Psalms 23 is a “go to” Psalm. We use it in so many situations – illness, funerals, uncertainty, sleeplessness…we turn to its familarity for comfort. Not only the familiarity but its truth that has stood the test of time and echoes down through the ages to our hearts in today’s world.
This morning I was reading it. There is a progression. First He is my shepherd. The all-mighty, all-knowing, Potentate of time is my shepherd. He knows me. I am His. He calls me by my name. He knows the very number of hairs on my head. He is tender with me. He delights in me.
He knows I am weary and tired. Tired from trying too hard. From uncertainty. From loneliness. From noise. From too much. Too little. Just weary. He knows so He makes me lie down. Sometimes when we get busy, running to and fro, we are on a roll…He has to make us lie down. Make us stop. Make us quit. Take a breath.
But He doesn’t make me lie down just anywhere – in green pastures. We have just come through Spring – the grass is such a pretty color of green – soft and new! That’s where my shepherd wants me to lie down.
He cannot lead when we are still in our hurried agenda, in the noise around us. When we are still making our plans, listening to other voices, searching for a strategy. It is when we are quiet, rested, quit our own efforts we hear Him best. Then He leads us on. It is only after we are rested that He can lead us into serenity and quietness.
To the still waters. Is there a more peaceful and serene picture? Crashing waves do not bring me comfort – they inspire me, they create awe – but not serenity, not peace. It is in the quietness, calm that I find peace. And in that place, my soul is restored.
Before that can happen, we have to know God as our personal savior by repenting and asking forgiveness. He doesn’t barge into our lives. He waits to be invited then becomes the gentle Shepherd of our hearts.
And in return He gives us just what we need.
I love the old hymn…America the Beautiful. There is a lot that isn’t beautiful…
But our heroes are.
God shed His grace on us, unworthy as we are.
God mend our every flaw and confirm our soul in self-control.
May it be… Lord, may it be…
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
Have a reflective Memorial Day!
I spoke at a local National Day of Prayer event on Thursday.
I worked hard on a message I thought would be appropriate for the occasion, “How Jesus Prayed”. I dove into the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew chapter 6, though that is more accurately described as the “Disciple’s Prayer”. Jesus taught it to His disciples as a form for prayer.
There are more books in my personal library on prayer than on any other subject perhaps than suffering. So many books, articles, sermons, studies have been written on prayer. I became overwhelmed. And with all of the information we still don’t pray!
During the week, in my own devotional time, I ran across some scriptures that caught my eye. Daniel 8:17-19. Daniel, the prophet, is asking God to hear his prayers and for favor not because he was righteous but because of God’s mercy. Daniel says, “For your sake” – for God’s sake not for Daniel’s or the people’s but for God’s sake.
How many times have I prayed for my sake or the sake of my loved ones? I’ll tell you now my prayers are far more self-focused than that. And I will tell you that it is wrong. I was humbled by the greatness of Daniel’s prayer an the greatness of Daniel’s God.
In John 12:27, Jesus prays that God would glorified in His suffering and death. Jesus would like very much not to have had to go to the cross – and told His Father as much. But He prayed, “Father, glorify your name!” Is that the way I pray in situations? Is that my ultimate goal? Yes, I have to say that is the ultimate goal but in between I’d like to have some ease, some relief, some answers…
Jesus didn’t have an “in the meantime”. He went right to the heart of the matter, laid it before God as an act of obedience and trusted God with the outcome.
I’ve got a long way to go in learning how to pray.
As they went to the tomb early in the morning, they found an empty tomb and an angel. Who asked them a question, “Why seek the living among the dead?” What did he mean?
That is not what they expected. Did they dare to believe? Did they dare to hope?
Do you believe? Have you lost hope? The significance of this day is that we can believe in Someone Who is not dead but alive. One Who loves us passionately. So much so that He died for each one of us. And He offers complete forgiveness.
Now that is something to celebrate on this glorious Resurrection morning!
They awakened on Saturday, hoping it had just been a nightmare. But no, the reality broke in cruelly as they tried to comprehend what happened the day before.
The horror of it all. The soldiers, beating, the bloodied body, the crowds calling for His death, the crucifixion, the mocking… Jesus was dead. His body lay in the borrowed grave. Now the fear…
They were numb. Full of questions. Where had it all gone wrong?
My heart goes out to Peter. He knew that Jesus knew Peter had denied Him. When the chips were down, he failed. His best friend. I can only imagine the depth of His regret and feelings of guilt. Peter wept. How could he ever live with himself?
On Saturday they were just trying to wrap their minds around what happened. And asking,”Now what?”.
They had no idea…
Finally we are getting some true Spring weather – things are going to be gorgeous for Easter – picture perfect.
This is Holy Week. We just celebrated Palm Sunday. Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem with people shouting “Hosanna!”
I wonder if, as the week progressed into the mundane, did the people forget? Did they forget the excitement they felt? Did they forget that they thought Jesus would save them as they did on Sunday? Had it sunk in or was it forgotten? Did they have any clue how the week would end? Did they care?
