A Personal Journey

A Personal Journey

I wrote this on March 17, 2013 about a Women’s Retreat I was invited to. For the next couple of days I want to tell you about my personal journey that occurred on March 16, 2013

One month ago yesterday I turned 48 years old.

The last time I was in Lone Star, TX for a stay was 30 years ago when I drove a local church van stuffed with several kids to meet up with the rest of the group and its Pastor, along with several other youth groups, for a long weekend at this facility about this same time of year.

I love Lakeview Baptist Assembly but not because of fond childhood memories, although I have some; not because I particularly love the great outdoors or camp food, however, it is stunningly beautiful there and the staff always served good meals (aside from those powdered eggs); and not necessarily because of the “God-moments” I remember having, even though of the 3 times I went as a teen some amazing things did happen on those grounds. I love Lakeview Baptist Assembly because of a certain place within its perimeters.

On one side of Lakeview is the beautiful Lake O’ The Pines. Cabins, assembly buildings, and caretakers’ houses dot the heavily wooded area. In the middle of this facility is a natural, very steep, iron ore hill called Prayer Mountain. The first time I went to camp there, I was pulled, along with several others during free time, up this hill. I felt so lost and disoriented–sort of like not being able to see the forest for the trees. Yes, there were foot paths but they were obscure because of saplings, fallen limbs, leaves and pine needles. It was easy to get off course, especially since I didn’t know where we were going or what we were looking for. I don’t remember really but knowing me, I imagine I was more concerned about bugs, wasps, snakes, slipping on those slick leaves that blanketed the top of that iron ore and clay, or really getting lost in those woods. I remember hearing one of the girls say that she thought we had missed ‘it’, while one of the boys was positive it was just ‘right up there, past that rock’.

Sure enough, as we came around that stone outcropping we stopped climbing as the trail opened up into a wide, flat hard scape, void of trees or underbrush. Stones were stacked on top of each other, gently curving, creating a beautiful amphitheater. Once on top of this steeply sloped hill it was obvious there was a lot of foot traffic up here. There was a little trash where some had not been careful to pick up after themselves and there was some graffiti on that one stone, making it obvious that people spent time here. Looking around you could see four distinct paths that led to and from the place causing me to wonder why it was so difficult to see these paths while we were trekking up here. But there was no indication from below of what we would find at the top. The other side of this open area dropped off  abruptly and right there, just as you came to the end of this level area, someone had erected a rugged wooden cross. Someone explained that many services had been held on that hilltop, although I was never part of one.

All three of my youth trips to Lakeview involved going up to Prayer Mountain, yet I never went alone, nor did I go more than once per trip. You see, my group was not really into that sort of thing, and once per trip was enough for them. I wanted to spend a lot of time up there once I found it, but I was afraid to go up there all by myself, so I always stayed with the crowd while pining to be ‘up there’.

I didn’t know how much free time we would have yesterday, especially since we were only going to be there for the day. I wasn’t able to attend last year’s retreat and I couldn’t spend the entire weekend this time so I felt like I needed to be with our ladies as much as possible. I did not expect to have the amount of time after the morning service and lunch that we were given. The hosting church set up a relaxing ‘spa day’ and “queen for the day” dress up and photo shoot. Of course, I was not prepared for this! I was only going for the day so I didn’t bring makeup and hair stuff! Some of our ladies opted to nap after lunch and some chose to do the cardio-workout of trekking up that hill….Me? Well, I chose to go shopping with our fearless leader and four other ladies before we were all going to meet back up for the photo shoot! Seriously spiritual, huh?

We weren’t gone long and when we got back the women I was with wanted to take advantage of the spa time and the women who had ventured up the hill were back. Now was the perfect opportunity for me if I planned on going up Prayer Mountain at all.

From the moment we drove into the Assembly, everything looked different — I was looking at 30 years of changes that I had not been part of. I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you I didn’t even remember the Lake being such a prominent part of the grounds — but how in the world do you miss something that large, never mind the NAME of the camp? So I was rewinding my memory banks and trying to get my bearings, but there must be some buildings that have been replaced and relocated, along with all the added ones and features. I had to ask where Prayer Mountain was because the cabins and small hotel changed the entire look of that side of the drive for me. Once I was pointed in the right direction and I saw the trail marker, I was on my way….

Walking from the main areas and cabins is all straight up. Once you set out on the path it is a steady incline that this body with all its issues over the last couple years was not really ready for! I was concerned with my heavy breathing and burning thighs and how stupid I was for doing this alone, but I just could not stop. I was paying close attention to the scene above me, looking for any out-cropping of stones that would indicate the old amphitheater, to no avail. There were several overgrown paths, a couple I even started up, but thought better of because this is springtime in Texas and snakes are coming out of hibernation. I came upon resting benches that were not there in the early 80’s and there was an area that was marked with caution signs warning not to use this challenge course without supervision. I submitted to the warning, but am still wondering if a group (maybe Boy Scouts) use this as a training facility. Walking on a little farther only caused more questions as I came upon a really intense looking obstacle course and climbing wall…but no summit sanctuary. In fact, had I kept walking I would have been descending instead of ascending.

