This is the first blog post in a series of posts on the subject of “Worship.” God placed a desire in my heart to share what I have been learning in my first seminary class, “Practices of Worship.” This blog series will draw from lectures and reading materials from that class. For me, it has been a powerful and formative experience, and has revealed to me the importance of recognizing that our life is our worship. My hope and prayer is that you would be challenged and encouraged by what God has been teaching me over the last few months.
For many people today, words like “worship” and “praise” have become synonymous with music, with songs. Yet, simply defining worship and praise as musical is to diminish what worship truly means. Music is, of course, a way in which we offer up praise and worship to God – but worship is so much more than melody.
God divinely wove into our entire being a desire to worship. Just as we were created to be in relationship to God with our whole self, so too was worship designed to engage us on every level. When we are truly and rightly expressing worship to God we are using all that we are to praise Him. Worship engages us in the many dimensions of who we are. It is our heart, our soul, and our mind – united in the process of offering up worship to God.
True worship isn’t a single simple act of song or praise, just as it isn’t only an event that we attend on a Sunday morning. True worship is a lifestyle, to put it another way: our life is our worship. Worship doesn’t exist solely within the confines of a song, service, or an experience. Worship exists in our very DNA. There is no such thing as “your life in worship”, and “the rest of your life.” Either you are living a life of worship or you are not. As followers of Jesus, we are called to offer up our entire self our entire life as worship to God.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
These two verses, written near the end of the Apostle Paul’s life, are powerful and life altering. You may have noticed that first word: therefore. That word is a red flag for us, it should get our attention, and when we see that word we should always stop and find out what the “therefore is there for.” This is signaling a conclusion to a previous argument, in this case Paul’s argument is the entire eleven chapters of Romans preceding this verse!
For eleven chapters Paul has been laying out his theology of who God is and what God has done, and now in chapter twelve he pivots and lays out what our response to all of that should be. That response is that we should, in light of God’s mercy, offer up ourselves – our whole selves – as a “living” sacrifice. We offer up our friends, our family, our hopes and dreams, our careers and ambitions, our possessions, our time and our money; everything we have is given up in worship to the God who gave us everything He had!
Our spiritual act of worship is our life. A whole and complete life that is holy – which simply means “set apart” or “different.” By living life differently from the world around us, by breaking the patterns of the world and culture that surrounds us, we are offering up acceptable worship to God, True worship. A sacrifice of our entire being is how we respond to God and how we worship Him.
Our life is our worship. As true believers, we are to live in worship all the time. When we become followers of Jesus, we give up everything in service of our Messiah. There is no part of ourselves, or our life, that exists outside of our life in Christ. Jesus invades the entirety of our life and transforms us within all dimensions. He leaves nothing un-altered or un-touched.
During this blog series, we are going to be looking at what it means to live a life of worship. It begins today, with recognizing that our entire life is our act of worship. God created us to live in worship, and true worship engages our entire self and our entire life. From there, the next step is to determine what it is that we are worshipping, because we are all worshipping something (and it may not be what we think) and worship changes us; it is formative. Equally important to developing a life of worship is to identify and recognize the purpose of worship. Finally, we will be taking some time to examine different patterns, or practices that we can incorporate into our lives that will help us cultivate a life of worship.
To be clear, having a life of worship doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it is something that we strive for every day for the rest of our days. A life of worship is a life-long pursuit. Becoming a follower of Jesus isn’t the end of our story, it is the beginning of our story. Now is when the real work begins. Make no mistake, building a life of worship will take work and purposeful intent. God is always revealing to me my need to grow and mature into Him, and I am convinced that I will not be fully matured until Christ returns and finishes the good work in me that began long ago.
As you read this series, it is my hope and prayer that God will speak into your life and your heart and reveal to you how He wants you to be living your life. For He seeks to give us life abundantly. Living a life of worship is the path toward realizing the good life. As we examine the purpose of our lives and worship, and practices that we can take to draw closer into that life of worship, remember that it takes time and hard work. Also, do not expect to take the practices of worship and jam them into your already busy life. These practices aren’t to be added in to your life, they are to serve as the very foundation of your life; each aspect of your life and work should revolve around living a life of worship.
