I do, in fact, Love My Shepherd


I like blankets. When I was little they were my comfort, with their fuzzy middles and their silky edges. They wrapped me up when I needed to feel safe, and warmed my toes and arms on winter nights. My mom knew that when I was sad, I needed a hug and my hole-y blue blanket, ragged and worn, so I could love it to literal pieces.

What speaks comfort into your life? What physical manifestation of God’s warmth and goodness has He blessed you with in this life? God encourages us to fix our eyes on the eternal, but He leaves us with the temporal as a bonus, small reminders that He is good. He is our comfort on cold days and in the dark of night.

God, throughout Scripture gives us a vision of comfort in the language of Good Shepherd. The Shepherd who consistently gathers His sheep. Please open to Isaiah 40:10-11 or read below –
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young.

He comes with might, but listen to the tenderness of it all. God is so fantastically perfect that He is complete in a way we cannot fathom. This mighty God, this powerful Shepherd goes out to defeat the wolves of this world, to defeat the devil who destroys… He also holds you in His arms. He gathers every part of you to Him and will never let you go. He gathers His people to His chest and loves, loves, loves, and loves some more. What a God we have!

How many of you would list Psalm 23 as a verse on your comfort list? Clearly I would! I named my blog after it. 😉

Let’s read it together today.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

He restores. He overflows. He walks with me. He pursues me with mercy. He provides for me. He gathers me around the table and He eats with me.

Let’s widen it a bit. Let’s think about gather in its fullest sense.

He restores us.

He overflows into us.

He walks with us.

He pursues us.

He provides for us.

He gathers us around the table. He eats with us.

We were made for gathering. We were born into a flock. We experience the fullness of Him within the gathering of His people.

I Love My Shepherd is about We Love Our Shepherd

…stretching my heart for my husband, Christ, and His Church. We are the comfort, dear friends, for our husbands, and those in our homes, in our churches, and in our lives. We speak Jesus into one another’s life in a way we wouldn’t experience walking this earth on our own.

Let’s pray Psalm 23 today for our own needs, but also for one another. Let’s thank our Shepherd for just being Himself in all His wonderfulness as well as giving us this life to live together.

So, here’s how this is going to go. Read Psalm 23 through 3 times.

Read through #1 – focus on who God is, as our Shepherd. When you read the Psalm, what do you learn about Him? Spend time in prayer proclaiming His character, such as provider, comforter, leader, etc.

Read through #2 – focus on what our Shepherd does for you as an individual. How has He brought His work proclaimed in Psalm 23 to bear in your real life? Where have you seen Him shepherd? Where have you seen Him lead? What do you need Him to walk with you through?

Read through #3 – focus on what our Shepherd does for His people or for other people in your life. Pray the psalm over anyone in need or ask for God’s provision, comfort, overflow into individuals and/or your church.

We are gathered, sheep into our Shepherd, sheep into the sheepfold. Loved on, cared for, mightily rescued, guided, filled to the brim with overflowing.

I love my shepherd. And I know you do too.

Exploration:

Share some of your prayer insights from Psalm 23 with us, fill in the requests you feel comfortable sharing for each prayer round or share some that stick out to you overall.

Round 1 – Who God is as our Shepherd…

Round 2 – What God does for you, as an individual…

Round 3 – What God does for His people, or the people in your life…

Worship speaks Life


Ever feel like you need a flashing neon sign from God? I think we all have at one time or another. Most of the time, God doesn’t really work like that, but today we get a treat. Today, we’re going to talk life. And we’ll keep it simple.

Please, open your Bibles to Isaiah 11 and read just one verse, Isaiah 11:12 –

He will raise a signal for the nations
    and will assemble the banished of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
    from the four corners of the earth.

If we needed that flashing neon sign from God, here it is. God raises a signal and holds it high for all people to see, crying out with arms outstretched –

“Come to me. Let me gather.”

We look for giant billboards and signs for what to do and where to go from God, but the signal is no mystery. The signal is very simply Christ Jesus saying “Come.”

