Oh, my — I never realized the “play” book God put in place centuries ago so that we could understand Him. He put things down in writing so we could know how to be on His winning team. It’s very basic really and so simple a child could understand yet a scholar can never grasp. To the seeker and true fan, patterns and jewels will be seen. To the scoffer the page is only filled with ink and space. Let’s check out Exodus 1: 

“Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.”  Poor king, he was the one on the throne, but his story revolves around the life of a guy with some colorful threads. Joseph was despised by his family but God had other plans for him.  God likes to write stories on His own timeline. So, the king starts blowing smoke and starts rolling the stone to manipulate people to his way of thinking and to build his own kingdom. He did not read Proverbs 26:27 which says, “whoever digs a pit will fall into it, if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.” When people set out to intentionally harm someone — that never goes unnoticed by a righteous God. So, this king maneuvers a plan to hurt the Israelites, invites others into his scheme (making them complicit in his wickedness)  and then oppresses the very ones who were bringing natural and divine blessing into his country.

The plan was to murder all the baby boys.  

This was the plan to capture a generation, to put the wicked kings’ kingdom in motion. If you want to annihilate a people, don’t go for the ones in the fields, go after their babies. If you wipe out the babies you can guarantee that another nation will suppress and rule them quickly. It’s a strategy right out of the book of Exodus. Wipe out their children and the sheer numbers of the new ones coming in will guarantee their ruler-ship within one generation. This wasn’t the first wicked king that came up with this idea- it was in the play book centuries before him and my contention would be straight from the garden of evil. Going after a nations children is what Hitler did, it was what Stalin did. While no one is watching the inconsequential lives of the children, plans are put in place and nations are altered.

There are some unsung heroes in this chapter. I’ve read this story hundreds of times and skipped over it to get to what I thought was the main thing. In God – ALL involved in the story are His main thing.  Two nurses {midwives in their generation) were skilled at what they did. Seeing life and death makes people become grounded. Focusing on saving a mama’s life creates a strength that cannot be learned in a medical textbook. These women were commissioned to do one thing – bring healthy babies into the world. If you know a nurse you know that they are extraordinarily called. They get up early, work thru the night and do things no one else will or can do. They are a special breed often working undercover.   God has given them a task and they have an incredible fortitude. Anyone who could hear screams and look at blood and guts is tougher than your average bear. It does not matter how much the papas huff and puff or the leaders around them pontificate. Their one task is to see that baby survive and that mama thrive. You do not get in the way of a mama nurse protecting her sheep in labor. Pharaoh made the mistake of thinking they were just silly women holding pregnant mother’s hands. He missed their “Gronk” power. He was looking at the big guys in the field and the little bundles that could easily be tossed away. He did not factor in the call, the virtue, the strength of a couple inconsequential women just going to work every day.

I don’t remember the kings name in this story, but the two nurse’s names were Shiphrah and Puah.  Shiphrah means fair, bright one and Puah means brilliant glittering one, the splendid mouth.  All the verbs in this text are regular but when it comes to the king’s command it is super intense. He was off the charts crazy wanting to kill these children. (Perhaps it was as spiritual as it was mental). These women who are trained to follow protocol disobeyed their leader. It says they “feared God”. To fear means to be in awe of, to reverence and honor. They wanted to follow God more than they wanted to follow a leader who had gone off the rails with paranoia and jealousy. We are not sure if they were single or married but it hints at them being childless and serving the moms. The Bible says that they were summoned by the king to explain themselves. They used wisdom and God blessed them with children of their own. The king grew more agitated and instead of killing babies at birth he ordered them killed after they were born- drown them! . The king with all his authority and leadership got his eyes off building a kingdom to serve others and his jealousy blinded him. Drowning children would be his legacy. Instead of being blessed by the gifted ones God sent –he annihilated them. The midwives on the other hand did not have their eyes on the Pharaoh, the armies, the laws of the land. They were focused on honoring God – no matter what the cost. They were true players in the kingdom and they acknowledged the King of that kingdom.

This weekend as I watched the chiefs and the patriots play I was reminded  of this story. Of course, I cheered for the chiefs since I live  in KC.  They are “our team”. I wear red whenever possible and eat all the crazy “chiefs specials” our city has to offer. I’m a loyal home town fan. I rooted for them and watched every second of the game. However, there was a time in my life when I was in grad school and lived in Massachusetts. I gained something there that remains in my DNA. That “something” caused me to fear the Patriots win. My experience and memory gave me doubt of a sure win.  I kept thinking last week “these people (chiefs fans) don’t know the storm that is coming to our city.” I had watched the Super bowl smack down of 2002, Brady was new, and the Rams were favored to win. It was a Sunday night and the whole church watched it in the parsonage. I was surrounded by people with New England accents who were normally quiet type people. Not that night! The smell of fish was strong on the Cape outside and Clam chowder on the inside. They had braved many a Nor’easter which is a combination of snowstorm and hurricane. These were seasoned men.  

