Death as A Shepherd.

Castle Howard
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“Death will be their shepherd.”

I came upon this line in Psalm 49. It jumped out at me because of the many times I have read about Jesus being the good shepherd. It is a terrible thought that Death is leading people around like sheep, but it makes sense because God is the author of life and light. Life is to be found in him alone.

Psalm 49, In my own words:

Listen to this all people who live on earth! Listen, rich and poor, high and low alike! I will speak wisdom to you and help you understand.

Why should I fear when evil days come? Even if evil men surround me, those who trust in their wealth and boast about it, why should I fear?

No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them. The ransom for a life is too costly. No payment would ever be enough to secure eternal life for a friend.

Everyone can see that wise men die and also the foolish. They leave their riches to others. Their tombs will be their home forever, even though they name their lands after themselves.

People do not endure. They are like the beasts that perish. That is the fate of those who trust in themselves and also of their followers, who approve of them.

These people are like sheep destined to die. Death will be their shepherd. Their bodies will decay in the grave, far from their expensive houses.

But God will redeem me from the house of the dead. It is sure he will take me to himself.

So, do not be in awe when some people grow to be super-rich. Don’t be amazed by their splendid houses for they will take nothing with them. Although, while they are alive, they think of themselves as fortunate; though many people praise them, they will join those who have gone before. They will never again see the light of life.

Remember this: People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish.

We're Caught in A Trap.

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“My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he can release my foot from the snare.” Psalm 25:15

When I read this today, I thought of a wolf or fox caught in a trap. It is such a sad image. But of course, David was writing about sin and the death it causes.

We all get trapped by sin; we are born having sinful and selfish desires that will get us into trouble. We need the Lord to free us from that. We cannot do it by ourselves.

I remembered when Jesus said to his friends, “Without me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5 Until we reach that conclusion, we are tilting at windmills. Only God has the strength needed to free us from our sinful nature. That is why David said, so many times, “The Lord is my strength.”

This doesn’t mean we will be perfectly good here in this world. As James says, “Indeed, we all make many mistakes.” James 3:2 And John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8,9

Psalm 25 is so beautiful. I wrote it out in my own words this morning. I’ll share it here with you.

I want to put my trust in you, Lord. May Satan not triumph over me. I know that the one who hopes in you will not be ashamed. But utter shame will be the lot of the wicked.

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth, for you are my God and Savior. I hope in you all day long.

Don’t forget your love and mercy, but do forget the sins of my youth and all my rebellious ways. Remember me according to your great love, for you are good.

Yes, you are good and wise; that is why you can teach us the right way to go. All your ways are loving and faithful. Forgive my sin, though it is great.

Who are those who fear the Lord? God will teach them; they will inherit their own land in heaven. God confides in those who fear him. He makes a contract with them. My eyes are always on the Lord, for only he can release my feet from a trap.

Come to me, dear Lord, for I am lonely and afflicted. Please relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from mental pain. Guard my life and rescue me, for I take refuge in you. My hope, Lord, is in you alone.

Give God a Chance.

David singing for King Saul.

Psalm 34.  (In my own words.)

I will praise the Lord always. I will enjoy his company. Let those who are in trouble hear me and also rejoice!

I looked for the Lord and he answered me. He saved me from my fears. Angels of God surround those who revere him.

Try on the Lord, like a coat in a store, and see if he fits. Taste him, and you will see that he is good. You will be blessed by him. Fear God, for those who are in awe of him will lack no good thing.

If you love life, do not lie; turn away from evil and do good. Seek peace. God’s eyes are on us. His ears hear us. He is close to those whose hearts are broken. He saves those who are crushed in spirit.

In this world, we will have trouble, but God delivers us. Evil will kill the wicked, but in the last judgement, God’s people will not be condemned!

Can You be a Christian and not Love God?

The last few weeks I have either heard or read Christians say, “We don’t obey God because we want to be saved, are afraid of him or want something from him. We obey God because we love him.”

This always gives me pause because of the number of years I have not felt love for God. I first gave my life to him because he showed me through a dream that I was lost. I saw Jesus returning and wasn’t ready. That dream terrified me.

My grandmother gave me a book about God and I loved it. Then I went to an evangelistic meeting. I enjoyed that also, but when they asked if anyone wanted to come forward to give their lives to Christ, I didn’t do it until the last night. That was the night the preacher talked about Jesus and his death on the cross for us. I felt love and gratitude and walked up to the stage to give myself to Jesus.

So, I guess I could say I came to God through fear and then love. But the love feeling didn’t last. Because of my church’s teachings, I started feeling very afraid to sin and believed God would turn away from me if I sinned. I don’t remember any teachings about how we will sin and how God will always be there for us.

So, I was afraid. I became legalistic too and looked down on those who weren’t as “good” as I was. I’m not sure how you can have both feelings, but I guess I went back and forth between them. When I did sin or make a mistake, I couldn’t pray for days because I felt so guilty.

I then learned about, “righteousness through faith,” from a new preacher in my church. This was wonderful news to me and I embraced it. I felt at peace with God for quite a few years.

