The Lord Is My Shepherd

This week, we are looking at the character of this One to whom we are called to submit. And one way we know the Lord is as our Shepherd.

Psalm 23 begins with the Hebrew words “Yahweh rohi,” the Lord my Shepherd. Yahweh, in our English Bibles LORD (in all caps), is the unique and sacred name of the Everlasting and Eternal God – the almighty, omniscient and omnipotent Creator.

The New Testament focuses on God incarnate, God in human flesh, Who we know as Jesus Christ. He is identified in John 10:11 as the Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” So both Father (Yahweh) and Son (Jesus Christ) are the Shepherd of those who have surrendered to their rule.

Psalm 23 was written by David, who during his youth had been a shepherd over his father’s flock. He took seriously his responsibility as the protector of the sheep.

In 1 Samuel 17, we read of some of young David’s experiences as a shepherd. In answer to King Saul’s concern that David was only a youth, not able to go against the Philistine giant Goliath who was taunting the army of Israel, David recalls some of the dangers he faced and overcame as he was tending sheep for his father, saying this Philistine would be like one of the lions or bears he battled as a shepherd.

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.” (1 Samuel 17:33-34 ESV)  

Sheep are definitely not the smartest animals God created! They constantly need to be under the watchful eye of a shepherd as they graze. In the hilly terrain of Palestine, sheep faced many dangers. For example, if one sheep jumped off a cliff, and there was no shepherd there to protect them, the whole flock would likely follow. Therefore having an alert and vigilant shepherd to watch over them was essential.

Let’s look at Psalm 23 verse by verse. In these six short verses, we are promised:

* RELATIONSHIP AND PROVISION:The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:1a‬) (The word translated “want” ‬refers to not lacking anything we need.)

* REST AND RESTORATION:He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3a)

* GUIDANCE AND PURPOSE: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:3b‬)‬

* GOD’S PRESENCE AND COMFORT:Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:4)‬

* BLESSING AND ABUNDANCE: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:5)

* GOD’S GOODNESS AND MERCY AND AN ETERNITY WITH HIM: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:6‬)‭

Like sheep, we are helpless, defenseless, and even purposeless without God in our lives. We need a Shepherd who will protect, provide, and give purpose to our lives. And God wants to be that good Shepherd in our lives.

There’s just one problem. As sheep we are not always wanting what our Good Shepherd provides. W. Phillip Keller, author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, wrote, “It takes some of us a lifetime to learn that Christ, our Good Shepherd, knows exactly what He is doing with us. He understands us perfectly.

We want the care of the Good Shepherd while still reserving the right to do things our way. But that’s not the way it works. Surrender to the One who is our Good Shepherd is to key to being able to partake of all the benefits of being one of His sheep. On this Thankful Thursday, let’s make sure there are no areas of our lives we are refusing to surrender to the Lordship of Christ and then give thanks to God for all the blessings that are a part of the life of surrender.

9D6ACD6D-4122-4122-949D-6CB77B736CA6

When I Surrender, I Worship

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans‬ ‭12:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When we began our study on surrender, Romans 12:1 was one of the first Scriptures we studied. Now that we are coming to the end of our study, we go back to this important verse.

Laura says, “Considering all that Christ has done for us – making us right with God by his atoning death, freeing us from the penalty and power of sin, lavishing us with his grace – how should we respond?

After eleven chapters full of rich truths that are the foundation of our faith in Christ Jesus, the apostle Paul begins chapter 12 of Romans with his answer to this question. How should we respond to the grace and mercy of God? The only appropriate response is found in surrender, in presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Paul says, this “is your spiritual worship.

We don’t surrender our lives to God to gain his favor. We offer ourselves to him in response to the favor he has already freely shown us because of the saving work of Jesus.

A CORRECT UNDERSTANDING OF WORSHIP
Worship is not an emotional response, though often emotions may be a part of it. Worship is not singing songs of praise, though singing is often a part of it. True worship is a choice to respond to God in gratitude and praise for who He is and for all He has done for us.

True worship, according to Romans 12:1, is presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Surrender is the main requirement for worship. And worship is to be constant because it is an expression of God’s worth, which never changes, even when our circumstances and emotions fluctuate from day to day.

Laura shares a feeling of apprehension when she first began to understand the link between surrender and worship. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. But none of us are holy. Even our best attempts at surrender are imperfect.

Laura says, “I can’t present myself as a holy and blameless sacrifice on the basis of my track record. But I can present myself to God as holy and blameless based on his mercy!” When God looks at us he doesn’t see our self-centeredness and failures. He sees in us the righteousness of Jesus.

