God With Us Means Hope

What is hope in your life? For some, hope is the first candle to be lit when the power goes out in the storm. Hope is the first day you wake up and can breathe again after an awful cold. And hope is that percentage you do have of beating the cancer.

Hope is that COVID will be beat in the coming days or weeks. Hope is the faint line on that stick when you’ve been struggling to get pregnant. It’s the first ray of sunshine through your window after a tearful, difficult night.

Hope is hearing the words, “He’s going to be OK.” Hope is the flicker of maybe, just maybe.Hope is the fuel of faith and dreams. And hope is what we celebrate on this first Sunday of Advent.

Advent is actually a season of hope. The word advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and the season is marked by expectation, waiting, anticipation, and longing. It’s a season that links the past, present, and future.

Advent offers us the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, to celebrate his birth, and to be alert for his second coming. Advent looks back in celebration at the hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s first coming, while at the same time looking forward in hopeful and eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. During Advent we wait for both – it’s an active, assured, and hopeful waiting.

Now, the Christmas season always seems busy doesn’t it? Even with COVID lockdowns we’re busy. But in a season often marked by frenzied busyness, Advent is an opportunity to set aside time to prepare our hearts and help us place our focus on a far greater story than our own – the story of God’s redeeming love for our world.

And it’s a season of digging deep into the reality of what it means that God sent his Son into the world to be Immanuel. Immanuel is a word that means, “God with Us”.

That means then that it’s a season of expectation and preparation, with an opportunity to align ourselves with God’s presence more than just the hectic season of presents. So, wherever you are on your own spiritual journey, I invite you into this season. It’s a time that allows for questions and struggle as we take time to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming.

In the darkness, in the pain, in the chaos, he comes. And he makes a way and he brings us hope. God with us means hope. That’s the way God has been working throughout history. You see, back in the beginning, in the way God intended this creation, he walked freely and openly with Adam and Eve. He was with us, and humanity enjoyed wholeness and intimacy with God.

But you know the story. Adam and Eve chose sin. Separation divided God and humans. As a result, the brokenness of our world that we know far too well is the ongoing reality.

But do you realize that ever since, God has been working toward restoration and healing and wholeness for us and all he has made? This is the overarching story of the Bible. Throughout the scriptures, we can see God making a way and giving and reminding his people of the hope that he is still at work. We see it in God’s covenant with Abraham, then called Abram: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:3

When God encountered Jacob at Bethel, he renewed that covenant and reinforced the hope rooted in his faithfulness: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” – Genesis 28:15

But much time passed, years and generations and centuries, and we humans are an impatient breed, aren’t we? Stand in line at McDonalds for more than five minutes and we think we’re living with a bunch of barbarians.

Culturally, we Canadians don’t seem to understand the concept of delayed gratification, do we? We want everything now without waiting for it. Which is why so many, experience so much stress with credit cards maxed out and bankruptcies common place. Fast food delivered quickly is the norm and we want it faster so we call uber eats or skip the dishes.

And a child in the car heading to vacation is the worst! When we’d go on vacation as a child, I’m sure I drove my dad crazy by asking repeatedly, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” But we’re not the only people in history who lived impatiently. “Are we there yet?” was the cry of the ancient Israelite people too.

From the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to David, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the many other prophets, there was a cyclical repeating of history, with devotion to God one time and neglect of God the next. There was prosperity and there was recession, feast and literal famine, pleasure and pain.

But through it all, there was a deep and ongoing longing for God to fulfill his covenant and his promise of a Messiah, who would come to make everything right. And in their hearts, they would impatiently ask, Is he here yet? This wasn’t just a happy idea that drifted in and out of the Israelites’ consciousness and culture – this was a deep hope, their deepest hope, that sustained them and encouraged them and spurred them on, especially through thousands of years of uncertain waiting.

And in the midst of that long journey of hope, the prophet Isaiah became a voice of hope. Seven hundred years before Jesus, Isaiah gave us beautiful words that ring with hope for the coming Messiah. Listen to some of these. Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”

And Isaiah 9:1-2, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan – The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned”

A little later in the same chapter, Isaiah wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” – Isaiah 9:6-7

Can you imagine living in an ancient world, well before the time of tiktok, or FB or Television, or YouTube and even before written information became common place, and hearing a message like that? Can you imagine the hope that would spring up in the hearts of the people?

Did Isaiah understand all of these messages and promises? On some level, yes, but on others, probably not. He sure didn’t know God’s time line for when it all would happen and when the Messiah would come.

Perhaps Isaiah thought it would be in his lifetime, or maybe he somehow knew that God’s work stretched for generations and generations. Either way, Isaiah was filled with hope, and God’s promises fueled him and his people to continue to hope for years and even centuries.

In Luke 1, we see a priest named Zechariah who would have been well acquainted with the words and prophecies of Isaiah. And he would have most certainly held deep longings for the Messiah who had been promised. Zechariah was one of those who would have asked, “Is he here yet?” That’s because he had a hope for the future.

One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple since his priestly division was on duty that week. There were twenty-four priestly divisions who would each serve in the temple only twice a year for one week each time. And as was the custom of the priests, a member of their order was chosen by lot to enter the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the temple, and burn the incense.

Apparently, that meant then that any single priest might have only had one chance in their whole lifetime to actually enter the holy of holies to burn incense since only one priest was allowed in at a time. If anyone else, priest or commoner, not chosen and thus considered unworthy were to enter, the presence of the Lord would kill them instantly.

In this particular case, Zechariah must have thought he won the lottery because he was chosen through the casting of the lots. Casting lots was a method used by the Jews of the Old Testament and even by the Christian disciples prior to Pentecost to determine the will of God.

Lots could be sticks with markings or stones with symbols, or something similar, which were thrown into a small area and then the result was interpreted. Proverbs says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” – Proverbs 16:33

So, even though Zechariah might have thought he got the luck of the draw, it’s important to remember that it was actually God who caused the lots to choose Zechariah because he was orchestrating something amazing.

