Living Stones

When I was a kid, I was fascinated with stones. Every time we traveled, I brought home some kind of rock or stone in my pocket. One time we were camping at the Greenwood State Furnace in Central Pennsylvania, and my cousin and I discovered the jackpot of rocks. The old iron furnace that was on the property was surrounded by “slag,” which was a by-product of the iron smelting process that had taken place there. Slag was a glossy black and green glass-rock, and it could be tumbled and polished into beautiful objects. I probably had over a hundred pieces of slag stones.

In 1 Peter, we see Christ referred to as a “living stone.” This image contrasts the hard permanence of a stone with the qualities of living, breathing vibrancy. It is then expanded to include us, and paints a picture of a spiritual house being built with our sturdy, living stones:

1 Peter 2

Come to Jesus Christ. He is the living stone that people have rejected, but which God has chosen and highly honored. And now you are living stones that are being used to build a spiritual house. You are also a group of holy priests, and with the help of Jesus Christ you will offer sacrifices that please God. It is just as God says in the Scriptures,

“Look! I am placing in Zion
a choice and precious
    cornerstone.
No one who has faith
in that one
    will be disappointed.”

This is a beautiful image for us when we feel as though our own houses are crumbling around us. Life-changes such as death, job loss, divorce, and pandemics leave us feeling vulnerable and insecure. Remembering the sure foundation that is Christ, our rock, helps us to know that we are standing on his solid cornerstone. We cannot be moved.

You are followers of the Lord, and that stone is precious to you. But it isn’t precious to those who refuse to follow him. They are the builders who tossed aside the stone that turned out to be the most important one of all. They disobeyed the message and stumbled and fell over that stone, because they were doomed.

My parents understood my fascination with the slag rocks, and took a small and particularly beautiful one to a friend who had a rock tumbler. It came back shiny and polished, and the tumbling revealed the marbleized streaks that were hidden under the rock’s bubbly exterior. My Dad had it mounted on a necklace for me. It was oddly shaped, but I loved it.

I proudly wore this the next time we went camping with our camping club. A somewhat tactless dad took one look at it and said, “What an ugly rock!” I was devastated. His wife chastised him, and the poor fellow spent the rest of the weekend trying to apologize for his hastily spoken words. My parents encouraged me to realize that not everyone saw beauty the same way. But obviously the sting of that critical remark stayed with me.

Rejection of our ideals and theology can feel that way. When a family member or good friend ridicules our faith, we feel the sting. Jesus isn’t precious to those who refuse to follow him. When that happens, and it will, try to remember that you are God’s chosen one. You are special to God. You belong to a royal family. Not everyone sees beauty the same way.

But you are God’s chosen and special people. You are a group of royal priests and a holy nation. God has brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Now you must tell all the wonderful things that he has done. The Scriptures say,

10 “Once you were nobody.
    Now you are God’s people.
At one time no one
    had pity on you.
Now God has treated you
    with kindness.

On Christ the solid rock we stand…all other ground is sinking sand. Now go and tell all the wonderful things that he has done.

Greenwood State Furnace by Mary Anne Mong Cramer

Reunion

This is the time of year when our thoughts naturally turn to summer plans. The month of May typically includes the winding down of the school year, and Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of summer. Vacations, trips to the beach, watching the sun set, and traveling to family reunions are just some of the things we anticipate. Or did, before the pandemic.

This year there will not likely be a big family reunion at the Haas farm outside of Pittsburgh. Run by my third-removed cousin, the “other” Betsy Haas, this glorious location sits nestled among the hills and valleys of green fields and picturesque farmlands. Our family reunion is filled with story telling, (some of them are even true!) hugging, laughing, and most of all, EATING. Popular family recipes show up every year, and we get our annual fill of fresh-from-the-garden three-bean salad, Aunt Judy’s Lemon Lust, and hot buffalo chicken dip on salty Fritos. It is a gastronomic delight. Hay rides and blueberry picking round out the day, and we delight in the company of family.

It always makes me think that heaven must be exactly like that. A big family reunion, a warm summer day, lots of feasting at the heavenly banquet, and seeing people we love from whom we are separated by distance and time.

