Monday, January 19, 2015

PSALM 149 - Musings on Martin Luther King Day

To execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all His godly ones. Praise the Lord!  (Verses 7-9)

The battle is always about the heart. Wars are fought because the heart of some man or woman has been given over to the destruction of other peoples or nations. Hitler, Stalin, Nero...something went terribly wrong. Pol Pot and the killing fields, and, yes, the Crusades. A demonic tweaking of  the mind that made a person or group of people decide everyone has to agree with them or die. The power of being right and gaining absolute control overwhelming any sense of compassion for those who disagree or don't fit the mold. Hearts that can kill their progeny and call it expedience. Hearts that can judge others by their own biases. We've got to fix the heart. And war against the proper powers. Unseen and violent, seeking destruction. Since the beginning. Offering up the pride of being godlike, making us buy into our own demise. Our real enemy: Satan.

The battlefields are real enough. Worldwide. Beheadings in the name of righteousness. Missile attacks, aggressor against aggressor. Mass executions in retribution for a drug deal gone wrong. Families wiped out by a spurned husband or wife. Our own infanticide pervading our country in the name of expedience and quality of life. And we all feel good about our particular war. We have the right to it. And in this way we are able to make wrong right. Celebrate it, in fact. Someone somewhere was whooping and hollering when the twin towers went down in flames and smoke as somebody's mother jumped out a window and landed on the pavement and somebody's father choked to death in an effort to save those trapped. Some several million people breathed a sigh of relief last year when a baby was taken, alive and well, and thrown into the garbage heap behind the doctor's office. What is wrong with us?

No tyrant thinks of himself as tyrannical. There is a certain altruism about making others do what you want. We seem to have infinite capacity, even the best of us, to create for ourselves a scenario that justifies our actions. There is some good and some evil in all of us. The question is, which will win? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it this way: "There is some good in the worst of us; some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies." Evil always justifies itself.

Dr. King went on to say, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that." Agape love. Which we can't manufacture alone. God is love. And unless we are saturated in it, driven by it, changed by it, committed to it, we are bait for the enemy of our souls, who desires to turn us sour and use us for his purposes.

This love that armors us for battle (Ephesians 5) isn't a weapon of mass destruction, but of daily victories that come about by attacking the real enemy circumstance by circumstance. The sword of the spirit taking down principalities and powers (2 Corinthians 10) in order to destroy "strongholds and arguments" of the enemy. Because all evil starts in the heart and distills into the mind. The way we think is how we act. And if the love of God hasn't affected our minds, changed our hearts, and made us want to war for the same deliverance for others, we will fall in battle, too. We might not be in Iraq fighting ISIS, but we are at war just the same. Our battlefields are closer to home. Most of the time, the fighting is one on one. We don't win with great arguments and cutting language. We win, as Dr. King did, with the desire to love our enemies. By bringing light into darkness. Love where there is hate. Aiming right for the heart. Devastating it with the retribution of forgiveness and love.

Satan finally loses. I know the end of the book. But in the meantime, he will take hostages and execute the godly. This is war. And some, like Martin Luther King, Jr., will physically fall in the battle. This world isn't where we belong forever. But every single day we have the opportunity to bring light onto the battlefield, exposing the dark, making it flee. Every day we have the choice to love instead of hate, to forgive instead of hold a grudge. With the sword of the Spirit (God's Word) and the shield of faith, we are ready for battle, knowing that Love ultimately triumphs over evil. The cross provided our victory; the resurrection guaranteed our safe travel home. Let's have the courage to combat our enemies in the same spirit Dr. King did in the successful war he was called to wage against the prejudice and hate that divided this nation. Let us be willing, as he was, and the Savior before him, to "lay down our lives for our friends (John 15)."

"Now there is a final reason why I think Jesus says, 'Love your enemies.'" It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can't stand it too long...and by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That's love, you see. It's redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There's something about love that builds up and is creative. There's something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

PSALM 149 - Sword Play

Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged sword in their hands.
(Verse 6)

For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4

Malchus was a servant of the high priest, sworn to the Jewish government that existed within the Roman Empire as a separate judicial entity. On the Passover night when Jesus was arrested, he was part of the guard sent to apprehend Him and take him before the Jewish court. Jesus was in a garden in the Kidron Valley where He was anguishing in prayer as His disciples slept nearby, unaware of the great suffering that was coming to Jesus. Judas Iscariot led the guards to the place of prayer, kissing Jesus on the cheek to signify which One the temple police were to arrest. Jesus asked, "Whom do you seek?"