 Luke 1:11-22 tells us about this something amazing being orchestrated. In that passage we see that Zechariah was shocked when suddenly, out of the blue, God drops a megadose of hope into his world, not just for him, but also for the people of Israel. Problem was of course that Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were old. Too old to have kids.

So, when Zechariah received this special angelic delivery, he was a little bit in shock, to say the least. And he couldn’t quite get over this part about him and his old wife having a child. “Who me? Uh, we’re old, God. That’s not possible”. As a result of Zechariah’s push back to the angelic message, God made sure he remained literally speechless until his son, John, was born.

This was certainly an inconvenience, but can you imagine the hope that sprang up within this couple and the people around them when they heard this news? The old prophecies are about to be fulfilled!

The one prophesied to come in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for the Messiah, is coming! God is moving to restore hope that he is still here – that the human expression of God with Us is still coming. Hope on earth at its deepest levels was alive again!

Maybe some of you are thinking, That’s all fine and dandy for those people thousands of years ago, but what about for us? What about for me? They weren’t fighting cancer. Their spouse wasn’t killed fighting in a war on the other side of the world – or didn’t walk out on them. They didn’t lose their job with no warning, with bills to pay and debts stacking up and kids expecting Christmas presents, not to mention meals on the table. And COVID wasn’t even a thing then.  

But no matter what kind of problems and struggles you’re facing right now, no matter what kind of season of darkness and pain you are in, let me encourage you not to abandon hope.

Hope is still alive, even in our deepest pain and most hopeless circumstances. Hope is alive because God is with us. How can we know? How can we find that tiny spark of hope when we’re on the verge of giving up?

No matter what kind of circumstances we are facing, the first is that we can have a hope based on God’s word.

Hope Based on God’s Word

Part of the gift of God with Us is the written word that he has left us. These are his promises to his people – both long ago and today. They are beacons of hope. They are reminders that can penetrate our hearts and spirits and assure us that no matter what we are facing, no matter how bleak tomorrow looks, no matter how bad the pain, God will never leave us or forsake us. And nothing can separate us from him.

You are not alone. God with Us means that he always will be with us, and nothing – nothing – can take that away. Scripture is filled with stories and words and promises that can rekindle a supernatural hope within us.

As we move through Advent, let me encourage you to dig into the words of the Bible expectantly. Because God is with us, we can take hope that we are never alone, that he is always working in and among us, and that he isn’t done yet with his greatest and final work of healing.

The second way we can rekindle hope is to put our focus on God’s character – on who he is and promises to be.

Hope Based on God’s Character

In Mark 5 there’s a great story of hope. For twelve years, the woman in the story had been slowly bleeding to death. No one had been able to help her. Doctors had tried, but her condition had only grown worse. And this condition would have affected everything about her, every day of her life. Those of you with long-term illnesses can probably relate.

But she had heard about this Jesus – the stories, the miracles, the healings – and she believed. And because of that, hope awoke inside of her. And the hope of healing – of a new life, drove her to act.

And so, she did what she could just to get close enough to Jesus and reach out. And when she did, Jesus connected with her deeply and directly and intimately, as God with Us.

This is our God. This is his character. Jesus is God with Us, fulfilling Israel’s hope for the Messiah when he arrived that first Christmas. He fulfilled humanity’s hopes for victory over death when he was resurrected that first Easter. And one day he will ultimately fulfill all hope and complete God’s work of restoration for all creation when he returns.

‘Finally, the third way we can find and take hold of hope is by focusing on God’s faithfulness.

Hope Based on God’s Faithfulness

Let me ask you, how has God been at work in your life? You know those times when you had no doubt he was there and he was working. Maybe it’s been recently or maybe it’s been a long time ago. But you still remember that in those circumstances swirling around you, the presence of God’s Spirit was with you. But what does that have to do with hope? What do those memories have to do with the here and the now?

Listen to these words from Jeremiah found in Lamentations, a book most of us may not spend too much time reading. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:21-22

Jeremiah understood that there is hope in the future when we remember what God has done in the past. Hope grows and spreads like a living thing. It can dwindle and diminish and, yes, even die. But with nurture and care, it can be revived and flourish and multiply. And when we focus on gratitude because of what God has done in the past, it can renew and grow our hope today.

Even during these times of COVID restrictions, where many are not able to spend Christmas with loved ones. Where churches aren’t able to gather, where jobs have been lost. Even for those who have seen loved ones pass away and so only have memories of Christmas past, we still have a hope in the future. Recognizing and appreciating the good that God has shown us in the past will increase our hope for all he will do in the future.

Let me encourage you by reminding you, that no matter what the circumstances of life look like and no matter what we’re facing, know that God with us means Hope. And we can hope because his word tells us we can. And we can hope because God’s Character promises we can. And we can hope because God’s faithfulness guarantees we can.

Overcoming Porn Addiction

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you when I say that the porn industry generates about $13 billion each year in the United States. It’s a heartbreaking reality that 9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls have been exposed to pornography before the age of 18. In fact, the average age of first exposure is about 11 years old.

Studies show that terms relating to porn are by far the most commonly searched-for terms in the internet search engines. Every day, literally millions of people do searches related to the porn industry. The powerful imagery of internet pornography is highly addictive. Many men (and women) have been caught in the snare of internet porn and find themselves helplessly addicted to its visual stimulation. Most often pornography is viewed in isolation and so, the thinking goes, it’s not hurting anyone so why make it an issue?

