A New Normal #9 – Commodities

[The following post is one of several under the heading of “A New Normal” addressing our response to the Coronavirus outbreak. They are written to the family at Bishop Creek Community Church. I was asked to make them available as an encouragement to all.]

It seems many commodities are running in short supply nowadays: Toilet paper, bleach, water, hand sanitizer…It appears that patience and trust may be running a little thin as well. People, in the course of dealing with this diabolical menace, are running into supermarkets in order to gain some level of peace. We can’t really blame them too much as it is one way we deal with the anxiety of the day; purchasing goods that may help us deal with the potential problem helps us think that we are doing something. 

But, isn’t it interesting that many of us turn to an abundance of these goods from the supermarket for comfort?

We do well to remember that our hope, our comfort, and our peace come from God. The Psalms are excellent reminders of God’s continued care over His creation. David writes in Psalm 121 where we are to be looking for help. 

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; 
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, 
Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

The entire Psalm is a balm to the anxious soul, but these beginning verses set the foundation for our trust in Him to be able to care for our every need: He made all of Creation. As He is able to do so, as He is able to sustain it, we have only to gaze upon the mountains and reflect… “A God this mighty can certainly care for my problems.”  

Eight simple verses to remind us of the Sovereign power of God to provide every need this day demands. Eight powerful verses to assure us the Lord is at work in our lives today.

Perhaps… no. It would be good to begin your day today with a reading of this precious gem. And, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to cast your gaze on the surrounding landscape. 

Pastor Kelly

Stronghold! (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

What an absolute gem is displayed in the book of Nahum, which is buried among the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament.  In the midst of an otherwise severe vision of judgment, Nahum assures his readers that God is good, and a refuge to be sought.

Judah, to whom this oracle is directed, is looking at the very real possibility of being taken into exile if she follows in the ways of Israel. In like fashion, she would join her sister nation, if she continued to “do evil in the sight of the Lord.” As the Lord had sent a captor to take Israel astray, so would He do to Judah if they do not stay the course.

Nineveh, the vanquisher of Israel is facing the verdict herself of absolute destruction due to her evil. Her days are numbered, and her doom is announced. But, at this point in time, Judah still has an opportunity to follow Yahweh. At center stage of this oracle is a God who is just; patient, but just. It is this God, this avenging and wrathful God, who offers respite in Himself.

This jewel, this crowning ornament displays the loving, redemptive nature of God; it is found in Nahum 1:7:

“The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.”

Verse 7 affirms the very nature of Yahweh, that He is good. Yes, wrath; yes, vengeance; yes, judgment, and yes, justice. But don’t lose sight of the fact that He is good. A God who would simply wink at sin would not be the God of divine, holy justice.

The implication to the Judeans who would hear this would be that they have the opportunity, as a nation, to avoid this captive fate of Israel, and the horrendous judgment of the Ninevites. The solution is to enter God as their stronghold; God Himself would be the fortress who would shield anyone from judgment. And the inventory of those who have sought shelter in this bulwark is well known to the Lord.

“A stronghold in the day of trouble,” refers to a place of protection from chaos and mayhem in the day of trouble, any day of trouble. However, this definitely has an eschatological flavor to it, an image of future judgment against all those who stand opposed to God, whether present-day or in the final judgment.

Who would have thought that this ancient book, nearly 3000 years old, could speak to the benefits of mankind in the 21st century? But, it does! The Lord is still a stronghold and can be ours as well.

Yet, as we see in our day and age, too many people are comfortable living outside of the protection of these walls.

Woe to those who are camped on the outside of this refuge: they will suffer the fate of Nineveh.

Woe to those who straddle the threshold: they are neither hot nor cold.

Woe to those who think they’re on the inside: The Lord will say to them, “Depart from Me; I never knew you!”

But, how blessed and secure are those who fear God, revere God, love God, obey God, have repented of their sins, and have forsaken self!

The question today for every one of us is, “Have you truly taken refuge in Him?”

“Will You Repent?” or, “Will you choose to repent only after you have exhausted all your fun? Your desires? Your playtime? Your disobedience?”

 “The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble,
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.”

“He knows those who take refuge in Him,” so you better be sure; He is not fooled.

Make no mistake; there will be a reckoning.

God is the Stronghold!
Christ is the Door!
Know whether you are in Him or not!
Take refuge in Him.

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
The righteous runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).

A New Normal #8 – Exiles in Place

[The following post is one of several under the heading of “A New Normal” addressing our response to the Coronavirus outbreak. They are written to the family at Bishop Creek Community Church. I was asked to make them available as an encouragement to all.]

We haven’t exactly traveled thousands of miles to be absorbed into a foreign culture by our enemies, but nonetheless we find ourselves being held captive within the walls of our own homes. This Shelter-in-Place thing has imposed some life-altering behavior, but, in reality, it’s not all that bad, at least for me. I mean, I like my home. I like being here. And, I like returning. I guess one of the worst parts is that in being held here we are forgoing other desired activities, income opportunities, and relational engagements. 

Aside from the idea we may be actually doing something good by not being in close proximity to others, we may find this to be a total waste of our time. Mmmmaybe, let’s not do that.

I can’t help but think about the Israelites taken to Judah for a time. For 70 years they were sentenced to be away from their homes. In Jeremiah 29, they were instructed in the time of their exile to not let it be a waste of time… Rather, to grow.

The exiles received word from Jerusalem to, “Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (Jeremiah 29:5-7).

Even in the midst of a foreign country, they were encouraged to live life, to not let this be 70 years of wasted time… Again, to grow.

I hope we do not make it through this shelter-in-place time lamenting it as a waste. We still can be productive. And I do not mean with a high amount of time spent – in an enormous consumption of digital content. 

~Pursue God with zeal. Spend time with Him. Meditate upon Him.

~Read the Bible! Remember that old, “I just don’t have the time” excuse? It doesn’t work anymore.  

~Pray! Pray for yourself. For your spouse. For your kids. For other believers. For this community. For the funny little guy in a white lab coat who is trying to find a solution to this ordeal. For the leadership of this country. For your enemy. For your enemy. Pray for your pastor. Pray for all the pastors (they have never had to shepherd the flock through a pandemic like this). For healthcare individuals. For those infected with this virus. For true recovery as a nation, that we would bow the knee and pursue Jesus Christ!!

~Flood Facebook and Twitter with verses and encouragements in Christ. We are to be a light of the world. Memorize scripture. Fast. Repent. Whaat? Yes!

~Call people, send cards and letters. 

~Get prepared for the aftermath. Coming through this we better be ready to care for the onslaught of hurting people who find themselves destitute.

~Do something physical, and maybe even a craft or a home project. 

No, it’s not ideal. And, it’s not a “staycation.” But it need not be “70 years” poorly spent. 

May God be with us!

Pastor Kelly

A New Normal #7 – The Valley

[The following post is one of several under the heading of “A New Normal” addressing our response to the Coronavirus outbreak. They are written to the family at Bishop Creek Community Church. I was asked to make them available as an encouragement to all.]