"Jesus of Nazareth."

"I AM He." And the soldiers fell down, weak-kneed and bewildered. The name of Jesus already more powerful than the enemy. He needed nothing more than the words from His mouth.

Peter woke up to what was going on about then. Hadn't he just promised to fight for...even die for...his Messiah? He couldn't fathom what was taking place. They couldn't arrest Jesus. He was going to be king. As the guards rushed on Him, Peter drew his sword. I meant what I said! Malchus was there. His hands holding the arms of Jesus behind His back. Pushing Messiah roughly forward. "No!" cried Peter, and sliced off the man's right ear.

Jesus saw. The blood gushing. Malchus grabbing his head and falling in pain to the ground. "Peter, put away the sword. I have to drink the cup my Father gave Me." And Peter, once again, didn't understand. It seemed to him he always got it wrong. "Put your sword back in its place, Peter," said Jesus. "All who take the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I couldn't appeal to my Father and He will at once send me more than seventy-two thousand angels?" It was then Jesus stooped down, picked up the blood soaked ear and put it back, whole and well, onto the head of Malchus.

The revelation of the new covenant that would in the next twenty-four hours be established by the crucifixion was foreshadowed by the healing of one of the very men who would lead Jesus to the cross. The Word become flesh, living among us, showing us that He is the sword, His words piercing deeply into our marrow. Sharp. Sharper than the soldier's blade that cuts only into our flesh. No longer the need to bleed out sheep and calves. No longer the need to war against the enemy with mere weapons made of steel. The Word of God took the ear of His enemy and healed him. Did Malchus lie there in a heap while the others led Jesus away? Did he thank Jesus? Did he break ranks? We don't know. And that isn't the point. How people react to the Word. The point is that it is powerful to restore what is lost, to seep deep down into our bones and change us from the inside out. Mercy triumphing over judgment as the weapons of our warfare are no longer sword and rife. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10).

With such power indwelling us, the believers in Christ, we don't have to resort to condemnation or judgment. We don't have to slice our opponent in half or seek some earthly vengeance. We are to walk about the earth while we are here with praise on our lips and the Word of God in our hearts. Ready to do battle with the true enemy of our souls and the souls of all who walk the planet with us. Satan has been conquered. Destroyed at the cross. We know this. We live as prisoners set free from the bondage that fetters those without Jesus. We must use the sword in thankful mercy toward those who need our same rescue! The condemned don't need more condemnation, they need deliverance, just like we did. We march into war to save them singing hallelujahs to the One Who conquered Satan, stripping him of all his authority. To the degree we have sharpened the sword, have taken the Word into our own spirits and hearts, to that degree we are fierce warriors for our God. We are in a battle, for sure. And we need to suit up.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

PSALM 149 - God Singing at the Top of His Lungs!

For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people. He adorns the humble with salvation. Let the godly celebrate in triumphal glory; let them shout for joy on their beds.  (Verses 4-5)

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Jesus

Vanessa just received her newest CD in the mail this week. The culmination of years of writing and producing, praying and working, just to hold it in her hands and offer it to others. It's beautiful. The lyrics are poetry, the themes important and borne from experience: God is faithful and always on time, we are His Beloved, precious children, disappointment can't kill our hope. For others, the album shows just how talented Vanessa is, how gifted and godly. To Bill and me, it's just pure pleasure to hear our little VJ sing to our God. We've heard her since she could walk singing songs she made up or songs she heard in church or on the radio. Nuancing the melodies even then to make them her own. I close my eyes when she sings and relish her giftings and her choice to use them for her Father. I marvel that she is ours. That she is His. Absolutely overwhelmed with joy when her band brings her visions to life.

Will has been put in a tough situation lately. One in which he's had to wait on God and trust. That doesn't come easy for any of us, and Will is still young. Waiting isn't his M.O. (or mine). However, in this process, I have swelled with pride on several occasions. At first impatient and out of sorts, he chose to unload his frustration. Then one day in church he had a revelation that brought tears to his eyes and mine. "All I have really belongs to Him, anyway, Mom. I know I should have realized that sooner, probably, but I get it now." In his heart, Will got it. Knew his Father would be faithful and would do what is best at the proper time. My eyes still tear up when I think about that. So pleased with Will and his choices.

