Monday, February 25, 2019

True Pasture

Douglas Frank Photo


True Pasture

The lyrics written below come from Homeward Bound(lyrics below) by Christian poet and songwriter Marta Keen Thompson of Nevada as a new phase of life’s journey began. Some think of it as a funeral-song like Goin’ Home, but I think it is more of a ballad in search of life’s “calling.” 
Marta Keen Thompson (selected verses)
When adventure's lost its meaning -
I'll be homeward bound in time
Bind me not to the pasture
Chain me not to the plow
Set me free to find my calling
And I'll return to you somehow
If you find it's me you're missing
If you're hoping I'll return,
To your thoughts I'll soon be listening,
And in the road I'll stop and turn
Then the wind will set me racing
As my journey nears its end
And the path I'll be retracing
When I'm homeward bound again
Bind me not to the pasture
Chain me not to the plow
Set me free to find my calling
And I'll return to you somehow

Adventure was waning and life’s meaning and purpose were questioning. When is the day of harvest, is it now? She was listening to the road, the wind and the question of purpose, the pasture and returning rest. What is my calling she asks?  Her song is both different and similar to Simon & Garfunkel’s song of the same name penned in 1966, the year of my high school graduation when I headed to Alaska in search of adventure, calling not yet on my mind. God’s majestic wilderness seemingly stretched endlessly like the road in the above photo by my cousin Doug Frank. I almost “bought the ranch” several times on that journey with a lifelong friend in plane, car and waterfall crashes. The meaning of life and living through it did not begin to make sense until much later in my life when God’s faithfulness on that voyage brought a new worldview that began to point me to my “calling.”

Simon & Garfunkel
Got a ticket for my destination, 
a tour of one-night stands…
Homeward bound,
I wish I was,
Homeward bound,
Home where my thought's escaping,
Home where my music's playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.

Was home “where my love lies waiting,”or “in the road I’ll stop and turn.”It was both. Yes, home was where my love and future wife of now 49 years was waiting and it began a very slow turning in the road that did not really move the opposite way until 1990 when God stopped me in my tracks on the Superior Road in a midnight blizzard. Then I was first called. Only then did my selfish sin stop playing and His grace came free flowing, “setting me free to find my calling.”  Yet it would be another decade of following Jesus through trials and triumph and while at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul that I would begin to know my true calling was in serving the Lord in pastoral care full-time ministry as a hospital chaplain and writer. 

The journey continues in my 18thyear in healthcare chaplaincy and writing a blog and books about God’s grace, and faithfulness (www.greatisgodsfaithfulness.com.) The pilgrimage has taken me to a place of rest as the writer of Hebrews tells us. It is the Sabbath rest in the Priest Forever, Jesus Christ. It is the always and forevermore, as long as He lives I live and rest in green pastures, beside the still waters of Psalm 23. It is in the renewing, refreshing, and revitalization through His Holy Spirit that we find real rest. Jeremiah describes the lost sheep of Israel who wandered the desert for 40 years.  “My people were lost sheep. Their shepherds led them astray. They abandoned them in the mountains where they wandered aimless through the hills. They lost track of home, couldn’t remember where they came from. Everyone who met them took advantage of them. Their enemies had no qualms: ‘Fair game,’ they said. ‘They walked out on God.  They abandoned the True Pasture, the hope of their parents.’’’(Jeremiah 50:6-7). Jesus is The Shepherd and the True Pasture, the only way of hope home. He leads His sheep if they will listen.

 I have listened and I say, “I belong to the Lord…and I will write on my hand ‘The Lord’s.”’(Isaiah 44:5). As well God said, “I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16).  This lost sheep have found his “True Pasture.” He is the One who makes us lie down to rest in green pastures as Psalm 23 describes.  Jesus said His sheep know His voice and He leads them. ‘ “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep…My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish”’(John 10:14-15; 27-28). 