The Rams trained on turf.

It was an amazing game. I think it was one of my first football games.  I’m reminded of a shirt my hubby wears – “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. ” See, the people of New England are not just ordinary. They are THE PEOPLE of New England and they live not in a state but a COMMONWEALTH. They were strong people who broke away from a kingship that suppressed and oppressed them. They value every single person and their unique individual gifts. Because winters were cold, and babies were dying they became FIERCE. Death was part of their struggle and each person and what they brought to the table mattered. The people who founded Massachusetts refused to let their children forget that they had broken free from an oppressive kingdom, they refused to let the lives and deaths of their relatives go unnoticed. All the legal and government documents of Massachusetts are stamped “the COMMONWEALTH” of Massachusetts, you won’t see “state” anywhere. The Patriots are now in a state of – joy.

The chiefs sit in the state of misery this morning and I too grieve with them.  Unlike when the Royals won the championship, last night there was no shouting, cheering and celebrating in the streets. They fought an awesome game, they used every ounce of energy and will power they had. Tom Brady. during the almost physical snowstorm in KC this weekend declared he was the best quarterback ever! He boldly declared he could face ice and snow anywhere! He used the oldest trick in the book – get their eyes off the  mission and make them jealous of one impressive player. The Chiefs’ losing point was NOT the last coin toss. It was when they were faked out by Tom Brady, a master at his craft .  You can’t see the whole team when you get mesmerized by one Giant.  Gronkowksi, a resident of the commonwealth came up from the backside several times while the Chiefs and the kingdom were mean muggin Brady. All eyes were on Brady, so the commonwealth came along and did some impressive whoopin. The Chiefs were fighting and playing the illusion of Tom Brady, ….  however, the Patriots were

 

being the Commonwealth team of Massachusetts and together – THEY won.

 

This is why Boston is strong, this is why the Patriots continue to win. Keep whispering about stolen games, unfair this or that and mismanaged players  or calls and bla bla bla. THEY get the ball, THEY run it down the field and THEY win. Touchdown! The other stuff is just  whiny DISTRACTION.  They have learned how to be commonwealth strong and it shows. When every player does their part – the team wins. Mahomes is fresh and awesome but he is not the totality of the team. It takes ALL to make it happen.

The nurses?  They kept their focus on the game and honored God. They influenced from the quiet corners, in the dark while no one was watching. They pulled a Gronkowski.  They were fair, brilliant, shining players. What if they called in sick that day? What if they didn’t like being unsung heroes and changed occupations the month before? What if they got distracted and the mom or baby died? There would be no baby Moses. EVERY player counts because you never know what play the coach will call next or when the game will go into overtime. Only one thing we know for sure – it won’t last forever and every second counts.

Who do you honor most? What spot do you play? Are you aware of your potential for influence? Are you aware of how you can impact your team for good? What if you are the one making way for the next or last DELIVERER?

I read the end of the book. We know who wins. We have a coin toss also – will we choose The Lord to be our head and leader, directing all our plays?  Or will we focus on others and continue to be jealous of those with different gifts? We choose to lose when we hog the ball, sit on the sidelines and do our own thing? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. 

Lord, help us to fear and honor YOU. Help us influence who you want us to. Help us do the things you want us to do. Make us into the team You want us to be. A Deliverer is coming and while we wait we will do our part and

                                                       make way for HIM.

We will be careful to give You all the praise and all the glory, Amen!

RenaeRoche2019

Ps. Our little guy offered a visitor to our home who was fixing our internet a protein bar and water. I told him he had “Gronk power” and helped get the work done. It takes a team – let US play ball!

2019 is here, so much sooner than I thought it would appear! I was vacillating between blogging about Doctrine and going thru the Bible in a year. Since I am in a new position in life I decided to go with the Bible. Many of the people reading the blog are from different denominations so I went with that.

Question: Does God love you more if you have devotions before you go to work or read the Bible in a year? Being the “queen of legalism” (that’s a joke) I’m noticing things I never did before writing a book about Sabbath and grace. Father Abraham did not own a one year Bible and yet somehow he is still credited as being the Father of Faith. Somehow I don’t believe he had the “right translation” of the Bible or those fancy colored markers that make ones salvation just so much clearer. Our youngest son got some pretty awesome tabs for his Bible and before I could show him how to do it the “right” way he put them on the top. I was aghast. It was too late to say anything and like wearing white before Easter weekend it was just out of step. Upon further investigation, it is much easier to put them that way and I think he may have discovered an easier way to find those books. He’s excited to read now.

