Like Sheep Without a Shepherd



Have you ever noticed two groups of people who hold God’s attention? You wouldn’t think an impartial God would have specific categories for certain people, but amazingly, He does: orphans and widows. You’re right; they’re not the groups anyone wants to join. There’s no line to sign up, which is precisely why God keeps a keen eye on these two flocks. Yet surprisingly, He promises to be their Father and Husband. Not only do we find Him sharply protective, but He’s moved with tremendous compassion. So much, that it overflows into the everyday lives of you and me. We can’t help but want to go the extra mile in helping the child without a dad and the woman without a husband. They look just like us, but when learning of their plight, we soften. Our hearts touched by God’s finger for our involvement.

It was that way for my dad. His father died when he was only nine, making his already orphaned mother a widow in her early 30s, and he and his brother fatherless. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. America was just crawling out from the rubble of The Great Depression and everything was scarce. Everything, but God’s endless pavilions of provision. Despite their destitution, He provided for them. He touched people’s hearts and caused others to open their homes and dinner tables.

“A father to the fatherless and a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely.” (Psalms 68:5-6a)

God makes it known that He protects the weak. Weakened only by circumstance. Perhaps you’ve never considered that one as busy as God has time to be concerned with the small details of the fatherless child. It is here we see His sterling character sparkle yet again. It’s far too easy to think the Lord’s uninvolved with our struggle; hasn’t got the time or interest for those that society’s forgotten. Yet look how He taught His disciples by the widow’s mite or the boy willing to share his fish sandwiches with 5,000 men. It moves God. Deeply. Passionately. Protectively.

“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

It bears repeating, “Like sheep without a shepherd.” Notice, they were distressed and dispirited. Did my dad, uncle, and grandmother struggle? Yes, we have tribulation in this world. But were there people that rose to the occasion, allowing their hearts and hands to be an extension of God’s? Absolutely. Despite hardships, my dad remembered a happy childhood filled with people willing to pause for involvement. Mentors available to lead and point when my grandfather’s voice was silenced.

Perhaps you know a child in this very predicament. Perhaps you are that child. Perhaps your dad is living but you still feel fatherless. Grown or young, the void is there. I would encourage all to step up and make a positive difference in the fatherless around us. It doesn’t have to be earthshattering. My father recalled the kindness of being given oranges after going months without fresh fruit; a simple candy cane at Christmastime, or a street vendor’s hot baked potato on a snowy winter’s night. Small acts of love confirm our heavenly Father’s goodness, and the tangible proof He cares and works through people. This is the religion that Jesus’ brother James wrote about as being pure and faultless … to look after widows and orphans in their distress. It’s a loving embrace received by the child whose hair is no longer tousled by an absent father.

How like God. No matter how much love we give away, He’s ensured we’d never run out. This Father’s Day, let’s remember to thank God for being our Abba Father and keeping us from being spiritual orphans. And let’s relentlessly search for that one who’s whispered prayers for fatherly love and kindness.

Copyright © May 24, 2013, by Susan M. Watkins. Used by permission.

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What I learned from dining at the world’s top restaurant

(Hint: It’s all about this one thing)


By Pastor Rick McDaniel

I had quite an experience in Girona, Spain about an hour north of Barcelona. I ate dinner at El Celler De Can Roca, the top-rated restaurant in the world.

The waiting list for reservations is one year. I put my name in three months ahead but to no avail. But a concierge with American Express was somehow able to land us a reservation.

My wife and I are not foodies. And she was raised in a family of nine people so she is not comfortable spending a lot of money on dining out. It was the most we’ve ever spent on a dinner but not nearly as much as you would think for the best restaurant in the world. We don’t drink alcohol so that certainly helped.


My purpose for going was not really the food. In fact, the meal lasted almost four hours and I am a notoriously fast eater. There were many courses, each of them small portions of food.

Excellence is not an accident. It is intentional. Being the best takes more than hopes and wishes. But it can be done. If you want to be the best, excellence is the way.