Porn has an incredible way of appearing harmless. But researcher Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. completed a major study of pornography and called it a “quiet family killer.” His study found that fifty-six percent of divorces had one partner with an obsessive interest in porn.[1]

Why Pornography Should Be Avoided

Just a small bit of pornography can’t be all that bad, right? Wrong! Research has found that pornography is highly addictive. Scientists now know that when having sex or watching porn, dopamine is released into a region of the brain responsible for emotion and learning, giving the viewer a sense of sharp focus and a sense of craving: “I have got to have this thing; this is what I need right now.” It supplies a great sense of pleasure. The next time the viewer gets the “itch” for more sexual pleasure, small packets of dopamine are released in the brain telling the user: “Remember where you got your fix last time. Go there to get it.” Norepinephrine is also released, creating alertness and focus. It is the brain’s version of adrenaline. It tells the brain, “Something is about to happen, and we need to get ready for it.”

The body also releases endorphins, natural opiates that create a “high,” a wave of pleasure over the whole body. After sexual release serotonin levels also change, bringing a sense of calm and relaxation. Sex also triggers the release of oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones help to lay down the long-term memories for the cells. They “bind” a person’s memories to the object that gave him or her the sexual pleasure.

This system is intricately designed to work this way while having sex with your spouse. God designed it for intimacy and pleasure as together you and your spouse can bond emotionally, physically, spiritually along with experiencing a high, an alertness of sexual pleasure, and the deep calm afterwards (norepinephrine, endorphins, and serotonin).

With each sexual embrace you are emotionally bonding to this person. Over time a craving for sex is transformed into a desire for one another (dopamine). That is one of the reason’s (among others) that a person should stay celibate until their wedding night. On the wedding night when the spouses engage in sexual intimacy for the very first time, there is a deep physical and emotional “bonding” that takes place with no guilt.  But porn short-circuits the system because it is impersonal, short term, and completely selfish.

The problem only grows the more porn is used, in that the more exposure to it, the more the need for it to create arousal. This results in uncontrollable lust mixed in with frustration, along with an inability to experience true sexual intimacy in marriage, and often intense feelings of guilt and despair. The images that pornography provides create unrealistic expectations that will leave you empty and unfulfilled with your spouse. So, choosing to avoid pornography altogether is choosing a healthier, more satisfying marriage and sex life.

It’s become a sad reality that our world is obsessed with sex and pornography. But it’s not just a problem with those in the world but also those who consider themselves not of this world.

A survey taken at a Promise Keepers rally revealed that over fifty percent of the men in attendance were involved with pornography within one week of attending the event.

And that was 20 years ago…

Did you know that fifty percent of Christian men and twenty percent of Christian women say they are addicted to pornography? I didn’t know that. And did you know that the most popular day of the week for viewing porn is Sunday? Personally, I love hanging out with family and friends at church in the mornings, and then watch football (followed by Dr. Who), either alone or with friends and family Sunday afternoons – Go Seahawks! So, I won’t lie that the last stat really surprised me.

There Is Hope In Jesus

Porn is a problem, as I’m sure you can already tell, but I don’t think all hope is lost. There are two primary aspects in the battle to overcome an addiction to internet porn: spiritual and practical.

Spiritually, addiction to pornography is a sin that God desires you to overcome and therefore will enable you to do so. The first step is to make sure you have genuinely placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour. If you are unsure, please visit our page here called Good News.

The truth is, that without salvation through Jesus, there is no possibility of a true and lasting victory over pornography: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” – John 15:5

If you are a believer in Christ yet struggling with an addiction to internet porn, there is amazing hope and there is great help for you through the power of the Holy Spirit, “According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” – Ephesians 3:16 The cleansing of God’s forgiveness is extended to you, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9

The renewing capacity of God’s Word is at your disposal, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2

As you begin your redemption journey remember to commit your mind and eyes to the Lord, “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world.” – 1 John 2:16. Along the way ask God to strengthen you and help you to overcome pornography, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

As well, ask God to protect you from further exposure to porn, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13, and to fill your mind with things that are pleasing to him, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

You may think that you are in an unwinnable battle, you may have tried before and failed, but you also need to know that you serve a Lord who hasn’t, nor will he, given up on you.

There Is Hope In Community

God has created us for community, and we fight best alongside others. Practically, to maintain sexual purity, we need a band of brothers & sisters with whom we can be open and honest with.

To be most successful, pray for and find two or three others who recognize that they themselves are real, hard-boiled messy sinners where the sinful, broken human condition is understood and the solution isn’t ‘trying harder’ but ‘deepening surrender’. They don’t need to be struggling with or have overcome porn addiction themselves, but they should be people who are honest about their own “stuff”.

Sexual sin runs deep – accountability should run deeper. If you find yourself in a situation where sexual sin has taken over or you’ve considered entertaining the idea, find someone to talk to. Be open and honest.

Also, become aware of the numerous tools at your disposal to help you combat an addiction to internet pornography. There are good programs available at Covenant Eyes or x3watch.com. Your temptation to view internet porn would be greatly reduced if you knew your youth pastor, parent, friend, pastor, or spouse would receive a detailed report about it.

Download PornAddiction.com & Nothing to Hide and start reading articles. Visit Doing Family Right’s Victory over Porn  page on their website. 

There are also quite a few good books on overcoming porn addiction: Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Purity One Victory at a Time by Stephen Arterburn and The Game Plan by Joe Dallas  are just two.

Don’t Do Nothing

I watched the movie ‘Christopher Robin’ with my family recently. It was a great movie filled with great quotable lines made by Winni the Poo. One line was, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.” That line fit the context of the story perfectly, however in the case of porn addiction you must do the opposite. Don’t do nothing, because nothing always leads to something, and in the case of porn it is always the opposite of the very best for you.

Don’t despair! An addiction to internet porn is not an “unforgivable sin.” God can and will forgive you. As well, an addiction to internet porn is not an “unconquerable sin.” God can and will enable you to overcome it. Commit your mind and eyes to the Lord. Commit yourself to filling your mind with God’s Word, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” – Psalm 119:11

Seek his help daily in prayer; ask him to fill your mind with his truth and block unwanted thoughts and desires. Take the practical steps listed above to keep yourself accountable and block access to internet porn. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” – Ephesians 3:20

[1]https://www.allprodad.com/the-effects-of-porn-on-marriage/

Can A Christian Lose Their Salvation?

