The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing LOUD for all to hear. That’s not Old Testament but Elf. It echoes what King David the Psalmist said quite well so if you don’t have the Psalms memorized go with that until you do. Singing brings joy to the heart and a merry heart is good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones. (Prov.17:22) Sing on! He also had some warning quotes (Elf that is) and said “Don’t be a cotton-headed ninny muggins.” Will Farrell may have thought that was original but actually King David also gave us a warning in Psalm 23 that is pretty close to that:

You anoint my head with oil.

The whole Psalm is beautiful and we have been looking into for a couple weeks now. If we were playing that old fashioned game (the name escapes me) they would ask us to name things that burrow or dig deep in your skin. I guess I’m a big  metaphor person because I was thinking about last week’s shooting and how it triggered people in every corner of the city. I’ve also worried about the new event at Worlds of Fun and  heard fears of human trafficking that overshadow it. I couldn’t help but remember the murder of a dad in front of his daughter just down the street. These things burrowed deep in our hearts and psyches for quite a while, festering, and threatening infection. We could add stressors like physical illness, emotional fears, even national terror to that list. Hmm? That reminds me of a book you can get at Pathway Press (Homeplate Advantage) that addresses some of those things. The list goes on and on of things physically, spiritually and emotionally that affect us, but don’t stay right there – they burrow deep in our hearts, minds and bodies. Today’s issues will end up in tomorrow’s tissues is a true statement. Researchers more and more are finding out that depression and stressors can lead to cancer and other maladies.

God, in His wisdom does not get caught off guard by any trial or tribulation in America. He sees it all  and is not anxious, worried or biting His nails today. In Psalm 23, the Shepherd smears marrowy fatness on the head of the sheep. That sounds rather ceremonial and spiritual but in reality its protection and prevention from flies burrowing into the wool of the sheep’s head. They are specific flies (Blow flies) that nestle in and lay larvae that then creep into the sheep’s nose and ears like maggots and bring disease, infection and death. They have green metallic bodies and are bigger than a normal fly- more like a horse fly. They feed on animals and garbage, basically dead things. Their scientific classification is Calliphora vomitoria (Linnaeus).  I’m so sorry if you are eating breakfast when reading this!  Vomitoria – a fly that feeds on dead things. King David knew exactly how to warn us about the things that “bug” us, literally. This sweet little Psalm we read at births and funerals has a distinct warning – this is what you do to prevent what bugs you from killing you. Dearly Beloved, let’s explore the Vomitoria – it’s dangerous and it will take you out….. IF you let it.

It doesn’t have to be this way, we can do something. That “something” is to let the Shepherd anoint our heads with oil. The word oil in Hebrew is Shemen which root is Shaman.  The Shepherd wants to be YOUR healer. He is the oil and the oil smearing One. That oil could be olive or pine, the scripture does not distinguish which but the medicinal oil normally used for sheep is a healing and smelly oil to keep flies away. It also cleanses and disinfects. You don’t do it after you get in a swarm of flies or it will trap the little varmints in your thick wooly head. You do it BEFORE they come. We talk often at Homeplate Advantage about secluding away to find God and His presence, to get saturated in His word – BEFORE the week starts and the irritations come. Oily, marrowy, shiny, fragrant ones, loved on by the Father seem to be able to navigate the rough places of the week more easily. A book or program cannot do that for you but time in the presence of the Shepherd certainly can. Coming to get smeared is not a ritual or law, it’s just common sense, and feels good.

So, there seems to be a connection that the things that just “frost us” as comedian Jeff Allen would say can be thwarted by being oiled, smeared and saturated in advance by the Shepherd. My kids leaving for school comes to mind. They still get surprised when I remind them to put on their coats, scarves and gloves, like it’s some evil plot to make them late. Mama didn’t invite cold air or icicles yet they resist getting covered before going out into the windy dark environment. We pull them closer and bundle them up, then release them out into the snow. It’s a thing that has to be repeated because youngsta’s don’t often remember to do things in advance so we bring them near to prepare them.

This verse to me is the dynamite of the Psalm – YOU anoint my head with oil. It’s not my Sunday school teacher or some random person but God Himself that longs to bring us near and “coat us” with Himself. He will take time out of His busy schedule to do something for us that we cannot and will not do for ourselves. It is implied that the sheep need to be in proximity of the Shepherd to do that.

Remember we talked about those explosive verbs in Hebrew that yell activity and power? They are called piel verbs and don’t appear all that often in scripture. This verse has one of them – ANOINT. God massively, powerfully, intensely anoints, saturates and smears us with His oil (cleansing, healing and disinfecting). I know before I type this you will groan, but I will risk it if it means you will get this message into your heart and head. The Hebrew word for anoint is DASHANE.

This season, filled with ribbons, bows, murder, crime, death and Christmas trees cannot be navigated without prior preparation. We cannot anoint ourselves, but God can. Coming before Him to get smeared, anointed, saturated and blessed will prevent many irritations, many stresses and possibly even death. Read Rev.4 and “come up here” for a while daily and weekly. Let Him minister to you and then we’ll go: wait for it>>>   Dashane thru the snow…   equipped, loved, empowered and blessed to reach a world that is highly irritated, frosted and in need of some loud singing and a God who wants to take them into HIS fold.  We come near to get smeared , then go out and help others come near.

RenaeRoche2018

 

 Psalm 23:  Thou (You oh Lord)

Have set in order arrayed, went to battle, prepared, arranged

Like wood on an altar

Like showbread, like loaves, like candlesticks on a holy table

before me.

It may just be me but this stirs my heart today. Sabbath or Shabbat is closing at sundown but tonight, tonight is a night unlike any other – it is Hanukkah, that beloved tradition of the Jewish people that celebrates that God is light. At sunset this night, the holiday of lights begins and the candles will be relit. The sun may go down but the lights will go up. It is the annual holiday that reminds us that out of darkness God created the world and the sun and threw the stars in the sky. It celebrates the event when He provided oil for the lamps so the people could see the Torah. Hanukkah means to “Rededicate oneself to the Lord”. Can you hear the praises still ringing from generations of God fearers that worship Jehovah, that count on the faithfulness of G-d? It is also called the festival of lights. For the newbie to all of this – it would be comparable to a huge miraculous praise report celebrated like Christmas for 8 solid nights of fun, festivities and yes chocolate! But wait, is it in the Bible? Yes in John 10:22.  They call it there the feast of dedication. They light the candle in the middle – the helper or servant candle and by it all others get their light. The first prayer on that first night is:

Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights. Commanded? What manner of God is this that He commands His people to celebrate and rejoice with food and song for eight solid nights? Woo-hoo!