I think we need to ask ourselves the same question. Do we really care about the significance of Easter? Or is it just another family holiday? An excuse to buy a new outfit and go out to lunch?
What do we focus on this week? Be honest…is it planning the food? Doing some gardening? Scheduling a photographer for cute pictures of the children with a bunny rabbit? Or is it just another week at work.
I suggest to you that the majority of us fall into the last category. It’s just another week. I will admit I have been concerned about the food as I was anticipating my youngest daughter and her family coming for the weekend. Now they are not coming after all. But I already put up a chocolate pound cake, 2 pans of lasagne, huge amount of mashed potatoes and 2 loaves of garlic bread. So I am ready for a crowd that isn’t coming!
That’s what I get for trying to be prepared!
But it made me think about how quickly I get busy and forget the reason for the season. I get the same way at Christmas.
I have it all backwards. I need to take a breath, slow down, get still and mediate on the Lord’s week. He knew how the week would end…He would be betrayed by a trusted friend; He would be arrested, denied by one of his closest buddies, tried in an illegal trial where the crowds shouted for him to be executed. The authorities acquiesced taking the coward’s way out. He was turned over and beaten, humiliated, tortured and crucified. Death. Burial. Visit to hell. Resurrection. He knew that was what lay ahead. And he “set His face for Jerusalem”. If it were me, I would head in the opposite direction. I suspect you would too.
He knew it was ahead of Him. He was human so He must have dreaded it. I think that is what the garden of Gethsemane was all about – His struggle over what was ahead. He didn’t just meekly go into it; He struggled – so much so He sweated blood. He was in anguish as He wrestled with what God was asking of Him. Think of what your struggle would be.
The difference between Jesus and most of us is, He obeyed. He surrendered His will to God’s. Totally. We should too.
I doubt I will ever get there…but I truly want to be better at it. Even when it hurts.
Jesus also knew that Easter was at the end of the week! He knew He was going to triumph over death and hell – for my sake and yours. The cruelty and humiliation He suffered was because He loved you and me so much He didn’t want us perish in our sins. He wanted us to live in His grace and mercy and love from now through eternity. We can enjoy it now – not wait ’til we die!
Let us remember our Hosannas everyday this week and beyond!
Dear friends, I am sorry to have stayed away so long.
I got back from India weary but so glad I went and thrilled to meet those there as well as the ministry that took place.
I was home about 13 days before my travel took off. Since February 11th I have traveled to Alabama, California, Louisiana, Missouri and South Carolina. Each place was very special.
Windsor was with me in Alabama – she is a delight to travel with. She speaks so well- with poise -and connects with people. I am delighted God is using her in this way.
Then I went to Fresno to speak for Youth for Christ. They do such a great work. My father was their first full-time employee – so it has roots in my family tree for sure. I had a couple of days “off” then to Angola Prison in Louisiana.
I had to drive over the mountain in the snow and ice to get to a hotel near the airport so they could drive me to the airport early in the morning. The flight from Charlotte to Baton Rouge was canceled so I had to go into New Orleans. Tex, bless him drove down from Angola to fetch me. We all arrived at the same time and the joy bubbled over! This was my 3rd time and it was great to recognize faces, see big smiles and receive big hugs from the men there. And a special joy to have some of the Ruth Graham & Friends back together again.
We had a great time – serious time – but we really are friends. We had a new fellow with us: Jonathan MacReynolds. Boy! Is he talented! Look him up on the Web. I still have his tunes in my head! Warden Cain was so good to us as were “Big Lou” and “Hop Sing”. Big Lou can cook!! I mean. Great food. I had to be careful – good Southern food: greens, biscuits, fried fish, jumbalaya, corn bread, ribs… And Hop Sing can bake! He made an Italian wedding cake to die for and his cookies are addictive. And his pies…oh my! It’s a good thing I don’t like sweets. But I sure like the things he bakes!
The ministry that took place was precious. We spoke at each chapel – each camp has a chapel (each camp has about 1,100 men). I spoke on forgiveness. Afterwards the Warden told the men what an important subject it was for them. They go before the parole board and show so little remorse that they are turned down. He encouraged them to really grasp the concept of forgiveness – asking for forgiveness…
We visited Death Row as well. As we walked the corridor we sang “Amazing Grace”. Many sang along. They remembered us from last time.
Burl Cain has created a wonderful atmosphere at the prison. Oh, I know there are ugly places there and I know these men have done heinous things. But God’s grace is transforming. Burl was a high school teacher and he brings that sort of structure to the prison. He tells the men he respects them – it is theirs to loose. It works!
The last night the men presented me with a glass bowl made of broken glass shards. At the same time they gave the Warden a handmade pen to honor his 20 years as Warden. In how many prisons do prisoners give a gift to their Warden? Amazing.
A few days later I went to Missouri then to Charleston to speak at Charleston Southern University. Great school. Loved the people I met. Now I am home for a month!
I am so blessed to work with wonderful people, go to interesting places and meet great folks working for the Kingdom. I wish I could tuck you in my suitcase for you to experience some of it.
Thank you for praying.