Feed His Sheep

In John 10:14 Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep…” When He told Peter to feed the sheep, He was giving Peter the responsibility for the care and feeding of the flock.

The sheep belonged to Jesus. He had a personal relationship with each of them. He knew them by name and He loved them . But his earthly ministry was almost over and He was passing the shepherd’s staff to Peter.

He did not ask Peter if he wanted to be a shepherd. He simply gave Peter an assignment He knew was within Peter’s capability. Because Peter loved his savior he was expected to be obedient to the task.

God calls each of his children to help tend his sheep. He intends for each of us to help care for a flock and each of us to receive care from someone else. Such interdependence among Christians will result in the effective spreading of the gospel.

As we each give and receive care, God is glorified in our lives. If we choose not to perform our shepherd’s duties, others suffer. If we refuse to listen to the guidance of the Good Shepherd, we suffer.

Our motive for being a shepherd must be our love for him. We must love others because He loves us. We must serve others because He served us. We must give our time and energy to others because He gave his life for us.

It is dangerous for us to try to serve those He has put into our care if we do not love them. We are likely to become discouraged, resentful and angry. Such emotions disrupt our relationship with him.

It is dangerous for the flock because our attitude will lead them away from him and the blessings He has for them. They will sense our insincerity and rebel against his leadership.

We must always remember they are his sheep, not ours. We must love and feed them because we love him.

WHO AM I?

As a born again, covered-by-the-blood Christian, just exactly who am I?

Am I a child of the King, a prince of kingdom? Am I a servant of the most high? Could I perhaps be a soldier in God’s army or maybe an ambassador to foreign kingdoms?

YES! YES! YES! YES! I am all of those, but it is easier to announce that answer than to fully understand and explain it.

My position in God’s kingdom is that of a son, a privileged prince who can claim all the blessings and perks available to one of such high status. Yet I am His servant, standing ready to eagerly fulfill His every wish. As a fully-armed soldier in His army I am ready to do battle, clothed in the armor He has provided for me. And my position as an ambassador sends me into the streets and alleys inviting the needy of this world to his banquet.

It seems impossible to successfully fill any one of these roles, let alone all four at the same time. And it is impossible – totally and completely impossible – if I try it within my own power and wisdom. Only the Holy Spirit, working through me can successfully perform this balancing act.

LAW-LIVING vs GRACE-LIVING

We rejoice in the fact that we live “under grace” rather than “under the law.” We feel that law-living, with all the “thou shalls” and “thou shall nots,” would be a demanding, dreary existence. By contrast we see grace-living as warm, comfortable and full of joy.

We thank God for the fact that we live in a post-resurrection period rather than the era characterized by the Mosaic law and the interpretations it spawned. But grace-living is as difficult as law-living.

While law-living had  hundreds of specific requirements, at least each person knew exactly what was expected.  His religious duties were outlined in detail. Everyone was expected to meet the same requirements. By contrast, grace-living requires each of us to constantly seek and find, within the framework of scripture, God’s will. Grace-living for me may not be exactly the same as grace-living for you. And we celebrate this flexibility.

The Mosaic law was first given to a group of people who had no training or experience in developing their own society and culture.  They had been slaves for many generations. The law-living required of them had societal and sanitation aspects, as well as spiritual considerations. The commands of the Torah were only the ABCs of Gods revelation of himself. Jehovah 101 if you will.

By the time Jesus was born, God expected the Hebrew people to be ready for a more personal, detailed expression of His character and nature. Jesus was the advanced course given by a Father that longed to be known and understood by those He loved. This explains Jesus’ statement in John 14:9 “…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”

Jesus did not cancel the ABCs of earlier times. He expanded them and built on them. He expects us to follow the “Thou shalt love” commands of Matthew 22:37-40 just as rigorously as the rabbis of his day followed the Mosaic law.

Friendship

Our human nature causes us to seek friends and companions on the basis of our own needs. We choose to be with people who will support us, make us feel good and encourage us. We build relationships in which we can be comfortable and enjoy ourselves. However, in making relationship choices we are to look at the pattern set by Christ and seek to be led by the Spirit.

Christ chose to form relationships with certain people, but his choices were based on their needs, not his. He went into the homes of publicans and sinners because they needed him and his message. He met at night with Nicodemus because Nicodemus needed answers. He chose to remain at the well in Samaria because a woman needed spiritual insights.

