IT IS WRITTEN

sheepThe thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. [John 10:10-12 (ESV)]

I came across a cartoon drawn by Paul Noth in which an enormous billboard overlooks a pasture inhabited by a flock of sheep. The sign, a political advertisement, shows a picture of a smiling wolf in coat and tie with the words: “I am going to eat you.” Looking up at the billboard, one sheep tells another, “He tells it like it is.” Would that all politicians were so forthright!

While it was political commentary on the part of Noth, seeing the sheep in the pasture made me think of how often we’re compared to sheep in Scripture. Unlike that wolf, however, Satan would never be so honest as to openly announce his intention to devour us. Instead, like many politicians, he distorts the truth and makes false promises.

In Matthew 4, we read of Jesus being led into the wilderness to be humbled and tested. For forty days Jesus fasted and, during that time, Satan visited Him. Like a politician who knows the people’s hunger and promises a chicken in every pot, Satan tempted Jesus to tell the stones at his feet to become bread. He then took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple and, like a true politician, offered only a half-truth. Citing God’s promise to protect His people, Satan dared Jesus to jump. Finally, he took Jesus to a mountain peak where he promised to give Him all the nations of the world if only He’d kneel down and worship him. Like many a politician, Satan promised something he couldn’t deliver—it wasn’t his to give away! In all three cases, Jesus countered Satan’s deceitful words with Scripture. “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone. … It is written, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test. … It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” [Matthew 4:7-10]

Unlike the sheep in Noth’s cartoon, our shepherd has not left His flock defenseless. We’ve been given the armor of God, including a sword, with which to defend ourselves from the wolf’s attack. That sword is God’s word. Perhaps, it’s time to sharpen up our blades with some Bible reading so that, when we’re tempted, we too can say “It is written…!” It was Thomas Jefferson who said, “A well informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.” Those words apply to the citizens of God’s kingdom, as well; when we know the truth, the enemy can’t bamboozle us with his lies.

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. [Psalm 119:11 (ESV)]

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CLOSE ONLY COUNTS IN HORSESHOES

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that every one who believes in him shall not be lost, but should have eternal life. … Any man who believes in him is not judged at all. It is the one who will not believe who stands already condemned, because he will not believe in the character of God’s only Son. [John 3:16,18 (PHILLIPS)]

prairie coneflower - grey-headed coneflowerWe have friends who attend what I call the church of “what’s happening now.” While they acknowledge a “higher power,” it may or may not be God. There may be an afterlife or reincarnation and, then again, maybe not. Although they look to the Bible for wisdom, much of it is considered mythical and legendary. They also find spiritual inspiration in texts like the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu), Dhammapada (Buddhism), and Tao Te Ching (Taoism). Theirs is an eclectic mix of beliefs with each person having his or her own personal truth. They are loving caring people who believe in good things like justice, compassion, peace, protecting the environment, and the dignity of the individual. Nevertheless, while some of their thinking may be correct, their conclusion is wrong.

C.S. Lewis asserts that while many non-Christian religions have good ideas and may not be entirely erroneous, they most definitely are not correct. He points out that, while some math answers might be closer to being correct than others,  there is only one correct answer to the problem. If, for example, we had to determine the volume of a cone, we’d begin with the formula (1/3 x b x h). Before starting, however, we’d have to figure out b, the area of the base (pi x r2). What with two formulas, several multiplications and one division, there are plenty of opportunities to get the final answer wrong. If the wrong formulas are used, no matter how accurate the figuring, the answer is wrong. If both the formulas and math are correct but the wrong number for pi is used, the answer is wrong. If everything is done correctly but the decimal is misplaced, while nearly correct, the answer still is wrong. Although a nice math teacher may give us some credit for being partially correct, I’m not so sure God works that way. As Lewis points out, although some of the answers offered by other religions are closer to being right than others, Jesus Christ is the only correct answer to the problem.

A mathematician is given a set of axioms and postulates (mathematical truths) on which he is to base his figuring. They are his foundation—the starting point for reasoning and truth. While mathematicians may arrive at the same answer in different ways, they share a belief in the same basic truths. Within those basics, they are free to measure, calculate, and theorize to their heart’s content but they must abide by those basic truths until one of them is proved wrong.

