Arms of The Shepherd

Just yesterday I witnessed something that made me think about the space in our being that needs to be filled with peace; some call it a hole in the heart that aches to know comfort and joy when something unpleasant strikes. What I saw was a little boy, about two, who was playing near his watching mother. In his moving about he stumbled and fell, causing him to drop the toy car he clung to with his tiny fingers. His reaction? He began to cry. His mother stooped to gather him in her arms. That’s nice, I thought, seeing her love and concern on her face, but what happened wasn’t so nice. Instead of snuggling into his mother’s arms, he struggled and wiggled to get away. She set him down. The tears continued. He stood there crying alone in his little world. Finally, he took a step toward his mother and raised his arms. She picked him up and held him close. He lay his head on her shoulder, accepting her comfort until his own tears and fears melted away.

I told myself to remember this incident the next time I experienced an ache in my heart, a disappointment in my life, an unexpected dilemma to handle. I told myself that just as that mother came to the aid of her little boy, my Heavenly Father was always there, ready to swiftly come to my aid. I also reminded myself that I, too, like that little boy, sometimes struggled and wiggled to go my own way, to ignore my Father’s comfort and guidance. I could take care of myself and my own problems. Of course, just as many of you have discovered, making our own path never solves anything. It does add to the havoc and pain we’re already experiencing. Like many of you, I also find that, just as the little boy who finally returned to his mother for comfort, my Heavenly Father is waiting for me to turn to Him for my every need. When I settle into His presence, His own peace seeps from His heart into all the hurting places inside of me. He gives a peace that the world cannot give. We only need to snuggle into His presence.

When we stumble, when we hurt, when we feel alone, remember psalm 23:4, “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.” When I was younger I didn’t understand the rod and the staff. They didn’t sound like something of comfort, until I realized they were used by shepherds to rescue their sheep who had perhaps slipped down a ravine or stumbled into weeds. The rod and staff were used to lift them up into the safe arms of their shepherd.

May we all be quick in our personal pain to look to our Heavenly Father. His arms are always open to guide, comfort and soothe.

Taste a Little

My parents once told me a story of when they first married. Dad told Mom that he didn’t eat “green things.” Mom just said, “taste a little.” She cooked broccoli, turnip greens, etc. Dad would taste a little. He told me it wasn’t long at all before he was eating “green things” and loving it. What he hadn’t wanted to bother about, he found to be delicious and craved more.

Over the years I’ve had Christians admit to me, “I don’t read my Bible a lot, but I pray, listen to worship songs, etc. because there’s so much about the Bible I don’t understand.” I always try to encourage them to read because mainly, God tells us to do so. It may seem a daunting task. Apostle Peter understood this. Perhaps that’s why he said in I Peter 2:2, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that you may grow.” (NLT) In other words, taste a little. You may think you won’t understand but don’t underestimate the teaching of the Holy Spirit within you. You may think it boring in places (some tell me the Old Testament is boring to them) but again, don’t underestimate the Holy Spirit. He can and will make the truths on every page come to the light of your understanding and joy.

God’s Word instructs us to read, but then it tells us why — “that you may grow.” What grows within us when we read God’s Word? We grow in our faith, trusting Father to take care of us in our most perilous of situations. We grow inner peace that comes only from God Himself. This is not any peace the world gives; it is a Holy peace of God, transcending all human understanding. We grow joy that is not snuffed out even in the darkest, most troubling moments of our lives. When we obey God, “hiding His Word in our heart,” (Psalm 119:11) then we grow in holiness ourselves, desiring not to willingly sin, and being quick to seek His forgiveness when we do, so that lost joy returns. When we pay attention to God’s love letter to us, we grow in our own love toward Him, cherishing the private moments of our alone time in His presence, listening as the Holy Spirit speaks words of love to us.

Never forget, obedience brings blessings. Your Heavenly Father has instructed us to taste His Word so we may grow. When we obey, the blessings are abundant. May you feast today on His Word and enjoy the banquet of joy, peace, love, courage, and holiness that grow as a result.

Following the Plan

A friend recently gave our dog, Jack, a giant toy giraffe. Well, it’s a giant to Jack at 18 inches (45cm) long, the longest of all his toys. Jack loves that giraffe. Every night he runs down the hall to bring his giraffe to bed. He shakes it, fleeces it, and goads me to throw it down the hall so he can retrieve it before he settles down with giraffe as his pillow. We have great fun with giraffe, but this morning I have taken giraffe, along with all his other toys, and have put them away. Jack can’t have giraffe for a whole month.