David writes in Psalm 23:4, “Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil.…”

David was well acquainted with fear… both kinds… fear of the known, and fear of the unknown. The known kind, like when he faced Goliath. Saul informed David that the Giant had been a fighter from his youth. So, the known kind…and, the unknown kind, like when David had to choose a punishment for numbering the people. Famine, defeat, or plague? How many would be killed? So, the unknown kind. 

He had known the fear of being chased by his king. Yet, in the Psalm, he reminds himself that fear is a part of life, and still, the Lord accompanies his every step. The imagery here is of a dark mountain gorge, so dark that it impedes logical placement of footsteps. Yet, the Shepherd needs to lead the sheep through these valleys. The walls of stone are thick, the curves are sharp. One navigates with hands as eyes. 

The picture here is not one of death itself, but the reality of dark shade, gloom, a shadow of darkness. And yet, darkness is the same as light to the Lord. He sees through the mountains and the stone. He sees around corners. He is neither surprised or challenged by what lies around the corner. 

Our Covid-19 menace is one of our fears. Our known fears… it kills people. And, the unknown one… how many will it touch? And How long until we have something that kills it? We walk in challenging times, but David knows that he does not face the situation alone, nor do we. 

Some of us will make it through this present valley unscathed. Some of us may just well come out of the other end of this valley with Covid-19 taking hold of us. Still, the Lord is with us. But, if we can trust God with our eternal soul, can we also trust Him with this temporal menace? You know we can. 

“Though we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death… I will fear no evil” What a blessing to be rid of fear in life. And we can be… As we are isolated in our homes, as we pray for deliverance, as we see news reports of the damage, as we contemplate the outcome of all this, as we ponder the knowns and the unknowns, we fear no evil, because God is with us. “You are with me.” To the Lord, say those words out loud… right now.

Look to your left, look to your right, in front, and to the rear, God is there. 

We do not walk this journey alone.


Silly Little gods (part 2)

In celebration of their apparent battlefield victory over Israel, the Philistines return to their city, the city of Ashdod. The “victory” of the recent battle with Israel had yielded the Ark of the Covenant as a spoil of war. Puffed up with the victory they bring the Ark into the temple of Dagon. 

“Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then the Philistines took the Ark of God and brought it to the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon” (1 Samuel 5:1-2).   

The Ark, demonstrating the Presence of God, is placed in the Temple of Dagon, next to the god of the Philistines credited with the recent military conquest.  In doing so it seems that the desire of the Philippines was to humiliate Yahweh in placing Him as captive or servant to the “superior” Dagon. But…

“When the Ashdodites arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and set him in his place again” (verse 3).

As the Ashdodites enter into the temple at the time of worship the next morning, it is Dagon himself who is prostrate before the Ark, in a posture of worship, and submission. It was this silly little god, ascribed by the people to be so powerful who then needed to be placed back into right standing. But, again…

“But when they arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him” (verse 4).

As a sign that the previous day’s event was not accidental, Dagon is found the following morning in the same position only this time decapitated, and hands removed in a fashion resembling gruesome military executions. Within the walls of his own temple, this silly little god had been humiliatingly “conquered” by the one true God. As a result, the Ashdodites, the Philistines, chose to avoid contact with the threshold of that temple. 

“Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor all who enter Dagon’s house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day” (verse 5).

But, the Lord was not finished doling out His divine punishment…

“Now the hand of the LORD was heavy on the Ashdodites, and He ravaged them and smote them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territories. When the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, ‘The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is severe on us and on Dagon our god.’” (Verses 6-7).

Understanding the events to be divinely issued, they sought to rid themselves from the Presence of God, sending the Ark away to Gath, and then Ekron. But, the hand of God was heavy upon all those cities which would hold the Ark without right.

What is seen is that Israel’s God was never truly “captured”, rather, for His purposes He allows the Ark to be brought into the temple of a false god in order to reveal His unrivaled majesty.

This event may easily be taken as comedic, though it should not be. It is placed, I believe, within the walls of Scripture as a reminder of the great need to honor God. The Lord is a jealous God and does not take lightly any sort of behavior that would seek to deprecate His glory. As a cautionary reflection, I wonder, how many times do we attempt to place the God of all creation in subservience to the “divine” whims of our natures? How often we seek to bring the Presence of God into our temples of silly little gods.

Lord, forgive us!

May we place within the temples of our hearts the one and only, true God of an infinite glory, and only Him.

Lord, help us, we pray!

A New Normal #6 – Rest

[The following post is one of several under the heading of “A New Normal” addressing our response to the Coronavirus outbreak. They are written to the family at Bishop Creek Community Church. I was asked to make them available as an encouragement to all.]

Who could have ever imagined that 2020 would begin this way? Election rhetoric was all the news. Stock markets were at a record high, unemployment at record lows. And then, a little virus made its way onto the scene bringing the world to its knees. Businesses are closing. Flights and hotels are empty, unemployment is projected to be 20%, and there is no end in sight. 

Bizarre. Dynamic. Crazy. Surreal. Panic. Shortages. Lines. Words that are defining current times. Things are changing at light speed. Month to month. Week to week. Hour by hour has become minute by minute. Things are evolving that rapidly. The world seems to be closing down, yet fear and anxiety are in no short supply.

Likely things will be a little different after the chaos has been suspended, should the Lord grant.  Likely the supply chain for manufactured goods and pharmaceuticals would be a little closer to home.  Likely people will be adjusting to a new investment portfolio, others adjusting to a new job. Still, others acclimating to a new world of restrictions as we have never seen before. Some… Some will be dealing with the great loss of a loved one. Hopefully, there will be a new zeal for the opportunity to freely gather in the city square, the park, events, and especially… at Church.

But, right now, we are living in a crazy world of uncertainty. Many are fearful for those infected with the virus, and affected by the virus in some capacity.  Most, I would imagine are feeling a sense of helplessness.

 “What can I do?” we may ask.

Lamentations 3:26 says:
It is good that he waits silently 
For the salvation of the LORD.”

We Americans hate that word…wait. We don’t like to wait. It is an assault to our freedom. “I am wired to DO!” Unfortunately, our minds think there is always something we can do, but in reality, some things are beyond our ability to change… this may be one of those times. The idea is waiting for God to do what only He can do – the idea of resting in His sovereignty.

There can be no doubt that God is working… burning chaff, maybe some element of judgment – tipping over silly little “gods” in the world. Maybe this “plague” is simply the effect of sin upon a broken world. But He will use this for His purposes. That is how He works.

“But, what can I do?” … You can wait…expectantly. Because any deliverance must be divinely sanctioned. Any salvation, any solution of the global attack, will come in God’s timing. 

I think there is a time to do… and there is a time to wait on God to move, to invite Him as sovereign to do that which only He can. 

So, what should be our prayer? … Heal us from this affliction? … Restore our prosperity? … Or, that hearts are broken, and people turn to God?

My guess is that God desires to call people to Himself… still. And this world has turned their backs on Him for quite some time. May I suggest that a restored economy and vaccine is not what the world needs most today. The world, America, and hearts in this town need to repent, to return to God, to acknowledge and surrender to His supremacy.

My guess is that if God should deliver us today through some miracle, He would once again be a distant vision in our rear-view mirror in a matter of weeks. That is unless hearts have truly been changed. 