An old fear tried to sprout from long dormant roots that if I kept going I was going to get lost in these woods. I have a fairly good internal direction keeper, so I quickly dispelled that fear. I started up several trails, but they were so overgrown that I just couldn’t come to peace about trying them out. At one point I was paralyzed in my tracks by the fear of going forward and the thought of returning not fulfilling such a simple goal I’d set for myself. With tears rolling down my face I headed back the way I’d come, defeated but still looking up to the hilltop. Then I saw it through the over-growth of trees and limbs. A wooden cross! It was so easily missed among the trees if you were not looking for it, and I had not been. I’d been searching for the out-cropping of rock or stacked stones. There was a glimmer of hope in my heart that I still had an opportunity to make it to the summit. I ended up back at the yellow caution signs warning me that this trail was difficult and should only be taken under supervision. Again I hesitated, looking straight up, considering my shoulder/neck/head issues and that I still had a long afternoon and evening ahead of me, then I started climbing. My athletic shoes were slick so foot placement had to be thought out. The path was still overgrown and at one point, it was lost altogether and I just took a chance to go to the right. The difference was I had seen my desire. Although I could not see it at that moment, my faith was in the fact that I had been up there three times before and that I’d had a glimpse of that cross through the trees this time. And so I continued on. The next thing I know I had come upon the backside of that cross; the drop-off side of that level summit! But I was there! Thirty years had not changed the location of Prayer Mountain! The amphitheater was still there, although I don’t remember seeing the rock with the graffiti on it and park benches have been added (I believe that has taken away from the natural beauty of the place).

As I stood in the center of this outdoor sanctuary I turned slowly in all directions and I noticed that there are still four distinct paths leading to and from Prayer Mountain, which still confuses me since those same paths are so obscure when you are climbing up that hill. But it was as I was coming down from my time at the foot of the cross that I may have learned the most important lesson. You see, years and years ago whoever decided to make that natural retreat also decided the best path to go up to Prayer Mountain, complete with natural stone out-cropping steps. That path is very steep, but the steps help you navigate from the bottom to the top. There is a fork in the path and if you take the other path, it is just as steep but no way to get your footing if you begin to slip. I want to reiterate here that the path is straight up and some of the steps are set too high for me to just step down like a staircase. I had to scoot down in two places but there was solid rock rather than clay covered in leaves and pine needles. I stopped and turned back to look up the trail I’d just come down and it was just as difficult to see the path back up to the top! A few minutes later I heard a woman’s voice, but saw nothing at first. A few steps more and I saw some benches, and as I looked past them I realized where I was. I saw the sign that read “Prayer Mountain” and the cabin where our ladies where staying.

I turned and looked back again and that is when I realized it: I had taken the wide, well-traveled trail. I had followed it to a very demanding obstacle course, but that did not lead me to my desired destination. I ended up having to turn around and come back. I did find a path to the top, but it wasn’t well marked, it was slick, over-grown and was more difficult and steeper than it really needed to be to get to my destination. And going the way I did took me 45 minutes to reach the summit, not to mention the fear I experienced and real possibility of giving up. Had I not seen that cross through the trees I would not have bothered going on and I would not have reached my destination at all. But if I had not chosen the wide path to begin with, if I just taken the path that looked so daunting that was directly in front of me at the base of Prayer Mountain, I would have been up on top of it within about 10 minutes!

A glimmer of hope

A glimmer of hope

Coming up the back side

Coming up the back side

Finally on level ground

Finally on level ground

Heading back down.

Heading back down.

The original path which was laid to get to the summit.

The original path which was laid to get to the summit.

The left fork. A 45 degree turn to the right and a very steep incline.

The left fork. A 45 degree turn to the right and a very steep incline.

The right fork, with stone steps to help with the ascent and descent.

The right fork, with stone steps to help with the ascent and descent.

The path I thought was a washout which would have put me at the summit in about 10 minutes rather than the 45 minutes it took me.

The path I thought was a washout which would have put me at the summit in about 10 minutes rather than the 45 minutes it took me.

A Glimpse of Love

In case the scene is unfamiliar to you, the picture is from The Passion of The Christ. Here, Jesus is restoring the ear of one of the soldiers sent to arrest Him after Peter drew his sword and cut it off. Yes indeed, a glimpse of Love….

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

Ephesians 3

14 For this reason, I fall on my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its character. 16 I pray that from the treasures of his glory he will empower you with inner strength by his Spirit, 17 so that the Messiah may live in your hearts through your trusting. Also I pray that you will be rooted and founded in love, 18 so that you, with all God’s people, will be given strength to grasp the breadth, length, height and depth of the Messiah’s love, 19 yes, to know it, even though it is beyond all knowing, so that you will be filled with all the fullness of God.

I Am A Christian, Right?

I will be the first to admit that when I think about American patriotism and liberty I immediately think about Christianity. In my mind these are two sides of the same coin. Oh how my heart swells to the point of bursting when I hear the patriotic songs, when I see the American flag waving confidently in the breeze and when I witness our military defend the rights of this nation and of others. Sometimes, admittedly, I cannot tell where my American patriotism ends and my Christian faith begins. And I am astounded when I listen to people  born and raised in this country whose principles are not based upon Christian principles. I suppose I grew up with the perception that everyone who is born to this nation receives some kind of favor from the Lord that automatically makes us citizens of Heaven as well as the USA. It seems everyone has one of these sayings lately, so here’s mine: Living in America doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than standing in a library makes you a card catalog.