Many of you reading are praying much for Jack as he has surgery today to remove a cancerous tumor on his left gum. The surgery is rather extensive, removing three teeth, along with the bone above. The surgeon explained this is the best way to insure the cancer doesn’t return. She also assured us with confidence, that in a month Jack will be playing with his toys, eating his normal food again, and chewing his bones and peanut butter sticks. Until then, soft mushy food is all that is on the menu. No bones, no sticks, no toys.

Yesterday morning my mother and I were playing with Jack, knowing the plans we had for him. He, of course, didn’t have a clue. We put him in the car. He probably assumed we were going to the park, but we took him to the animal hospital. Jack didn’t know we were leaving him there, but we knew the plans in full. He has no idea today that he’s going to have a major operation, but we are completely aware of what is about to happen to our Jack. When it’s all over, we will bring him home, feed him what he needs, cuddle and soothe him, and love him back to good health. The cancer will be gone and Jack will be in good health once again. None of the above is in his mind, but we know all the plans.

You know what I’m going to say, don’t you. It’s the exact same with all God’s children. Today we may be happily going along our way. Life is good, seemingly problem free. All is well — today — but we don’t know the plans for tomorrow. What might Father allow in our lives tomorrow, in the next hour? Is there something inside of us that needs to be changed? Perhaps it’s just a matter of making us even stronger in our trust and faith in Him; helping us to be more like Jesus Himself, taking on the Family resemblance. Will Father take us to the operating room? Will it hurt for a while? Perhaps, but you and I know, like Jack happily and trustingly walked into the animal hospital, we can happily and trustingly walk wherever our Father leads us. The path may be hard, but the results promise to be one full of spiritual health and strength. There is no earthly joy to compare with the results of our Father’s leading. Plus, unlike my mother and I concerning Jack, we can’t be with him on the surgeon’s table today. Our Father, however, never leaves us. When we must travel a painful path, be assured He is right there with us, carrying us when needed.

In His perfect and deep love for us, the Lord is always speaking these words over each one, “‘I know the plans I have for you’, says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.'”

Whatever may be difficult for us today or tomorrow, we must remember, Father is there, too, leading, molding, comforting, arranging matters for our very best. May you and I always be quick to say, “He knows the way that I take. When He has tried me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10) If Jack can trust the plans we have for him, surely we can do the same with God and His plans for us. After all, His plans never fail, and always turn out for our very best. One last thought — if my mother and I hurt for what we know Jack is going through — doesn’t Jesus, who knows all our pain, hurt for us, too? Oh, what love!

Who Truly Understands?

We have probably all heard the statement, or uttered it ourselves, “you don’t understand!” Parents hear their teenagers declare this. Friends say it among each other, as well as work colleagues discussing the boss. There are situations throughout life that may cause us to consider — no one truly understands. Such a belief creates a feeling of helplessness around us. We feel alone because no one understands what we are going through; so we tell ourselves.

I came upon Hebrews 5:7 this week. It is referring to the time Jesus died an horrendous death to pay for the sins of the whole world. He was 100% God and He was 100% man; therefore, He felt everything we feel. Just before He was arrested and taken away to be publicly executed by crucifixion, He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Actually, He was pleading. Verse 7 tells us, “While Jesus was here on earth, He offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the One who could rescue Him from death.” Some of that prayer is recorded in Matthew 26:39, “…He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”

When Jesus “fell to the ground and prayed,” He was expressing two things: agony and submission. He knew what was coming if the situation was unchanged. He was in turmoil, tears flowing, face to the ground, but Jesus trusted His Father. This is key! In His tears He was able to say to His Father, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done.” In the depths of suffering, hoping His predicament could be changed to fulfill His mission another way, He focused on something vital to being blessed Himself and to being a blessing to others. He focused on obedience. Jesus knew, obedience brings blessings; not some of the time, but all of the time.

The next time we experience the deepest throes of grief, or wrestle with tormenting, emotional pain, may we remember Jesus. He understands best of all. He has been there, face down, weeping in despair, seeking a way out, but ultimately trusting His Father to bring Him through. Now Jesus sits at the right hand of His Father. He basks in glory. He represents us to His Father. He is waiting for His Father to say, “It’s time, Son. Go and get Your bride.” Then we, the body of believers, the bride, will be blessed with eternal joy in a place where tears and pain exist no more.