Whenever salvation comes, it always comes from the hand of the Lord – salvation to eternal life, and salvation from the evil of the world. 

By the looks of it, we are in this for a while. We would do well to seek the Lord and His will. To pray. And to expect God to glorify Himself. Somehow. It’s what He does.

Now is a good time to pursue God. Love one another. And serve the community.

We are the Church, Church!

Pastor Kelly

A New Normal #5 – Wait and Seek

[The following post is one of several under the heading of “A New Normal” addressing our response to the Coronavirus outbreak. They are written to the family at Bishop Creek Community Church. I was asked to make them available as an encouragement to all.]

So, who is this guy who’s writing about all of the good things we have in Christ this week? “Doesn’t he know that the world is absorbed in chaos?” “Doesn’t he know that the house is on fire?” (And, I do realize that!).

Let me say that some of the stuff online is not my cup of tea, but I know that people process life and events in different ways. I can give them that grace. This is my way of working through this. Why would I dedicate so much time to reassuring the flock that we are in good hands, and that God has this? 

Am I seeking calm? Yes.  Am I seeking perspective? Yes. Hoping we know that the Lord is in control? Absolutely! It is a common theme in Scripture.

Even in the midst of the affliction of Judah, Jeremiah gets this as well. 

Suddenly in our passage of Lamentations 3:21-26, we find there is some sort of response required on our part – one of waiting (expectantly) and pursuing the Lord (verse 25).  

“The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, 
To the person who seeks Him.”

But, what does that mean? How do I wait, and seek at the same time?

First, to wait for Him is to “remain in expectation of Him.” This is God’s world, and everything is subject to His timing and His rules. If you don’t believe that, we need to talk. The person who fully recognizes the sovereignty and authority of God is a person who has truly known God, and the Lord is good to him.

Second, the idea of seeking God carries with it the idea of seeking God’s will, desiring to witness God’s hand move in the resolution of any given need. It carries with it the idea of prayer. 

And that leads us to the questions of the day:

What about this virus?! Is God in control or not? If so, does He have a purpose of not? Does He cause it, or allow it? What is He doing? Will we get the vaccine in time? 

I know. It’s dramatic; it sounds like a B-movie again. Some rather lengthy answers are required, but for certain, but He is in control – timing and solutions. It is His world! And whether He causes it, or allows it, He uses it for His purposes.

Let me say this about a medical solution to the present-day problem. The vaccine will be discovered, if it is discovered, when God is ready for it to be. We press on, we try from a human perspective, but God allows it for His glory in His time. That “solution” whatever it may be, could be hiding under a thousand walnut shells. Our human task may be to discover that remedy through the conventions and inventions of the human agency, but God has “packed our bags” to be able to do so. That is one way how God invites us to participate in His sovereign plan. 

“Okay, so I wait for God, and His timing and solution. But, then what? How should I pray?”

Good Questions.

As a nation, or as a Church, what should be our prayer… “Oh, God, Heal us!”? … or that hearts are rent and turn to honor God? At the risk of offending some…a vaccine and a restored economy is not what the world needs MOST today. In light of eternity, the world needs to acknowledge the One True God and His only Son who died for sin. For the record, there may just be something here about the purpose of these current events.

We wait for God. We pray for His will. We pray for hearts to turn to Christ. And now in the midst of an unstable world, hearts may just be ready to listen. 

Again, as we march through these trying times, let’s not do it alone. Call Someone. Pray with someone. Connect with someone. Serve Someone. Nurture someone. Above all, let’s love God together.

Be the Church, Church!

Pastor Kelly


A New Normal #4 – Portion

[The following post is one of several under the heading of “A New Normal” addressing our response to the Coronavirus outbreak. They are written to the family at Bishop Creek Community Church. I was asked to make them available as an encouragement to all.]

In very short order our lives have been turned upside down. It is surreal. It feels like we are in B movie or a bad dream. It is reminiscent of the dark days following 9/11, and I would imagine like after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The eeriness only serves to mark our fragility – physically, economically and emotionally.  The enemy has set us on our heels, a little microscopic enemy… only the Coronavirus is something for which we have no counter-attack. We cannot even really see the enemy much less develop a military strategy. We are not simply shooting at a moving target, but at a target we can’t even see. 

As we have seen, in the wake of national havoc, a true judgment of God, Jeremiah writes of devastation of biblical proportions in the book of Lamentations. Nothing that we have seen in the present day even compares to the devastation seen in Judah. Yet, Jeremiah sees the silver lining in the adversity.

Is it judgment of God stuff? I don’t know. Nobody knows; that is above any human pay grade. It is a consequence of the fall, that much is certain. Is the Lord trying to get our attention? Are we in a cloud of His anger? Again, I cannot say. But I do know, and would again assert that I cannot expect a broken world to deliver security, nor can I expect that world to save me. 

Jeremiah, once again, helps us to focus upon that from which our hope comes: 

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, 
Therefore I have hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24).

What I hear Jeremiah saying is, “My portion, my inheritance, my promise is the Lord.” The hope of the Prophet is in Yahweh, not in anybody, anything, or any circumstance. 

The Portion is the One who will deliver, if and when He chooses to do so. We look to Him. 

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; 
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).

Yahweh is both the deliverer, and the blessing Himself; in the short term and in the long run.

The future is unclear as to whether the virus will morph, disappear, or be conquered by medical science. We don’t know. One thing seems certain… once this is in our rear-view mirror (should God so favor us), we will realize those things we have held so dear to our satisfaction, are not as important as we once held them to be. It will force us to re-evaluate what is essential and near to us – Life, relationships, and investments. These things were never our portion. 

I would gather as well, that the use of our disposable time may be considered a bit more valuable. We may realize that sporting events, concerts, and entertainment are not essential to happiness. And that most news outlets and Facebook were… are… dispensable. Hopefully, as well, we’ll realize that starlets, “hunka hunkas”, and sports icons are not good sources of values and wisdom. Those things were never our portion. 

Right now, the virus has the upper hand… requiring social distancing. And we were simply not meant to, created to, worship in the context of social distancing. But, the difficult news is that we are being forced to do worship a little bit differently. Not a different God, but a different way. I am confident both the catastrophic threat to life, and the panic will, in time, subside. But, until then, our hope is still in God. 

Our “portion” was never anything other than God Himself!

That! Church, is the prize!

The world does not know the Lord, they have not accepted the work of Christ. We, as His people have. Let them see the great confidence we have. Because the Lord is our portion, we have hope. 

Pastor Kelly


The First Mercy (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

In the midst of an otherwise sobering book of consequences, Lamentations 3:22-23 stands out as the beautiful pearl of promise:

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV).

God is love: strong, robust, consistent, and eternal. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that His love never ceasesOne of the ways this love is communicated is through the mercies extended to His own.

In the context of a contrary world pressing against us, the Lord’s hand is still at work pouring out divine mercy upon His creation. Mercies­–blessings we do not deserve, falling upon us from the sovereign hand as an expression of His faithfulness.