Heather has her own needs right now. Lots going on in her life. Two busy boys. Her own dog walking and dog treat business to oversee. Her time is limited and, given the constraints on her life, she would be justified in saying no to less important demands. She doesn't. That's what is so amazing about her. She goes out of her way to find places for people to live, to help them find a job, to offer transportation, to make dinner for friends or to care for other people's kids when they need help. She reaches out to hurting people to tell them about Jesus. Unashamed of her faith and unabashed in sharing it. Her desire to reach out makes me so proud of her. Her heart always toward Him. I know her day-to-day doesn't seem that important, but her willing, faithful heart challenges mine even now.

A man told me last night how blessed I am. Wondered at the outpouring of God on my life, especially when it comes to my family. I had to agree. We have our ups and downs like any other family, but my children are a constant source of joy and pleasure for Bill and me. We enjoy even the down times because they make us grow up together. Should it surprise us, then, that God is pleased inside His family? Loves being with His children even in the valleys? He triumphs with us in our victories and wanders with us through our mazes. Because our Father loves His kids, and the struggles we go through with Him binds us to our God.

Let that soak in today. I am. It's my Father's great pleasure to give me all that Jesus died that I should receive. The kingdom now, here, and later, there. It makes Him happy to bless my life, to pour out His grace on me! My Father smiles when I get it right and struggles with me when I get it wrong, but all is great joy for Him because I belong to His family. I can look up to see my God smile at me. Though he disciplines me when I get out of hand, even that is a sign of His pleasure. No one disciplines someone else's kid. My Father's delight is when I grow up to look at least somewhat like Him. To reflect His glory. It's an almost forgotten miracle that we are passionately, mercifully loved and complete in God. A thing we should remember when we fall asleep at night and when we awaken in the morning!

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty One Who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

Can you hear it? Your Father singing at the top of His lungs His great joy in you?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

PSALM 149 - The Piper's Song

Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly! Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! Let them praise His name with dancing, making melody to Him with tambourine and lyre!  (Verses 1-3)

I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.      Psalm 40   Italics, mine

What's the old song? The one we sang before our deliverance from all that binds us here on Earth? The piper played and we danced...nearly to the edge of the cliff. And somehow, for some strange reason, just before we leapt over the edge, we heard it. Strains of freedom that made us pause as the others ran into us or over us onward toward their end. "Move!" they cried as we hesitated, listening with more than our ears. This is the way, walk in it. But we had to break ranks to follow a winding path that led into the hills. Many of us had to fight our way out of the throng that ran after the piper, navigate treacherous territory with only the hope the voice we heard would lead us to higher plains. It would be a while before we got the old song, a dirge, really, out of our hearts and minds. We were used to singing it, the familiar chords pushing us forward, mesmerizing us so that we didn't consider where it led. The lyrics, lies from the pit.

Come away with me, my minions,
I will meet your every need.
Listen to this song I sing you,
It your very soul will feed.
Dance away in wild abandon,
Give no thought to life today.
If you follow where I lead you,
All your pain will go away.
Say farewell to all your sorrows,
I control all your tomorrows.

And so many of us did. Danced right over the edge, as our feet stomped to the rhythm of our own destruction. Addicted, trapped, lonely and afraid, the only song we knew now still on our lips but not ringing true. And the pain? Well, it takes more than the song to cover it. We have stumbled over the cliff and understand, at least to some degree, that the piper fooled us. But some of us still hope the lyrics were the truth. That the syringe we hold in our hands or the person we gave it all up for will somehow give us a better song to sing. One of joy and peace. But new songs don't emerge from old tunes sung in dungeons.

Come away with me, my Beloved,
I will lift you from this mire.
Take my hand that reaches for you.
I will set your soul on fire.
I have loved you from before
This world was ever made.
I have freed you from this prison.
Your sentence has been paid.
Your are beautiful in my sight.
Let me set all things right.

Can we believe the new song? So trapped by the old that we sit in our specific prisons staring down the darkness thinking there will never be light again. Holding onto a false promise because it's more comfortable, more familiar, than change. Believing somehow, some way, we will still get what we jumped over the edge to gain. The strains of hope come faint at first. Tiny rays of light...just enough to see the desperation of our lives. Won't you put all that behind? Beloved you are Mine. Never before had we seen quite so clearly the folly of our tune. The light dawning on our darkest needs.

