The Heartbeat of a Mother.

Since I am only a son, grandson, great-grandson, father and grandfather [no “greats” there, yet], I don’t know that I’m particularly qualified to write about being a mother.  But I’ll do my best.

A young woman once apologetically told me that she didn’t work outside the home, that  she was “just a mother.”  At once, I told her that no woman is ever “just a mother.”

A mother is the first, and perhaps the most important, part of a baby’s life.  One of the very first things he or she must be conscious of is the nearby heartbeat of that one whose very body is involved in nurturing and protecting this new life within it.  Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub.  The rhythm of life.  For nine months, that sound is the background of existence, the assurance that all is normal.

Then comes the trauma of birth – for both the mother and the child.

For Mom, “Whew, I’m glad that’s over.” though it’s really only a new beginning.  For the child….

I had a good friend in college whose home in another state I would occasionally go with him to visit.  One time in particular I remember.  I slept in a room where the air conditioner was.  This visit they had turned it on at night.  Tennessee can be hot in the summer.  It was noisy, and I didn’t sleep very well.  Then morning came and they turned it off.  That’s what really woke me up – that deafening silence.

I wonder if that’s what it’s like for a newborn.  All kinds of new stimuli, environment, lights, sounds, and yet….  

Silence.  

Where’s the heartbeat?

I wonder what the newborn feels.  Loss?  Confusion?  Panic?  The one constant of the old life is gone.  There’s no connection with this new life.  There’s nothing for the baby to hold on to, so to speak.  How does he or she feel at this turn of events?

Then

the baby is given to the mother and she cuddles him close.

Ah!  The baby relaxes; there’s the heartbeat.  There’s the connection.

Do you know why mothers are so special?  It’s their heartbeat…

Their love, their care, their concern.  Their “thereness”.

If things go as they should, there will be other “connections” made in life: dad, perhaps brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, grandma and grandpa, friends, a special “other,” children of their own.

But it all starts with a mother’s heartbeat.

Thanks, Mom.

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Glimpses in Genesis: The Flood, Genesis 4-9.

In Genesis 1-3, we saw that God created a perfect world, inhabited by two innocent people:  Adam and Eve.  We say “innocent”  because they had no knowledge of good or evil.  All they knew was what they had seen and experienced: a perfect world, ideally suited for them.  The sad record is that they didn’t appreciate what they had, didn’t understand what they had and so, listening to their enemy and the enemy of God, they decided to take things into their own hands, with catastrophic results to themselves and their posterity.  Chs. 4 and 5 shows us something of those results: murder and mortality.

Chapter 4 records the first murder, and chapter 5, I have labelled, “The Book of the Dead.”  Chapter 4 tells us that the first murder was over religion: the fact that God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s.  Even though there is no direct record of God telling anyone about sacrifices, it’s obvious that there was something given, which Abel obeyed and Cain did not.

As we get into the post for today, we come to another controversial section of Genesis.

The Flood, Genesis 6-9.

A lot of current wisdom says that this was just a “local” flood, magnified by the ignorance of the people of that time into something more than  it really was.  Is that true?  Or perhaps, as others have suggested, overzealous Christians have tried to make this portion say something that it doesn’t really say.  Is that true?

No, and, no.

A.  The Scripture is clear that this is more than just some local overflowing of a river.

1.  It was a judgment to destroy man, Genesis 6:7; to destroy all flesh, 6:13; everything on the earth shall die, 6:17; all flesh died that was upon the earth, 7:21; all in whose nostrils was the breath of life died, 7:22; He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground, both man and cattle…, 7:23; “…nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done, 8:21; never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, 9:11; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh, 9:15.

In these verses, we go from purpose to process to promise never again to flood the earth to destroy all flesh.  If this was just some local flood, then God lied, because we have floods frequently.  In fact, as I write these words. locales south, north and west of where I live are experiencing the annual flooding of rivers and streams, to say nothing of other areas.  It’s on every TV newscast.

It seems to me that the Holy Spirit, through Moses, is impressing on us that this isn’t just some “local” flood, catastrophic as those can be, but a flood which wiped out the world that had existed until then.