Most would interpret these verses as taking place in the early morning hours, perhaps at sunrise as rays are climbing over the surrounding mountains, or even when the clouds give way to shades of grey and white, or maybe when birds begin to sing.  But, I would suggest those mercies begin much sooner than that; I would contend they begin every day at 12:00:00 a.m.; when a new day begins!

While minds are radically engaged in REM sleep and dreams, our first mercy is expressed in the days’ first heartbeat, the days’ first breath. Life is coursing through our veins and the Sovereign of all creation has seen to it that we are still engaged in this gift called life. Giving life where only death was deserved.

Like a string of unending pearls, subsequent mercies flow throughout the day.

The mercy of the bed in which we sleep. The mercy of the house under which we sleep. The cosmological mercies at work in the world while we sleep. And the protection of us as we slumber. The mercies never sleep.

Lest we errantly conclude these mercies reside solely on us, we remember that His mercy rests upon those in the bed next to us, and down the hall in their beds, and across town and the nation. Our mercies!

Even before we are awake our cache is full; we open our eyes having been the recipients of such divine favor.

Do we deserve them? Quite simply, no. But our receipt of such a blessing was never intended to score our own merits; rather, they remind us daily, by the hour, even by the second that something greater, someone greater than ourselves is at work.

As we are providentially endowed to cross the threshold to another day, God has had compassion; He has led the way to a day filled with mercies, repeated, and renewed every single day.

Great is His faithfulness; vast and abundant. He is that way; He must be that way for it is in keeping with His character.

The person who fails to recognize that they rest, and are absorbed in the absolute mercy of God fails to ascribe to Him His faithfulness. But to those who follow Jesus Christ, His faithfulness will usher us into a glorious eternity!

Never ceases? Never.
Never fail? Never!
New every morning? Yes, every morning.
Great is His faithfulness? Oh yes, great; greater than we will ever know.

“Thou changest not, your compassions they fail not,
Great is your faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

A New Normal #3 – Mercy

[The following post is one of several under the heading of “A New Normal” addressing our response to the Coronavirus outbreak. They are written to the family at Bishop Creek Community Church. I was asked to make them available as an encouragement to all.]

In the midst of adversity, it is often difficult to recognize our blessings; it isn’t that they are absent, but that we allow them to get mired in our pain, or in the crazy of life. Before we can comprehend what God could be doing, we need to acknowledge that blessings are still before us. The Prophet Jeremiah captures this truth well, the love, the mercy, and the reality that deliverance and salvation are always from the hand of the Lord.

In the midst of an otherwise sobering book of consequences, Lamentations 3:22-23 stands out as the beautiful pearl of promise:

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, 
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; 
Great is Your faithfulness.     

God is love: strong, robust, consistent, and eternal. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that His love never ceases. One of the ways this love is communicated is through the mercies extended to His own. 

In the context of a contrary world pressing against us, the Lord’s hand is still at work pouring out divine mercy upon His creation. Mercies­–blessings we do not deserve, falling upon us from the sovereign hand as an expression of His faithfulness. 

Most would interpret these verses as taking place in the early morning hours, perhaps at sunrise, as rays are climbing over the surrounding mountains, or even when the clouds give way to shades of grey and white, or maybe when birds begin to sing.  But, I would suggest those mercies begin much sooner than that; I would contend they begin every day at 12:00:00 a.m.; when a new day begins! 

While minds are radically engaged in REM sleep and dreams, our first mercy is expressed in the days’ first heartbeat, the days’ first breath. Life is coursing through our veins and the Sovereign of all creation has seen to it that we are still engaged in this gift called life. Giving life where only death was deserved. 

Like a string of unending pearls, subsequent mercies flow throughout the day. 

The mercy of the bed in which we sleep. The mercy of the house under which we sleep. The cosmological mercies at work in the world while we sleep. And the protection of us as we slumber. The mercies never sleep. 

Lest we errantly conclude these mercies reside solely on us, we remember that His mercy rests upon those in the bed next to us, and down the hall in their beds, and across town and the nation. Our mercies! 

Even before we are awake our cache is full; we open our eyes having been the recipients of such divine favor.

Do we deserve them? Quite simply, no. But our receipt of such a blessing was never intended to score our own merits; rather, they remind us daily, by the hour, even by the second that something greater, someone greater than ourselves is at work.

As we are providentially endowed to cross the threshold to another day, God has had compassion; He has led the way to a day filled with mercies, repeated, and renewed every single day. 

Great is His faithfulness; vast and abundant. He is that way; He must be that way for it is in keeping with His character.

The person who fails to recognize that they rest, and are absorbed in the absolute mercy of God fails to ascribe to Him His faithfulness. But to those who follow Jesus Christ, His faithfulness will usher us into a glorious eternity!

Never ceases? Never.
Never fails? Never!
New every morning? Yes, every morning.
Great is His faithfulness? Oh yes, great; greater than we will ever know. 

“Thou changest not, your compassions they fail not,
Great is your faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Even in light of the present chaos, the Lord is with us, and will see us through; He has not left us.

Expect mercy and know it is from a compassionate God. 

My prayer for Bishop Creek is that during these struggling times for all, that we are a City on a Hill, a Beacon of Hope, and that we, the people of God know that He is with us. 

This Week–Remember: 

  1. Pursue God with a Zeal.
  2. Connect with others in the Church.
  3. Lend a hand to those who need it.

Pastor Kelly

A New Normal #2 – Hope

[The following post is one of several under the heading of “A New Normal” addressing our response to the Coronavirus outbreak. They are written to the family at Bishop Creek Community Church. I was asked to make them available as an encouragement to all.]

Well, to say that things are a little unstable would be an understatement. Things have gone topsy-turvy in the matter of a few short days. We are reminded that we live in a very broken world. And, we cannot look to a broken world for our security. 

But as we are asked to self-quarantine, to not eat out, to not gather in groups greater than 10 persons… as we can only wonder what is next… it is a day by day uncertainty. How and when we will gather for worship and studies at Bishop Creek is unclear, but we will keep you informed as details get to us. 

However, we are still God’s people. He still is seated on His throne as Isaiah 6 tells us…in all of His glory. 

So, as we begin this New Normal together, I do have a few thoughts, maybe daily, to share:

Number One. We are still God’s Chosen people. Let us not neglect our beautiful relationship with Him… Let us not neglect our spiritual health. For many of us, there may be a little more time on our hands… Let’s read and pray with great zeal. 

Number Two. As we are His community, how about we reach out to those in our community… our Church and otherwise. We want to be prudent, but how about committing to 3 intentional acts of engagement each week. Phone calls, cards or letters, or open-air meetings. Let’s be a church that continues to care for, pray for, and nurture those in the Body. 

Number Three. Let’s help out those who are in need. Maybe there are some who need rides, or someone to pick up groceries. Someone to do some errands. We are putting a team together so let me know if you are interested, or know of someone who needs a hand. 

Let us remember Judah in the midst of a crazy time of God’s judgment. In the midst of this, Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 3:21: 

“This I recall to my mind, 
Therefore I have hope.”

What he calls to mind is a Lord whose mercies never cease… We’ll look at a few verses in Lamentations over the next week. They are a good reminder that God is our hope, our portion, and our strength. 

