Talk the Walk,” Chapter 3, pp. 30-31).

As I mentioned above, the book contains so much more information then just the few quotes I’ve posted above. In fact, I still have the last ten chapters to read. But there was just something about Chapter 3, “The Sound of Silence,” that struck a chord with me as I read it. Maybe it will with you, too. Silence can be a powerful witness.

I hope this post has whetted your appetite to read more of Steve’s new book, Talk the Walk,” which can be purchased at Key Life and it is also available on Amazon.com at this link.

Ecclesiastes 3 opens with “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” and it includes a long list of items starting with “a time to be born and a time to die.” In verse 7 we find in the second half of that verse, “a time to keep silent, and a time to speak.” May we pray for wisdom…

To know when . . .

Is the right time . . .

To be silent . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Sound of Silence” by Pentatonix:

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Photo #2 credit here

Our Shepherd

I purchased a book at a very inexpensive price at the Half Price Bookstore at the end of June that was originally published back in 2001. It was written by Max Lucado and it is titled, Traveling Light.” It’s been republished since then but this particular copy is an original hardcover copy from 2001 (and it’s new, too). I’ve owned this book before but it is currently stored in a box in a storage unit in another state that at this point in time I wonder if I’ll ever see that stuff again since it has been in storage for over five years now. Of course, when I put my stuff in that storage unit over five years ago that came from the last apartment I lived in back then, I never dreamed it would be still be in storage five years later. I figured at the time it might be in storage for six months, max. Guess it falls under the category of Life happens.”

If you’ve read my blog posts lately you’ll know that my almost 96-year-old father died on June 22, 2019 (see blog posts titled, A Eulogy for Dad,” published on June 22, 2019, and Remembering Dad,” published in July 23, 2019). I purchased the book mentioned above on June 30, 2019. I drove to Iowa on July 10th (a 2000-mile round trip drive) to the state where my father lived to attend his visitation and funeral that was held on July 13, 2019, and I spent a week there (July 11-17). And I drove back to the city and state where I’ve been living for the past three years arriving back on July 18th.

I’m glad I went back home for that week. I got to see family members and others who are scattered around in several states who also returned for Dad’s funeral, and I learned about estate sale pickers–a term and occupation I was totally unaware of until Dad’s death (and there is something sort of vulture-like about that particular occupation). I’ve now been back where I’ve been living for about a week and a half, and it’s been over two weeks since the funeral was held on July 13th. I’m still sorting through the mix of emotions I’ve gone through since I first heard Dad was dying in early June, and from being back in my hometown for that week to attend his funeral.

On the list of top ten major stresses in life, death of a loved one (in my case, Dad’s death) holds the #1 spot (source here). Add in other stresses that naturally occur in one’s life, and I’ve been on overload since returning from Dad’s funeral. Being primarily a positive type of person, I’ve found it hard to get back into that positive mode as the grief can still be overwhelming when it hits, and I have a few other challenges right now that add to it but they are things that come up in one form or another in everyone’s life from time to time.

As I was thinking about how to find a way to get out from under this “funk” (grief does take a long time to process), I came across that book I purchased on June 30th mentioned above by Max Lucado titled, Traveling Light.” The subtitle is “Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Meant to Bear,” and that certainly describes my situation right now. I feel buried under a major burden compounded by other “stuff,” and I need a release from it. The book is based on Psalm 23, and here are the words to that psalm:

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 I quote a story found in the book, Traveling Light, let’s take a look at what is meant by the phrase, The LORD is my Shepherd.” GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

The clause “the LORD is my shepherd” comes from one of the most beloved of all passages of Scripture, the 23rd Psalm. In this passage and throughout the New Testament we learn that the Lord is our Shepherd in two ways. First, as the Good Shepherd, He laid down His life for His sheep and, second, His sheep know His voice and follow Him (John 10:1114).

In Psalm 23, God is using the analogy of sheep and their nature to describe us. Sheep have a natural tendency to wander off and get lost. As believers, we tend to do the same thing. It’s as Isaiah has said: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). When sheep go astray, they are in danger of getting lost, being attacked, even killing themselves by drowning or falling off cliffs.

Likewise, within our own nature there is a strong tendency to go astray (Romans 7:58:8), following the lusts of our flesh and eyes and pursuing the pride of life (1 John 2:16). As such, we are like sheep wandering away from the Shepherd through our own futile self-remedies and attempts at self-righteousness. It is our nature to drift away (Hebrews 2:1), to reject God, and to break His commandments. When we do this, we run the risk of getting lost, even forgetting the way back to God. Furthermore, when we turn away from the Lord, we soon find ourselves confronting one enemy after another who will attack us in numerous ways.

Sheep are basically helpless creatures who cannot survive long without a shepherd, upon whose care they are totally dependent. Likewise, like sheep, we are totally dependent upon the Lord to shepherd, protect, and care for us. Sheep are essentially dumb animals that do not learn well and are extremely difficult to train. They do not have good eyesight, nor do they hear well. They are very slow animals who cannot escape predators; they have no camouflage and no weapons for defense such as claws, sharp hooves, or powerful jaws.

Furthermore, sheep are easily frightened and become easily confused. In fact, they have been known to plunge blindly off a cliff following one after another. Shepherds in Bible times faced incredible dangers in caring for their sheep, putting their own lives at risk by battling wild animals such as wolves and lions who threatened the flock. David was just such a shepherd (1 Samuel 17:34–35). In order to be good shepherds, they had to be willing to lay down their lives for the sheep.

