Path Of Light, And Talking Sheep

Psalms 23:3-4

3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

4 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.

Sometimes the path can be scary. At times, most of the time actually, I’m not sure what will happen next. I overthink too many things, and under think the important things.

The problem isn’t the path, but that we forget who chose it.  Notice the verse didn’t say He leads us in paths of safety, but in righteous ones. He says this after saying He restores our soul.

With the exception of museums, items aren’t restored to sit on a shelf. They’re restored for use. You don’t rest a soldier to send them home. You rest them, to send them into battle. That’s why the next verse talks about the valley of the shadow of death.  

We also forget Who our traveling companion is. I will fear no evil, for You are with me.  Jesus walks beside us, and He is armed.  The Shepherd has the Shepherd’s weapons, rod and staff. Some battles are for us to fight, others are to watch Him fight for us.

Also something else I never remember noticing, throughout the chapter, only the sheep is speaking. We hear no reply from the Shepherd. It’s not because He’s not listening, He is, and intently, but the Shepherd is taking the sheep somewhere.

He is taking them to the place where David wants to stay. From the perspective of the sheep, an not as ruling Shepherd, he says,  I want to dwell in the house of The Lord forever. In other words we are going to where The Shepherd speaks.

We talk about the dark times of the soul, and worry in those battles where we do not seem to hear His voice. I’ve been there, but if we heard His voice before the battle, and we remember He is with us fighting, then we must hold to two things.

First, there is a reason why He is silent. God never does anything without a purpose, even silence.  It may be that He needs us, like David, to think through what we are facing. At times, we need to process.

Most likely, like David, we already know what we need to know. David is talking here, but He’s speaking truth previously taught him by the Shepherd.  He is literally armed with the knowledge that God is taking care of him. 

Conversations with God is both where we came from, and where the journey is leading. When we go through this, the enemy tempts us to think either, we’re not being heard, or that we never heard from God to begin with, or that we will never hear from Him again. Yet the truth is, God has spoken into our life, and He will speak into it again.

All the while we are battling this fear, God maybe thinking something. He maybe thinking, I told them this would happen. I asked them to trust Me, and I gave them My Word to keep them. That’s what David is doing in this Psalm.  He’s not holding to what God is saying, but what He has taught Him.

This is a Psalm of a sheep who has been lead by The Shepherd. One that has seen all of this firsthand. He knows The Shepherd is for Him, and that reassures him through a difficult journey.

Second, it is our opportunity to speak to the other sheep. To explain how Faith empowers you to follow when you do not understand. When we look at the inspiration of our heroes in the Faith, it’s not the good times that inspire us.  

It’s those times when they faced, what seemed insurmountable odds, and yet were unfettered by one choice. It wasn’t that they were all fearless. My Grandfather seemed to be, but He talked about previous battles where he feared.

I saw others, go through the battle while fearing, and that wasn’t easy.  I saw some go through the battle second guessing their own decisions. Or even asking if this was the right path, but our heroes were unfettered by one very important thing.

They never gave voice to giving up.  They may have been tempted, they may have stumbled, but they kept going.  The reason we go through dark times of the soul, isn’t to stop in the darkness, but to push through to The Light. What we miss, is even in darkness, is this. David said I see Him. 

He may not have heard Him through the battle, but He saw Him leading Him in, through, and out of it. He saw Him nourishing Him through it, with The Word Of God. He saw Him anointing Him through it. He saw Him leading Him to The House of The Lord.

Dark times of the soul don’t mean you don’t see God, it just means a closer focus.  Battles are filled with smoke, and noise, but the closer we get to Jesus in the battle, the easier to see His movement in our lives. If we see He is with us, then others will see Him too. An one day, when they’re on this journey, they will remember how you followed on the path of Light, and they will tell others how to do the same.

The Tribe Of Naphtali

Joshua 20:7

7 And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjatharba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah.

Kedesh means Sanctum, or Holy Place, and Galilee means circle. Isn’t it wonderful, that The God who sits upon the circle of the Earth according to Isaiah 40:22, grew up in Galilee, the circle referenced in Isaiah 9:1). In the allotment of Zebulun and Naphtali.

We talked about that aspect in the chapter on Tribe Of Zebulun. I bring it up here for a slightly different reason.  To talk about the circle that Naphtali, not Jesus, was birthed into.  About what looked, from the outside, as a dysfunctional family, filled with chaos, but was actually a Holy place, ordained by God for Naphtali.

Whether true or not, when I think of Naphtali, I think of a strong burly man. The type of man who would have been a brawler, or a wrestler. After all, it’s what his name means, it’s how he was introduced into the world. To view him, you have to begin with the women in his life.

I’ll confess, I’ve always preferred Leah to Rachel, but I doubt Naphtali felt the same way.  Bilhah was his Mom, but Rachel named him. Mind you, I don’t know how favorable he viewed her either. According to Genesis 37:2, it was Rachel’s son who reported on the bad report of the children of Bilhah and Zilpah.

Before we cast blame on anyone involved, look at the course of events that led to the birth of Naphtali. Laban promised Jacob Rachel, but gave him Leah. Then gave him Rachel, who was barren. Jacob loved her, but hated Leah.

When Rachel saw she couldn’t have children, she gave Bilhah her maid to Jacob to marry and have children with.  Dan was first, Naphtali was second.  Bilhah’s name means trouble, and the family dynamics certainly were that, troubling.