As we bring this study to a close today and tomorrow, let’s spend some timBlamelesse in thanksgiving and praise. And to get us started, I want to share the chorus of a song written by Laura Story reminding us this life we have is no longer ours to do with as we please.

Not My Life

This is not my life
It is Yours, it is Yours
This is not my heart
It is Yours, it is Yours
I surrender all I am
Place my life into Your hands
Jesus, I am Yours
I am Yours

6FAE6ADC-358D-4307-B173-95A6A0ACD7B2

Jesus: Our Example of Surrender

This week, we are coming to the end of our study of I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life, by Laura Story.

Christian author Katherine J Walden said concerning surrender:

“The enemy knows that without surrender, we will never experience the freedom that God offers us. Without surrender, we will remain spiritually malnourished, ill and confused. Without surrender, our foxholes become prisons of the enemy’s making. Our lack of full surrender limits God’s ability to both work in our lives and through our lives.

“God’s call to surrender is not an intimidating, angry bark heard from the other side of a battlefield. God’s invitation to surrender is expressed through the example of his Son, Jesus, as described in Philippians 2:5-11.”

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians‬ ‭2:5-11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The call to surrender is a call to live like Jesus lived. He willingly took on human flesh, taking on the very nature of a servant. He humbled himself by becoming obedient, even to the point of death on the Cross of Calvary. His choice to always do whatever his heavenly Father asked enabled him to be victorious.

The decision to live a lifestyle of surrender to God can simply be described as following Jesus. And by making this choice, we are set free to live in the freedom God offers us, to walk in the victory he gained. 

A lifestyle of surrender is also a life of putting others before ourselves. As Laura Story says,  surrender has a “ripple effect.” If you’ve ever thrown a stone in the water, you’ve noticed the ripple effect – with concentric circles going out from the place of contact. How we live matters, not only in our personal lives but also in the lives of those around us. As we follow Jesus’ example, we aren’t the only ones who are changed.

Philippians 2:5 mentions that the mindset of Christ Jesus is to make a difference in our relationships with one another. And to understand more clearly what that means, we just need to look at the two verses right before this passage about the mindset of Jesus.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians‬ ‭2:3-4‬ ‭NIV‬‬

4192F283-55C5-40CA-8325-615FECDF0AFD

I wanted to close today with Laura Story’s latest song, one that reminds us of the victory that Jesus won on our behalf. As she says, “Our fears and our failures hang dead on the cross.” And because we were crucified with him, we are able to share in His life and His victory.  Following Jesus is choosing the lifestyle he lived, a life of daily surrender to the will of God. And doing so means sharing in His victory, which includes all of the benefits that are a part of that.

 

Love Is!

Our focus for this week in Laura Story’s Bible study “I Give Up” has been two-fold.

  • First, we looked at the “How” of surrender, in light of John 15. In simple terms, the key to developing a lifestyle of surrender is abiding in the Lord and allowing His life and power to flow through us. 
  • Second, we looked at The Fruit of the Spirit, with a focus on the first fruit listed, love.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23NIV‬‬

The fruit of the Spirit was never intended to be seen as a list of goals for us to fulfill. That is a task that is guaranteed to end in failure. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t fruit we can produce in our own strength. No, it is the Holy Spirit through us who produces this fruit.

Fruit in our lives is determined by who or what controls our hearts. Galatians 5:16 makes this clear. It says, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” But the opposite is also true. If you walk in the weakness of your flesh, you will gratify the desires of the flesh. That’s why we focused on abiding in Jesus, the true Vine, before looking at the fruit of the Spirit.

We demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit when we allow the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of Jesus, to flow through us to those around us. Galatians 4:6 says, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…” The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, at work in our lives, conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ.

Author Jerry Bridges said, “The fruit of the Spirit is fundamentally relational. Rather than originating with us, it flows to us from our union with Christ, and it flows beyond us to bring us into fellowship with others. The secret of this flow – and our unity with God and others – is humility.

The first fruit of the Spirit is love. Some have even said love IS the fruit of the Spirit and the other eight qualities are demonstrations of love. The English word for love has a very broad meaning. But the Greek word translated “love” in Galatians 5:22, “agape”, has a very precise meaning. This love is not a feeling but rather a choice. It is a godly love which comes directly from God. It is the very nature of God, an unconditional love that God has offered us freely and He wants to flow through us to others. It is a sacrificial love, as seen in God willingly offering His own Son to pay the penalty for our sins so we could be restored to relationship with Him.