“Can a Christian lose their salvation?” (or similar), is a question I frequently hear from the lips of new or immature Christians who have often been battling an area of sin, are guilt ridden and are scared that God will or has already kicked them out of the ‘family’ because he won’t stand for their weakness’ any further. The image is one of a shouting boss or angry dad who, “Won’t put up with your incompetence any longer!”

However, the answer to their question and the balm to their fears biblically is a resounding, clear, emphatic, joyful, glorious “No.” A born-again person cannot become dead, cannot be unborn again. John MacArthur once said, “If you could lose your salvation you would.” With respect to John MacArthur, I’d go a step further and say that if I could lose my salvation I already would have.

When people come to know Christ as their Saviour, they are brought into a relationship with God that guarantees their eternal security. Jude said, “To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” – Jude 24. Jude knows that his half-brother Jesus is a God who is All-Powerful, and it’s his power that is able to keep the believer from falling, not yours or mine. It is up to him, not us, to present us before his glorious presence.

Jesus proclaimed, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” – John 10:28-29b

In other words, both Jesus and the Father have us firmly grasped in their hands. Think about it, they are so amazingly strong, who could possibly separate us from their holds? That’s a firm grip I’m thinking.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:30 that believers are “sealed for the day of redemption.” If believers did not have eternal security, the sealing could not actually be to the day of redemption, but only to the day of sinning, apostasy, or disbelief. And then John 3:15-16 tells us that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will “have eternal life.” Logically then, if a person were to be promised eternal life, but then have it taken away, it was never “eternal” to begin with. That means then that if eternal security isn’t true, the promises of eternal life in the Bible would be lies.

Ah… But What About Hebrews 6?

There are many people who have taught (and others sadly still teach today) that Hebrews 6:4-6 clearly shows that a Christian can lose his or her salvation. I admit, that at a cursory reading, it does seem that this interpretation is correct. But, as it is with many scriptures, we need to be careful about not getting into the‘first glance then interpret habit’. So, let’s slow down and take a close look at this passage and see what it really is saying.

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and shave shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” – Hebrews 6:4-6

This passage begs the question, “How can one be ‘enlightened’ and fall away?” It does seem to be speaking of someone losing his or her salvation.

Or does it?…

It’s important to know that this section of Hebrews is talking about apostates and heretics who may have, to some degree, embraced the gospel presented to them, but have now abandoned it. However, if we want to fully understand what is being said here we need to also know context. For instance, it’s important to know how the believers who originally read this message would have understood the phrase, “those who have once been enlightened”. Today, we might think it means that they were enlightened about the truth, or that they were regenerated. But before we add our cultural or 21st century interpretation to this passage we need to first ask what the intent of the original author was, and how would his readers have understood it?

Glad you asked…

What this passage is speaking about is of certain individuals who were involved, perhaps heavily involved, in a church community. They would have heard the gospel, and would have seen the Spirit working in the lives of the Believers. They most likely would have even received some of the blessings of being part of a covenant community, even probably publicly confessing Jesus and then getting themselves dunked ‘baptized’. By the way, it’s important to note in light of this passage, that in many instances, the early Christian writers spoke to conversion and baptism as “enlightenment”.

Back to the context. The context leads us to understand that those same people just described, never had a saving knowledge of Jesus. They only “tasted” or “sampled” him. They were never truly converted to him by faith.

Think about it this way. There is a big difference between marrying someone and just going out on a few dates with them. Anyone can learn things about Jesus, even come to admire him, and even enjoy being part of a community that celebrates him, yet still have no real lasting commitment to him.

Another example is Costco. Yes, I said Costco and yes, I mean the big giant corporation. Anyways, Deb & I are card carrying members and will go to buy and experience the perceived savings and the occasional deals that the blessed membership brings to our lives.

On occasion, one or both of our boys will come along, but for very different reasons. They are “enlightened” by, and enjoy many of the same goodies that Deb & I bring home, but they aren’t members and so can’t experience the same benefits of being a member that the totalitarian corporation can bring them. They do not have access to the inner sanctum on their own. They simply come with us to “taste” the samples that are given out. They are in Costco, but not of Costco.

We see this today. There are people who attend church for years, involve themselves in a lot of good things, even have a perfect attendance record, but aren’t saved. They’ve been “enlightened” by seeing God at work, but have only just “tasted” or “sampled” what was going on, never really being a part of it. Never buying the membership card as it were.

To paraphrase Scripture, they were “in the church, but not of the Church.” In the end I think we can all understand that to be a baptized member of a church, and to be “enlightened” by the life seen in the Church and seeing God at work, doesn’t mean the same thing. In other words, “enlightened” does not necessarily mean “saved.”

But Doesn’t ‘Fallen Away” mean That They Were Saved At Some Point?

That still leaves an important question unanswered. If the ‘those’ is someone who has ‘tasted’ of the Church, has seen what’s been going on and seen God at work, has been ‘in the church, but not of the Church,’ what exactly have they ‘fallen away’ from that they can’t be ‘restore[ed] again to through repentance’? Doesn’t that imply that they were originally brought to a place of repentance? Doesn’t ‘fallen away’ mean that they were at a place to have fallen away from? In other words, weren’t they saved at some point?

John Calvin states that the unsaved person in this situation holds onto the “shadow” instead of the “substance.” This, Calvin proposes, is what is called a “temporary faith.”

Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology says that temporary faith is most likely “grounded in the emotional life and seeks personal enjoyment rather than the glory of God.” That’s why it is not difficult to understand why this kind of false faith is quickly lost when God or the church stops being be fun, or when it simply loses its appeal. But for those of us who have taken a hold of the substance – Jesus Christ – our salvation, from beginning to end, is undergirded by God. Understanding this helps us I think understand the parable of the seed in Matthew’s Gospel.