Our creeds are the axioms and postulates of Christianity. These basic truths of our faith are based, not on the works of Aristotle or Euclid, but on the Bible and the words of God. Within those uncompromisable Christian truths, we are free to make choices. Some people worship on Saturday and others on Sunday, some baptize with a sprinkle of water while others are fully immersed, some kneel when praying and others stand, some observe Lent when others don’t, and some have two sacraments while others observe five additional ones. Nevertheless, our Christian creeds are just that—Christian—and they clarify and encompass our universal beliefs so that we all share the one and only right answer!

You all belong to one body, of which there is one Spirit, just as you all experienced one calling to one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, one Father of us all, who is the one over all, the one working through all and the one living in all. [Ephesians 4:4-6 (PHILLIPS)]

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THY WILL BE DONE

Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. [Matthew 6:10b (RSV)]

zinniaIn our house, we have an unwritten agreement to accept each other’s choices when it comes to giving. God had laid it on my heart to help a young family in our church through some difficult financial times. When I told my husband I’d written a generous check to them, he said I didn’t need to ask him. “I wasn’t asking,” I replied, adding that I hoped he was in agreement with me. Although that check was not dependent upon my husband’s authorization or approval, I still wanted him on board with my decision to write it.

I thought of our exchange while praying, “Thy will be done.” I’d mistakenly thought I was merely consenting to or accepting God’s will with those words. God, however, certainly doesn’t need my agreement for His will to be done any more than I needed my husband’s permission to write that check. God is all-powerful and whatever He wants to do, He easily can do without my prayers, input or approval. Why then then did Jesus tell us to pray those words?

“Thy will be done”—are they simply words of resignation and surrender? While that sentence is one of humble submission, I think there is much more to it. We’re asking God to reveal His will and praying for the obedience, wisdom, guidance, and means to accomplish it. We’re asking God to reassure us so that we can trust Him and go about achieving His purpose in eagerness and joy. We’re not offering a prayer to authorize or strengthen Him; we’re praying that He will strengthen and empower us. With those words, we’re thanking God for knowing what is best for each and every one of us.

In our daily walk, we have a choice. God can drag us along (much I had to drag the dog into the vet’s office) or we can eagerly follow Him. Either way, whether we’re kicking and screaming or moving enthusiastically, God’s will shall be done. Nevertheless, in praying, “Thy will be done,” we fully commit our hearts to that will. It’s saying, “Here I am, Lord. Put on my armor, send me into battle and keep me strong in the enemy’s attack!” Heavenly Father, thy will be done!

Prayer is not so much the means whereby God’s will is bent to man’s desires, as it is that whereby man’s will is bent to God’s desires. [Charles Bent]

And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” [Luke 9:23 (RSV)]

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MAKE IT PERSONAL

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT

white peacock butterflyI recently read a devotion that suggested substituting our own personal anxieties and concerns for the troubles listed by Paul in Romans 8. Perhaps your version would read: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither old age nor loss of loved ones, neither cancer nor dementia, neither our fears for our wayward children nor our worries about finances—not even the powers of terrorism and hate can separate us from God’s love. No hurricanes or earthquakes—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Then again, maybe widowhood, heart disease, migraines, foreclosure, floods, stroke, bullies, loneliness, crime, hunger, depression, fires, hard times, debt, anger, betrayal, homelessness, violence, or tornadoes would be on your list. However you fill in the blanks, Paul’s words remain true and bear repeating. Nothing—absolutely nothing—can separate us from God’s love as shown in Jesus Christ.

That God is for us, however, doesn’t mean we have no enemies. In fact, Paul’s words were written to the Roman church, a church that underwent tremendous persecution for the following 300 years. We encounter threats from both physical and spiritual enemies daily. What it does mean is that those enemies, no matter how powerful they are, can’t turn God against us. Because God gave His only son to save us, we can be sure, not just of his unchanging and everlasting love, but of our salvation.

What troubles would you substitute for Paul’s in Romans 8? No matter what they are, rest assured in the promise that the battle is already over and overwhelming victory is ours through Christ our Lord!