The next time any of us feels — no one understands — may we remember this incident in the life of Jesus and know beyond all doubt — He understands and He cares deeply for the pain we suffer, for every tear we cry, and He will bring us through.

To Prosper or Not to Prosper

There are many verses in God’s Word about prospering, and there are many Christians who misunderstand those verses. They read the word “prosper” and mistakingly think of material riches, but God promises something of far greater value. Material things will eventually fade away, and they cannot guarantee our happiness. Many are the stories of rich people who died in misery.

Our Heavenly Father promises something that won’t fade; something that brings inner peace, joy, and strength that the world can neither give nor steal away. When difficult times come, don’t we want courage? When grief enters, don’t we want peace? When hardships strike, don’t we want joy? The secret to all of this is described in Psalm 1.

God gives us a blueprint to prosper here. Simply put, it’s all to do with our choices. If we choose not to copy the ways of those who blatantly disregard God, mocking His ways; deciding instead to focus on God’s Word, meditating on it everyday, then we will prosper. This Psalm tells us we will be “like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” So, what exactly is this prospering? It means we may cry but inner joy will bubble. We may be angered but peace will win within. We may be weakened in our spirit, but God’s own strength will prevail within us.

Just this week I received the unexpected news that someone who had become dear to me had passed away. Upon reading those words I felt a jolt! Oh no! A surge of sadness washed over me, but it did not overcome me. Along with the jolt came the reminder that my friend was now whole, ecstatic with joy in the presence of Jesus, and we would definitely meet again, when I, too, would be whole and ecstatic with joy in the presence of Jesus. As quickly as grief had come through the door, the presence of joy melted the sadness away. I was prospering in joy and peace! Oh, what riches!

You see, when we daily practice meditating upon the truths found in God’s Word, then nothing this world throws at us can knock us down. Why? Because we are rich! We prosper in the truths of God’s Holy Word. We thrive in His joy that is stronger than despondency. We sense the Lord’s peace that is deeper than any chaos. We walk in the strength of God that overpowers all else.

With God we prosper daily. We have His riches, enabling us to get through anything at all, and to do it in joy. peace, and strength. May you focus on God’s Word daily and prosper in His never-ending wealth. To focus on anything else is certain poverty.

The Beauty of Trust

Many of you reading know the saga my mother and I have been through the last several weeks from the moment we learned our sweet dog, Jack, has cancer. It began with losing a tooth and further discovery of shattered jaw bone. What a blessing in disguise because it revealed cancer. He possibly has two types of cancer cells; the spreading kind and the non spreading. A more conclusive test is being done which will reveal, according to the type of cancer he has, the extent of surgery he needs.

Jack has no idea what is going to take place in the next two weeks. He will have some type of jaw surgery to cut out the tumor. Thankfully, the CT scan showed no spreading of cancer anywhere else in his body. There is hope that removing the tumor will allow Jack a long and healthy rest of his life. It will be painful for Jack for several days. His food will be mush. He won’t be able to enjoy chewing his peanut butter bones. He won’t know why, but one thing for certain, he will trust. We will be with him, take care of him, nurture him, encourage him, give him chin tickles and ear twirls. We will lovingly do all we can to help ease him through. We love Jack. Then it will all be over and he will be healthy again. He will run and play and sling his toy squirrel and giraffe around. All will be well in his world.

I began to think that it’s really no different for you and me in our spiritual worlds. Sometimes our Heavenly Father sees something in our lives that is undesirable. Sin is like cancer. Left unchecked it will surely kill, steal, and destroy our joy and peace. Our loving Father sets us upon His potter’s wheel. He begins chiseling and cutting away the cancer. It can be painful. We may need time to recover as we seek forgiveness and restore ourselves in His sweet fellowship, but oh how worth it all! There is no joy like walking the road of holiness with our Father’s perfect ways in focus. While the thief, Satan, wants to steal our joy; by contrast, our Father desires to give us an abundant life.

Jack doesn’t know what’s coming but it will be for his best. You and I don’t know what tomorrow holds. Nor can we even be certain what may happen by the end of today. Take comfort and courage in knowing, Father loves, and heals, and holds us. Sometimes pain is allowed in our lives, not because of sin within, but of a need to grow stronger, to become more like Jesus, to better let our light shine. (Matthew 5:16) There is no strength like the very fortitude of God in our lives. Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10 NLT).