2.  The New Testament verifies a universal flood.  The Apostle Peter wrote, …the world that then existed perished,  being flooded with water, 2 Peter 3:6.  Read down through v. 13 if you think this “flood” was just some local event.

B.  This brings up the question, Why did God do this?

The first question to answer that question is, Who are the “sons of God”?  One popular response is that they were godly Sethites, descendants of Seth, Adam’s son.  The “daughter of men” are said to have been the descendants of Cain.  Intermarriage between these two different lines resulted in compromise, apostasy and sin.  Another view is that they were angels, cf. Job 1:6; 2:1, who cohabited with human women, resulting in monstrous offspring – both physically and spiritually.  Genesis 6:4 refers to giants in the earth in those days, …when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them.  A main objection to this view is found in Matthew 22:20, where the Lord referred to angels not marrying.  However, this remark concerned angels in heaven, and Jude 6 tells us that there were angels who left their original sphere of being,  It seems reasonable to me that he’s referring to these beings in Genesis 6.  Marriages between believers and unbelievers do not result in monstrous offspring, just normal human beings.

I hold to the second view.  I believe this was Satan’s attempt to corrupt the human race and by that to frustrate God’s promise of the coming Seed of the woman, who would defeat Satan.  It seems to me that this is further borne out by the description of Noah as a man who was perfect in his generations, that is, in his ancestry.  Ancestry has nothing to do with one’s being righteous, or “just”, which is how Noah is described spiritually.  Noah’s line was the only one that hadn’t been physically corrupted and altered by the unholy union of humans and demons, for that’s what the angels had become.

A universal flood had become necessary to destroy this corrupted humanity.

One argument against such a flood is the amount of water necessary to produce it.  It’s said that there’s not enough water on the planet to do that.  This assumes that conditions then were the same as they are today.

Another argument against the Flood is the idea of God destroying a whole population in judgment.  I’ve dealt more at length with this idea of “judgment” in the post: “Sticks”.

C.  Noah was given specific instructions as to how to escape this flood.

The ark is usually pictured as a boat or ship, like what we’re familiar with.  But it really was just a huge box, designed only to float on the water, not move through it.  It’s dimensions of 450′ by 75′ by 45′ indicate a very stable and seaworthy vessel, similar in size to a modern battleship.  By contrast, the Gilgamesh Epic, from which this and other parts of Genesis and the Old Testament are said to have come, portrays an unstable 180′ cube.

God gave the instructions – complete, clear instructions.  He didn’t ask for input from Noah.  He didn’t call for a committee to study the problem.  There was no “dialogue” with the people.  He just said, “Noah, here.  Build this.”  I think there might be a lot to learn from this.

I wonder what the citizenry thought of this endeavor.  The NT portrays Noah as a “preacher of righteousness,” 2 Peter 2:5.  Some have taken this to mean that Noah went around trying to get people “saved.”  That may be, however, I expect the preparations for this giant undertaking would have given Noah plenty of opportunity to witness.  There would have been the gathering of a LOT of trees to make lumber, there probably being no Home Depots nearby.  Then the structure itself began to appear.  Lot of opportunity to witness.

I wonder what the “science” of that day might have said.  I know I’m projecting what happens today into the story, but I can’t help wondering.  Were there people who said, “What are you talking about, Noah?  What’s rain?”  Genesis 2:6 indicates there was no rain yet, but atmospheric conditions – “mist” (possibly in the early morning) – kept things watered.  I can hear the rationalists and skeptics arguing, “Noah, where’s your tangible, verifiable proof of this?  It doesn’t rain.  It’s never rained.  It’s not going to rain.  Rain is scientifically impossible.”

I expect, after a while, after the novelty wore off and the weather continued to be perfect, that people kind of got used to what was going on over there with that crazy old coot, Noah, and just ignored him.  Life went on.  In Luke 17:27, our Lord described those days, They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

D. “…The flood came and destroyed them all,” Luke 17:27.

It took a long time to build the Ark.  From Genesis 6:3, people have believed that it took 120 years to complete the Ark.  That may be, except that Genesis 11:10 says that Shem was 100 years old two years after the Flood..  So we don’t know for sure, just that it took a long time.  But the time eventually came to an end, and the Flood came.

