What is it about shepherds

Photo by Sara Branstetter, April 2008. Used with permission.An angel brought an unusual message to a group of shepherds in the night, somewhere near Bethlehem.  They were watching a flock of sheep who were bedded down in a field, not in a stable or sheepcote.  A little history lesson – sheep were allowed in cultivated fields twice a year, after the fields had been harvested and after the poor of the community had gleaned the fields.  Other times they were elsewhere, either in the hilly uncultivated countryside or in the caves that doubled as stables, where feed and water troughs carved from large stones could be seen (otherwise known as mangers).

In any case, these sheep were in the fields with the shepherds watching them.  One minute they were alone in the darkness, the next minute the night sky lit up with a blast of light.  One minute there were only sheep and shepherds, the next minute an angel was standing beside them.   I don’t know about you, but I would have been terrified too and probably think the world was coming to an end.

Then the angel spoke. The first thing he said, as usual, was “fear not.”  Easier to say than to do!  He delivered his message, a lot of other angels showed up to give a loud and glorious “amen” to the message, and then they all left.

There are several points that struck me about this passage from Luke chapter 2.  One, God has a thing about shepherds.  When he plans a turning point in the history of mankind, you might just find a shepherd in there somewhere.  (Abel, Abraham, Moses, David, etc.)

Second, these shepherds knew what the Messiah coming meant.  No long theological lesson was necessary.  Shepherding might be the lowest position on the economic and social ladders of the day, but these were not ignorant men. Jews for many generations had been waiting for this message.

They weren’t foolish, either.  If the angel said the baby Messiah was somewhere in a Bethlehem feed trough – a stable/cave – wrapped up as newborns always are in swaddling clothes, then he was.  Let’s go see him for ourselves, how many chances do you get like this in a lifetime!

And so they did.  Now, the angel didn’t tell them to go visit, but the hint was pretty broad.  There may have been several babies born in the neighborhood that night but only one would be lying in a feed trough.  That made him a cinch to locate.

The third point has to do with sheep.  Bethlehem is where the sheep for the Temple were raised.  Only sheep raised in Bethlehem could be used for sacrificial animals.  The hillside sheep, the cultivated field sheep, the cave/stable sheep – these were Temple  sheep.  Sheep to be killed and offered as sacrifices for sin fed from that “manger,” the feed trough.  What an appropriate place for the baby Messiah’s first cradle.

In the creation account in Genesis 1, when were the sheep created?  On the 6th day, just just before Adam was created.  Why do you suppose that was?  Well, from what I’ve learned about sheep, they require a shepherd to survive.  Sort of like human beings.

Who was the first shepherd?  I asked that question when teaching Sunday School last week and some said Abel.  After all, Genesis says he kept sheep.  And he sacrificed one of his sheep to God.

But who did God give those sheep to in the first place, to look after? Who taught Abel how to be a shepherd?  Adam and Eve were given that responsibility.  From the very creation, God ordained shepherds.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world, and Jesus, the Great Shepherd!  There’s a lot about shepherds we can learn from the scriptures.  Father God has a thing about shepherds…

What are you like, God?

eyesofthelordWhat are you like, God? I asked him that again this morning. I’ve asked it a lot over the years, and his answers are always instructive. Interesting. Fascinating. Enlightening.

And so I expected something along those lines today…

“Snoopy,” he said.

No, I thought – I’m snoopy, I must have heard that wrong. He corrected my thought immediately.

Yes, I am, he said. I am snoopy. Curious. Not to find fault, criticize, condemn or gossip, not to prove myself “holier than thou.”

But to search out and soothe areas of hurt, bruising, injury. Weakness.

Irritations? Aggravations? Annoyances? Soothe.

Resentments? Bitterness? Grief? Soothe.

Wounds? Cuts? Bruises? Soothe.

Soothe, and heal, and strengthen.

“The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is perfect towards him.” (II Chronicles 16:9 KJV)

True? True.

And for my children, the eyes of the Lord run to and fro inward throughout the whole person, to show myself strong on behalf of that man or woman. On your behalf! To show myself a strong healer, comforter, soother.

I’m so glad! Yes, he is snoopy and I’m so very glad. I need that!

A great risk

Esther's Petition

He risked a great deal coming to the earth as a human, Jesus. One-third of the Godhead was at risk. Jesus, God the Son, was “tempted in all points like we are.” He was tempted to quit.

He could have avoided execution. He could have walked away. Even at the point of death he could have called angels to rescue him, or revive him.