Some churches are fasting this January. Everyone who has read Jentzen Franklins book knows he is the most amazing writer when it comes to Fasting. Our denominational district pastor wisely suggested everyone fill their lives with scripture and giving to others – a true fast that warms ones heart. Who is right? Both are godly men and both ideas stir up the spiritual engines. Is the sacred January fast a sacred cow for those who “get it over with” once a year? Hmm? I won’t say that is the case for all but I think it can become that if that is the only time we focus on prayer or humility. We cling to what we think will make God happy with us. I’m picturing a large volcano and some guys with Hawaiian shirts chanting, we must sacrifice MORE. When will enough be enough? Enough devotions, enough reading, enough fasting, enough scripture printed clothing? NEVER. Maybe that is why pastors are reciting doctrine this time of year – we are justified by Faith. Not Bible memory (although that is really good), Bible gluttony (truly it leads to faith in spite of the excess) or Bible sharing (evangelism is rarely a bad thing). Where is the tension between doing all this wonderful spiritual exercise to make room in our hearts for a holy God vs. spiritual gymnastics that just shake the weight around? When I’m fasting the discipline is ultra spiritual and awesome. When I’m not I’m annoyed by others “success”. It strikes me as being ironic or funny that Christians compare their rituals in January but other rituals (Sabbath, communion, foot washing) are legalistic or unnecessary during other months. The glorious Bride is still precious to Jesus. Thank God!

I want to be a “good” Christian. I want to decrease so God will increase.  I want to hear amazing things from God’s word. There’s lots of “I want” in those sentences. Sigh. God wants to be close with us. God wants us to know Him. God wants to share secrets with us. Do we realize the many things that are “our” rituals vs. things that God is wanting or leading us to do or hear?

This year my family is asking God to help us stand in the gap for others to get breakthroughs and encounter God in new and fresh ways. Personally my word will be GRACE. Grace for the journey and especially Grace to get with God. I don’t want to live life as an American Christian. I want to live life as someone who is following Christ, living life according to HIM, rather than rituals, traditions or rules. We have banned the word “should” from our home and we are asking God to tell us His will instead.

Example: I wanted to start reading the Bible front to back. The first weeks have slipped away and now the schedule does not “fit” into any reading plan. Everyone else has a plan for me. I want God’s plan. I don’t want to randomly pick scriptures for my agenda. I decided to read every day as much as possible and blog what God lays on my heart for that week. You are welcome to join me and even write part of it.

This last week we were in Genesis. The oldest son read to us about Noah. He didn’t say much except, “Big Boat mom”. Being a former seminarian I guess I was expecting a theological treatise on covenant. I was so glad Noah was an old man when all this took place. If he was a teenager it would have went something like this: “God, how about a smaller boat? I hardly think we need all that space. If we did a few adjustments we could make that thing really hum, what do ya think? We’re laughing about that but God had a specific will and pattern for Noah’s life. If he had followed “culture” or the church of the hour Noah would have missed God’s will for his season. What if Noah’s wife had weighed in on his supposed legalism in building everyday? Noah, really no one else has one of those in their yards and the Jones’s are never going to invite us over if you keep hammering all day. The church leaders think you need to usher instead of building Sunday mornings and I can’t join the ladies group if my husband isn’t involved in the men’s stuff. Why should we make that crazy portable altar when there is a perfectly good one down at the church? Did you just feel that? It was like water, it landed on my head?

The other child in the family was reading about the universe being formed. God, put the stars in place. He not only numbers them but gave them a certain place to shine. He also knows then where it is dark or going to be dark. I secretly wonder if God’s promise to Abraham was more than just a multitude- but placing them in key places to bring light to the world. I had been reading: Phil. 2:15. It says “that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons and daughters of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.

While we all want to follow God, He has created us for certain tasks, in certain areas, for certain reasons unbeknownst to us – or other believers. In the beginning, God created. Divinely made – divinely placed – for a divine reason, only God may know or understand. I also wonder if the importance of resting and enjoying God is also to find out the how and why of shining in our season. Let’s lay down our rules, agendas, rituals (and fears) and direction this year and take up Gods heart. See Psalm 8:3 and Job 38:7 for inspiration for what that may look like.

Lord, Begin in us this year…  Your will, even for things like devotion, worship and praise. Begin in us this year… Your plan for what we build and how we build. Begin in us this year … Your plan for how we multiply and shine.  We’ll be careful to give you all the glory and all the praise.

If the stars were made to worship, …..so will I.

Shine on, RenaeRoche2019

 

A little boy grew up, favored by his mom and dad so much so they gave him a special coat. He was hated by his half- brothers. Early on in scripture we see a blended family and this chosen little boy forced to be a suffering servant. Joseph, once secure in his parents love was snatched away and served a King in the land of Egypt. Surrounded by pagans and astrologists and magicians, Joseph learned the culture and brought deliverance to the kingdom because of his wisdom and the King of Heaven he proclaimed. Favor came to the entire land because of this God that Joseph served. After the telling of a few prophetic dreams, God used Joseph as a wise man. His family was treated as special guests and honored in the midst of magicians and Egyptian royalty.