As Christians, the fruit of the Spirit of love is demonstrated in two main ways. Both are commands, given by Jesus in Matthew 22: 37-39.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

First, we are called to love the Lord with our whole being. It’s easy to see this love as a demonstration of surrender. The apostle John wrote, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John‬ ‭1:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The second command to love has to do with our “neighbor” – and Jesus made it clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan that a neighbor is anyone in need of our mercy (see Luke 10:25-37). Love for our “neighbor” is described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

As you think about the fruit of love this week, I encourage you to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do I love God with my whole heart and soul and mind? If my answer is no, what or who do I love more than my Savior and Lord?
  2. How does God want me to be a conduit of His love to those around me, starting with my own family? Is there something God is asking me to do to show His love to my “neighbor”?

As you answer these two questions, don’t lose sight of the underlying truth from this week. In our own strength, we will never be what God has called us to be or do what God has called us to do. Be sure you are attached to the true Vine, Jesus Christ, because that’s the only way we can love like He loves.

43402BFD-2BAF-47C9-B0B0-3B8E7BE6AF2B

 

The “How” of Surrender

This week’s focus in the “I Give Up” Bible study on surrender focuses on the HOW of surrender. Laura Story says, “Surrender requires a willingness to change, it requires trust, and it requires active participation.”

But the truth that is central in this week’s teaching is that surrender isn’t about striving and human effort. Rather, it’s about GRACE and ABIDING IN THE VINE.

“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. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John‬ ‭15:5-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

To abide in Christ means to intentionally remain in an ever-growing relationship with him. The result is over time being transformed to be more and more like Him. Abiding in Christ means not giving up, but continuing on despite our doubts or hardships. Abiding in Christ means allowing God to continue the work He is doing in us by staying attached to our source of life and strength.

Abiding in Christ is the key to living a fruitful life. Charles Swindoll wrote, “Jesus never commanded believers to produce fruit. Fruit is the purpose of the branch, but it is not the responsibility of the branch. The branch cannot produce anything on it’s own. However, if it remains attached to the vine, it will receive life-sustaining sap, nourishment, strength, everything it needs.”

As I was doing some research online I came across an article by  Laura Story on what it means to abide. Abiding, she says, is “learning to be a branch.” What does a branch do? It simply remains attached to the vine, and allows the life of the vine to flow through it. Without making any effort itself, it bears fruit.

Laura says, “First of all, Jesus isn’t against doing. He calls us to do a great many things, yet the source of the strength for the doing MUST come from abiding.”

She adds, “I took a moment to gaze out my living room window and noticed something about the trees.  None of the branches seemed to be struggling to connect with the trunks, or vines, if you will. It is the most natural thing in the world for these branches to stay attached to their source of life and strength and nourishment.”

So how do we walk in a lifestyle of surrender? It begins by acknowledging in ourselves we lack the ability to do this. We learn to be a branch. We remain attached to the Vine, which is Jesus Christ. We walk by faith, spend focused time daily with the Lord and abiding in His Word. And then we step out to do whatever He instructs us to do, expecting His life to flow through us.

9B5CFC6E-A1AF-4AC9-9A18-888C322E2154

 

Jesus: His Example of Surrender

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” John‬ ‭6:38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We all look for ways to bypass suffering. I know I surely do. This morning, I’m in the middle of a flare in the eczema I was diagnosed with earlier this year. Eczema, also known as Atopic Dermatitis, is a chronic condition that causes an extremely itchy and painful rash. Yesterday afternoon and evening, and throughout the night as the painful rash kept waking me up, I was definitely looking for relief. But any help from the lotion and prescription meds only brought short term relief.

Looking for a way to avoid suffering is a characteristic common to all humans. Jesus Christ was God in human flesh, and His experience in the Garden of Gethsemane is one of the clearest pictures of His humanity. He wanted to bypass the suffering of the Cross if there was any other way to save us. But the Father’s answer was “No” and Jesus willingly surrendered to the will of the Father.

To get a clearer picture of the struggle Jesus went through, please read the account in Luke 22:39-46.

Jesus understood what it was to let go of His will when it did not line up with the will of the Father. In doing so, He gave us a pattern to follow.

  1. Jesus told His Father what He longed for – to avoid the suffering of the Cross was His desire.
  2. He listened for God’s answer – His “No” in this case. The suffering of the Cross was the only way to fulfill the purpose for which the Son of God came to earth.
  3. Finally, Jesus surrendered to the will of His Father, choosing it and embracing it fully.

