The Good Shepherd

We wouldn’t need a shepherd if there weren’t wolves.

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It’s easy to think we are in control of our lives (especially if you are an American), but we are not.  Life will toss you or I around like everyone else.  Any one of us today living in quarantine, could be any one of them, who are now clinging to life and courting death with every breath.  We simply do not have as many tomorrows as we think we do.

Perhaps we take this idea of free will too far.  Our culture encourages us to embrace our own truth and not impose it on others, so it’s only natural that we would construct a truth that sat well with us.  One that didn’t offend.  Though it’s true, this life does gives us a sense that we are in charge of ourselves, especially in the west.  This could not be said of every human experience, but it is notable how much personal power we have amassed in the 21st century.  Yet it’s quite a leap [of faith] to assume we would have the same autonomy after we die.  Seriously, if our piddly personal life-force can’t manage to overcome basic human conditions like addiction, overeating, violent outbursts and the like, how is it reasonable to believe it could not only endure death, but still somehow have the god-like power of eternal determination?

It would be wise to consider Peter’s words: 1 Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God…”  as well as to think on Jesus’ own words in John 10:27-28.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we need a good shepherd.  We just don’t appreciate that reality until we come face-to-face with our utter neediness.  It takes a deep humility to identify oneself with sheep.  There is not a whole lot to recommend them.  They aren’t fierce.  They are pretty ugly, with the exception of the babies, which are cute, but only for a little while. They aren’t particularly smart either. They get themselves stuck in all kinds of mortal jams.  Not many people who believe in ‘spirit animals’ would claim their spirit animal to be a sheep!

Many people will find agreement that by following the teachings of Jesus Christ you can improve the quality of your life here on earth.  But to truly appreciate Jesus as God, as the only One who has the power to lead us through this life, through our physical death and into life everlasting we must have a clear picture of our own perpetual helplessness.  Only Jesus can route the enemy of our souls who comes to kill, rob and destroy.  Jesus deals with our sin at a soul level, because sin rots the soul.  Sin is what creates the wedge between us and God.  God knows we can’t fix this problem from our side, just as the sheep cannot fend off the wolves themselves.  The Good Shepherd laid down is life to save the sheep.

Train your ear to hear your Shepherd’s voice.  This world is a world of confusion.  But in the din of all the news cycles, all the demands, all the temptations, and all the compulsions… if you listen for the stillness you too will hear your Shepherd’s voice.

Lord, in all humility we come before you today to confess our need for YOU.  We confess our arrogance, our apathy and our disobedience.  We confess our vain attempts to control outcome.  Help us to recognize our need for you, not just in this life, but also in death so we may follow You into life everlasting!  Lord, You are the Lord of our days. You are the Lord of our nights. You are the Lord over our physical death and the Lord over our resurrected lives.  The reality of Your perfect love casts out all fear.  Lord Jesus, thank you for the work you did on the cross, for the path you walked that led you to Calvary, redeeming us and granting us eternal fellowship with You.  Because You love us and because You did the will of your Father, we have life!  We love You.  We praise You.  We give all thanks and glory to You, Jesus, our shepherd, Jesus our Lord.

Hosanna in the Highest!

Scripture references:  John 10:27-28; 1 Kings 19:12; 1 Peter 5:6; 1 John 4:18

Abide in Me…Reflections on 1 John 2

Tessa doesn’t know what life holds around that bend. She is not thinking about the times she failed to obey in the past or fret about what she might face in the future. She lives in the now and she walks forward bravely because she trusts the one who sends her. Be like Tessa.

What does it mean to abide?

Years ago, I had a baseball cap (I love baseball caps). This one had the word Abide stylishly stitched across the brow. I wore it proudly. It also looked great on me. That was, in one word, the sentiment I wanted as my declarative mission statement for life. The snare that was set before me then [and now] is this: What if I’m too easily satisfied with the appearance of one who abides? What if, on closer examination, you would see in my day-to-day life that the desire to abide is easily and repeatedly crowded out by other anxious desires and demands of life? Am I abiding only when life is simple, but not when life is complicated and scary?

“In its fullest meaning, the word abide holds a promise.”

As the apostle John breaks it down in 1 John 2, abiding is linked to obedience to Christ. 1 Jn 2:6 ‘whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked’. In its fullest meaning, the word abide holds a promise.  A promise that in our obedience we are not alone, we are in Christ.  1 Jn 2:24-25  says “…If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.  And this is the promise that he made to us – eternal life.”