I’m more interested in observing high performers. I’ve studied great teams and companies. I’ve written for Fox News on Tiger Woods’ comeback, and I’ve examined what makes Tom Brady great.

El Celler De Can Roca

El Celler De Can Roca

I wanted to see for myself what makes a restaurant the best. What set them apart not just in Spain or even Europe but the entire world. And I was not disappointed.

It is simply one thing — excellence

The level of excellence in everything is off the charts. Not just in some things but in all things. Not just a commitment to excellence but the practice of excellence.

My motto is, “Excellence honors God and inspires people.” I think we should pursue excellence in all aspects of our lives. And when we do our lives bring glory to our God and we motivate others to pursue excellence themselves.

How can you be excellent? Here are four ways practiced by El Celler De Can Roca. And you can practice them too.

Set high standards

High standards indicate you value excellence. Unless excellence means something to you there will never be excellence in your life or work. Anyone can accept average in a world of mediocrity only the excellent set a standard for something more.

When we first arrived, the staff gave us a tour of the kitchen. I’ve never worked in a restaurant but I’ve seen a few kitchens on tv shows and they didn’t look anything like this. It was immaculate. There was no mess, no chaos, just order and work.

In fact, the entire place was beautiful, elegant and serene. Even the bathroom was hidden behind a glass door. The furniture had clean lines, the ambient light was plentiful and there were trees in a garden setting. The entire atmosphere set the tone for a special evening.

When we received our menu, it was prix fixe with only two options. Of course, there were many courses but only two choices. Too many miss excellence by trying to do too much. You can do anything but you can’t do everything. Choose what you will be the best at and then set your excellence standard.

Work with enthusiasm

Enthusiasm always makes a big difference. People who practice excellence are enthusiastic about what they do. Whether the job is big or small enthusiasm will cause you to always give your best effort. Whenever you put your whole heart into what you’re doing nothing can stop your enthusiasm from being revealed.

From the moment we were greeted you could sense the enthusiasm in the place. Our first server was so happy and excited to share this special dining experience with us. She elevated our expectations even more by her enthusiasm. She gave us the menu and instead of defending the fact there were only two options she made it seem great to either choose their classic course or try their seasonal one.

The four servers we all had the same level of enthusiasm. Their passion for the food was obvious. Their work was not drudgery but joy. Even when I told them I didn’t drink wine they came out with juices and shared how they imitate the interaction like the wine would.

Pay attention to detail

The difference between good and great is always the little things. It’s the details that make the difference. And it’s not about being a detailed-oriented person, it’s making sure that proper attention is paid to the small stuff. When you are prepared and you know your material you have excellence.

One of the most remarkable parts of our dinner was that every single course was served on a unique plate. And there were fifteen courses. The purpose for each dish was tied to the name given to each serving. Each course had a perfectly matched plate that conveyed the meaning of what we were eating.

Most impressive to me was how the meal began. A globe was brought out with five little servings at the end of levers. We were told they represented different countries but that two were not identified. We had to guess which one matched which country. When you guessed right and moved the lever the top of the globe opened up revealing one more serving.

Do more than expected

You will never be excellent just doing what is expected. It’s exceeding expectations that leads to excellence. Jesus taught this when he said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” The extra mile is where excellence is found. There is never a traffic jam on the extra mile.

You certainly have expectations when you go the top restaurant in the world. But they exceeded my expectations. It is clear that at El Celler De Can Roca, thought is given to everything they do. Their goal is clearly to be the best. They treat food as art and it is beautiful to see.

One of the three brothers who own the restaurant even came out to meet me. I had commented on a picture of him as a boy wearing a New York Yankees shirt. As a Red Sox fan myself, I felt it necessary to lodge my objection. We had a fun chat, and he assured me his allegiance could easily be changed with a new shirt.

Excellence is not an accident. It is intentional. Being the best takes more than hopes and wishes. But it can be done. If you want to be the best, excellence is the way.