Just a few centuries later, the Israelites were being treated as slaves. The tide had turned and no longer were the Israelites welcome in Egypt. One Hebrew family had a baby boy and had to hide him from a violent king who murdered all the male children. He was pulled out from the water, between the reeds. His Hebrew parents were scared for his life and what would happen to him. He was rescued by a Kings daughter and given royal privilege. Later on this same boy would grow to be a man and in the midst of many magicians prove to Pharaoh that deliverance had come to God’s people. The magicians had competed time and again, taunting with their authority and powers. Moses left Egypt with many gifts from the neighbors. Moses, trained by secular people brought the people from Egypt to worship the Lord. Where was God in this? It seems unfair that this Hebrew boy bowed at the feet of Egyptian royalty when he was God’s chosen one. Both of these sons were born to Hebrew parents, both were in Egypt and had dreams, encountered magicians and secular training was a part of their history.

Remember the original search for a wise bachelor? Serving for the right reasons, specifically with the heart goes way back. There once was a young, wise royal woman from the East who fell in love with the supposed “wisest man in the world.” She came to visit on a camel bringing treasures of gold, spices and jewels. Extra biblical writings suggest that Solomon would not accept this woman’s gifts—he wanted more than her prizes, he wanted her heart to turn to his god. How could such a request be made and why would one’s heart condition be of any significance to a wise king? What would be more important than gold, spices or jewels? The Queen of Sheba and her influence on wisdom and culture would long be remembered. That encounter impacted Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It was a set-up.

Consider Daniel. His parents must have been proud of their son, hoping God would use him. Then one day an evil king abducts him and he gets enrolled in Babylon University. His culture changes, his food, clothing, friends and everything his mama warned him about. It was a non-prophet school and Daniel had to live incognito regarding everything holy. The homeschoolers back home were freaked out and no one thought anything good would come of this season, how could it? Add in some dream interpreters, magicians and astrologers and the young God boy was all but destined to blend in with the crowd. After studying Aramaic and being mentored by Babylon’s wisest men, how could Daniel prevent seeing his new culture as the best? Yet, somehow he ends up seeing a different outcome – Lions so full they can’t eat and angels so saturated they don’t catch on fire. Why do the wise men not understand this stuff? We hear of Daniels outcome but what of these wise men that Daniel influenced? He became a teacher and had an impact on the magicians due to his wisdom and prophetic interpretation. But then what?

Fast forward to a new little blended family with big plans for their son. Wisdom was not the first thing written about the little tyke. Instead we hear of angels singing of His arrival. Shepherds nursing their little sheep on a hill outside of Bethlehem and family love came first. The murderous actions King Herod did, must have struck a nerve in Hebrew homes though and then there’s the wailing echo of Rachel crying through the ages for sons slaughtered without mercy. The fulfillment of everything Isaiah ever hoped for would have resonated with the Jewish families.

Next when the little child was a probably a tween, the Magi come riding in on camels.  Were the magicians and astronomers any relation to Pharaoh’s court jesters? Were the men bringing gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh in anyway connected to those who served in Joseph’s court? Were they more magicians, wise men, astronomers or Kings? Or a combination of all three? History is very silent on this. We do know they were not Pure Bred Hebrew people. We do know they were not expected or necessarily invited. Scripture almost hides their existence other than the basics. They knew about stars, royalty and had a pretty good GPS system. These wise fellows (and possibly females also) came not to offer their wisdom but to worship the One they deemed wise. Magicians are not typically welcome in Jewish homes yet these wise folks came to offer their worship and in the very first years of this little babies life we all get a window into what conversion looks like. The hopes of Joseph, Moses, King Solomon and Daniel, the light they shone in the darkness, the witness they were in secular society, becomes real. Were they placed in these secular bastions of darkness for this moment? Was all that trial for this testimony, all that mess for this message? One day… the royalty will bow down to the Hebrews, you just wait. But it wasn’t at a throne, but a manger, yet He was certainly a king.

Today is Epiphany. It marks a week of celebration. It is a time that the world celebrates the families not part of God’s original chosen to welcome the Savior, Deliverer and King. This is Christmas in most countries. Not one day to receive gifts and sing Silent Night but a week of festivities and joy to celebrate a wise King born to all – joy to the WHOLE world, the Lord for US has come. It is a message about joy coming to the astronomers, fortune tellers, magicians, pagans, gentiles and all the wisest men and women secular institutions can train. That means there is hope for them, and the smelly likes of you and me. Don’t you just love Jesus more knowing that while he was still a youngster – foreigners; magicians and not your typical church going type folks were welcome in His house? Did he tell them stories of  Joseph, Moses and Daniel? Did it happen between demonstrating the floss and bemoaning teenage acne or after his mom told him to clean up his room? This odd collection of worshippers is hidden in most Christmas stories but I think worth celebrating. What kind of party would that create? The next story of Jesus is Him training with those in the Temple – not learning secular culture or their ways but teaching them His. His suffering would come after, not before.