There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. None of us knows how far this reaction to COVID-19 will take us. How many people will be displaced or how many lives will be taken by it. Let me draw a distinction that I draw for myself on a regular basis. It is this: All the things we care about, worry about, pray about and pine about – all of those things live in a place called our ‘circle of concern’. It’s big and it holds all of it. Inside that circle is a much smaller, but much brighter circle. The inner circle is called our ‘circle of influence’. Pray to recognize what is in your circle of influence. I believe you will discover precisely what Jesus is asking you to do today, and in the doing, you will have the phenomenal privilege of abiding in Christ where the peace of Christ will dwell with you.

“Obedience is an active verb that lives in the present.” 

Remember, we cannot obey retroactively.  Likewise, one can only ‘intend’ to obey proactively. Obedience is an active verb that lives in the present. There is no draw available on our promised future obedience. But all of us, every single one of us, can act on what God has placed on our hearts TODAY. Quite surprisingly, it is our obedience in the present-now that will have the greatest impact on all that lives in our circles of concern.

 

Note:  The concept of circle of influence/circle of concern comes from Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

 

Worthy Movement 3.0

Sitting in the Worthy Movement conference at Hillside Church in Hollister, I was deeply moved by an auditorium full of women, with all living generations present; newborn to great-grandmothers.  We opened up topics that have been taboo for so long.  It struck me how each generation deals with the same issues.  Though the weapons fashioned against us change with the culture, the results are the same.  It’s humbling, disarming and shocking to see the hoops we women jump through to meet someone’s subjective idea of success and beauty or to gain approval… or worse, to simply survive and protect our children.

The level of harassment and abuse women suffer due to a perceived sense of worthlessness affects more women than it doesn’t.  Rare is she who never brushes up against this thorny bush.  However it is we arrive at that place of feeling utterly worthless, it always leads us to a feeling of isolation, a place of aloneness, even in a room full of people.  Once we internalize the aloneness it takes a great amount of intention to work against it, to rebuild the bridges to fellowship.  Shame takes hold and we see ourselves through it’s deceptive lens.

I know I am not alone in truly wanting to see my sisters [and myself] continually released from the grip of these lies.  The good news is, once we recognize that it is the enemy at work, using these weapons against us and against our children, we can through the power of Christ in us, move against it and destroy those strongholds.

There is immense value in acknowledging our shared struggles and acknowledging the epidemic levels of abuse, learned helplessness, self-harm, et al running rampant in the lives of women.   This is step one.  Now where do we go from here?  A seasoned mentor or counselor is very valuable right now.  If God has given you the revelation that there is a way out of the crazy cycle, God has also placed people in your life, people to help you move forward.  Pray.  Stop-Look-Listen.  Pray.  Reach out to that person.  Know this and take comfort:  The Holy Spirit goes before you and the Holy Spirit goes with you.

The Holy Spirit is the one true Witness to what you have endured. 

The Holy Spirit will help you separate the soul from the spirit, the truth from the lies.  Let the Holy Spirit be your counselor.  First and foremost, pray through the Word of God, let it minister to you every day, and then add to that the wisdom and perspective of mature Christian women in your life. Read God’s word when you pray and pray when you read God’s word.

Jesus’ plan for your life is victory to the glory of God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

As Paul instructs us in the letters to the Corinthians, “that we would not be outwitted by Satan’s schemes for we are not ignorant of his designs. [2 Corinthians 2:11].  It is important to remember that the enemy of man did not create anything.  He is not the creator of this universe or its principles.  He is not creative.  This should be comforting news to you friend, as it is to me.  The lies he whispers are not new every morning (unlike God’s mercies which are!). He recycles the same arguments, fits them to the contemporary culture and injects them ad nauseam.  This is why being in the Word of God and wearing the full armor of God becomes so important.  The sooner you can identify the lie repackaged the sooner you can quash it.

The famous fighter, ‘Smokin Joe’ AKA William Joe Frazier, who bested Muhammad Ali, is quoted as saying: “You can map out a fight plan or a life plan, but when the action starts, it may not go the way you planned, and you’re down to your reflexes – that means your [preparation:].  That’s where your roadwork shows.  If you cheated on that in the dark of the morning, well, you’re going to get found out now, under the bright lights.

So let’s get real.  This is a battle and we need a plan.

In the parable of the Ten Virgins from Matthew 25 we see 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins.  The virgins represent the church waiting for their bridegroom (Christ) to return.  They go out on the news that His arrival is imminent, but the five foolish virgins take no heed to what they will need to wait it out.  They assume it won’t be long and take no provision, just the oil in their lamps with them.  While the five wise virgins take the extra oil, the provision to wait out the arrival, should that be necessary.

