“My Sheep Listen To My Voice”

I was two years old when my father was called to fight in the Korean War.  I have no memory of when he left, but I definitely remember him picking me up and hugging me over a year later when he returned to us at the Navy dock in San Diego, California.  Korea changed Dad.  He suffered severe frostbite on his legs and feet so he walked like he was walking on broken glass.  Also, he rarely slept more than four hours a night because of the nightmares that plagued him.   Early on I remember his hands shaking from what they called “nerves,” and he could not walk into a darkened movie theater for many years.  (Dad said it reminded him of the night he had to keep running along a steep ridge as he and his fellow Marines were shot at from either side.  Anyone shot had to be left, because the enemy was so close they “could hear them breathing.”)   It was rough carrying so many memories of war, but Dad worked hard and did his best to provide for our family.

My dad and I - Feb. 2013.
My dad and I – Feb. 2013.

Eventually, my parents worked to build a successful dry cleaning business.   While Dad cleaned and pressed the clothes, Mom did alterations of all sorts.  My brother and I helped Dad take care of customers, marked in clothes and put orders together when we weren’t in school.   To most people, Dad’s handwriting on their receipts was an almost indecipherable scribble, but after working together for so many years and because I loved Dad, it became as familiar to me as my own.  Almost fifty years later that proved to be an asset when I transcribed ninety-two of the letters Dad wrote to Mom during the year he was gone.  I must admit there were challenges (some letters I had to hold up to a light to make out the faded writing.)  But for me, it was a labor of love as I imagined Dad writing home from such a hostile environment.  As I carefully opened each letter, unfolded the fragile paper and started to read, it was as if I could hear his voice speaking through time.  To be honest, I believe transcribing Dad’s letters was one of the most worthwhile things I will ever do for our family.  His letters reveal the character of a young family man who wanted to be home but learned to love and care about the men he served with.  To this day, he can still tell you the names of many who “didn’t make it” back to their families.

Just as I recognized Dad’s “voice” speaking from a time when I was small, I believe Jesus was referring to a similar familial connection when He responded to the questions of some men who rejected Him as God’s Son in John 10:27-30,

“My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.” 

When Jesus came to this earth He knowingly stepped into enemy territory, a spiritual battle fraught with danger, to save those who would listen to His voice for eternity.  In my last post I wrote about Connecting Your Story with His.

It is as we connect our stories with His though faith, that we learn to listen and recognize the voice of the Shepherd of our souls.

Do you have such a connection?  Do you recognize His voice as He speaks to your heart?  Then embrace the miracle of a changed heart and mind; remember the battle waged that ultimately secured your redemption.  If you do not know the voice of the Shepherd but desire to, then answer His invitation given in Mark 1:15,

“The time has come,” He said.  “The Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Good News!”

His Sacrifice given on your behalf and mine proves He is worthy of our trust . . .

Happy Easter!

Suffering Loss With The Comfort Of The Shepherd~

I received a phone call from my brother Norm earlier this week with the news that Mom did not wake up that morning.  The assisted living staff where my parents have lived for the past two years found her while Dad was still asleep.  Thankfully, Norm was able to be there when Dad woke up so that together, they were able to say tearful goodbyes to the wife and mother who we now sorely miss.  

What is it about death, even when we know it is coming, that is still so very shocking?  Mom was 87 and had been increasingly asleep since she had a stroke a week before Christmas.  During our visit a week and a half ago she slept almost the entire time.  Even so, the thought of not having her with us is difficult to comprehend.  The larger question that keeps running through my mind since that morning phone call is, “How does one suffer the loss of a parent?”  There is no way to practice for this and I cannot tell you that I have a definitive  answer to that question.  What I can share with you is the wisdom and comfort that has been shown me by the Shepherd, as I began to mourn the loss of my mom.  

The process began with my brother’s phone call.  As I sat in the den trying to take in the news, my mind went in a myriad of directions.  I realized I would miss her laugh and her very quirky, outspoken ways.  I worried about my dad.  When I talked to him on the phone he kept saying, “It’s too soon!” and “I don’t know if I can live another ten years without her!”  I told him what I was holding onto, “Today is a gift, Dad.  Let’s just trust God and take it one day at a time.”  As I reflected on my conversation with Dad, I realized that even though my parents were married almost 66 years, death would always come “too soon” from our very human perspective.

