VIDEO Christ With Us, Put Your Running Shoes On

I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:14

The Age of Enlightenment saw the rise of Deism—the view that describes God as the Creator but not the maintainer of earth. Theism believes in a personal, involved God; Deism believes in an impersonal, detached God.

The rise of Deism was consistent with the Enlightenment’s growing disregard for the Bible—a book whose God is anything but impersonal and detached. When Jesus sent the apostles out to evangelize the world, He didn’t say, “I’m leaving! It’s all up to you now!” Instead, He promised to be with them “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), “working with them” in their apostolic tasks (Mark 16:20). He even sent His Spirit to “guide [them] into all truth” (John 16:13). We are not called and commissioned to grow into maturity on our own. Jesus, by His Spirit, enables us in all He asks us to do for Him.

Whatever God calls you to do in ministry, family, or vocation, you are not alone. Jesus, by His Spirit, is with you to conform you to His image (Romans 8:29).

Talk with us, Lord, Thyself reveal, while here o’er earth we rove; speak to our hearts, and let us feel the kindling of Thy love. Charles Wesley


Put On Your Running Shoes – Philippians 3:12-16 – Skip Heitzig

Who Is God?

Who Is God?

Most of us have no clear picture of the God we long to worship. Our image of Him is clouded by the memory of cold cathedrals and bitter religions, by pastors or priests who put the fear of God into us, or by all that we suffered as children from fathers who were absent, emotionally detached, brutal, or weak. All of us have inexact notions of God.

So the question is God Himself: Who is He? This is the question to which all others lead—the question that God Himself put into our hearts. And if He put it into our hearts, there must be an answer in His heart waiting to be revealed.

David gave us a comforting and compelling answer: “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1).

Ancient shepherds knew their sheep by name.

Shepherd is a modest metaphor, yet one that is loaded with meaning. Part of the comparison is the portrayal of a shepherd and his sheep; the other is David’s experience and ours. David painted a picture and put us into it. The genius of the psalm is that it belongs to us. We can use David’s words as our own.

David the Shepherd
David himself was a shepherd. He spent much of his youth tending his “few sheep in the desert” (1 Samuel 17:28). The desert is one of the best places in the world to learn. There are few distractions and there is little that can be used. In such a place we’re more inclined to think about the meaning of things than about what those things provide.

David painted a picture and put us into it.

One day as David was watching his sheep, the idea came to him that God was like a shepherd. He thought of the incessant care that sheep require—their helplessness and defenselessness. He recalled their foolish straying from safe paths and their constant need for a guide. He thought of the time and patience it took for them to trust him before they would follow. He remembered the times when he led them through danger and they huddled close at his heels. He pondered the fact that he must think for his sheep, fight for them, guard them, and find their pasture and quiet pools. He remembered their bruises and scratches that he bound up, and he marveled at how frequently he had to rescue them from harm. Yet not one of his sheep was aware of how well it was watched. Yes, he mused, God is very much like a good shepherd.

Ancient shepherds knew their sheep by name. They were acquainted with all their ways—their peculiarities, their characteristic marks, their tendencies, their idiosyncrasies.

The club was a weapon to ward off beasts.

Back then, shepherds didn’t drive their sheep; they led them. At the shepherd’s morning call—a distinctive guttural sound—each flock would rise and follow its master to the feeding grounds. Even if two shepherds called their flocks at the same time and the sheep were intermingled, they never followed the wrong shepherd. All day long the sheep followed their own shepherd as he searched the wilderness looking for grassy meadows and sheltered pools where his flock could feed and drink in peace.

At certain times of the year it became necessary to move the flocks deeper into the wilderness, a desolate wasteland where predators lurked. But the sheep were always well-guarded. Shepherds carried a “rod” (a heavy club) on their belts and a shepherd’s staff in their hands. The staff had a crook that was used to extricate the sheep from perilous places or to restrain them from wandering away. The club was a weapon to ward off beasts. David said: “When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth” (1 Samuel 17:34–35).

A good shepherd never left his sheep alone.

Throughout the day each shepherd stayed close to his sheep, watching them carefully and protecting them from the slightest harm. When one sheep strayed, the shepherd searched for it until it was found. Then he laid it across his shoulders and brought it back home. At the end of the day, each shepherd led his flock to the safety of the fold and slept across the gateway to protect them.

A good shepherd never left his sheep alone. They would have been lost without him. His presence was their assurance. It’s this good shepherd that David envisioned as he composed each line of Psalm 23.

The Great Shepherd of the sheep
Hundreds of years after David composed his Shepherd Song, Jesus said with quiet assurance:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:11–15).