I am so grateful that I was a student before the revisionists began re-writing history! I was taught IN SCHOOL that America was founded upon Biblical principles. I was taught to stand with hand over heart and recite The Pledge of Allegiance. I learned to stand in respect and sing the National Anthem. And I was taught to be still and quiet in reverence as a prayer was offered each morning to God in Jesus’ Name. I was taught that our servicemen and government fought for truth and for justice, for freedom and for the American Way — I knew that Superman was suppose to be the typecast of every American. That meant we were a people that was governed by Biblical principles whose God was the LORD. We saw to it that other people who wanted freedom throughout the world could have it when they asked for our help. I know there is so much more to this subject, but let me just sum this up quickly. Being born in America makes you an American and makes you heir to all of the laws and liberties this nation was built upon, a rich history of epic victories and devastating failures, but one that our forefathers believed was the purpose and plan of God Almighty. d There was a time when being an American meant that you were governed by Judeo-Christian ideas. But being an American does not mean you are a Christian.

When someone from another country wants to become an American citizen, they undergo a lengthy process which consists of studying our laws, liberties and ways, and then renouncing allegiance to all other countries, promising to defend us from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and pledging allegiance to America, her flag, and to her constitution which governs her. Having done those things they then become a naturalized citizen. That process makes them an heir and joint-heir with every American who is born in this country.

In order to become a Christian you must be born again. What? Yes, it is true. But this time you are born of the Spirit of God rather than by the flesh of mankind. You must put your hope and trust in God and in His Son, Jesus the Christ, who came to live among us for the sole purpose of dying for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God the Father. So many people think that just because they believe there is a God they are Christians or that they are going to heaven. Guys, the demons in Jesus’ day KNEW who He was, called Him by NAME and asked if He was there to torment them before it was time, but they will not be in heaven when the time comes. There is only one way we are saved and that is not of ourselves so that we cannot boast. But we are saved by Grace through Faith in the finished work of the Cross.

But if we have truly put our hope and trust in Jesus, we are not content to accept Him as Savior only, be baptized and warm a pew. We are compelled to study to know who God is (we are not born with that knowledge). We make the conscience effort each day to follow His laws and His ways and to defend His Word and accept His Son, Jesus Christ as Lord and Master of our lives. We are willing to accept by faith the death of our flesh (the old man) because we believe that God sent His only Son to die for us, that He raised Him from the dead, and that He is going to return for those who have renounced their allegiance to all other gods and/or idols. The new man lives by the power of the Spirit of the Living God and that makes us Christians and heirs and joint-heirs with Christ as citizens of Heaven. The Bible tells us that there is no other name by which we may be saved and that no one comes to the Father except through the Son.

A bloody religion? Yes it is. Our natural birth was bloody and we are re-born by blood as well. Without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin. Animal sacrifices couldn’t save us for eternity because animals were made inferior to man. Circumcision couldn’t save us because our flesh is sinful and sinfulness cannot cleanse sinfulness. But blood is required to wipe out the sins of those who believe. The blood of a willing Servant, One who chose to give up His life for the sake of others and who was free from any sin, completely holy and sold out to do only His Father’s bidding– that precious Blood can change us the very moment we believe. There is NO greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends and we are His friends if we keep His commandments. Legalism? No! For whom the Son sets free is free indeed! Love (value) the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your being AND love (value) your neighbor as you love (value) yourself.

Oh yes, I am grateful that I was born in America, that I was brought up to understand patriotism, sacrifice, and that I was given the opportunity to learn about God and His ways without the fear of persecution. But we are commanded by Christ to go into ALL the world and preach His Good News. Following His laws and doing what He did earns us the name “Christian”.

Are you sure that you are a Christian? Or have you been thinking all this time that living in America automatically makes you a Christian? Do you want to become a Christian–that is, to have a personal relationship with Jesus the Christ? This is not a walk for the faint-hearted or weak. The apostle Paul compared it to the Olympians of his day and we know how much training and sacrifice it takes to get to the Olympics. But are you willing? If you are, Jesus will save you. He told us that in the world we will have trouble (he’s talking to His disciples) but for us to take heart for He has overcome the world, and that He would leave us His peace. If you want to know Jesus as your Savior, your Lord, your Friend, if you really want to know who God is–ask. Renounce your sinfulness and all the things that go against everything that God stands for. Tell Him that by faith you choose to believe that He sent Jesus to die for you and that by faith you accept His free gift. Ask Him to come into your heart and cleanse you from all unrighteousness and then to make His home with you. Ask Him to send His Comforter to you, His Holy Spirit, to guide you in the way you should go. Thank Him for His love, His mercy, and His grace. Let Him know you want to be His child and are grateful for such a loving Father. Ask Him to fill your heart with His kind of faith, hope, and love and to give you His peace, joy, self-control, kindness, gentleness, meekness, love. Tell Him that you want to live for Him and die to your old self. Pledge your allegiance to the Lamb of God (Jesus) which takes away the sins of the world. Then, begin to study His Word, the Holy Bible. Come to know who He by reading His word and spending time with Him in prayer. Begin to do the things that Jesus did. Don’t just be a hearer of the Word, but also be a doer.

If you prayed this prayer and you meant it your heart, tell somebody! Let them know that Jesus has made you a NEW CREATION and that you are now a citizen of Heaven — a Christian!