The effort to add God to the WWII Memorial

Jerry Newcombe notes FDR’s D-Day prayer is still not part of Mall display

Now that the dust has settled from the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, it’s interesting to reflect on a piece of unfinished business related to our remembrance of that historic event.

Presumably in a nod to the political correctness that currently blinds this nation, the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., unveiled in 2004, noticeably left out any mention of thanksgiving to the Lord for His aid. Yet President Franklin D. Roosevelt repeatedly called on God’s help in the conflict. William J. Federer, the bestselling author and speaker, documents this in his book “The Faith of FDR.”

In a recent radio interview, Federer told me, “The World War II Memorial has absolutely no mention of God. And those that fought in the war were men and women of faith” who are often disappointed by this omission, as they come and visit the memorial.

Federer also noted: “I read through all [FDR’s] public addresses, and I was shocked at how many times he mentioned Christianity and the Bible.”

Here is a small sample of things Roosevelt said in his speeches:

  • “I know that there is not room enough on earth for both German militarism and Christian decency.” (March 1, 1945)
  • “The world is too small … for both Hitler and God. … The Nazis have now announced their plan for enforcing their … pagan religion all over the world – a plan by which the Holy Bible and the Cross of Mercy would be displaced by Mein Kampf and the swastika.” (State of the Union Address, Jan. 6, 1942)
  • In a radio prayer heard live by most Americans: “With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemies.” (“D-Day Prayer,” June 5, 1944)

Perhaps the biggest omission of God at the WWII Memorial is any mention of the FDR’s “D-Day Prayer,” from which that last quote comes. It is estimated that 100 million Americans (out of a population of 138 million) tuned into that radio broadcast the evening of the largest military invasion in history.

Here are portions of what FDR prayed that night:

“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

“Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. …

“Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. …

“Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. …

“Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

“Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”

The “racial arrogancies” no doubt refers to the Nazi plan to create the “Master Race,” to speed up evolution, to remove from the earth those deemed of inferior stock – the Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, etc. The first group killed in the gas chambers were about 200,000 handicapped people, including World War I veterans with severe wounds.

In 2014, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law a bill to add the complete text of the FDR D-Day Prayer to the World War II Memorial. The only catch is that this legislation will expire within the next year, and the project is still “under development.”

Bill Federer and Chris Long, president of the Ohio Christian Alliance, who has been spear-heading this effort, are raising private donations for this cause. More information can be learned at

Federer told CBN News last week: “You go to Normandy, what do you see? Crosses – 9,000 of them – and Stars of David. These were men and women of faith. And so it’s only proper that there should be some acknowledgment of faith at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.”

In an age of political correctness run amok, the D-Day Prayer Project is a worthwhile goal to help us get over what I call our “American Amnesia” – where we continue to forget God, despite all His help. As FDR observed, “If the spirit of God is not in us, and if we will not prepare to give all that we have and all that we are to preserve Christian civilization in our land, we shall go to destruction.” (Speech at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Sept. 2, 1940)

The Church Does Not Exist for the Sake of the World

According to Scripture, the people of God have a higher purpose.

The Church Does Not Exist for the Sake of the World

Last week, I ended last week’s Elusive Presence essay by saying that thinking of the church primarily in missional terms is a mistake. Specifically, I said, “I believe it is an unbiblical view of the church. And I believe it is an unhealthy diet for the church.” To grasp that first point, I will begin by looking at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to ground my biblical exposition. While Ephesians it is not a systematic theology of the church, Ephesians is where Paul outlines most deeply and consistently a theology of the church.

Paul begins his letter with hardly any warm up; he jumps in by outlining a breathtaking view of history, in which the role of the church is central:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:3-10, NRSV).

Note Paul’s understanding of the mind of God (if we can talk in such terms) before the creation of the world: “Before the foundation of the world,” he says, God’s first and primary purpose was to create a people for himself, who would live with him “holy and blameless in love.” Before and above anything else, he thought about a people he would adopt as family, who would be brothers and sisters of Jesus his Son.

