There are 43 accounts in the Bible where God is described as a shepherd. One of the reasons for this illustration is that human beings tend to wander away from God. These lost sheep spend months, years, and decades on their own, going through life without someone to protect them. To guard against wolf attacks in the middle of the night, this blog serves as a precaution for your own safety.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You, Lord, alone make me dwell in safety and confident trust, Psalm 4:8.
A first century doctor devotes an entire chapter of his gospel to the lost. Luke shares three stories of a Lost Sheep, a Lost Coin and a Lost Soul. The Parable of the Lost Sheep illustrates the steps that God takes to reach out to individuals who wander away from their Shepherd. The Lost Coin highlights the determination it takes to find something valuable when you lose it. Finally, the Prodigal Son is a cautionary tale of what happens when rebellion clouds your judgment.
For the rest, my brethren, delight yourselves in the Lord and continue to rejoice that you are in Him. To keep writing to you [over and over] of the same things is not irksome to me, and it is [a precaution] for your safety, Philippians 3:1.
In the passage above, the apostle Paul explains the reason for his letter. Paul doesn’t want to nag this new church into following Jesus via peer pressure. Rather, Paul wants these believers to remember the delight and joy of entering into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps, some of these members were quick learners while others were forgetful, falling back to the way that they lived prior to knowing Jesus. Instead of taking things for granted, Paul wants to make sure that no believer is left behind.
Joe Mantegna is best known for his role as David Rossi in Criminal Minds. While not part of the current cast, Mantegna first came to the forefront as detective Will Girardi in the series Joan of Arcadia. In the opening scene, Girardi is the new chief of police, taking over in Arcadia, a city full of corruption. As Mantegna confronts law breakers each episode, political pushback eventually results in losing his position. Despite being cast as a former altar boy in the Catholic Church, Mantegna’s character is an atheist who believes God is punishing him as he and his family face a series of ongoing trials.
But if, in our desire and endeavor to be justified in Christ [to be declared righteous and put in right standing with God wholly and solely through Christ], we have shown ourselves sinners also and convicted of sin, does that make Christ a minister (a party and contributor) to our sin? Banish the thought! [Of course not!] 18 For if I [or any others who have taught that the observance of the Law of Moses is not essential to being justified by God should now by word or practice teach or intimate that it is essential to] build up again what I tore down, I prove myself a transgressor, Galatians 2:17-18.
In the passage above, the apostle Paul references his previous life as a Pharisee, eager to adhere to a rigid and strict adherence to the Law of Moses. As the Church in Galatia is infiltrated by a religious sect known as the Judaizers, Paul warns these new Christians not to force Gentile converts to conform to Jewish traditions. Paul clarifies how to placed in right standing with God. This isn’t accomplished through following a set of rules in the Old Testament. Rather, the only way to be set free from being convicted as a sinner on Judgement Day is by placing your faith and sole trust in Christ, Ephesians 2:8-9.
I am no longer worthy to be called your son; [just] make me like one of your hired servants. 20 So he got up and came to his [own] father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity and tenderness [for him]; and he ran and embraced him and kissed him [fervently]. 21 And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son [I no longer deserve to be recognized as a son of yours]! 22 But the father said to his bond servants, Bring quickly the best robe (the festive robe of honor) and put it on him; and give him a ring for his hand and sandals for his feet, Luke 15:19-22.
The best example of being placed in right standing with God is a first century story shared by Jesus. This parable involves two sons, the younger who was tired of living at home. Bored and eager to get out on his own, this immature teenager wore down his father, giving into his demands. Like a freshman college student during their first semester, Luke’s word describe someone who wanted to be the life of the party. However, not long afterward this individual flunked out and became homeless, desperation sets in. Morally and spiritually bankrupt, this prodigal came to his senses. The prayer above is an outline for being placed in right standing with God.
No matter how disciplined you may be, everyone has a low point in life. A period where a poor decisions results in disgrace, embarrassment or public humiliation. Despite being driven, focused and goal oriented, I have allowed anger, frustration and lust lead me into a pit of despair. Looking back, I drifted way off track in junior high, high school and college. Some of these phases I went through lasted longer than others, ensnared and trapped by darkness.
And when the mourning was past, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord, 2 Samuel 11:27.
The Bible is filled with confessionals, stories of wayward souls attempting to make their way back to God. One of the most famous involves a former king who rose to power at an early age. Perhaps, a lack of maturity laid the groundwork for a year of rebellion. Adultery and murder were byproducts of David’s willful disobedience. When you read Psalm 32 and Psalm 51, you’ll find a blue print for making your way back to God.
Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, As the Lord lives, the man who has done this is a son [worthy] of death. 6 He shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no pity. 7 Then Nathan said to David, You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king of Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul, 2 Samuel 12:5-7.
Like the prodigal son who came to his senses in Luke 15:17-18, Nathan’s illustration opened David’s eyes to his spiritual condition. This analogy lead David to confront the errors of his way. This story moved David to finally come clean, confessing his evil deeds to God. Yet, when anyone sins, there are consequences that you must endure. The son conceived from David’s affair died, results in mourning. While your distance back to God will vary, the sooner you make a u-turn, the less painful your journey back will be.
The expression “You had me at hello” comes from a classic scene from the 1996 film Jerry Maguire. The context of this saying by Renee Zellweger to Tom Cruise who plays Jerry Maguire begins early in this movie. Renee plays a little known secretary, Dorothy Boyd, observing from a distance the man who built a high powered sports agency firm where she works. When Cruise develops a conscience after talking to one of his client’s sons, this inspires a new mission statement. Unfortunately, this new philosophy results in Jerry’s firing. Upon his departure, Dorothy is the only employee who is willing to quit her job, joining Cruise to start a new sports agency. This loyalty causes Jerry to marry Dorothy before debt and failure results in their separation. When this failed business venture finally has it’s first break through, Cruise has no one to share this great news with. Thus, Jerry finds himself in the middle of a room filled with divorced women, hoping that he can salvage his marriage.
So he went and forced himself on one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He would have gladly eaten the [carob] pods that the pigs were eating [but they could not satisfy his hunger], and no one was giving anything to him. 17 But when he [finally] came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough food, while I am dying here of hunger! – Luke 15:15-17
The Bible has it’s own version of you had me at hello. During a series of three parables, Luke illustrates how these analogies by Jesus illustrate how heaven celebrates individuals who turn back to God. The parable of Lost Sheep reveal how God searches after sheep, lost souls that go astray. The parable of the Lost Coin suggests that angels in heaven celebrate each time people make a U-turn back to God by repenting. The most famous example follows a younger brother who deserts his family, squandering his inheritance on wild living. When his money runs out, this prodigal is forced to become a slave at a pig farm, longing to eat the pods fed to the herd. From God’s perspective, when wayward souls come to their senses begging for forgiveness and mercy, the Lord embraces you at hello.
I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; [just] treat me like one of your hired men.”’ 20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him, Luke 15:18-20.
No matter how far people stray from God today, it’s never too late to say hello. The prophet Jeremiah is often referred to as the weeping prophet. When the Lord continues to urge you to tell Israel of bad news, it’s hard to remain positive. Yet, while writing the Book of Lamentations, Jeremiah provides a glimpse of hope. Lamentations 3:19-24 contains the subtitle Hope in Relief of God’s Mercy. This passage unveils the biblical promise that God’s compassion never fails, new every morning. Therefore, whether this blog finds you in a state like Jerry Maguire, a wandering sheep or a prodigal that has gone over the deep end, the Lord is waiting for you with open arms. Luke’s depiction compares God to a retired senior citizen sitting on his front porch, waiting for his children to visit. As soon as you make that final turn back in the right direction, God the Father runs to meet you half way, welcoming you home.
During my final year of college, I joined an accountability group. The official title of this weekly gathering was a Reunion Group with men whom I met during a Walk to Emmaus Retreat. This sharing group involved giving a brief summary of your week which included your moment closest to Christ and furthest away from God. Since we started meeting on Monday nights in the fall, most of this group stuck around to watch Monday Night Football afterwards. Unfortunately, when I went back home to Cleveland, Ohio over break and the summer, I blended into the world like a chameleon. Instead of developing into a light for Christ, I regularly walked in darkness like the account of the prodigal son in Luke 15.
“Now a traveler (visitor) came to the rich man, and to avoid taking one from his own flock or herd to prepare [a meal] for the traveler who had come to him, He took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for his guest.” 5 Then David’s anger burned intensely against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die. 6 He shall make restitution for the ewe lamb four times as much [as the lamb was worth], because he did this thing and had no compassion.” 7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you as king over Israel, and I spared you from the hand of Saul, 2 Samuel 12:4-7.
You don’t have to squander your wealth in wild living such as Luke 15:13-15 to become a prodigal. Rather, idleness, too much free time and a lack of vision can lead a man after God’s own heart into sinful addictions. Instead of going to work, David took the Spring off, wandering around the roof of his palace until a naked woman got his attention. Like any curious man, David inquired into the status of this woman, hoping that she was single. When the answer was no, the power of being king went to David’s head, allowing compromise to imagine the possibilities of just one night with this beautiful woman. A follower of Jesus describes this state as lust and enticement dragging individuals away from common sense until sin becomes full blown, James 1:13-15.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me away from Your presenceand do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit, Psalm 51:10-12.