The fun part I love is that in the middle of these candles is a 9th one called the Shamash, the tallest one, servant candle and it lights all the others so that they can shine. (I think of Toby Mac and Hollyn singing light shine bright here). Whoever would dare to dream that the God who created humans would like to party and fellowship with them for eight full days? Well, people who know Him. Our little boy first asked Jesus in his heart on this special holiday years ago. When he realized that tonight was THAT night, his first reaction was, “yea, we get soda and candy!” While I hope he understands the mighty God who delivered His people and the implications of that for Jew and Gentile, I’m glad he connects fun, joy and sweetness with religion. What, a God who wants to be with ME, enjoy ME? Yes.

Don’t we forget what the table is for? Is it just food and enjoyment or celebration and delight? The Christian Advent also just happens to start today and some lit the advent candle this morning in their churches. Big purple and one pink candles in a circle with lots of symbolism. All these traditions!  Kids see lights, hear songs and sometimes there are great church casseroles.

There was one man who got fed up with all the traditions, hoopla and commercialization of this event. He had turned 53 and wanted his grandkids to know that there were deeper meanings to all the festivities. A good look in the mirror and some reflection caused him to write a story against all the “trappings” and to focus on the greater message. He made himself the main character and also like David, talked about the “table”. He wanted to assert that holidays should be about hospitality, love and yes, a growing warm, big heart. His name was Theodore and his book about Whoville, roast beast and the whobilation feast, won many awards. The Grinch became a classic and his grandchildren would come to love the holiday for family and love rather than the symbols and rules. You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch, was actually the heart cry of a grandpa who started out viewing his own heart, his own sin. Dr.Seuss had a “rededication” so to speak.

As a child I celebrated Advent but only remembered its purpose as the day when I stood in front of the church and read stuff and the adults held their breath that we would not burn ourselves or the church down. I made no connection with a holiday really. As an adult the Pentecostal and non-denominational churches somehow were progressive so much that we thought we did not need such man made traditions so it was not celebrated. It’s precious meaning was long forgotten, i.e. not remembered. Then later I studied the Jewish holidays which held special meaning to me and my family. Tonight, we watched the whobilation, revisited advent –all on the first day of Hanukkah. In the midst of this oddity, we reminded ourselves about the shamash candle. We will light the first advent candle that symbolizes the preparation for the SECOND COMING OF CHRIST! We are collectively longing for that day.  How powerful is that? Whole congregations awaiting and preparing for Jesus!

I kind of feel like Renae Lou Who because all of these events, traditions and symbols are overwhelming– but when I focus on loving God and my family – I can do that. Joe and the boys and I want to remember the God who created the Heavens and His constant provision and sustaining power so we will light a candle to remember that. We want to anticipate the second coming of Christ and prepare our hearts to make room for Him so we will light a candle and remember that-while we posture our hearts for His presence. When our fireplace tripped a breaker and we sat in the dark for a few minutes the message of light breaking thru darkness became very real.

David, had a sense of all of this perhaps. Did this worshipping King understand the table that fed him and the one to come? The table God was preparing was for Him, musician, saint and sinner. He knew that the preparations and provisions of this mighty God were not just for or about religion but were for and about him, David. Not only had God gone thru a lot of trouble to do this but this table was before Gods panayim (Hebrew) – His Face. I wonder if he heard, “David, I’ve got my eyes on you. David I go to battle for you so you can go to battle for me. David, the holy place is not a building made with hands but will be a Bride one day that the gates of hell will not prevail against. I’m setting it, preparing it for you and those who follow me after you. Sinner and saint. The table of refreshing, community, hospitality, remembrance. David, go ahead and eat.”

The word enemy is adversary and place of distress in the Hebrew. Maybe because there is only one evil one — the rest is just puppetry. David kept going because He was properly provided for in that battle, he had  a table and he had food. Theodore Geisel rightly discerned his own heart and saw the Grinch when he looked in the mirror. His accurate assessment then led to others viewing their hearts in light of the true meaning of Christmas – loving God (incarnate) and family. In the presence of my enemies means in the presence of my narrow place, my tight and difficult place, the place of evil and distraction.

In the midst of the Maccabees distress and conflict – there was a table set with bread and light. God was present with them. In the midst of the Bethlehem scene there was the bread of life and a great light shone around about them. In our pain, suffering, distress, there is a servant who has come to shine in our darkness and light others to proclaim the One true light.

Thou has prepared a table for me, before your face Lord, in the presence of my affliction and adversary. You are my water that quenches my thirst, you are the wine that restores my soul, you are the bread that gives me life and you are the One that shines light in my darkness. You battled my conflicts before I was born, You broadened my narrow places before I was born again, you kept me before your face even when I was isolated from any hope of joy and give me deep hope within.

The next eight days…  You may not be vulnerable and transparent like 53 year old Theodore and want to avoid all roast beast. But, what if you began to open your heart just a little bit more to include the Father? What if your heart just got a little bit more warm and started to grow? What if you lit a candle of remembrance and trusted that God would be with you now, in this moment, in the midst of your battle places? What if you positioned your face to the Heavens and declared, “O come, O come Emmanuel – and ransom captive Israel? What if you kicked up your heels and did a little jig, a praise dance and thanked Him for all the previous times you were delivered, set free? There is a table of provision and blessing laid out for you thru history – there is also a table that awaits you in Eternity – in spite of what your enemies are saying tonight. There is joy and a feast no matter what your adversaries are planning. God planned a baby to deliver, a light to shine, a savior to resurrect, a meal of remembrance to connect.

The original Grinch animated movie used the theme song and the voice of Tony the Tiger from Kelloggs cereal sang it, you know the one that says, “They’re greeeeaaaat!”. Whether you set out Hanukkah candles, breakfast candles, whobilation or advent candles is not the focus. Isaiah said, the people living in darkness have seen a great light. God, knowing your situation, your conflict has laid all the blessings of the table before you, now, in the presence of your anxiety and distress. In the hard place, the narrow place, now the table is set. You can celebrate now. You can refresh and remember now – before the victory is won –because it is finished. Will you wait for Him? Call out to Him? Remember Him? Sup and dine with Him? He has prepared a place and table for YOU, He is waiting for YOU!  O Come, O come, Emmanuel…..

RenaeRoche 2018

Ps. By accident we are having roast beef tonight, the boys are baking cookies for the neighbors and Joe just brought home a dozen roses for the table. God still sets tables, we now await for Him to join us at ours and pray for Him to join you at yours. Happy Hanukkah, Joyful advent and hilarious whobilation – rededicate and wait, you won’t be disappointed.

 

     
So, there is this little town in West Virginia that caught my attention this week – Slab Fork. The Register herald tells us “Just how Slab Fork got its name, though, is uncertain. Some believe it can be traced back to two pioneers from the region’s early history. Legend has it that settlers followed old Indian trails near present-day Mullens, and felled trees and split them into slabs to build a make-shift cabin. Thus the nearby creek was called Slab Fork. “It was one big happy family,” she said. “There were square dances, quilting circles, and church suppers in late summer. It was an active community. Everyone knew everyone else’s family. You watched your neighbors’ children grow up. You knew every person’s name.” [1]

 

That sounds like a place of comfort, a place where mutual support exists. I guess what stirred me was that it seems so different than America does today. We’ve seen times like that in our neighborhood and that I am very grateful for but I wish it was more often and everywhere. The word this week is COMFORT. Community brings that. Christian community can certainly enhance that.