Will the Real Valentine Please Stand Up!

January 29, 2012 at 10:53pm

Flowers, candy, red hearts and romance. That’s what Valentine’s day is all about, right? Well, maybe not. The origin of this holiday for the expression of love really isn’t romantic at all — at least not in the traditional sense. Father Frank O’Gara of Whitefriars Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, tells the real story of the man behind the holiday — St. Valentine.

“He was a Roman Priest at a time when there was an emperor called Claudias who persecuted the church at that particular time,” Father O’Gara explains. ” He also had an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people. This was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives or families if they died.”

“I think we must bear in mind that it was a very permissive society in which Valentine lived,” says Father O’Gara. “Polygamy would have been much more popular than just one woman and one man living together. And yet some of them seemed to be attracted to Christian faith. But obviously the church thought that marriage was very sacred between one man and one woman for their life and that it was to be encouraged. And so it immediately presented the problem to the Christian church of what to do about this.”

“The idea of encouraging them to marry within the Christian church was what Valentine was about. And he secretly married them because of the edict.”

Valentine was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured for performing marriage ceremonies against command of Emperor Claudius the second. There are legends surrounding Valentine’s actions while in prison.

“One of the men who was to judge him in line with the Roman law at the time was a man called Asterius, who’s daughter was blind. He was supposed to have prayed with and healed the young girl with such astonishing effect that Asterius himself became Christian as a result.”

In the year 269 AD, Valentine was sentenced to a three part execution of a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation all because of his stand for Christian marriage. The story goes that the last words he wrote were in a note to Asterius’ daughter. He inspired today’s romantic missives by signing it, “from your Valentine.”

“What Valentine means to me as a priest,” explains Father O’Gara, “is that there comes a time where you have to lay your life upon the line for what you believe. And with the power of the Holy Spirit we can do that — even to the point of death.”

Valentine’s martyrdom has not gone unnoticed by the general public. In fact, Whitefriars Street Church is one of three churches that claim to house the remains of Valentine. Today, many people make the pilgrimage to the church to honor the courage and memory of this Christian saint.

“Valentine has come to be known as the patron saint of lovers. Before you enter into a Christian marriage you want some sense of God in your life — some great need of God in your life. And we know, particularly in the modern world, many people are meeting God through his Son, Jesus Christ.”

“If Valentine were here today, he would say to married couples that there comes a time where you’re going to have to suffer. It’s not going to be easy to maintain your commitment and your vows in marriage. Don’t be surprised if the ‘gushing’ love that you have for someone changes to something less “gushing” but maybe much more mature. And the question is, is that young person ready for that?”

“So on the day of the marriage they have to take that into context,” Father O’Gara says. “Love — human love and sexuality is wonderful, and blessed by God — but also the shadow of the cross. That’s what Valentine means to me.”

Our Freedom In Messiah

Galatians 2-5 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

2 Then after fourteen years I again went up to Yerushalayim, this time with Bar-Nabba; and I took with me Titus. 2 I went up in obedience to a revelation, and I explained to them the Good News as I proclaim it among the Gentiles — but privately, to the acknowledged leaders. I did this out of concern that my current or previous work might have been in vain.

3 But they didn’t force my Gentile companion Titus to undergo b’rit-milah. 4 Indeed, the question came up only because some men who pretended to be brothers had been sneaked in — they came in surreptitiously to spy out the freedom we have in the Messiah Yeshua, so that they might enslave us. 5 Not even for a minute did we give in to them, so that the truth of the Good News might be preserved for you.

6 Moreover, those who were the acknowledged leaders — what they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by outward appearances — these leaders added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the Good News for the Uncircumcised, just as Kefa had been for the Circumcised;8 since the One working in Kefa to make him an emissary to the Circumcised had worked in me to make me an emissary to the Gentiles. 9 So, having perceived what grace had been given to me, Ya‘akov, Kefa and Yochanan, the acknowledged pillars of the community, extended to me and Bar-Nabba the right hand of fellowship; so that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the Circumcised. 10 Their only request was that we should remember the poor — which very thing I have spared no pains to do.

11 Furthermore, when Kefa came to Antioch, I opposed him publicly, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 For prior to the arrival of certain people from [the community headed by] Ya‘akov, he had been eating with the Gentile believers; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he was afraid of the faction who favored circumcising Gentile believers. 13 And the other Jewish believers became hypocrites along with him, so that even Bar-Nabba was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not walking a straight path, keeping in line with the truth of the Good News, I said to Kefa, right in front of everyone, “If you, who are a Jew, live like aGoy and not like a Jew, why are you forcing the Goyim to live like Jews? 15 We are Jews by birth, not so-called ‘Goyishe sinners’;16 even so, we have come to realize that a person is not declared righteous by God on the ground of his legalistic observance ofTorah commands, but through the Messiah Yeshua’s trusting faithfulness. Therefore, we too have put our trust in Messiah Yeshua and become faithful to him, in order that we might be declared righteous on the ground of the Messiah’s trusting faithfulness and not on the ground of our legalistic observance ofTorah commands. For on the ground of legalistic observance of Torah commands, no one will be declared righteous.[a]

17 But if, in seeking to be declared righteous by God through our union with the Messiah, we ourselves are indeed found to be sinners, then is the Messiah an aider and abettor of sin? Heaven forbid! 18 Indeed, if I build up again the legalistic bondage which I destroyed, I really do make myself a transgressor. 19 For it was through letting the Torah speak for itself that I died to its traditional legalistic misinterpretation, so that I might live in direct relationship with God. 20 When the Messiah was executed on the stake as a criminal, I was too; so that my proud ego no longer lives. But the Messiah lives in me, and the life I now live in my body I live by the same trusting faithfulness that the Son of God had, who loved me and gave himself up for me. 21 I do not reject God’s gracious gift; for if the way in which one attains righteousness is through legalism, then the Messiah’s death was pointless.

