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Sheep Are Different

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Know that the Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Psalm 100:3
 
The first parish I served was in a rural area, a farming community, in Southern Minnesota.  I grew up and lived in cities.  I told the members of the church that I would like to get to know what they do and help if possible.  What an experience!  I loved it.
 
One of the members of the church had a sheep farm.  The first time I visited, he helped me to understand what God meant in our verse for this meditation, “It is He who made us, and we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.”
 
He had just walked away from the fence where the sheep were gathered.  He said I should go up to the sheep with some food and pet them.  As I walked near the fence, the sheep began to scatter and run away.  The farmer then walked up to the fence, without food, and all the sheep came running to him. 
 
“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.   But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” – John 10:3-5
 
Sheep have no sense of direction.  Left on their own, they will get lost.  Sheep are defenseless.  Left on their own, they cannot care for themselves and they will die.  Sheep will not lie down unless they feel completely safe and comfortable.  Sheep are emotional and only recognize the shepherd’s voice.
 
Sound familiar?  You and I are the sheep.  Left alone, all by ourselves, we will not be able to travel the narrow road to forgiveness and salvation.  Left alone, all by ourselves, we cannot spiritually care for ourselves and we will die and eternal death.  Left alone, all by ourselves, we will never really be safe or comfortable.  Like sheep, we need to recognize and follow only the voice of our Shepherd.
 
Jesus came to be our Shepherd and to lead us through faith in all He has done for us to a life of forgiveness, a life where we never die but live eternally with Him and His Father in heaven.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we know His voice, and we follow only Him!
 
Prayer:  Father, we truly thank You for giving Your Son, Jesus, to be a perfect sacrifice.  He is our Shepherd, who leads us through this earthly life with the knowledge and joy that all our sins are forgiven and we will live with You and our Shepherd in heaven forever.  Amen.

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We Are The Chosen Ones

white and yellow flowers in tilt shift lens
 
John 15:16 – (Jesus said) “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My Name, He may give it to you.”
 
How many of you reading this devotion today chose to be born?  In the same way, we cannot choose to be a believer.  We cannot choose to be forgiven.  We cannot choose to go to heaven. 
 
Faith, forgiveness and salvation do not depend on me or anything I do.  As Jesus tells us, we did not choose Him, but He chose us.  God knew that if He left the decision to us, we would make the wrong choice. The only action we can take is to resist Christ and all He offers.
 
However, Jesus further reminds us that we were not chosen to simply sit back and be happy we are His children.  Rather, Jesus chose us to do something!  We are blessed with all that Jesus has earned for us.  We are blessed by having the faith and knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.
 
We are blessed to be able to respond to what Jesus does in us by producing fruits.  Some of those fruits include sharing Jesus and all He has done with others, by living our lives in such a way that it shows we are different from the world around us, by showing the love Jesus has for us, by helping those around us to see and realize what Jesus has done for them also.
 
Nevertheless, do not misunderstand what Jesus is saying here.  Our fruits, our works, although required through our faith, have nothing to do with our forgiveness or salvation.  Jesus has earned that for us.  Our fruits, our works, are merely signs of our faith, signs that we are forgiven, signs that we have salvation, all because of Jesus and what He has done.
 
Rejoice at what you have, in Christ.  Share what you know, because of Christ.  Let the world see what Jesus has done in you and through you in the lives of others.
 
Prayer:  Father, we thank You that You have reached out to us by Your Holy Spirit, working faith in us that we believe that through Your Son, Jesus, we have forgiveness and salvation.  Help us to live that life that shows You and all You have done for us and others.  In Jesus Name we pray.  Amen.

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God Has Feelings Too (Part 3)

close up photography of purple roses hanging on brown wooden cross
 
How can I give you up, O Ephraim? (Ephraim is the central tribe in Israel.) . . .  My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.  I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.  They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.  Hosea 11:8-11
 
Malachi 3:6 says: “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”  God is changeless and therefore will not renege on his promises. Rather than destroy us because of our sin, he forgives us because of his mercy.  In Hosea 11 God’s anger against the rebellious Israel gives way to compassion.  Yes, God has feelings too.
 
How does God carry out holy anger’s justice while at the same time demonstrating compassionate mercy?  This is God’s answer: Israel will go off into captivity in Assyria as the previous verses in Hosea 11 declare; but God will restore his penitent people to their homes and his favor.  God’s holy justice and compassionate mercy seem at odds still, don’t they?  A holy and just God must punish sin; a compassionate and merciful God must pardon sin.  How is that divine tension resolved?  Only in the cross of Jesus.  At Calvary God’s holy justice meted out the punishment that our sin deserved; and in Jesus’ cross God demonstrated the compassionate grace that rescues us from our sin.  Like Israel, we may endure consequences of our sin to call us back to our God; but still he loves us and forgives us, for Jesus’ sake.  The roar of the lion in Hosea 11 is the call of the Savior to return to him.  Revelation 5:5 calls Jesus “the Lion of Judah.”
 
I love the words of Psalm 103:13-14: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Like a father who knows that his children aren’t perfect and loves them in spite of their rebellious acts, God is a realist who understands that we inherited a sinful nature from our ancestors back to Adam and Eve.  He knows that we are sinners.  And yet he loves us, forgives us, renews our faith, and leads us into life once more with purpose.
 
