A song exploring the threefold shepherding ministry Christ has to His church. Written and recorded by Jim Johnson. Vocals by Bethany Bergman
My wife and I were awakened by the hushed voices outside our open bedroom window. I slipped over to eavesdrop in the night. It sounded like teens, both boys and girls, and they had just stolen a toolbox from the bed of a pickup. They had it but didn’t know what to do with it.
They sat against the outside of the apartment wall. We were less than inches apart with only curtains and a screen between us.
One kid wanted to sell the box; another wanted to leave it with a friend; one of the girls seemed to be having second thoughts. They argued back and forth.
I wanted so badly to interject my opinion. But what could I say? My mind raced through what I knew from the book of Proverbs about speech.
I could seize control by quickly blurting out something. Not a good idea according to Proverbs 29:20, “You have seen someone who is hasty in his words there is more hope for a fool than for him.” Been there – done that! I understand.
Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut. It wasn’t my toolbox and doesn’t Proverbs 17:28 say, “…the one who holds his tongue is deemed discerning.”
On the other hand, there is also this counsel, “Open your mouth on behalf of those unable to speak…” (Proverbs 31:8) Someone had to speak up for the guy who had to go to work the next day, without his tools.
OK then maybe I should blast them with righteous indignation. Probably not a good idea. “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1) If I were to blast them, they would have their revenge. I didn’t need that.
Plus, my goal was to nudge them toward a good decision. “The one who is wise in heart is called discerning, and kind speech increases persuasiveness.” (Proverbs 16:21) That’s what I wanted to do – persuade them to do the right thing.
But how could I speak kind words, when my attitude was angry and judgmental. Proverbs 25:15 is a reminder that one’s attitude is important. “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a soft tongue can break a bone.” Soft! A soft attitude speaking soft words. That’s what I needed if I were to nudge them to do the right thing.
And it had to be the right words. It would probably not sit well with them if I were to have called them thieves. Again, Proverbs informed me, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver, so is a word skillfully spoken.” (Proverbs 25:11) I had to be sensitive to the situation and the moment.
And the timing, oh yes, the timing had to be just right. If I interrupted too soon, it could be offensive. If I waited too long, their decision might be already cast. Proverbs 15:23 “A person has joy in giving an appropriate answer, and a word at the right time—how good it is!”
I was busy thinking through my lengthy speech when I remembered, “When words abound, transgression is inevitable, but the one who restrains his words is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19) Got it. I need to say as little as possible and yet get the job done.
OK so what should I say and when should I say it?
The debate outside was stalled. One boy said, “I just don’t know, what should we do with this thing?” That was my cue. Hidden by the curtains I spoke up. In a natural and easy voice, I said, “If I were you, I’d put it back.”
There was silence on the other side. They were caught and they knew it. One of the boys said, “Oh man look what we’ve done. We woke these people up.” (like it was the worst thing they did all night.)
Another kid said, “Come on, let’s take it back.” All agreed.
And as far as I know, the man with the toolbox, the teens and me and my wife lived happily ever after.
A PRAYER: Father my mouth gets me in trouble much too often, help me rein it in by the principles in your Word.
All Scripture references are from the NET Bible ®
The ceremony was about to begin. The groom had more than the normal weddings jitters. He was a Chinese national with a name that only his mother could pronounce. He graciously took on the name Frank for us tongue tied Americans.
He and his lovely Texas bred fiancé met in China while they were advancing the cause of Christ among the Chinese. He moved to Texas in preparation for their life together.
I was asked to unite them in marriage. Premarital counseling had been interesting. I had to explain the concepts of Christian marriage and sometimes even define the words for Frank. He was learning how to live with his wife and her culture in an understanding way.
So, there we stood, just he and I ready to make our entrance. Every seat was filled, and his family would be watching from an ocean away via the net. And as they say in Texas, he was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rockers.
So, I thought I might have some fun with him I asked Frank if he had his song ready. He gave me a dirty look and asked, “Song – what song?” I said, “You know – the wedding song.” He growled the words, “What wedding song?” I said, “Frank, I thought you knew about the American custom where the groom sings to his bride during the ceremony.”
The two of us ended up on the floor! He nearly fainted and I laughed myself silly.
Frank was an alien – a man who was not a citizen of the country in which he was living. Though I was born in the US, I too am feeling increasingly like an alien.
