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Entries in God's care (3)

Wednesday
Nov222017

Be Thankful—God Loves Ewe!

In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Pam Farrel encourages us to upgrade our lives with a little help from the Good Shepherd.

Our Good Shepherd pursues us to give his faithful love and all things beautiful and beneficial,” Pam says.

I (Dawn) have watched Pam in ministry. She knows a little about shepherds and sheep—the kind that go "baaa," and the human "sheep" who struggle and cry out to their Shepherd.

Pam continues . . .

I am a true Bo Peep. I grew up on a Suffolk sheep farm in Idaho.

I was a fourth generation shepherd. If there is something I am familiar with, it is sheep!

So when I read Psalms 23, one of the most familiar of all Psalms, it is very personal, encouraging and comforting.

You may also need comfort or encouragement in your own life right now. There are a few qualities of your Good Shepherd that might encourage you, especially if you are feeling like you are traveling through the “valley of the shadow of death”.

1. The Shepherd is Personal

For example, the Psalmist’s opening line, “The Lord is my shepherd,” became more precious when I became a shepherdess. The relationship between a lamb and a shepherd can be a very close, caring and even sometimes, affectionate relationship.

For example, my first 4-H lamb was a “bummer,” meaning the mother had rejected or abandoned her own offspring.

These kinds of lambs need extra attention, so I fed my little lambie with a bottle twice a day, holding her in my arms like a baby.

I carded her wool, I hand fed her grain, I walked her, and yes, I talked to her.

On cold nights, I tucked her into a warm pen, and if I heard howling wild dogs or coyotes, I got up to go out to check on her.

I also named her, “Bunny” because when she wasn’t in my arms, she would delight herself jumping from rock to rock in our pasture. Ours was an “everywhere that Pammy went her lamb was sure to go” kind of relationship.

2. The Shepherd is a Protector

It is really a picture of my grandfather, father and brother, and their vigilance that I carry in my mind as to what a truly protective good shepherd is like.

Ravenous coyotes, wolves and wild dogs roamed the vast expanse of high desert in the area our family farm was located. These savage dogs would attack and kills whole flocks of sheep in a single night.

To help us keep our sheep safe, we place collars with bells on them. If they we heard an occasional gentle chime we knew our sheep were simply grazing calmly, but if we heard a cacophony of loud jingling, we knew the wild dogs were near by threatening an attack

To protect the sheep, the men in my family would post themselves in the pasture with the sheep. They would wrap themselves in a down sleeping bag with their “rod and staff” within arm’s reach. It was a cold, uncomfortable, thankless job, but it saved the lives of all our entire flock of sheep and their lambs.

To this day, when I picture my God as my Good Shepherd, I see Him as my strong, powerful and attentive protector.

3. The Shepherd is a Provider

When I read, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul" (vv. 2-3), that is exactly the experience of my upbringing.

  • I would often walk barefoot through the deep, lush, green grass of the pasture, as the sheep serenely grazed.
  • I would take a blanket and a Bible, and lie down and spend quiet hours communing with God.
  • I might walk over to the creek, and sit on the simple wooden plank that created a bridge, and sit and rest quietly dipping my toes into the cool stream.

This was my place of solace and restoration, far away from the chaos my alcoholic, raging, earthly father might be creating in our small farm house. 

To this day, resting in an open meadow, or the sound of gently tinkling chimes, remind me of the restorative rest the Good Shepherd can create even in the midst of chaos.  

4. The Shepherd Is a Pursuer

As I have followed my Good Shepherd, I have seen how “goodness and mercy“ has surely followed me the days of my life. 

One could phrase the meaning of “goodness and mercy” as “certainly what is good, pleasant, agreeable, beneficial, desirable, beautiful and best, as well as God’s faithful, loyal, lovingkindness will pursue you.

Wow!

Our Good Shepherd pursues us to give His faithful love and all things beautiful and beneficial.

A recent example in my own life is the writing of this blog. It is an adaptation out of my newest book, Discovering Hope in the Psalms. I was going through one of my most challenging years of my entire life when my friend Jean asked me to edit, then co-author, this study with her.

See... my Shepherd sent goodness and mercy to pursue me, because He knew I was going to need to dwell in the green pastures of His Hope-filled Word to survive my own valley.