Three Indicators That You’re Truly Saved

For those of you who still are uncertain about whether you are saved or not, the following is what I share with those people who come to me with heart felt questions about their security in Christ. I discovered over the years that The Apostle John was gracious enough to give us three indicators that help us to know that our salvation is owned in our hearts.

1) We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and so love him with our whole heart.

You should have confidence in your salvation if you believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God, 1 John 5:11-13. John doesn’t want people to doubt. God wants you to have assurance, to know that you have eternal life. And this is the first sign that you believe in Jesus.

You believe he is the Christ – the Messiah, 1 John 2:22.

You believe he is the Son of God, 1 John 5:10.

You believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, 1 John 4:2.

If you get your theology wrong about Jesus you’ll not have eternal life. But one of the signs that should give you confidence before God is that you do believe in his only Son Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and that you believe that he is who he claims to be… God come in the flesh. As we grasp this great truth the great truth begins to grasp our heart and we begin to love God with our whole selves. As a result, we see the other two indicators begin to take root in our faith journey.

2) We Aim to Live Righteously

You should also have confidence if you live a righteous life; 1 John 3:6-9; 3:24. Those who practice wickedness, who plunge headlong into sin, who not only stumble, but habitually walk in wickedness – should not be confident. This is no different than what Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. We see this also in Galatians 5 that those who walk in the flesh will not inherit the kingdom.

This is no different than what Jesus tells us in John 15 that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. So, if you live a life where your radar is continually being pulled back to a morally righteous life (even though you will stumble at times), you should have confidence. And in case this standard make you despair, keep in mind that part of living a righteous life is refusing to claim that you live without sin and coming to Christ for cleansing when you do sin, 1 John 1:9-10.

3) We love other Christians

You should also have confidence if you love other Christians, 1 John 3:14. Even the grumpy and mean ones or the ones who don’t seem to love back. None of that matters. In other words, if you hate like Cain you don’t have life, but if your heart and your wallet are open to your brothers and sisters no matter how they respond (or not respond), then true relationship with Jesus is a marker in you. One necessary sign of true spiritual life is that we love one another.

These are John’s three signposts to assure us that we are on the road that leads to eternal life. Keep in mind, these are not three things we do to earn salvation, but three indicators that God has indeed saved us. We believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We aspire to live a righteous life. We are generous in love toward other Christians.

Or we can put it this way: we know we have eternal life if we love Jesus, love his commands, and love his people; 1 John 2:4, 6; 4:20; 5:2. None of the three are optional. All must be present and growing in the Christian, and all three are meant to be signs for our assurance.

John belabours the same points again and again. Do you love God? Do you love his commands? Do you love his people? If you don’t, it’s a sign you have death. If you are seeing these become growing habits and desires, it’s sign that you have life. And that means confidence instead of condemnation.

Be Encouraged

On those day where you may still feel less than encouraged, you may find your heart blessed by these words of Charles Spurgeon taken from a sermon he preached Sunday Morning, March 23, 1856, At New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.

“If Christians can fall away, and cease to be Christians, they cannot be renewed again to repentance. “But,” says one, “You say they cannot fall away.” What is the use of putting this “if” in, like a bugbear to frighten children, or like a ghost that can have no existence? My learned friend, “Who art thou that replies against God?” If God has put it in, he has put it in for wise reasons and for excellent purposes. Let me show you why. First, O Christian, it is put in to keep thee from falling away. God preserves his children from falling away; but he keeps them by the use of means; and one of these is, the terrors of the law, showing them what would happen if they were to fall away. There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep any one from going down there? Why, to tell him that if he did he would inevitably be dashed to pieces. In some old castle there is a deep cellar, where there is a vast amount of fixed air and gas, which would kill anybody who went down. What does the guide say? “If you go down you will never come up alive.” Who thinks of going down? The very fact of the guide telling us what the consequences would be, keeps us from it. Our friend puts away from us a cup of arsenic; he does not want us to drink it, but he says, “If you drink it, it will kill you.” Does he suppose for a moment that we should drink it? No; he tells us the consequences, and he is sure we will not do it. So, God says, “My child, if you fall over this precipice you will be dashed to pieces.” What does the child do? He says, “Father, keep me; hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” It leads the believer to greater dependence on God, to a holy fear and caution, because he knows that if he were to fall away he could not be renewed, and he stands far away from that great gulf, because he knows that if he were to fall into it there would be no salvation for him.”

After all is said, I still believe that the most powerful argument for eternal security in our salvation is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, which speaks to the fact that our security is based on God’s love for the ones he has redeemed.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

Insert image here (Paul’s mike drop…)

What Is The Cure For Evil & Suffering?

Why does God allow evil? If God has the power to prevent evil and desires to prevent evil, why does he still allow evil? Why isn’t he doing something about it? If God created the world the way it is today; he wouldn’t be a God of love, but rather an evil God.

These are some of the questions posed, sincerely and not so sincere, by many people. Sometimes they are used to bolster arguments against God and sometimes are asked in a sincere quest to ‘understand’.

We might not have any easy answers (if any at all) about why God allows evil and suffering, but we can know the ultimate cure for evil, suffering and death – his name is Jesus. When asking questions of such importance, I believe that the best place to find answers is found in God’s word. That being the case, let’s look at five truths found in God’s word, that if embraced, will be a source of encouragement for the Jesus follower.

God didn’t create a fallen world

 The first truth to embrace is that God didn’t create the world in the state in which it is now, instead evil came as a result of the selfishness and sinful disobedience of human beings.

The truth of the matter is that God is a God of love and his desire was to create a person and eventually a race that would choose to love him. However genuine love can’t exist unless it’s freely given through free choice. Mankind was given the choice to accept God’s love or to reject it which made evil a very real possibility.