Many folks who take a high-level view of this parable see this as a contradiction, they ask ‘where is the Christian charity you speak of?’  Why are we not helping the ones with less?  Why aren’t we taking from the ones with more (or why aren’t they giving their oil to their sisters?).  Does this line of questioning seem vaguely familiar to you?  Well, for the same reason Smokin Joe uttered the quote above, the simple lesson in this parable is this:  We Cannot Share Our Preparation.  There are things we can share, but we cannot share the work in our hearts, our personal sacrifice, our personal journey, what we have done to prepare our hearts for the Bridegroom.  Christ is coming!!!  Your mom, your sister, your best friend, your children cannot prepare you for this moment.  Only you can do that.

Supernatural healing is real.  The work of the Spirit is mysterious and God’s grace knows no bounds.  This truth is empowering and comforting to know.  However, also know that God is not co-dependent on us.  God will not do for us what is good for us to do for Him.  It is good for us to grow in wisdom and grace.  It is good for us to seek Him daily through His word and prayer.  It is good for us to humble ourselves, confess our sins. It is good for us to receive His forgiveness and learn to forgive others. Growth and struggle are good for us.

So Sisters, let me leave you with this encouragement from our Brother Peter: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.  Amen. [2Peter 3:18] And our Brother Paul: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6]

If you would like to pray with someone.  If you are looking for a place to find good Christian mentorship.  If you just want someone to talk to – check out our blog at worthymovement.org and look into the resources there.  We are powerful together.  God made us for relationship.  You are not alone.

The Doorway of Brokenness

“She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors” ~ Proverbs 8:2-3

With a mixture of frustration and shame I’ve arrived at the same doorstep. To get here I’ve traveled many long, hard miles of holding myself together, gritting my teeth, all the while knowing where I was headed, but holding my own just the same. Yes, I confess, I want that deeper knowledge of Christ. Yes, I want to feel His presence in and through my life. Yes! I truly do desire to live for Him, in Him, but as I approach that doorway, the doorway of brokenness, still I try to turn away. Why is it then when we recognize breaking is just what we need that we seek to remain unbroken? Our egos, like stubborn lumps in the batter, seek to insulate themselves as long as possible before giving way to become something far better. In this life two worlds live juxtaposed to one another. This world promises to make us whole, but Jesus promises to make us one in Him. At every turn, there is a description of what it should look like. Where we should be. How happy we are! How full and complete our lives could be. We resist brokenness because brokenness means we are not whole. We cannot imagine or envision what God could be up to as He looks over this human mess and grabs His glue, painstakingly pressing pieces together into what seems a chaotic assortment, until finally what emerges in this mosaic is His image, a reflection of His glory. Perhaps we resist this process because we know we don’t have any glue, we know in and of ourselves we cannot put these pieces back together let alone weave a greater story in it. Or, as foolish as it sounds, we are not so sure we want to give up the authorship of our lives.

Like the wildfires raging in the West this year, tragedy, real tragedy burns through our false sense of worth and the empty promises of wholeness; leaving only what truly matters before our bare eyes. When all is burned away, it is Christ who remains and all whom we love in Him. Friend, if you also are in a season of brokenness, plagued by confusion and disillusion, rejoice! Yes, rejoice!! Disillusionment is a wonderful condition to find yourself in when you consider the alternative. Confusion is the precursor to knowledge, to understanding and wisdom. Conflict clarifies. Wisdom is calling out to us! Enter into the doorway of your brokenness, He has prepared a place for you in Him, and through Him you will receive His fullness as promised in Ephesians 3:19 – to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Eph 3:19.

Yoda was wrong

“Do or not do. There is no try.”

Perhaps wrong is too harsh a word.  Yoda’s counsel is only partially true.  Before any of us has the conviction, belief and single-mindedness needed to accomplish the goal we are aiming for, we first learn there is no victory without the try.  Take the gymnast, the ice skater, the exhausted young mother, the addict, the aspiring artist or accomplished master – all must summon the courage in the midst failure to try again because the seed of victory can only germinate in the try.  It is a sad condition when we stop trying because we no longer believe we can succeed.  Of course we can’t succeed! The not-succeeding is what informs the next try.  It takes immense courage to continue to try.  Without courage we will never discover where our true beauty dwells; in the place where humility triumphs over humiliation.  That place where bravery is haunted by failure, haunted by criticism, haunted by rejection and yet stands up again, with no guarantee that this will be the time, the moment of victory.  Before the victory comes the try, and after this our goal becomes clearer, it becomes closer, the fuzziness fades away and clarity crystallizes… Then… Then, Yoda’s words ring true, in that moment, that one surreal moment, we realize there is no more try, because it is done.