He did this not for some ulterior motive, so that this family would then go out and do something even more important. But he did this “according to the good pleasure of his will,” and “to the praise of his glorious grace”—meaning because of the simple splendidness of the act. It appears that for Paul, the family of God—the church—is not a means but an end.

The church is in fact the sign and portent of God’s universal will, which is “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and on earth.” God’s wish is to bring everything into his orbit of love. The plan seems to be this: Everywhere, as far as the eye can see, there will be the family of God—the church—living before its Father in holy love.

Paul continues: “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:11–12).

Notice how he talks about what we do in light of our being called into the church. Given our interest in things missional, we would expect to read this: “We have been destined according to God’s will, so that we who were first to set our hope in Christ, might live to share that hope with those who don’t know hope.”

Or “We who were first to set our hope in Christ might live to further the kingdom of God in the world.”

Or “We who were the first to set our hope in Christ might live to make the world a better place, to foster human flourishing.”

No. His view of the church is not instrumental at all. Instead, he says that since we have been gathered into the church, we who have first set out hope in Christ should live like this: praising God’s glory.

The point is this: church is its own end. It is created by God’s good pleasure and for our good pleasure. As a result of being called into the family called church, our job is to bask in its sheer goodness, by living together in holy love, and by together praising God’s glory for doing such a hilarious thing.

According to this summary passage, it does not appear that the church was created for the world, as many assume. If anything, the world was created for the sake of the church. That is, the funnel of history is not that the church pours itself into the world to redeem it, but the world–as least those in the world who trust in Christ–is poured into the church.

Paul is not foisting a new idea on the Ephesians. His theology is grounded in the Old Testament. There we repeatedly read how Israel has been chosen by God and esteemed by God, created by God so he might have a people for himself.

One typical example is when the Lord speaks through Isaiah:

But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off” (Is. 41:8-9).

Abraham was not only called from the ends of the earth to be father of God’s chosen people, but the people he fathers (by God’s grace) to become a sign of history’s goal:

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.” (Is. 2:2-3)

In other words, the world comes to Jerusalem. Israel does not go out to the world missionally to transform the world, but at the end of history, the world comes to Mt. Zion to worship and learn from God.

This image is repeated in the New Testament. In Revelation we read about the coming down out of heaven a new Jerusalem, about which John says, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Rev. 21:22-24).

Again, the image is that in the end, the world comes to the church, the place where people bask in the presence of God, where the pleasure of God is our pleasure, prompting us to erupt in praise: “Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him” (22:3).

A vivid description of that worship is found earlier:

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power…” (4:9-11).

My reading of the sweep of the biblical picture, then, is that the purpose of the church—the family of God—is not to make the world a better place, but to invite the world into the better place, the place called church.

The Other Side

I recognize this point of view is not widely held among evangelical Christians, and for good reason. There are many verses in Scripture which seem to suggest just the opposite—that the church is not an end but a means, that it was created for the sake of the world. So we need to look at some of these passages.

The classic expression comes from Isaiah 42:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness (Is. 42:6-7).

And let me be fair with my quote of Isaiah’s vision in which people from all over the globe come to Jerusalem. It ends like this: “For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, / and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

And then there is this key statement of God to Abraham: “… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Such verses are often used to suggest, among other things, that Israel failed in its primary mission–being a light to the world–and that Jesus, at the end of his ministry, made sure that the church was absolutely clear about its purpose:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:16-20).

What could be more clear? Such passages suggest that the purpose of the church is to go out to all nations, to go out into the world on mission, to be missional.

Not quite, in my view.

First, note the context of that key verse in Genesis. God tells Abraham that his family will become a great nation, and that those who bless this great nation will be blessed, and those who curse this nation will be cursed. The implication is that all the other families of the earth will be blessed as they bless the family of Abraham. It’s not about Abraham’s missionary purpose, but about the family of Abraham’s status in the eyes world. The nation of Israel is a sign of God’s ultimate purpose—to create a people for himself—and those who recognize and honor that will be blessed.