With the Shepherd, we can walk THROUGH the darkest valley and not tremble, because the Good Shepherd sees His sheep, knows His sheep and cares for each and every one of His sheep—including you!

What attribute of the Shepherd do you need, to hold on to hope?

Find a wool blanket, spread it in a green pasture near some still water, open your Bible and let the Shepherd send some goodness and mercy your way.

 Pam Farrel is still a shepherdess at heart. However, instead of living on her family farm, she now travels the world shepherding people’s hearts and relationships by speaking and teaching God’s goodness and mercy through the ministry she and her husband run: Love-Wise. She is the author of 45 books. Her newest is Discovering Hope in the Psalms: A Creative Bible Study Experience.

Thursday
Oct122017

A New Kind of Survival

I’ve followed survivor Kathy Carlton Willis in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. In this special UPLIFT, she shares some insights inspired by Harvey.

Kathy is always finding a way to grin through stinky days. One of her Facebook posts said, “Harvey Schmarvey! Harvey is like the unwanted house guest who doesn’t know when to leave.”

Kathy's example encouraged me (Dawn) in my own recent "storm," and I pray her words will help you too.

Kathy continues . . .

One thing that popped up during Harvey was the use of unintentional puns. It’s as if God wanted to help me keep generating grins despite the devastation surrounding me.

Here are a few of them:

  • I forgot to get vaccinated for cabin fever.
  • This whole area feels a bit like cornflakes sitting in milk too long—soggy.
  • I’m flooded by emails and calls from concerned friends.
  • I’m blown away by how people are helping people.
  • The water to all of Beaumont has been shut off. (Sure, we didn’t want more water, but we meant rain!)
  • I can’t believe the Internet router went out just four hours after our electricity came back on. What? Wasn’t ten days enough time without technology? When it rains, it pours!
  • Russ saw a 4-foot alligator on the road. I wonder if Russ said, “See you later, alligator!”
  • We’ll be playing catch up once the power is back on. We’ll keep calm and power on!

And a serious one:

  • “The sun is coming tomorrow. The Son is here today.”

No Light in Sight

The electricity failed for ten days. Having no air conditioning or fan during the hottest part of Texas summer was most miserable.

It was pitch black without the light. I kept flipping the light switch on, even though I knew the power was out. Darkness is never so dark as when there’s not a spot of light. As I pondered about God in the darkness, I centered my mind’s eye on His light, and a sense of His presence gave me great peace.

Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. (Luke 1:78-79 NLT)

Grateful for Simple Luxuries

It looked like a war zone all around us, with the army tanks and helicopters. Lines at what few stores opened had a two- to three-hour wait time, with guards at the entrance.

We found a battery-powered fan housed in a dented box at the store. It was the only fan on the shelf. Others assumed it was defective. We inspected it, and decided it was functional. Did God crunch the box so I could have some air movement in my steamy home?

My first hot meal was a McDonald’s breakfast biscuit. I never thought I’d be happy for McD’s, but I prayed the most appreciative meal blessing I’d prayed in a while!

Washing my hands with soap and warm water felt like such a luxury.

Finding a loaf of bread seemed like a small miracle.

Weather the Storm

The only way to weather a storm is to plan ahead for it, do all you can, and then rest in God’s presence as you wait out the worst of it.

And then, as soon as relief is in sight, ask God to show you how He wants to use the trial* for:

  1. His glory
  2. The good of others
  3. Your own personal and spiritual growth

What do you need to do today to be ready for the storm that might hit tomorrow?

* NOTE: Kathy wrote Four Ways to Get through the Storm earlier this year. She practiced her own tips during Hurricane Harvey. Kathy is coordinating an encouragement project to deliver donated gift cards and homemade baked goods to a neighborhood hardest hit by Harvey.

The rest of the story? She was supposed to close on a home in that very neighborhood on September 19th. The home was flooded with 5-7 feet of water and the contract was voided. She says she discovered home isn’t a WHERE, it’s a WHO.

Please continue to pray for Kathy and others you know who have "weathered" a tough storm in recent days. Pray they will not only "survive," but thrive in the Father's care.

Kathy Carlton Willis, God's Grin Gal, shines the light on what holds you back so you can grow. She’s a speaker and author with over a thousand articles online and in print, as well as her Bible study, Grin with GraceShe’s a bi-monthly columnist with CBN and a devotional writer for Todd Starnes. She and her husband Russ live in Texas with Jazzy, their hilarious Boston Terrier.

