Thursday, March 28, 2019

The One About Sheep Paths...and Good Shepherds (Another Lesson From Israel)

(Psalm 23:1 in Hebrew)

One of my side ministries, when I’m home and available, is counseling.

Years ago, I got my masters degree, but use it more as a tool for encouraging and coming alongside, than the true definition of the word: to provide advice or a course of action.

That is so not me, and, besides, who am I to tell someone what decision they should make?

That said, there are a few young gals with whom I regularly meet and have grown to love. 

I consider it a joy to connect with these gals, and as mentioned, it is a ministry, not a paid vocation. 

Shortly after we arrived back home a couple of weeks ago, I was meeting with one of these young women, and another little spontaneous teaching (from our Israel trip) popped back into my head.

I've found it strange how randomly little lessons show up and are applicable.

(A Bedouin sheep camp) 

Regardless, at the time I thought, “I’ll wager we all need to be reminded of the truth of this little story at one time or another.”

Maybe now is that time, or perhaps tuck it away, as I did in Israel, only to have it resurface when needed.


Before the teaching, let me explain where my young "mentoree" was struggling.

Very bravely, she has admitted that she is isn’t sure she wants to be a Jesus-follower.

She’s thinking about it.

She’s talked to several people.

But, she says she’s unwilling to surrender yet…

I love that she knows and admits to this truth.

When asked what the road-block was to giving her life to Jesus, she confessed that she wasn’t at all sure that she would like the “path” that Jesus would take her on…

Would she end up having to give up certain things she loved….  ???

Would He call her to be a missionary somewhere she didn’t want to go….  ???

How would her life have to change…and would it be in unappealing ways….  ???

I’ve known several in the past with that same mindset; but...

...when she used the word “path,” that’s when I thought of what follows here.

Before I begin, a side note.

I think we all struggle, at one time or another, with being 100% sold out, even after we’ve given our lives to the Lord.

We all wonder from time to time if God’s ways really are the better ways?

Are His paths really good?


On one of our trips to somewhere, our bus driver stopped alongside the highway, and we all piled out and sat on a hillside, overlooking a little valley below.

There were two shepherds in the field, along with several sheep and a few goats.

Behind us was an old sheep-fold, a cave-like structure, where a shepherd, at one time or another, kept his younger sheep to protect from wild animals, or from the possibility of wandering off.

It was nice to be taking a break, but the “sit-on-the-hillside,” soon became another teachable moment for our group.

It felt rather Jesus-like. 

Jesus regularly used what was at-hand-and-in-the-moment to instruct His disciples.

In this instance, our guide was doing the same…

And, this little segment in time obviously resonated with my heart.

As we watched the shepherds begin to lead their sheep, our guide asked, “Do you know how to tell whether a shepherd is a good shepherd or not?”

Remember Psalm 23 - “The Lord is my shepherd…”

Remember Jesus’ statement (John 10:1-16) - “I am the good shepherd…”

A good shepherd always leads his sheep.

A bad shepherd drives his sheep - pushes them from behind - and often throws rocks at them to get them where he wants them to go.

A good shepherd calls his sheep by name.

He knows his sheep - all of them - individually. 

“In fact,” said our guide, “one shepherd, a friend, swears he can be blindfolded, have his sheep brought to him one at a time, and he can tell simply by feeling their face, which sheep is in his hands.

(OK...does that not just do something in your heart? Just the picture of it!)

A good shepherd knows the land.

He has covered the ground and knows the perfect way to lead the sheep so they will not be injured. 

And, the good shepherd always leads them along the same route time and again, because it has been proven true.

The sheep will follow the shepherd.

They will wear a path in the grass, because they are willing to go the same direction, behind the shepherd ---- EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Not so the goats; they are independent.

They don’t necessarily want to follow the shepherd.

They will go any direction they please….and, often find themselves in precarious places, getting injured…or worse.

“Do you know,” asked the guide, “what the shepherds call the paths the sheep follow?”


Yes, but more. They are:

“Paths of Righteousness!”


Let this sink in as a Lenten reflection.

(Again, doesn't that just stir your soul? Paths of Right Living... 

"He leads me along paths of righteousness, for His name's sake..." It's a real thing...)

The Lord Jesus is our shepherd.

He KNOWS us!

Even blind-folded, He recognizes us by the shape of our face.