The history that has defined our nation is being erased. Many of the values that forged our character now seem to be upended and the goodness that was once almost synonymous with America is evaporating.
But I will survive, because I too am, in fact, an alien. My passport comes from another place.
The apostle Paul put it this way, “But our citizenship is in heaven—and we also eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 3:20
Those who belong to Christ are citizens of heaven and aliens on the earth. We have a different culture, hold to unique values, cherish different aspirations and ultimately answer to a higher authority. We are ruled by a King who is all together truthful, wise, compassionate and just.
Those who govern on earth often do so to feather their own bed. But Jesus, who had no place to even lay His head, got on His knees and washed the soiled feet of his disciples and not just those of his loyal constituency – Judas got a foot washing too.
Down here the agenda of the left, dukes it out with the agenda of the right. In Christ’s Kingdom truth is the only agenda.
Here money and airtime tend to determine an election, whereas it was Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross earned Him the right to rule.
And fear not, for Paul says that our King is coming back to expand His Kingdom to this earth – so that one day His values sweep the world and His benevolent rule will be universal.
But how do we manage in the meantime?
- Don’t throw in the towel yet. God turned around the blood thirsty and vicious nation of Assyria. From the king down, they repented and cried out to God. He can surely do it again.
- In the meantime – expect people here to think and act differently. Our values do not fit anymore. Be ready to pay the price for being different.
- Don’t be surprised if things continue to decline. Paul wrote about the days that would precede Christ’s second coming. “But understand this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God.” 2 Timothy 3:2-4.
- Do as Paul encouraged us to do, “eagerly” await the return of the Lord Jesus.
It will be a great day when we are finally united with our King. Who knows Frank may even sing Him a song!
A PRAYER: Lord help me to stand upon You the rock, as the soil beneath us crumbles and – PS: Come Quickly Lord Jesus.
All references from the NET Bible ®
I believe in automotive distancing as in, “Hey buddy, I can do without the tailgating.”
Twas, on a Saturday night in Dallas that it became a problem. The evening started well. The leader of the singles group led us in study of Psalm 139.
I was new to the faith, but I had a voracious appetite for God’s Word. David the author tried in his small way to explain God’s great way. He wrote, “O Lord, you examine me and know me.” (verse 1) That’s powerful! I’m not even sure I know myself much of the time.
He explained, “You know when I sit down and when I get up; even from far away you understand my motives. You carefully observe me when I travel or when I lie down to rest; you are aware of everything I do. “Certainly my tongue does not frame a word without you, O Lord, being thoroughly aware of it.” (139:2-4)
Such things can only be said of a God who is all the time everywhere; awesome in power and is all knowing. Theologians call this His omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience.
Then David said in verse 5 “You squeeze me in from behind and in front; you place your hand on me.” He spoke as if God used a Star Trek like force field, that preceded and followed him. So, God surrounds us to protect us. I was genuinely awed as I mulled this over.
I drove a borrowed car that night – a bright new yellow Camaro convertible. Hey, it was a singles fellowship – I wanted to impress the girls.
On the way home, I pulled up beside a mobile beer bash. The light changed and I moved on, but they didn’t. The driver waited until I was about 30 yards ahead. He stomped the gas pedal until he was inches from my bumper and then screeched to a stop.
I was confused and stunned, but then he did it again and a third time. His next move was to pull in front of me and slow down. We were almost bumper to bumper when he locked his brakes again.
He was trying to scare me and it was working. But I was angry too. If I had been in my $100 clunker of a car, we might have met, in an automotive kind of way. Did I mention that I was a new Christian?
He was behind me again and ready to make another run. And do you know what was going through my mind? “God how far before and behind me do you go, and does it include the length of this car?”
In those days I tended to literally interpret the Bible – I still do, mostly because God literally fulfills what He has written, including His promise of protection.
I did a mission trip in Mexico and during that one week God kept my team and me through an earthquake, a volcanic eruption and a street gang. At another time, our team barely escaped some angry Haitians who were waiting in the dark to stone us.
His protective care is not always so sensational and yet still appreciated.
I think of a friend who had met his deductible on his health insurance – so on a whim he decided to have a battery of health tests done.
They indicated that he was already dead or at least close. His arteries were almost completely occluded. There should have been great pain to warn him, but there wasn’t, but because of the tests he was able to have surgery before the widow maker hit. That was God at work.
Now I know that we are not going to live forever in these bodies. But God will keep us temporally secure until the day He chooses to eternally secure us in heaven.