 

David in Psalm 23 says, yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me, thy rod and staff – they comfort me. Hmm. It must mean more than mere discipline or help from falling off a cliff? The word for rod is sebet. It means walking stick which can be used to count and protect sheep – I want to be in that number!

It feels sooo good to be CHOSEN, accepted.

This large stick would ward off bears, foxes and any other predator. It could guide the sheep away from the edge of the cliff and to greener, safer pastures. That correction was meant to bless, not instill fear or injury. The shepherds crook was something to support you or to lean on. It provided relief for the shepherd who could not sit down. These tools would be used to part the sheep’s wool on their backs to check for injury or bugs so it was investigative and medicinal. The crook would allow a small lantern to hang from it so as sunset came and the shepherd walked his sheep back to the fold they would be able to see the path ahead and follow their shepherd in the dark. The tools guided and led the sheep, correcting missteps and redirecting when the sheep went astray. Their journey was not led by their desires or whims and wishes but overseen by a loving shepherd whose purpose was guiding them home. What great comfort that they could lean on his wisdom, lean on his care and trust his authority.

 

The opposite of comfort is anxiety, irritation and distress. God’s heart for his sheep is that they be consoled, refreshed, restored and calmed. He does that by keeping us on his path rather than our own or the way of the world. That takes directive action at times but it prevents cliff hangers and falls that could prove deadly. In the moment we don’t like correction, redirection or being detained but when we see where we could have fallen, where we could have ended up- that is life giving. Comfort can be what we missed or what was provided, it is about the care of the Shepherd.

While researching comfort the ad for Southern Comfort liquor came up. The founder states that his brand originated on the banks of the Mississippi and that there are “ None genuine but mine.” 

Genuine is an interesting word for something that makes people act anything but genuine. I struggle to not quote the statistics that hard alcohol is present in almost all assaults. This alcohol is 100 proof which means it is 50% alcohol. I won’t get into the arguments about sipping saints as we are technically free in Christ to drink but we are also free to enter rehab, die of liver cirrhosis and free to live lives of addiction. I’ve never met anyone that could pinpoint the moment they went from recreational drinking to becoming an alcoholic. When we turn to other “comforts” (shopping, drugs, gambling, gossip) the Bible calls that idolatry and I’m not sure I want to go down that slippery slope. Thirsty can be solved in other ways and even as I write this I feel a rod of let’s go a different direction. That Shepherds crook keeps us on the straight and narrow, sober, free and able to follow the shepherd, even in the valley, even in the dark. What rod or staff is God using to hold you back from something dangerous today and are you allowing that to protect or guide you?

God uses many methods to shepherd His people. His ways look like support and assistance. Back in the day there were no wheelchairs or walkers. When Joseph leaned on his staff it meant the blessing was a coming. What do we lean on for comfort? Who do we go to, to be counted and accepted? Where do we run in times of fear, darkness or trouble?

 

Remember that cozy little town of slab fork I mentioned above? It’s on route 54 down there by the river. That town produced a singer –  a psalmist like David who also sang about when we are weak we need somewhere sturdy to lean. His name is Bill Withers and he wrote the song, “Lean on me”. Some of those folk’s efforts to bring comfort to one another extended beyond their own hands and reached a nation. How are we bringing comfort to those around us and will it be comfort that lasts? When it points to us it can become idolatrous but when it points to the Shepherd it can be life sustaining. Are we like the Great Shepherd, bringing guidance and comfort? 

 

So, dear friends to quote a slab fork resident, sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow, but if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow. Lean on the one who is sturdy, knows the way, is the Way and wants to bring you home. We all need somebody to lean on. The best somebody is Jesus – the same yesterday, today and forever. His rod, His staff – they’ll comfort me, they’ll comfort you.

Walking the path with you,

RenaeRoche2018

 

 

[1] https://www.register-herald.com/news/lifestyles/slab-fork-once-bustling-coal-town-forged-bonds-that-live/article_eb058ddc-41b7-5648-bf40-e499f8edca75.html  accessed 11/2418.

 

We have been looking at Psalm 23 , which was intended to be an exegetical study to bless others. It has become a living scripture in our lives which was a bit uncomfortable this past week. Wednesday night on the way to church our van window refused to go up (broken generator). We wrapped it with Saran wrap which partially shielded the 15 degree weather. On the way home a big owl flew into the top of the van. Crunch. It was dark and cold and I don’t hunt but I think the wild game is supposed to be the target and not the family within the vehicle. Remember those flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz? It felt kind of like that. Then, as I pulled off the highway and drove through city roads  a big caramel colored buck jumped over the front of the van. It was so close you could see  muscles and the fur on his back. He barely missed the windshield.  We were snuggled in blankets listening to KLove and just kept moving forward. It was strange. We had determined not to miss church that night. It was well worth the drive, even though the ride home was a bit scary.

Fear comes in many shapes and sizes. My oldest son said one of his friends is afraid of split ends. My youngest is no longer afraid of monsters but hates the camel crickets that jump around the garage when the cold draws them in. My hubby is afraid to play millennial monopoly though I keep asking him to. I’m not a fan when it comes to snakes or popping out biscuits from those vacuum pressured cans. Yesterday I cooked up a mess of fried chicken and my fears of hot oil were realized when some splashed on my fingers leaving painful burns. Hearing one of the boys say it was like having a reality cooking show in the kitchen made it worth the while. Smile. He likes fried chicken too. My mama was right to teach me to have a healthy fear of certain things. Some fears are rational and some are irrational. I love crowds but have friends who are terrified to go out on Black Friday. I tell them I am more afraid of retail price but that does not help them. We all have our unique phobias.

So, knowing we could panic in danger, why would a loving Shepherd lead someone into a valley? This part of the Psalm is odd. The shepherd did not have GPS, but he had experience. It seems this was intentional. It does not say the valley of death but the shadow of it. Researching landscape in the Bible, there are many hills, mountains and terrain mentioned. Valley in this particular Psalm scholars think refers to a steep gorge (cut by water). It would take skill to navigate little hooves to travel on. I’m from the Dakotas so open meadows seem like a better place to take sheep to frolic – until the sun is at high noon and super hot. David’s context was not cool. This type of valley is a place where waterways come together – not a torrent but a crossing. That combined, still, water would be fresh, clear and easy to drink. Not a sip, but a saturation.

Could it be that the Shepherd lead them there to satisfy their biggest, greatest thirst? Was the bigger danger, not being saturated? Undistracted, silent, focused – quenching and satisfying. Could it be that he was not looking at the height of the rock but the treasure of the water? Taking them low would saturate them enough to let them walk for a long time. Would they gently bathe in it as the waters swirled around, unafraid of being whisked away in that low place? The lower you go the harder it is to fall and you can drink, drink and drink some more. I’ve always looked at the scary things around that valley, the rugged rocks, the high places, the darkness of the journey, but that is not where the shepherd is gazing. What is in that valley that drew a shepherd to bring his sheep there? It had to be something life-sustaining and worth it in the long run.