He leads us, His sheep, to fresh pasture, beside still waters, where we can rest, refresh, and never want for a thing.

He doesn’t drive us…

Isn't cruel to us...

Doesn't throw stones at us...

Takes care to take care of us...

Our shepherd is calling us by name to follow Him.


Because His ways are true and righteous altogether!

He knows the way that we should take…and that is the way He will lead us.

No, He doesn’t promise it will always be easy.

Sometimes the path follows steep and rocky hillsides.

But where He leads is always best…because He is GOOD; and, most of all, at the heart of His character is LOVE.


Can't we trust this kind of a shepherd in ALL THINGS and in ALL OUR WAYS?

Then, let's follow Him along Paths of Righteousness...

...for His Name's sake: His reputation,  His honor, His glory is at stake!

He certainly won't take us anywhere He is not with us, nor anywhere we won't find good pasture at the end.

Like Job, may we say: 

I have held fast to His steps; I have kept to His paths and have not turned aside.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The One About the Wilderness...and a Marriage Proposal

Bay and I thoroughly enjoyed our educational tour of Israel.

However, twelve full (and I mean full: from early morning until dark-thirty) on-the-go days with good teaching, teaching, and more teaching interspersed throughout each day, and, this old-lady-brain is crammed with information.

Our teacher broke the bread of "five loaves" and divided up "two fishes" among us, and we ate until we were more than satisfied, with twelve baskets left over (spiritually speaking, of course).

Little by little, all that information is coming back to me.

A smidgen at a time, I am processing it all (just a heads up: if you are ever going to Israel, take three days at the end just for going back over notes and one told me the extent of the OVER-LOAD!)

Little by little, as I read through the Gospels, a word, or a phrase, or the memory of a place springs forth TRUTH learned.

Every lesson that comes back to mind is a meaningful Lenten reflection.

The past couple of weeks have been good for my soul.

There has been some sweeping out to do.

In fact, there have been days where I wish I could hire a house-keeper for my heart, instead of having to do the cleaning myself.

Is that I thing, I wonder?
(Oh, wait, isn't that the Holy Spirit's job?)

This week's walk through the Gospels caused me to pause at another word - a word I experienced in Israel:


During his lifetime, Jesus often went into the wilderness to pray.

The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness following His baptism in the Jordan by John.

Speaking of - John the Baptist's ministry was primarily in the wilderness, and people flocked to him from Jerusalem, and all over the country-side.

The Apostle Paul went into the wilderness to be taught by Jesus - for three years, he lived and learned in that barren place.

Of course, the Israelites, as Moses led them to the Promised Land, spent 40 years in Wilderness Waiting, until the Lord gave them a nod. Permission was finally granted, now under the leadership of Joshua, to enter the Land of Milk and Honey.


We saw a lot of wilderness on our trip.

It looked as you would anticipate.




Steep, difficult places to climb.


Hotter than hades in certain seasons.

Quite often without springs of living water to quench one's thirst.


I've found myself in barren places.

I've traveled the wilderness.

It's not a pleasant place to wander...or wait.

Especially, wait.

Most likely, you can relate.

You've been there, too.

Together, we understand why the Israelites complained.

We know why they cried out to Moses about not having any living water to drink.

Barren places cause our souls to dry up, as well; and, when the soul is dusty the mind runs rampant in all directions.

It's quite easy to become the victim.

It's not difficult to forget from where we've come, to where we're going...

...and, it's even easier to forget the One WHO brought us out.

Trust slims.

"Giants-in-the-land" seem intimidating, and, well, extremely frightening.

But, wilderness waitings are oft used by the Lord.

Sometimes, even God ordained.

(Side note: God didn't ordain the 40 years of waiting...that was the consequence of stubborn hearts...but He did lead them there initially.)


Why would God allow His people, His beloved children, to experience the wilderness?

This was a good lesson to re-learn;
and, it came with a little twist.

In Hebrew, the word for wilderness is "midbar."

The root word in "midbar" is "dabar."  "Dabar," defined is "to speak a word, to tell, to declare, to promise."

It's a brilliant lesson.

God often brings his people into the "midbar" to give them a "dabar."

Did you follow?

God gives His people seasons in the wilderness, because He has a special word for them.

Sometimes, attached to the lesson is a rich promise: a new land, a new season, a new hope, a new __________________ (something else). Maybe even a new (or renewed) relationship.