3 You stupid Galatians! Who has put you under a spell? Before your very eyes Yeshua the Messiah was clearly portrayed as having been put to death as a criminal! 2 I want to know from you just this one thing: did you receive the Spirit by legalistic observance ofTorah commands or by trusting in what you heard and being faithful to it? 3 Are you that stupid? Having begun with the Spirit’s power, do you think you can reach the goal under your own power? 4 Have you suffered so much for nothing? If that’s the way you think, your suffering certainly will have been for nothing! 5 What about God, who supplies you with the Spirit and works miracles among you — does he do it because of your legalistic observance of Torah commands or because you trust in what you heard and are faithful to it?

6 It was the same with Avraham: “He trusted in God and was faithful to him, and that was credited to his account as righteousness.”[b] 7 Be assured, then, that it is those who live by trusting and being faithful who are really children of Avraham.8 Also the Tanakh, foreseeing that God would consider the Gentiles righteous when they live by trusting and being faithful, told the Good News to Avraham in advance by saying, “In connection with you, all theGoyim will be blessed.”[c] 9 So then, those who rely on trusting and being faithful are blessed along with Avraham, who trusted and was faithful.

10 For everyone who depends on legalistic observance of Torah commands lives under a curse, since it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the Scroll of theTorah.”[d] 11 Now it is evident that no one comes to be declared righteous by God through legalism, since “The person who is righteous will attain life by trusting and being faithful.”[e] 12 Furthermore, legalism is not based on trusting and being faithful, but on [a misuse of] the text that says,“Anyone who does these things will attain life through them.”[f] 13 The Messiah redeemed us from the curse pronounced in the Torah by becoming cursed on our behalf; for the Tanakh says, “Everyone who hangs from a stake comes under a curse.”[g]14 Yeshua the Messiah did this so that in union with him the Gentiles might receive the blessing announced to Avraham, so that through trusting and being faithful, we might receive what was promised, namely, the Spirit.

15 Brothers, let me make an analogy from everyday life: when someone swears an oath, no one else can set it aside or add to it. 16 Now the promises were made to Avraham and to his seed. It doesn’t say, “and to seeds,” as if to many; on the contrary, it speaks of one — “and to your seed”[h] — and this “one” is the Messiah.17 Here is what I am saying: the legal part of the Torah, which came into being 430 years later, does not nullify an oath sworn by God, so as to abolish the promise. 18 For if the inheritance comes from the legal part of the Torah, it no longer comes from a promise. But God gave it to Avraham through a promise.

19 So then, why the legal part of the Torah? It was added in order to create transgressions, until the coming of the seedabout whom the promise had been made. Moreover, it was handed down through angels and a mediator. 20 Now a mediator implies more than one, but God is one.

21 Does this mean that the legal part of theTorah stands in opposition to God’s promises? Heaven forbid! For if the legal part of the Torah which God gave had had in itself the power to give life, then righteousness really would have come by legalistically following such a Torah. 22 But instead, the Tanakh shuts up everything under sin; so that what had been promised might be given, on the basis of Yeshua the Messiah’s trusting faithfulness, to those who continue to be trustingly faithful.

23 Now before the time for this trusting faithfulness came, we were imprisoned in subjection to the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism, kept under guard until this yet-to-come trusting faithfulness would be revealed.24 Accordingly, the Torah functioned as a custodian until the Messiah came, so that we might be declared righteous on the ground of trusting and being faithful. 25 But now that the time for this trusting faithfulness has come, we are no longer under a custodian.

26 For in union with the Messiah, you are all children of God through this trusting faithfulness; 27 because as many of you as were immersed into the Messiah have clothed yourselves with the Messiah, in whom 28 there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, neither male nor female; for in union with the Messiah Yeshua, you are all one. 29 Also, if you belong to the Messiah, you are seed of Avraham and heirs according to the promise.

4 What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a minor he is no different from a slave, even though he is the legal owner of the estate; 2 rather, he is subject to guardians and caretakers until the time previously set by his father. 3 So it is with us — when we were “children” we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe;4 but when the appointed time arrived, God sent forth his Son. He was born from a woman, born into a culture in which legalistic perversion of the Torah was the norm, 5 so that he might redeem those in subjection to this legalism and thus enable us to be made God’s sons. 6 Now because you are sons, God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, the Spirit who cries out, “Abba!” (that is, “Dear Father!”).7 So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son you are also an heir.

8 In the past, when you did not know God, you served as slaves beings which in reality are non-gods. 9 But now you do know God, and, more than that, you are known by God. So how is it that you turn back again to those weak and miserable elemental spirits? Do you want to enslave yourselves to them once more? 10 You observe special days, months, seasons and years! 11 I fear for you that my work among you has been wasted!

