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Jesus: The Good Shepherd

Sheep are definitely not the smartest animals God created! When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock will likely follow. In the hilly terrain of Palestine, this was a source of great danger to sheep. For example, if one sheep jumped off a cliff, and there was no shepherd there to protect them, the whole flock could be lost. Therefore having an alert and vigilant shepherd to watch over them was essential.

In Mark 6:34, it is said of Jesus, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” Jesus saw those in the great crowd as helpless sheep, unable to defend themselves or make wise choices on their own, like sheep without a shepherd. And He had compassion on them and became the Good Shepherd they were needing.

By examining some of the responsibilities of a shepherd, we can gain more understanding of the meaning of this name of Jesus.

  • A good shepherd develops a close, intimate relationship with his sheep so that they know his voice and trust him. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John‬ ‭10:3‬b ESV)
  • A good shepherd works tirelessly to provide protection and security for the sheep. “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians‬ ‭3:3‬ ‭NIV‬)
  • A good shepherd provides for the needs of his sheep, leading them to green pastures and fresh water. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians‬ ‭4:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬)
  • A good shepherd searches for his sheep when they stray. “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew‬ ‭18:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬)
  • A good shepherd cares for and loves his sheep, sacrificing his life for them if necessary. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (‭‭John‬ ‭10:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Jesus, this morning my heart is filled with gratitude that You truly are my Good Shepherd. Thank You for the privilege of knowing You intimately so I recognize Your voice when You speak. Thank You for providing so generously for our needs and for coming after us when we stray. And especially thank You for laying down Your life for me on the Cross. Thank You for being my Good Shepherd.

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I Am the Light of the World

Lights are one of my favorite Christmas decorations, from the lights on the Christmas tree to the lighted star on the top of the tree to the festive candles sitting around our living room. One tradition our family has as part of our Christmas Eve celebration is to attend the Candlelight service at our church, then come home, light the tree and candles, and sit around and eat snacks and open gifts while we listen to Christmas carols. A very appropriate way to remember the birthday of the Light of the world!

When Jesus said He is the Light of the world, He was identifying Himself as the fulfillment of the promise in Isaiah 9:2,  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” As with the last two “I am” statements, Jesus was claiming to be the promised Messiah of the Old Testament Scriptures.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Thank You, Jesus for calling me out of darkness and into Your marvelous light when I was a young adult. Until then, I knew about You but I didn’t know You personally. Now my desire is to proclaim Your excellencies to all who will listen.

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The Benefits of Brokenness

In February 2017, when I was asked to be a team leader for God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness first Virtual Retreat Weekend, I had no idea how fitting the focus of these three days was for what laid ahead for our family during the rest of this year. We were doing a study of the recently released book and video series by Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way:A Daring Path into the Abundant Life.

The retreat was encouraging, but what our family has faced in the months since then has been difficult. Legal issues concerning the property we inherited from my husband’s mother, high monthly property tax payments that strain our budget to the point of collapse, the loss of our only vehicle due to mechanical problems, damage to our home from Hurricane Harvey, and our special-needs, medically fragile son’s life-threatening illness made worse by lack of available medication during the hurricane – all of these have made for a year where brokenness is no longer a theory I read about in a book.

To continue, please click on the following link:

https://lifeinthespaciousplace.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/the-benefits-of-brokenness/

 

Exploring Our Theme, Part 1: Anchored in Hope

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.                                         It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,” Hebrews‬ ‭6:19‬ ‭NIV

When I sensed God prompting me last December to choose hope as my word of the year for 2017, I had no idea how important this decision would be.

This has been a year filled with the storms of life.

First, we learned that we owed a large amount in property taxes on the house and property we had inherited from my husband’s mother. We made arrangements to begin making monthly payments on these taxes. Living on Social Security, supplemented with a self-employment income that varies greatly from month to month, this put a severe strain on our budget.

A few months later, our only vehicle broke down. When we learned that repairing it would cost more than we could afford and more than the value of the car, we were suddenly without transportation.

Then an actual storm, Hurricane Harvey, touched our lives. While we were fortunate that our home was not flooded, we did not make it through the torrential rainstorm without damage. Our roof sprung a leak, part of the ceiling in an upstairs room we use for storage collapsed, and water got into the walls and shorted out the wiring that supplies power to close to half of the house.

This however was not the most devastating result of the hurricane.  The Friday before the storm began on Sunday, our special needs son David began running a fever. Since David doesn’t regulate his body temperature very well because of his brain damage, we just watched him closely, using medication and cool compresses to reduce the fever. But by the following Tuesday, it’s was obvious David was fighting a major infection so we contacted his doctor for an antibiotic. We quickly learned that finding a drug store open and well stocked in Houston in the days following Hurricane Harvey was not an easy task. No one we contacted had the original prescription in stock.