We’ll return to the Isaiah passage, but for now let’s move ahead to Jesus’ commission to the disciples. Note exactly to whom Jesus commands to make disciples of all nations: The eleven disciples. That’s all. We automatically apply this verse to all Christians and to the church in general, equating as we do the calling of the original disciples with our calling. But in a larger reading of the New Testament, this command is actually only given to the eleven disciples. It’s the point at which the disciples—learners of Jesus—become apostles, those “sent out” to tell others about Jesus. These eleven very much become the first apostles.

But not every Christian is called to be an apostle. As Paul says in Ephesians when listing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (4:11). Some are apostles. Not all. Nor does he suggest here or anywhere in Ephesians that being sent out to the world was the main purpose of the church.

He specifically says that he is so called: “Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,” (vv. 7-8). But he does not even hint that his calling is every Christian’s calling, or that of the church in general. It’s his call, and that of the other apostles.

So yes, there are people in the church called apostles who very much are called to go out into the world and preach and teach. And yes, there is a sense in which the teaching of God’s people goes out into the world. And yes, there is a sense in which we are light and even salt for the world, as that passage from Isaiah so beautifully expresses. Let us not denigrate our evangelistic call.

But let me suggest that all this does not constitute our very purpose as the people of God. It is clearly the calling of some of the people of God. And so it must be the calling of others in the family of God to support them in their apostolic and evangelistic work, through prayer and giving. But that is a far cry from this being the very purpose of the church, the reason for its existence.

What about Matthew 25, where Jesus speaks about the call to social justice? Jesus seems to suggest that the judgment of God at the end of history will be determined by our social justice efforts. What could indicate our purpose more than this?

In that passage, Jesus describes a scene where people from all over the world are gathered before him at the judgment. He separates them into two groups, the sheep and the goats, and he says to the sheep:

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” [notice the language here, the same as in Ephesians, before the foundation of the world God was preparing the kingdom for himself] “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”

And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt. 25:34-39, NRSV).

This version, the NRSV, has appropriately rendered the literal “brothers” as “members of my family.” The people who need ministering to are not just people in general, anyone who suffers. The specific people in question are the people of God, the brothers and sisters of Christ, members of the family of God. The call to justice, in this instance, is not even a call to justice–no wrongs are being righted in fact. It’s a simple call for compassion for the people of God when they are in dire straits. It’s a call for the church to be especially attentive to those in the family who suffer. It harkens to Paul’s injunction that we should do good to all men, but especially to those in the household of faith.

What about the prophetic passages from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Micah, to name a few? Don’t they enjoin us to be concerned about social justice for all? What about all those harsh judgments against those who oppress widows and orphans and mistreat the sojourner? Who accept bribes instead of doing justice? Is this not a clear and clarion call to work for justice in society?

Yes and no. As we’ll note in a bit, one can hardly deny the need for Christians to work for justice in society. Any Christian whose heart does not break over injustice, who does nothing to alleviate suffering in the world, is likely not a Christian in the first place. But we’ll come back to this.

In the case of the prophetic literature, however, we often fail to recognize that the prophets are little concerned about the widows and orphans and bribes in Assyria, Babylon, and elsewhere. But they are very concerned about it in Israel and Judah, very concerned about it as it is practiced among the people of God.

And why not, if the people of God are called to be a light to the nations? What type of light can they be if they act like everyone else? The call of the prophets is not that everyone, everywhere will pursue justice for all, but that the people of God would treat one another justly, righteously, in the presence of God.

Certainly the other nations come into view now and then in prophetic denouncements, but the overwhelming concern of the prophets is for the quality of life among God’s chosen people.

Again, we need to make a distinction between one task the people of God are called to perform and the very ground of their being, the very purpose of their life together. We are by all means to love the neighbor, which now includes the enemy. One way we love them is through acts of mercy and justice. But this does not mean that the church exists for the sake of the world.

[Next week: my biblical exposition continues, with a look at how Paul’s adapts the concern of the prophets to life in the church—and how that help us clarify the essential purpose of the church.]

Mark Galli is editor in chief of Christianity TodayIf you want to be alerted to these essays as they appear, subscribe to The Galli Report.