Some have pictured it like a rain, suddenly dotting the landscape with wet spots, with people jumping aside as the drops hit them, and then the rain coming in a deluge – flood waters rising, people scrambling desperately to find higher ground and safety, banging on the door of the Ark begging to be let in.  That, too, may be, but Genesis 7:10-11 says, And it came to pass after seven days [after Noah and his family and the animals had entered the Ark] that the waters of the flood were on the earth.   …on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.  That sounds to me like one day, everything was dry, and then it wasn’t.  It was overwhelmed with water, although it did also rain for forty days and nights.  The point is, the Flood came, like God promised, and only eight people out of a planet’s population survived.

There’s a lot more we could say about various parts of this event, but we’ve already written over 1500 words.  So let’s just finish with this:

E. Only those in the Ark were spared.

The Ark is a foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Only those who are “in Him” are saved.  All humanity, even Noah and his family, went through the Flood!  There was no salvation in the water – which some see as a type of baptism! – only in the Ark.  Those “in the water” perished.  There is no salvation in baptism!  No “entering the kingdom”.  The Flood was a tool to destroy mankind, as we saw earlier, not a means to save it!  The Flood “fell” on the Ark; judgment fell on the Lord Jesus.  ALL in Him are save! and they alone!  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

Accepted

(I’d like to thank the author of the blog “lessonsbyheart” for her post “Who ‘defined’ you”, for the inspiration for this post.)

One of the “traumas” of later teen years is the ordeal of trying to get into college.  Applications are sent in and their answer is anxiously waited for.

Aspiring authors send their manuscripts in to publishers and anxious await their answer.

The answer can be found in one word – the same word.

Even professing Christians sometimes or often struggle to find this same answer.

That answer, that word, is “accepted.”

Prospective college students are elated finally to receive that answer to their application.

Authors rejoice to get that answer about their manuscript from a publisher.

Strangely, Christians are reluctant to receive that answer from God.

I wonder why this is.  Perhaps it is because they don’t understand the basis of “acceptance.”

Let me tell you a story which may help.

When our firstborn son was still an infant, I was someplace where there was a crying baby  (not him!).  He was having a fit about something, as babies know how to do!  I had never liked crying babies, but as I looked at this red-faced little fellow, somehow I saw my own son – and it was alright.

Too many professing Christians have been taught or believe that in order to be accepted by God, you have to do this or that, or don’t do this or that.  There’s a whole litany of things people think they have to do or not in order to win acceptance and the favor of God.

But there’s another word which comes into play here.

Grace.

A lot of people talk about grace, but have never really thought about it.

Grace isn’t something we deserve.  We can’t earn it.  We can’t merit it.  It’s not some kind of reward for what we do.  We can’t buy it.  And we can’t obligate God to give it to us.  It’s not a result of anything we do, or can do.

It is grace.

As I looked at that crying baby, my “acceptance” of him had nothing to do with him.  It was because of my own son.

Ephesians 1:6 (NKJV) says that God has made us accepted in the Beloved.  He looks at our sorry selves, but He sees His Son – and its alright.  Not because of us, perish the thought, but because of Him.

Books could be written about this, and have been.  Very simply put, Jesus lived a perfect life – the only One Who ever did.  He died a death that paid for sins, though He had none of His own.  The only One Who ever did that, too.

That perfect life, that punitive death.

It is on the basis of these that God accepts those who come to Him through Jesus Christ.

Not the church.  Not the sacraments.  Not through works.  Not the liturgy.  Not baptism.  Not the Catechism.  Not communion.  Not confirmation.

Through Christ.  Faith in Him, Who He was and what He did.

If you want acceptance with God, quit looking to or at yourself.  You’ll find nothing there, but reasons for rejection.

The Psalmist rejoiced in the truth of acceptance, if not in those words: Psalm 103:10, He has not dealt with us according to our iniquities, nor punished us according to our iniquities…

The reason for that is because He did deal with Christ according to them.