This is our Lord Jesus, “that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20).

He was one with the Father. He too saw us as “sheep without a shepherd.” He “came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). He’s the one who left the “ninety-nine on the hills” and went “to look for the one that wandered off,” forever establishing the value of one person and the Father’s desire that not one of them should perish (Matthew 18:12–14).

He too saw us as “sheep without a shepherd.”

F. B. Meyer wrote:
He has a shepherd’s heart, beating with pure and generous love that counted not His own lifeblood too dear a price to pay down as our ransom. He has a shepherd’s eye, that takes in the whole flock and misses not even the poor sheep wandering away on the mountains cold. He has a shepherd’s faithfulness, which will never fail or forsake, leave us comfortless, nor flee when He sees the wolf coming. He has a shepherd’s strength, so that He is well able to deliver us from the jaw of the lion or the paw of the bear. He has a shepherd’s tenderness; no lamb so tiny that He will not carry it; no saint so weak that He will not gently lead; no soul so faint that He will not give it rest.

But there’s more: The Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep.

Since the beginning of time, religions have decreed that a lamb should give up its life for the shepherd. The shepherd would bring his lamb to the sanctuary, lean with all his weight on the lamb’s head, and confess his sin. The lamb would be slain and its blood would flow out—a life for a life.

The Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep.

What irony! Now the Shepherd gives up His life for His lamb. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5–6).

The story is about the death of the Shepherd: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

He died for all sin—the obvious sins of murder, adultery, and theft as well as for the secret sins of selfishness and pride. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross. This was sin’s final cure.

The club was a weapon to ward off beasts.

The normal way of looking at the cross is to say that man was so bad and God was so mad that someone had to pay. But it was not anger that led Christ to be crucified; it was love. The crucifixion is the point of the story. God loves us so much that He Himself took on our guilt. He internalized all our sin and healed it. When it was over He said, “It is finished!” There is nothing left for us to do but to enter into forgiving acceptance—and for those of us who have already entered it, to enter into more of it.

The Shepherd calls to us and listens for the slightest sounds of life. He hears the faintest cry. If He hears nothing at all, He will not give up or go away. He lets us wander away, hoping that weariness and despair will turn us around.

The Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep.

Our discomfort is God’s doing. He hounds us. He hems us in. He thwarts our dreams. He foils our best-laid plans. He frustrates our hopes. He waits until we know that nothing will ease our pain, nothing will make life worth living except His presence. And when we turn to Him, He is there to greet us. He has been there all along. “The Lord is near to all who call on him” (psalm 145:1).

“But,” you say, “why would He want me? He knows my sin, my wandering, my long habits of yielding. I’m not good enough. I’m not sorry enough for my sin. I’m unable not to sin.”

Our waywardness doesn’t have to be explained to God. He’s never surprised by anything we do. He sees everything at a single glance—what is, what could have been, what would have been apart from our sinful choices. He sees into the dark corners and crannies of our hearts and knows everything about us there is to know. But what He sees only draws out His love. There is no deeper motivation in God than love. It is His nature to love; He can do no other, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

The club was a weapon to ward off beasts.

Do you have some nameless grief? Some vague, sad pain? Some inexplicable ache in your heart? Come to Him who made your heart. Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

There is no more profound lesson than this: He is the one thing that we need. The word shepherd carries with it thoughts of tenderness, security, and provision, yet it means nothing if I cannot say, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

What a difference that one syllable makes. It means that I can have all of God’s attention, all of the time, just as though I’m the only one. I may be part of a flock, but I’m one of a kind.

It’s one thing to say, “The Lord is a shepherd.” It’s another to say, “The Lord is myshepherd.”

 

Perseverance in Suffering

James 1:2-8

As we have seen, God doesn’t waste our suffering. For one thing, He uses it to draw us to Himself. In addition, it’s a tool for eliminating hindrances to our holiness, helping us grow in faith, and making us increasingly Christlike.

Let’s look at a few other ways our trials become triumphs when we trust the Lord. Through hardships, we can …

Share in the holiness of Christ. Hebrews 12:10 explains that when God disciplines us, He does so to bring us to the point where Jesus’ holiness is expressed—instead of suppressed—in our life.

Learn to give thanks in all situations. We’ve all faced circumstances when it was hard to name something for which we felt grateful. But 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks “in everything,” with no mention of feelings. Through experience, we learn to be thankful even for suffering because we know that the end result will be good.

Develop steadfastness. Romans 5:1-5 says tribulation leads to perseverance, and perseverance in turn develops character, which gives us hope. When we choose not to give up during difficult circumstances, we allow God to build up good qualities in our life that will keep us going in the long term.

