Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rod of Comfort

Rod of Comfort
April 25, 2016
Psalm 23:4  "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil; your rod and your staff they comfort me."

I've always been confused about the verse suggesting a rod and staff are comforting.  When I think of comfort I think of a soft bed, maybe a warm fire, possibly even the embrace of a mother, but never a wooden stick or two.  The psalmist clearly writes that a shepherd's rod and staff are comforting, specifically that they bring him comfort.  In trying to understand this verse it is important to understand what the difference was and is between a rod and a staff, and then how on earth they could bring comfort to the psalmist.  A shepherd's rod and a shepherd's staff are two different things, but equally important tools.  The Lord, as likened to our shepherd, utilizes both tools when dealing with us.

The shepherd's staff is easy to understand.  Think candy cane.  It was usually longer in length, similar in size to the specific shepherd.  The bigger the shepherd, the larger the staff.  It was used to guide the sheep, not drive the sheep.  It was meant to be a gentle tool first and then a weapon.  The hook of the staff could be used to pull a sheep out of a dangerous situation, either from terrain it could not cross, a thicket of thorns, or an impending predator.  The hook could also be used to draw the sheep close to the shepherd or draw a newborn sheep to it's mother's milk.  The length of the staff was used as a weapon, like a sword or club, to fight off even a lion.

The rod on the other hand was no where near the length of the staff.  It was possibly half the length and even half the diameter.  The rod was used just as you might think a rod would be used, to smack it against the animal to get its attention.  This could be to drive the animal quickly, turn one from being stubborn, or keep it from bullying other sheep.  The rod was meant to slice through the air quickly, in a stinging fashion against the target's body, discipline, if you will.  There was another purpose of the rod, too.  A sheep's coat of wool could get thick, a thin rod could slice through the sheep's wool to inspect the animal for disease or defects at the level of the skin.  In fact this was written about in Ezekiel, as the Lord uses the rod to inspect us for blemish.  When He finds a suitable sheep, He brings them into His flock with His rod.  He inspects the animal with His rod, then brings it into His flock, then again will use the rod to keep it in line and to constantly inspect its health.  Depending on the shepherd and the specific animal he was herding, these two tools might be different in size and shape, or any combination of the above.  Regardless, he was sure to have the exact right tools for himself and the animal in his care.

The Lord is a shepherd who utilizes His tools well.  He is a big God with a long staff of help the size of Himself.  Nowhere will you ever extend beyond His reach to pull you from danger.  He will guide you gently when the need arises and fight off any enemy that might come against you.  He will also be sure to use the rod when necessary.  He will sting your flesh to get your attention if He needs you to move quickly or turn your stubborn ways.  He will inspect you for blemish, too, being sure to take care of your disease or wound.  While most of the interaction with the shepherd was meant to be pleasant for the sheep, there were many instances when the situation was not comfortable.  But this is actually why the psalmist said the shepherd's tools brought him comfort (remember the psalmist suggested he was in a dark valley).  The psalmist knew the Lord was an overseer who took notice of each situation, knowing what was needed for the health and safety of the sheep regardless of the surroundings.  This is what brought comfort to the psalmist, knowing the Lord would do anything and everything to keep the sheep safely within His flock, even if it brought him discomfort.  And the psalmist submitted to this.  He welcomed the Lord's leading, protection, and discipleship.  The Lord is intent on keeping all His sheep safely within the flock and the psalmist was glad for it, even if it meant stinging flesh to keep him in line.  Maybe the psalmist was in a dark valley by choice and needed discipline or Maybe the psalmist was in a dark valley of danger and needed protection.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Lev 27:32, 2 Sam 7:14, Ps 89:32, Ezekiel 20:37, 1 Cor 4:21

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Greatest One of Us

Greatest One of Us
April 18, 2016
Matthew 23:11  "The greatest among you will be your servant."

There is no doubt we always want to be bigger and better, to be the best at something.  In order to be the best at something there must be someway to measure that, which is often a comparison against someone else.  If you are better than someone then someone else is not quite as good.  To be the greatest means everyone else is lesser.  I have no delusions of ever being the greatest at something, but I do always want to improve my standing among God and men.  Improving my standing both with God and men come with a completely different set of rules.  God's measurements of being the greatest can often be the antithesis of man's measurements.

