Devotional: Hear the voice of the Good Shepherd

goodshepherd_blacksheepWhen we have troubles, do you ever get unwelcomed advice from friends? It might be from good buddies, sisters, and family. Yes, they mean well for us, and they might tell us things like “fix this in your life, or do this then things might get better” but they might not truly understand our situation… and likely never will. Sometimes, their voices might even be harsh because you might be seen as the “black sheep” in the family.  If things in life go from bad to worst, some friends might run away; not necessarily because they don’t like you, but they might not know how to help you. They might also be afraid for themselves (like a fear of catching a cold or the flu from others who are sick).  Yes, even our closest friends might never understand our deepest troubles. At times, we may be left feeling all alone even though they are trying their best to help. Nevertheless, we still thank God for good friends and their wise advice.

What I want to say is this.  Other voices can drown out God’s voice if we allow it.  The temptation for all Christians is to listen to the voice of others before we even consider hearing the voice of the Lord.  When Jesus wants to speak, we need to pay attention.  God is calling his children to listen first to the voice of our Father. His voice is gentle and kind. He’s not condemning, nor harsh (and it’s not that we never need correction or discipline). But even one spoken word from the Lord can supernaturally comfort and sooth our worries and fears.  Only God’s spoken word gives life and has power to restore the soul, and yet can bring correction with tender-like qualities.  All our human words cannot compare.

jesus-the-good-shepherdJesus said in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd.”  God is calling his followers to listen to the voice of the Lord. Jesus also said in v.14, “I am the good shepherd, I know my own sheep and they know me.” The voice of the Good Shepherd can bring a word of peace to comfort the broken-hearted.

The Lord desires for us to be like sheep who are familiar with God’s voice such that when we pray, we will know it is the Lord who is speaking.  When we are attentive to God’s voice through listening-prayer, we get connected and hear the voice of the Father.  With the practice of spiritual disciplines and continual prayer, we can grow more familiar with the voice of the good shepherd.

The Holy Spirit has the supernatural ability to speak into your heart and bring his supernatural peace and presence (e.g., “Be calm. I will take care of this” might be something I might hear). And when you hear his spoken words, it can somehow bring just the relief you need.  A person can know without a doubt, that it was a word from the LORD. It’s part of knowing the voice of the shepherd.

Now, I’m not saying that all of us can hear his voice so clearly.  Sometimes when we are in the most desperate of situations, we might hear his voice unexpectedly.  At other times we might pray without 100% confidence, “Lord, if you are really there, then please speak to me. Lord, hear my prayers.”

I’ll end this long post with this.  No matter what we are going through, God hears your cry, feels your pain, and understands your deepest concerns.  When we are in our darkest valleys, the good shepherd can come in and take us by the hand to lead us.  With his rod and staff, he comforts us as he leads us higher from the lowest valleys and up through the rolling green hills.  When we begin to see the brightness of day, where green pastures flourish, and where streams of living water flow, we will know it is the Lord.  We will see our beautiful, gracious, loving and caring shepherd. Wherever your life may be going, continue to look to Jesus. He is there, leading you, guiding you.

Some great posts on other blogs

Hey people, here’s a good thought on human righteousness which prompted me to think more on whether it should always be devolved to “filthy rags” as Paul put it. It’s well-balanced. Have a read on Gospel Relevance (David Qaoud) “Why Your Deeds Are Not Like Filthy Rags.”

Why Your Deeds Are Not Like Filthy Rags.

Another thought-provoking blog I’ve also come across is by J.S. Park. I like his approach on how he handles the issue of people with same-sex attraction in the church.

Is there such a thing as a gay Christian?.

Dynamic equivalent bible translations

I will be comparing several bible translations.  This hasn’t been done on New Epistles blog in a long time. It’s fun and I miss doing this.  In the past, I used to do this extensively on New Epistles.  This time, we’ll probably be comparing two of my favorite dynamic translations-—the Common English Bible and New Living Translation.

I was reading from the Common English Bible recently.  I like it so much because it’s so clear and easy to read.  It was consistently on the top ten in 2014 but recently since 2015, it seems to have fallen off the top ten (and top 15) in bible unit sales. Not sure what’s going on but personally I think it’s a great functional equivalent translation (dynamic) and deserves more readership.  Most bible readers don’t know the difference and rely on word-of-mouth, but even opinions through word-of-mouth are not the most accurate.  Other dynamic translations have also fallen off the map include New Century Version, God’s Word, and the Voice.  They’re even hardly seen on the bookshelves in Christian bookstores these days.  In April 2015, only the New Living Translation, the Message, NIrV, and Amplified have remained in the top ten on CBA’s ratings.