Our acceptance before God rests in the perfect life and complete payment for sins by the Lord Jesus Christ.

The whole section of Ephesians 1:3-14 deals with the Lord Jesus Christ and the blessings, by grace, we have in Him.

How do we know this “acceptance” is ours?  Paul tells us in v. 12, 13, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.  In Him you also trusted….

Oh, if you’re having trouble with this, look to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Trust Him.

Because

We are

accepted

in the Beloved.

Songs of Eternity

These wonderful words from a dear friend who says perfectly what I often long for.

The Word With Wendy

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He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

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Songs of Eternity

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I see signs of eternity

written before my eyes

where stars cross the sea

and the sun dots the sky

I read words of eternity

etched in the earth

where winter writes decay

and spring spells rebirth

I feel the breath of eternity

When summer winds set sail

gently coaxing trees to dance

and clouds to glide like whales

I hear songs of eternity

in the ocean’s tide

a sacred, soothing, and soulful hymn

strumming on heartstrings inside.

Wendy/2013

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One of the glimpses of eternity I often think about is the one I see when I desire more time in a day. Clocks will be irrelevant in Heaven. My body gets tired…

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Love Is Not A Four Letter Word.

“Sure it is!” someone might say.  “L-O-V-E.  Four letters.”

That’s true, but that’s not exactly what I mean.  The “four letters” to which I refer are those short four-letter words which express profanity and/or obscenity.

“Love” has been so dragged into the cesspool of our modern society that it’s really hard to find true examples of it.  Or to get a correct definition of it.  Hollywood has no clue.  Sadly, neither do a large percentage of people of all ages.

Especially in Hollywood, or on what passes for TV in our time, “love” is almost always limited to the physical – how quickly A and B can get into bed.  Sex has become just “casual,” with couples meeting together, maybe only once, for no other reason than to satiate their physical desires. Even where there is a “relationship,” instead of the consummation of something in which a man and a woman have pledged themselves to lifelong fidelity, it almost seems as if sex has become the commencement of a relationship, which no longer is “til death do us part,” but “til desire does depart,” and one or the other or both go off to find greener pastures.  Or “the love” turns to hate, usually on the part of the male, and he begins to abuse the woman.

There is an OT example of this in 2 Samuel 13 (NKJV): the incident of Amnon, a son of David, and Tamar, the sister of another of David’s sons.  Amnon lusted for Tamar because she was lovely and pure.  Instead of Amnon being honorable and seeking to marry her, 2 Samuel 13:13, a friend of his devised a stratagem whereby Amnon could satisfy his lust.  Without going into the sordid details, we’re interested only in the result of all this.  After he raped her, we read in v. 15, “Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her,” and he had her thrown out.

You want to know why there has been such an increase in “domestic violence”?  2 Samuel gives us a lot of the answer.  A distorted definition of “love” has permeated our society, but where there is only a physical attraction and nothing else, the attraction can turn to loathing and hatred.  Since the moral foundation of our society has pretty well been destroyed, violence is often the result.  Even when the couple stays together, because the man has no understanding of his responsibility toward the woman, he often makes her life miserable, with verbal and physical abuse.  There is no excuse – ever – EVER – for a man to hit a woman.

Now, lest we be misunderstood, God designed and created men and women as sexual beings.  One of the first things He told them to do was to have children, and this was before they sinned against Him.  Sex is not some sordid result of their Fall, but an integral and vital part of their creation.

We ought to be thankful that God has made those things which are necessary for the survival and continuation of the human race is pleasurable, not painful.  If eating, for example, always produced severe nausea, or sex was painful like a root canal, or sleep, instead of being restful, was filled with nightmares, how long would the race have survived?