Among mankind, you can be perceived as the greatest at something by truly being the best, better than everyone else, proving your skills and talent.  This works well in the sports world, in the corporate world, and in the entertainment world.  A great deal of value is placed on being the best in the world, which often generates the largest paychecks, too.  This is quite impressive to us, as we are fascinated with the lives of those who are considered the greatest.  Impressive it is not, however, in the Lord's eyes.  The Lord doesn't care how great you are among mankind; He cares about how greatly you serve mankind.  Being the best at something doesn't usually serve someone else; it serves yourself.  While we all envy the person who is the greatest, desiring his position, it doesn't actually benefit anyone but that single person.  This is often why being the greatest is so desired, because it serves that one individual very well.  But again, the Lord doesn't care how well that one individual is served, the Lord cares about how well that individual serves others.

Jesus said in order to be the greatest, in a world that truly matters, you must be the greatest at serving others.  In an attempt to be the greatest in the earthly world, it seldom ends up in an act of service.  This becomes opposed to the Lord's desires, and makes you quite possibly the least in His eyes.  If you were to stand with all the people you've ever actually known and the Lord decided to single out the person He would deem the greatest, would He pick you?  Imagine you are in a room with the 100 people you know the most, which one of you would be closest to be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?  In your church, among all those in attendance, including the pastor, which person would be considered the greatest in the Lord's eyes?  This person might not actually be the pastor.  This person would be the one whom the Lord recognizes as serving others more than himself.  In all honesty, my guess is we will be shocked at how many pastors will not be among the greatest in Heaven.  But who will that person be, what will that person look like?  I'm not asking because it matters; I'm asking because it is a way to evaluate yourself and myself.  Are either of us even on the list of the top 10?  Top 100?  Top 1000?

If I am of great value at my place of employment it is probably because I'm more skilled at my job than someone else, but this does not translate into being the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.  I spend a great deal of time working at this, to better myself at my place of employment, because it provides for my family, though this does little to make me the greatest in Heaven.  My end goal, is it to be the great in the eyes of man or great in the eyes of God?  We all should spend far more time trying to be great in the eyes of the Lord, trying to serve the ones the Lord placed in our lives.  This is the only thing that elevates us in a manner worthy of measuring.  I doubt either of us will be the absolute greatest in the kingdom of Heaven, but we should at least give it our best shot.  Are you even trying at this?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Matt 18:1, Luke 9:46-48, Luke 22:24-27 

Sunday, April 10, 2016


April 11, 2016
Jeremiah 6:21  "Therefore this is what the Lord says: 'I will put obstacles before this people. Parents and children alike will stumble over them; neighbors and friends will perish.'"

Obstacles are rather frustrating in your walkway; they cause you to have to find a way around them.  If you are hiking and there is an obstacle in your way, the only way to finish the hike would be to go another direction or figure a way around it.  Like hiking, life is full of obstacles.  The more obstacles in your path, the more adept to giving up or overcoming them you become.  Hopefully, you don't give up very easily, but obstacles have a way of being frustrating.  I know you may be dealing with an obstacle right now and you'd like to find a way around it.  Sometimes, though, the obstacle isn't meant for an alternate path; it is meant to get your attention, refocus your intent.

Some obstacles are placed in your path by the Lord.  In Jeremiah, the Lord's people were not always living for Him the way they should.  The Lord was so frustrated that He wanted to get their attention.  He immediately warned of an impending destruction and put obstacles in their paths.  The obstacles weren't meant to stop them, frustrate them, or even stall them.  The obstacles were meant to get their attention, so they could evaluate their standard of living.  The warning of the impending destruction was meant to be just that, a warning.  Technically the Lord didn't owe them a warning; they knew the rules.  The warning of the impending destruction came as a means to convince them to do a personal check.  He didn't want to destroy them; He wanted them to behave.  And THEN the obstacles.  Which, again, weren't meant to be anything other than a way to get their attention of the impending destruction should their behavior not change.

The Lord was giving them opportunity after opportunity to figure it out and get their lives straight, to get their act together.  This is the same for you and me.  The Lord is more than willing to make it abundantly clear of soon coming discipline.  His desire is that you submit to His guidelines.  Should you and I choose not to live according to His guidelines then He will gently give you a warning.  Should that warning not work, He often puts an obstacle in your way to get your attention.  When you face an obstacle in your life, as a Christian, you should first always ask if that obstacle is a warning to you or a means to get your attention.  Do not simply assume the obstacle is meant to challenge you.  Do not simply assume the obstacle is from the enemy.  Do not simply assume the obstacle means turn completely around.  The obstacle is meant to get your attention, to be a time for reflection and correct alignment.