Jesus knew who he was. He had always existed. He knew about heaven, about himself and his mission. He had the authority and the ability to go through with it, or not.

The greatest punishment wasn’t physical, emotional or mental. How long is a few hours compared to millions of years? Jesus had seen other men crucified; the Romans were known for it and they were good at it.

No, the split of the Godhead was his greatest test. That critical, essential division away from the…

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Faith is substance

Plasma, stem cells, and faith.

plasmaBeam-plasmaSystemI had an hour-long conversation with the Lord one recent night, as I was wondering what I should read and/or study next.

“Faith,” he said. Faith? I had studied that subject at length several times, even written about it and taught about it.

And then he said, “Faith is a real substance.”  (See Hebrews 11:1)

“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3 NASB)

Well, duh. I knew that already. Everything that is real was and is created with God’s faith. It’s contained and used in his words. Words that have no faith in them don’t do anything. I began to meditate on that.

Faith itself is invisible, but you can see the results, i.e. the evidence of it. Sometimes the result is instant; sometimes it takes quite a while to see the results. But actual, real, faith is creative and the results will be real.

This faith – God faith – is not the same as human faith. It has to be transmitted to us, since we don’t come with it already installed like a computer program. Jesus offered it to the disciples.

  • “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV)
  • “And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.” (Mark 11:22)

I visualize it sort of like this… you need a pen, I have a pen. I reach out my hand with a pen in it, and say, here, take my pen. You reach out your hand and take it. I offer, you receive.

The disciples accepted Jesus’ offer by believing what he said, receiving what he said as truth. But they didn’t always use their new-found faith.

“Where is your faith?” he asked them, when the storm came up. (Luke 8:25) They had to learn how to use it. He spent a lot of time teaching them with “show and tell.”

Here’s the key: this faith (God faith) has to stay connected to the source (God), otherwise it doesn’t do anything. If it does stay connected and we put it use as directed, it will do things. And it will grow.

After I meditated on that for a while, the Lord spoke again. “What do you know about plasma?” he asked.

Well, I knew it’s interesting stuff but that’s about all. I didn’t remember very much about it, so I did a little internet research. Fascinating reading! I actually understood a little of it from  basic physics back in high school.

The bottom line of my research was this: plasma is real. In itself it’s invisible, though – what you see is the result of it. Neon lights. Lasers. The sun.

It’s been interesting to read up on plasma. What kind of materials (gases, mostly) can become plasma? What does it take to get that material into the plasma state? What happens when plasma loses connection to its instigating power source? (Here’s a hint: it stops being plasma.)

Faith is not plasma, but just as plasma is a real thing although invisible in itself, faith is a real thing, although invisible in itself. It’s been an Interesting study, so far.

Here’s a little simplified article about plasma, What Is Plasma. It’s fascinating material. http://www.rfglobalsolutions.co.uk/what-is-plasma

A more recent day as I was still contemplating faith, the Lord asked me another question. “Stem cells… remember stem cells?”  So I read up a bit on stem cells. Some of what I found is way too complicated for me, scientifically – then I found a more user-friendly site to browse through.

“Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. In addition, in many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.” (From Stem Cell Basics, http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics1.aspx)

Stem cells are even more fascinating than plasma! Faith is like God’s supernatural spiritual stem cells. Amazing. Truly amazing, and wonderful, and humbling.

 

Remember the donkey

DonkeysDiscouraged. Hurt. Angry at God. Disappointed. That’s how I was feeling one morning, after a lot of discouraging things had happened the day before.

And so I had a conversation with the Lord about faith (which I had been studying more about recently).

I told him that it seemed to me faith wasn’t real; that the scriptures about faith weren’t true. The things I had believed in faith when I prayed just were not happening.

I said a lot more than that, of course, but basically I was deciding as I talked that it was pointless for me to pray for anyone or anything, or even go to church any more. What was the point, if what the Bible said would happen when we prayed really DIDN’T happen? If there were no results?

Then Jesus began quietly talking back to me. “Remember the donkey,” he said. “Remember the colt.”

The colt? I began to remember. The week before Passover, on what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus told the disciples to go to a specific place, find a specific donkey and colt, and bring them back to him. (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 20, John 12.)

I visualized that, could almost see the disciples looking at each other, shrugging their shoulders with unasked questions.

What did the disciples think Jesus was up to? Why did he want a donkey? He and they walked everywhere, didn’t they? We know now why he did it, Matthew 21:5-6 says it was so the prophecies would be fulfilled. But did the disciples know that? Whether or not they knew why, they obeyed him. They went and collected the colt.