Is what is on the other side of that valley worth the walk, the journey, the saturation? Is our desire for what’s on the other side deep enough to cause us to want to prepare for it? Wait for it? Be filled for it?

A shadow is something that blocks out the light, it obliterates the view of other things. I’ve always thought the shepherd was leading them thru danger but he was also leading them away from the scorching burning sun. Temporarily the dark cliffs would give shadow, block to the wooly, heated sheep. A shade in the day time is helpful if you are hot, dehydrated and weary. No air conditioning, no professional stalls, just jagged rocks blocking the sun and shading your drinking spot. Your companion, a trusted navigator, guide and friend. waiting to bring you to the other side.

Last week we talked about paths of righteousness. Is the thought furthered by telling us the paths the shepherd leads us on are for our good? No matter how scary they are to us or others? To satisfy and nurture and satiate us? There is something in that valley that will make the mountain tops easier to balance, endure, climb? As a metaphor and literally– Jesus is the path, the path to and the guide on the path. The shepherds leads us to the path through the valley – for our benefit and not our harm. He would not take us down this path if he thought it would harm or permanently damage us. It is not a final or permanent place, this valley is a resting place, a place to not stop but to walk through. It is only deadly if we stay in it. When night comes, no man can work, no sheep can see…  we must trust the shepherd to go in the valley and we must trust the shepherd when the sun is setting to come out.

I will fear no evil. That does not mean there won’t be any. David had found that to be true in the face of a lion and bear. His trust was not in his own deliverance but the delivering One. It’s been said that he looked not at Goliaths chest but above Goliaths head where the King of the Universe ruled and reigned. David’s destiny was decided when he picked up those smooth stones and put his trust in the God who formed them. It was not his strength but the Lord’s that he was counting on.

1 Peter 3 uses Sarah as an example of this type of trust , “like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” The opposite of fear is faith. While fear can come on us at any time and there are millions of things that can potentially make anyone afraid, faith is something we can take part in and can increase or decrease its impact. Hebrews 4 tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. To me, it seems that our level of hearing and reading the word can directly impact our ability to counter or resist fear. Getting in the word for a minimum of 30 minutes a day at the very least keeps our perspectives on God instead of our culture. It washes us of negativity, cynicism and unbelief. When we focus on faith instead of fear, we turn up our trust in God.

When we focus on faith, we turn up our trust in God. That reduces our fear.

I can’t fight fear on my own strength because my strength levels wax and wane. When there is a big spider in the house I don’t freak out. I’m not afraid of them because I have 3 guys who live with me who have a bigger shoe size than I do. Bam, what? Spiders are not my problem, the bigger shoe will win every time. Because I travel with 6 feet of shoes with broad spider crushing capability, I do not worry. I relax because there are bigger shoes to do my crushing. A joke on the internet says, “Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “There is nothing to fear but fear itself … and Chuck Norris.” We can wrestle fearing fear or turn it over to one who can FIX the fear. I fear no evil because God is bigger than anything I will face – EVER.

There was a story of a woman who went to a psychologist with a fear of monsters under her bed. The professional stated he would charge $100 to help her over several months period of time. She canceled her appointments later that day telling him that when she told her husband the cost of this “solution”, he took a saw to the bed, dropping it to the floor. “There, he said, “now there is no room for monsters to crawl under it anymore.” Problem solved. Sometimes we need to replace anxiety with Awesome – when God comes near, the God of the universe, all lesser gods must bow. Faith says He IS WITH US, therefore we won’t be shaken. (Disclaimer: some phobias do need professional assistance. This was an illustration  only and not to discourage getting help where needed.)

Josh Baldwin sings, “My fear doesn’t stand a chance when I stand in Your love.” We trust that God’s presence guides us to good places, we trust the guide to the path is also on the path and Lord of the path. His presence makes the difference. Michael Smith sings, “It may look like I’m surrounded but I’m surrounded by You – this is how I fight my battles.” What psychologists and preachers and parents may have tried to tell us for years is being boldly proclaimed by worship leaders today. Maybe we forget that David was first a Psalmist – an in his day, popular, Israelite you tube, instrument playing, hippie that gained traction and then became King. Zach Williams, a modern day psalmist summarized I will fear no evil for his modern day audience- “Fear is a liar”. What we will trust, what we will follow, what we will worship is the One who stands with us and THAT is the WHO that causes us to fear no evil. Thou art WITH me.

When we walk with the Shepherd we have a choice to make – do we follow and listen to Him or the fears that circle around us? Both can’t exist together. Who will we fear? What will we feed, faith or fear? I love Francesca Battistelli’s song, “The Break-up song” which is her rejection of her life partner fear to strongly declare, ” I am free and fear, you will never be welcome here.” She has a new love and there is no longer any room for fear.  I wonder if this song, this psalm was what David declared to his little sheep and himself when he was walking along in his own journey? Long before Youtube or radio, David was singing about his fears and the One that made him feel loved, held, secure?

This thanksgiving, ramp up the tunes. Turn up the radio, take out the instruments. It may be that your worship, your songs may be part of the Shepherd leading you to His presence, the watered place to saturate your soul for the next places to climb. Look not at the steep cliffs above but drink in the water below – beside the gentle Shepherd. Time with Him will reduce your (our) fear level and help you trust in the path, the pathway and the path guide. It will give you shade in the heat, life on the journey and companionship for the scary places.

It may look like we’re surrounded Lord (by owls, deer, snake, death, enemies) but we’re surrounded by YOU!  

Giving thanks and praise in the valley,  RenaeRoche2018

 

                                                                     HAPPY THANKSGIVING !!!           

                                                                         

 

 

In a random city, in a random hotel, in a random room, a random housekeeper put a Bible out in front of the TV. The verse, “all my Springs Lord are found in You,” caught my eye. I had been studying Psalm 23 and  where it says He leads us by still waters. It seemed like an inconsequential verse, I didn’t study it or really make any connections. Later that day our family went shopping at one of the best outlet malls  and there was  a little bubbling in my soul. I did not purchase one thing although there were many fine temptations.

You oh Lord will cause us to be guided and lead along the paths of righteousness. The gentle Shepherd uses many things along our path to guide us where He wants us to be. Psalm 139 suggests that He even plants things in our way to blossom just for our enjoyment. A God of joy, that is different than He is often portrayed. He literally sows things that will come to fruition at just the right time. Although the movies cast shadow on our way, causing us to fear what is just right around the corner, the message of Gods’ sovereignty spreads light that He sees what is up ahead. He guides us not only to safety but in ways that will bring us delight.