Look at this passage in Hosea (God speaking to Israel through this prophet):

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.
There, I will give her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor (means "trouble") a door of HOPE...and she will sing there.

...And, in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me, "My husband." ...And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. 
And you shall know the Lord.
Hosea 2:14-15a, 16, 19 (ESV)

Do you hear God's whisper of love?

The Word of the Lord that comes in the Wilderness is simply this:
"I love you. Marry me!" 

Ponder that with me this Lenten season...

Next time you find yourself in a spiritual wasteland...

1. Seek the Word of the Lord for you in that place - He's drawn you there for a purpose.
2. If He's gone to that much trouble to bring you there, He definitely longs to re-define your relationship.
3. Remember how much He loves you - He proved it in death and resurrection.
4. Renew your commitment of trust in Him.
5. Allow Him to love you fully.

(Know: this is the most intimate form of the word) 

In that wilderness place...may we be surprised, by discovering in Him the Spring of Living Water for our souls...

P.S. To the extent that we allow Him to love us, that is the extent of our trust in Him.

Bottom Line:


...You just might find a proposal there.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The One About the Thunder...a Lenten Lesson

Before I actually start this morning's blog post, allow me to throw out a little anecdote.

As I begin writing, I can hear thunder - it's off a ways, but it always pulls up a past scenario.

I'm immediately reminded of this little white fluff of a Maltese pup that used to rule our home.

Her name was Tilly.

Tilly was afraid of nothing.

She'd go after any animal, or human, that didn't belong in her yard.

She even thought she was a bird dog, and would go into a full point when any would come searching for worms.

Well, fearful she was not.......except when it thundered.

So, any time I hear thunder, I'm drawn back to the multiple times she would cower and shake like a leaf in my arms until it passed.

Just putting her in another room DID NOT work (NO THANK YOU!), she had to be held (good thing she wasn't a Bernese Mountain Dog)!

Just tuck that story away for now....


My Lent-Challenge has me reading through all four gospels, over the course of a week, for the next concurring six weeks.

I've chosen The Passion Paraphrase, and am fully enjoying some of the fresh ways the scholars have rephrased some old-words that have grown a little tired (keep in mind this is a PARAPHRASE).

However, I highly recommend changing translations from time-to-time, asking the Lord to help us forget what we think we know and show us Truth anew.

Transitioning from one Biblical author to another, over the course of a few days, has made me more aware of the personalities of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (from stoic, to fast-paced-hit-the-highlights, to nitty-gritty-detailed, to deeply passionate), and each is unique.

I've found myself grateful that the Lord chooses all sorts to speak-forth-life-giving-words, be they hated-but-reformed-tax-collectors, professional doctors, smelly fishermen, or scared kids who turn tail and run away when things get tough.

 There's a ministry that fits us all - a place for all our stories of redemption.

For this one thing is definitely TRUE: the gospels are overshadowed by one meta-narrative... the end, Jesus redeems EVERYTHING!

This said, there is one word that has stood out this week, and caused me pause:


People were awestruck by Jesus.

They were especially astonished, and stopped short, by His words.

His teaching moved them.
Sometimes with wonder.

Other times with dread.

All the time with respect!

They'd heard nothing like what they were hearing from Him!

"The people were awestruck and overwhelmed by His teaching, because He taught in a way that demonstrated God's authority, which was quite unlike the religious scholars."
Mark 1:22

In fact, look at one of the notations made in a commentary on Mark 1:22:

The Greek word used in this passage for "awestruck" is ekplesso. It is a strong verb, meaning filled with amazement, to be astonished, panic stricken. It is something that takes your breath away - to be shocked... Clearly, Jesus spoke with such glory and power emanating from Him that His words were like thunderbolts in their hearts (emphasis mine)..."

What the every-day-human sensed coming from Jesus' mouth was DIFFERENT.

It rumbled and echoed in the caverns of their hearts and minds.

Jesus taught from His soul, out of His experiential knowledge of the Father...

Know the Father, and, you'll obey out of love!

Obedience out of a want-to...

Because there is no fear, or even a hint of rebellion, when you know with certainty you are loved!

To know the Father is to know love...

The Scribes, and Pharisees, of the day emphasized an outward keeping of the law...

In fact, spoken tradition trumped even what was written on the scrolls...

Jesus challenged the most educated among them.

His words were like thunderbolts in their hearts...

I am listening for the rumbling in my own.