“What were the results?” the Lord asked me. That required more thinking on my part. Well, there were several levels of results…

  • Jesus got to his destination. (The Temple in Jerusalem)
  • The crowds began praising Jesus. (Shouting Hosanna)
  • The religious leaders got upset. (Seriously plotting)
  • God kept his timetable. (Crucified on Passover)

This journey on the donkey’s back, the praise from the crowd and the upset Pharisees were necessary steps to instigating the crucifixion by the right date – Passover.

Okay, I said to the Lord. So what does that mean for me, for my prayers, my desire to see you DO something when I pray? What does all that have to do with faith at all? He recapped for me what I had just been thinking:

Immediate results – arrived at destination.
Intermediate results – stirred up opposition necessary to fulfill God’s plan.
Final results – God’s plan fulfilled.

So there are short term results, mid-term results, and long term results. Obviously some answers to prayer, God’s plans, may take a really long time to arrive. But they will arrive.

Then I began to consider that faith question, again.

Faith comes to everybody, but not everybody takes it. (Faith comes by hearing, according to Romans 10:17.) Children have to be told something first, in order to have faith, i.e. trust, just as adults do. A child learning to walk, for example.

“Walk to Mama,” we say. “Come on, you can do it!” We can show him how, help him stand up and get his balance, but we can’t walk for him. The child must obey our words and do something that requires trust in the person speaking. He must take that first, perhaps wobbly step, then another.

He can obey or refuse to obey. If he obeys and experiences positive results, i.e. takes a step or two without being hurt, he acquires trust that this will work. That trust leads to another few steps, i.e. more experience in walking, and more experience becomes stronger trust. Faith that yes, he can do it. He can walk. And pretty soon, he is walking, and running.

That process began with hearing words from someone speaking to him, him trusting the one speaking, accepting those words and obeying them. The faith was actually contained in the words of the trustworthy speaker, but it wasn’t forced on the hearer. The hearer was never forced to accept the words as true or trustworthy, he had to make a choice. Choose to believe the person speaking, or not believe the person speaking. And choose, sometimes really often, to keep on believing.

“Remember the donkey,” the Lord said. That was pretty much the end of my conversation with him that morning, but I’ve been thinking more about it since.

Getting answers to some prayers – certain long term results – seems like too much hard work for many of us. Too much painful trouble. Too much stress. Too much time, too much energy, too much disappointment, too much anguish. Too much waiting.

That’s what I was thinking when that familiar voice interrupted my thoughts with a whisper: “Long term results begin with short term results.” I thought some more.

I began to think about the Olympics. About Usain Bolt winning an Olympic gold medal in running… how did that begin? Well, it began with him hearing those first words, “Go for it, you can do it, you can do it.” It began with him believing those words and accepting them as true. Stepping out to obey, to try, to gain experience. To fail sometimes but not quit. To fail sometimes, and succeed sometimes, and eventually win the gold medal.

How long did that process take? How much experience? And how much reinforcement?

Faith comes by hearing, present tense, not having heard, past tense. How many times did a parent, a coach or a team-mate say those words of encouragement to Usain Bolt, “You can do this, you can do it!” And so he did.

The first thing I did after that conversation was to apologize to the Lord, to repent and ask forgiveness for my attitude, and to ask for his help in reinforcing my faith. What I asked him for is stubborn, determined, persistent, persevering, teeth-clenching, gutsy faith. I think that’s what he wants me to have. What he wants all his children to have.

I want to “Remember the donkey” today, and every day, as many days as it takes.

Scarred no more

Like many people my age, I have several scars on my body. One large one across my chest is from breast cancer surgery a few years ago. There’s a small one on my upper arm and another small one on my face, both from skin cancer surgery some years before that.

One scar is a faded half-circle from an accident with a kitchen knife as a child – I was trying to slice myself a hunk of cheese and sliced my finger in the process. Another almost forgotten scar is a tiny circular hole on my neck from a BB gun shot as an even younger child, when a childhood pal’s carefully aimed shot bounced off something and hit me instead.

It missed anything vital, thankfully, but it bled like crazy. My playmate ran one way and I ran the other, and we both tried to keep my grandmother and his mom from finding out about it.

This post is about scars, a dream, and a loving God.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Last night I had an interesting dream. In a room somewhere I was standing talking to two men. I had just prayed for both of them to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which they did. Then I heard a voice say, “Now you pray in tongues,” and so I began to do just that. The prayer was directed at just one of those two men.