Read Lamentations 3:21-26 this week and let’s remind ourselves that our hope is not in this broken world, but our salvation and hope is in the Lord.

Be the Church, Church!

Pastor Kelly

A New Normal #1 – City on a Hill

[The following post is one of several under the heading of “A New Normal” addressing our response to the Coronavirus outbreak. They are written to the family at Bishop Creek Community Church. I was asked to make them available as an encouragement to all.]

And, pretty much, just like that, seemingly “overnight” our world has changed. Concerts, sporting events, and assemblies are being curtailed in an effort to promote “social distancing” – minimizing gatherings and contact with others in an effort to curb the transmission of the Coronavirus. Flights are being canceled, theme parks are shut down, university campuses are moving to online formats, and countries are closing their gates to travel. People are walking around with blue masks, … and toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and water are in short supply. Door knobs and buttons, keyboards and touchscreens, even hands themselves are being viewed as potential threats to life itself. Wow! What is happening?

Some would argue the world has gone crazy. Some would say we are logically trying to protect humanity from the consequences of a dreadful malady. And, still, others would say there may be a little bit of hysterical over-reaction to the events. In any case… perception does become reality.

This present affliction does not seem to bear the gravity of the Plague of the Middle Ages, or even the severity of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Though life as we know it is being altered before our eyes. 

The monster, the uninvited, the unwanted guest who in moving silently, swiftly and indiscriminately has so shaken the underpinnings of our security, our peace, and dare I say, our faith.  

We have no idea what the future holds. We do not know if certain strides of progress are just around the corner, or if the darkness of a new normal is upon us for a while. Yet, the tone of the day is certainly not hope and serenity. To a world which knows not the Creator, words like, uncertainty, panic, grief, and anxiety define the tone of the day. We know not what the future holds, but we as the people of God do know who holds the future.

Three simple verses from Matthew 5 come to my mind to remind us, as the people of God, of our purpose:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

The picture presented is of a distant community resting elevated on a hill. In the midst of surrounding darkness, a light proceeds from that society. Our hope, our peace, our certainty, our light is faith in the One who still rules from His throne. He has called men to Himself through the gift of Christ. Our privilege is to allow that beacon to pierce the darkness with hope. Let ’em see it Church!

Until glory, until the return of Christ, our world will be stricken with the consequences of sin. Still, the light shines bright in the darkness. And, if ever the world needs us to demonstrate our faith it is now; what we have the world needs. The scared world needs the light of the sacred Church. 

Our time is now Church!

Pastor Kelly

Branches and Sticks (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

Perhaps not the deepest of reflections, but I have found myself contemplating the nuances between branches and sticks. Hmmm, what distinguishes one from the other? Here are my gleanings. A branch is something which is considered to still be attached to the main structure of the plant or tree; we might say the branch is alive, or demonstrates life. Therefore, this branch has essential nutrients flowing through its “veins” which allows it to bear fruit, i.e. flowers, fruit or leaves. In fact, it derives its crucial DNA through this connection. In doing this, the branch is clearly identified with the host plant to which it attached.

So what about the stick? Well, contrary to the branch, it is often disconnected from the host, having fallen or been cut. It does not have the life-giving and self-sustaining resources of the host coursing through it, and consequently unable to generate evidence of health as a fruit-bearing entity. It dries up becomes stiff, unbendable and brittle, and is no longer intimately identified with the host.

Interestingly enough Christ has something to say along these lines in John 15:6. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”

Christ is speaking to his disciples about the ability to bear fruit – to yield a spiritual and godly manifestation as evidence of abiding in him. Thus, His admonition regarding those who fail to demonstrate such a relationship. In defining this fruit, most would go to the “Fruit of the Spirit” passage in Galatians 5:22-23; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. However, I think these are just a sampling of the fruit about which Christ speaks in John 15.

Admittedly subjective, let me add a few more characteristics that should be exhibited by a healthy and connected branch. Worshipper – one who approaches God in truth, reverence, and sincerity – magnifying God and not himself. Disciple – one who is still learning, and exercising obedience to the commands of Christ. Servant – one who is demonstrating a faithful exercising of his or her gift to the body of Christ. Witness – one who is outwardly demonstrating to the world and the Church a walk, in line with the Word of God. And how about family? One who is connected to the body of Christ – relationally connected. Intentionally connected.

In a grander gander of the grandeur of things, the imagery of the branch and the vine is one of the church corporately demonstrating health, life and vigor as it is connected to Christ.

If any of these things are missing from a person’s life it merits examination as to why. If all of this fruit is absent it should be a terror-of-God thing. Remember the words of Christ in Matthew 7:23, “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” These are words spoken to those at the judgment who actually were so deluded that they believed they were in the kingdom of God – that they had a relationship with God through Christ. In reality it seemed their understanding of a relationship with God was cognitive at best.

When it gets right down to it, it is a matter of salvation thing. And a stewardship thing. And allowing Christ the vine to bear fruit through you. Are you using the talent given to edify the body? Are you demonstrating that you even are connected to the Christ? If not perhaps God’s favor does not rest fully upon you. If you have never displayed this fruit it could be that you were never connected to the vine to begin with. Again, terror-of-God’s judgment thing.

As we anticipate the new year it is a great time to examine the kind of fruit Christ is bearing through you if indeed he is. Self-reflection is great, but maybe it’s a good idea to seek outside counsel too.

Are you truly abiding in Christ?

Is there fruit affirming that?

Good way to start the New Year!

As The Deer (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

I recently read about a man who had a medical condition called polydipsia, it is an uncontrollable desire to drink water. He would drink from any source and he would drink until his body fluids were so diluted that he would pass out. The mechanism inside his brain that told him when he had ingested enough was stuck in the “off” position. Something inside this man is telling him he is constantly in need of more water, that he is thirsty.

My mind immediately thought of the passage of Scripture Psalm 42:1-2,   “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” How I wish I yearned to drink the Living Water of God. How I wish I had polydispsia in regards to the Lord, that I never felt a quenching, that I continued to want more, that each drink only served to encourage yet another drink of the Lord. How I wish my soul longed for God as the Psalmist declared, but I must confess, it doesn’t.

Continue reading “As The Deer (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Deo Volente

Every once in a while in an old piece of literature or a letter, we may run across a pair of words that cause us to be puzzled and perhaps say, “Hmmm. I may have to look that up someday.” The words are the two Latin words Deo Volente. Sometimes they may simply be demarcated as “D.V.” Admittedly, it may be dated, and the fact that it is in another language, antiquated as well doesn’t help. Quite simply this phrase means “God willing.” In its purest understanding, it means that God as Creator and Sovereign over all creation holds the final say as to what will happen in His Kingdom. 

In our self-determination, we may boldly proclaim our plans to the world. Deo Volente reminds us to hold those aspirations loosely, just in case the Lord has better plans in mind. 

James 4:13-17 makes this case: 
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

In James, we are reminded that we are only transient vapors, and as such do not have omnipotent divine powers so as to direct the future, ours or anyone else’s. Do we make plans? Sure! And we do our best to carry them out as we are led by the Lord to do so. But, to set them in concrete is to be arrogant, and thus evil. For, in so doing, we place our plans above God’s.