It's why when we see our Deliverance come, streaming light and trumpet sound, that we dance and play the tambourine in streets surely paved with gold. Who does that? Comes to free us from jail? Pays our debt and wipes it clean? Who joys in our freedom more than we? Who trades our orange jail jumpsuits for dresses of purest white? How come? What for? It's not a lie!

The joy of laying our old song down to march to a different tune will cause us to pick up guitar and drums as we sing as loud as we can. I am my Beloved's and He is mine! Our Maker has seen our plight! He will not lead us over the cliff but into His kingdom bright!


Thursday, January 8, 2015

PSALM 148 - The Celebrity in Our Midst

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for His people, praise for all His saints, for the people of Israel are near to Him.  Praise the Lord!  (Verses 13-14)

You shall revere the Lord your God. You shall serve Him and hold fast to Him and by His name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, Who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.  Deuteronomy 10

We live in southern California not far from Hollywood where celebrities can be seen on a regular basis walking the streets of Rodeo Drive or lunching is some shi shi bistro. Crowds gather at the Hollywood Bowl to listen to everyone from Yo Yo Ma to Billy Joel. There are bus tours to the homes of the stars. Galas at Grauman's Chinese Theatre where celebrities have been immortalized by pressing their hands and feet into the concrete surrounding the building. Bono and U2 show up and everyone presses in for an autograph. Wannabes follow as groupies hoping for a chance at their own immortality. Those who lost their way to San Jose still hope to touch even the sleeve on Paul McCartney's jacket or the beef that wraps around Lady Gaga's torso. We are caught up in the glorification of our idols. And it hints at something innate within us. We are built for worship. It's funny to me because Vanessa has worked in downtown Hollywood and Will still does. Both have some great stories that would bring our idols crashing down to the reality in which we live. Vanessa saw a famous actress in an elevator at the hotel where she worked. "Mom, she is tiny and overly skinny, her hair was a ratty mess. She could have been mistaken for a homeless woman...and she was mean to everyone, growling orders at us as she rode the elevator up to our event." We are wasting our precious praise on paupers whose only claim for our adulation is that they entertained us for a while.

The terrifying things that Moses is speaking to the people of God about are the miracles He did in order to bring them out of slavery. Plagues. The parting of a sea. Salvation from the pursuing Egyptian army. Sweeping signs of His power and majesty. Entertaining perhaps, but only in retrospect. In the moment, watching the power of God play out was awesome...fearsome, even. God raising up a horn of triumph for a people who'd known nothing but bondage for generations. The pealing strains declaring freedom from mud bricks and infanticide. A God Who works for His people because He holds them near and dear is a God Who deserves our heartfelt praise, our most profound worship. In fact, that God is our praise.

Today alone I heard how God took the lumps from a friend's breasts and made them disappear. It was the day for biopsy. It became a day of praise and wonder. The doctor declaring a miracle of grace. Nothing to see here. Another friend recently was relieved to hear her husband didn't have the prostate cancer the doctor was sure of. We are giddy with joy, knowing God is near and hears us.

Even those walking through the valley of the shadow of death have great confidence in where they are going. We all face it. That day. The promise of our God doesn't just stop at, "I will be near you." He promises we will be with Him. Because for Him, our deaths are the culmination of time here and we get to go home. Where He has made a place for us. This terrifying God Who does wonders for His kids just wants us to come home.

He is the Celebrity in our midst. All others are paltry in comparison. He moves about the stage of our existence to maneuver us through our roles. Author, Director and Producer of stories so profound we must stand in ovation for the rescues, the switchbacks, the climaxes and the denouements. We will not find him on a Muzak-filled elevator acting out of character. Always steadfast in love, mighty in our direst circumstances, near when we are far. Creator of not only our particular drama, but also of the drama of the entire universe. Every animate living thing pays homage to God's brilliance. The actors are simply that...doing what Someone Else has conceived in order to bring the story to its glorious or inglorious end. Walk off stage if you will, but those who stay, listen to the Director, understand their lines and glory in their parts will inherit the praise of the Author.