Jesus declared that He is our Shepherd and demonstrated it by giving His life for us. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Through His willing sacrifice, the Lord made salvation possible for all who come to Him in faith (John 3:16). In proclaiming that He is the good shepherd, Jesus speaks of “laying down” His life for His sheep (John 10:1517–18).

Like sheep, we, too, need a shepherd. Men are spiritually blind and lost in their sin. This is why Jesus spoke of the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4–6). He is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us. He searches for us when we’re lost, to save us and to show us the way to eternal life (Luke 19:10). We tend to be like sheep, consumed with worry and fear, following after one another. By not following or listening to the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:27), we can be easily led astray by others to our own destruction. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, warns those who do not believe and listen to Him: “I did tell you, but you do not believe . . . you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:25–28).

Psalm 23:1–3 tells us that the shepherd meets the sheep’s every need: food, water, rest, safety, and direction. When we as believers follow our Shepherd, we, too, know that we will have all we need. We will not lack the necessities of life, for He knows exactly what we need (Luke 12:22–30).

Sheep will not lie down when they are hungry, nor will they drink from fast-flowing streams. Sometimes the shepherd will temporarily dam up a stream so the sheep can quench their thirst. Psalm 23:2 speaks of leading the sheep “beside the quiet [stilled] waters.” The shepherd must lead his sheep because they cannot be driven. Instead, the sheep hear the voice of their shepherd and follow him—just as we listen to our Shepherd, Jesus Christ—in His Word and follow Him (John 10:3–51627). And if a sheep does wander off, the shepherd will leave the flock in charge of his helpers and search for the lost animal (Matthew 9:3618:12–14Luke 15:3–7).

In Psalm 23:3, the Hebrew word translated “paths” means “well-worn paths or ruts.” In other words, when sheep wander onto a new path, they start to explore it, which invariably leads them into trouble. This passage is closely akin to the warning in Hebrews 13:9: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” The apostle Paul also alludes to this idea in Ephesians 4:14.

Finally, the shepherd cares for the sheep because he loves them and wants to maintain his own good reputation as a faithful shepherd. As we’ve seen in Psalm 23, the analogy of the Lord as the Good Shepherd was also applied by Jesus in John chapter 10. In declaring that He is the shepherd of the sheep, Jesus is confirming that He is God. The Eternal God is our Shepherd. And we would not want it any other way. (Quote source here.)

In Chapter 4 titled, “The Prison of Want: The Burden of Discontent,” in the book, Traveling Light,” on pp. 32-34, is this reflection:

Are you hoping that a change in circumstances will bring a change in your attitude? If so, you are in prison, and you need to learn a secret of traveling light. What you have in your Shepherd is greater than what you don’t have in life.

May I meddle for a moment? What is the one thing separating you from joy? How do your fill in this blank: “I will be happy when ________________”? When I am healed. When I am promoted. When I am married. When I am single. When I am rich. How would you finish that statement?

Now, with your answer firmly in mind, answer this. If your ship never comes in, if your dream never comes true, if the situation never changes, could you be happy? If not, then you are sleeping in the cold cell of discontent. You are in prison. And you need to know what you have in your Shepherd.

You have a God who hears you, the power of love behind you, the Holy Spirit within you, and all of heaven ahead of you. If you have the Shepherd, you have grace for every sin, direction for every turn, a candle for every corner, and an anchor for every storm. You have everything you need.

And who can take it from you? Can leukemia infect your salvation? Can bankruptcy impoverish your prayers? A tornado might take your earthly house, but will it touch your heavenly home?

And look at your position. Why clamor for prestige and power? Are you not already privileged to be part of the greatest work in history?

According to Russ Blowers (1924-2007), we are. He [was] a minister in Indianapolis. Knowing he would be asked about his profession at a Rotary Club meeting, he resolved to say more than, “I’m a preacher.”

Instead he explained, “Hi, I’m Russ Blowers. I’m with a global enterprise. We have branches in every country in the world. We have representatives in nearly every parliament and boardroom on earth. We’re into motivation and behavior alternation. We run hospitals, feeding stations, crisis-pregnancy centers, universities, publishing houses, and nursing homes. We care for our clients from birth to death. We are into life insurance and fire insurance. We perform spiritual heart transplants. Our original Organizer owns all the real estate on earth plus and assortment of galaxies and constellations. He knows everything and lives everywhere. Our product is free for the asking. (There’s not enough money to buy it.) Our CEO was born in a hick town, worked as a carpenter, didn’t own a home, was misunderstood by his family and hated by his enemies, walked on water, was condemned to death without a trial, and arose from the dead. I talk with him every day.”

If you can say the same, don’t you have reason to be content?…

What will you gain with contentment? You may gain your marriage. You may gain precious hours with your children. You may gain your self-respect. You may gain joy. You may gain the faith to say, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Try saying it slowly. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Again, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Again, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Shhhhhhh. Did you hear something? I think I did. I’m not sure… but I think I heard the opening of a jail door. (Quote source: “Traveling Light,” pp. 32-34.)

So go to the Shepherd. He’s the only One who can release you from your burdens.

The LORD . . .

Is my shepherd . . .

I shall not want . . .

YouTube video: “I Just Need U” by TobyMac:

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