Rather, we are mere vessels upon the waters of the Lord. We chart our course and allow for His sovereign grace of direction. To do otherwise is to be less-than-willing to alter course in favor of the Lord’s leading.

When it all comes down to it, shouldn’t we be more comfortable with an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present God calling the shots with full authority from His divine throne? 

After all, it was Christ Himself who gave us the example in the Garden. As the human nature wrestles with the ravages of impending death imposed upon the Cross, He concedes to the divine will. “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).

It may not be a fancy Latin term – Deo Volente; It may be a simple “As the Lord wills”, or “The will of the Lord be done.” What is most important is that one’s heart embraces the sovereign decree of the loving Father. 

“The mind of man plans his way, 
But the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

I pray that you are resolute in your convictions. And I pray that you are passionate and steadfast in your plans and desires. Yet, above all, I pray that you are keen to sense the better directions of the Lord as He makes them known.

Deo Volente!

Altar Ego (Shepherd’s Pen)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

We have all heard the terrifying stories of tragic events occurring due to the neglect of following instructions. Someone walks past the safety line of the gorilla cage, someone else fails to pay close attention at the wheel of a car, and another chooses to remove the saw guard from the table saw. And yet still another fails to keep the fire in a contained area. All of these decisions can yield horrifying consequences, yet the causal mechanism was the same: failure to follow the instructions.

The same is true for the way we relate to God. Yes, God does give us an instruction book, and commands that we follow His precepts and His laws. God demands to be honored and revered. What happens when we fail to walk according to His will and His Word? Devastating consequences. We see it often in the Scriptures, don’t we?

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Out of Season (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

I remember well one of the first “big dates” with my wife; it was to a restaurant located on a ship near the beach – a beautiful setting. It was a chilly December evening and we promenaded around the deck beforehand in our formal attire. As I recall we shared the chateaubriand special-for-two as the stewards stood at the ready to attend to our culinary demands. Company, great! Meal, superb! Coffee, amazing! And at the end of it all a complementary “dessert tree” was delivered to our table filled with sumptuous delights which included large, plump, juicy, perfectly formed chocolate-covered strawberries- one of my wife’s favorites. The perfect end to a perfect meal.

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The Imposition of Agendas (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

In years past, it seems as though when you desired to purchase a product you were simply purchasing a pair of sneakers, a hamburger, or maybe a record album. Over the years, we see that has changed drastically. Whether it’s a recording artist, an apparel venture, an internet concern, restaurant, or construction company, etc. it seems that there is an additional “gift” with purchase; it is an agenda. Every company, or group has an ethos they seek to push. Every single company or person is promoting something else besides the inherent product we think we are buying.

The press is not exempt either. More and more “news” pieces are nothing more than op-eds, or rants under the guise of journalism, yet intended to impose an agenda as well.  (For that matter journalism itself is dying if it is not dead already…but that is another article altogether-The Toxic Drip of Propaganda?). Let’s move on!

Today, it seems you have to decide your political affiliation, and your “to-die-for” causes before you buy that ballpoint pen, or chicken sandwich. Now, one must be thoroughly calculating, and ready to cross picket lines in order to demonstrate their capitalistic resolves.

The social climate is bubbling; tensions are mounting; everybody is on high alert to defend their precious ground.  A mob mentality is overtaking this land, one in which people resort to bullying, or shaming, manipulation or deceit in addition to the good old time-tested techniques of name-calling and threats. Both sides of the political aisle.

“Would you like a side of totalitarianism with that order of fries.” “Can I get you some geo-political foil for your head along with that vote for senator?”

Any promoted postures of neutrality are feigned; we all have an agenda.

The truth is we have always had agendas…and we always will.

At the core, we are people, people with opinions. We embrace values, causes, and passions. And our desire, intentional or otherwise, is to foist those upon those around us.

Agendas of the world are social justice, global warming, absolute equality, greed, free will, pleasure, hedonism, just to name a few.

The agenda of Hell (Satan) is to steal, kill and destroy.

Even Christian periodicals have a political agenda.

The divine agenda revealed by Christ was to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).

The agenda of the church in addition to the Shema, according to Christ, is the Great Commission – to make disciples.

Yes, there is a deluge of agendas a-swirling! Ready to knock us down and around, and to the ground.

Each day I have the opportunity to enter the world stuffed to the brim with opinions. The question is what will be my top agenda for the day. Why has God given me breath today?

God has given you and me HIS agenda.
Love God!
Love others!

Jesus spoke these very thoughts when approached by a scribe who asked Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

The response was a beautiful distillation of the Ten Commandments:

“‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

There is no better way to spend your time, than engaging relationally. Entirely. Tirelessly. Seems like our agenda should be to encourage others to do the same.

Time will tell. Many agendas are passing fads. Something new will capture the fickle hearts of the world tomorrow.

First and foremost, I am a Christian; God, help me to graciously communicate your agenda.

So, what is on your agenda today?

Letter to My Enemy (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

From my perspective, January 1st has come upon us like a freight train, and with it a slew of resolutions are surely dotting our horizons. “I am gonna lose a few pounds.” “I want to finally finish that project around my house.” “This is the year I get my raise!” Maybe you want to learn to speak another language, exercise more, invest in your grandkids, or spend more time with friends over coffee. What is high atop your list of things to resolve to accomplish this coming year? God has granted you possibly another 365 days to steward at will. Not to discourage any desires, but if history is any indicator, many of those “resolutions” will be tossed aside and discarded like New Year’s Eve confetti well before February…jus’ sayin’. Not that resolutions don’t have merit, but we need to choose them well–and follow through.

Continue reading “Letter to My Enemy (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Counted

“I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” (Ezekiel 20:37).

These beautiful words of the Lord hover in the air as a promise to His people. The Shepherd God would be the Judge over all Creation. And He would be the Shepherd to watch over His Chosen Flock. 

To “pass under the rod” does not have the same connotation as it may in modern times as “passing under the rod” is not an act of punishment or war.

Despite the perceived simplicity of the Shepherd’s life, they did have their “tools of the trade.” The shepherd’s arsenal included his iconic staff and his clothing, the abayah – his robe, to protect him from the elements. In the shepherd’s bag could be found a horn of oil to salve the wounds of the Flock, and perhaps a sling, and some stones. Of course, he would use the sheepfold as nocturnal quarters for the Flock, and at his side – the rod, for protection and as a counting apparatus.  

Yes, besides the element of weaponry, there is another, less “ferocious” aspect to this rod; the shepherd would turn it around, holding it by the “ball” end, and employ it as a “counting” tool. As he would stand at the gate the sheep would pass by, one by one, before their inspector; each one passing under the rod. “Sheep by sheep passes in review before the Good Shepherd – He knows all their cases, their circumstances, their trials, – their sorrows, their joys” (MacDuff 1866).  In a pseudo rhythmical fashion, like a ticking clock measuring the admittance of each one entering, each one would pass under it and into the sheepfold, and the tally would be taken. 