The next post will examine what it is that we love and worship in our lives. What we love will be at the center of how we structure our life, and will declare what it is that we worship, for:
“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.” – Martin Luther
May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may His most Holy Spirit bring you comfort and new insight as we seek to draw closer to the God who loves us and continue along our life-long journey into a life of true worship. Amen.
 Seriously, check it out – read Romans 1:1-12:2 and see how Paul builds and builds on one theological point after another, it’s awesome.
 Think of a New Year’s resolution….so many of our resolutions fail because we don’t make significant, lasting, and sustainable changes to our pattern of life in order to support our goal. Transforming your life into a life of worship can’t function like a new years resolution. Instead, our life must be re-ordered to that everything supports our new lifestyle.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Large Catechism, trans. John Nicholas Lenker (Minneapolis: Luther, 1908), 44. Quotation taken from You Are What You Love (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016), 23
Step Up: So That Others May Know!
We seek to encourage our church in reading, studying, and living out Scripture in our daily lives. This study guide is designed to correspond to Sunday’s sermon (Nov. 5th) [Listen Here]. Read through this lesson on your own or with a small group.
We, as the human race, have a tendency to get stuck in our ways. When we discover a way to do things or a way of thinking that we agree with, it is often difficult for us to break away from those methods. It isn’t hard to understand- predictability is comforting.
Take, for example, a school bus route. Every morning, the students wait out at the bus stop at the same time, because that is when their ride to school will show up to collect them. If the driver changed what time he got their every day, the students would not be able to know when to meet them and would probably be late to class- or not even get to school at all!
It’s easy to see why we like our routines. However, there is a danger in becoming too comfortable in those patterns. When that pattern ceases to be efficient or effective, then we probably should learn to change, lest we start to find the ritual more important than why we take part. This was a major issue for the Jewish people. In fact, their inability to break from their long-practices traditions and rituals is what led to the execution of Jesus!
Let’s take some time to examine what is truly important to God, and how we have gone astray from it.
- What parallels can you find between the different stories?
- Why would Jesus rapid fire several stories that lean toward the same underlying meaning?
- Which story speaks to you more? Do you have any personal experience that seems like it could have been used as one of Jesus’ examples of seeking that which is lost?
- The Jews had long assumed that they were God’s chosen people. But when Jesus came onto the scene, he began revealing that His grace is for all, not just the select few. How do you imagine the people in Jesus’ audience would have reacted to these parables when they heard them?
- Compare this passage to modern-day church activity. Do you feel as though we do things differently?
- Notice that this passage does not mention whether or not the believers were going out of their way to evangelize to others. That being said, what would make the church so attractive that they were growing on a daily basis?
- If you were to condense this passage to a simple phrase, like a slogan for the church, what would it be?
- What is something that gets in the way of you trying to keeping evangelism at the heart of your ministry?
- How can we, as a church, try to recreate the feeling of the believers in Acts 2? Is that something we should attempt to do at all, considering the differences in our cultures?
- Who is someone that you can introduce to Christianity, despite their “unworthiness?” Remember, ALL of us have fallen short of God’s glory.
Often, a danger that we may stray into in our evangelism is trying to convince others that they are doing things wrong, and that Christianity is the right way to live. While absolutely true, we must recognize that the early church attracted vast numbers to their group by simply living in a way that created a better world for those involved. They provided when someone was in need, spent time in each other’s company, and, most importantly, worshipped and studied the scriptures one body, yearning to know God better.
We have an opportunity to seek and save the lost, bringing the world to the foot of the throne of God. However, that will not happen until we put our own personal preferences and desires last, and choose to pursue that which is most important to God.