As I read in Luke, some verses in Philippians 2 came to mind.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians‬ ‭2:5-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We are called to “have this mind” that Christ Jesus demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are free to bring our desires to God, to tell Him what we would like to happen in our current circumstances, but then we need to wait until He reveals His will. The battle is in the wait, in the time between sharing our desires and hearing God’s answer, and then if God’s answer to us is “No” in embracing God’s will with our whole hearts.

When we come to God with a willingness to let go of our right to be in charge and surrender to His revealed will in our situation, we can be assured of God’s presence with us no matter what lies ahead. When we let go, we can be assured that God will never let go of us.

4A13EDF5-1F64-44B6-848D-2F3171694753

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace or Anxiety – You Choose!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

When the apostle Paul wrote these familiar words, he was nearing the end of his two years of house arrest in Rome, which ended with his death as a martyr.  Based on a vision in which the Lord stood near Paul and told him he must testify in Rome (Acts‬ ‭23:11‬), Paul’s life took a drastic turn. When he testified in Jerusalem before King Agrippa, Paul appealed to Caesar and was escorted to Rome under armed guard. The apostle Paul spent the final two years of his life chained‬ to a Roman guard, but they were not wasted years. During that time, he wrote the books of the New Testament that we now know as Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, in addition to proclaiming the kingdom of God and boldly teaching all who came to see him about the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I did a study of the book of Acts earlier this year, reading the stories of Paul, Peter and the other apostles, their surrender to the revealed will of God, regardless of the personal cost involved, was something that stood out to me.  These leaders of the early church had a clear understanding of the subject of surrender, and they lived it out in their daily lives.

But Paul and the other apostles were also fallible humans, just like we are. We tend to put these men up on a pedestal, but I can’t help but wonder if before the apostle Paul wrote these words that teach us how to overcome anxiety he lived them out. The circumstances he faced certainly could have caused anxiety. I suspect Paul learned through personal experience how to replace anxious thoughts with the peace of God. And then he put what he had applied in his own life in writing, leaving us clear instructions on how we overcome anxiety.

When I saw Philippians 4:6-7 was one of the three focus Scriptures for this first week of our I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life Bible study, my first reaction was to wonder what these verses have to do with surrender. But as I’ve faced some circumstances that have caused some fear and anxiety about what lies ahead, I’m beginning to look at Philippians 4:6 through a different lens. The words “in every situation” stand out to me. I don’t know what your “every situation” might include, but mine right now feels a little scary.

Since all the options for treating the recent changes in my left knee have led to dead ends, I don’t know what lies ahead. Yes, I know I need to pray, but I’m having a little trouble with the specific requests since at this point I can’t see God’s plan. I’ve been taking time daily to express thankfulness to the Lord, but I can’t honestly say I’m walking in the peace of God. So how do we get to that place when we know something is wrong but we are powerless to change it? When we see no way out of our situation and don’t know what God is doing?

Laura Story tells of struggling with this when she was expecting their youngest son. After several normal ultrasounds, one wasn’t. Something was wrong, and she experienced anxiety about what was ahead. She says, “Now I knew something would be wrong, and I was powerless to change it. What needed to change most was me.”

She and Martin went to talk with their good friend and pastor, Bill. His advice was that this was a time they needed to wait on the Lord.

Laura agreed that she needed to wait on God, but immediately asked, “What steps do I need to take to do that?”

Bill’s answer was simple. “Wait is wait. There are no steps. You just surrender. And then you sit tight.”

When we face a situation that we are powerless to control and God hasn’t given us understanding of what lies ahead, anxiety may be our reaction. So what do we do in this situation? I’ll share how I usually handle this type of anxiety.

  • Surrender is the first step. Turn the reins over to God. He knows the end from the beginning, and He has the power to bring good out of even those situations that have our emotions in turmoil. Our first prayer is a prayer of surrender
  • Be still and remember He is God. He is still in control. Remember your situation isn’t too big for Him to handle.
  • Immerse yourself in God’s Word – read it, write it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it.
  • Then wait. Wait on God and keep waiting until He reveals a step you need to take or your situation changes. Don’t jump ahead of Him, but when He speaks be quick to obey.
  • Finally, give thanks that He is God and in control of your circumstances. Thank Him for the things He is teaching you though this situation, for the work He is doing in your life as you wait on Him.

Situations that we are powerless to control are NOT beyond God’s control. Surrender to His plan, draw close to Him, and wait expectantly for Him to work. Your circumstances may not change overnight, but you will begin to change.

26CE8215-748F-480C-951C-F83AA6783183