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? … overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. [Romans 8: 31b-32,37b (NLT)]

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A BOATLOAD OF BLESSINGS

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. [John 10:10 (ESV)]

It was morning along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Fishermen on shore were cleaning their boats and nets after a night of fishing. The mood was dark and the men were glum. It had been a disappointing night and their nets had returned to them empty.

As people gathered around Jesus to hear his message, He sat in one of the empty boats and spoke to the crowd from there. He then presumed to tell these experienced fishermen take their boats out again and drop their nets. What did Jesus know? He was just an itinerant preacher and carpenter from Nazareth. The fishermen, however, didn’t argue about his lack of credentials nor did they point out that the best time for fishing was evening and not daytime. There were no complaints about being tired from a night of work and no grumbling about having just cleaned the nets. Instead of questioning Jesus about his fishing knowledge, they simply obeyed. The result of their obedience was a record-breaking catch! If we followed Jesus’ advice as readily as did Simon Peter and the others, just imagine the blessings we might gather in our lives!

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. [Luke 5:4-7 (ESV)]

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NOAH AND THE RED TAPE

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith. [Hebrews 11:7 (NLT)]

pikaWhat if God came to Noah in 2018 with his ark building orders? As the rain started to fall, God would probably find Noah sitting on a small pile of wood. When asked about the absent animals and missing ark, Noah would reel off a litany of excuses. Boat building wasn’t allowed in his neighborhood so he had to go before the planning commission, zoning board, and city council for rezoning. The ark building permit couldn’t be issued until the blueprints were revised to allow for the required sprinkler system, emergency lighting, additional bathrooms, handicap accessibility, and a commercial kitchen. After the electric company insisted he pay for the raising of several power lines for the ark’s passage to the shore, the Army Corps of Engineers said he had to get a permit to dredge the channel once there. Noah’s explanation that both were unnecessary since the sea would be coming to him fell on deaf ears. FEMA said Noah couldn’t start his work until an environmental impact study was done on the proposed flood. Although he countered that he wasn’t proposing a flood but was just preparing for one, he had to wait until the study was finished. Because of a threat to the hazel dormouse and the great crested newt, there was a logging moratorium and he couldn’t get any wood. After getting in a dispute with the CDC and USDA about importing and exporting animals, PETA and the ASPCA claimed Noah was collecting wildlife against their will and that placing them in pens on a boat was cruel. Even though he was trying to save rather than harm them, an injunction now prevented him from gathering or possessing any animals. Noah added that he’d also had run-ins with the EPA about using tar to waterproof the ship and the Coast Guard about the number of passengers and animals that could come aboard. “Lord, I tried, but what you asked was impossible!” he cried.

Fortunately, the deluge happened 5,000 years ago and long before man’s invention of bureaucracy. If the real Noah had allowed circumstances to deter him from God’s task, mankind’s story would have ended in the sixth chapter of Genesis. In actuality, however, it probably wasn’t a whole lot easier for him than this fictional Noah. Gathering the materials, building the ark, explaining the project to his family, dealing with skeptical neighbors, supplying the ship, assembling and loading the animals—all posed tremendous challenges. Noah, however, is called a righteous man; described as blameless, he was a man who walked with God. Even in the 21st century, a man like that wouldn’t let any amount of red tape keep him from doing God’s will!

What my fictional Noah didn’t understand is that we are to fear God above all others—even indignant neighbors, government bureaucracy, and angry protesters. There is an urgency in our obedience to God that has been lost in today’s world of red tape and excuses. The real Noah did everything that God commanded him to do when God told him to do it and God expects us to do the same. When God assigns a task, He doesn’t abandon us. He equips, enables, provides and qualifies us and will give us all the resources, skills, and direction necessary to do His work. Let us remember that the Jordan River didn’t stop flowing for the Israelites until the priests’ feet had touched the water! If we are doing God’s will, He will hold back the water when we bravely step into it or provide us with a giant pair of scissors to cut through the red tape when we get tangled in it. All we have to do is trust Him enough to take that first step.

Each of us may be sure that if God sends us on stony paths He will provide us with strong shoes, and He will not send us out on any journey for which He does not equip us well. [Alexander MacLaren]

May he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:21(NLT)]

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