Where is it?

Why do I not hear it every time I pick up the Word of Life?

How have I become so desensitized to it?


The tradition of Lent is a 40-day-sacrifice.

The purpose is to look inward and to mourn the death that sin has caused in our lives...

...To re-discover the WHY of the CROSS FOR ME!

This week, I've become more profoundly aware of how common and ordinary the thunder of Jesus' words has become in my own heart.

I've stopped paying attention...

His words don't always resonate within me with the powerful force of AWESTRUCK.

I confess often reading with a casual attitude.

I confess becoming desensitized.

It's so easy with the fast-pace of the world around me.

But, this Lenten Challenge has reminded me that it's time to STOP and listen for the THUNDER!

Maybe even be a little frightened by it.

And, when push comes to shove, let the thunder drive me, shaking, into the arms of the one who came to SAVE!

He may be loud, and sometimes we may even feel a sense of panic, but He is always GOOD!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The One About Celebrating Lent...and, some thoughts from Israel

Two events occurred yesterday.

1) I arrived back in the US after a full-big-day-after-big-day trip to Israel (which explains why I was awake at 1:30 AM beginning this blog)...and,

2) Wednesday marked the official start of the Lenten season, which leads up to Resurrection Sunday.

Yes, I celebrate Lent.

Yes, I am Protestant...

I find focusing on the 40-days leading up to the biggest event in our Christian heritage creates in me a readiness for celebrating Easter in Spirit and Truth.

I'm not bound to the traditions of "giving up" for Lent; instead, it has become more about "adding to."

I add to my days a "one-thing" that deepens my awareness, and AWE, in what my Savior gave as He loved this world so well. 

I reckon in the end, it amounts to re-prioritizing my time, and in a sense, sacrificing more of it to be intentionally proactive in my "adding-to" (if that makes sense).

I do that which will prepare my heart in greater-extent for the commemoration of the day my Jesus overcame death!

This year, I intend to take more time to read and re-read the gospels, bringing them to life in my mind, by envisioning the land of Jesus-birth that I was just privileged to visit.

One of the gals on our tour said it well when she stated, "Now, when I read Scripture it will be as if I've gone from viewing it through the lens of a small black and white television to HD."

In one of the many conversations I had with our tour-guide, he dropped this one little thought:
"Really, one of the biggest hindrances to the Jews of Israel receiving Christ as their Messiah is Christians."

He went on to explain how knowledgable these men and women are of their text...

...How faithfully they study the Torah (their History, comprised of the first five books of the Bible), the Nevi'im (the Prophets), the Ketuvim (the Writings). They KNOW the TaNaKh (the Hebrew Bible)...and study through it, all of them on the same schedule, year after year.

One of his friends at Hebrew University simply shook his head at Christians.

How little we know and comprehend our Text.

And, in randomness, a thought was dropped into the thin-air of space in my heart.

I took it as a challenge...

...and, I've taken it as a Lenten-focus.

This friend of our tour guide had mentioned that if Christians were truly convinced Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior come-from-God, we'd at least read through the gospels on a weekly basis...

We'd want to study and copy the life of our Rabbi-Messiah as best we could...frontwards, backwards, inside out, and upside down.

There-in is my Lenten goal: to read through all four gospels every week over the next six.

Not just to read it and check the "done-box;" but to read it and savor it, ponder it, let it roll around in my head and on the tip of my tongue.

Not because of bondage to a have-to-do...

So, why?

To know my Savior better.

To envision His life on this earth.

To walk through the Words of His followers with a careful eye on the path that Jesus walked.

To travel so closely behind Him, I am covered in His dust.

To sit beside Him in the Garden and pray, "Thy will be done."

To attend His trial.

To stand at His feet as the blood drips from the cross.

To lay Him carefully in the tomb.

To feel the full impact of Resurrection power...

And celebrate what that means for me!

This Lenten Season, I want to once again, comprehend the force of the Unseen Hand that changed my life in that one moment of history.


This was how our trip began.

Each of us were handed a honey-stick.

The directions were simple: open it, put a drop of honey on the tongue, savor its sweetness, and remember:

Try it.

Experience it.

Then, consider how you can enjoy the sweetness of Christ and His Words of Life all the way to Easter.

Oh, that I truly KNOW Him more!

Not just in partial color...

...But, in full HD!

Oh, that we all would...and in response, show others just how SWEET HE IS!