On the next part of our family get away we chose a hotel that was rated quite high but not a chain hotel. I noticed the butterfly paintings on the wall and it seemed familiar to me. As we swam in the pool I remembered prayers I had prayed for my life back in 2003, prayers for a future family, ministry and God’s will. Other hotels had been built and I had not been back here since then but when I got in that pool I remembered my hearts cry. There I was– 15 years later, soaking in God’s provision, presence and grace. Even when we are unaware of our journey, God takes us along paths of His remembrance. God, you have been so good, answering when I had even forgotten what I asked You.

In that pool came a little family, a mom, dad and baby girl.  The babies smile spread across her whole face and her giggle was amazing. She was so thrilled by the water and the closeness of her family. When her daddy went to the hot tub her eyes followed him. She was unaware of my boys splashing nearby, unaware of the deep end, unaware of the other people as her eyes were firmly fixed on where her daddy had gone, secure in her mamas arms. It was so beautiful. The gentle Shepherd is aware of the dangers around us but we have no need to help Him, our only task is just to keep our eyes on Him. Lauren Daigles new song, “He’s my everything” comes to mind and I’ve been singing it, reminding myself that He is everything that I need.

The word for path in Psalm 23 is ma’gal in Hebrew. I did a skit years ago in church singing “My girl” by the Temptations to remember this verb, talkin bout ma’gal. It does not mean just a pathway to something but points us to the path itself. It is more than a roadway but an entrenchment, a rut. Oh how we resist ruts in our culture but sometimes they are good things – ruts of devotions, ruts of church attendance, ruts of communion. They point us to what is important and keep our feet on level ground, taking us to places that will give us peace rather than injury. Proverbs and Psalms talk often about the traditional way or the paths of peace, the precepts or commands of God’s blessing. Taking the familiar rut or pathway means your oxen or wagons will stay put rather than careening over a cliff or getting mired in mud. Young people often resist these things or mockingly insist that they want to do things “their way”. While creativity and being unique is wonderful, there is time tested wisdom that yields protection that seasoned Christians know not to miss.

The Bible speaks of many paths – Isaiah pointed out making the path straight for Messiah, Romans and the Romans road point us to the salvation of  Heavenly Father reaching out to bring His kids home to Heaven. Here the paths refer to the way the Shepherd is taking His sheep – He knows the terrain best. It could also point to a metaphorical path of justice and righteousness, where measurements and evaluations are holy and fair. No matter the swirl of opinion, no matter the votes of popularity, no matter the shouting of the crowd, the Shepherd causes us to be lead along the path that will bring us safely to Him. Human paths are often not just, consider the political atmosphere. Human paths are often not inclusive; consider the division of families, churches and governments. The One who has the government upon His shoulders, reigns from a Heavenly perspective and is justice personified. This  is the very same One that guides us on the pathway and brings us into that “rut” of a path, even though we are pulled by our own weights and burdens to lean other ways.

 This all sounds wonderful but what if this is just for other sheep? You know the white fluffy ones or the black silky ones or the ones with ribbons around their necks? If it isn’t for all, the path wouldn’t be just or righteous would it? John 10 tells us the Shepherd knows His sheep.

Tim Tebow is known for his excellence in football and the crowds can count on him pulling through, even at the last minute to win a game. God, has never failed, never lied, never dropped the ball – throughout history. So, David, not a subscriber to cable television and only knowing his success with bears, lions and giants tells us – God leads us in these paths for HIS names sake. After all, His reputation is at stake if He does not guide, lead and bless you. Puts a high premium on Christians fanning the flame of success for other Christians rather than chewing them to death doesn’t it?

God’s reputation is on the line and He is competent and capable to lead us. When we stay on those paths we also bless His kingdom – for our lives and for other sheep. Lord, help us!

Lord, today we look not to the left or the right but straight up at You. We trust You have our best interest and Your kingdom at heart. You have been good and faithful throughout time and we choose to trust You today, no matter what shadows lurk around us. You know our end from our beginning and our days are in Your hand. Lead us gentle Shepherd. We cast our burdens on You today, not wanting them to sway us off of Your path. Keep us in the narrow Way. You are our everything and give us everything that we need. Thank you Lord Jesus.

RenaeRoche2018

 

 

So last week we talked about the massive way that God refreshes our soul. It thrilled me that God is so actively involved in that process. I left something out though, kind of like the ham at Easter time or the tree at Christmas. It was important but I wanted to save it for today.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul. (Literally returns it back to Himself).

We discussed the verb and its intensity. Did you know the actual word there is not the word for saturation or rest which you may have suspected. These minutia like details might bore some but if you get a hold of what it means it will cause you to shout. It’s so awesome I feel like it shouldn’t be just released on a blog for free. Of course I did not pay for it with my life and it’s not my idea so I can’t contain it. What would happen if everyone got a hold of this word? People would get saved, rush to church, get ready for Heaven. Hmm?

Refresh here does not mean restore like you would stretch out a sore muscle. It’s thought is more like you would restore an old piano to it’s original intended condition. It comes from the Hebrew word SHUV. Walter Kaiser Jr. when he preached in the chapel at Gordon Conwell used to say the people in the book of  Jeremiah needed a “shuv” in the right direction. That’s how I remember this word. It’s a word of repentance, a word of going back HOME. It means that you don’t keep walking in the way you are headed but you turn around and go back to the beginning, back to Homeplate, back to creation and the Father. To be refreshed and restored fully as David was and in the way David meant was to return Home – justified, sanctified, saved and whole. Why? Because that is the ONLY thing, the Only way possible that we can ever have a fully refreshed soul. Hallelujah! Being right with God is the best refreshing, restoring experience one can have in life.

Lord, remove the dross, the sin. Lord remove the critical spirit, the cynicism, the sarcasm, the hate. Lord remove what makes us bitter, calloused, angry. Lord apply your payment at Calvary for our sin, make us whole again.

We do not go forward on a trajectory of self improvement or self-fulfillment no matter what the big convention center preachers say. We get restored, returned and fashioned back into God’s original design for us because it’s all about being part of God’s plan and Kingdom, not just a better shinier us.

It is God that restores my soul. Not my neighbor who may see sin in my life. It is God that restores my soul – not the deacon or the preacher or the choir director. They can challenge, redirect and refresh but only God can bring us back into right alignment with Him. Maybe He does it because He knows where we have strayed, been broken, injured, wounded or just gave up. He brings us back, the One who is the Alpha and Omega, Author and Finisher. The One who promises to complete in us what He began in us. That doesn’t mean others won’t help us along the way but if returning to Home base is God’s goal I am truly and deeply thankful that it is HIS work, and not just my own. Isn’t it weird that others think they know exactly what we need when only God can fill in the ditches of our heart?

Hubby and I joke that the reason Jesus is coming back to get me is that if He didn’t I would probably be late, or in the wrong city or perhaps waiting at the railroad station for my ship to come in. He knows my days and what it will take to present me blameless before the Father. It’s His work, start to finish.

Bring us home Lord, bring us back to You- Your will, Your plans and Your heart. Restore, return our souls to YOU. We’ve been waiting, longing for You God and deeply desire to be connected with You once again. Amen.