In Pursuit of the Truth

img_0435I read an article last week entitled “2016: The Year Truth was Irrelevant” by Avery Foley.  Immediately my mind jumped on a thought I had after watching the Snowden movie.  With no intention of arguing his method of revealing top secret information, but to say here’s a guy who risked everything, and when I say everything I mean everything, to reveal to the world a truth that the government had been and still is collecting troves of data on us with or without our consent,  that the ideas of privacy and cybersecurity were just comforting words to tuck us in at night.  He pulled the curtain back to reveal something that should’ve shocked us awake.  He gave up his liberty, his career, his future and quite possibly still, his life to reveal a life-altering, history-making truth and our collective response was:  “Meh….”  Wow!

As I went on to read the previously mentioned article by Avery Foley, (answersingenesis.org) I learned that the Oxford Dictionary chose the word post-truth as it’s word of the year.  Post, as in no longer relevant, belonging to a bygone period… not post as in after, such as postwar.  Anyone who casually followed the political race leading up to the presidential elections this last year (2016) witnessed just how irrelevant truth was to the process.  We also have been indoctrinated with the idea that you can ‘hold’ your truth and I will ‘hold’ my truth, promising if we just each hold our truth and let others do the same there will be peace on earth.  This is absurd on so many levels because truth is an absolute.  If something is not absolutely true, then it is not true.  However, if we tweak that thought just a little, we do come up with something useful.  Notice now, if we were to ‘share’ our perspective and allow others to also ‘share’ their perspective, we could achieve greater understanding of each other, leading to more productive discourse.

“Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Truth is to be approached in the same way we approach God; not as something we can command or ever completely grasp this side of eternity. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says it better than I can: “Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  As we seek truth and seek to integrate truth through our humanness what comes out of us is not all truth, but something called honesty.  Honesty is our interpretation of truth.  And that interpretation is fed by many, many biases and experiences.  To deny this is to deny we are human.  We can honestly believe something that is not true.  We can honestly be mistaken.  And, we can honestly be absolutely right.  But we can’t ‘hold’ all truth any more than we can ‘hold’ all the universe.  Here’s why:  Truth contains all perspectives simultaneously in complete congruence.  In my mind, that describes God, not me.  We can pursue truth and it will be revealed to us, but there is always a cost.  To learn what is true we must lose what is false.  This rubs our humanity wrong.  Human nature clearly displays that we will consistently choose to believe what serves our needs the best, not what is true.  Being human is in many ways to be a walking contradiction.  We are full of variance, and shadow and motive.  What we are not naturally full of is Truth.

“Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” ~ Paul Simon, The Boxer

So, let’s get honest!  Honestly in pursuit of truth.  We are as honest as our egos allow us to be.  To unravel our egos and to pursue truth is a worthy endeavor.  God loves to reveal His truth to us.  If we do our part, as author CJ Mahaney describes in his book Humility:  True Greatness, and seek to put to death our greatest enemy (pride) by lifting up our greatest friend (humility), we will create an internal climate open to truth.  This can reap tremendous rewards for us because it can open us up to troves of truth that do not need to come to our ear by a gentle revelation in the solitude of our minds (though I love those ones!), but can come to us even by the harsh observations of a friend.  Jesus came that we might have life and life abundant.  Abundant truth!

Friend, one day, we will all answer for what we have chosen to believe.  What we have chosen to believe about God the Father, His son Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  We will answer for what we believe of ourselves and of each other.  On that day, I hope I can look back on my life and see I have chosen to pursue the truth relentlessly and with humility.  How about you?

Narratives and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

I’ve written and spoken on this topic before, but it begs repeating and even expanding in the wake of such an unusual election and the state of shock our country finds itself in now.  You’ve heard the adage:  It’s not what happens to you it’s how you respond that counts, right?  So true!  That is such good advice.  It is the story we tell about the events of our lives that shape our lives more than the events themselves.  The story we tell ourselves will either empower us or dis-empower us and we must work that out or we will get stuck by our own thinking.  Having mentors in your life who can point out the world beyond the forest and the trees when we can no longer see the forest for the trees is an essential component of every successful person’s strategy for living.