Finally on Friday, after again contacting David’s doctor for a prescription of a different antibiotic, we were able to begin David on an antibiotic for what now appeared to be pneumonia. The next day, the house calls group we use for our son’s medical care sent out a mobile x-ray unit to do a chest x-ray, and pneumonia was confirmed. A stronger prescription was ordered, and we began treating the pneumonia at home.

The following Wednesday, it became obvious this home treatment plan was not working, in spite of the antibiotic and aggressive respiratory care our son’s nursing team was giving him. We called 911 and transported him to the hospital.

And thus began one of the most intense periods of our year so far.  We learned the pneumonia had caused fluid to fill David’s right lung, and the lung had collapsed. After several procedures to drain the fluid and reinflate the lung, and other health problems being diagnosed through further testing, it is now two and a half weeks later and we are still in the hospital.

So what does all of this have to do with being anchored in hope?

 When we go through the storms of life, we need an anchor to hold us steady. Hope in Jesus Christ is the anchor that holds us secure as we are blown and tossed by the wind and waves of the storms of life.

In today’s culture, hope is often equated to wishful thinking. But biblical hope is so much more. According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, to hope is “to trust in, wait for, look for, or desire something or someone; or to expect something beneficial in the future.” Biblical hope is rooted is trust in God and confident expectation based on His character and promises, especially during times of waiting for His answer.

As our family has walked through these difficult circumstances in 2017, our trust in God has not been shaken. If anything, these trials have drawn us into a closer relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There have been times of feeling overwhelmed, but even those have been taken to the Lord and our anchor has held. As I write this, we are still in a time of waiting for God’s answers. But through it all, the anchor of hope has held us steady in these storms of life.

 

Five Minute Friday: Place

I’m a day late, but it’s time to join the Five Minute Friday writing community. Each week, Kate Motaung gives a prompt and for five minutes we do free and unedited writing on the week’s topic. Today’s prompt: Place

When I first saw this week’s topic, I drew a blank concerning what to write. Then I looked up the definition of place and found it can also refer to a state of mind. This opened my eyes.

In one way, our family is currently in a difficult place. A place of great uncertainty concerning the future. A place of stressful circumstances and waiting to see if God will come through for us.

But it an important way, this has also been a place of blessing. In recognizing our need for God to intervene, this has become a place of close fellowship with God. A place of new intimacy in relationship with my Lord. A place of growth in prayer. A place of peace in the midst of the storm.

Circumstances may land us in a certain place emotionally. But we have a choice in how we will respond. Seasons of great trial present us with two options. We can either turn our focus on the difficulties we are walking through and feel overwhelmed. Or we can turn our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ and His promise that nothing can separate us from His love and be sustained.

We can turn our eyes on the problems, or we can turn our eyes on the Lord who is bigger than any problem we face. The decision we make will determine whether the place we are walking is one of defeat or victory.  Of turmoil or peace.

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Casting Your Cares on the Lord Through Prayer Journaling

My day yesterday was full – full of hurrying to get to one place, waiting, then more hurrying and waiting. First, it was hurrying to a 10am appointment for a mammogram, which didn’t actually take place until 10:40am. We left that office around 11am, made one stop on the way, then rushed to another appointment, this time with one of my doctors, only to settle down for another time of waiting. We finally got in to see the doctor, then left and hurried home in an attempt to miss a major storm that was coming. Overall, it was a productive but exhausting day.

As I was reflecting on the day this morning, I recognized it provides a good description of how my life has been recently – a series of moving quickly from one problem to another, only to enter another time of waiting on answers. At the same time, it’s been a spiritually productive time, even though as I write this the answers to several months of prayers are still in the future. And like my day yesterday, the process has been exhausting.

So how do we make it through such times of waiting? There are many answers to this question, but I want to share just one that has really helped me during this time. It’s based on Psalm 55:22, which says “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.”

How do we cast our cares on the Lord? One method that has worked extremely well for me over the past three months is prayer journaling. Through prayer journaling, I have shared my thoughts, emotions, and fears with God daily, casting them on the Lord. Then, I’ve taken time to listen for His response, which I also recorded in my daily journal entry.

This definitely has not been an easy time. Some days between the daily struggles of living with the pain and limitations of chronic pain and illness, dealing with new problems concerning our special needs son, and living with the daily stresses we are now facing, it has been hard to keep going. But sitting down each morning and sharing my current struggles with the Lord has consistently strengthened me to face another day.

Through this discipline of honestly sharing my heart with God on a daily basis, sometimes through tears, and then listening to His instruction for the day, I have truly been sustained. This season of testing is still not over. But even now I can look back on it as a time of spiritual intimacy with the Lord, hearing just what I need daily to keep pressing forward through another day.

No matter what you are facing today, I recommend highly that you take time every morning to cast the burden you are walking under on the Lord. Come to Him with honesty and humility, not trying to be “spiritual,” but  genuinely expressing what is on your heart to the Lord. Then take time to listen to His response. I believe you too will experience His sustaining power through whatever you are facing.