April 2015 (unit sales, CBA)

1  New International Ver.
2  New Living Translation
3  King James Version
4  New King James Version
5  English Standard Version
6  Reina Valera 1960
7  New American Standard
8  NIrV
9  The Message
10 Holman Christian Standard
11 New American Bible
12 Amplified Bible
13 New Revised Standard Bible
14 Nuevo International

Is there a doubting Thomas in all of us?

doubting_thomas1Post-Easter Sunday is time we look at the post-resurrection Jesus.  A reading we sometimes get to hear in church is one on doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29).  We often give Thomas a bad rap as the doubter because of what he said: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Is there a “doubting Thomas” in all of us?  Many people in the world today are not much different from Thomas. The doubtfulness in Thomas represents what’s in most people in my generation. We are a generation that values being authentic.  To be an authentic believer, we need some proof and not just talk.  But even if you’re not a big doubter, there might be a small degree of doubt that exists in you. It’s natural for us to have some doubt about something.

But God already knows that many of us need an experience with God. This is why God comes down to us and pours out his love and gives us faith to believe the impossible. Without faith given to us from God, none of us would have any hope. If left to myself as a human being, I would probably have no faith at all…especially those of us who grew up in this post-modern age who are critical of everything. We question everything.

Yes, I’m a Thomas and I’m thankful that God loves his “Thomases” too.  God’s Spirit wants to work in the lives of people who need assurance of what we are taught to believe.  Although Jesus said in v. 29, blessed are those who have not seen but still believe, what this is, is faith… not blind-belief.  It’s God who gives us faith as we read God’s word, pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with himself because in his presence is fullness of joy.

Poll: Authority of the Bible vs. the Church’s Teachings

Here’s a poll for you.  Have we gone too far in rejecting the authority in the church, or not far enough?  Find out where your church or congregation stands on authority–on the bible alone, or also on the teachings and traditions of the church?


It seems like the majority in the evangelical church today tend to understand the authority of the bible vs church tradition in this way:

Accepting the infallibility & inerrancy of the bible which is the only authority (to the exclusion of the authority of the church’s teachings)

while

Rejecting the authority of the church’s teachings/traditions based on the bible (but not to the exclusion of the bible as the only infallible authority)

Yes, seems like a small difference in wording but implications can be huge.  It comes down to this: Where upon which does the onus for infallibility lay?  1) Upon our individual congregation’s interpretation of the bible, or 2) Upon the Church’s historic, catholic, and apostolic interpretation of the bible?

What are the implications?  Many evangelicals are never taught anything about the historical meaning of the Church’s early traditions and confessions. As a result, have we evangelicals become individualistic and have a type of privatized inner spirituality where we see our faith as a kind of “me, God and my bible”?  I know it’s a tough question to answer because we need to dig really deep to examine our inner spirituality.

Historical background: The Reformation in the early 1500s carried a strong conviction lrose_stainedglass300that the Scriptures alone was the word of God.  Luther did not trust in the pope or councils alone because, in the past, they had spoken in error and contradicted themselves.  Therefore, reformers like Luther and Calvin rejected the pope’s official words as being the very words of God Himself, thus the phrase: “sola scriptura” and “word alone”.

Helping unwed mothers

Gimme_ShelterThe idea of single pregnant teenagers scares many people including Christians.  We probably wouldn’t know what to do about it if someone in this situation were to come to us, or walk into one of our churches.

What would your church do about it?  What would most churches do about it?

Would you advise such a person to have an abortion, or to have the baby and at least give it up for adoption?

If churches do not have compassion or the willingness to minister to the downtrodden, then is it any wonder most girls turn to the easy solution of abortion?  So if we say we are pro-life, then we should be there to support them and counsel them to have the child, and later, give it up for adoption if they don’t want to raise it themselves.  There are up to 36 couples waiting for every one baby placed for adoption.  Yes, really.

I watched a film called Gimme Shelter.  It’s based on a true story and is inspiring.   The main character, Apple, who’s a sixteen year old teenager, runs away from her mother who is a drug addict and sex worker.  Apple finds herself pregnant and hospitalized from a car accident.  A Catholic chaplain (priest) in a hospital was initially turned away by Apple, but his patience and long-suffering eventually paid off.  Apple began to trust him and gave him the opportunity to bring her to a shelter where she is loved, care for, and finds friendship.  The shelter was founded and run by a Catholic housemother, who truly has a calling in ministry to take care of young unwed mothers.   The love in that place really impressed upon Apple because she chose to stay even when she had the chance to leave. Truly inspiring.