The thing is that if God hadn’t allowed for the possibility of evil, mankind would be serving God out of obligation, not choice. He created us as real human beings with the ability to love and follow him – or not. Unfortunately, we chose the “not,” and brought sin and evil into the picture.

If Adam and Eve had only obeyed God, then they may have lived on earth forever, walking with God, tending the garden, working together, no mosquitos. But after they sinned, they were just not on the same page with God anymore. That’s because God can’t tolerate sin, having no sin within himself.

Maybe we should just blame Adam and Eve for the evil in the world. After all, they blamed each other and the serpent; however, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23

I think that it’s safe to say that, had we been in the garden instead of Adam and Eve, we would have sinned in the same way. Now, because of the fall, the world is chaotic and abnormal. Things are not in the state that they should be in. Nature is not always kind and there is conflict between each other. Health issues, hunger issues, abuse issues… none of these conditions were true before the fall when God created it all good.

God knows what’s best

The arguments go something like this: If God is good, then maybe he isn’t powerful enough to deal with all the evil and injustice in the world since it is still going on. Or, if God is powerful enough to stop wrongdoing, yet all-knowing and so must know about the pain and suffering inflicted, then he must be evil since he’s not doing anything about it, even though he has the capability.

The truth is that God knows what’s best even when we don’t. Although the Bible informs us how and why evil came about, it does not tell us why God allowed it to happen. However, we do know that God is all-wise and all-knowing and that he has reasons for allowing things to happen that go way beyond our understanding.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

All one has to do is read Job to see that no one understands the depth of wisdom and knowledge possessed by God. We are not his counselor! He does as he pleases and we are left to praise him for what he does!

That would be a good lesson for us all to learn as we go through life. We need to stop trying to figure out the ‘why’ of everything and start simply learning to trust God by faith. He knows what he is doing, we don’t! He sees the future and knows what is best for now and then, we don’t!

God has a plan

In the middle of all the evil and suffering, one thing becomes abundantly clear. God has a plan to redeem fallen mankind. The salvation Jesus provides attests to his goodness and love, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

The Bible clearly reveals the devastating effects of sin and the hopelessness of man in solving his own sin problem. Because of this ‘sin situation’ we find ourselves in, a proper understanding of the doctrine of sin is essential to understanding God’s remedy for it.

Jesus called Satan “the ruler of this world” – John 12:31, which means Satan has been allowed a certain amount of authority over this world. The blame for the evil in this world should be placed squarely upon Satan. Much is written about the devil – he comes only to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). He is a fierce enemy and a liar and a murderer.

By contrast, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. God’s plan was to send his son to earth to die in our place because we could never hope to take care of our sin problem and defeat the devil on our strength, wisdom or terms. It had to be through God’s sinless son.

Though evil is here and it is real, it is temporary because of Jesus. Jesus is Goodness incarnate. Evil will eventually be destroyed. This is the hope that the believer has. After all, our God is the God of justice, and he will one day make all things right (Revelation 21:5). Because of Christ, we have the promise of Romans 16:20, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

There is a new world coming in which there will be no more tears or pain because all things will be made new. Paradise lost will be paradise regained.

God is delaying for us

Some ask, “That’s all fine and good, but a truly good God would eliminate evil today.” My question is, “But then, are you ready to be eliminated, since you – like me – are to some degree evil?” The truth is that the total annihilation of evil is a part of the plan. There will one day come a time when God will judge the sin in this world and make all things new.

Great news if you are already counted among those who have repented of their sin, but what about those who haven’t yet made things right with God? The great news is the fourth truth to embrace, which is that God is purposely “delaying” in order to allow more time for people to repent so that he will not need to condemn them. God’s desire is that for all of our sakes we would obey him that it might be well with us.

 “Oh, that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” – Deuteronomy 5:29

Instead, what happens is that we choose our own way, and then we blame God for not doing anything about it. That’s the heart of sinful man.

But Jesus came to change our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, and he does this for those who will turn from evil and call on him to save them from their sin and its consequences.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Just picture the Sinless One who created everything, willfully hanging on a cross and spilling his blood for the sin of those who put their faith in him. Jesus proves God’s love. “Love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” – 1 John 4:7-8.

God has experienced suffering

For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is – limited and suffering and subject to evil, pain and death – yet God had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. He can demand nothing from man that he has not demanded from himself.

He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it absolutely worthwhile.

Yes, God suffered too. It’s easy to forget that the Holy God of the universe chose, out of love, to humble himself, become one of us, and ultimately to suffer in ways none of us every will (or ever could imagine) in order to purchase our redemption.

As a result, he can not only forgive our sins and freely give us salvation, but also sympathize with all we’re going through.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:14-16

God does prevent and restrain some acts of evil. Thankfully so, because this world would be MUCH WORSE were not for God restraining evil. At the same time, God has given us the ability to choose good and evil, and when we choose evil, he allows us, and those around us, to suffer the consequences of evil.

So in the end, rather than blaming God and questioning him on why he doesn’t prevent or eliminate all evil, we should be about the business of proclaiming the cure for evil and its consequences – Jesus Christ!

Five Ways to Respond to the Horrific Church Shooting in Texas

On November 5th 2017, 26-year-old Devin Kelly burst into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and killed (at least) 26 people and shot approximately 20 more. The youngest victim was reportedly two and the oldest was in their 70s. The pastor’s 14-year-old daughter was also murdered. This little town near San Antonio is reeling in agony. For them, this tragedy is Apocalyptic in scale.

Families were decimated, an entire community for the rest of time will be remembered as the place where it happened. No doubt, this little hamlet of civilization has been flooded with news agencies from around the world, agents with the FBI and ATF, ambulance-chasing opportunists of the worst varieties, and well-meaning helping hands (who often get in the way). Whenever schools resume, they will need an army of people trained in crisis therapy. Life will not get back to “normal” in this town for a long, long time – if ever.