12 Brothers, I beg of you: put yourselves in my place — after all, I put myself in your place. It isn’t that you have done me any wrong — 13 you know that it was because I was ill that I proclaimed the Good News to you at first; 14 and even though my physical condition must have tempted you to treat me with scorn, you did not display any sign of disdain or disgust. No, you welcomed me as if I had been an angel of God, as if I had been the Messiah Yeshua himself! 15 So what has become of the joy you felt? For I bear you witness that had it been possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy because I tell you the truth?17 True, these teachers are zealous for you, but their motives are not good. They want to separate you from us so that you will become zealous for them. 18 To be zealous is good, provided always that the cause is good. Indeed, whether I am present with you or not, 19 my dear children, I am suffering the pains of giving birth to you all over again — and this will go on until the Messiah takes shape in you. 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone of voice. I don’t know what to do with you.

21 Tell me, you who want to be in subjection to the system that results from perverting the Torah into legalism, don’t you hear what the Torah itself says? 22 It says that Avraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and one by the free woman. 23 The one by the slave woman was born according to the limited capabilities of human beings, but the one by the free woman was born through the miracle-working power of God fulfilling his promise. 24 Now, to make amidrash on these things: the two women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai and bears children for slavery — this is Hagar.25 Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Yerushalayim, for she serves as a slave along with her children. 26 But the Yerushalayim above is free, and she is our mother; 27 for theTanakh says,

“Rejoice, you barren woman who does not bear children!Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor!For the deserted wife will have more childrenthan the one whose husband is with her!”[i]

28 You, brothers, like Yitz’chak, are children referred to in a promise of God. 29 But just as then the one born according to limited human capability persecuted the one born through the Spirit’s supernatural power, so it is now. 30 Nevertheless, what does theTanakh say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for by no means will the son of the slave woman inherit along with the son of the free woman!”[j] 31 So, brothers, we are children not of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

5 What the Messiah has freed us for is freedom! Therefore, stand firm, and don’t let yourselves be tied up again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Mark my words — I, Sha’ul, tell you that if you undergo b’rit-milah the Messiah will be of no advantage to you at all! 3 Again, I warn you: any man who undergoes b’rit-milah is obligated to observe the entire Torah! 4 You who are trying to be declared righteous by God through legalism have severed yourselves from the Messiah! You have fallen away from God’s grace! 5 For it is by the power of the Spirit, who works in us because we trust and are faithful, that we confidently expect our hope of attaining righteousness to be fulfilled. 6 When we are united with the Messiah Yeshua, neither being circumcised nor being uncircumcised matters; what matters is trusting faithfulness expressing itself through love.

7 You were running the race well; who has stopped you from following the truth?8 Whatever means of persuasion he used was not from the One who calls you. 9 “It takes only a little hametz to leaven the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident that since you are united with the Lord, you will take no other view; and I am confident that the one who has been disturbing you, whoever he may be, will have to bear his punishment.

11 And as for me, brothers, if I am still preaching that circumcision is necessary, why am I still being persecuted? If that were the case, my preaching about the execution-stake would cause no offense whatever. 12 I wish the people who are bothering you would go the whole way and castrate themselves!

13 For, brothers, you were called to be free. Only do not let that freedom become an excuse for allowing your old nature to have its way. Instead, serve one another in love.14 For the whole of the Torah is summed up in this one sentence: “Love your neighbor as yourself”;[k] 15 but if you go on snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, watch out, or you will be destroyed by each other!

16 What I am saying is this: run your lives by the Spirit. Then you will not do what your old nature wants. 17 For the old nature wants what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is contrary to the old nature. These oppose each other, so that you find yourselves unable to carry out your good intentions. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, then you are not in subjection to the system that results from perverting theTorah into legalism.

19 And it is perfectly evident what the old nature does. It expresses itself in sexual immorality, impurity and indecency;20 involvement with the occult and with drugs; in feuding, fighting, becoming jealous and getting angry; in selfish ambition, factionalism, intrigue 21 and envy; in drunkenness, orgies and things like these. I warn you now as I have warned you before: those who do such things will have no share in the Kingdom of God!

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 humility, self control. Nothing in the Torah stands against such things.

24 Moreover, those who belong to the Messiah Yeshua have put their old nature to death on the stake, along with its passions and desires. 25 Since it is through the Spirit that we have Life, let it also be through the Spirit that we order our lives day by day.

26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

The Good Shepherd

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I am not plagiarizing. I picked up a copy of this beautiful story from the foyer of my church. I know it was put there for Thursday night’s VBS lesson about True Love, but I do not know who wrote it. I am rewriting it in its entirety because those of us who know need a poignant reminder, and those of us who do not know need to be told what God, through Christ Jesus, does for us each day. You may want a box of Kleenex handy. 

Shalom my friends. My name is Yeshua ben Yosef. I am from the ancient land of Palestine and I’m a shepherd by trade. It is an honor for a man of my occupation to be allowed to stand here and speak with you today. You see in my nation shepherding is not looked upon with favor. For most of my countrymen it is a job to be avoided rather than sought. The hours are long. The work is dirty and backbreaking. You should see the thick calluses on my feet. And the pay…well, let’s just say you’ll never get rich tending sheep for a living. I learned the trade from my father and I continue the family tradition.