Homeward Bound sings of not being chained to the plow and bound in the pasture. But Christ says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  Are you lying down in His green pastures and beside the still waters finding real rest that is restoring and renewing that revitalize our souls. Or are you spending more money on Tru Green®to find rest on a lawn filled with toxins like the world, devoid true God created life.

The freedom to find and follow our calling as Homeward Bound sings is in Christ and His Word. “If you hold to My teachings, you will be My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:32, 36). Where are you heading for safe harbor and true pasture? Are you looking for greener pastures in the wrong places? Or are you looking to “the most excellent way” (1Corinthians 12:31) that Paul is speaking of as the way of love above even faith and hope. How can he say this? Because love is patient and kind and not about us; it rejoices with the truth, always protecting, trusting, hoping and persevering. You see it is the greatest because “God is Love”(1 John 4:8) and “It (He) never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because in this world we are like Him. There is no fear in love, but Perfect Love drives out fear…We love because He first loved us”(1 John 4:16-18,19). 

True Pasture is in Him, the Living Word, who laid down His life in love so that we can lie down in His true green pastures to find rest, restoration and redemption through His perfect love poured out.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Dead or Alive

In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the last book of the Bible, the seven churches of the ages are addressed giving admonition for proper worship and living. The critique it pretty shocking for all except the Church of Philadelphia which has kept God’s commands. These portrayals represent the churches through the ages and apply to the church today as well. But it is the Church of Sardis that really gets my attention.

“These are the words of Him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know you deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of God” (Revelation 3:1-2).  Wow, this is scary. You think you are cool and got your act together. You are cruising along and God says, “You are dead.”  This church not only had lost its first love, God, but also had fallen asleep like Rip Van winkle who was lazy and slept for 20 years. Jesus is referring to the church of today as all the seven churches do.  But beyond the church in Laodicea, which was “lukewarm,” Sardis was “dead.” What does God mean? Is this physically or spiritually dead? Well, it doesn’t matter for when we are spiritually dead, we live eternally in hell.  How does Jesus describe this estate?

Jesus addresses the Pharisees or religious men of the time with very uncomplimentary terms, Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:  “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’  You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?  You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.  And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.  And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.  And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’  So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.  Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?  Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town.  And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.
 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” I suspect some of you never thought that Jesus said an unkind thing to anyone, wrong. He did and does not countenance hypocrisy or pretenders. He particularly dislikes those who “Lord it over” others with distain, like the Pharisees did. Today we might speak of someone being “holier than thou.” We have people like this in our lives and we probably don’t like them. Our condemnation may or may not be as harsh as Jesus’s was. Regardless, it is a strong condemnation and should make us look hard at our own lives. What does Jesus require of us?

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). Quoting from a note in my NIV Study Bible, “What pleases God more than sacrifices is a humble heart that looks to Him when troubles crush and penitently pleads for mercy when sin has been committed.” God rebukes those who do otherwise as we can read in psalm 50 and 34 as well. But He delivers and protects the man who keeps his tongue from evil and takes refuge in Him alone. This is tough stuff and will crush us unless God is our center. Exactly, it’s not about you. So how do we live for God? Well, this is the topic of the whole Bible and of my 2-volume book; This is The Way, Walk in it (see www.greatisgodsfaithfulness.com). But in a few words, God has special admonition for us all. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself”  (Matthew 22:37-39).  I don’t believe that we can do this on our own, we need the Holy Spirit within us to do so. Speaking of David, God said, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord- and he will delight in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2). God is speaking of King David and the Messiah, or Jesus Christ. He is also says later in the New Testament that, If you love me you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever- The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-16) and “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send in you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, He will testify about Me…But when the Spirit of the truth comes, He will guide you in all the truth” (John 15:26; 16:13). The work of the Holy Spirit within us guides, convicts, leads and illuminates our way.  Additionally God gave His word, the Bible saying, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

So, do you have Jesus and His Holy Spirit and the Word of God in your heart? If not do so today. Make the decision to receive the gifts from God and your life will change. Then you will no longer be dead like the Pharisees and ungodly, but alive in Him.