Because sex is pleasurable, and can result in children, God set boundaries in which, and only in which, sex may be enjoyed.  Hebrews 13:4 says Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled.  It is only in marriage that sex may properly and with God’s blessing be enjoyed.  And I say, “enjoyed.”  Proverbs 5:18b-19 says, …rejoice with the wife of your youth.  As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love.  And this isn’t just for the husband.  In Genesis 18:12,  after eavesdropping on the conversation of three strangers with her husband, in which they assure him that his wife Sarah would bear his child, she said to herself, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”   And marriage isn’t just two people living together.  In John 4, when talking to the Samaritan lady, Jesus told her that she had had five husbands and the man she was now living with wasn’t her husband. Jesus gave no sanction to her relationship.

Because children may be the result of sexual activity, it is only in marriage that such activity is permitted.  Children need the stability of a family, mom, dad, maybe brothers and sisters in which to grow and learn to live in society.  The woman needs the stability of marriage in order to be able to properly “mother” her children and raise them as they ought to be raised.  The man needs the stability of marriage to settle him down to the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood. The children need the stability and security of marriage and the family as they navigate the shoals of growing up and going through adolescence.   And, yes, I can hear the howls of the feminists at such patriarchal “male chauvinism.”  What does the Scripture say, Romans 4:3.

At work one day, I heard a young man boasting about the fact that he had eight children by five different women.  I don’t know if he were telling the truth or not, but he was now talking about having become a “man,” because he finally had a daughter.  He probably had no idea that “a man” would take care of those women and children (even though polygamy isn’t favorably portrayed in Scripture.  Though I doubt he was married to any of the women).  Another man, one of his “achievements” in life was that he had 21 children.

Beyond that, there is the spread of STDs, the poverty of single women trying to raise children by themselves, the misery of the children as they are often neglected or subjected to a succession of men in their mother’s lives.  Debauchery, deviancy, degeneracy, disease, death.  These are just some of the sad results of the abandonment of God’s wisdom in this part of human life.

You see, there is wisdom in the limitation of sex to within the boundary of marriage.

Love is not simply an emotion, or emotionalism, or sentimentality.  It isn’t just feelings, or hormones.  It might involve feelings or hormones, but it is so much more than that.  Even at the physical level, it is so much more than that.  Love is an attitude.  So much of the world thinks that love is about “me,” if you “love” me, you’ll let me do what I want.  It’s all about my happiness, my wants, my satisfaction.  Seldom if ever does such an attitude really think about the other person.  This is not love, it is selfishness.  True love thinks mainly about the other person.

On the other hand, true love is not to be confused with indulgence.  Even God’s love, and perhaps especially God’s love, is not mere indulgence.  Hebrews 5:5, 6 says, My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, not be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.  Read the section down to v. 11 to get the whole thought.  This has something to say about the relationship between parent and child.  Although this post isn’t primarily about parenting, “love” is.  The world has the idea that the child should be able to do, apparently, whatever it wants.  The parent can’t discipline the child, just give him or her a “time out.”  Any sort of physical discipline, i.e., “spanking,” is strictly forbidden.  I remember listening to a lady radio psychologist several years ago when the subject of spanking came up.  The caller was in favor of it.  The lady became so upset and irate at such a thought that she was practically incoherent in her response.  That’s a lot of the attitude today.

There is a difference between a spanking properly administered and abuse, which is often how it’s categorized.  Actually, the abuse comes in, partly because the parent doesn’t understand discipline at all, or because the parent becomes so frustrated that he can’t do anything to the child without getting into trouble that he finally lashes out and oversteps the boundary between discipline and abuse.  Society contributes to this by encouraging the child to turn his parent in if the child doesn’t like what they do to him.  No child is going to like a spanking.

My grandmother used to tell a story.  She was born and raised in Indiana, a few miles south of where I live now.  Became a school teacher.  She never said why, but she moved to Boulder, Colorado – now affectionately known as “The People’s Republic of Boulder.”  (I lived in Denver, 30 miles away, a good part of my life.)  There was a school there looking for a teacher.  She applied for the job.  Remember, we’re talking about 1918 or so. She was around 20.  The school board warned her that there was an unruly student in the school who had driven out the last three teachers.  Did she still want the job?  Would the school board back her up?  They would.  So she took the job.