After David realized that he was the person in Nathan’s analogy, Psalm 51 becomes a prayer for forgiveness. Prior to this confession, sin had entangled David within a pit of despair. Psalm 55:4-5 describes a spirit of conviction and guilt that overwhelms souls when you are revealed as the prodigal. This narcissistic mindset blinds individuals from seeing the truth, the wayward of selfish decisions. While David does provide a blueprint for reconciliation, the reality that I have become the prodigal is a tough pill to swallow. It only took one week of skipping church, sleeping in on Sunday to lead me on the slippery slope that I resid. Doing the right thing sounds so easy, but the apostle Paul reminds readers of Romans 7 that sin influences you to do what you hate. Thus, the next time you find yourself like me, shocked to be the prodigal, take these biblical passages to heart so that forgiveness arrives in the morning, Lamentations 3:19-23.
Atrophy refers to the process in which body tissue or organs slowly waste away often due to the degeneration of cells. Symptoms of atrophy include decay, deterioration, shrinking or withering away until human bodies no longer function as God designed them. When this condition is diagnosed, aggressive physical therapy is necessary to prevent further complications. Human beings are not the only things vulnerable to atrophy.
For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come, 1 Timothy 4:8.
Belief, faith and spiritual disciplines can be attacked. Satan uses compromise, deceit, half-truths and lust to lull Christians into bad habits. If these patterns persists, it doesn’t take long for a fervent faith to be persuaded into following in the footsteps of the prodigal son. The apostle Paul uses the term bewitched in a letter to the church at Galatia. Like atrophy within the human body, initial signs are subtle. Yet, when minds begin to justify and rationalize wrong actions, spiritual atrophy can become aggressive.
Now before faith came, we were kept in custody under the Law, [perpetually] imprisoned [in preparation] for the faith that was destined to be revealed, 24 with the result that the Law has become our tutor and our disciplinarian to guide us to Christ, so that we may be justified [that is, declared free of the guilt of sin and its penalty, and placed in right standing with God] by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under [the control and authority of] a tutor and disciplinarian, Galatians 3:23-25.
A group known as the Judaizers had infiltrated this congregation. Clinging to religious traditions of Judaism, these zealots began to add conditions to salvation, confusing many of the new converts to faith in Christ. In the passage above, the apostle Paul explained the original purpose of the law. However, Jesus came to abolish the law, opening the door for freewill. Instead of forcing people to believe, God uses freewill to introduce grace, mercy and forgiveness to those who fully repent, turning away from sin and toward God. This is the cure to spiritual atrophy, taking time each day to pray, thank God and yield your life to Christ alone. Pursuing godliness is like therapy to overcome the affects of spiritual atrophy.
From a historical point of view, Esau is the first boy scout mentioned in the Bible. Although the Boy Scouts of America is over 100 years old, based upon the passage below, it appears that Isaac invested time teaching and training his son how to live off the land. This enabled Esau to become a skilled hunter, embracing the outdoors like a contestant on Survivor. Unfortunately, cooking was a like foreign language to Esau, dependent upon his mother Rebekah and slightly younger brother Jacob to prepare what he brought home.
When the boys grew up, Esau was an able and skilled hunter, a man of the outdoors, but Jacob was a quiet and peaceful man, living in tents, Genesis 25:27.
A syndrome is a condition characterized by a collection of associated symptoms. If you closely evaluate the life of Esau, he spent so much time outdoors that he wasn’t able to become well rounded. This short sided approach to life forced him to become dependent upon others for meals, never taking the time to learn how to cook. Thus, this weakness was exposed following a long hunting trip, handing over his birthright to Jacob in one irrational moment. Like the prodigal son in Luke 15, Esau squandered the inheritance due to him upon his father’s passing. This one bad decision has defined Esau’s irrelevant life.
Jacob had cooked [reddish-brown lentil] stew [one day], when Esau came from the field and was famished; 30 and Esau said to Jacob, “Please, let me have a quick swallow of that red stuff there, because I am exhausted and famished.” For that reason Esau was [also] called Edom (Red). 31 Jacob answered, “First sell me your birthright (the rights of a firstborn).” 32 Esau said, “Look, I am about to die [if I do not eat soon]; so of what use is this birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear [an oath] to me today [that you are selling it to me for this food]”; so he swore [an oath] to him, and sold him his birthright, Genesis 25:29-33.