The tree can stay up another week, there is grace for that. To be “biblical” about Christmas it’s time to welcome the unusual who also want to worship. It’s time to make room for those bearing gifts seeking someone wiser than themselves. People that can’t be bought with gifts but people who want to turn to the King. Conversion showed up at the Christ child’s home- long after the manger. Will it show up at your house? Will the story continue in your hearts and include those along the path of history just watching and waiting to see how God redeems this group of people? This baby drew a diverse crowd. This baby brought families together from centuries prior to His birth. What we do today and tomorrow will unfold next Christmas, for Jew and Gentile. Welcome to Christ, welcome to Worship… let’s get this party started!   RenaeRoche2019

 

 

We have come to celebrate; we have come to sing of Your great power and the greatness of Your love. In the house of the Lord, where Your children come to dance and sing. Do you remember this one? I don’t know what you’ve come to do, I’ve come to praise the Lord, I’ve come to lift Him up, I’ve come to stomp for joy…  Or Carmen singing, “Who’s in the house?” JC!

The last verse of Psalm 23 is our last verse for the blog this week and also the last one for this year – 2018. Last year at this time, I was just starting a sabbatical and looking for a way to reach out to those I have discipled or befriended during the years of ministry. I started this blog just to reach out to a few people on Facebook and now over 38,600 people have visited the site. The widget says since 2014 but it was added just last December. Thank you for visiting. I can’t believe that a little step in faith reached people around the world with the Gospel. It cracks me up because media people know that this is not the form that is popular or recommended yet somehow God is using it. Shout out to the folks in Greece who keep trying to sell me stuff, the Russian porn ad guy who may have gotten saved and the countless people who offer their editing services. You just never know who is paying attention.

Our Christmas decorations are still up as this year we experienced Advent and are heading towards the Epiphany day, fully ready to discover the Magi anew. I welcome the excuse to keep the lights and tree up. Our Advent ring burned up one night when the Christ candle got too hot. It sure made the holiday more interesting when we discovered it wasn’t just the toaster setting off the fire alarm! O holy night, the candles were brightly shining, it was the night of fire alarms and mirth.

 My family had quite the time this year as our wonderful neighbor helped put up our lights. We added a gold, light- up, metal angel in the front yard. She’s beautiful and people keep stopping to take pictures. Or at least we think that’s what they were doing. Hubby Joseph was busy getting ready to enjoy the Christmas vacation and holiday when the angel face planted in our front lawn, bending the tiny tent stakes that came with her original packaging. For days, there she lay, our kids and others making jokes about her late night habits. It was really weird to defend a metal angel and her integrity but I still tried. I suggested using a plunger, crutch, broom, marshmallow stick, etc. to keep her upright, much to my husband’s dismay. Twas the night before Christmas and all thru the house not a creature was stirring, except Marvin our mouse. When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter I sprang to my bed to see what was the matter. (Boy, this sounds familiar somehow…) Down went the angel, clattering wings as she went. I knew in a moment the car would have a dent. Joe, I nagged, “we are getting known as the fallen angel house people.” Who wants their house to be decorated with a fallen angel? That’s anti-Christmas like. He replied, “Baby it’s cold outside.” It was cold, windy and dark and our angel looked like she was making snow angels on the ground or worse yet dead. After years of dreaming of a nicely lit house with some type of ornament outside– this was not what I imagined. The next night before supper I gently made a comment about grounded Gabriel. In exasperation hubby got up to go to Home Depot to get big yellow tent stakes while we sat at the dining room table wondering if all the Christmas preparation had finally caused the ol papa unit to snap. The children singing “Angels we have heard on low” probably was overkill.  I think I mentioned it probably one to many times this season. I just could not bear being the “house of the fallen angel.” Then, one morning our family was having devotions in Revelation and we read Revelation 7:11, “All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures.

They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God.”

 

“Mama, my little boy cried out – our angel is doing exactly what she is supposed to! That’s what they do in Heaven – fall down before the throne worshipping God.” Alas, we are a household of proper theology in spite of our ornament.  I question whether this is what they meant at PTS to “wrestle with the scriptures.” Lol.

Somewhere between Hanukkah, burning up the advent ring and resurrecting a face planted angel in the front yard we managed to still celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior and navigate family time this year. This last verse of Psalm 23 was especially helpful – “And I will dwell in the House of the Lord – forever.” I hear it will be calm and bright there. Sigh.