Hosea 11 traces the emotions of God from heartache to anger to compassion.  It ends on compassion.  Treasure that!
 
PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for not abandoning us to the condemnation our sins deserve.  Thank you for the compassionate heart that seeks us out and forgives us.  Help us to hold dear your compassion and to share that compassion with those you place into our lives, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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God Has Feelings Too (Part 2)

pink rose on white book page
 
They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all.  Hosea 11:5-7

The word anthropomorphism means attributing human characteristics to God. That’s what Hosea 11 is, a description of God in human terms.  And the description in the verses above is anger.  You see, God has feelings too.  Our term for that feeling might also be tough love.

Is it OK for God to get angry?  Well, what do you do about sin?  Can God say “so what” to the murder and theft and adultery and inhumanity that characterizes our evening news?  It’s easy to understand how God might be angry about the idolatry of Israel in the eighth century BC.  How much injustice and immorality should God ignore?  But we may miss the point of God’s anger in Hosea 11.  God foretells the siege and deportation, the burned cities and lost lives of the Assyrian invasion.  But is God simply writing off the people he has loved and led?  No.

When every effort of the prophets he sent has been ignored, every warning in drought and crop failure has been lost, God is left with one option: tough love.  The people of Israel that he loves will be led off into captivity by the Assyrian army.  When all else has failed and they cry to God in desperation, he will not heed their empty pleas.  Nothing short of that will call them to repentance.  Israel bet on a political alliance with Egypt rather than seek the intervention of their God, and they would be betrayed, left to face the horror of Assyrian might on their own.

Does God still get angry at our rejection of his will and his love?  No doubt.  But this isn’t our kind of anger, the self-centered desire for vengeance.  God’s anger is the other side of the coin of his love.  God’s anger at sin is balanced with his love for sinners.  The ultimate act of God to recall sinners from their hell-bent rush into wickedness can be letting them experience the consequences of their rebellion against God’s will.  Is there a message in the setbacks and hurt you experience?  Maybe.  Let trials turn your heart to God.  Let problems lead you to seek his help.  Let the consequences of your moral failures bring you to your knees in repentance.

God has feelings too.  His anger teaches us to recognize and reject the lies of our culture and the immorality in our entertainment media.  His anger becomes our anger as we watch friends and loved ones drift into the void of materialism and hedonism.  Like our God, we speak out against what will destroy individual lives and national will.  But more than that, God’s anger against sin, our sin, is his call to repent and return to his forgiving love.  God vented his anger against sin upon his son on Good Friday.  That anger is not our fate.  Love is, thank Jesus.

PRAYER: Forgive us, Lord, for ignoring Your warnings and pursuing the desires of our sinful nature.  Teach us to identify what is false and what is wrong, then lead us to walk away from such sin and seek Your forgiving love.  Heal our nation and recall our loved ones who have strayed, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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God Has Feelings Too (Part 1)

pink and green flower buds
 
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them.  I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who. . . bent down to them and fed them.  Hosea 11:1-4
 
God can easily become an abstraction – all those “omni” words, like omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, that are taught in confirmation classes.  God is a person, well, three persons in one deity.  The personal nature of God can get lost when we view God as sort of stoic, you know, just ruling the world and sending angels and such.  In Hosea 11 God speaks in the first person, and what we learn is that God has feelings too.
 
The feeling revealed in the verses above is heartache.  God depicts himself as a father, who rescued his son Israel from slavery in Egypt and raised that child with all the love that could be imagined.  He took Israel by the arms, like a small child, and taught this mob of emancipated slaves how to walk.  He held Israel in his arms to comfort them when they were afraid in the desert, protected them when enemies attacked.  Like a father, he bent down to feed them with manna day after day.  He promised them a wonderful land of their own, and he led them there with kindly forbearance.  When Israel disobeyed, God called them back to himself.  And what did God get for all this love?  They ran away from home and adopted the lifestyle and worship habits of their pagan neighbors.  God was heartbroken.
 
Has God been any less a father to us?  He calls us his children.  We in America are the best fed people in the world, living in relative safety and blessed materially beyond our needs.  He has opened his heart to us in Scripture and forgiven us no matter how often we’ve strayed.  Maybe though, like Israel, we’ve adopted too much of our pagan culture.  Maybe we’ve taken our God for granted and forgotten him when we get caught up in our little lives.  Do you think God is sometimes heartbroken as we ignore his calls to repent and return?  Does it occur to us that God has feelings too?
 
To see the heartache of almighty God, look at his Son on the cross.  There God abandoned his only Son in order to save us adopted children.  But when the price of our forgiveness had been paid, God raised his Son from death and assured us that all the heartache we have caused him has been forgiven.  We are still his children.  He still wants to spend eternity with us.  And there we will experience the overwhelming feeling that characterizes our God – love.
 
PRAYER:  I’m sorry, Lord, for all the times I’ve caused You heartache with my sins and indifference to Your will.  Thank You for Your enduring love and the forgiveness Jesus earned for me.  Shape my feelings with Your own, that I live as Your child now and forever.  Amen.

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