I remembered a song that was a favorite of mine when I first gave my heart to Christ Jesus.  I looked up the words to the song and found comfort in the wisdom of Jeremiah recorded in Lamentations 3:22-24,

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in Him.”  (ESV)

When we suffer loss it is no small comfort to remember that we are not abandoned by God.  What a blessing to be reminded that in the midst of suffering loss, God’s love is “steadfast” and it “never ceases!”  As I reflected on Jeremiah’s words I thought about my relationship with my mom.  I would love to be able to tell you that it was all wonderful, but I can’t.  There were times when our relationship was very rocky; times when I knew that living three thousand miles apart was actually helpful.  But God used my mom to scale down the pride and unforgiveness I carried in my heart for many years.  In the end, God freed me to love her in ways that I never thought possible.  I have been grateful all these years for that gracious freedom.  As I reflected on the miracle of love granted me by such a faithful Shepherd, the wisdom of Jeremiah pulsed through my mind and heart . . . HOLD ON TO THE GOOD . . . HOLD ONTO THE COMFORT OF THE SHEPHERD OF OUR SOULS!  

This morning I am giving thanks to God as my faithful Shepherd.  The thought of the coming days without Mom is still difficult to think about, but I am grateful for His steadfast love that keeps me on the right path.  If you are struggling with the loss of a loved one or friend (or perhaps you are struggling with regrets that you can do nothing about) then join me in running to the Shepherd of our souls for the comfort and perspective only He can give.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
  He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
 He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
    for His name’s sake.
 Even 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 overflows.
 Surely goodness and love will follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
   forever.

All to His Glory!

Voices ~

Did you know that September 14 was Hearing Voices Day?   Living in a world that labels those who “hear voices” as schizophrenic, it was interesting to discover an international movement committed toWorking across the world to spread positive and hopeful messages about the experience of hearing voices.” 

The Bible unabashedly speaks about non-audible voices that can influence our lives in powerful ways.  As a Biblical Counselor I must affirm that helping people sort through problems involves much more than uncovering the bare-bones details of what may have started the problem.   Over time I have learned that those “inner-voices/beliefs” we listen to can either help resolve or complicate the problems we face.

The Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Ephesus, warning that problems are part of an ongoing spiritual battle.  In Ephesians 6 he wrote,

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Verses 10-12)

Those “spiritual forces of evil” represent some of the voices that trip us up and seek to rob us of the joy and peace Christ has for us. That is why it is so important to be able to recognize His voice as the Shepherd of our hearts.  Jesus taught in John 10:

 “My sheep recognize My voice.  I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them real and eternal life.  They are protected from the Destroyer for good.  No one can steal them from out of My hand.”  (Verses 27,28– from The Message, 2001)

Recognition of the Shepherd’s voice is essential to our being able to navigate through the myriad of other voices that bombard us--fear, anger, doubt, guilt, pride and self-sufficiency are but a few.   Such voices can distract and take us off course, usually speaking when we are most vulnerable.  They have a way of slipping in when we least expect it.

In the Counseling Room we often refer to Isaiah 30:15-22 to help distinguish between God’s voice and the other voices.  I love the dynamic way the passage establishes the importance of staying close to God.  It begins with what I refer to as “God’s Rx” for growing through the challenges of life:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
          “In repentance and rest is your salvation,
                    in quietness and trust is your strength . . .” 

I will never forget the day“God’s Rx” got my attention for the first time.  I was running scared.  I was sick and unsure about what the future held for me.  I remember feeling my heart beating crazily as my mind was scrambling for anything to hold onto.  When I hit the calming wisdom of God’s voice in Isaiah it was as if everything stopped.  After a moment, the voice of my Shepherd spoke through my fear and uncertainty as I reflected on His gentle call to repentance, rest, quietness and trust.  As I followed His prescription I began to see the world around me in a whole different light.  I had discovered rest for my soul.

However, as I continued to read the passage I had to laugh at the painful truth of what follows:

    “In repentance and rest . . . in quietness and trust . . . but you would have none of it.

You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
    Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
    Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
 A thousand will flee
    at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
    you will all flee away,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
    like a banner on a hill.”

Feeling lonely?  Misunderstood? Running scared?  Perhaps you have done some things that you regret (or did not do that thing you were convicted about doing?)  “Life” lived in our own strength, as we listen to those other voices, often leads to that hollow, tasteless place where we find ourselves wondering, “Is this all there is?”

Looking for encouragement?  Then consider this next bit that speaks to the reality of God’s voice as the Shepherd of our hearts, offering hope and a future to all who trust in Him:

 “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
    therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
    Blessed are all who wait for Him!”

If you are feeling beat-up by guilt then you are very likely listening to the wrong voice.  God convicts our hearts in order to free us, not to destroy us!   Maybe you are discouraged because you started something that is not going as well as you planned; it is too late to turn back but you don’t know how to move forward?  “In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.”  Go to Him- repent, rest, be still, PRAY!

The last verses of the Isaiah passage offers hope and direction as it speaks to the realities of life:

People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious He will be when you cry for help!  As soon as He hears, He will answer you.  Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.  Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”   Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”

Life can be so very hard . . . but as we listen for His voice He will keep us on the right path.  He is totally worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!