The Scout’s Motto is to be prepared. From a spiritual stand point, this involves advancing past elementary teachings, Hebrews 6:1. This includes embracing the good with the bad, James 1:2-6, recognizing that God uses trials to take people out of their comfort zones. These periods prune individuals, stimulating growth by removing dead areas, John 15:1-5. As a former professional golfer, I spent most of my time on the weakest parts of my game. If I just practiced my strengths, I would not maximize my ability to improve. If you want to live a relevant life, make sure you develop all the areas of your life, not just the ones you like. Prayer, discipline and accountability partners will help you overcome the Esau Syndrome by becoming mature and complete, 2 Peter 1:3-4.
When the average person begins to feel sick, showing signs of an impending illness, airborne, cold medicine or pain killers are taken to be proactive. If this action fails to improve your condition, a doctor’s appointment or some sort of check up ensues. In the worst case scenario, you may even need to be hospitalized. Yet, when individuals begin to suffer from a broken heart, depression or wounded souls, few react with a sense of urgency. Thus, society is filled with a spiritual epidemic, unable to recover from a crushed and wounded soul.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit, Psalm 34:18.
After Levi decided to leave his career as a tax collector to follow Jesus, joining the other 11 disciples, he threw a party at his home, Matthew 9:9-13. This guest list included former co-workers, Pharisees and sinners. When this worldly crowd tried to engage spiritual leaders, a clash of classes developed. This prompted the Pharisees in attendance to question Jesus’ choice of friends and associates. Using these concerns for a teachable moment, Jesus deciphered the healthy from the sick. The disciplined and mature are able to self medicate, managing their own spiritual temperature. However, the addicted, lost and lonely are in need of a spiritual physician.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds, Psalm 147:3.
According to Jesus, healing occurs as individuals begin to recognize their sins and actively seek forgiveness. Thus, the key to recovering from a wounded soul involves reconciliation with friends, enemies and God. Matthew 11:25-30 details a call to action for anyone overwhelmed by the worries of this world. Jesus promises to give rest to the weary if you are willing to lay your burdens at the feet of the cross. Whenever someone comes to their senses like the prodigal son, consumed by a sense of urgency, wounded souls are refreshed with salvation, Romans 10:9-10. May this blog serve as a blue print for healing in the future.
I recently heard an acronym for BUSY that awakened my soul: Being Under Satan’s Yoke. These words struck a nerve, perhaps a sign that I am a willing accomplish. After calculating the time I spend at work, with family and editing my latest movie script, there’s not much room for church, God or service. Either my priorities have to change or I will remain under Satan’s yoke.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going, Ecclesiastes 9:10.
In the context of the Bible, a yoke is a bar of wood used to unite two animals. This device was applied by joining two oxen, usually attached to a plow to enhance the farming process. These animals were forced to work like a slave until the yoke was removed. Whether you refer to the acronym above or apply this concept spiritually, the Devil uses busyness to distract individuals from serving the Lord.
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil, 1 John 3:8.
The disciple whom Jesus loved points to Satan’s yoke upon mankind. Satan uses whatever means possible to get people hooked on alcohol, drugs or some other unwholesome practice. Once addicted, hearts, minds and souls become desperate for their next fix. This obsession results in selfish ambition, tempting souls to indulge in earthly pleasures day after day. Until people come to their senses like the prodigal son, Luke 15, countless lives will remain busy under Satan’s yoke.
If you over hear a conversation at work, follow social media or watch the news, serenity is one of the last things you will find. Perhaps, if you travel to the Caribbean, retreat to the mountains or go on vacation, signs of serenity will emerge. Unfortunately, many people rush through life, becoming distracted by concerns, stress and worries. These burdens make the possibility of experiencing a calming, peaceful and tranquil environment doubtful.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths, Proverbs 3:5-6.
When I was younger, I wanted to be older, able to freely roam the earth like the prodigal son. Now that I am old, I wish I enjoyed and savored the days of my youth. Besides going to school and playing sports, I had it made. Sure, there are always periods or phases that you would like to forget, but the teenage years should have been the best. Yet, puberty, self-esteem issues and giving into temptation often derails childhood dreams. Meanwhile, the older you become, the more complicated life gets. These negative influences make serenity a foreign concept.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you, Isaiah 26:3.
The Old Testament offers some advice to those who seek to find serenity. First, Solomon implores individuals to place their trust in the Lord. According to this former king, those who practice this by faith will receive insight as God straightens your path through life. Second, the prophet Isaiah talks about developing a mindset. Peace, a by product of serenity is obtained by fixing your mind on God. If you feel overwhelmed by the chaos that exists daily, may these words inspire you to find a state of freedom from the storms and disturbances within this life.