Take some time to pray that we as a church can always strive to keep only that which is important to God at that heart of our ministry to others. To be able to understand that seeking and saving the lost is the heart of the Father, and, therefore, should be the heart of the church, too.
In our eighth and final week of studying the “I am” statements of Jesus in the book of John, we are adding a “bonus” statement to the traditional seven. Typically, the passage in John 18 in which Jesus says “I am He,” is not included in what is studied. However, we felt it was a great passage to add to our series, because it gives us great insight into who Jesus is, specifically, I think, that He is both our Lord and our Savior.
If you have been baptized at some point in your life, you were probably asked a few questions during the ceremony. Usually one of these sounds something to the effect of the following:
“Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
Sounds pretty standard, right? The Christian believer accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior through the ritual of baptism to publicly announce that this is how they will now be living their life.
In his sermon on Sunday morning, youth pastor Steve Valdez talked to our junior high and high school students about Jesus’ interaction with the Roman guards in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you would like a refresher, open up to John 18, and read verses 1-11. Jesus actually makes the statement “I am He” twice in the conversation, but with very different intentions each time, demonstrating both his Lordship and the saving grace he extends to humanity.
Verse six informs us that there was a powerful after effect of Jesus’ first declaration of His identity. They “drew back and fell to the ground.” Now because we are given no other information as to what may have caused this sudden toppling, it is clear that it is a result of Jesus’ innate power as God emanating from within Him. In this moment, Jesus is Lord. He is demonstrating his Godhood and telling the soldiers that they do not have power over Him, that his arrest is only happening with his submission.
6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. John 18:6
However, the story continues. After the soldiers get up and brush themselves off, Jesus asks them again, “Who are you looking for?” When they respond the same way as before, so does He. With one caveat, Jesus adds to his second declaration of identity a command to allow his disciples to go free, and to just take Him away.
8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” John 18:8
In this moment, Jesus is Savior. With full knowledge of the events that would transpire as a result, Jesus emphatically asserts that he is who he is. While doing so, he creates a path for those with him, who are also guilty of blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking, to go free. Jesus takes on the full extent of the punishment himself.
So how do we respond to this amazing moment in scripture? We reclaim Jesus as both our Lord and Savior. While they may seem like a no-brainer, I want to challenge you to honestly examine your attitude toward Him. I believe that most people tend to follow Jesus as either one or the other. Some of us tend to see Him as just our Lord. We follow his commands, doing the things he did, and generally can check off the boxes of the physical acts of obedience that we carry out as our way to be faithful. While that is certainly not a bad thing, we often start to see those things we do as what saves us from hell. Like the Pharisees, we start to view the rules and traditions we follow as our savior, rather than the One who instructed us to do them.
On the other hand, many of us tend to simply allow Jesus to be our savior. We gladly accept his grace and forgiveness at our baptism, but then live life in ways that tends to gratify ourselves. Our behavior does not reflect the claim that Jesus is our Lord, the one whom we have given our devotion and on whose words we set our ways.
We will all fall into these categories at some point. You probably identify as one of them right now. Take time to repent and pray. Ask God for forgiveness and realign your thinking with the great I Am.
Is Jesus your Lord?
Is He your Savior?
Or is he who you claimed he was, both Lord of your life and Savior of your soul?
Missed Sunday’s Sermon? Listen to the I AM Series [here].
My wife and I have a cherry tree in our backyard.
It’s a nice enough tree, as trees go. It’s not too big, its roots aren’t intrusive, and it looks nice and creepy in the fall, as trees should. And yet, although the tree has several good things going for it, there is one flaw that my wife and I just can’t overlook. In fact, this flaw is so large, that we recently have been contemplating having it cut down.
What is this flaw, you ask?
It is a non-fruiting tree.
Sure, it has nice points, but we’ve been thinking of what else could go in that area, and really, the tree doesn’t serve a purpose right now. I feel like a non-fruiting cherry tree should really just be called a “tree”. The name “cherry” infers a purpose, doesn’t it? A cherry tree produces cherries, right?