Jack is oblivious of tomorrow but he trusts us completely. May you and I be the same. In what we cannot see, may we trust and know — Father loves and nurtures, and hugs us in His heart. If Jack can trust us in our imperfections, surely we can trust our Father in His perfect plans for us. As that old and wonderful hymn declares, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

When We “think Carefully”

I’ve been reading in the New Testament book of Hebrews this week. I’m in the midst of “thinking carefully” as mentioned in chapter three. We see this phrase in the very first verse of this chapter, “Dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s Messenger and High Priest.” In the original Greek it is the word KATANOEIN. It doesn’t mean to simply mull over something; rather, to give earnest attention in order to learn and understand.

Therefore, just in this one verse we gain tremendous encouragement. When we “think carefully” or give earnest attention to the fact that Jesus calls us His brothers and sisters, we are reminded of our special place in God’s own family. We belong to Him. Nothing will ever change that for us. We are God’s sons and daughters with eternal inheritance of all His riches in Heaven. When we “think carefully” about that, we can’t help but be joyfully humbled at what He has done for us. Being a part of God’s family gives us hope when despair tries to take over. It gives us the joy of belonging. It gives us a serenity that cannot compare to any other peace this world may give.

Next, when we “think carefully” giving earnest attention to the fact that we are partners in the family business, we aim to bring glory to Jesus by the way we live our lives, and why wouldn’t we want to do this when we “think carefully” about all He has done for us? We never deserved it, but Jesus loved us so much He made a way to make us His family, by paying for our own sins in the death of His own body. Then, He conquered death by rising to life again! Since Jesus conquered death, and since we belong in His family, we are also promised to conquer death, rising again to live with Him for eternity.

When we “think carefully” about being in God’s family, we also have a compelling desire to bring others into the family, that they, too, may know the same height of joy and hope that bubbles within us. When we give earnest attention to the fact that Jesus is God’s Messenger, sent to bring the Good News that forgiveness of all sin and promise of eternal life with Him is ours for the asking, then encouragement takes root as we realize afresh His great love for us.

When we “think carefully” about Jesus being our High Priest, what comfort we gain in facing all our trials, because as our High Priest, Jesus represents us to His Father. Our faith increases in the knowledge that nothing is too hard for God. He will be our constant help. He becomes our everything to get us through anything. When we receive Jesus, nothing can ever separate us from Him. We are His family forever. Therefore, we all, brothers and sisters of Jesus, empowered with the Holy Spirit, children of God our Father, take each day, whatever it brings to us, with God’s own strength and courage.

We are God’s family. All His peace and strength and courage and joy belongs to us. “Think carefully” about these things and rejoice.

Lifted Out of Despair

So many of you reading this will already know the sad news my mother and I received this week — our sweet dog, Jack, has cancer in his jaw. Thankfully he is unaware and gives no evidence of being in any pain whatsoever. He is just busy being happy. He healed from his previous jaw surgery for the broken bone, no doubt shattered easily because of the cancer. We can truly say that mishap was a blessing in disguise. We so hope the missing tooth episode has brought about early discovery, avoiding spread of the cancer to his lymphs and lungs, where it most often goes next. Thank you to all who are standing with us in prayer for our boy.

Yesterday as Jack and I were in the car heading to the park to play, an overwhelming sadness dropped on me like a pile of bricks. I felt pelted by sorrow. Tears filled my eyes as I began to wonder how many more times would we have to go play in the park or run in the woods or walk along the beach.

These thoughts of despair kept coming when it hit me; I need to crawl back up from the doldrums. After all, our arch enemy will seize upon this as an evil opportunity to make me sink further and further into doom and gloom. I called out to the Lord to help me. Then, ever sweetly, I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to sing. What to sing? My mind raced to think of something when a childhood song came to mind — “He’s God The Whole World In His Hands.”

I started to sing this song with verses I remembered. Then I added my own version, singing, “He’s got Jack-A-Roo in His hands, He’s got the whole word in His hands.” I added another, “He’s got me and Mom, too, in His hands,” and back to “Jack-A-Roo,” again. All the way to the park I was singing loudly. I saw Jack in the rearview mirror, used to my joyful noises, looking right and left out the window in anticipation of arrival at the park. I hummed all the way around the fields, watching Jack trot happily here and there, enjoying running and sniffing pursuits.