As I prayed, words began to flow that I knew weren’t my usual prayer language. There was an authority, a sense of commanding something, not just asking for something.

I saw a v-shaped area of the man’s neck and upper chest, scarred from multiple small slashes. My words changed to English as the Lord began to speak to him.

“You have been cut over, and over, and over. You have been attacked and hurt, injured and damaged again and again with small slices and slashes. Now a thick scar has grown over that area, not hiding the injuries, just covering them. The scar doesn’t prevent more attacks, they still come and the scar grows heavier,” he said.

“Today the scar is being healed, soothed, erased and removed. The damage is being reversed.”

I watched in the spirit as the Lord’s hand gently moved over the area, and with each pass of the hand another layer of the scar disappeared. In a few moments the skin was clear, clean, blemish-free and healthy. And supernatural strength was replacing weakness in him, not just on the surface of his body, but deep in his soul and spirit.

At that point I woke up and knew the dream wasn’t just a dream. It was prophetic. I began to intercede and ask the Lord to perform that word.

Somewhere there is someone who is scarred from multiple attacks of the enemy. His (or her) mind, heart, and body have been injured. A protective scar has developed to hide the damage, but the Lord sees it.

And the Lord wants to fill that person with the Holy Spirit and with God’s own creative power, to make them completely whole, healthy and strong in spirit, soul and body.

Amen.

Comfort / Comforter

Comforter ComforterRescuer

What kind of comfort do you need?

The origin of the English word comfort from the Oxford online dictionary: “Middle English (as a noun, in the senses of strengthening, support, consolation; as a verb, in the senses of strengthen, give support, console): from Old French confort (noun) or conforter (verb), from late Latin confortare, strengthen, from com- (expressing intensive force) + Latin fortis, strong. The sense of something producing physical ease arose in the mid 17th century.”

Thus scriptural comfort is a reinforcement of strength – mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical.

In 2 Corinthians 1:4 the Apostle Paul said this about comfort:

  • “who (i.e. the God of all comfort, v. 3) comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (KJV)
  • “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (NIV)
  • “who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (NASB)
  • “who comforts and encourages…” (AMP)

Note: The KJV word tribulation in this verse is from the Greek word thlipsis, meaning pressure, oppression, affliction, distress, straits; it’s translated trouble or affliction in other versions.

Comfort here is from the Greek word paraklesis (G3874, noun), defined in Strong’s as meaning:

– a calling near, summons, (esp. for help); importation, supplication, entreaty; exhortation, admonition, encouragement
– consolation, comfort, solace; that which affords comfort or refreshment
– thus of the Messianic salvation (so the Rabbis call the Messiah the consoler, the comforter)
– persuasive discourse, stirring address
– instructive, admonitory, conciliatory, powerful hortatory discourse

John 14:16-17 (NIV) says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

Advocate here in the NIV is translated Comforter in the King James Version. It is from the Greek word paraklatos (G3875, noun), defined in Strong’s as:

– one who is summoned, called to one’s side, esp. called to one’s aid
– one who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate
– one who pleads another’s cause with one, an intercessor
– of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand, pleading with God the Father for the pardon of our sins
– in the widest sense, a helper, succourer, aider, assistant
– of the Holy Spirit destined to take the place of Christ with the apostles (after his ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom

John used this word to describe the Holy Spirit. It is translated Comforter in KJV, Advocate in NIV, Helper in NASB, and Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby) in the Amplified Version. He is all that, in every imaginable variation and circumstance.

What kind of comfort did Peter need?

  • Understanding, wisdom, speaking ability, revelation knowledge
  • Angel for a jailbreak…

5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. 6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. (Acts 12:5-8 NIV)

What kind of comfort did Paul need?

  • Understanding, supernatural information, healing from beatings, resurrection from stoning, deliverance from mobs
  • Earthquake for a jailbreak…

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:25-30 NIV)

See the Book of Acts for these and many other examples. Also see I Corinthians 12 for Gifts of the Holy Spirit, i.e. God’s power tools, equipment, supplies, inside information, wisdom and weaponry.

God the Holy Spirit, the believer’s indwelling Comforter / Helper / Assistant / Intercessor / Strengthener does more than just bring emotional calmness and peace of mind which is what most people today tend to think of as comfort, although he certainly does that.

And he isn’t just called alongside to help, he’s INSIDE to help.

So – what kind of comfort do you need?