Your obstacle right now is first meant for you to seek the Lord in examining it and your life.  Your job is to prayerfully consider the obstacle and ask the Lord to reveal His wisdom in your life and how you should view the obstacle.  Satan's goal is to obscure your path and stop you from doing the Lord's will.  The Lord's goal is to obscure your path and stop you from doing anything on your own accord or against His plan.  Either way, the obstacle is an opportunity for discovery.  Instead of viewing the obstacle from a negative point of view, evaluate it as a blessing to keep your life in alignment with the Lord and His plan for your life.  Rejoice in what the obstacle means, as it represents your life's importance to the Lord.  If you have an obstacle right now, I'd like to pray with you about it, that the Lord would give you wisdom and insight about it.  Reply to this e-mail, describe your obstacle, and I'll gladly pray with you that He would help you see how you should proceed.  Only His wisdom will provide the right way to view and deal with this obstacle you are facing right now.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Jer 6, Phil 1:6, 2 Peter 3:8-10, 1 Thes 5:24

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Plumb Line

Plumb Line
April 4, 2016
Amos 7:8  ". . . Then the Lord said, 'Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.'"

A plumb line is a carpenter's tool used to see if a wall was built straight and true.  It is a string with a weight on the end and the string is held up against a wall.  Gravity will pull that weight straight towards the ground and the string it is attached to becomes the standard for straight.  The plumb line, when measured against the wall, will tell you how well the wall was built, how straight and true it is.  If the wall is found out of plumb, then the carpenter has a choice, he can correct it if it isn't too late, or he can tear it down, starting over again.  The  sad thing about a plumb line though, oftentimes it isn't used when building a wall, just at the end to determine if the wall was built well.  If the plumb line isn't used while building the wall, and the wall is found to be out of plumb, then really the only option is to tear down and start over.

The Lord was frustrated with the behavior of the Israelites; they were not acting as if they belonged to the Lord.  The Lord told them He was going to hold a plumb line against them, to see if they were straight and true.  He suggested very harshly that if they were found to be out of plumb, that He was sure to tear them down and start again.  Painful to hear, I know, but true nonetheless.  Today we think the Lord is so patient and full of mercy, that He doesn't function that way anymore.  But I have not found anywhere in Scripture that suggests the Lord changes His behavior.  So, here is my thought process:  If the Lord could get so frustrated with the Israelites that He wanted to wipe them out and start over again, what makes me so sure He doesn't get that frustrated with me?  What makes you and make any more special than the Israelites?  Do we sin so much less than they did?  I would argue we might sin, as a society, far more than the Israelites, but either way, how do we never get to that point?  How do we know how far the Lord's mercy will extend until He is out of patience?

Since I do not want to be torn down by the Lord, I have only one option.  The option is to apply the plumb line to myself, on my own accord before it is too late, to see where I might be lacking, to see how far away I am from what the Lord desires of me.  If I can apply the plumb line myself, making adjustments as I mature, then maybe the Lord would get far less frustrated with them to the point of being out of mercy.  I never want to be on the side of the Lord's frustration and anger, yet I doubt very few of us think that could happen.  I assure you it can happen, and possibly does on more occasions than we are aware.  The Lord brings judgments against His people on a regular basis, yet we are simple enough to rationalize it away, thinking it was a fluke of nature or a case of bad luck.  Seldom do we analyze our poor results in life, thinking they are or are not associated with our bad behavior.  I would submit to you on more than one occasion your misfortune was not a matter of bad luck but rather the Lord trying to get your attention.

Here is your chance to nip it in the bud.  You have the opportunity to apply the plumb line to yourself, God's Word of truth and His expectations against your behavior BEFORE it is too late.  Determine on your own how closely you match up with His desires for your life and make adjustments now.  It is far less painful for you to make the changes instead of the Lord forcing the change.  In fact, the Lord is more than willing to help you gently make those changes if your are humble enough to ask Him for help.  He is never willing to punish you for the sake of being punished.  He doesn't even want to see you in pain, but will do whatever it takes to get your attention.  Does He have our attention or does He have to smack us in the face to wake us up?  If the Lord were to hold the plumb line against you even now how far would it be out of plumb?  How far would He find you from His plan for your life?  Self evaluation is critical if you are going to be successful as a Christian.  Do it now before it is too late.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Ecc 3:17, Jer 25:31, Is 28:17, Amos 7, 1 Tim 5:12