But then some traumatic things happened in our family. I couldn’t understand why God would allow such pain. I felt repulsed by the way he ran the world and let people suffer. Not just my family, but everyone in the world. I was filled with anger towards him. I walked away from him.

Four years later, when I came back to him, I had read books on why God allows suffering. These books had helped me a lot and I could understand why things were the way they were. But love? No, I didn’t feel love for God and for the most part, I didn’t really believe he loved me.

This went on for years, and the thing is that even though I didn’t feel love for God, I wanted to be a good person and I knew God was the only way to be that. I felt as Jesus said, I hungered and thirsted for righteousness. I cared about justice, mercy, forgiveness, love, compassion, generosity and patience.

I loved what God stood for, but it was so hard for me to equate that with a person in heaven. Maybe because men had hurt me all my life, I couldn’t think of God in a loving way.

So then, if I took to heart what these Christians say about obeying God because I felt love for him, I would have given up in despair. But I learned from Joyce Meyer not to rely on my feelings. They are fickle and unreliable.

One of my sisters feels no love at all for God. She was angry with him for many years. But God wouldn’t let her go. He called her, he bugged her, he chased her until she reluctantly gave in to him. She worships him every day. She is learning about him every day. She is growing every day. There is a huge change in her, although she cannot see it, I do.

In fact, the way God has dealt with my sister has made me love him. Not many people love her. One reason is she always says the truth of what she thinks or believes. She doesn’t let people get away with bullshitting her. She is direct and pulls no punches, but that is one of the reasons I love her so much. She is straight with me; I don’t have to guess where she stands.

I’ve told her I think the thing God loves most about her is her honesty. She doesn’t want to hurt people with honesty, that is just her personality and most people don’t like it. But God does. I know he does, and oh how that makes me love him.

I only started having consistent “feelings” of love for God the last few years. I became a Christian at 19 and I am now 69. It has been a long wait for me. I had moments of that loving feeling, but they didn’t last. Now, it feels like my heart will burst with love and the joy of knowing God. It was worth the wait; I’m so happy.

I wrote this for those who have no feelings for God and think they should. I’m sure God understands feelings and knows they can’t be counted on. I think he wants us to worship him because we admire what he stands for: truth, faithfulness, justice, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, long-suffering, tolerance, and most of all love.

But honestly, I believe God will take us any way he can get us. He loves us that much.

Making the Psalms Personal.

First chapter of Psalms: 1370s: commissioned by Queen Jadwiga of Poland

I’ve been going through the Psalms, writing them as if they came from my heart. It’s been a wonderful exercise and I seem to think of the Psalm the rest of the day. Some of them are happy; some are sad. Tonight, I got to the 22nd Psalm and as I tried to enter into the sufferings of David and Jesus, my own sufferings became vivid. Maybe writing out the Psalms is a good way to get the bad stuff out, like I used to do while in therapy when I wrote my life story in a journal. I hope this helps someone.

Psalm 22:

Why did you let this happen? Where were you? A question I used to ask. No more. I accept what happened. This world is a cesspool of evil. But mental pain brought me to you, the Lover of my soul.

Most of my life, I have felt like a worm, not a human being. Because my father molested me, I felt filthy and unlovable. But you, O Lord, are enthroned in heaven. All power is yours. I believe in you. You were there the day I was born. You took me out of my mother’s womb.

People say, “Why are you still thinking about the abuse? Get over it!” They make fun of me because of my social phobia and agoraphobia. Sometimes when I speak, they say I am crazy. They laugh at me when I gasp in terror when someone calls my name, “BELLE!” I peed in first grade when the teacher called my name. Pee filled the seat of my chair, poured down my legs and shoes and puddled under my desk. What happened next? Memory gone.

In high school, boys surrounded me, trying to feel my breasts, trying to take my bra off. Me? I wanted love and babies. But I was snow-white pure; a virgin head to toe. Then in high school, a boy told everyone he had screwed me. I was easy. He said it loud to a crowd of boys as I was walking by. A lie. They opened their mouths wide against me. My father says it too, “SLUT!” as he throws me against the wall. My heart has turned to wax.

But you Lord, are my strength. I want to tell everyone how you have saved me. You have heard my cry for help! One day, all will kneel before you. My children will worship and praise you!

Questions from Jesus.

What I have noticed about the questions Jesus asked, is that he invited people to speak their mind honestly. It was up to them what they would say or decide. He didn’t try to talk people into anything; he respects our freedom of choice.

Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”   He said, “Come and see.”  John 1:38

So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”

Healing. Even when Jesus knew what people wanted, he asked them to tell him first. Even though God knows what we need, he wants us to ask him anyway.

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”

The woman caught in adultery was probably feeling embarrassed. When she wasn’t stoned to death, and the men walked away, she didn’t speak first. Perhaps her face was red and tear-stained. She probably couldn’t look Jesus in the face. So, in asking a question, it made it easier for her to speak.

 “Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Now go and sin no more.”

Many times, Jesus asked people if they believed he was the Messiah, the Son of God. He asked so they could declare openly their belief in him. I have heard that speaking something out loud cements in your mind what you believe.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  John 11:25,26

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”   John 9:35

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”   And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”   Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Matthew 16:13-16

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Luke 18:19 (In other words, who do you think I am?)