John 14 is a common funeral text, and it references the place we will go upon our death as a family reunion of sorts. The dwelling place that God has prepared for us has enough room for the entire clan:

John 14:1-14

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

In the midst of reminding his disciples that they already know the way to their heavenly reunion when their time comes, Jesus clarifies that the host is his Father, who is the one who sent Jesus to show them the way:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Coming home at the end of our lives will be a reunion with the Father and the Son, and all of our loved ones. This is why Jesus begins with “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus will come and take us to a homestead that he has prepared for us himself. No matter what trouble the world gives, these things are guaranteed: a heavenly family reunion, a feast of good things, and the comfort of a home made ready by the Lord himself.

I wonder if there will be Lemon Lust??

Maybe Next Summer by Tim Neal

Deliverance

Deliverance. What a curious word! Think of the many things that get delivered. Mail gets delivered. Pizzas get delivered. Newspapers get delivered. Babies get delivered. People in jeopardy get delivered. Souls get delivered.

Have you ever asked God to deliver you from something?

It is not uncommon when you find yourself in a place of great distress to ask God to deliver you from it. Illness, abuse, violence, unfulfilling jobs, hateful bosses, out-of-control teenagers….Lord, in your mercy, deliver us. Even atheists pray in foxholes.

I have had many a broken-hearted spouse come to me seeking God’s deliverance from the awful pain of betrayal. Sometimes he delivers them from the marriage, and freedom is restored. Other times he delivers them from their own grudge-holding, and facilitates forgiveness and reconciliation.

One thing is sure: God is our refuge and strength. He is our Deliverer.

Take a look at the beautiful language of Psalm 31, but before you do, ponder this: is there something from which you need to be delivered? Some sin, a destructive habit, an overwhelming loneliness, a feeling of shame, debilitating anger, or a negative personality trait? These things can feel like a fishing net that has wound itself around your ankles. You can’t move. You are trapped.

Think of that net, and imagine that you are at the foot of the cross asking Jesus to cut you loose as you pray this prayer:

Psalm 31

In You, O Lord, I put my trust;
Let me never be ashamed;
Deliver me in Your righteousness.
Bow down Your ear to me,
Deliver me speedily;
Be my rock of refuge,
A fortress of defense to save me.

For You are my rock and my fortress;
Therefore, for Your name’s sake,
Lead me and guide me.
Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me,
For You are my strength.
Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.

I’m sure you recognize verse 5 as the last thing Jesus said as he died on the cross. Jesus was quoting this scripture at the moment that God delivered him, cutting the crucifixion-net free and releasing his spirit as he left the earth.

So too will he do for you, if you trust him to release you from whatever has entangled you.

You don’t have to stay entrapped. You don’t have to be caught in despair. You may have done things that led you straight into a net that was laid out for you, but you don’t have to stay there. All you have to do is ask to be pulled out.

Behold! Your deliverer comes.

Old Net by Michelle Robertson

Getting Stoned

Have you ever had an argument where you could tell with a hundred percent certainty that the other person was not listening to you? Have you ever told your child to do something and you were positive that they did not hear a single word you said? How about communicating with your teenager…ever feel like they have invisible hands over their ears as you are trying to talk to them?

Despite our best efforts to communicate, there are times when we simply aren’t heard. People tune us out because of anger, lack of interest, lack of respect, obstinance, ignorance, and a host of other reasons. Many of those reasons don’t even have anything to do with us or what we are saying…people are dealing with their own internal demons, which can render them deaf.

In our scripture this week, a Jesus-follower named Stephen was trying to communicate the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, he shared a vision of heaven. But the council members were not swayed. They were deeply threatened by his revelation, as it challenged their power structure and a status quo that put them at the top of the food chain. So they shouted and covered their ears when he spoke.

Then they did the unthinkable:

Acts 7 (Contemporary English Version)

55 But Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. He looked toward heaven, where he saw our glorious God and Jesus standing at his right side. 56 Then Stephen said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!”

57 The council members shouted and covered their ears. At once they all attacked Stephen 58 and dragged him out of the city. Then they started throwing stones at him. The men who had brought charges against him put their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 As Stephen was being stoned to death, he called out, “Lord Jesus, please welcome me!” 60 He knelt down and shouted, “Lord, don’t blame them for what they have done.” Then he died.

It is extraordinary to see Stephen’s reaction to their violence. Rather than defend himself or fight back, he turned his eyes upon Jesus and asked for a homecoming. Then he absolved them of blame, asking God to forgive his murderers.

Stephen is remembered for his martyrdom and compassion. His willingness to proclaim Jesus in the midst of rejection and violent retaliation is remarkable. He didn’t stop, even knowing that nobody was listening.