I wonder, if we applied this same logic to Christians, how many of us would be “non-fruiting” trees? How many of us would not be fulfilling our purpose?
Let’s look to John 15:1-5
“’I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’”
Christians are meant to bear fruit. We are meant to produce for the Kingdom. When we do not, we are not serving our purpose. And if we aren’t serving our purpose…well…what’s the point? If we aren’t trying to grow the Kingdom in some way, growing the Church, serving in some way, making use of the talents God gave us, then what is the purpose of having those talents? We are meant to bear fruit.
Of course, the question often comes, “how do I do that”? Well, Jesus makes that clear in verse 10, “’ If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.’”
Do what Jesus said. Do what Jesus did. Just like a branch that’s been cut off from a tree can’t grow new fruit, there’s no way that we can bear fruit apart from Jesus.
That’s something worth repeating, just in case you didn’t get it the first time.
Just like a branch that’s been cut off from a tree can’t grow new fruit, there’s no way that we can bear fruit apart from Jesus.
Remain in Him. Do as He did. Bear fruit. Otherwise…what’s the point?
The Women’s Ministry Team at Harvest works diligently to provide opportunities for connecting in fellowship throughout the year, culminating in our biggest event of the year, our destination retreat. This year our theme was “Community through Connecting.”
A few weekends ago 31 women came together for an amazing weekend in Lincoln City at The Dawn Treader Retreat House.
During our time together we pursued the idea of community through time spent in individual solitude with God, discovering what it’s like to draw nearer to Him in silence and rest, and in time spent together connecting with our sisters, drawing closer to each other.
It’s beautiful to see God working through the hearts of women.
We worshiped together, prayed for one another, encouraged each other and, of course, ate our fair share of bacon and other delicious meals.
What a blessing to be able to go away for a weekend, learn what God has for each of us, and come back refreshed and renewed in Him.
We are grateful for God’s timing and leading over the past several months as we prepared for our 2017 retreat, and for each woman in attendance.
We are already looking forward to our 2018 Fall destination retreat to Lincoln City once again.
In the meantime, be watching for more events in the near future, like our “2nd annual Sock-ing Stuffers Exchange” planned for Dec 10th and our annual “All-church Chili Feed” in January.
Plus, for the first time ever we are hosting a repeat of this years retreat in the Spring to be held at Harvest Christian Church…more details coming soon.
Women’s Ministry Team
“I am the way, the truth and the life” John 14:6
“Don’t be Anxious, I am going away to be with the Father, but I will not leave you alone.” In this passage, Jesus announces that it is now finally time for him to depart, after saying as much four times in John’s gospel.
When trying to understand scripture, especially narratives loaded with emotion, I try to place myself (as much as leaping 2,000 years will allow) in the context. The disciples have experienced life with Jesus which was for them both perplexing (“but they didn’t understand what he was saying”, see Mark 9:32 among others) and exhilarating as they were witness to the Kingdom of God operating in the present! Each day held the potential of events filled with emotion. The blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life – all happen amidst the daily possibility of suffering at the hands of societal and religious leaders.
Try to put yourself in their place, remember a time, perhaps in childhood or later when you were faced with someone in your life leaving you. Even if the event was only for a short time, the absence of the person left a void in your day to day life. Here, the disciples are facing the total loss of Jesus’ presence, so they think.
As Jesus explains that He will be going to the Father and promises to return someday to take them with Him into the Father’s presence they see that as a “future promise.” Jesus is leaving, but they are staying behind without him! Understanding their anxiety he explains further saying in essence, even though I will be leaving you as you have come to know me in the flesh I will not leave you alone, “I will send you another Counselor, the Holy Spirit to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth.”
They would undoubtedly take comfort in the future promise, but that does not dull the pain of going on without his presence.The mystery of the persons of the Godhead should not obscure the fact that true to His promise, Jesus will be with them in the person of the Holy Spirit.