RenaeRoche2018

ps. We just got a copy of Lauren Daigle’s CD “Look up Child” at Hobby Lobby. It is amazing and will redirect your gaze to HOME.

 

 

Recently I have found myself laughing – belly laughing, the kind that shakes your stomach so hard it cracks through stress and any tightness left there by worldly situations. One of the memories that make me laugh like this is from a story when we were pastoring and had a surprise visitor who spoke Spanish. I tried to translate. I shared a story about making my kids breakfast – eggs and bacon. I was attempting to stress the importance of devotions before breakfast as a helpful discipline. I said it reminds you what to be “hungry” for, and its priority in the day. Instead of saying huevos (eggs), I said cervasas (beer). It ended up being a funny, embarrassing story but it connected us through laughter.

This week I have been laughing at myself again. I wrote the last blog about being persistent. Then I forgot to write the blog the next week. I’m not exactly sure why that happened but although I can follow through and believe in doing what we commit to do, there are times when the Lords’ “pause” is more important. That shouldn’t happen very often or we would never get anything done but His plans are better, higher, greater and much more effective. The pause was fruitful. The pause was refreshing. The pause had purpose.

Psalm 23. Just a little song passed on by David that is read at funerals and memorized by school children. I read it again this week. My mental cartoon character Sharon the Sheep went driving to the grocery story to get groceries. Wait… sheep don’t know how to park in a parking space at grocery store. Smile. How will they go in the sliding glass doors or even open a bag or oranges? Impossible. I thought of Sharon the Sheep wearing a pearl necklace trying on clothes at Dillard’s. Wait, sheep would fall on an escalator, they can’t go clothes shopping easily. Who will zip their zippers or button their blouses? Sharon the sheep would have an awful time baking cookies even with a Martha Stewart recipe, because her wool would be highly flammable near a hot oven. Sheep don’t have opposable thumbs so they can’t fix their own hair. Sheep need a lot of assistance, helpless, cumbersome and fluffy.

Because the Lord is my shepherd – I lack or want nothing.

Before I have a need He has met it. He gives us constant assistance, constant care, constant compassion, regardless of need. I want lots of things but I lack none of the things I truly need because my Shepherd is watching out for me in all things. That reduces much mental and physical striving.

He makes me, actually causes me to lie down in green pastures. Translation: where I can get good meals, snacks and provision. This is even when I have other plans, other agendas, other goals. His main purpose for me is not ministry or even serving my family. Manjia, manjia! Like an Italian mama filling her boys with pasta and sausage, the Lord’s prime desire is that we are filled with Him before we enter our day- His day.

 

Our Shepherd aggressively, completely and whole-heartedly with passion, wisdom and skill, leads us.

 

When I was in college I took an exegetical class in Hebrew. My patient professor knew I was scared to be in the class. It was mainly male students in the class. My first test I failed miserably. He brought me into his office and I fully expected him to say, “You need to go home girl, this is not your cup of tea.” It felt like I had disappointed my denomination, my church, my parents and I felt dumb, thinking I could ever study with the caliber of students called to this seminary. I packed up my carel and trudged to his office to hear the news of my demise. He showed me my test then said, “Go have lunch and come back this afternoon and I want you to take it again.” I slowly left his office; however, I did not eat. I put my head down on my desk in the basement of the library and cried, telling the Lord I desperately wanted to reach the nations but it would have to be as a prayer warrior because this was not for me. Later that afternoon I went back in and took the test, this time making a B plus. Performance anxiety gone, fear of failing already actualized, absence of handsome good smelling student sitting by me and the sun in a calmer place, I had passed! I couldn’t believe it. I wish I could say I elegantly thanked him for his understanding and went to study. What that moment meant to me was not a Hebrew test but a gateway door that maybe; possibly, I could serve the God I loved. It was big. I ran into the hallway and did a perfect cartwheel, jumping up and down like a high school cheerleader. They probably passed it off that it was some Pentecostal expression but it was sheer hope and delight. My professor did not release me to get off the path but redirected my focus so I could stay on the path. I think he wanted me to be able to read the Bible for all it was worth and press in. Smile. I’m thankful for his guidance to this day. We can trust the Shepherd that guides our path. The word tells us we go from glory to glory and He is guiding that.

The word for water here is mayim. Heaven is shemayim – a place John would later describe in Rev. 14:2 as a place of many waters and Ezekiel 43:2 expressed as Gods’ voice being like rushing waters. When your only water spot is in the ground or in the Heavens, you realize how important this Shepherd is that is leading you. He knows where these watering spots are and that becomes really important. We need this Shepherd to strongly lead us, because the ordinary path leaves us dry, dusty and weary. Dehydration spiritually means the difference between life and death.

 

This is the point of the blog this week, this next verse –but let me explain why first. In Hebrew there are verbs and then there are verbs on steroids. If I whisper a hello that is like a regular verb. If I stand on a mountain, using a sound system with a megaphone and thousand voice choir to scream emphatically a shout of hello – that is an intense verb (polel).

            He refreshes my soul is that type of verb.

 

Yoga can’t do that. Meditation can help but it can’t do that. Medicines may support some system but it can’t refresh that deeply. My Shepherd massively, intentionally, continually, effectually refreshes my soul. Saturated, anointed, blessed, calmed, watered – that is what Jesus does to our souls. Oh, if we come near Him, He knows exactly what we need. He touches those deep places of pain; He heals those rejection areas, places a balm on the injured areas nothing else can reach. HE refreshes my soul; HE keeps me going, in spite of anything that has happened in the past, present or future. He is not only able to refresh but super willing to! Wow!

Sometimes, we need to pull away from the routine, the ordinary, whatever anyone else is expecting us to do and just hear God’s voice, feel the Shepherds patting our heads, bringing us to eat what He has prepared. Manjia, manjia little lambs.

 

What is greater in your life that you pause for? What areas of grace do you need to apply as you please God and others? What can be suspended for a minute, an hour, a day in order to make room for God’s providential care or leading? Are you doing good things or God’s things?

 

I want to persist in following Jesus, not my own agenda, no matter how great or BIG that looks like to me or others. My Bible still says that He REWARDS those who diligently seek HIM. If “keeping on” looks more like willpower or spiritual muscle it may be directing us to more ministry – but people style ministry. The Way seems more narrow these days and following Jesus has more tangles and distractions than I ever thought possible. It is way too easy to get distracted by good things rather than God things. I want to persist after the One with real spiritual muscle because He never changes and Eternity is in His hands.

 

RenaeRoche2018

 

 

So, last week I decided to work several days in a row in order to go to a Ministers meeting I really wanted to attend. How hard could it be I thought? So, I ate protein every three hours, took some power naps and pressed in. At the end of my 30 hour jaunt, some minor emergencies happened stretching it  even further. I lived, I pressed in and was feeling very “Navy seal” like until my eyes started to cross, my head started to throb and I realized I was not invincible. After my meeting, which required 11 hours of travel, I returned home exhausted. Monday morning came and I felt more like a grumpy bear lumbering through the woods than a trained minister of the Gospel. The blog which I usually finish Sunday night was just going to have to wait. Alas, my persistence had worn out.