Sure enough, the boy began to make trouble.  Grandma was the youngest of 11 brothers and sisters, so she knew what to do.  She grabbed him by the ear, or arm, and took a yardstick to him.  Took one to me a few times, too.  I deserved it.  Anyway, fast forward about 30 years to 1947.  On vacation, Grandma and Grandpa were driving through New Mexico on their way to Carlsbad Caverns, when the car began to overheat.  Grandpa stopped at a gas station to get some water for the car, went around the back of the building, and fell over, dead.  The assistant district attorney for this little town out in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico, who came to help, turned out to be this same boy, now grown up!  He thanked her for whipping him all those years ago.  Said that without it he probably would be on the other side of the law.

You know what would happen if a teacher were foolish enough to try that today.  She would be the one in trouble and the boy would be soothed and pampered because he was “a troubled youth,” physically abused by an out-of-control school teacher.  You know as well as I do that that would happen.

That’s what’s wrong with our youth today – no discipline.  “Love” has been redefined as indulgence.  I know that not all “troubled youth” go on to lives spent in jail, but that’s no thanks to society.

Ephesians 5:25-29 says, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it by the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church,…holy and without blemish.  So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies….  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord the church.

We husbands are pretty good about v. 22, where the wife is to submit to your own husband, as to the Lord, but we fall down pretty badly on the nourishing and cherishing and loving her the way Christ loves us.  This post really isn’t about marriage or parenting, but it is about love, love that is concerned about the other person and seeks their welfare.  That’s where it starts, humanly speaking, between a husband and wife and then between them and their children – and children and their parents.  I appreciated my own mother a lot more after I had kids of my own than I ever did growing up.  But by then it was too late to tell her that.

Finally, love isn’t about “tolerance,” that is, we’re not to judge another person’s beliefs or lifestyle or anything.  It is said that there are no absolutes, at least not the ones taught by Scripture.  While it may be true that love covers a multitude of sins, it is also true that love doesn’t rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth, 1 Corinthians 13:6.  John, “the apostle of love,” wrote in 1 John 4:1, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  There’s a lot out there that claims to be from God that has nothing to do with Scripture, or Him.

Love, when properly understood, is the best of human characteristics.  Misunderstood, it can become the worst.

I understand that a lot of what I’ve written is controversial, because it goes against the grain of current thinking.  I can’t help that.  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Jesus: The Good Shepherd

In John 10, the Lord Jesus had a lot to say about His sheep.  Shepherds and sheep were a common sight, and He used them as an illustration of redemption.  Without going into great detail, and in no particular order, there are several things in this chapter which illustrate the care of the Lord for His sheep.

1.  The shepherd has responsibility for the sheep.

By the very nature of his job, the shepherd is responsible for the welfare of his flock.  It is what he does.  He isn’t there for himself, but for them.  Further, he is accountable for what he does.  We see the Lord’s responsibility in John 10:16 (NKJV), where He said, “other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring…,”   Notice the phrase, “I must bring.”  He has responsibility for the sheep.  He also has accountability.  In John 17:12, our Lord told the Father, “Those whom You gave Me I have kept, and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”  The Lord is accountable to the Father for those whom the Father gave to Him.

2.  The shepherd has authority over the sheep.

Because he is the shepherd, he has the right and authority to enter the sheepfold, vs. 1, 2, and to lead out his flock.  The doorkeeper, or security guard, to use the modern term, knows him and will let him in.  Indeed, our Great Shepherd of the sheep, Hebrews 13:20, has been given authority over all flesh, John 17:2 (emphasis added).  Was this “authority” given to Him so that He could just make it “possible” for men and women to be saved if they will “do their part”?  Did He die just to “provide” salvation for them if they will only exercise their “free will” and “accept” Him as Savior?  Is there such an “if” in salvation?  Did He die for “goats” as well as for His “sheep” (Matthew 25:31-33; John 10:15)?  What does Christ Himself say about this authority?  In His prayer to the Father, He said, “Father, the hour has come.  Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him,” John 17:1, 2 (emphasis added).