In the meantime, if you belong to Him – then go with God. Relax a little as He takes the point AND brings up the rear.
Oh, and as to my distancing problem – at the very time I prayed, I came upon a well-lit convenience store with a pay phone in front of it. (a pay phone – now that’s a miracle)
I whipped the car in, did some brake stomping of my own and grabbed the phone – and they fled the scene. Thank You Lord!
A PRAYER: Lord I am not courageous enough to face life alone. Please go before and behind me and open my eyes to see the ways in which You are protecting me
All Scripture is quoted from the NET Bible ®
We said, “I do” in August. By October our bliss had become a blister. I got a clue the day she melted into a pile of sobbing mush.
We talked and tried to unravel the problem. My sarcasm fueled her insecurities. She didn’t laugh when I said the meatloaf looked like an old shoe (tasted good though).
Problem was, she hid her hurt. Instead of arguing with me, she argued with herself. She was thinking, “He didn’t really mean that – I don’t want to rock the marriage boat – if I point out his mistake, he’ll point out mine” and “I don’t want to seem like a baby.”
She would talk herself into silence, but the hurt remained. It raised a tiny emotional blister on her soul. The longer she ignored it, the bigger it got until that day it finally popped and created a yucky mess. I confessed that I also hid my hurts.
We loved each other – didn’t want to hurt each other, so we went to Ephesians 4:25-27 for some help.
Paul wrote, “Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity.” NET Bible ®
Some people “clam up” when they are hurt (which was our problem). Others “blow up” (which is where we would eventually end up) but what we needed to do was to “speak up.”
Paul told us to lay aside falsehood. To be hurt but pretend you’re not – is to lie. We needed to speak truthfully to each other – in love – instead. (Eph. 4:15)
Anger is the way God designed us to respond to injustice. There is no sin in that. But to clam up or blow up is a sinful response to that anger. We needed to speak up.
But when? If the hurt had not been handled earlier in the day, then the time of reckoning is the end of each day. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
There is a price for those who hold onto their anger. Paul said it gives the devil an opportunity to erode the relationship. A hurt creates emotional distance. The longer the hurt goes unaddressed, the greater the distance gets between us. We can end up asking, “Why did I ever marry that person?” And yet an honest, loving conversation can thoroughly remove any distance.
My wife and I are simple people, so we decided to end every day with a checkup. We would pray with each other, and read the Word, but before any of that, I would ask her, “Have I done any badness today?” (don’t laugh – the word badness worked for us.)
She didn’t have the courage to initiate the discussion. But, because I did, she felt like I sincerely wanted to hear how I might have impacted her. I still had to do a little coaxing, but she would then open up and tell me she was hurt when I left her alone at the party.
I was shocked! It didn’t understand why that would hurt her, but we talked, I learned and then apologized. She would then ask, “Have I done any badness?” I would share, she would learn as well.
Unfortunately, we were often up past midnight that first year of marriage. But we were committed, and we saw the fruit of our habit every day. It helped us to learn and adjust.
In fact, we found the habit to be so valuable that we will do it again tonight (as we have every night for the last 44 years. We will ask again, “Did I do any badness?”
But we probably won’t have anything to share. You see we got tired of having midnight discussions – so we chose to change. As we changed there was less to talk about.
We still err, but we have enjoyed such peace and intimacy in our relationship, that we now deal with hurts more promptly. I love being at peace with my wife – can’t stand it when I’m not.
Sorry – this post is not all that funny – but it may be the most important piece I have ever written. Because, many if not most marriages suffer because they haven’t learned to speak the truth in love to one another.
If you are married and you are not regularly experiencing this level of honest conversation, your marriage is hurting, and you just don’t know it.
I would challenge you to find a way of implementing Eph 4:25-26. Feel free to do what we have done. We are committed to do it until the Lord takes the first of us home. If you do it, we would love to hear about it.
A PRAYER: God give me the humility and the courage I need to open myself up to my spouse, that together we might build an even better marriage.
We were at a State Park near Waco as the thermometer was pushing 100. Whose idea was it to go camping in August in Texas anyway?
So, we headed to town to look for some air-conditioned relief and tortillas at the HEB.
But it was actually in the parking lot that I learned how to keep cool.
When we returned to our SUV, we spied a grackle prancing beneath it.