Moses didn't understand at the time he was speaking with the sojourners from Egypt who had just crossed the Red Sea and witnessed the Egyptian army dead on the shores that there was one more terrifying and great thing God planned to do. The ultimate victory trumpet blown on a Sunday when the tomb was empty, the Roman guards groggy from a stunned sleep administered by fearsome angels as the tomb of the King of Kings opened at His command and He was unleashed as the risen Lord into a world in need of a Savior. History records it. The terror of the Friday before. The confusion of the quiet Saturday. The overwhelming audacity of an empty grave. All evil trumped. Satan forever stripped of his power. Such a deed hasn't been recorded before or since. All because our God came near. Because we are dear.

There's no rule that says Christians can't enjoy a good movie or like a particular movie star. That's not what I'm saying. True eminence, however, will make us looker higher. Not waste our praise on anything that isn't worthy of it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

PSALM 148 - A Whale of a Thought

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling His word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
(Verses 7-12)

Bill and I took a trip to Baja California, Mexico, a few years back to get close to the gray whales who travel there every year to mate and have their calves. We flew out of San Diego and landed on a dirt air strip miles from civilization. Then we took a bumpy bus trip to the water's edge where a "green" camp was set up. The setting and the conditions were primitive. The idea, of course, was not only to leave the space just as we found it, but also to experience the adventure as close as possible to how the stars and sand would see it. No frills. Just watching what nature does.

We were told that we might not see whales each time we went out. There was always a morning trip in the twelve person motor boat and an afternoon excursion. Our group, however, always saw whales. Up close and very personal. Spy hopping 20 feet from the boat, enormous mamas peeking out of the water to see what was going on. We were told that the mothers often come near the boat and push their babies from their backs in order to guide them closer to us. The thought was that whale watching boats such as ours have been out in the water for so many years that the mothers were unafraid of us, maybe even remember the boats from when they were babies themselves, and were possibly using our excursion for a little babysitting. Whales really like having their baleen scratched. That's what the guide said. "Just put your hand into the corner of its mouth, the baby will open its mouth, and then you can scratch away." No one else did it but me. I was all over the idea. Baby whale sidling up to the boat, nestling against it and me, bending over almost so I could fall out, reaching, reaching until I touched the whale's lips. Sure enough, she opened her mouth and completely relaxed with me as I rubbed her baleen with my hand. Mama bumped the bottom of the boat, almost spilling me into the water, when she'd had enough of my messing with her child. They both breached and went back down into the depths, leaving me and all of us sitting back in wonder.

Next day we saw the mating process. Whales, three of them, splashing and thrashing in frantic display, in and out of the water, the privacy of their union exposed not only to the sun and clouds, but to a small group of fascinated adventurers. Two males, one female. Always. One referees, apparently. These mammals of the deep doing what they were created to do many millenniums from their inception.

Life exists apart from what we experience day to day. Thinking that what surrounds our present circumstances is all there is. Our struggles sometimes drown us. That's why I like to take beach walks. (I know, I'm amazingly blessed to be able to do that.) I live five blocks from the Pacific Ocean and regularly see dolphins playing in the waves. It's soul soothing. It also reminds me there is another entire world just below the surface of the waters. I've seen some of it scuba diving, but below that there are squid too deep to watch and volcanoes that spew lava thousands of feet up and yet never touch the surface. And God made it all, sees it all, loves it all and protects it until He comes again.

Everything on earth responds to the Artist Who created it all from nothing. Moves with alacrity in the sphere for which it was designed. "It is good." God's assessment of the imaginations of His mind fulfilled in reality. As with any grand master, any screenwriter, author, director...God takes great joy in seeing the culmination of a dream. What is in the mind finally a reality. But God can expect His creation to respond. Trees to clap their hands as the wind blows through their limbs, whales to breach, giving a hint at their lives beneath the surface, snow to paint the earth's canvas white and rain to wash it clean. All things moving as they should. Stars shine. Suns glow. Birds and butterflies migrate on cue. Fruits burst out of barren tree limbs in their specific season.