We need to be continually in prayer about our relationship choices. If we are in close daily contact with Christ He will become our companion and friend. This will free us to reach out to others on the basis of their needs.

This is part of what Paul had in mind when he said that our life should be a living sacrifice to the Father. He was calling us to surrender our desires, priorities and time on the altar of redemptive, supportive relationships. Then we will be free to encourage and comfort others in the same way Christ helps us.

Jesus calls us to be consecrated servants, not comfortable sponges. He set the pattern we are to follow when he said he came “to look for….people who are lost.” (Luke 19:10 CEV)

Eating from Trash Cans

A woman had three sons, each of them married with children of their own. All three were scheduled to arrive at her house at 11:00 for lunch on Thanksgiving Day.

For days she carefully planned the menu. Most of Wednesday was spent cooking desserts. She put the turkey in the oven at 5:00 Thanksgiving morning.  The table was adorned with her best dishes and gleaming, polished silverware. By 10:45 everything was ready. She had done her best and she was pleased with her efforts.

Then she heard voices and strange noises from the area behind the house where the trash cans were stored. When she looked outside she could hardly believe her eyes. There were all three of her boys, along with their families, sitting in a circle around the trash containers. They were eating from the trash cans.

Using the can lids as serving trays they were eating potato and apple peels, carrot tops, and orange rinds. As she watched they scraped out what was left from the discarded vegetable cans and frozen food boxes.

She rushed outside, horrified at their behavior. “All of you come into the house this instant,” she cried.” This is crazy. I have a wonderful meal for you in there. Why would you want to eat garbage out here when I have turkey and mashed potatoes and hot rolls and apple pie on the table in the kitchen?”

The oldest boy replied “I’m sure you have a good meal inside, but we don’t deserve any better than this. We have neglected you lately and this is all we have a right to expect. It’s good enough for people like us.”

The middle son also refused. “This is really not so bad, Mom. If you’ve never tried it you don’t know what you’re missing. Would you like to join us?”

The third boy confirmed the decision to stay outside. “I’ve talked it over with my family and we don’t believe you really have anything any better inside. You can’t prepare a meal like you described. We think you are lying to us.”

The foolish, ungrateful  behavior of these children causes us to feel outraged. But we act in similar ways toward God when we refuse the banquet of blessings he has for us and accept, instead, the trash offered by the world.

God prepares a menu of blessings for us every day.  (Psalm 23). He knows we don’t deserve it but He continually offers us the best He has. Of course we don’t deserve his goodness, but He chooses to bless us anyway. To say He cannot bless us is to deny his power. To say He has not or will not bless us is to contradict his word. When we live in guilt, ignorance and denial we are as foolish as the three sons.

A Visit To The Grand Canyon

When we visit the Grand Canyon we approach it with some degree of reverence and look cautiously into it’s depths. We are impressed with the beauty, majesty, size and age.  We realize we are engaging only a small part of the canyon with only a small part of ourselves. After a short visit we walk away, get in our car and move on.

But that is not experiencing the Grand Canyon. We don’t go to the bottom and allow ourselves to be surrounded by it.  We don’t permit all our senses to become attuned to its sounds, colors, scent and sights. We don’t explore the side canyons and hidden pockets of splendor. We don’t sit still in the deepest recesses and view the animals and wild flowers. We don’t return throughout the year to view the seasonal changes.

If we really wanted to know the Canyon intimately we would read books about it and hire a guide for each visit. We would physically discipline ourselves to become strong enough to hike from one end to the other. We would stay there for days at a time.

But we don’t. And as a result of our look-over-the-edge-and-move-on visits we know it about like we know God.

We hurry into and out of God’s presence, perhaps impressed with a limited sense of his wisdom, majesty, beauty, size and power. We commit a small part of ourselves to peer cautiously into his Word, all the time knowing there is more. We stop short of a full sensory encounter then walk away content or even feel a little proud of our efforts.

We do not take the time and make the effort to experience God. We do not immerse ourselves and surround ourselves with Him. We refuse to explore the lesser-known facets of his personality.  We do not develop the stamina and self-discipline necessary to know his heart. Expecting immediate answers and solutions, we visit Him and then move on before some of his most beautiful, valuable truths can be received. We do not allow the Holy Spirit to be our guide. We may feel his presence for a few minutes but we don’t become intimate with him.  We approach God with a tourist mentality.