There aren’t a lot of good films that promote the social needs of people from a Christian perspective. This is one that can inspire not only Catholics, but evangelicals and protestants to take action to do what is godly.

Easter resurrection – Happy Easter

Easter - Angel Sits on StoneSome people don’t believe that there is a resurrection.  They believe that once they have passed on from this life, there will be no other life in the future. They live, they die and memories of themselves will just fizzle away like as if they had never existed.  The Sadducees (who are different from Pharisees) didn’t believe in the resurrection.  There are some religions in the world today that don’t believe in the after-life.  If that’s the case, what purpose is there in living this life?  Why not just “live it up” while we’re here now?

We as Christians follow what Christ has taught us.  He said to the other crucified criminal next to him on the other cross that “Truly, I tell you, today, you will be with me in paradise” (Lk.23:43).  This was a promise he made to this criminal who repented of his sins.  Jesus taught about a resurrection.   There will be a resurrection of the all the dead who died believing in Jesus as Christ, the anointed One.

But why should we believe this?  We believe it because Christ has indeed risen from the dead. There are historical non-biblical documents written by non-biblical writers who wrote that there was indeed a man named Jesus who was crucified on the cross and that he was accused of going against the Roman government (ex. Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, Suetonius).  Plus dozens of Christian historians from the 1-2 c. report his resurrection as a fact.  And the four gospels say that he has risen from the dead.  His body was not left in the tomb, but was found empty.  He was witnessed by over 500 followers in the same place at the same time (read 1 Cor. 15:6).

What we have in this life is only a short brief period of chronological time. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:2-3: Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”.

What this means is that our real life, the everlasting life that is coming is the life that we have living with Jesus.  When we know that there is something greater to look forward to in the future, we will feel an amazing amount of freedom to just rest and to “be”. To just rest and “be” here on earth can free us from the worries of this life. It means we won’t have to strive or work like as if it were life and death. We can take it easy. It means that we can give up all the things that cause us to worry, and put the uncertain things into God’s hands. And God will give you an amazing peace that no human mind without of God can ever imagine. What this also means is that you will have peace in the next life, and also peace in this life.

The gospel and God’s kingdom

peruvianpeopleThere seems to be some confusion today about what is the gospel.  Some say it’s about financial prosperity and that poverty is of the devil? Do you agree?

But what about the poor who are doing with less food, water, and shelter–the basic necessities of life.  Some of these include Christians living in countries where they don’t have as much as we do here in North America, but they are still happy and content.  Can we say that they haven’t experienced the full extent of the gospel or are under the devil’s curse?  Certainly not. They can be some of the happiest and most content people on earth.

God’s kingdom includes:

  • blessings of various sorts so we may live abundantly (e.g., spiritual, physical, social, a smile from others, etc.)
  • sufferings of various sorts to help us grow (e.g., financial, family, work, marriage, etc.)
  • bringing a positive influence into our culture, and going out into society and doing acts of kindness for others in need because God has abundantly poured out his love on you
  • sharing the good news of Jesus Christ

Some of us make the mistake of collapsing aspects of God’s kingdom into the gospel and calling everything “the gospel”.  The gospel is only a component of God’s kingdom, and not vice-versa.  This means God’s blessings, our sufferings, good deeds and acts of kindness are not part of the gospel.  But, the gospel does open the door to God’s blessings.

Our Christian lives needs to include all four aspects in God’s kingdom so that our spiritual lives can be a fuller and richer experience.  Christians who have never experienced some or any of these may have stunted spiritual growth.  They may come out wondering, “Why I don’t enjoy being a Christian even after all these years?”  Maybe they have been forgiven, but… Maybe they’ve never experienced some suffering where God wanted to bring a learning point of dependency upon God. Maybe they’ve never received an outpouring of God’s blessings.  Maybe they’ve never done any acts of kindness in the world and have lived a sheltered life.

Nonetheless, at the core of the gospel is simply this and nothing else: the forgiveness of all our wrongs, failings and shortcomings.  It has the power to give us reason to trust, hope, have joy, and peace. The good news opens the way for us to be reconciled from broken relationships, to be healed from our hurts, to correct our wrongs, and to be forgiven of the sins we have committed yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  It brings us freedom from shame and guilt that comes with life as a human being. The gospel brings freedom to a new beginning and access to fullness of life.

If you feel your spiritual life is feel dry and empty then you might have missed out on something.