A grackle is a blackbird with a glossy-iridescent body that looks like it’s been slightly stretched. They are exceptionally savvy at surviving. They will follow a farmer’s plow to catch unearthed mice and wade shallow waters to catch fish. They might pluck and eat leeches from the legs of turtles and steal worms from the mouths of other birds.
So, what was a grackle doing beneath our SUV? Surviving!
It was one of the few places a bird could find some shade, but also a great place to catch a drink. The bird was sipping from the hose that drained off the condensation from the air conditioning unit on the vehicle.
I thought, “How smart!” The water supply was clean and cool. It was in the shade and it was even convenient – he didn’t even have to bend over to draw it.
As I stood there with the heat burning through the soles of my shoes, I was somewhat jealous.
For I must cope with the heat of another kind. Life was uniquely tough prior to the virus – now it’s become tediously difficult.
Once upon a time I could make a reservation to camp online, then show up at the State Park to be greeted by a smiling attendant who directed us to our site.
This time I had to make an online reservation, then do an additional preregistration online, then provide more info by phone. I had to arrive during a narrow window of time and when we showed up, we found the park office was locked to visitors.
I had to deal with a lone masked ranger (but no Tanto) in the parking lot who was barking orders. We then located our isolated camp site to find our sanitized registration packet. And to top it off, we were required to wear masks in the shower house.
I believe I even saw a swarm of bees that were socially distancing.
On the same trip, we toured a cavern at a State Park. The guide told us that the state initially required him to wear a mask but did not require it of the visitors. 2 months later the state required a mask of the visitors but not of the guide. All righty!
These are small, maybe silly examples of the heated complexity of life these days. For others, schooling the kids is bedlam; work is crazy complicated and trying to plan for anything is out of the question – and oh there is the constant anxiety of getting caught by Covid!
But like the grackle we can find relief. David wrote this in Psalm 36.
“How precious is your loyal love, O God! The human race finds shelter under your wings. They are filled with food from your house, and you allow them to drink from the river of your delicacies.” Psalm 36:7-8 NET Bible®
Isn’t that an amazing encouragement? Life may be chaotic, but His love for us is steady and He is deeply loyal to His children. His is a precious love. He stands over us like a great bird (or an SUV) providing shelter from the heat.
He also provides refreshingly sweet water as from a river (or a condensation tube)
It may be intolerably hot everywhere else, but it can be quite comfortable as we shelter in Him.
How do we do this? Start each day with a prayer. “Father, I know I will be tested today. Please help me meet every challenge with courage and patience. Help me to remember that the people who seem to stand in my way, are trying their best to protect me.”
And in the paraphrased words of Jesus, “Consider the grackles.” Look for God’s creative provision as you face the heat. It will be there.
Our sweet little Texas daughter was engaged to a fine young man from British Columbia (which is in Canada for those of you who slept through geography).
It would be a merging of families and cultures. She was “fixin” to get married and he said in, “a bit.”
His family arrived in our little Texas town for the wedding just a couple of days before. We had not yet met them, but we knew they were fascinated with the aura of Texas (and who isn’t?) So, I decided they should get a rootin’ tootin’ redneck reception.
I borrowed me some well-worn cowboys boots and slipped on some jeans helt up with a belt and big old buckle. I snapped up a pearl buttoned, cowboy-cut shirt and dropped a round tin of Skoal in the pocket. I finished off my western ensemble with an audacious cowboy hat.
We then went to meet our new family. My daughter and her beau were with them already and very excited about this first meeting. I rapped on the front door and it was opened by her future mother-in-law.
I conjured up a Texas drawl and said, “Well howdy Maam!” She was speechless – but my daughter wasn’t. She heard the knock at the door and came running down the stairs to see – took one look at me and screamed the loudest longest screech ever, “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!”
Sometimes it’s fun to pretend and actually, I’m pretty good at it.
Not only can I do a redneck, I can also create the impression that I have everything under control when in fact I am paralyzed with fear. My lips have learned the art of saying yes to every request while the rest of me cringes. Some pretend to care by asking me, “How are you doing?” I pretend right back and say “fine.”
I am thinking that Paul may have written Ephesians 4:25 for me. He said, “Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor because we are members of one another.” NET Bible ®
He said to lay aside “falsehood.“ The word is translated from the Greek word, “psuedos.” Yep that is where we get the English prefix “pseudo.” He is talking about fakes. It refers to deceit whether it be through what we say or portray.