Original here

How Road Trips Teach Me to Trust Jesus

As I approach this season of pilgrimage, Scripture offers me a theology of travel.

How Road Trips Teach Me to Trust Jesus

My husband, Daryl, experiences more wanderlust than I do. He grew up in Southern California, traveling across the valley for high school basketball games, taking class field trips up the coastline, and loading up the church van for missions to Tijuana. On our family Sabbath, it’s Daryl who takes us out on the roads of Orange County. When I ask where we’re headed, he smiles and nearly always says, “I’m not sure. Let’s just have an adventure.”

In particular, our trips to visit extended family bring out the differences in our travel methods. I plan ahead while Daryl enjoys serendipity; I prepare for every eventuality while he prefers to throw a few diapers and a bag of tortilla chips in the car and hope for the best. But since my husband’s side of the family lives in Los Angeles—a thriving metropolis with all manner of convenience stores and restaurants—I’m learning to hang loose on these local treks.

As these drives to LA become more common, God is faithfully teaching me that my rigid, planned-up-to-the-minute travel method isn’t always the best one. In fact, the biblical model for following Jesus is much more Spirit-led than plotted in advance. It isn’t that preparation isn’t necessary or helpful, it’s that openness to the Spirit of God is more important still. “The wind blows where it wills,” Jesus tells Nicodemus in John’s gospel.

Paul’s journeys were continually interrupted by storms, bandits, imprisonments, and mobs, and once, when he made it all the way to the outskirts of the province of Asia, the Spirit of God turned him away at the last minute. Perhaps that’s why when God speaks to individuals in Scripture, his first call is often for them to step out in faith, to follow a new and previously unsought path. Much of the time God doesn’t even give the destination. The command is simple (and, if you’re a homebody like me, perhaps a little unsettling): “Go,” he says. “Go.”

God uses this word with Abraham, Moses, and Elijah. “Go,” he says to Jonah. Simeon is “moved by the Spirit” to go to the temple, where he welcomes and blesses the infant Jesus. “Get up,” an angel says to Joseph in a dream, warning him to flee from King Herod’s murderous rage and go to Egypt.

As pilgrim people, we, too, are called to travel with our eyes open to the work of the Lord in the world around us. As N. T. Wright puts it, “A pilgrim is someone who goes on a journey in the hope of encountering God or meeting him in a new way.” Whether we fly across the country or simply drive an hour to visit a friend, travel provides us with a unique opportunity to experience God anew by approaching our journey not just as travelers but pilgrims—people on the lookout for God at work and opportunities to join him.

Jesus was the ultimate pilgrim, after all, leaving his heavenly climes to not only visit with but live among humanity. He faced all the usual obstacles to comfort that plague us when we travel—difficulty in finding food and shelter, misreading the vibe of a particular place, and having to rely on the hospitality and grace of strangers, family, and friends. “Foxes have dens,” Jesus said, “and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Jesus leans into this discomfort, telling his disciples to “take nothing for the journey.” He invites us to do likewise. (Though, to be fair, none of the disciples was toting a two-year-old. Surely then even Jesus would have advised bringing an extra snack or two.) Away from our usual environment, at the mercy of the road or the airlines or the weather or the host home, we are given the opportunity to see the world with new eyes: to receive welcome, to develop compassion, to grow in faith and trust that God will care for us throughout the journey and see us safely home at its end.

In my upcoming summer travels, I want to practice Christlike pilgrimage, watching for God as our family journeys, looking for opportunities to love those in my path with the love of Christ, and doing my best to accept discomfort and even disaster as means of discipleship and grace.

I also need to seek ways to slow down and listen—something that doesn’t come naturally to me. One of the lessons God offers to us in travel is to find peace amid the storm, to leave behind the intensity of our work lives and schedules and family pandemonium and settle into the quieter days of travel. As Carlo Carretto puts it, “That is the truth we must learn through faith: to wait on God. And this attitude of mind is not easy. This ‘waiting,’ this ‘not making plans,’ this ‘searching the heavens,’ this ‘being silent’ is one of the most important things we have to learn.”