How can we correct this? We must make forming an intimate relationship with him the number-one priority of our lives. This will require a commitment of our time. Such relationships can not be rushed. We must establish regular times of prayer and Bible study, disciplining ourselves to concentrate of spiritual matters. The joys of experiencing God are available only to those who long for more than a quick, easy, occasional visit.

Relationship or Religion

In our relationship with God true Christianity does not begin as a religion. Christianity begins as a relationship. And it must remain that way.

Religion includes theories, dos, don’ts, rules, rituals and methods of worship. While these are not inherently wrong, religion can become a complicating factor in establishing and maintaining our relationship with our Savior.

The relationship God desires with us involves two minds revealing themselves to each other and becoming intimately acquainted.  It is the sharing of strengths and desires in a conscious effort to know and be known. It is giving and taking so we can become more capable and happy.

The initial contact between us and Jesus may eventually lead us into a religion, but it begins as a relationship. And that relationship must continue to be paramount. We must be vigilant to prevent the requirements of religion from interfering in our relationship with Jesus. If this happens Christianity can be a good place to hide from God.

We must never give more time, loyalty and energy to the religion than to the relationship. If we allow the relationship to grow cold and distant, then the religion becomes meaningless, powerless and unattractive.

And, of course, the relationship is based on love, first God’s love for us and then our love for Him. It is a perfect love offered to us freely and eternally.

Worshipping Jesus

Having a close, personal relationship with Jesus allows me to hear and respond to music that only He and I can hear. When I hear it I smile and others don’t know why. I move in rhythms and steps they do not understand.  I find satisfaction from dancing enthusiastically when others have not been aware there was any music for us to dance to.

Others may find my behavior a little strange, but Jesus and I don’t care. No one benefits when they criticize me for engaging in our fellowship dance. For some reason they seem to feel that “different” is wrong and praise dancing is somehow irreverent. I never want to disturb the worship of others, but I also never want to avoid Spirit-led activity.

Sometimes our relationship results in praise words rather than worship dancing. At such times I tend to sing too loud and ignore the worship leader on the platform. I may be the only one in the crowd that starts singing another verse when he is finished. I may get carried away and sing the song the way we used to sing it sixty years ago. Sometimes I forget I am not the only person in the room.

But Jesus and I don’t care. I think unison in worship is overrated, anyway.

Psalm 100

Valued by God

To me the term “…poor in spirit…” (Matthew 5:3) means total humility, admitting that on my own I can do nothing (John 15:5.) God loves me regardless of my lack of talent, beauty, skills or possessions. In God’s system I have great value. I am a child in his family adopted through the death of Jesus on the cross.

In the world’s system a thing like this is unheard of. We are taught that we must do something or be something or have something before we are granted the status of “valuable or important.” But God says “You are valuable to me exactly as you are right now.”

Should we ever wonder how valuable we are to Him all we need do is look to the cross. Jesus died there to buy my eternal freedom from the consequences of my sins.  God’s grace means love without accomplishment. It seems to be a crazy system, but it is the way God does things and I sure am glad.

Rules vs Relationship

Many people try to please God by obeying the rules He gave rather than by enjoying a relationship with the Son He sent.

The tendency to do this is strong because rule-keeping is more concise and specific. It lets us keep track of the good deeds we do and leads to self-satisfaction and self-importance. It gives us ammunition when we try to convince God we are worthy of His blessings.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were rule followers. They were very good at it.  They never “walked up the down staircase.”  But in their blind, narrow version of obedience they missed the thrill of knowing Jesus as friend and brother.

Establishing an intimate relationship with Jesus can be unpredictable. Some days we feel He is near while at other times He seems distant. (The difference is always of our doing.) Does Jesus care if we break the Father’s rules? Sure He does. But if we confess and repent He continues to protect and provide. Our relationship with our Savior can never be broken.

The Holy Spirit guarantees every child of God a life of comfort and pleasure if we obey Him out of love and gratitude rather than an attitude of blind rule keeping.

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After Adam and Eve sinned they ran from  God. After we sin we should run to God. (Hebrews 4:16) Why? Because only from God can we receive mercy, grace and forgiveness. Only through the work of the Holy Spirit can I learn to accept that forgiveness from God, let Him show me how to forgive myself and discover ways to avoid doing it again.