That baby in the manger brought forgiveness for our past sins and directs us to our Heavenly home. Families longing for something stable – that’s it. Stability and peace are possible if Christ is Lord of your household. Joseph and Mary were the original “blended family” and because of their obedience and the birth of the Christ child, we have HOPE. That is pretty amazing and worth celebrating. Goodness and mercy are bringing up the rearguard and securing a legacy for all those in Christ. God has our back covered. But what about the future? What does that hold? Many are prophesying and predicting what next year will bring. I never hear anyone say, next year your room will be clean, your tables will be dusted, your kids will do their homework, etc. No, it’s always big crazy stuff because that is what people like to hear. Maybe as Christians we do that too?

God’s house – we often picture Heaven and think of John 14 and that is part of the “future” equation. Do Shepherds raise A lamb or a flock of sheep? A church or household is a group of people that have common interests and goals. They connect and carry one another through the battles. We were planning to go to a district church function recently and ended up staying home because I had to work later than I anticipated. I was heartbroken. We could have rallied but between the holidays, family obligations and general sense to not travel without preparing the vehicle kept us away. I missed the laughter, the scripture, the prayer and song. We could not give or receive and it felt disconnected. Church can be like Heaven on earth, it can be a source of feeding, resting and care/comfort. Shepherds know that there is safety in numbers and that sheep do best when they remain in a flock. Independent “I gotta be me” life styles may seem fun in the moment but doesn’t really bring the peace one needs during a weekday. God brings us to Himself AND into the fold, to dwell with US.

What if to dwell in the house of the Lord meant to be snuggled, nestled in His household (church, people) vs. a physical building or futuristic Heavenly abode? What if part of the Shepherds care for us was to be connected? What if dwelling or living in God’s house was abiding in His presence and with those who call on His name? That would be a daily, moment by moment positional type care rather than just a wish to make it into eternity. Maybe it is both – a heavenly future home and a here and now supportive household we enter in thru collaboration and connection? Whatever the case or location – I want to BE there.

Forever in this verse is literally forever and all days. That is morning and evening- all of them. Not my length of days (because I’m a finite human) but as long as days exist we want to be in the Lords’ presence and in the presence of His people. My household is pretty squirrely, smoky and crazy sometimes but it is awesome to me –because the people I love the most are with me. Heaven will be awesome because the people God loves most will be there. If it refers to the here and now and Christian fellowship – being a sheep in fellowship with other sheep becomes important- eternally.

John Burke has a book out that gives insight into Heaven- Imagine Heaven (Baker Publishing 2015). King David wrote in Psalm 84 how he longed to be in God’s Temple, dwelling in His presence. It seems that those who posture their hearts towards eternity and live among those who long for it, are the happiest and most content. I want to be in that number! I believe the reason Homeplate advantage works for families is because they take time out weekly to remember how real and close Heaven really is. (Homeplateadvantage- Pathway Press and Derek Publishing 2018).

In the midst of our holiday, someone we knew slipped into eternity. The timing seemed odd but on the day that person passed, it felt like Heaven was celebrating. Our focus was redirected and our perspective on what was important drastically changed. I remember walking outside and thanking God for that person’s life and legacy. By accident my cell phone started playing the song, “Well Done” by the Afters. I had never heard it before but it snuck into my heart and danced around awhile. You may like it also, as you refocus 2018 and prepare for 2019. Our Great Shepherd leads us to dwell with Him daily (John 15) and is also actively preparing us to live with Him for eternity. The church is one of the tools He utilizes to do just that.

 

May you find Him and may you find Him in THEM in 2019. That’s Heaven- here and there.

RenaeRoche2019

                                            Psalm 23

If you had ever told me how deep and rich Psalm 23 was I would have believed you because it is a popular Psalm, but I never realized how it could make the character of God and His love for us so much clearer. This week we are looking at the verse:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Absolutely this is what is true, for sure or for certain. Goodness is defined as God’s favor, His best; His MERRY will follow after you. What? Maybe that is just hitting me funny because of all the Christmas trappings. That literally means EVERY day has Merry in it because it is following after us – ALL the days of our lives, even if the tree is packed away for months. For those who fear God, every day with God the shepherd in it has the potential of being merry, favored and blessed. We have to tell someone about this!

I know the general population doesn’t like hearing Hebrew or Greek words even though they explain so much more of scripture. Jackson came home yesterday and was talking about: Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia – it is the fear of long words. I remember when he came home wondering if birds took naps. Words matter – especially if they are about God. One of the words in this verse is “mercy” (in Hebrew  chesed}. It means kindness, love and an outpouring of pity and loving kindness towards the recipient. God is all of that and has all of that for us but in this verse it is put with “follow me” which literally means He is pursuing us, going after with the purpose of catching. The God of the universe is tracking you down to pounce on you and give you smooches, hugs and love. My dad used to called those “lubber dubbers.” No you probably won’t read that in a theology book but it is true nonetheless.  He is pursuing His kids, His love. He has been following after you since you were born, He has been pursuing you since you were born again, He has been trying to catch you ever since you fell, you got wounded, you stumbled. Nothing has hindered Him, prevented Him or made Him turn back. This magnificent Lord and Savior is in pursuit, of you and me. That’s HUGE.