Hunky Hubby however did rest- a concept I’m usually enjoying and nagging him about. He woke up Monday morning refreshed, made a fresh pot of coffee and had 2 roasts in the crockpot by 7:00 AM. Although it was a blessing, something just felt out of kilter but nothing in my soul or spirit wanted to stop him. So after working a long day, I came home and there he was in the kitchen again – my kitchen, making the best gravy I ever tasted. Hmm? Then came the confession: Tonight I was supposed to write a blog about God’s love and persistence but my persistence has run out. We laughed and then he reminded me of the truly great “persisters” in life such as the Navy Seals, trained to resist inertia and defeat by constantly subjecting their bodies to discipline and the elements. “Give up” is not in their vocabulary. We discussed William Tyndale who learned seven new languages and then translated the New Testament. He persisted all the way until they burned him alive – that’s persistence much deeper than me getting up Sunday and going to church without curling my hair!  Then there is Martin Luther who persisted to write the Bible into common language so the world could understand God better. What if he had quit because he was weary? There is a time to quit, but it’s not generally in the heat of the battle. Sometimes it is honorable to quit – but only when the Lord says, not just when our flesh is whining.

What about Gladys Alyard? She had a burning desire to reach Chinese children but was told “NO” by her denomination. So, she went home, pouted and decided to style her hair instead. A thousand times NO! She took a trip to another country to get in a different way, was held in prison, wrecked her feet and then after much more persecution rescued many orphans, leading them to Christ. That’s persistence. The “no’s” merely served as fuel for the fire that propelled her to preach the Gospel.

So, after we have looked at Benevolence, Grace and Mercy the last aspect of love to uncover is persistent love. God’s love is persistent because He planned redemption for us from the minute Adam and Eve sinned, until Jesus died on the cross.  Persistent love is Noah sounding the alarm while pounding nails in the Ark. Persistent love is waiting many years before closing the door of that Ark. Persistent love is Abraham asking God to spare just one more righteous person. Persistent love is Sarah kissing Abraham in hopes of a child. Persistent love is Moses enduring yet another plague. Persistent love is Joshua standing in the middle of the River so the children could cross over. Persistent love is Ruth gleaning in the fields, single and dusty,  Persistent love is Hosea, welcoming home his less than virtuous wife, persistent love is the prodigal father and mother making big meals until they see the light in their sons eyes, persistent love is writing words of love in the sand while rocks are dropping to the ground around you,  persistent love is the woman with the alabaster jar ignoring the mocking laughter even while she served their Lord, persistent love is the parent begging for Tabitha to be healed, persistent love is Jesus driving the slick salesmen out so people can pray, persistent love is being nailed to a cross, persistent love is forgiving all their sins, persistent love is filling the people with His spirit,  persistent love is …  looking for His return.

Our love is only our love as long as it comes from OURSELVES. Persistent love generates from the Fathers heart.  If our love is to be like the Father’s it must come from and be shared through the love of Jesus. The One tempted, but yet did not sin, the One victorious though nailed to a cross. The One risen and victorious in all things. I love this verse: being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil. 1:6.
   When I am weary, exhausted, spent, He will carry not only me but the work God has for me to completion. When my “persistor” is broken, God will persist through me. He’s just good that way. Maybe that is why throughout the Old Testament we are called and encouraged to walk in God’s ways – to stand firm and to keep on keepin on. Or as a dear brother said this weekend, “Keep Going”. We have to let God inspire us and lead us on until God tells us to stop.

Maybe you cannot persist in your love with someone because of rejection, addictions, violence or miscommunication–  but you can still pray. Sometimes broken relationships are not spiritual dilemmas but family system disorders. Maybe it is spiritual warfare. Maybe people are apathetic or just choose to not want to fix the real issues. Whatever the case may be we can look at God’s character and His persistent love as our model.

I like the quote by Elizabeth Edwards that says, “She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” It reminds me of Paul continuing his journeys through opposition, it reminds me of the disciples too timid to continue and then with power and authority declared the Gospel all over their world, persisting until some were burned, some beaten. You may have a test or trial you are facing which could be as intense as what Malala Yousafzei  faced or as small as keeping your homeschooler on track. God sees your struggle to continue. His love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me, is more than a song lyric – it’s true.

I do not know what God has called you to do: perhaps rally for women’s voices in your generation, picket for life, rally for prisoner justice or maybe just have grace to make it through the day. Whatever it is – God will carry you and God will persist through you until it is completed or reconciled.  When our love is broken, disillusioned or challenged we can go back to the source of all life, all love and request His help. Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us,

 “The steadfast love of the Lord NEVER ceases, His mercy never comes to an end.”

RenaeRoche2018

                                                     God is Mercy

The dictionary (Google) defines mercy as compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone when it is within someone’s power to punish or harm them.

Who deserves punishment? The Bible talks about a very real, eternal hell and describes throughout scripture the perimeters regarding who will go there. It seems that is focusing on one thing- separation from God (or lack of intimate relationship with Him) rather than individual sins. Hebrews 4 echos this sentiment when it states, “TODAY, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” Something so large and cruel– is the punishment for those who did not guard their hearts to stay “tender”. Our pastor regularly talks about keeping wiling hearts and that pulls me back to knowing I need to guard my heart because it is very important in God’s economy. Becoming cynical, lukewarm or cold matters to God. When we look away from Him to others actions, we are shaded from the light.

PETA – a group that used to protect kittens and bunny rabbits from “bad people” recently called for the execution  of a dentist who went on a game hunt and got a lion. Actual murder somehow of this man was not alarming to them but hunting a lion was, which seems a bit barbaric and extreme. It reminds me of the recent political debate about the supreme court. The rules were all twisted as people acted out of their fears and agendas rather than with decorum and honesty. We may never know the full story and once again the sides were drawn to such extremes that the whole crowd had mud on their faces. I’m not going to comment on the spectacle but I do want to say that it is troubling that people on both sides, or should I say fanatics on both sides have a bent for vengeance which is crazy making at best. I fear for the lives of everyone involved because the lust for “punishment” and evening the score is at an all time high. People in the marketplace (and perhaps churches or courts) are trying to exact justice from anyone who walks, talks or sounds like anyone in this case that they disagreed with and that is dangerous. It looks like “that person reminds me of this guy/gal so therefore I will take out my unresolved frustration on them.” When we evaluate things with our limited views and then try to bring punishment instead of compassion or forgiveness we might end up punishing the wrong people or persons.