God makes this clear throughout the Scriptures over and over again, but Isaiah 11 is like a giant beacon, shining light into the darkness of the unknown. Back up and read Isaiah 11:1-2 –

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Don’t these verses just make you want to worship Him? This is no mistake, my friend. Jesus is the signal, raised high for us to gather around, but how will the world know?

What if God uses our worship as the bull horn of salvation for the people? And the billboard of encouragement and discernment for one another?

What is worship? His Word going out, His promises proclaimed, and His people responding. The Word surely does the work, but what do people see when they look around them and see worship?

They see Life in Worship and worship as the way we live our life.

Sweet, sweet worship. What a gift! Worship may be at times just between you and God, but mostly, it was meant to be communal. It was meant to be you and God, and God’s people. It speaks to one another and it speaks to those on the outside looking in.

We don’t worship for a show. We aren’t performers or puppeteers putting on a nice pretty picture for the world around us, but when the people of God gather, Life flows. Forgiveness flows. Confession happens. Mercy is given. Truth is spoken. Love is bestowed. Grace rains down. Encouragement builds.

God gathers His people. Only by His grace do we get out of bed on Sunday morning or Thursday night or whenever else, to worship alongside family, friends, and strangers. Only by His grace do we remember to pick up the family devotion book off the table and share His Peace with one another. Only by His grace will we be brought together in the heavens to sing with all the saints and angels “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth! Heaven and earth is full of Your Glory. Hosanna in the Highest!”

Jesus is always concerned with reaching the nations around us, the people around us. He reaches out and sweeps in the people with His ever-loving arms every time He comes to us.

Listen to what will happen. The Signal that is Christ Jesus will come again and the worship that results will be like nothing the world has ever seen. Indeed, every nation will see and hear –

…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:10)

Highly exalted, worthy of worship, every knee, every tongue.

Worship is Life and it speaks Life to a hurting world.

Worship with your life, friends. Worship for the Life He has given you and let Life flow to others by the act of your worship. And watch Him gather!

Lord, we worship You. We adore You. You alone are faithful, Lord. You alone are worthy. Let our worship be in honesty and in Truth. Let it be only for You. May you use each of us as your signals, as “little Christs” proclaiming Your Honor to all the earth. In Jesus we pray, Father, through Your everlasting Spirit. Amen!


Exploration:

What are your favorite parts of worship? Consider phrases or hymns, songs or proclamations, or elements that are not spoken, things you see, touch, or the people around you?

What is special at the place and in the people you worship with weekly? What makes your church and church family unique?

Bonus: Look at Isaiah 11:1-12 in full. What promises do you find? What will gathering look like in the end?

No longer a foreigner to Grace


The day we moved to Haiti was exciting and exhilarating. We got up at 3am, headed to the Detroit airport with our giant suitcases, hugged our selfless middle of the night chauffeurs/friends and headed off on adventure.

My first thought when we arrived in Haiti was, “We can handle this!” With the warm greetings of our Haitian friends, our bellies full with plantain and celebratory cake, and the distraction of unpacking and settling in, the culture around me seemed a curiosity, rather than shocking. It took little more than four days and a trip to the Haitian marketplace to feel thrown completely off my footing, to know that “we can handle this” was hopeful at best, a mild delusion at worst.

In the marketplace, there were people everywhere, and I mean everywhere. I have shopped the foreign marketplaces before. I’ve traveled all over. I don’t love bartering, but I have some skills. I enjoy people, crazy mixes of smells, and the sound of vibrant language overlapping in the pleasant chaos of the day’s busyness. But I have never had to do it for my survival. I wasn’t there just to browse and procure a few souvenirs for friends back home. I needed groceries, and I needed them on a limited missionary budget. I needed to figure out how to cook said groceries, and I needed to not get hit by a mototaxi doing so.