Saturday, February 16, 2019

Stone Catcher


Stone Catcher

The story of the Stone Catcher is too good not to repeat. Told at a Ft. Wilderness Men’s Retreat last summer by Len Larsen, it is the story of Jesus, who is The Stone Catcher. By this he means that Jesus is the encourager, empowerer, faithful One who loves with a life fully given in humility serving others. If we want to be like Him we need to give our whole heart over and embrace His. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He alone feeds His sheep because they know His voice. Ezekiel 34 speaks of the shepherd who seeks out His sheep among the scattered and lost. He rescues them and brings them from all places and gathers them into their own land. Of course he is speaking of Israel. He is also speaking of all who would hear His voice. He will bind up their wounds and strengthen the weak. He will bring justice. He spoke of David the shepherd who preceded Christ bringing us out of the wilderness into the light and green pastures where we can rest and find good grazing. 

Do you know the one and only One who catches stones?  He caught stones on the cross meant for us that He would die and we would live, as we trust in Him? If you don’t, chances are good that you are a stone thrower or one who comes from self and has a critical spirit. You tend to gossip and find what is wrong with others, not right. You are hard hearted and want to win at any expense. Perhaps you learned that in life or business school. I certainly had many years of this kind of training. It is not what God wants from us. If you consider it a gift, take it out back and bury it. 

God can transform your heart of stone and make it into flesh, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). God’s Holy Spirit comes into our hearts and makes us new. He alone can make you a Stone Catcher. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

One Thing

I am participating in a study of heaven based on a book of same title by Randy Alcorn. I read the book several years ago causing me to preach eight sermons on the incredibly good news it offered through God’s word, the Bible.  In today’s environment I find almost no mention of heaven and if I do it is because someone has mentioned hell. Did you know that Jesus mentioned hell more than anyone? Why?  He wanted us to understand the reality of the darkness and the eternal consequences of choosing to go there. Yes, we have a choice, it is not God who wants us to go to hell, He wants that none should perish, but all to come to a knowledge of God through Christ Jesus (2 Peter 3:9). So back to heaven, a real place. Yes, heaven is for real a recent movie said.  None of us can go there until we die, so what do we do in the meanwhile? Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).  This is the call to Christians as we wait for Jesus to return to take us to heaven as 1 Thessalonians 4:16 tells us. The Apostle Paul also has some powerful guidance on the subject.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”  (Philippians 3:12-14).  Now this is great and difficult advise. Forgetting the past is one of mankind’s big issues. We remember our mistakes or we live in the glories of our past victories in high school track or whatever. Staying stuck in the past sends many to bitterness or the counselor’s office. So what does Paul say- “press on.”  Keep walking in the Lord, or as Isaiah 30:21 says, Whether you turn to the right or to the left you will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘this is the way; walk in it.’” What are we pressing onwards towards? We are pressing or straining heavenwards. How do we do this? We do this by forgetting the past and also making it the “One thing.”