I have had the opportunity to study the Bible as an undergraduate student and then later in seminary but it wasn’t until serving in Czechoslovakia that I began to learn the necessity of living in the same promise given to the first disciples, “I will be with you until the end of the age,” Matthew 28. While I have many stories that illustrate the active counsel of the Holy Spirit I will share one short one here.
While visiting missionary friends in another central European country I accompanied them on a trip to the Russian border where they were coordinating a ministry with a well known Christian singing group from the USA. After a stopover, the singers continued on to their final destination. Unfortunately, one member of the group got lost. The group had no choice but to continue without him.
Somehow the lost member was able to contact his mother in the states and she, in turn, contacted the leader of the singing group.He had purchased a train ticket and would travel to Budapest hoping that someone could meet him there and reunite him with the group!
Since everyone else was busy and had a job to do, I was asked to travel back to Budapest, find him and get him back to the group. A few problems made this difficult: First, there are many trains that come into Budapest day and night, and we had not been given any specific information. Secondly, since I had never seen the missing person and all I had to go on was a description of the clothes he would be wearing and the knowledge that he had been in an auto accident that left him with a facial scar and loss of short-term memory.
When I arrived at the train station, I found it teeming with people, a few animals, vendors everywhere, all in constant motion amidst a cacophony of sounds. Faced with the circumstances, I wanted to return to where we were staying even though that meant admitting defeat. But, I had been entrusted with an important task, and my conscience would not let me give up.
I stopped and prayed, “God you know where this person is and which train he will come in on today please show me.” Hour after hour, train after train came in on the many tracks. I watched every single departing person but no one meeting the description I had been given emerged. As I began to pray again a thought came to mind (it was so against my normal character that it had to be the Holy Spirit), “he will be on the next train that comes in, on the far track.” Hesitant, but without other options I watched as the train pulled in and people stepped off. No one matching the description could be seen. Another thought came, “Just yell out his name and he will separate himself from the crowd, and you will recognize him!” I argued saying I don’t do such things. In fact, that would be way too embarrassing!
Again, no choice so I called out in a low voice but no response, several other tries led to nothing. “Yell, the inner voice said!” So going against my whole being, I yelled his name! I was amazed to see him slowly walking toward me. Getting closer, I saw the scar. After a short chat, I told him I had purchased a ticket for him, but we had only about 10 minutes to get him to the train at the other end of the station. My relief was short lived as he said something I couldn’t make out and pulled away from me and was immediately engulfed in the mob!
By now, even though I am a slow learner, I knew my only option was once again to trust in the presence of the Counselor to guide me in my latest emergency. My prayer wasn’t long or very spiritual, I simply said, “Lord, I only have a few minutes to get this man to his train. You know where he is and you know where I am.” Looking up I could see that four entrances emptied into a single area, so I prayed, (hoping that I was not foolish or offensive) “I will walk through this entryway into the common area, please have him meet me there.” I walked ahead, and the very second I arrived my missing person burst out from the crowd! I grabbed his hand and pulling him behind me got him on his train with only a few minutes to spare.
Our next decade living and ministering in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) demanded that I live daily, moment by moment at times, trusting in the presence of Jesus in the knowledge that there was no situation that was impossible. While I look forward to the future promise of being with Jesus in the presence of the Father, until then I rejoice in the awareness that God’s kingdom operates in the here and now.I am fully aware that all ministry is Jesus’ ministry and He chooses to accomplish it through each of us as we entrust ourselves to Him.
Written by Dave Snell
What is life, and where did it come from? When we die what happens to our life? Answers to these questions have not been obtained using the disciplines of science. Usually scientists can conceive of some idea or theory or method to unlock secrets of our existence but the mystery of life is so profound that no one has any idea how to investigate it. There is a reason for this. Life, like energy/power originates from outside the box we call a Universe. Unless one believes that God exists the questions cannot be answered. Life comes from God.1 If we have questions about it we should consult with Him!