There may be people in your life to whom you are speaking a word of love who aren’t listening. Tell them anyway. Others reject your offer for help. Help them anyway. Some are covering their ears as you try to give sound counsel. Keep trying. Sometimes carrying a message of hope results in being attacked for no reason. That’s when it’s important to ignore the ignorant comments and keep pressing forward with what the Holy Spirit is telling you to do. Just ask me.

May we all have a smidge of the enormous compassion Stephen felt for his attackers. In that way, we might have the peace that he had, and reflect back to the world the visible image of Christ’s forgiveness at the crucifixion.

Whenever we reflect Jesus, we honor God.

Heart Stone by Michelle Robertson

The Classics

Sometimes in life, you just want the classics. A classic New Jersey hoagie…Italian of course, not tuna and avocado. A pepperoni pizza, not Hawaiian with pineapple. (Who does that??) A ‘63 Mustang convertible, not a Mini Cooper. Beethoven’s Fifth, not the Electric Slide.

If I were to ask you which scripture you think is the most recognized, you would probably default to the classics. John 3:16. Genesis 1:1. Psalm 23. These passages are well known because they are memorable and timeless.

One of the reasons that the 23rd Psalm pops up to the top of the classics chart is our familiarity with it. Many of us memorized it as children. Bible Study writer Dick Murray once said that it was while crouching in a foxhole in the war that he realized that the only available “bible” he could access in that moment was the one he had in his mind, and it was sadly limited to the few passages he had memorized. He was trying to calm himself by reciting scripture, only to discover that the ones he had memorized were few and far between. This motivated him to go back and memorize more when the war was over.

So, what’s in your bible?

The 23rd Psalm is said at every funeral in my denomination. It conveys a timeless message of beauty, hope, assurance, and peace. It is a classic for a reason.

Psalm 23 (New King James Version)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

My challenge for you today is to spend time memorizing this beautiful piece. Take it apart, study it line by line, make picture-memories of it, walk around your house saying it out loud, and add it to your mind. This one will never let you down. We need it now more than ever.

Like you, it‘s a classic!

Still Waters at Sunset by Bonnie Bennett

Great Assembly

OK, here’s the truth. I am tired of everybody’s online worship. I am tired of watching myself on TV on Sunday mornings in my jammies, with a cup of coffee in my hand. We are all tired of trying to think of new and creative ways to tell the story of Jesus while making eye contact with the cold, hard lens of a camera.

I guess I’m just tired of the isolation of attending church in my living room. I bet you are, too. I need my people.

I believe we were created for corporate worship. I believe heaven rejoices when God’s people gather in a place and raise their combined voices as one melody of adoration. I believe kids should be noisy and fidgety, older people should snooze, and young people should text each other during church…like we normally do every Sunday!

(Look, I’m like Santa sitting up there in the front….I see you when you’re sleeping, I know when you’re awake…)

I also believe we should listen with open hearts and minds, and in my church, that is what we do every Sunday together. I miss my congregation’s attentiveness to the Word as it is spoken, proclaimed, sung, and experienced. You see, I also see people leaning in when the Word is offered.

So today’s Psalm sent a ping straight to my heart with the very first verse:

Psalm 22 (New King James Version)

My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!

But then we get to a verse that reminds us that we worship as all the families of the nations. In that context, we couldn’t possibly be together in one place, and thus we are reminded that God’s kingdom is so much larger than the sanctuary that we are all missing:

27 All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s,
And He rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth
Shall eat and worship;
All those who go down to the dust
Shall bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep himself alive.

So what do you suppose our children are learning from this? Parents, what you are doing right now is teaching your children, who are the “posterity and the next generation,” about what YOU really feel about worship. Are you finding it less and less convenient to set Sunday morning aside for family worship? Is the beach, a sunny walk, picking strawberries, a bike ride to the woods, etc. more enticing to you as this pandemic wears on? Be careful with your priorities. The children are watching.

30 A posterity shall serve Him.
It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation,
31 They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born,
That He has done this.

If you are a regular church goer, please hang in there. Your pastor did not receive training as a televangelist in seminary. We are doing the best we can. God still requires that we keep the Sabbath holy, even in a pandemic.

The good news is, the great assembly will return! So in the meantime, let us continue to set Sunday mornings aside for “corporate” worship. God is still here, and he is worthy of our praise.

New Normal

Jesus Freaks

I suppose every generation has a version of religious zealots that takes on a unique persona. In the early 1800’s, the Second Great Awakening produced charismatic Camp Meetings, where fiery Revivalists converted the masses. Salvation was their focus.