I don’t know if anyone is able to tell us the real motive behind the shootings yet. We don’t know with certainty if it was religiously motivated or not, but if it is an attack on Christianity,  is it to be expected?

Whatever the reasons, we do know one thing… It’s evil. How do we (Christians) respond in the face of evil? As disciple’s of Jesus we need to go to our master to find out. Jesus said in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.”

Tertullian, one of the 2nd century Church Fathers wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. This implies that the church grows as others see the way Christians respond to death. The martyrs’ willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others. Could we see the beginnings of a regrowth of the church through the blood of martyrs?

Last year was the worst in the past 25 years for the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors, a non-denominational mission supporting persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries.

It was just two and a half years ago that nine people were murdered during a Bible study at a church in Charleston, S.C.  How did Christians in Charleston react in the face of evil? They said to the shooter, “I forgive you.” This is not natural. It is supernatural. But it’s what Jesus commanded, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you…” – Matthew 5:44

Persecution doesn’t just come from a person bent on murder. We have recently witnessed boycotts and even legal actions taken against Christian bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for same sex couples. I’ve personally witnessed anti-Christian graffiti on church walls, employees being fired for pro-life stands, subtle and not so subtle undertones of intolerance in the media, or outright abuse of power in the government.

In the June 21st, 2014 edition of the National Post, journalist Rex Murphy wrote an article that spoke to a very troubling issue with regard to the suppression of personal choice based on conscience, religious or otherwise. Rex said, “Elected Liberal MPs are under Justin Trudeau’s direct order that, in any legislation that touches on the abortion issue, they must — mindless of their faith, their previous professions on the subject, or their conscience – vote the “pro-choice” dogma. Pro-abortion is the party line. And it is the only line allowed.” – full article can be found by clicking on the following link: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/rex-murphy-in-justin-trudeaus-world-christians-need-not-apply

My question is how are we Christians supposed to respond to the growing anti-Christian sentiment and in some cases the growing outright persecutions?

I am convinced that what we are seeing are events in our world that we, as Christians nearing the return of Jesus Christ to this earth, need to understand will increasingly become an expectation rather than an exception.

That being the case then, just how should his followers respond? In answer to those who say we need to protest or seek revenge I would like to point us back to the words of Jesus himself, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36

So… what is our response to the horrific shootings in Texas? There are many more, but allow me to share five.

1) PRAY

No matter how frequently such persecutions occur and increase, our first response should always be the same: turn to God in prayer. After the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in 2012, Scotty Smith provided a model for how to pray in the midst of pain:

“Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart. Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait. But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.”

2) GRIEVE

As Christians, we are called to weep with those who weep. That was one of the identifying markers of Jesus. “Jesus wept.” – John 11:35. Yet in times of tragedy we just might be tempted instead to try to explain away and justify rather than to simply be silent and grieve with those who are grieving. When a friend or co-worker is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.”

The truth is, we want to know. We want to bring comfort and we want to “fix it.” But in our attempts to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a project to be fixed – they are real people who at those moments just want and need love. Most often without words… more often only with your presence. A hug along with the words, “I’m so sorry” can be the most therapeutic and amazing words and actions that your friend needs at that moment.

3) LOVE

The death of anyone should lead to grieving, whether they were the victim or the perpetrator. Loving is not easy especially if it for the ‘murderer – the offender. It’s a sacrifice, but we need to remember that Jesus did it for us. When he came to rescue us, we were all lost in sin. We were “risky” for him, even to the point of crucifixion. Yet he entered into a world filled with filth, and willingly laid down his life in love. This is how we share Christ with those desperate for saving grace.

4) HOPE

I think that we Christians should certainly support certain policies and solutions that we believe can foster peace, however we should also be realistic about the root cause and the ultimate solution. We need to always be quick to recognize that the root cause of violence and hate is sin. The shooting of these folks is First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs TX, is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. At its most fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die in this church is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Knowing this should cause us to look away from superficial hope during these times of tragedy.The Scripture tells us of Jesus who himself being God became a man with the expressed purpose of defeating sin & death by disarming sin of its power. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of the most-high God, who is Sovereign and good, able to save sinners from the deadly enemy of death. It is Jesus who gave his life as a sufficient sacrifice to pay the death penalty due to rebels like us. He died upon the cross and rose victoriously from the grave. His resurrection from the dead is the proof that death and sin have been defeated.

5) MEANWHILE…

Yes, we continue to live in a fallen world where evil flourishes. However, one day when the Lord returns, evil will be defeated forever. And that is the hope Christians have. Meanwhile, let us pray for those who are persecuting the church and for those who are controlled by evil. And let us live so that others may know Jesus who sees with the eyes of compassion and gives us all a hope for a future where there will be no death or evil. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45

10 Images of Hope & Comfort Found In The 23rd Psalm

Often when attending a funeral, we hear comments and words that are meant to bring comfort. Even before someone passes away, we will look to offer the right words to share with the one about to leave us. Too often however we stumble over the right thing to say, making us feel like a fish out of water in an already uncomfortable situation. The question is, just what word does one say (or not)?

In my Pastoral experience over the years, I have found that coming back to the word of God is always the best way to share hope and comfort. More specifically I have found Psalm 23 to be the most comforting as it parallels God’s relationship with us. These inspired words speak to the journey each one of us makes through our life’s experience, and explains how God wants to walk with us through the stages of life as our Shepherd.

Psalm 23 was written by David who was a great leader in the history of the nation of Israel. He was a general in the army and later on in his life became the King of Israel. But prior to any of this David was a shepherd who, as a boy, took care of his father’s flocks. As a result, David knew first-hand about the relationship between the sheep and the Shepherd. In this wonderful Psalm, David shares with us 10 images of hope & comfort that he learned through his experiences with his sheep, but even more importantly with his shepherd.