Followers of Jesus must not fear that our existence will someday be explained and reproduced from scratch by human effort because cells and DNA are purely mechanical structures until they are joined with that mysterious thing called ‘life’. Once life leaves our body energy to the cells diminishes and our flesh begins to degrade (decompose) because flesh is purely mechanical, it operates even at the level of a cell in an organically mechanical fashion. In the New Testament Paul calls our body a ‘tent’; it is something we live in.2
Everything dies. Old cells are replaced by new cells, old creatures are replaced by new creatures, and old humans are replaced by new humans. This sounds like an idea drawn from Ecclesiastes but the implications of this observed truth resonate within me when I see liver spots on my hands, a lined face, and gray hairs reflecting back at me from the mirror. I am going to die and from the looks of things I am headed that direction faster each day. Science has its own problem trying to figure out life excluding God from the equation. My problem is more basic. What happens when my life leaves the tent it inhabits?
We can live as if we are immortal which is a careless and casual way to live when overwhelming evidence suggests otherwise. Television, video games and good times distract us from quiet contemplation needed to face the truth that our tent is not an eternal residence. Where will we go to live when the tent wears out? Science has no hopeful answers here; Jesus does. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even though he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”3
Generally, religion is associated with philosophy about good and bad, or right and wrong but Jesus is not a philosophy to adopt. He testifies about Himself that He is resurrection and life and that should be of interest to the whole world, not just me with my gray hair and liver spots. Resurrection is the central truth of Christianity. Jesus came to save the world from eternal death which in scripture is not oblivion but existence without even one single goodness or provision of God. In a parable Jesus described death without God as: existence without mercy, agonizing, yet being conscious of our misery.4 It is outer darkness (ignorance and lack of understanding) away from the light of God where there is weeping and great anger (gnashing of teeth).5 That is the fate of every human who has lived, or will live without the resurrection and the life.
When Paul writes to the Christians in the city of Philippi he associates knowing Jesus Christ as Lord with resurrection from the dead, …”that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings being conformed to His death: in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”.6 When we are baptized into Jesus we ‘are conformed to’ His death so that we might attain the resurrection.7 Baptism is much more than an outward sign of an inward change. It is where we ‘die’ to our fleshly thoughts, desires and motives and experience new life with help from Heaven. It is not our initiation, it is our decision to be found in Jesus and the Life that He is. The good news (gospel) leads us to baptism where we enter into new life in Jesus. Sometimes I do not feel like I have new life because the devil reminds me at a weak moment where I came from, or, a thought or attitude I no longer want to nourish crops up. At these times I am thankful that New Life is not based on my feelings, but on God’s promises. New Life is where I am going, not where I came from.
Peter James and John were witnesses to a conversation that Jesus had on a mountainside with long dead people.8 Elijah (who lived about 800 years before Jesus was born) and Moses (who lived about 1400 years before Jesus was born) had a conversation with Jesus that the three disciples saw and overheard about Jesus’s impending death which in the text of Luke 9 is described as a departure. Although Moses and Elijah (as well as Jesus) were radiant during the exchange the disciples recognized them perhaps by the nature of the conversation. Several things stand out here the most obvious being that death is not oblivion. It is just the end of the first chapter in the existence of one who is ‘in Christ’. Also, these two ancients were in comfortable conversation, like friends, with Jesus. Their intellects and personalities were preserved and active. Is this in store for you and me someday? I do not like death but departure has hope to it. The children of God get to depart the tent and move into radiant permanent digs9 unencumbered by aches and pains, fears, sorrows, or distressing thoughts.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that those who believe in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Written by Steve Long
- II Cor 4:16-5:5
- John 11:25-26a
- Luke 16:19-31
- 13:47-50 (esp. 50)
- Phil 3:1-14 (esp. vs. 10-11)
- Romans 6:1-7
- Luke 9:28-36
- I Cor. 15:50-58
We don’t have any sheep now, but we do have a couple of cows. When we are out in the field we learn about them and their nuances. The cows will usually come when we call, especially if we are holding a feed bucket. They understand what fences are and are even willing to get close to strangers if there is a fence between to protect both themselves and the people. If you look them in the eye, you can’t get as close as when you are spraying weeds with your back turned. Then you might turn and notice that they are a couple of feet behind you, wondering what you are doing. They won’t do this for just anyone; but with those they know, they feel safe enough to follow.