And then there is mankind. The crown of creation. Made for His pleasure, created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:6), as all things are. We, who have been given the gift of understanding such things as truth and beauty, who can actually look at a sunset and marvel, write a poem about its magnificence or crave to capture its beauty on canvas, we should be most vocal in our praise of One so much bigger in thought and power than we can possibly imagine. Kings and princes, lowly in comparison to the sovereignty of the God Who put them on their thrones should pay homage to Him just as much as the lowliest of us. By our very existence, by the very fact that we know we exist and don't simply dive the waters of the depths without understanding our own magnitude, we should look up. Created in His image, imbued with body, mind and spirit, our connection with the Artist is unique to all other creatures. We have the awesome ability to see the snow covered mountain tops, feel the chilly air against our skin, or trek the deserts of our planet and know that there is more. Our voices can give thanks. Acknowledge the beneficence and splendor of such a mind, of such omnipotence, of such grace. Of all creation, only we can stand and lift our hands in reasonable praise and thanksgiving, for only we have the capacity to wonder at it all.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

PSALM 148 - Jesus Will Finish the Job

Let them praise the name of the Lord! For He commanded and they were created. And He established them forever and ever; He gave a decree and it shall not pass away. (Verses 5-6)

I am not ashamed, because I know Jesus, the One in Whom I have believed. And I am sure He is able to protect what He has trusted me with until that day.   2 Timothy 1:12

God began doing a good work in you, and I'm sure He will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again.   Philippians 1:6

Just like God established the heavens and earth, decreed that they come to pass, so has He decreed my salvation. Established my place in the family of God as surely as He created the planet on which I walk today. In these rather chaotic times when our Christian faith is tested, I often pray, "Jesus, keep me." I know my propensity for wandering off, the nose of this sheep smelling adventure in the air. Wondering with my little mind what is on the other side of that distant hill that I've been told to avoid. Questioning whether the Shepherd is just keeping the flock together in order to make us tow the line, not wanting us to "really live."  Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. It's usually a very subtle sliding away from relationship. Taking for granted the ease of always being so well cared for by the One Who leads and provides for me. It's when the wolf comes knocking at the gate, leaping over the fence, snatching one of the flock away that I remember how much I need my Shepherd. Or when I'm sick and He tends to me. Or when He chases down the wolf and grabs me from jaws of deception.

In John 10, Jesus compares Himself to the Shepherd and us to His flock. That is fitting. The stunning thing about that, to me, is that makes His commitment to me stronger than mine to Him. Jesus has taken on the preservation of His own. Jesus's decree that we belong to Him is eternal. My Savior is more committed to my staying close and making it to the end than I am! As the Author of my salvation, the Writer of my story, He wills the end of my journey and directs my path and keeps me safe upon it. That isn't license to get up in the morning and live any old way I want. But, if I did that, and I have, I would be in a royal mess before long. And I have been. What is so amazing about being His ewe lamb is that Jesus will come and get me. And He has. Jesus has promised to keep me to the end...even asked the Almighty God to do the same on the night of His arrest. "I am coming to You. I will not stay in the world any longer. But they are still in the world. Holy Father, keep them safe, by the power of Your name" (John 17:11).

The only way I can possibly understand the heart of God toward me as His child is when I understand the lengths to which I would go to protect my own children. They are Farish children, born to Bill and me, given into our hands from their infancy, looking to us at first for sustenance and then for guidance. When I look into their faces, I see the reflection of us, some of Bill, some of me, yet uniquely packaged to create someone wholly individual. I know them well. Can guess their responses. And if miles and miles separate us, I can still feel them. Close my eyes and know them still. What would I withhold from them? Of course, my knowledge is limited as is my ability to love in the same overarching capacity my heavenly Father does. But I understand why He goes after the sheep He loves. Why He promises to keep us for all eternity as His own. If God wants His children close like I want mine, I get why He's so committed to my ultimate salvation. He loved first, just like Bill and I did. The everlasting decree of salvation to those who believe is first God's promise to us. His choice to bring me into the fold. My choice to love the Shepherd because He was willing to die for His sheep.

This wandering off that we do is pointless. Scratching in the brambles to somehow get free. Kicking up our heels in the pasture as we chase a giddy dream or frolic in a forbidden stream. Our Shepherd will let us float off just so far. If we sit today in a horrible situation of our own creation, rest assured, though we might think it hopeless, Jesus will come and get us. He will not find us, because we aren't lost to Him. We are only foolishly tick-ridden and captured, needing to know the way back to Him. The Shepherd knows the voices of His sheep, hears them in the brambles, His heart aching to bring them home, clean them up and lead them to green pasture. We only have to baa.