Don’t be misled by the word “should”.  It expresses purpose.  All of us can look back on our lives and see many things we “should” have done, but didn’t.  There is no such “woulda, shoulda, coulda” about the Savior!  He finished what the Father sent Him to do, namely the redemption of those whom the Father chose and gave to the Son.  He did everything, and has everything, necessary for the redemption of His people, His sheep.  In other words, there is nothing that stands in the way of the Shepherd as He goes about His business of gathering together His sheep.  He “must” bring them in, all of them, and He will!

3.  The shepherd knows the identity of the sheep.

Perhaps there were several flocks of sheep in this fold, but the shepherd knew who were his.  And the sheep knew their shepherd, vs. 4, 5.   Furthermore, He knew them individually: he had named each one of them and called them one by one.  Naming animals is nothing new.

There was a lovely duet sung in a church I attended several years ago.  This song had a line which said that when Jesus died, “He didn’t even know my name.”  That may sound very emotional and wonderful that Jesus would die for people without knowing anything about them or even their name, but it’s a truly abysmal view of the death of Christ.  He knew His sheep as He hung there on the Cross paying for their sins.  He knew them then.  He knew them in eternity past.  Their names were written in His book before the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8; 17:8.  He will know them forever.

He knew everything about us…, and He died for us, anyway.  We are His.

4.  The shepherd guides the activity of the sheep.

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  And when he brings them out, he goes before them, vs. 3, 4.  The Psalmist put it like this:  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still water.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, Psalm 23:2, 3.

5.  The shepherd seeks the prosperity of the sheep.

“Prosperity” here doesn’t mean a fat bank account, a nice house and a Lexus out in the driveway, perfect health and wonderful relationships, as many in the church think, who seem to have no interest in anything but this world.  The shepherd wanted his flock to be fed and watered and protected from danger.  Likewise, our Lord said, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” v. 10.  Once again, the “abundant life” doesn’t refer to material things, or even, as some believe, to a state of sinless perfection in this life.  After all, the life that the sheep have is eternal.  In the Lord Jesus Christ, the poorest believer has for free something that all the wealth this world has ever known or will ever know cannot buy, namely, eternal life.  “Abundant life” isn’t the privilege of an elite few among believers.  It belongs to all of us, because our Shepherd has given it to us.

6.  The shepherd provides security for the sheep.

Likewise, Jesus said in vs. 11-14, “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But he who is an hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches them and scatters them.  I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep,  and am known by My own.”

Further, He said in vs. 27-30, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and My Father are one.”

In these four verses is clearly stated the hated (at least by some), the hated doctrine of eternal security, centuries before John Calvin and the generation after him who formulated the so-called “5 Points.”  Our Lord said His sheep will never perish.  And no one can take them away from Him or the Father.  To the idiotic reply that “Well, yes, but they can jump out of His hand” – that would simply show that such a one was never a “sheep” at all.  In verse 27, the tenses are present: the sheep are hearing, the Lord is knowing, the sheep are following.  Salvation isn’t something that happened years ago with a “decision” or some ceremony.  It’s a today thing – which doesn’t mean that we can lose it tomorrow.  When tomorrow gets here, it will be “today,” and the sheep will still be following….

Jesus and the Father are “one” in their determination that the sheep will be saved.  It’s a commentary on the sorry condition of Christianity that the belief that that determination can be thwarted is so widely held.  The sheep are Christ’s.  He cannot lose them.

7.  The shepherd tends to the productivity of the sheep.

Leaving aside the fact that sheep can be food, they produce two things: wool and other sheep.  In John 15:5, the Lord told His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing…By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”  The goal, and responsibility, of the Christian life is fruitfulness.  After listing several things to be developed as corollaries of faith, such as virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love, Peter continued, For if these things are yours and abound, you shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ,  2 Peter 1:5-8.

This is just a little of what it means when we think of Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd.”

Sticks

The verses we’re looking at in this post seem to many to be an excessive punishment for a relatively minor offense.  They’re found in Numbers 15:32-35 (NKJV):

“Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day.  And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation.  They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him.  Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.’ So as the LORD commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.”