Participate in the sufferings of Christ. Nothing was more valuable to Paul than knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8-11). But how can you truly know someone unless you can somehow relate to his life and experiences?

God at times allows us to suffer so we can humbly recognize how much we need Him. When we trust His will, He uses those trials in amazing ways.

Attention Blind Guides

“Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!” (Matthew 23:16)

The 23rd chapter of Matthew contains some harsh denunciations as Jesus delivers the eight “woes.” Even the Greek word is a bit eerie; it is pronounced “oo-ah-ee!” Can you imagine this series of stern admonitions delivered to the faces of these self-righteous manipulators of truth? “Oo-ah-ee you scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, hypocrites!” It must have given chills to everyone there.

The blindness that Jesus was condemning has both a practical and spiritual impact. Obviously, if one does not understand simple truth, the result is going to be either embarrassing or painful. “They be blind leaders of the blind,” Jesus said. “And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14).

The great Creator of the universe knows best how to guide His creation. If we, the stewards (Genesis 1:28), do not know or understand the Creator’s instructions, we are bound to get into trouble. That “truth blindness” often results in “blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).

But the greater blindness is spiritual. Peter listed attributes on how to grow in faith and gain assurance. Then he advised, “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Peter 1:9).

In His messages to the seven churches, Jesus warned Laodicea, “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). His counsel: “Buy of me gold . . . and white raiment . . . and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” (Revelation 3:18). HMM III

Self-Effacing Saint

For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.

—Philippians 2:20-21

It is our belief that the evangelical movement will continue to drift farther and farther from the New Testament position unless its leadership passes from the modern religious star to the self-effacing saint who asks for no praise and seeks no place, happy only when the glory is attributed to God and himself forgotten….

Within the last quarter of a century we have actually seen a major shift in the beliefs and practices of the evangelical wing of the church so radical as to amount to a complete sellout; and all this behind the cloak of fervent orthodoxy. With Bibles under their arms and bundles of tracts in their pockets, religious persons now meet to carry on “services” so carnal, so pagan, that they can hardly be distinguished from the old vaudeville shows of earlier days. And for a preacher or a writer to challenge this heresy is to invite ridicule and abuse from every quarter.

Our only hope is that renewed spiritual pressure will be exerted increasingly by self-effacing and courageous men who desire nothing but the glory of God and the purity of the church. May God send us many of them. They are long overdue.   OGM016-018

Lord, forgive me for my pride. Give me the humble spirit of the self-effacing saint. Amen.

 

But God, who is rich in mercy

But God, who is rich in mercy for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ.—Ephesians 2:4, 5.

 

Lord, to Thy call of me I bow,

Obey like Abraham,

Thou lov’st me because Thou art Thou,

And I am what I am.

 

Doubt whispers, “thou art such a blot

He cannot love poor thee.”

If what I am He loveth not,

He loves what I shall be.

George MacDonald.

 

We may hate ourselves when we come to realize failings we have not recognized before, and feel that there are probably others which we do not yet see as clearly as other people see them, but this kind of impatience for our perfection is not felt by those who love us, I am sure. It is one’s greatest comfort to believe that it is not even felt by God. Just as a would not love her child the better for its being turned into a model of perfection at once, but does love it the more dearly every time it tries to be good, so I do hope and believe our Great Father does not wait for us to be good and wise to love us, but loves us, and loves to help us in the very thick of our struggles with folly and sin.

Juliana H. Ewing.

 

Should Be Nothing to Alarm Us

“But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.” Dan. 12:13

We cannot understand all the prophecies, but yet we regard them with pleasure, and not with dismay. There can be nothing in the Father’s decree which should justly alarm His child. Though the abomination of desolation be set up, yet the true believer shall not be defiled; rather shall he be purified, and made white, and tried. Though the earth be burned up, no smell of fire shall come upon the chosen. Amid the crash of matter, and the wreck of worlds, the Lord Jehovah will preserve His own.

Calmly resolute in duty, brave in conflict, patient in suffering, let us go our way, keeping to our road, and neither swerving from it nor loitering in it. The end will come; let us go our way till it does.

Rest will be ours. All other things swing to and fro, but our foundation standeth sure. God rests in His love, and, therefore, we rest in it. Our peace is, and ever shall be, like a river. A lot in the heavenly Canaan is ours, and we shall stand in it, come what may. The God of Daniel will give a worthy portion to all who dare to be decided for truth and holiness as Daniel was. No den of lions shall deprive us of our sure inheritance.