1 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” – Verse 1

The shepherd is the one who takes care of the flock. He knows his flock; he knows the sheep; he understands the needs of the flock – but also of each of the sheep individually. He knows the sheep who have gotten into the brambles and need grooming or who has been injured and need special care to grow strong, or which ones like to run away from the flock and go exploring; which sometimes gets that sheep in trouble because there are wolves out there. The shepherd knows the sheep and he cares for each and every one according to their needs because the Shepherd loves the sheep (you & me).

2 “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” – Verse 2a

Sheep will not lie down if they’re hungry, or if there is a threat of danger, or if they are irritated. Sheep will not rest if it is not at peace. Sheep will not drink from a fast-moving stream. They get spooked and so then regardless of how thirsty they are they will wander up and down the bank bleating and crying, knowing they need water to live but too jittery to take a drink. But the shepherd calms the sheep simply by being there and finds that quiet pool, that calm spot where the sheep can relax and get the refreshment they need. Do the cares of life make you jittery at times? Do you long for a place of calmness and refreshment? Trusting the Shepherd brings peace and calmness to our lives, and so the question needs to be asked, ‘Do you know the Shepherd’?

3 “He leads me beside still waters.” – Verse 2b

Sheep will not drink from a fast-moving stream. So the shepherd goes out of his way to find his sheep a quiet pool. God can help us find calm in our lives, too, so we can drink deeply from streams of living waters.

4 “He restores my soul.” – Verse 3a

This refers to what a shepherd calls a “cast down sheep”. Somehow, he has gotten upside down (onto his back) and can’t get back up. The shepherd comes along and sets him on his feet again. Sometimes this happens to us, too. Sometimes we as people find ourselves in the same place as a cast down sheep. Much like that commercial on TV… “Help I’ve fallen & I can’t get up!”

The problem is that we have all wondered away from the shepherd at times, and we’ve fallen upside down, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray.” – Isaiah 53:6

Perhaps a difficult event in our lives has caused us to fall away from God: That might be a death in our family; loss of a job; illness; overwhelming responsibilities; broken relationships. Events like this can cause us to become angry with God and even to distrust him. Perhaps we have simply chosen to serve ourselves instead of our God. Isaiah continues…”each of us has turned to his own way,” When we realize the need in our souls to be restored to our loving God, our Shepherd hears our cries of alarm, and helps us back onto our feet. He forgives us and restores us to a right relationship when we ask him.

5 “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” – Verse 3b

Verse one and two described the spring; when grass is plentiful and the sheep willingly following the Shepherd. Verse three is a description of mid-summer, when the grass is getting scarce. Sheep, when they are in their pasture, will ruin pasture quickly – eating from the same grassy area until it is so short that it dries up and dies. So the shepherd makes new paths for them so that they can find fresh grass. Some of us need a fresh start (healthy grass). Jesus, our Shepherd, wants to help us find it, but the pathway back to green pastures can be dangerous.

6 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” – Verse 4a

This part talks about the trip to the high-country meadows in springtime. This route is through some tough country with lots of rocks, deep ravines, and cliffs. Places where wolves and wild animals stalk their prey for an easy kill. This shepherd was constantly on the look-out and protected the sheep. This is what God does for us, too. There are many times when life is treacherous and scary. Jesus wants to be our Shepherd through these times, as well.

7 “Your rod and staff, they comfort me.” – Verse 4b

The rod is a weapon to kill a bear, while the staff was a stick with a crook in the end to bring in a sheep for inspection or to pull them by the leg from a cliff. The Shepherd is well prepared to keep us safe. He will not let anything take us from him if we decide to follow him.

8 “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” – Verse 5a

Finally the Shepherd and the flock arrive at a fresh mountain meadow where the grass is unspoiled by the harsh summer sun. All around the meadows, there were snakes, wolves and predators waiting to snag stray sheep. In the middle of this tension and danger, the shepherd led the sheep to a banquet of fresh grass – to a place of peace in a scary world.

9 “You annoint my head with oil.” – Verse 5b 

In the summer time, the gnats and flies would get up the noses of the sheep and lay their eggs in there. It would drive the sheep mad. Here, the shepherd anoints their heads with oil (pours it over their noses). This kills the gnats and gets rid of them. What an amazing picture of our father who loves to provide tender, loving care.

10 “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Verse 6

It’s now the part of the story where they have all come back to the farm for winter, back to the safety of the home pasture. The end of the life cycle (retirement, ageing, death). It’s a picture of an eternal life with our Shepherd who has helped us all the way through every stage of our life. No more perilous trips to the upper meadows; no more fast flowing rivers; no more wandering off; no more rocks and crevices; no more wolves. Rather there is safety in the Great Shepherd’s home and eternal peace in his love

Important Question

Do you know the shepherd? Do you experience his care; his protection; his guidance; his restoration when you wonder off? Here’s the key: It’s as we make Jesus our Shepherd now, in this life, and choose to live with him day to day, that we prepare for our eternal life with the Shepherd “back at the farm”.

Maybe life has become confusing. There may be some things you can’t understand or you wonder why they are happening to you (like the loss of a family member). Or, you are facing a situation that is frightening or has you worried. At a time of the death of a friend or loved one, you ask yourself questions such as: “Is there life after death? What am I really accomplishing in my life? How can I know how I should live now?” Perhaps you’ve been asking some of the big questions of life. Questions like these are often raised in times of loss or at times when we are confronted with death. I want you to know that the shepherd desires to lead and care for all those who would choose to follow him. He wants to comfort us and help us make sense of life, not only in times of loss and confusion but every day we live.

This Psalm is not only a comfort at a time of loss such as at a funeral, but it also shows God in a whole new light. Jesus is one who understands the turmoils of life and death and will help us in them. In the end Jesus is the only one who can give us purpose and hope in a world of hopelessness, sorrow, death and trouble. In the end Jesus is the shepherd and he is the Word that we need to share as we experience the toughest moments of life… and death.