Your pastor thought it would be helpful for me to come and speak with you today about my lowly occupation. I’m not really sure what a humble man such as I could teach you, but I’ll tell you everything that I know.

Did you know that in the Bible you read, God refers to His people, you and me, as sheep nearly two hundred times? You may have never considered the significance of that comparison but I have because I work with sheep day and night. Let me tell you it’s not a compliment to be called a sheep. Why not rather eagles — majestic, swift and beautiful? No, God calls us His sheep. Why not lions — strong, fearless, terrifying? No, instead, God calls us His sheep. Oh they’re unique, but to be compared to one is nearly an insult. A sheep is perhaps the stupidest animal on the face of the earth. Have you ever seen a trained sheep in the circus? You’ll see elephants, horses, bears, seals, even hippos, but not sheep. They’re too stupid to train. Sheep are also quite filthy. The wool that you see in clothing has been cleaned thoroughly. The fluffy white sheep that you view on your television sets didn’t get that way on their own. Sheep will not and cannot clean themselves. The shepherd or his hired hands must do it for them. Not only are they dumb and dirty, sheep are utterly defenseless. They have no claws, no fangs, no wings. They can’t run fast or scare an enemy off with a loud roar or spray a predator with a noxious scent. All they can do is bleat.

Sheep are completely reliant on their shepherds. Their lives and well-being depend on the person who oversees them each day. If God calls us His sheep I wonder just what He’s trying to say?

Maybe you would understand God a little better if you spent a day with me. Come with me on a journey shepherding sheep.

The day begins early, before dawn. It is my job to provide food and water for my sheep. This is not an easy task. you see in my country the land is parched and dry. We have nothing like the vast green pasture lands that your sheep and cattle enjoy here. You can just turn your animals loose and they have all the food they need. But not in my country. Oh no. Grass can be found only in narrow strips separated by long stretches of rock and dust. Except during the rainy season, water is provided by natural springs or wells spread out here and there. I sometimes have to lead my sheep miles just for a few yards of grass or a quick drink of water. It is for that reason that we arise early. It takes all day to find the nourishment my sheep need.

It is common, at various times, for shepherds to bring their flocks into community pens at night. Several flocks are housed together. Yet, when it comes time to separate the flocks all that is necessary is for the shepherd to call out to his sheep to lead them out of the pen.

I know the area like the back of my hand. I’ve walked every square foot of it many times. This is how I’m able to lead my sheep. You may have imagined that shepherding is like those old Westerns you’ve seen where the cowboys, riding their horses behind the herd, drive the cattle forward. Shepherding is somewhat different. I walk in front of the herd and they follow me. Wherever I go they go. If I were unfamiliar with the land or the sheep were left on their own they’d starve to death. But I lead them. I know where the grass is. I’ve been there beforehand.

We spend the entire morning traveling from pasture to pasture. By mid-day the sheep are exhausted and thirsty. They need refreshing or they will die. Along the route I know the location of several oasis. These places have shade and lush pasture for the sheep to rest. I make they lie down and drink. Speaking of which, did you know that sheep won’t drink from just any water source? Oh no. They will only drink from quiet, still pools. They have a natural fear of fast moving water and for good reason. If a sheep should slip into a river or stream its wool would soon soak up the water and become completely saturated. Sheep are poor swimmers anyway, but the weight of the water in their wool would cause them to sink and drown. That’s why the waters must be gentle and still. If I can’t find a pool I have to create one by diverting water from a stream. Now you’re beginning to understand what hard work shepherding is.

My sheep will be fine and have everything that they need as long as they follow me. I lead them along well-worn paths where I know we will find food and water. They need my guidance.

My sheep also need my protection. The land where we travel is fraught with dangers. Predators like lions and bears stalk the herds. There’s the occasional pack of wild dogs. Some harmless looking plants, though tasty, prove to be poisonous. A sheep might easily stumble over a cliff or fall into a ravine and die. But my sheep have no need to fear. I watch out for them. If they begin to wander off in the wrong direction I have my trusty shepherd’s staff to prod them back in the right direction. If they should fall into a pit or a ravine I use the other end of my staff to reach down and lift them to safety. I carry two sticks, though. One is a staff, but the other is a club. The staff is for my sheep, but the club is for predators. My sheep may be dumb, but I’m quite attached to them. I’ll fight tooth and nail for their lives. Some of the hirelings and others shepherds I’m acquainted with have seen me battle a few of those big carnivores. They laugh and joke and tell me that some day one of those lions or bears will have me for lunch. That may be true, but I can tell you that I won’t look the other way or run the other way like those cowards. No, that’s the difference  between a good and a bad shepherd. A good shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep.

As long as they follow me I guide and protect my sheep. It’s tough work, but I always make sure my sheep have food to eat. I always check out the fields before I allow them to graze. If there are poisonous plants in the area I go through and weed out every one by hand. I also check the ground for snake holes. I told you it’s dangerous in my land. We have tiny little vipers that live underground in some of the pasture lands. When they sense the sheep grazing, they pop their ugly heads out of the ground and bite the sheep on the nose. The infection or venom from the bite could kill them. But I have a remedy for those vicious little enemies. I walk off the entire area looking for snake holes. When I find them I pour a little olive oil into the entrance of the hole. Then I anoint the head and nose of each sheep with the same oil and allow them to graze. The oil prevents the slick bodies of the snakes from crawling out of their holes. They’re powerless to harm my sheep. It makes me laugh to watch my little lambs have a picnic in the very presence of their enemies.