The photo in the graphic, above, was Kathy's photo of the first sunshine that broke through after Harvey.

Friday
Feb052016

Fenced in by Love (Part 2)

In part 1 of "Fenced in By Love," we saw that God keeps and preserves His own "sheep"--the souls of those who love Him and are in a personal relationship with Him. 

Today, we're considering HOW and WHY God keeps His people.

This is important, because I (Dawn) think there is sometimes a misunderstanding when people think God has forgotten them in their difficulties. The truth is, God is always up to something beyond what we might be able to see or understand.

So let's continue . . .

3. HOW is the the Lord keeping His people?

This goes back to the words "keep" and "preserve." Does being kept by the Lord mean God's people will never suffer? No, it's clear from scripture that believers will suffer (Psalm 6:6-7; Psalm 71:20a).

The harmful effects of the Fall in Genesis 3 will touch all of us this side of heaven. We may suffer persecution and even death. But we can be steadfast in the midst of the most desperate trials (James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:6-9).

The Christian's perspective on suffering is far different from those without the Lord. Instead of fighting the testing process of our circumstances, we can ask for our Father's will to be accomplished, learn to see life's trials as a blessing as we seek His perspective, and ask Him for wisdom to proceed.

We are never left alone in this process. Our Father knows we are weak and this is an uncertain world, and we cannot fully protect ourselves.

He is "watching over the way of His saints" (Proverbs 2:8). I have no doubt, if we could lift the veil between heaven and earth, we would see His care and protection in countless ways: the car that missed hitting us, the poison we missed ingesting, the thief who somehow couldn't find our front door, etc.

Yes, many things do happen to us in this sinful world, but ...

We are proud people indeed if we think we are not in God's constant, loving watchcare.

Back to Psalm 121:7 for a moment. The tense of the word "keep" in that verse includes the future. It means God will keep us both now and forever. He is with us and helping us in our current troubles, and and He will ultimately rescue us from ALL our troubles.

God, in His perfect and loving will, may not rescue us from all our troubles in the here and now, but the Lord has promised protection from our ultimate enemy, sin (Romans 6:14). Sin no longer has the power to enslave us or determine where we will spend eternity, if we are in Christ. But we do have a choice about sin.

In other words, our future is secure in Christ, and no one can snatch us out of our Father's strong hand! (John 10:28-29); but will we trust Christ and live now under His provided protection, or will we go beyond the fence of His love and "sleep with the enemy," giving in to sin's control?

4. WHY is the Lord keeping His people?

Way back in Genesis, God told Jacob, "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go ... I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:15).

God has always watched over His people, not only because He loves them, but also to accomplish His purposes in and through them.

God absolutely has the ability to deliver His people, but it is not always His will to do so. For example, in His love He may allow a physical trial or some other trouble in order to purify us (James 1:2-3) or to show Himself strong in our declaration of faith (as happened with the patriarch, Job).

Sometimes Christians pay the ultimate price for their identification with Christ and their witness, as did the first Christian martyr, Stephen (Acts 6:8-7:53). God doesn't ask everyone to make the ultimate sacrifice, but He does call us to be faithful soldiers in the battle, wherever that leads us (Ephesians 6:12-20; 1 Peter 3:15).

Romans 8:28-30 explains God's ongoing and ultimate purpose for ALL of His children (the "saints" of verse 27):

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."

Our Father wants us to be like His Son; and He lovingly, faithfully chisels away anything that doesn't look like Jesus.

So we read these powerful words in verse 31: "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"

  • It's not that we will escape bodily harm (v. 36)—we may even be called to martyrdom; 
  • but rather, we are "more than conquerors though him who loved us" (v. 37)—we have spiritual and eternal victory in Jesus;
  • and nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus, our Lord (vv. 38-39). We are sealed for eternity through the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).

No matter our circumstances, God is watching and involved with eternal purposes for our lives.

We are forever fenced in by God's love!

Are you struggling with a deep problem? How does a fresh perspective on God's purposes for you encourage you today?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is the creator of three blogs:Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is the Director of the San Diego chapter of Network of Evangelical Women in Ministry (NEWIM San Diego) and is a contracted researcher for Revive Our Hearts. She and her husband Bob have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Church graphic adapted from pixabay.com.

Chisel graphic adapted, Image courtesy of bugtiger at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.