That said, and that being all well in good, it comes up a bit short when it creates an internal climate that dismisses any reasonable voice that challenges the narrative.  We can become ripe for self-deception and vulnerable to manipulation when we block messages simply because we do not like who is sending them.  Paul Simon captured this human truth perfectly when he sang ‘Still, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest’.

Case in point:  The Facebook Bubble.  Our feeds begin to mirror our preferences and in time most things we do not like are weeded out of our little Facebook garden.  Every link we click on, every search we instigate, even things in some cases we say that our microphones pick up become part of the feedback loop that populates the ads, the news stories and the narrative of our FB page.  Can you see how dangerous and myopic this becomes?  And when the media surrenders it’s authority to bring truth to power we find ourselves in quite a predicament.  I believe this is why there is so much shock and anger among the people whose candidate did not win and who now feel the only rational thing to do is to riot.  It is important that we recognize our role in this.  This isn’t ‘happening to us’.  We are manufacturing this crisis by not listening to other opinions, by shutting someone out instead of hearing what they are saying.  We have a generation of people who freak out and shut down if someone doesn’t see the world the way they see it.  This does not bode well for the future of our country or the world.

There is a strong human tendency to view those we like in their best light and those we dislike in their worst light.  This has reached such a frenzy on Facebook that in one person’s feed you would see manipulated photos of HRC to make her look like a she-devil ready to rip your fetus out of your body limb by limb.  That is no exaggeration of the vitriol that was and is served up daily.  And, in another’s feed you see every stupid thing Trump ever said taken out of context and used to bridge a narrative that is a constant effort at fear-mongering to convince women, blacks and minorities if he gets elected the KKK will be back in power.  Both are ridiculous caricatures, far removed from truth and unfortunately now are living personifications in the minds and hearts of people.

So remember this, a person is neither their worse version of themselves nor their best.  Trump is neither who the rioters say he is nor is he the Savior of modern man.  They, like us live on a continuum between the two.  Hopefully, as we grow in wisdom and years we are moving up the continuum towards the better version of ourselves.  Be conscientious in your social media interactions.  Friend (or re-friend) those that do not share your world view.  Avoid direct dialogue across the public board.  Instead, pick up the phone or better yet buy that person a cup of coffee.  Don’t just repost something without checking the sources and the inherent bias of your sources.  And ask yourself, does this need to be said?  Does this need to be said this way? Bias is unavoidable and it needs to constantly be policed if you want to build trust, relatability and real community.

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

STAY HUNGRY

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled – Matthew 5:6

Hunger is our friend.  We’ve learned to approach it as a problem to solve instead of a highway to travel.  The state of hunger flushes our bodies of impurities, produces in us clarity, discipline, lightness and energy… yes energy.  Our hunger is a powerful catalyst for change in our life.  We all wake up each morning with a hunger to connect, to be informed and to hear from God.  A life hid in Christ is not just a neat turn of phrase; it’s a reality available to all of us.  When Jesus speaks of a food you know not of He’s speaking of that very same blessing, that very same sustenance He talks about in Matthew 5:6.  To hunger and to thirst is to endure what feels like emptiness while God works in us His transforming process.  It is up to us to create the space in our crowded lives for the Divine presence of the Holy Spirit, to prioritize His presence in our day above all else.

I’ve heard it said that there are people who eat to live and there are people who live to eat.  I clearly live in the latter group when it comes to my food.  I’ve never forgotten to eat.  When I hear people say something like ‘I haven’t eaten a thing today’ and its ten at night, I remain puzzled at how that is even possible!  For too many years I hated myself for not being like the person who forgets to eat.  How thin could I be if I could just ‘forget’ to eat?  I forget everything else it seems without much difficulty, why not food?  Well in my spiritual walk it’s just the opposite.  I can easily forget about the banquet breakfast God has waiting for me in my quiet time while I sit there mindlessly snacking on the never ending drivel of information and entertainment resting in the palm of my hand! Of course the phone is a utility in our modern world, I get that, but it also has the power to usurp human connection and become a surrogate to real meaningful interaction with God, our families and with others.  When I’m particularly attached to that device in the palm of my hand, I try to remember what I would see if I were looking in the palm of my Savior’s hand.  And when I do that, it’s pretty easy to see if I’m honoring God or self in that moment.

It is a paradox.  That is, to stay hungry to be filled.  I desperately want all that Christ has for me and the hungrier I am for it the more blessed I am in it.  Protect your hunger and the energy it contains in all areas of your life.  Remember, your hunger serves a unique and transforming purpose that helps us, as the proverb goes, ‘wind ever upwards’.  (Prov 15:24)