This insight comes home to me every time I visit my parents in the northern woods of Wisconsin, where I’m cut off from the busyness of my normal life. My parents’ internet is spotty; my cellphone works only intermittently; the last time I heard a siren of any kind was at the town Fourth of July parade half a decade ago.

Back home, Daryl and I often fall asleep watching The West Wing or The Office in an effort to still our ping-ponging thoughts. Here, however, any digital streaming takes literal hours to download, so we simply don’t. At night we open the windows to hear the oak and maple leaves blow in the wind, falling asleep with books on our chests. When we spend these days in the quiet of the northern forests, it’s as if Jesus stands at the helm of our proverbial boats during the storm of the usual daily grind—ministry, school, appointments, errands, household chores—and says, “Peace. Be still.”

In these pilgrimage moments, I’m ever so slowly learning to listen. I’m learning, too, that the journey, provision, and destination all belong to God.

Courtney Ellis is a pastor and speaker and the author, most recently, of Almost Holy Mama: Life-Giving Spiritual Practices for Weary Parents (June 2019, Rose Publishing). She lives in Southern California with her husband, Daryl, and their three kids. Find her on TwitterFacebook, or her blog.

This essay was adapted from Almost Holy Mama by Courtney Ellis. Copyright (c) 2019 by Courtney Ellis. Published by Rose Publishing, Peabody, MA.


Original here

Proverbial misunderstanding over bribe and gift

After teaching Bible Study and Sunday School for years in different churches throughout my Christian walk, I’ve noticed many misunderstandings concerning God’s Word center around specific words. The perplexed individuals often forget—in some cases never knew—that our versions of the Bible were translated from the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The various English translations—especially those more interested in utilizing non-offensive terms to pacify present-day social sensitivities instead of remaining true to the original texts—further complicate matters. Plus, the words themselves—often having more than one meaning—add another obstacle to contend with.

Most Bible Study and Sunday School attendees don’t have the time or inclination to seek out scholarly texts, or even compare the words in question to the original Hebrew and Greek. That’s okay. In most circumstances the proper word use can be ascertained in the context it’s being used, along with comparing it to similar verses and topics in the Bible.

One example brought to my attention recently from a member in my class deals with the word bribe. While studying Proverbs they thought a few verses contradicted each other. The individual was reading The Living Bible; so, that’s the version I’m using for this post.

Proverbs 15:27 states, “Dishonest money brings grief to all the family, but hating bribes brings happiness.”

Proverbs 17:8 states, “A bribe works like magic. Whoever uses it will prosper.”

Proverbs 17:23 states, “It is wrong to accept a bribe to twist justice.”

Proverbs 18:16 states, “A bribe does wonders; it will bring you before men of importance.”

If you read each verse by itself without considering that there’s more than one definition or standard use for bribe, and you don’t compare it to similar verses on related topics, it appears that two of the verses favor the use of bribes while two condemn the use of them.

However, if you consider the fact that bribe is often used for the word gift, then Proverbs 17:8 and 18:16 no longer contradict the other two verses.

Some Bible commentaries and/or footnotes in some Bible versions choose to view Proverbs 17:8 as a statement of fact, but not one that should be encouraged. I don’t favor that interpretation, since the “gift” interpretation holds up far better when compared to God’s outlook in similar verses and topics.

For instance, a bribe is a form of cheating and dishonest, while a straight gift is not. It depends upon the circumstance in which it is being used. So, what do similar verses claim about cheating and dishonesty? We don’t even have to leave Proverbs to find out.

Proverbs 20:10 states, “The Lord despises every kind of cheating.”

Proverbs 20:21 states, “A fortune can be made from cheating, but there is a curse that goes with it.”

Proverbs 20:23 states, “The Lord loathes all cheating and dishonesty.”

It is very clear, using the comparison, that God hates cheating and dishonesty. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that He would favor bribes in any negative sense. But He does favor gifts.