Christ would appropriate this shepherd imagery to Himself in John 10:9, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”

Christ speaks of the gate, the door of entry, through which each must pass to come into His sheepfold: The Church. “The Door” references the person and work of Christ, and the obedience of the sheep. One by one, they enter, next to the Good Shepherd, inspected, and under the rod. A gentle tap on the back of each is the assurance that they have been duly counted among the Flock as if to say, “This one I have purchased.” And, “This one is mine.” And, “This one is under my care.” “Good to see you, friend.” “Come right in.” “You are safe; rest easy.”

All who have entered were lost. All who were brought into this sacred enclosure were undeservedly chosen. Yet now, grace has them covered. “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (2 Peter 2:25).

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me” (John 10:14). The Shepherd Lord knows the Sheep; He inspects to see if any are limping or in need of special care. The Shepherd Lord knows the number… if any are missing – if any lost sheep need to be collected.

The rod also represents authority, as does a scepter. In this respect, the rod was a symbol – an affirmation of the Shepherd’s ownership of the flock. In passing each sheep affirms the shepherd’s authority and ownership. “The Lord is my Shepherd.” “The Lord is my Shepherd.” “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

The antiphonal anthem sung at sunset:
 “The Lord is my shepherd.” 
“This one is mine.” 
“The Lord is my shepherd.” 
“You are safe; rest easy.”  
“The Lord is my shepherd.” 
“Come in, little one.” 
“The Lord is my shepherd.” 
“So good to see you, friend.”
“The Lord is my Shepherd.”
“You are counted!”

What greater joy is found than to be counted among the Flock of God, the redeemed!
What greater confession have I than “The Lord is my Shepherd!”
What greater affirmation is there than to be counted by the Lord as one of His own!

Fissures of Men (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

Scripture is particularly clear of the value which the Lord places on unity in the Body of God’s people. Psalm 133:1 gives us just a taste: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” John 17 is the Great Apologetic speaking to the fruit of that unity. In His High Priestly prayer, Christ is praying for the unity of the apostles, that it may bear witness to Himself…“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21).

Note that our unity is anchored in the Godhead, and that evidence of our unity is an evangelical witness to the world of the veracity of Christ…so that the world may believe! The Church grows, in part, as a result of our witness of fellowship!

Continue reading “Fissures of Men (Shepherd’s Echo)”

Interrupted

In her speech, she praised abortion for allowing her the unencumbered freedom to act, and in time receive the coveted award. The audience, the Hollywood elite applauded with glee. My guess is that Satan and the minions squealed with delight, that is if they truly do squeal. 

Continue reading “Interrupted”

No Other Name (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

I remember as a kid in grade school often waiting for someone to open doors around campus, either a door to the classroom, to the cafeteria, or to the utility closet which held the sports equipment. We had to wait because someone who had the correct key had to open the door for us. Usually, it was a man in a grey shirt who would come rolling up on one of those little golf carts bringing a lump of keys on a ring, one of which would grant entry into that secured location. He would try many keys, for out of that entire conglomeration, it was one that he was looking for, as only one would work.

Continue reading “No Other Name (Shepherd’s Echo)”

FoodFight!

We all desire to be relevant. Whether we are living out of a grocery basket, working at a counter, working behind a desk in the corner office, at a religious publication, in the pulpit, or in the Oval Office. We struggle to be relevant; the problem is how to do that in the midst of a broken culture, and more importantly, under the authority of a holy God. 

At present we find ourselves in the midst of a great uncivil war, testing whether this nation will survive. A “food fight” such as I have never witnessed before is being played out daily across this great land as each asserts their version of relevance… and morality.

Continue reading “FoodFight!”

While Integrity Slept (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

“If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody around to hear it, did it make a sound?” This silly question of a metaphysical conundrum has plagued the pretentious philosophers for years, yet at the heart is the idea of reality and truth.

Both the difficulty of the question, and the answer itself lies in how a person elects to define “sound.” Is sound the reception of waves upon the tympanic membranes of the receivers? Or, is sound better understood to be the transmission, the production of those sound-waves from the point of origin? Simply, is sound defined from the point of occurrence, or the point of recognition?

Let’s add to our original “equation,” if a man is standing in the midst of this hypothetical forest next to the fallen tree and yet he is deaf, would that negate the fact that a sound had emanated?

Third scenario. Standing next to our deaf friend is a man who is not hearing-impaired, and the sound is clearly received by him. So, was there sound for one and not the other?

The rational answer is clearly – the sound did take place. It was projected. That is the undeniable absolute truth. It simply was not perceived “typanically” by the deaf individual. This did not mean that the sound waves did not pulsate his body nor that other parts of his body were not enveloped in the ensuing effects of that energy, i.e. wind or perhaps movement of the ground-vibrations.

Yet in our culture we see people clearly defining “Truth” in this very same way, in light of their own “experience.” I would contend that there is truth which transcends the individual regardless of personal experience. To “relativize” truth to a mere experience or belief is to negate the whole idea of truth. Wikipedia says that truth is “being in accord with fact or reality.” That implies that there is a corpus of truth which is not tied to one’s personal subjective experiential realm.

I don’t know if it happened during the Great Enlightenment or what, but somewhere along the way while the integrity slept, the idea of “truth” has morphed into nothing more than subjectively held tenets of understanding or desire.

Truth is not a color which fades through different shades of grey. Truth is absolute. Now, I am not saying that our margins of demarcation regarding truth are not at times amorphous, but the absence of those clear lines are depictive of our limitations, not a sogginess about truth itself.

Yet modernity promotes, “Hey, if it works for you then cool, but I don’t believe that.” In other words, “I give you permission to live in your delusion, as long as you allow me to live in mine.”

Extending this question of truth to the spiritual realm would be, “Is there a God?” Or, “If God exists yet no one is acknowledging that he exists, does he fail to exist?” It seems the growing attitude is, “Look everybody has a right to believe what they want.” But again, belief is not the same as truth, and truth has consequences. The truth points to somewhere. Bottom line is that it points to the responsibility to do something, or behave a certain way. So that responsibility is the reason people seek to discount truth!

Isaiah 5:18, 20-21 says, “Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, And sin as if with cart ropes; Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!”

The “woe” spoken of is separation from God. Failure to obey truth, attempts to qualify it, or even relativize it will not absolve any individual from accountability. Redefining truth, or refusing to acknowledge that it exists altogether does not pardon a person from its consequences. The “woe” carries some very serious repercussions. In fact, in a world of true integrity those actions, refusing to identify truth, are called delusion, not “enlightenment.” Someday those airs of enlightenment will slap us across the face with a fresh dose of reality.

And this understanding of truth is not limited to intelligence. It is purported that Albert Einstein, who struggled with the truth of God asked, “Does the moon exist even when someone is not looking at it?” Come on Al! The response is in no way philosophical. The response is “yes!” And God too is very real, even when no one is willing to face him. The consequences of denying him are very real as well.

The best one can do is seek, discover, accept and abide in the truth. It is only then that we can be set free from that which seeks to destroy us.

John 8:32 reveals “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” That means that separation from God as a result of sin is no more. Sin as a master no longer has ownership of us. It is only the work of Christ that brings to us that reality of freedom.

The tree is lying on the ground next to you. It made a sound.

We have to choose to serve God’s truth, or man’s delusion.

And, by the way, not making a choice is a choice in and of itself.