In the prohibition era, we had lace-hatted ladies who marched with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, proclaiming that “lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine.” (I had a grandmother who was a proud WCTU card-carrier.) Sobriety was their focus.

In the ‘60s, we had free-spirited “Jesus Freaks,” a counter-cultural group who shared things in common and proclaimed a message of love. Community was their focus. All these groups in their own way were Jesus Freaks of a sort, but the hippie culture may have been the closest to the original:

Acts 2:42-47 (English Standard Version)

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

One of the blessings to arise from the pandemic is that the Jesus Freaks among us have revived the notion that we should share our possessions and belongings, and break bread across our community with those who are hungry due to losing jobs. Several restaurants in the Outer Banks have taken the lead with offering free breakfasts, chicken and dumplings lunches, and hearty meatloaf dinners, all free of charge. Some have set up tents for distribution.

Our local homeless ministry has extended their program during a time when they would normally be closed, and churches continue to take turns volunteering and delivering meals.

Churches are expanding their Care Ministries to include any need that comes to their attention. Last week my church had a request to help a non-member who lives almost an hour away from our location. She is hospitalized in another state with a high risk pregnancy, and her husband is struggling to care for their children on his own while working and trying to visit his wife. So my church will deliver meals for the next four weeks, because that’s what Jesus Freaks do.

In the passage above, we see that these acts of community were met with awe, which came upon every soul. This witness of sharing resulted in people coming to Christ in great numbers every day. That is what happens when people see the love of God in action.

Where is God calling you to be the evidence of his love today? Where can you invite awe into someone’s soul by sharing what you have in his name?

God calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and offer water to the thirsty. There is a need in your community that you can meet. You can produce many wonders and signs of God’s reign right where you are. Go out and find a way to be a Jesus Freak for someone today!

Free Chicken N Dumplings Photo courtesy of the Jolly Roger Restaurant

Driving out Fear

Are you a person with a great capacity to love? Do you believe that we are called to love one another? What does the Bible say about love?

1 John 4 may be the most love-saturated passage in the entire Bible. Take a look at this and see how many times the word “love” appears:

1 John 4 (Common English Bible)

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 

Love is from God. If you don’t love, you don’t know God. The charge is so simple: if God loves us so much that he sacrificed his son for us, we ought to love each other in the same way.

12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us. 13 This is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world. 15 If any of us confess that Jesus is God’s Son, God remains in us and we remain in God. 16 We have known and have believed the love that God has for us.

So what do we make of “love” that abuses, shuns, or condemns? What evidence of love can be found in the person who refuses to accept the “other?” Where is love when judgment is being spewed?

God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. 17 This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. 

We will be judged by how we followed the commandment to love as God loves in this world. And God is the only one qualified to judge. He calls us to offer love to one another, not judgment. Perfect love is designed to drive out fear, even fear of people who are drastically different from us. If you claim to love God but hate a certain section of God’s people, you are a liar.

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us. 

20 Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars.

After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen!21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

Those who claim to love God have to love their brother and sister WITHOUT JUDGMENT. This is the Word of God for the people of God. If your response to this is “Yeah, but what about the people who….” then you have totally missed the point.

Hearts Over Atlanta by Kathy Schumacher

Desolate Roads

Of all of the eerie things this pandemic has brought, the images of desolate roads rank high at the top for me. There are still a lot of cars here on the Outer Banks, as apparently everyone has to go to Lowe’s every. single. day. But the stay-at-home order has definitely reduced traffic. Several times early on a Sunday morning I have waited at a red light to turn onto the bypass and not a single car has gone through the intersection. That never happens. But have you seen pictures of London, New York, or Las Vegas? City centers like those are truly desolate. The scenes of empty roads are disturbing.

One of my favorite post-apocalyptic movies is “Omega Man.” It is the story of a vaccine scientist named Dr. Robert Neville, who is the last human survivor of a germ-war pandemic that has wiped out humanity. There are other survivors, no longer human, who have turned into violent anti-technology and anti-science mutant-predators. They hunt Neville at night using primitive weapons. Neville eventually finds a small group of two adults and a few children who somehow have a natural immunity. But in the beginning of the movie, he has lived in his generator-powered apartment for three years without seeing a single human being.

The opening scenes are absolutely haunting. Filmed in 1971, the director took shots of Los Angeles’ empty business district from a helicopter early on a Sunday morning, inserted still shots where people had been erased from the film, and cut to empty back-lot scenes to create a shocking vision of a post-apocalyptic city.