I know this is the Christmas season and a sweet little Psalm on a blog but think of this for a minute. This is the truth of God. It is written in scripture which He authored and shared with us by one of His favorite musicians. Many people fear that people are following them. Some have rational fears and some irrational. There are thousands of stories of stalkers, paranoia, etc. I do not want to minimize anyone’s fears but seriously, what does one do about a loving Lord of the Universe chasing them down?  Why are there not more songs and discussions about HIS pursuit and wild abandon for HIS kids? He’s coming after us… not for judgement and damnation as some would assert but for kindness, goodness, mercy and overwhelming benevolence. You are being watched, followed, and tracked. Do the other stories block the reality of this? Do people like to focus on pathology so much that we obliterate the overwhelming, lavish love of God? This is good news!

So many worship songs have lyrics that talk about our pursuit, our following, and our running after God. I heard on 88.5 this week, “It is not that we have asked God into our lives that matters but that this God has invited us into His.” How do we rationalize, recognize or accept this pursuit of God after US? We pursue holiness, pursue being desperate for His presence and love and many keep running, running, running. What does it look like when He catches us? What if we paused, sat, rested and came to a full stop before the mighty God- daily, weekly, annually? The pursuit started a long time ago.

Would there be more intimacy, grace if we allowed our pursuer to succeed? In this season more than ever we are reminded – Unto us a child is born. Babies change everything and they can’t be jostled around or raced around with but need to be well, held, adored. He went from Heaven, the best and highest place and condescended to earth, not in the form of a trophy but a baby. You don’t run after a baby, you kneel and encounter. The chase has ended; Emmanuel has come and done the race, the heavy lifting. Lauren Daigle in her song, Noel, sings “come and see what GOD has done.” All our gyrations, wishes, wants and desires will never equal the lavish pursuit of the Father or the Son born to die, risen and reigning. Our posture is not to compete or outshine His efforts in pursuit (and each year they get more fancy and extravagant) but REST in His finding us.

The world waiting, groaning, in need of a Savior and deliverer. A holy God waiting through the ages to redeem His wayward children. Then the sky turns white with stars and angelic activity. The Shepherds guiding their sheep in the fields sit down, resting as they view the spectacular view. The angels realize this is the finale, the place of God arriving at the destination. Emmanuel, the pursuing One has now come. He has sought out US, now we posture our hearts and lives before Him to be found. That is powerful! Now the people will see what goodness looks like, they will realize what mercy embodied entails. It will take a trip to the cross, grave and Heaven to fully display it, but we are worth His pursuit. This ONE has come, He has pursued all the way from Heaven  then into the little manger with straw.

We can run to the stable, we can raise our hands in church, we can sing, jump, dance and attend conferences, we can help the rich, save the poor and reach the nations but the God who pursued us from the Beginning has come in the form of a little baby and all we can or need to do is behold Him and realize He has come to build relationship with you and me – if we are willing.

Yes, it is true this Christmas, someone is following you. Yes, it is true there is someone chasing after you and talking behind your back. When you discover it is the Lord, His goodness and mercy and come to realize He has been pursuing you all along, there is only one response, come — be caught. Caught in His love, His power, His grace. Still a pretty good exchange.

Our view of God, including worship, study and general life can radically change when we stop chasing our many viewpoints of who God is or we want Him to be and rest in His pursuit of US. God is higher, mightier, more loving than we could ever imagine. Shepherd is in control. Shepherd is looking out for our wants and needs. Shepherd is doing everything possible to make our life blessed and good. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture so that should not surprise us. Have you met this loving One? He’s love personified. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and we know that best when we turn around and begin to follow HIM.

This Christmas season, and every day that is Merry – let Him catch up with you. Stop running, stop racing, stop speeding and let this God of abundant, magnificent goodness and love catch up with you and catch you in His loving arms. You’ll be glad you did.

Merry Christmas, Renae Roche2018

  • This page has been edited on 12/18/18 to reflect David’s birth family as being blended and the possibility that his mom was different than the mom of his brothers. This is based on extrabiblical accounts and stories and not directly from scripture. 

 

 It’s Christmas time. Do you know what sheep say about all the trappings that have nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas? Baaaaa – hum bug!