Jesus had hard questions for those who opposed him. They were constantly hounding him with questions and accusing him of having a devil. From what I remember, they were the ones who always started a conversation with Jesus. He didn’t hold back any punches.

“Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?   John 8:46

Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you are unable to accept My message.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out his desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, refusing to uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, because he is a liar and the father of lies.  But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me!   John 8:43-45

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”   Luke 6:46

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”  Matthew 7:3

Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”  They didn’t dare. Mark 11:30

And the last question, one of the saddest, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”   Luke 22:48  I think Jesus was trying to get Judas to think about what he was doing. Jesus would have forgiven Judas, but he just would not repent.

Well, those aren’t all the questions Jesus asked, but those were the ones I remember. What I love about Jesus is his total honesty, singleness of purpose and bravery. I love his respect for the human race in the total freedom he has given us to accept him or not. Most of all, I love his heart of love.

Suicidal Thoughts.

The first time I had suicidal thoughts was when I was 14. I had moved from middle school into high school. I had never felt comfortable in school or around people. School had been a slow torture for me from kindergarten.

There was a guy in school that I liked and I found out he liked me. He asked to take me to a hayride the school was sponsoring. I said yes, even though I was terrified. It was to be my first real date. I bought a beautiful blouse to wear. But the date was a disaster because I couldn’t speak. I answered his questions with one-word syllables and never asked him a thing. Eventually, he gave up trying to talk with me.

Later, at home, I realized what I had done and felt hopeless. The thought of going back to school and seeing him again and telling my girlfriends what had happened was too much. I took all my brother’s sleeping pills. They pumped my stomach and my parents took me out of school. They also sent me to a psychologist.

I was home-schooled by a government teacher and got straight A’s. I felt happy not having to try to cope with school. But by the end of that school year, they said I could go back to a regular school. I went back, and I did make some good friends. I got in trouble with my father though because in our church dancing was a sin, and he kept finding out I went to dances. He beat me with a belt. When I was young, he had sexually molested me, but I had somehow forgotten all that.

So, at seventeen, I was depressed about my life. I remember saying to myself, “No one in the whole world loves me.”  And it was true. So, I drove to a cliff and was going to drive off of it. But I was too scared to die that way. I went home, went in my parent’s bedroom and stole money from my father’s wallet. I was going to run away and maybe find love somewhere else. But My father heard me and stopped me. Instead, they sent me away to relatives in Canada. I got a job and friends and felt better.

The last time I wanted to kill myself was a few years ago when my husband and I moved out of our daughter’s house into our own apartment. I had been babysitting their daughter who has OCD. She was 14 and didn’t need me anymore. But I wasn’t prepared for the deep depression that came upon me like a black cloud.

I was depressed because I was lonely and also sick. Because of my illness, I couldn’t leave the apartment. I was terribly lonely; I barely saw my daughters and grandchildren. I hated my new life so I decided to put a stop to it. I took my husbands sleeping pills and passed out on the living room floor. He found me like that and an ambulance took me to the hospital where I was saved once again. He only had 10 pills left, so they just put me in a bed where I hallucinated for hours and eventually became normal.

I have told some of this story before, but I heard something on a podcast last night that brought it all back to me. The podcast is: The Zeitcast with Jonathan Martin. The topic was: Religious Trauma, Depression, & Suicide in the Church. One of the things his guest, Tony Caldwell, said was wonderful. He said something like, “When someone wants to kill themselves, something has to die alright, but not the person. It is the thoughts that make you want to kill yourself.”  Yes! Just wow! If only depressed people knew this was possible. We can change our thinking! We just have to learn how.

What helped me the most when I was depressed, besides therapy, and writing a journal, was reading this, “If you want to kill yourself, it is because you love that thing you are killing yourself over more than you love God.” I am a Christian, and I’ve been one since I was 19. I was sure I loved God more than anyone, but I was wrong. I knew God wouldn’t want me to kill myself, but I didn’t care. I was horribly lonely and hated my life the way it was, therefore, I loved my family more than God. I wanted them more than I wanted God. That is where my heart was.

So, I turned to God and said, “Well, Lord, it is just you and me now. I pray you will give me some purpose and something to live for. He did. He came close to me with comfort. I spent more time praying, especially when sad feelings came. I asked him to find things for me to do, and he did. I started painting and woodworking. I finally had a reason to get out of bed. Slowly, I became happy and now I feel full of joy almost all the time. Whenever I start feeling sad, I praise God out loud and quote the Bible. The feeling of joy returns. This is a daily struggle, but now that I know God always comes through for me, I never, ever feel hopeless.

I used to feel like such a misfit. I used to feel I didn’t belong. But God has shown me I am exactly the person he wants me to be and I always was because he has been with me, helping me. I now see my weakness as a great asset, for it has brought me to him and shown me how much I need him. Suffering has also made me sympathetic towards others.

After God refused to heal Paul of a “thorn” in his life he wrote, 

“He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me.  That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9,10