From Shepherd to Sheep

Friday, Sept. 19

No doubt you’ve heard a number of sermons on Psalm 23. It is probably one of the most beloved passages of Scripture. Yet, just like the rest of Scripture, there is never an end to learning more. I learned more in a recent sermon by Rob Buhl. David was a shepherd. He knew just about everything a person could know about sheep. They are helpless. They can’t defend themselves, and they are easy prey for wild animals. They can’t swim, and are afraid of running water. In fact, if they were immersed in water, their wool would take on water to the point they would sink and drown. They go astray and are dumb enough to get caught in briars and apparently unaware of carnivorous animals. If they manage to fall and end up on their backs, they can’t turn over and get to their feet. Left in this position they would die of thirst or starvation. They can’t be herded like cows; they need to be led. In short, they probably would not survive without being cared for. Knowing all this, David deliberately takes the role of a sheep before God, whom he acknowledges as his Shepherd. He places himself in a totally humble position before God, recognizing his helplessness to take care of his own life. What an example! No wonder God loved him—despite his gross failures. My name is David and I am honored to carry the name—which means “beloved” by the way. I don’t think I’m in King David’s elite company yet. Yes, I’m a gross sinner, too, though I’ve not had an encounter with Bathsheba. And I haven’t killed a Goliath, either. Sheep are not very smart, but they’re smart enough to realize they are in the hands of a good shepherd. That’s exactly the amount of “smarts” that I need.

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Faux Soldiers

Thursday, Sept. 18
“The best place to find helping hands is at the end of your own arms.”–Confucius. This makes me wonder if the politics of Confucius’ era was like ours. Do you suppose that there were people in his day who did nothing but depend on the government to look after them? The socialistic ethic is tragic. Thinking that the world—or the government—owes me a comfortable life is tantamount to going down the tube just as the Roman Empire did. Though I am opposed to socialism, I don’t really want to get into politics or social systems here. But there is a parallel in our spiritual lives. If we think we can just do nothing and let God change us into saints, we will inevitably remain ineffective and useless as servants of God. The entire New Testament is loaded with things we need to do, things to shun, things to believe. We have a vital part in being changed into useful servants, soldiers and co-workers with God in the fight against evil. There’s a paradox here. God does the sanctifying, but we need to work at being sanctified. The goal is to prepare us for spiritual warfare.
Imagine taking a man from his cushy job in an office and dumping him on the front line of a battle in war time. We don’t become hardened, efficient soldiers without rigorous training. So what have I done today to prepare me for battle? And what have I accomplished for God today in my role as a soldier? Please don’t press me on this point. Pray for me instead.

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Mosquitoes and Worms

Wednesday, Sept. 17

“If you think you are too small to be significant, think of the mosquito.—Quoted in a recent sermon. I don’t really like this analogy. I can’t think of anything less useful than a mosquito. Probably the only positive thing about a mosquito is its’ size. How would you like a few of them buzzing around your head if they were the size of a condor? Hard to swat! And I don’t like to think of myself as an evil to be avoided or squashed—although this might be closer to the truth than I like to think. Fortunately, God has a little better spin on human beings. Yes, we are rebels and deserve being swatted out of existence, but He died for us in order to bring us into a positive relationship with Him and the potential to fellowship with God, to serve Him and be spiritually productive. Thinking of myself as a disease ridden mosquito can be good. The analogy gives me a more realistic view of God’s love, mercy, and grace. Isaac Watts’ hymn “At the Cross” has a line “Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” I believe some modern rendition substitutes “one” for “worm.” I think Watts had it right. I don’t particularly like worms, either, but the analogy makes me aware of the cost of redemption. God’s glory can never be over emphasized.