Have you ever wondered why God didn’t use the analogy of cats with a shepherd? (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk7yqlTMvp8). Cats don’t herd well; they don’t walk in a straight line along a path…  I think sheep being like us is probably the best idea. They need constant care and love, like us. Some reading this may resist that idea, choosing independence and being tough like rock  people instead. I get it – our culture prizes being super tough and going it alone.

Shepherd boy David — didn’t want to be alone , but his family ostracized him. Long before he was a king or even a shepherd David was trying to grow up right. He kind of, well, um didn’t have all his family characteristics,  if you get my drift. Some have said he was in the field tending sheep because he was called to shepherd or maybe it was his turn but the story behind the story was that he wasn’t fully believed to be a full blooded son and it was much more comfortable to hide him away in the pasture than parade him before the prophet. Rumor was that David had a different mom than the rest of the sons. There was a lot of angst between him and his brothers. Stories outside of the Bible suggest that there might have been more blending to the family. I’ve always wondered why there was no mention of the other relatives. hmm?  God never misses a beat and lovingly includes him in the story of redemption in spite of the local town gossip. This Shepherd boy gets some pretty cool press however when he fights Goliath. The story puts shepherds in a whole new light. They weren’t just “rough guys with cute pets” — they were rugged fierce warriors.

Sheep like  tepid or warm water – or they won’t drink much. They don’t like water to be running or icy and if there is water in their food they will drink less on that day. They drink about 4 gallons of water daily and the poor little muffins; if they get wet they can get soaked and might fall in the water due to the heavy wool which is not really conducive to swimming. If they don’t get enough water they will dehydrate quickly or even die from the heat because water circulating through their bodies acts like an air conditioner  and is essential in hot climates.

Daily watering  for sheep is not just a good idea; it is the difference between life and death.

Lastly, without water the nutrients wouldn’t flow thru their body and the food would sit in their digestive systems and rot. Water is for much more than quenching the thirst of sheep, it is essential for daily life. Water cleanses and softens, water helps keep sheep healthy, hydrated and nourished.

 Psalm 23 tells us David wrote the words “my cup overflows.” That could refer to his portion in life but more than likely it referred to the cup the shepherd used to hand water the sheep – his own sheep. Better than running water, better than a sheep toppling in the water was the cup held by the Master Shepherds hand, gently saturating the lambs and sheep until they could drink no more. If pine oil was added it would work to disinfect from germs and things that had gotten inside the sheep from eating grass and other things. We are not sure if it was quenching, saturating or healing medicinally but the larger picture is that it required the Shepherd to  water each sheep, it wasn’t a large trough or pool in this verse. Aren’t those the things we go to our good Shepherd for-

thirst quenching, saturation and healing?

Kari Jobe in her song, “The More I seek You, the more I find you” has a line that says, I want to sit at your feet, drink from the cup in Your hand.” It’s not just what is inside the cup but who is holding that cup. Intimate, close, caring is the visual that comes with this verse. You anoint my outside with oil; You water my inside from Your cup till it overflows. I drink, then I overflow. This is not a massive Texas rancher but a shepherd who gently leads those who are with young, who feed them from his own hand and waters them from His cup. I love that. If you have ever felt like a number, outcast, reject… read this verse. My cup overflows – the one in Your hand, the one touching my lips and gently quenching my thirst. If God is so willing to water each one of us like that, surely He is intimately acquainted with all our ways. Savior, like a shepherd lead us, MUCH we need thy tender care.

As we reflect on the Christmas story this week, I am reminded of the fields around Bethlehem, filled with hundreds of black, shiny, wooly sheep. Their wool would make the best of blankets for any newborn. I’m reminded of the milk from the ewes, best in the world. I wonder how many shepherds were sitting on grassy hills, hand feeding and watering their sheep from shepherd’s cups while the One who came to quench ALL thirst was just miles, possibly yards away from where they sat. While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground, the One who came to heal those sitting by the pool at Siloam – the only fresh water in Jerusalem (See John 7), the One who turned the water into wine, the One who gave the Samaritan woman a drink was about to change the worlds thirst problem –forever– to whosoever would come and drink freely.

No, we don’t have to do any rituals to “get” salvation. We don’t have to please anyone or believe in special holidays. We can turn our backs to the stars, we can ignore the weary couple on the donkey heading to Bethlehem, we can join with the innkeeper and say there is no room in the inn. Or… we can respond like the Samaritan woman and come near like a tiny lamb, “I’m thirsty Lord and nothing else has satisfied. Will you saturate me? Will you give me to drink from the cup in Your hand?” I’m here Lord, I’m thirsty … I believe you are the water of life, fill me now.”

Yes, Christmas and holidays are a time to drink – to drink deeply. This season may that drinking be deeply– at the well of the great Shepherd. The results will be much better, I promise. Let Him saturate you, let Him refresh you, Let Him heal you.

Your spiritual drinking buddy,

RenaeRoche2018

 

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 !!!