Learning About Prayer

I am the leader of prayer ministries for a large and growing ministry for ladies with chronic illness. I am currently leading a prayer study for the Sunday school class my husband and I attend. So prayer is important to me. But I do not consider myself an expert in prayer. As my responsibilities in the area of ministering to others in the area of prayer have increased, the knowledge that I still have a lot to learn has become foremost in my mind.  I am a learner in the area of prayer.

I shared in a recent article that my husband and I have been walking through some difficult circumstances in our lives. I don’t want to go into the details again, so I’ll share the link for anyone who is interested in this story.        https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/living-outside-my-comfort-zone/

God has been at work through these circumstances in both my husband’s life and my life, but in different ways. In my life, He has had me in what I would describe as the Holy Spirit School of Prayer

During the same period of time, I have been preparing to lead the prayer study in our Sunday school class using The Battle Plan for Prayer Bible Study materials from Stephen and Alex Kendrick, producers of the movie War Room.. What I share today is a combination of what God has personally been teaching me and what I’m learning through the study of these excellent materials.

Now I have a more balanced understanding of what prayer includes. Up until recently, when I thought of prayer, what primarily came to mind was confession of sin, lifting our needs up to the Lord (supplication), and intercession for the needs of others. I always felt like I was falling short in these areas, especially in supplication and intercession, because the needs were so overwhelming that it would literally take “prayer without ceasing” to cover all of them daily.

These are important parts of prayer, but prayer is so much more. I knew in theory that worship, praise and thanksgiving were all elements of prayer, but in my mind they were separate things. I had even tried using the A.C.T.S. acronym – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication – during my prayer time, but I saw this more as a formula for prayer, with worship, praise and thanksgiving more as preparation for prayer than as actual types of prayer.

I had also read of the importance of using God’s Word in prayer, but in my mind and on my daily schedule Bible reading and prayer were two separate things. As we have walked through this difficult season, I’ve begun to understand each of these things as a part of true prayer.

At it’s root, prayer is communion and communication with God. When Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are to pray without ceasing, he was not talking about what I used to think of as prayer. He was saying throughout the day we are to stay in open communication with God. The main way God speaks to us is through His Word, so we are to read His Word expecting Him to speak to us. And we are to respond to what He shows us in prayer. Bible reading and study are meant to be a part of our prayer life, not separate from it.

This season of my life has caused a major change in my daily quiet time. Instead of seeing it as composed of a series of things I do, I have begun to see the whole quiet time as a part of prayer. Praise and worship are no longer preparing my heart for prayer – they are prayer. Overcoming discouragement by looking for God’s blessings in the midst of our trials and expressing my gratitude to Him is also a part of prayer. And when I pick up my Bible or open a Bible app on my iPad to begin reading and studying, I do so with an attitude of prayer and expectancy.

One thing that has really helped me gain this new understanding is prayer journaling. I’m not new to journaling. I remember many years ago as a new Christian getting up and reading my Bible and writing in my journal every morning before leaving for my job as a kindergarten teacher. And through the years, I’ve filled hundreds of notebooks and journals from this habit. But again, I saw this as separate from my prayer life.

When we began walking through this season where the cry of my heart daily became “God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:12‬b‭ NIV)‬‬, I began prayer journaling. I now begin my quiet time with a prayer for God to speak to me through His Word, and as He began to do so regularly I grew into an expectancy that this would happen.

Now, as I read God’s word, I do so with a pen in my hand and my current journal open so I can put in writing the things God in showing me. This isn’t really much different than the journaling I’ve always done, but I no longer stop there. Those insights now become prayers of worship, praise and gratitude to God, of confession of sin, of honestly telling God where I am and asking His help, or of commitment to obey something He has shown me I need to do. Often as I’m reading a Scripture, someone with a need comes to mind and I intercede for them. Or I read a verse that gives a burden for Christians facing persecution for their faith and I turn this into a prayer. Or I read a passage that reminds me of how messed up things are in our nation , and I pray using that passage for our nation. Whatever God speaks to my heart during this quiet time in His presence is turned into a prayer of response.

As a result of this growing understanding of all prayer includes, and of learning to make prayer an important part of my day and not just an add-on to my Bible study time, I have been walking through one of the most difficult trials of my recent life, one where my normal response would be fear and anxiety, in almost constant peace. There have been days when staying close to God was a battle – life as a Christian in this fallen world is like that. But by staying in communication with God by talking with Him throughout my day, walking in meekness and submission to His will and purposes in our lives, and resisting the devil and his lies, I’ve experienced God’s peace and strength as seldom before.

As I was praying this morning about this article, a picture came to my mind of someone throwing a large stone into a lake. When the stone breaks the surface of the water, it creates a ripple effect, with concentric waves of water moving out from the spot where the stone landed. This is a picture of the effect of true prayer in our lives. True prayer isn’t just something we do as a part of our daily schedule, or even throughout the day as we become aware of needs. True prayer is like breaking the surface to enter into the presence of God, and the result has a ripple effect. It changes every part of our lives and even spreads out to touch the lives of others.

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