Proverbs 21:14 states, “An angry man is silenced by giving him a gift!”

Finding the proper context by comparing it to similar verses and topics in God’s Word can settle most of the common misunderstandings Bible Study and Sunday School teachers encounter. And they need to remind those in their classes to consider Proverbs 19:27 — “Stop listening to teaching that contradicts what you know is right.”

If the contradictory interpretation goes against everything God stands for, you can bet it’s wrong. And to argue such points is a waste of time.

by jccast


Original here


When there is Uncertainty, the Benefit of the Doubt Should Be Given to Life

By Dr. Mark Creech – June 9, 2019

Unfortunately, on Wednesday, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivor’s Protection Act did not secure enough votes in the N.C. House to override Governor Roy Cooper’s veto. With all lawmakers present, 72 votes were required, and only 67 were garnered.

It’s more than disturbing to see our state’s downward trajectory on the sacredness of human life. The Born-Alive legislation shouldn’t have been difficult for anyone possessing a proper respect for life. Let me try to illustrate.

One day I was encouraging a young woman not to abort her unborn child. She argued in favor of abortion because she said there was uncertainty about when human life begins. I said to her, “If you were a hunter and you were uncertain whether a person caused the movement you saw behind a bush, would that uncertainty lead you to aim and fire your gun at it or not?” I added, “If you were driving late at night and you thought you saw a dark figure on the road that might be a child, but it really might be the shadow from a tree, do you drive into it or do you put on the brakes?” She responded marvelously, saying, “Well, I think I would have to give the benefit of the doubt to life.” I concluded, “Exactly! The benefit of the doubt should always go to preserving life.”

If I heard it once, I think I heard it a dozen times while lobbying for the measure. N.C. House Democrats kept repeating Governor Roy Cooper’s talking points, arguing that the problem of born-alive children from failed abortions wasn’t a real one. And if it was happening, they argued, there were already sufficient laws to protect babies born-alive. We don’t need any more laws. To pass the Born-Alive bill would only be redundant, they claimed.

However, data provided by the CDC, reports from medical practitioners who once worked in abortion clinics, as well as testimonials from persons who survived botched abortions, have contended the problem is real. Moreover, during deliberations on the Born-Alive bill in committee, legislative staff explained to lawmakers that there is no statute in the state, which protects the lives of babies targeted for abortions, who are born-alive after a failed abortion attempt.

So which is it? Is the problem real or not? And if the issue is real, does North Carolina already have laws on the books to address it? State lawmakers were halted between two opinions.

The most responsible choice would have been to give life the benefit of the doubt. If the proposed Born-Alive legislation added nothing to current law (as opponents claimed) and didn’t do anything to take away rights (and it didn’t take away any rights), what could it hurt? Still, if there were a shadow of a doubt that the legislation might be needed to save a life (only adding another layer of safeguards for life), then shouldn’t life’s preservation require passing it? Certainly! If life is indeed sacred (and it is), if life is paramount (and it is), why not give the benefit of the doubt to life?

Quite frankly, the Born-Alive legislation actually didn’t have anything to do with abortion rights, a woman’s so-called right to choose, and personal decisions made between a woman and her physician. Instead, it was about whether a fetus with a heartbeat, having completely exited the mother’s body, is actually a human being who should have all of the protections of the law.

All but two of N.C. House Democrats On Wednesday responded, “No.”

Sadly, the vote taken did not give the benefit of the doubt to preserving life. It afforded North Carolina’s Governor the benefit of the doubt. It afforded partisan politics the benefit of the doubt. It afforded abortion rights the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, it did not afford life the benefit of the doubt.

The great Protestant Reformer John Calvin said:

“The fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being and it is a most monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”

Nowadays, figuratively speaking, we provide for the legal slaughter of the man in his house and the field, and literally in the womb and on the delivery table.

The fight goes on. We labor for a culture that always gives life the benefit of the doubt.

As sen here at Christian Action League of North Carolina. Posted here with permission.


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