Jack was blissfully happy in his ignorance of what is happening to him. Now I could be blissfully happy, too, even in my knowledge of what is happening to him. I could physically feel a burden lifting out of my chest as I realized I was breathing more deeply and easier. Praise in the One I trust, who loves me and Jack, too, replaced the dreadful thoughts that plagued me. There truly is power in praise. It returns our lost joy. It puts back into proper perspective the truth of Romans 8:28, “all things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to His purpose.”

I will be singing, “He’s got Jack-A-Roo in His hands,” for days to come, and I will smile, and bask in the joy of the Lord, for He is my strength.

May your burdens today be lifted with your own songs of praise, and may sweet joy replace sadness when it refuses to let go.

“I will sing of Your strength, in the morning I will sing of Your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble,” (Psalm 59:16).

What the Vet Said

Many of you reading will have already heard about our dog, Jack, and his surprise jaw surgery. A tooth went missing. I took him to the vet to make certain no part of the root had been left. The certainty of how he lost the tooth remains a mystery. The vet agreed X-rays needed to be done and the root removed if it was there. To everyone’s surprise, it was discovered that Jack’s jaw had been fractured. Instead of removing a root, surgery was done to remove shattered pieces of bone.

My theory is, Jack dashed into the woods and came upon a dog on a leash. He aggravates such a dog, urging him to play when he can’t; he’s on a leash. Jack is vocal when he’s playing. Another owner may have believed Jack was being aggressive. Therefore, in attempt to protect his own dog, he kicked Jack. I don’t even feel anger at whoever did this. They were protecting their dog. It was a misunderstanding.

When I went to collect Jack after the surgery, the vet gave me all the instructions. I listened attentively, knowing in my heart I was going to carefully follow the directive exactly as told. Those instructions are vital to Jack’s well-being. I will do everything I can to help Jack.

Driving home with Jack asleep on the back seat, it hit me. Here I am wholeheartedly willing to follow the word of a vet whom I do not know personally, but I choose to trust. Why don’t I always, without hesitation, follow the Word of Jesus, whom I do know personally, and I trust? How can I follow the human word of a stranger when I at times grapple with something in God’s Word that I find difficult? I know I’m not the only one.

We are all guilty of the above, aren’t we. Of course, we have an arch enemy, Satan and his demonic army, always looking for chinks in our armor, always whispering lies to us, always seeking to lead us into despair. Our life’s journey is filled with roadblocks of evil intent from our enemy. We must be aware; we must be intent to keep our eyes and ears trained upon the things of our Heavenly Father, and His Word, which is without mistake.

May we keep our focus on what Jesus said to us in John 10:10, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give a rich and satisfying life.” One voice whispers words of death; the other speaks Words of life. May we all be blessed with great joy in whose voice we listen to today.

Next Time

It’s Friday! I usually put my blog out in the morning but today there has been a delay — a wonderful delay. My niece is visiting from America and we’ve enjoyed having her so much. Sadly, this is her last day. We’ve been doing some last day sightseeing. Several times today we’ve all talked about her next visit. “Let’s do this next time,” Emma said. “We can go to that place next time,” says my mother. “Next time we’ll do this, too,” I add. We’re all already looking forward to next time when Emma comes back again.

We humans can dream and plan, but in reality, no one knows for certain if we have tomorrow. Even so, it’s fun to hope and imagine. This has reminded me of the One we know; Jesus, who has also told us that He will come again. He left earth, conquering death, offering forgiveness of any sin, and a promise of eternal life with Him. He even promised to come again.

We surely hope Emma can come again. We look forward to that moment with joyful anticipation. We don’t have to merely hope that Jesus will come again. It’s already a certainty. For all who know Him, He will be a delightful sight to behold. To all who know Him, we will live in a place of no more tears or sorrow. We will not experience fear or uncertainty or sadness or gloom. All will be perfect, full of joy as we have never known before. It’s a promise to all who know Him. “Call upon me,” His Word tells us us in Jeremiah 33:3, “and I will show you great and mighty things that you don’t yet know.”

I hope Emma is able to come again; but I know Jesus will. I surely hope you know Him, too. The next time He comes, for all who know Him, the joy will be ecstatic! I can hardly wait till next time.

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