“One thing” is a determined resolve. I wrote about this last week in, “Resolved to Resist.”  Jesus said to Martha in Luke 10:41-42, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Notice that Mary, Martha’s sister, has chosen the “one thing” that is necessary the King James Version says. This is telling us that fixing our eyes above to where Christ is seated at the right hand of God in heaven is where our salvation and strength will lie. Some may say, “you are so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.” Well, I don’t think that this admonition is to be that, but rather to study, pray and meditate on our Savior and His words of encouragement about our lives. King David, the “Sweet Psalmist of Israel” and “the man after God’s own heart” wrote in Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.”  This is his heart’s desire, to seek after the Lord, and in so doing know for certain that he will dwell in heaven forever with Him. This was his hearts desire, to seek after the Lord. It should also be ours’.  This was his resolution. Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan preacher also wrote “resolutions” that are for our serious consideration today:
The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (Edited and Abbreviated)
      1. Resolved that I will do all I think or say to the glory of God and not to take into    consideration my own comfort, profit or pleasure.
2.     Resolved if ever I shall fall and grow dull so as to neglect to keep any of these resolutions, I shall repent when I come to my senses again.
3.     Resolved never to lose one moment of time but use it to the most profitable way I can.
4.     Resolved to live with all my might.
5.     Resolved never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were my last hour of my life or before the last trumpet blew.
6.     Resolved to act in word and deed as if nobody had been so vile as I to live as if I had committed the same sins or had the same infirmities or failings as others to confess my own sins and miser to God when I am prone to look on shame at others.
7.     Resolved to think much on the brevity and how short ones life is.
Psalm 90:17 :) Teach me to number my days that I may apply my heart to wisdom.
8.     Resolved when I feel pain or the least of discomfort to think of the pains of martyrdom - the torments of Hell.
9.     Resolved if I see a problem to try to solve it or if someone need help to help them.
     10. Resolved if I do help to never become proud or puffed up or seek the credit (glory).
    11. Resolved never to do anything out of anger or revenge.
    12. Resolved never to speak evil of anyone - to dishonor them unless for some real good reason.
13.  Resolved to love all of mankind - walk in humility and look to my own faults and failings.
14.  Resolved that I will live as to have no regrets or wish I had done something before I die.
15.  Resolved to live each and every day at all times with the things of Eternity always on my mind and heart. Live for Eternal Purposes - may I not find joy in temporary things but in heavenly things.
16.  Resolved to be self controlled in all areas of my life.
17.  Resolved to get to the bottom of an evil thought or deed. I commit and repent and do it no more.
18.  Resolved to examine carefully and constantly in me - what is the thing that causes me in the least to doubt the love of God and the assurance of His love to cast it away.
19.  Resolved to study the scripture so diligently, constantly and frequently - as that I may find growth for me and others to observe.
     20. Resolved to strive every week to have grown in Grace and closer to God.
21.  Resolved never to doubt that God hears every prayer I pray to Him - never to doubt His forgiveness - every sin I confess.
22.  Resolved to live peacefully with all men as much as I can.
23.  Resolved only to speak the truth or what is truthful, never vain, frivolous or empty talking.
24.  Resolved to inquire every night as I am going to bed, where have I been negligent; what sin have I committed and where have I denied myself.
25.  Resolved to inquire every night, every week, month, year - what would I have done better!
26.  Resolved to frequently review my dedication to God to keep my love and heart solely His and to keep the love burning bright - to repent of a luke warm heart.
27.  Resolved to never forget I am not my own but Gods and never to live for myself but God.
28.  Resolved that nothing but God, Gods word and Gods will shall influence how I live to shun anything that is not of Christlike character.
29.  Resolved never to allow any pleasure, grief, joy or sorrow, nor an affection at all, or circumstance  to hinder my devotion to God.     
30.  Resolved to live in utmost respect and honor to all family members especially my own mother and father.
31.  Resolved to look often at the state of my soul.
32.  Resolved never to say -I only I could live my life over again I would have done such and such (no regrets)
33.  Resolved to always be mindful of my Lord Jesus Christ to trust and confide and consecrate myself wholly to Him.
34.  Resolved to live as if I had already seen the Joys of Heaven and the torments of Hell!
35.  Resolved never to slacken my devotion and resolve to God.
36.  Resolved when I fear misfortunes and adversities - to examine if I have been faithful to do my part and trust; repent of any sin and trust God for the outcome.
37.  Resolved to act loving, respectfully, Godly towards all and when I am feeling ungodly to quickly repent.
38.  Resolved in all situations to act Christlike in His nature and character. Did I speak lovingly?
39.  Resolved to pray and groan and intercede with all my heart.
“One thing” is a resolute mindset determined to do what is right in the eyes of God, not man. It requires self-discipline and courage, especially in light of the morally decaying world in which we live. James 4:7 says, Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” That is a good mantra or resolution. What about you? Have you made resolutions for life? I’m not talking the typical “New Year’s Resolutions” that apparently 98% of people forget within, two months, but life resolutions that will stick. These may change over time, but for me they will be words from the Bible. Perhaps I will start with a strong admonition from Jesus saying, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27).