“Whoa!” these folks say, “That’s harsh!”  And, in truth, perhaps a case could be made for the man, as is done in modern trials during the “penalty phase,” where men and women convicted of the most heinous crimes have folks testifying about what wonderful persons they really are at heart.  Perhaps this man was just trying to gather some sticks to help feed his family.  Perhaps, with so many Israelites, firewood was in short supply, and so the man was taking advantage of a time when fewer people were looking for it.  Perhaps this was the only time he could do it.  Etc., etc.

All this misses the point.  The man broke the Law.  Yeah, but “sticks”?  Such a minor thing!

There are no “minor” things.  After all, wasn’t it a relatively “minor” offense that started this whole catastrophe in the Garden of Eden?  Religious man may have divided sins into “venial” and “mortal,” but God knows no such distinction.  He was the One Who gave the final judgment in this “minor” case.  

There are no “venial” sins.  Even a little thing like picking up sticks on the Sabbath, in defiance of His command against it, was a “mortal” sin.  Any sin is “mortal.”  Every sin is “mortal.”

Our world, even the “religious” one, has lost sight of most of Who God is and what He requires of us.  I thought about different words for that last sentence: “wants,” “asks,” but that is just symptomatic of what the sentence describes.  God is pictured as waiting for man to do something so He can act, patiently waiting on the sidelines of His own creation until we decide to send Him into the game.  Wanting to bless us, but unable to unless we “let Him.”  He must be amazed, if we can ascribe such a feeling to Deity, at our arrogance.

There is such an unScriptural emphasis on “the love of God,” and such a humanized definition of it at that, that we have lost sight of what Paul called, “the goodness and severity of God,” Romans 11:22, something Paul told his readers to “consider.”  He’s calling attention to what he says in the verse, that is, that we’re not to forget the two sides of the Divine character:  “goodness” and “severity.”  When was the last time you heard a sermon that mentioned “the love of God”?  Probably the last one.  When was the last time you heard a sermon on “the severity of God?”  Ever?

In the Numbers account, God is emphasizing what it means to follow His Law.  Even the least infraction merits death.  The Law is a unit.  Break even one part of it, and the whole thing is gone – so far as making it to Heaven, or being “pleasing” to God, James 2:10.  I was in a Bible study class that was discussing the attributes of God.  Someone mentioned His immeasurable love.  The teacher wrote that down on the blackboard.  I mentioned His inflexible justice.  The teacher said, “Ooh, I don’t like that,” and would only write down “justice.”

If you want to know something of the severity of God, consider Who It was on the Cross.  There’s only ever been one Individual Who could truthfully say, “I always do those things which please” the Father, John 8:29.  And God put Him on a Cross.  Preachers always emphasize the love of God in the death of Christ, and that is true.  If God hadn’t had a love for mankind in general, He wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble He did to save it.  The Lord Jesus wouldn’t have suffered as He did, if there were no “love for His own,” cf. John 13:1.  At the same time, was that all the Cross was: a demonstration of “love”?

Not at all.  It was also a demonstration of the “severity” of God.  Paul put it in a nutshell when he wrote, “For He has made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” 2 Corinthians 5:17.  The Cross was as much a matter of justice as it was of love, or grace.  We’ll never get the bottom of that verse.  God put the Only One Who ever pleased Him on a Cross, to pay for our sins, who never please Him, in and of ourselves, don’t want to please Him and couldn’t please Him even if we tried.  There’s just nothing in us responsive toward God apart from His grace.

Some churches talk about the “merits of the saints,” as if there’s some sort of heavenly bank where all their extra good stuff is stored up, ready to be taken out by those who don’t have enough good stuff.  I’m sorry, but there’s only been One Who had any merit, any “good stuff,” to begin with, let alone having any “extra.”

Jesus Christ did on that Cross what none of us could do – satisfy God’s justice, His “severity.”  He did that to the extent that not a single person for whom He died can ever perish.  Their sins have been paid for.  Their debt has been cancelled.

You’ll never appreciate the goodness of God if you don’t have at least a little understanding of His “severity,” that is, that He can, will, and does, judge “sticks”.