I stood in the marketplace that morning and realized I was a foreigner. I was an outsider. I had no clue what I was doing, and do you know what that translates to? That feeling of utterly alone. Standing in the middle of a crowded marketplace, the sounds dissipate around you, the tears well up and you realize, in the end, it’s just you on an island. No one knows you here. If you fell, would someone pick you up? If you disappeared, would anyone notice?

In the marketplace, lost in my lonely thoughts, I felt a tug on my elbow that brought me back to the movement and the noises all around me. I looked into the chocolate eyes of my friend Sydney, who placed her arm around my back, held on to my shoulder for dear life and said, “Heidi, I am right here.”

That day in the market, Sydney gathered me. She didn’t just gather me in her arms to reassure me, but she also gathered me to be part of her people. Our friends in Haiti did absolutely everything they could each day to make us part of their lives. To welcome us, yes, but also to gather us as part of them.

Have you ever been the foreigner? Alone in another country, another town, another family? Think past the obvious. Have you ever been left standing in the high school cafeteria looking for a place to sit? Have you ever had to walk into a new church praying it felt like home? Have you ever rolled over in bed and realized afresh that the other side now lies empty and this world of loss is something harder than you ever imagined?

God promises that in all of our aloneness, all of our wanderings, all of our cast aside and walked away and went far off, He will gather us to Himself.

Isaiah records this promise in Isaiah 56:5-8. Read that below –

I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
    besides those already gathered.”

Child, you are better than a son, better than a daughter. That means that you who were once a stranger to God, a foreigner to grace and mercy, are now more than family.

You are gathered.

He has joined you to Him, gathered you up from your dark places or your regular middle-of-the-road day and brought you into relationship with Him. Verse 7 above proclaims that He brings us to His Holy Mountain and makes us joyful in His house of prayer.

God made someone else joyful in His house of prayer. She also felt like an outsider, a less than, and wondered if she was foreign to God in her barrenness. Look at Hannah’s story fresh. Read 1 Samuel 1:12-16.

As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

Hannah brought all of her anxiety, all of her burden, all of her pain before the true God. Her heart overflowed, “pouring out her soul” before the Lord. If you think that Hannah’s prayer was polite, I would offer up a different vantage point. Hannah herself tells Eli in verse 16 that she has been speaking with the Lord in great anxiety and vexation. What’s the English definition of vexation? Annoyance, exasperation, indignation, aggravation. The Hebrew word here is marat, or bitterness. Hannah didn’t just pour out her requests, she poured out her bitterness in this house of prayer.

Hannah was gathered by the Lord.

He gathered her up to hear her bitterness, hear her dissension, to hear her shock and her distress at a world that was not fair. Is it possible that Hannah wondered in her distress if she even knew the Lord? Did Her beloved Savior feel foreign to her in her struggle? Have you ever been there?

You are gathered.

This is how God gathers. Maybe the house of prayer is simply honest relationship with God. Peak back at Isaiah 56. What did the Lord want from His people? He just wanted them to come to Him.

…To love the name of the Lord…

…to minister to Him…

…to hold fast…

…to place our sacrifices, on His altar…

You are gathered and He promises to gather others as well. That means all the Hannah’s you have around you, bitter and struggling with something. He’s gathering them. When He brings you to Himself, whether in bitterness or joy, He will use you to gather and gather and gather some more.

You are gathered. You may look a foreigner in this present land. You may feel a foreigner in your family, your church, or this culture. You may have some annoyance, some frustration, some distrust stored up to pour out before Him.

Go ahead and do it. You are no longer a foreigner to His grace.

You are gathered.

Trust in the One who holds you tight.

 

Gathered Scripture Engagement Tool

Exploration:

Present your requests before the Lord. Set a timer and challenge yourself to pray for 10 minutes straight with no distractions. Please feel free to pray longer, but let’s challenge each other to pour the cares of the day out to Him and spend time with Him and Him alone for just a bit. If you’d like to share some prayer requests, please feel free to do so in the comments below.

 

*psssttt – a birdie told me that the “No longer a foreigner to His Grace” photo makes a great iphone wallpaper. Just save it to your phone and insert as wallpaper under settings.