We did have an encounter with a man who was a good shepherd up in Washington one time. We were riding along on a mountain road and saw ahead that sheep were crossing the trail and had been crossing for some time, since they already stretched on for a quarter mile or so. We waited there for ten minutes, as the sheep continued to cross, before the shepherd’s dogs arrived. They were protective and kept us at a distance. Soon the shepherd came along, leading the last 200 hundred old and lame ewes. With his limited English and my broken Spanish, we talked for a while. He shared that he was taking the sheep to a different pasture and to where there was some good water. He carried a rifle and shared with some pride that he had even shot a cougar a while back. I asked how many sheep he had, and he replied that every time he tries to count them he falls asleep. (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.) There were about 1800 in the flock. It was lonely work; but you could see that he had the flock’s best interest at heart, and they felt comfortable with him.
Oh! How great the feeling to have a shepherd to lead and guide us, not just once, but on a daily basis…someone who loves us and has our best interest at heart even when we can’t see it. John 10 tells us, “The sheep listen to His voice. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all his own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from Him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus calls to us; and so often we even recognize His voice, but we want to follow our own way or even a stranger’s voice. Most of my frustrations and failures in life have come from not following the Good Shepherd. He is there waiting for me to return back into the fold, but He is not just waiting; he lays down His life for the sheep.
Lord, help me to know your voice more each day and to learn and choose to follow you.
Written by Ed Barker
I think it’s the weather and the return of green grass, but for some reason, at this time of the year I always start getting two very specific idyllic daydreams. One is of having a breakfast or two with a Hobbit in a Hobbit-hole (I have no teaching point from this one, but doesn’t that sound nice?), the other is only slightly more probable to ever occur and that is one of roaming the hills of Ireland with a trusty sheepdog rounding up my flock of sheep. I know that to many of you that sounds like a really strange daydream (or possibly a nightmare) but five of you get me. At any rate, I’d venture to guess that the majority of you when asked to picture a shepherd with his flock, imagine something similar to what I described.
In what has become Chapter 10 of the gospel of John in our modern Bibles, we read a passage where Jesus likens himself to a shepherd in order to answer the question that has been asked in Chapter 9, “Who is this Jesus and did he in fact come from God?”. He begins with a parable in which he contrasts the true shepherd of the flock to thieves. He says that the true shepherd enters through the gate or door and calls to his sheep who in turn follow him. In contrast, a thief enters by another way and when he calls to the sheep, they flee from him. Jesus’ listeners didn’t understand the parable and likely some of the meaning is lost on us because of the unfamiliar context. So let’s step back for a second.
Many of you are probably familiar with the idea of Jesus as shepherd either due to a number of biblical references to exactly that or to an oil painting you once saw. As such, when reading the parable our minds immediately jump to the picture of King Jesus as the shepherd. That’s not wrong; and Jesus eventually gets there, but first he does a rather peculiar thing and says “I am the door of the sheep.” It’s a little odd right? Even in our Western context we get the idea of the shepherd as a leader, but a door or gate?
At the time Jesus spoke, people would have had a different picture of shepherding than we do. In that time it was common for several shepherds to place all of their sheep together in one sheepfold at night. This would typically have been a walled area with only one door or gate. When a shepherd would return the next morning, he would call out to his sheep and, recognizing his voice, the sheep would come out of the door and follow him. If another person called to the sheep they would not follow. At night, a gatekeeper or under-shepherd would often act himself as the gate, lying across the entrance to keep the sheep in and predators out.