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Misguided Expectations

Tuesday, Sept. 16

“Delay is not denial.” Tom Thieme. Most Christians accept the reality that God doesn’t always answer prayers in the way we expect or hope for. Neither do we understand why our requests are not immediately answered. Sometimes we wonder if God is even listening, which is a real possibility, by the way. See Ps. 66:18. So the little proverb above is nothing new. But it reminds us that we are immeasurably inferior to God. “His ways are past finding out” and it behooves us to recognize this in all aspects of life. God’s way leads to the fulfilling of all His purposes, much of which we don’t understand. So His dealing with us and our prayer requests have to fit into His plans, not only for us and our friends and relatives, but for the whole world, now and future. Rationally, we recognize this truth, but emotionally we often fall short. At times, our attitude reflects that although we know that God is sovereign and has an agenda for this world, we somehow think that we know how God should respond to our requests and are disappointed when God doesn’t “come through.” If we really believe that God is sovereign and all things are designed and controlled by Him for His purposes, we should rejoice when God responds differently than what we expect or hope for. We should respect Him for delaying a prayer request—or changing it totally—to achieve His purposes. Faith is the missing ingredient. We normally have enough faith to make a request, but not enough faith to submit that request to a loving and caring God. So don’t quit praying. And when you pray, pray for faith to accept God’s answers, whether you understand them or not. God will never let you down.

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A Lad and His Lunch

Monday, Sept. 15

No doubt there have been thousands of sermons preached about the lad who gave up five barley loaves and five small fish in the story of the feeding of the 5000. John 6:8-9. There is little detail concerning this boy, so anything we might surmise would be speculation. [I suppose that if the boy’s name had been recorded, someone would have tried to make him a saint.] It would probably be safe to say that he volunteered the food, probably a lunch that his mother had prepared for him. Did the boy step forward on his own or did a disciple spot the boy with his lunch and ask him to give it up? If so, it would have been a drop in the bucket in terms of feeding a multitude. How much did the boy know about Jesus? What would have prompted him to volunteer his lunch? And I would like to have known his reaction when he saw the crowd fed and twelve baskets left over. I fully expect to meet this boy in heaven and get the rest of the story.

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To Preach or Not to Preach

Sunday, Sept. 14

“Don’t let the things you can’t do hinder you from the things you can do.”—John Wooden. Most of us are so busy with a plethora of duties and concerns that we get to bed at night wishing we had gotten more done or that there were more hours in the day. It’s such a common element of each day that we accept it as a pattern and give little thought to it. We just feel bogged down and not quite satisfied with life. Wooden’s comment might help if we stop long enough to absorb it. Besides the things that we would like to do that never get done, are things that we simply don’t have the capacity to do, no matter how much time we have. This can be disheartening. I finally gave up on basketball at 81. Not too much of a problem. I spared myself the ignominy of making a fool of myself—plus I was never much of an athlete, anyway. I have given up driving at night. I can handle this, too. But there is one thing that I wrestle with. Although I thoroughly enjoy preparing a sermon, I find it difficult to deliver it. I can’t keep track of my notes very well, I lose my train of thought. I get depressed over my ineptitude. This is where Wooden’s statement becomes pertinent. Moaning over this lost capacity is wasted time and demoralizing. Wooden is right. I need to concentrate on the things I can do. One of them is this blog that I prepare for day. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy doing this. It doesn’t really matter a whole lot if anyone is reading it; my study is rewarding enough. I pray that it will also benefit someone else, too, but that is not top priority for me. The bottom line is that God has given us certain abilities, sometime diminished abilities, and we are responsible to use them to His glory. I hereby relinquish my (former) ability to preach.

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Give and Take

Saturday, Sept. 13

Marriages and politics have a lot in common. Some one said that the art of politics is compromise. To many, compromise is a negative word. It implies the sacrifice of a principle to expediency. But I think there is a positive use of this word. Our political system is based on “checks and balances.” Our forefathers knew that governmental issues are highly debatable. There is a problem, and there are ten or more possible solutions. Solutions come out of dialogue, debate, and confrontation. The core of this system is the assumption that men of character will debate the issue until they agree on a solution. To achieve consensus, there has to be “give and take.” This is compromise at it’s best. A married couple is in the same situation. A problem arises. There are different ways of solving it. Heart to heart discussion leads to an agreed upon solution. Probably both spouses have to concede something. No convictions are abandoned. Good politics! Marriage intact.

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