If you go to this link: https://stories.avvo.com/crime/murder/8-people-who-were-executed-and-later-found-innocent.html  you will find eight people who were convicted of heinous crimes, put to death by the courts and then found innocent later. Capitol Punishment is not much of a hot topic in our nation because it does not directly affect the average American. Part of our sinister selves want to see people punished and crimes solved because it makes us feel safer but for the wrongly accused –it’s life altering. The scene at the foot of the cross was like that – the crowds shouting “crucify him, crucify him!” When we get blinded by our own style of justice, when we let our egos get fed by others flaws, when we relish in retaliation we are so far from Christ-likeness, we may never return.

Hear Matt Redmans Song Mercy:

I will kneel in the dust
At the foot of the cross,
                    Where mercy paid for me.
Where the wrath I deserve,
It is gone, it has passed.
Your blood has hidden me.

Mercy, mercy,
As endless as the sea.
I’ll sing Your hallelujah
For all eternity.

We will lift up the cup
And the bread we will break,
Remembering Your love.
We were fallen from grace,
                     But You took on our shame
And nailed it to a cross.   ….

 

The sweetness of mercy, the flowing and cleansing flood of Mercy spills into every arena.

 

If we mock the judges, if we tear down the leaders  (women and men), if we assassinate the character of  priests and pastors (the innocent ones along with the bad) we will become like the days of judges. That fine line between weed and wheat is left to a righteous God who discerns and sees all. Maybe that is why so many priests have fallen and the media have made such a mockery. Some are justly accused and some were made to be part of the news spin and only God knows the difference. When people stop remembering, stop worshiping, stop seeing the One High Priest, they  stop knowing that they, we need mercy. It’s a strategy! People who have no need of mercy and think that they are able to judge all –soon throw off restraint and make retaliation their goal. Retaliation wounds and retaliation kills. Luke 6:36 – Jesus exhorts us to be merciful just as your Heavenly Father is merciful.

 

That should cause people on all sides of politics and religion to pause and pray.

 

This blog usually contains a joke and a few light-hearted anecdotes along with scripture to inspire your week. Today I’m constrained to note the seriousness of the hour. If ever people needed to pray for ourselves, our families and nation it is now. A people who have forgotten mercy, the merciful One, will soon exact their punishment and retaliation without fear or restraint. Innocent people will pay the price for others anger and the bitter tree will bear its fruit.  To hold that back in prayer, to co-labor with the merciful One in this hour is imperative.

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—

yet,        He did not sin. 16    

 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, (He chose to forgive, not retaliate) so that we may receive MERCY and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Cleanse us Lord, fill us Lord, release us Lord we pray.

RenaeRoche2018

 

Genesis 6:8 says that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. In other passages we see Abraham and Jacob and also Joseph finding grace in the eyes of the Lord. This Hebrew word is chen (pronounced hain) and means to find favor, good will and acceptance.

That must have felt special to Noah – ridiculed, hated, mocked and dismissed.

That must have felt beautiful to Abraham – out on his own, wandering and alone.

That must have felt comforting to Joseph – angrily thrown out, cast down, forsaken and imprisoned.

Accepted.

We spent some time by the waterfalls in Bass Pro today. The silence around was calming, the waters in the little pond were still and the splashing of the water from the rocks above brought us into a different place and time to just relax and rest. Now read that again… Noah found grace, favor, acceptance in the eyes of the Lord. Can you hear, feel the similarities in those words? It’s like aloe vera on a sunburn or milk after eating hot peppers. Accepting, favor and goodwill bring peace and they bring rest.

Grace says we don’t deserve anything because we are sinful, wicked and messed up, but we get it anyway. It is like that new song by Mercy Me that says, smile like you just go away with something. Why? Because you just got away with something. Receiving favor or goodwill when it is not deserved feels good and takes us by surprise. This past week I studied benevolence and I love it when God just blesses you for no reason. We experienced this when a family friend took the boys out to play Laser Tag. It was just a joy. Then midweek I had some car issues and part of it was my fault for driving over a speed bump a tad bit too fast. The bill was high but we remembered we had a service warranty package which helped significantly. That is grace because I deserved to pay for it. It was accidental, yet I intentionally drove down a street that was not designed for NASCAR. Grace can come in many different forms. We forget how important grace is until we are the ones in need of it.

This week I was visiting with some young kids. One had never heard the whole story of the crucifixion before. She exclaimed after the story – that must have weally, weally hoit (hurt) Jesus. Another asked how they nailed his head to the cross. I guess I haven’t been in little people Sunday school for a while. Their shock at Christ’s pain and compassion for Him brought tears to my eyes. It was like I heard the story for the first time. I sat back and let the other children fill in the rest of the story in their beautiful and sensitive way of telling it, proud that they had parents who had trained them in this precious story. We certainly do not deserve grace after all of that, yet Christ’s love pours out unmerited favor, love and acceptance. Maybe we don’t hear much about that because it follows after understanding how wicked and in need of God’s grace we truly are on an hourly basis!

Many times we read stories and they become so familiar we don’t really hear them. Consider this story – the adulterous woman kneeling with Jesus in the dirt, for example and we picture ourselves as Jesus, extending grace and those awful, judgy people around her barking out condemning words. However, in reality we are not the extender of grace, we are the ones in need of grace. Whether it is adultery, theft, slander, murder or anything else, it is you and me that stand naked, wretched and in need of any small drop of grace from Heaven. We are not the good guys in these stories; we remain the villain until Christ’s grace is poured out. We need that grace because without His salvation and kind favor and goodwill ,

none of us would have the power to get or stay saved. That is what makes it so amazing.

Space limits a full telling of the story here but if you get a chance, rent or buy the movie John Newton. It is the story of the man who wrote the lyrics to Amazing Grace and tells of his slave trading days. If ever we could see someone who was deep in sin change, it was this man. It gives fresh hope to politics and struggles today because someone was praying for this man and when he was saved by grace it affected an entire nation. We see the story, but God remembers those who interceded for him. Now, it’s our turn to pray and weep for grace to affect souls darkened by sin.

Where have you come from? What gallons of grace helped you to get here? Where are you today? What forms of grace are keeping you in place? Where are you going and what grace will need to be poured out so you feel and know God’s love and favor? I am so glad we are saved by grace. I am even more glad that we can be kept by that same grace until the final day of completion. I was shocked recently to realize that I trust the Holy Spirit to save people but not always to complete the work in them. Same Holy Spirit. The leading and gifting’s follow a person until that final day. Grace is God’s unlimited and unmerited favor. He pours it out – for others just like He has done for us.

Matt Maher sings “Lord, I need You” and there is a line that rings in my heart as I write this “where sin runs deep, Your grace is more, where grace is found, is where You are.”

“Where You are, Lord I am free, Holiness is Christ in me.”  

Acceptance, favor, grace and good-will are awesome in a world that condemns, rejects, categorizes and hates. We need Jesus for salvation, sanctification and just daily knowing that we are welcome in His arms and Heaven. The world also needs to see that.

How can we deny others this same grace that is so freely given to us?

RenaeRoche 2018

Ps. Why did Noah light a candle? Because he was in d’ark. Go shine this week!