Paul says this “psuedos” needs to be laid aside. In other words, stop pretending. Drop the mask (unless it is an N95 and you are Covid positive.)
Instead, Paul tells us to accurately reflect in words what is true because we are all members of one another – we belong to each other.
Why do I pretend that everything is under control? Why can’t I tell the boss I could use a little help? Is it my pride – the stuff that goeth before a fall?
Why do I feel the need to say yes to every ask? Do I not have my limits? The pastor asked me to teach a class on marriage. What if I were to be honest and showed him my crowded calendar. I bet he’d send me home to work on my marriage.
Why must I reply “fine” to everyone who asks about my welfare? A friend may be genuinely interested in how I am doing. If he got a truthful answer, he might take a knee and pray right then. That would be nice!
Jesus once said that the truth will set us free. He was speaking of freedom from sin and its consequences, but beyond that, there is true liberation and a sense of rest that comes from living genuinely and speaking truthfully.
Yes, I need to consider the timing and the spirit in which I engage – but generally speaking: “Honesty really is the best policy.”
I have retired my western duds. My Canadian family knows I am about as cowboy as bacon without the sizzle. Now it’s time to remove the pretense from the rest of my life. Will you join me?
A PRAYER: Lord let me enjoy the freedom that is created by living in and speaking forth the truth.
If there is ever an anthology written of outrageous pastor stories – this one will no doubt be included.
At some time during my pastorate, I learned to pace while I preached. Back and forth, to and fro on our spacious, elevated, semi-circle platform. Why pace? Fewer people fell asleep.
So, with notes in hand and a microphone headset strapped to my face, I paced and preached.
On one unforgettable Sunday, I was wrapping up the message and concluding with a prayer. I appropriately closed my eyes to pray. Unfortunately, I continued to pace.
Mid prayer, I planted my right foot down but found nothing but air. In a panic, I jumped off the platform into the heavenly places, dropping the distance of 4 steps and landing squarely on the floor below.
But here’s the thing, I did this without opening my eyes or pausing in my prayer. The apostle Paul should have such a prayer life – right?
When I finally said “Amen” the congregation opened their eyes and were awed seeing that I had experienced a miraculous transportation during my prayer. Revival almost broke out.
Now I know what you are thinking. “Why didn’t you open your eyes?” I don’t know! “But how could you do that without breaking your prayerful concentration?” Again – I don’t know. But I did – and I have plenty of witnesses.
Obviously, I was not alert to my surroundings, but super alert in my prayer. The apostle Paul might have even been proud of me for he gave this instruction in Colossians 4:2, “Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.”
Keeping alert in prayer! Ahh – So Paul anticipated the way we typically tune out while others are praying. We listen to the first seven words and then check out the veins on the inside of our eyelids.
And when we pray in the “quietness of our hearts” it can become the quirkiness of our hearts – because they flit from “bless the work of our missionaries” to “I wonder what’s for dinner?”
We tend to be most alert in prayer when we pray out loud in the presence of others because they might accidentally be listening, and we want to sound halfway intelligent.
It’s sad really – because prayer is very much a two-way conversation with God. It is a precious privilege to interact with the One who so dearly loves us and is able and very willing to help.
We need to be alert in our prayers, so that we are communicating to Him more than gibberish and so that we are tuned in when He speaks to us.
So, don’t get so comfortable. There is a reason they knelt and wore sackcloth and ashes in the old days. No need to go to that extreme, but maybe you doze during prayer because you are sitting in a vibrating recliner.
When others are praying – pray along with them. Agree with them. Jesus said, “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.” – Matthew 19:18
So, when Sam is pleading with God about his brother’s drug addiction, you could quietly pray along saying, “Yes, Lord please! He really is killing himself and he needs you so badly.” You might even dare to do it out loud.
Speaking of speaking. When our prayers are reduced down to mentally transferring our thoughts to God – it is super easy to be distracted. If you are in a place where you can audibly speak your prayers, you will find that your ability to stay focused will skyrocket.
My most effective and fulfilling prayer times happen when I walk. I might stroll down a lonely trail in a state park and speak out my prayers. The walking and the speaking tend to keep me laser focused and in the quiet in-between intervals, the Lord often impresses me with what I need to know.
You might try walking too. But be sure to keep your eyes open!
A PRAYER: Lord I want to thoroughly respect you when I come to you – so please help me to focus when I pray.
Scripture references from the NETBible ®