By referring to himself as the door, Jesus does a couple of things. First he claims that he is the true way and that all other ways are ultimately lies. If a sheep were to go out of a sheepfold through any way other than the gate it would be because a thief has taken him. Jesus says later that, “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” He is affirming the truth that only through himself, can we have the abundant life to which he has called us. All of the other paths will eventually lead to death. There is also a promise here though as well. As the door, Jesus is evoking imagery of safety. Remember it is the shepherd, or under-shepherd, himself that provides the actual security of the door. Jesus is emphasizing here the peace and fulfillment of a life lived in him. As we go into the world, living the lives he calls us to, he assures us that it is he himself that is watching over us. This echos the promises God makes to his people in the Old Testament on several occasions (e.g. see Psalm 121). This likely would have been provocative at the time and even now should bring us pause. Here Jesus is assuring us that when we follow his call, it is the very Creator and Sustainer of the Universe whose eye is upon us.
As our culture attempts to lure us into a life of materialism and self-importance, Christ calls us to a life of sacrificial love. To be clear, when pass through the door, the paths on which we follow our Lord will often be rocky and will frequently require us to listen intently for his lead. But while the call of the World leaves us with empty promises, the life to which Christ calls us is one that is truly abundant and always abounding with the deep assurance of his love.
Written by Andrew White
I ran away for the first time in 2nd grade—it only lasted the afternoon. By 8th grade frequently I would rush desperately to the isolated escape of our backyard to cry out in silent tears and mute screams until lumps formed in my throat, “God, just let me no longer exist.” The latter continued on for many years in the confines of various desolate moments, and there were plenty of events in my childhood to spur such actions and thought processes.
In all the dark moments, I remember the darkest most profoundly: my youngest brother suddenly passed away while self-medicating. After returning home to help keep things together, I found myself alone and crying once again. Crying until there was no more moisture in my eyes; apart from a small, feeble breath all physical or emotional output ceased. I found myself curled in the fetal position with a tingling sensation left over my skin. Once the electric buzz of nerves faded, I began to tumble into a dark pit where a thick, mind-numbing blanket of blackness encompassed me veiling even simple thought. There was nothing. Not even God could reach me here.
Or so I thought. . .
In 2007, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II– it leans heavily toward depressive episodes but tends to not include hallucinations. And still today I find myself dropping into dark pits. I cry out when no one else is around and, by God’s grace, sometimes when they are. My seasons of deep depression— that, yes, have included bouts of suicidality— can last for hours, or weeks, or month upon agonizing month. Now, I do not say this for you to consider or judge the spirituality of someone who is depressed or suicidal. Rather, I ask you to suspend judgement, and instead see God’s healing power amidst the darkness.
In the book of John the author writes of Jesus, “5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a– Understand] it. [ John 1:5 ] Hear it: Jesus isn’t afraid to go into enemy territory; he’s not afraid of the dark. Furthermore, in 3:19-21 Jesus exposes, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
Over time, I have learned the sound of the Spirit of Truth. [ 14:17 ] Through reading and being in scripture, talking continually with God, and meditating and listening with the Spirit I have learned to believe who Jesus says he is; subsequently, I have learned to believe who he says I am in him and through him. Not just in one passage or text, but in everything he says.
So when I find darkness building around me and blocking away what is true, or when I feel creeping, cloying tendrils of lies reaching towards me I listen for the voice of my Shepherd. [ 10: 9-14 ] His presence chases away the shadows and illuminates what is around me and in me so what is truly there can be known. [ 8:12 , 9:5 ] It is in those times I find he sustains me. [ 6:35-51 ] And, as I choose daily to abide in him [ 15:1 ], I believe he is the way, the truth, and the life [ 14:6 ] … because I am certain without him I would not have life, nor the truth of God’s love, nor a way to be reconciled to my Heavenly Father. [ 2 Cor. 5:18 ]
“I AM the light of the world.” [ John 8:12 ; John 9:4-5 ]
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” [ Matt 5:14-16 ]
Written By Chyanne Higgins