The Resume of Christ (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

Resumes are a funny thing to use when we are seeking a job. Why? Well, when we are looking to be employed by someone, we do not stand up and announce any, or all of our failures that would disqualify us from that particular line of employment. Rather, it seems to be a culturally acceptable practice to be only as transparent as you want to be, not that that makes it right. We seek to display all of the happy and successful achievements. We don’t announce that we lost a job due to incompetence, or that we only held a job for a week, or got fired. Nor, do we confess that we have had 39 such jobs. We seek to present ourselves in the best possible light, thus increasing our chances of getting the desired position.

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Justice and Mercy

“Justice is blind,” or so they say, though it seems a bit more of a noble ideal rather than a verified reality. 

Around the steps of many courthouses throughout the world is placed a statue of a woman, one who strongly resembles the Statue of Liberty; Lady Justice is her name. She is draped in the robes of justice, with a scale resting upon her lap, or held in her hand. Oddly enough, included in her garb is a blindfold wrapped snuggly around her head. The implicit message is that she rules, or weighs her decisions based upon the Law, based upon the merits of the case. The blindfold suggests a perfect level of impartiality, the ability, and dedication to adjudicate regardless of the person being tried – without regard to power, or money, or fame, or other world status. But, is objectivity even possible? 

The whole idea of impartiality seems logical, and right, but in a world full of opinionated souls, how could this even be done? We place a blindfold upon her, then hand her the Rule of Law, and a set of lenses…Democrat, Republican, Independent, Liberal, Conservative, Originalist (original intent) vs. er, well, um…non-originalism, Capitalistic, or otherwise. Yes, we give them a viewpoint, a pair of lenses to wear over their blindfold to help them have a framework with which to understand the foundations upon which we want them to judge.  We do it in the Court of Law, and we do it in our own “households” as well.

Even at the baseball field, we find ourselves victims of our own biases…”He was safe!” cries the home team; “He was out by a mile,” demand the visitors. Half of the crowd saw the “clear” verdict through the set of lenses they walked in with, in contrast to the other half which got the “whole thing wrong!” And, “The ump was blinder than a bat!”

It appears this divide is no better illustrated than in the political climate today. We see our side as innocent angels and claim the other side to be immoral criminals. In our homes, we back our members, the guilty offender as the innocent, or we don’t even see any actions as infractions; we whitewash them. Even within ourselves we condemn any opposing viewpoints and exonerate our own. Yes, when it comes down to justice or mercy, we likely demand justice for others, and mercy for ourselves, because “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour” (McCovey).

When we don’t get the verdict we demanded, we cry for sentencing upon the judge himself. “‘Kill him! Kill the umpire!’ shouted someone on the stand, and it’s likely they’d have killed him, had not Casey raised his hand” (Casey at the Bat). So, Casey had that going for him.

One more thing…Lady Justice is depicted with a sword in her hand, denoting the ability to execute justice swiftly, efficiently and permanently! Authority is a good thing, but the idea of a woman, a blind-folded woman, wearing glasses and dispensing judgment wielding a terrible swift sword is somewhat unnerving.

Here’s my point…Lady Justice is not real; she is a myth which represents the corporate heart of mankind, errant and flawed, warts and all. She represents a noble ideal rather than a verified reality. I pray for God’s divine wisdom for all those in the legal arena. God help you guys!

And I thank God, that when it comes to things eternal, judgment in the afterlife, I have a Judge who sees without bias. Comeuppance will be doled out! There will be a reckoning! Yet, to those who have placed their faith in the work of Christ, there will be grace. But wait, what about those who like me are guilty as sin? Will justice have been mocked if I receive grace? Will justice have been winked at? In no way! As I stand before the throne of God He will find me innocent and justified, not of my own merits, but because I stand drenched in the blood of Christ which absolves me from the eternal consequence of my guilt. Though my sins be as scarlet, He has washed me white as snow.

“Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”

You see, justice was meted out upon Christ, upon the Cross: “He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Justice was executed in Christ in order that I could be declared, and indeed, made innocent – redeemed!

Let the gavel drop. 

And thanks be to God for this indescribable gift of grace!

The Secret Things (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

Right down the middle! I had hit my golf ball right down the center of the fairway, and now I couldn’t find it. We had all seen it bounding toward the flagstick and to glory but, alas, it was nowhere to be found. After due time, I had to abandon the effort and concede the ball as lost to the fate shared by multitudes of socks surrendered in scandalous pirate dryers throughout the course of history.

As I ponder the fate of my golf ball, and the millions of other golf balls lost to the mystery of logic, I am reminded that there are questions to which we may never know the answers; is there formidable life beyond our solar system? Does Pi have a terminus? Who killed J.R.? And, of course, where do all those orphaned socks go?

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Peace on Earth (Shepherd’s Echo)

[The Shepherd’s Echo is a reposting of a previously published TheShepherdsPen.]

As the legend goes, during the winter of 1914 in the midst of World War 1, along the Western Front on a battlefield in Flanders (Ypres, Belgium), the war raged on from the depths of the wet, muddy, cold trenches that extended for miles.  The Germans were engaged in battle against the British and the French, when at some point during the evening hours of December 24th the shooting ceased. Germans began placing Christmas trees on the ground outside their trenches, illuminating them with candles. The wintery air was still. Gradually the words, “Stille nacht, heilige nacht” (Silent night, holy night) rose softly from the trenches floating across “No Man’s Land” to the ears of the “enemies” some 100 yards away. In turn, the British responded with “O Come all ye Faithful.”

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Pursued

With the Good Shepherd attending every step of our way, Psalm 23 has briskly progressed to its beautiful crescendo of the last verse – the promise of God’s eternal presence in our lives.

“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,  And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

The sheep’s journey, David’s journey, our journey has been described thus far as one with the Good Shepherd always close at hand.

The Lord is at the helm leading his sheep from the front while his attending measures of favor ensure success. God’s “goodness and his lovingkindness,” his grace and his mercy have been bringing up the rear, for on this pilgrimage we are as much in need of his graces as we are of his forgiveness.  These agencies of grace assure we will find our way home. 

Many of our Bible translations simply use the word “follow” to describe their actions in our journey, but in all truth, that word would communicate too passive a role. In fact, that word would be better communicated as “chased” or even better, “pursued.” The provision of God’s goodness and mercy is very intentional and engaged, to keep us moving in obedience in the correct direction – right on the heels of the Savior. So, what are these magnificent agents of grace?

Though they are not revealed specifically in these brief words, may I suggest that they are divinely appointed acolytes for our benefit? First and foremost, I would submit that the Holy Spirit is the primary person of that grace and mercy. The Silent Shepherd pursues, convicting, assuring, guiding, calming, always in faithful bearing. Also, the Word of God influences and informs our every step. Fellow sheep in the flock of God encourage us. And even nature, God’s revealed power reminds us of the amazing Shepherd we follow.

“Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life!”

To those whose Shepherd is Christ, this pursuit takes place in the here and now as we navigate our earthly quest, our paths of righteousness. These blessed agents are commissioned to care for and see us to the end wherein the promise of presence, the promise in the presence of God will be enjoyed forever.