By evening we return to the sheepfold. One by one I examine each of them. If I find any cuts or scraps on their bodies I apply healing ointment to their wounds. I make sure they have water to drink. If I find one nearly overcome with thirst I have a special cup-shaped bucket and let him drink by himself. Sometimes those sheep are so thirsty that they stick their heads in too fast and too far and the water overflows and wets their heads.

Before bedding down for the night I always count my flock. Occasionally one of the lambs will stray, and there’s nothing more vulnerable than a sheep without it’s shepherd. I go immediately to find it and bring it back to the sheepfold.

Every once in a while one of my lambs will develop a habit of straying. I remember one little fellow. I named him Jake. He came from a fine family. His grandfather was one of my very first sheep. I called him Old Abe. Jake’s father was Isaac. Both Old Abe and Isaac faithfully followed me and stayed on the path, but not that little rascal Jake. He turned up missing more times than I could count. Sometimes he was in search of greener pastures while at other times I found him chasing butterflies. He never realized the danger he was in, but I understood it clearly.

Something had to be done. We shepherds have developed a technique guaranteed to prevent straying. It is used only as a last resort–when a sheep refuses to stay with the flock. The last time I caught him straying I used it on little Jake. No doubt you will think that it’s cruel, but it saves the life of my sheep. At the end of the day I found little Jake wandering dangerously toward a steep gorge. I picked him up, put him on my shoulders and carried him back to the sheepfold. He didn’t struggle. Jake just looked at me with only trust in his eyes. I sat him down and quickly placed his right front leg across my staff. With one swift motion I pulled down on the long bone of his leg and broke it. Wild-eyed, Jake struggled to get away. He immediately fell to the ground in pain. He couldn’t understand. The one who provided for him and rescued him, the one who he trusted was inflicting the most excruciating suffering he’d ever endured. I didn’t want to, but I had to do it to save his life.

Over the next few days, little Jake could barely get up. As the flocks moved from pasture to pasture I carried him every step of the way. I held him close in those day. He was suffering with that broken leg, but all the while I carried him close to my heart. I sat him down to eat and drink. Gradually he was able to walk again, but the smallest hill looked like a mountain to him and shallowest stream like a mile-wide river. Whenever he encountered an obstacle all he could do was stop and look to me. Then I’d pick him up and help him over. Jake learned to trust and to follow me. I had to break him to save his life. It worked. Jake is still with me today and one of my most loyal sheep.

Well that’s a day in the life of a  shepherd. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a living. As undignified as my profession is it still amazes me that God compares Himself to a shepherd and His people to sheep. I can see the truth in it though. After all He meets our needs by providing the necessities of life, by guiding us each day and by protecting us. I guess we would be as content and at peace as my sheep if we’d just learn to trust and follow Him. Even if we don’t understand where He’s leading or what He’s doing in our lives, if we’d just trust Him and follow Him we’d be satisfied.

Thank you for listening. I’ve got to get back to work. This shepherding is a never-ending job, if you know what i mean.

Psalm 23, John 10:1-18, Matthew 18:12

Telling the Truth and Loving Your Neighbor

Leviticus 19:17-18; Leviticus 19:34 (Complete Jewish Bible)

17 “‘Do not hate your brother in your heart, but rebuke your neighbor frankly, so that you won’t carry sin because of him. 18 Don’t take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself; I am ADONAI.

Leviticus 19:34

34 Rather, treat the foreigner staying with you like the native-born among you – you are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am ADONAI your God.

Matthew 22:36-40 (Complete Jewish Bible)

36 “Rabbi, which of the mitzvot in the Torah is the most important?” 37 He told him, “`You are to love ADONAI your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ 38 This is the greatest and most important mitzvah. 39 And a second is similar to it, `You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All of the Torah and the Prophets are dependent on these two mitzvot.”

Galatians 4:16 (Complete Jewish Bible)

16 Have I now become your enemy because I tell you the truth?

John 8:37; John 8:45 (Complete Jewish Bible)

37 I know you are the seed of Avraham. Yet you are out to kill me, because what I am saying makes no headway in you.

45 But as for me, because I tell the truth you don’t believe me.

If we truly love others as ourselves as Jesus commanded us , we have no choice but to tell others about the Good News of Christ — whether they are our brother, our neighbor, or the foreigner that lives close to us. Every time we walk out our door we become a missionary! We may never go to a foreign country to preach the Gospel, but every single person God puts in our path is His way of reminding us that we are to proclaim His Good News. If we keep it to ourselves out of fear of rejection or because “those kind of people” don’t deserve to hear and have the opportunity to make their own choice about accepting or rejecting His message, then we’ve put ourselves in God’s place — and that’s what got Lucifer cast out of Heaven.

But it is more than duty for duty only goes so far. This is back to that relationship thing. You see, if we really love someone AND we truly believe that the Bible is completely true, then we cannot bear the thought that someone may die and be separated from God and be in eternal torture for lack of the knowledge of the Good News of Christ. If we give them the message and they reject it, then we are no longer responsible except to pray for them; but if we refuse to offer this free gift of love and forgiveness to them, we have taken the choice from them and we have blood on our hands.