The image of a desolate road caught my attention in today’s reading. I have come to realize after decades of bible study that it is often in these overlooked details that the story takes on life. Take a look:

Acts 8 (The Message)

26-28 Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.

Thus the scene is set. A member of the queen’s court, a busy man indeed, has been to the buzzing city of Jerusalem on a pilgrimage. He has been looking for something. He was wealthy enough to be riding in a chariot. He is a man versed in the Hebrew writings, and is reading Isaiah. This wealthy, educated, privileged man is traveling back from the Temple to his palace along a desolate road, and THAT is where he finds what he had been looking for.

29-30 The Spirit told Philip, “Climb into the chariot.” Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

31-33 He answered, “How can I without some help?” and invited Philip into the chariot with him.

I love the weird friendliness of this exchange. Was it normal to invite some random guy running beside your chariot to jump in and chat? Or do you suppose the Holy Spirit had something to do with it? Surely Philip had been led there by the Holy Spirit, but we get the sense that the eunuch was also being led in this exchange.

The passage he was reading was this:

As a sheep led to slaughter,
    and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
He was silent, saying nothing.
    He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
But who now can count his kin
    since he’s been taken from the earth?

34-35 The eunuch said, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?” Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.

And so on this desolate road, we see a beautiful example of something Methodists call “prevenient grace.” Prevenient grace is the grace that goes before us, wooing us to God before we are aware of our need for him, or have any idea how to find him. Prevenient grace led Philip to the desolate road. Prevenient grace opened the eunuch’s mind and heart to receive him there. And as soon as the moment was right, Philip preached Jesus to him.

Such beauty can be born from desolation! And oh, how we needed to hear that this morning as we look down the empty road. Are you finding Jesus on this desolate road we are traveling?

Jesus is already on this road, having come before us. If we can begin to think of this pandemic as a journey to a pilgrimage rather than a terror to endure, how much better our hearts will be in the end! Because this WILL end.

And guess what? We are one day closer. So go and preach Jesus to someone.

Desolate Road by Kathy Schumacher

Voice Recognition

A long time ago we had a hamster named Carmel. Carmel and I had a deep affection for one another. Even though she was my daughter’s pet, I discovered that petting Carmel and carrying her around in my pocket was a great stress-reliever. She and I had many conversations after work every day.

One night I got awake after hearing a loud crash. Carmel had managed to pop the lid off her specialized hamster house and was on the loose. I listened carefully and discovered that she had gotten into the ductwork downstairs. Climbing on top of a desk in our family room, I could hear her through a vent high up on the wall. She just scurrying along, happy as can be. There was one room in the house where the vents were on the floor, so I realized that if I could somehow get her over there, I might be able to take the grate off and get her out that way.

So there I was at 4AM, laying on the floor of the sun room and calling down the vent to her. I kept calling her name and talking to her. I’m glad we didn’t have security cameras back then…surely I looked like a lunatic. But crazy is as crazy does! In about 20 minutes I heard her little feet make their way up the duct where I was calling her, and sure enough, she crawled right up and into my waiting hand.

Carmel had recognized the voice of her Mama, and apparently exploring the house turned out to be scarier than she had thought it would be. I returned her to her abode and placed a Webster’s dictionary (you remember those) on top of the lid so she couldn’t push it up again.

In the passage below, Jesus is reminding us sheep that he is our shepherd, and he is a very, very good one. He loves us enough to sacrifice his life for ours. But we have to recognize his voice in order to be part of the flock.

John 10 (The Message)

11-13 “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.

14-18 “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary.

You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too. They’ll also recognize my voice.

Sometimes God’s voice sounds like a guilty conscience. Sometimes it sounds like a good friend calling us out on our harmful behavior. Sometimes it comes in the form of a good sermon, a sidewalk chalk message, or a piece of music that moves us in a particular way. Sometimes it sounds exactly like Jesus whispering in our ear. The trick is to know him so well that you recognize him no matter what he chooses to speak through.

Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd. This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again. I received this authority personally from my Father.”

One day Jesus will return to rule the people of all ages, nations, and races. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord. He longs to shepherd the entire flock, and be the One shepherd of all.

In the meantime, he speaks. He speaks words of comfort, hope, rebuke, correction, instruction, guidance, and above all, love. Jesus is speaking to us even now. Are you listening?

God Speaks By Wende Pritchard