Let’s review Naphtali’s standing in the family at this point. He was the younger brother to Dan, and the sixth son of Jacob. He was the second born son of the third wife, not even the second favorite spouse, but a servant.  Bilhah didn’t ask for any of this, but it was her reality.

Naphtali didn’t ask to have to put up with the favorite child, his perfect stepbrother Joseph, but it was his life.  Rather than focus on Joseph and Naphtali’s relationship, I mentioned it to soften the view we’ve always had of Joseph’s brothers. They weren’t justified, but their life wasn’t easy either.  

Now that we’ve looked at the family, and baby Naphtali, let’s see what the wrestler named his children.  What would the son of a former slave call his sons? Would he be bitter, or better?

Genesis 46:24 (KJV)

24 And the sons of Naphtali; Jahzeel, and Guni, and Jezer, and Shillem.

I believe you can tell a lot about a man by what he names his children. Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer, And Shillem. God will allot, protected, forming, and repaid, this was the meaning of their names.  

I wonder if one of Naphtali’s favorite stories, as a child, was to hear about the night his Dad wrestled with the Angel. Was it a story he retold his children? Most of all, did he understand that the limp was a victory, and not a defeat?  

Based on what he named the first child, I suspect he did. The man named wrestling, didn’t say I have carved out something, or wrestled it.  He said God will allot. It appears he knew, even though Naphtali probably wouldn’t have chosen this place in the family, that God had provided it. He still gave Naphtali a place, in the family of faith. 

For all of the problems he had seen, he recognized that God was working. He could have very easily been born the son of another, whose father was not Jacob, but God said, this child, at this time.

Remember, it wouldn’t matter what Rachel’s intentions were, if Bilhah couldn’t have children. Naphtali, based on the name of his firstborn, understood God’s Providence in all things. So much so, he named his second son protected.

It is the third and fourth children who intrigue me. One is named forming, and the other repaid.  What was going on at the time?  Was He talking about his family’s future, his son’s, or his own?  

Genesis 49:21 ESV

21 Naphtali is a doe let loose that bears beautiful fawns.

Genesis 49:21 KJV

21 Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.

I suspect it was partially the family’s future, because the fourth son’s name meant repaid.  It leads me to ask if  something happened between the birth of these two boys? I don’t know what it was, but I do know one thing.  If Naphtali had questions about his family’s future, Jacob would shed some light on it.

God has a plan for all of us. He intends to form us, form a ministry through us, and to form an inheritance for us to pass on to the next generation. Some things He forms for public view, others He forms in the stillness. 

As humans, if we are not called to a particular event, we can have the tendency to view our lives as purposeless, this is a mistake. God was forming something, for example, in Job. We can be tempted to think the catalyst of Job was the enemy’s response to God’s question, but God asked the question, to fulfill God’s purpose. God wanted to form something in Job before the enemy ever opened his mouth.

We do not always see the purpose, before or after completion, and that’s okay. At times, knowing isn’t necessary. If we know The Who, the why is less important. It appeared Job had everything he needed, so he didn’t know the why. He couldn’t see, that Job dealt with fear, and relied on his righteousness as a comfort when his friends unrighteously judged him.

They were wrong, but that didn’t make Job’s righteousness his defense. Like us, Job basically said I’ve done what was right, and I’m still facing this mess.  What we all miss, is had God not opened our eyes to our need for redemption originally, we would not have attempted to do what was right. We attempt to live lives of faithfulness, not because we are spotless, but because He washed our spots away.

Before we leave Job, and how his situation speaks to Naphtali’s, let me mention one more item. God never told Job he wouldn’t face troubles. We have been tempted to view Job’s troubles as an unprecedented event, but while Job had a hedge, that was the rarity.  Jesus told us we’d face troubles in this world, and that’s always been true, since Adam.

The greatest thing about the book of Job wasn’t Job’s righteousness, knowledge, or sacrifice. The greatest lesson of Job was, that even at his lowest point, even hurting, confused, and angry, He held to God. He said “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

I love this verse, and Job meant it.  Yet, don’t admire it so that you miss the fact, God never intended to slay him. He intended to bless him, and refused to allow the enemy to destroy him. I believe, that God tricked the enemy into being a factor to remove Job’s fear, and reliance on his own righteousness, and to lean completely on God.

How does this apply to Naphtali? Can you imagine the guilt that gripped Naphtali and his brothers, as they watched their Father’s sorrow? I don’t know if Naphtali was a Father yet, either way, can you imagine the fear he felt when the thought hit him? 

What he must have felt when something whispered, what if it was Jahzeel, instead of Joseph?  Job relied on his righteousness, Naphtali didn’t even have that luxury. He knew he was guilty.

He may have been tempted to cling to his secrecy.  Or to obsess over his children’s safety like Job did.  I can understand that temptation. Could that be why Naphtali named his second son protected?  

Is it possible that, between the two births, God removed out of Naphtali his fear, and guilt? Just as God had used the enemy to work fear, and self righteousness out of Job?  I believe the name reflects, not only the future of the family, but the growth of the wrestler.

The ESV, and most translations, in Jacob’s prophecy, say that “he is a doe let loose, which bears beautiful fawns.” The KJV says the same about the first part of the verse, but in the second half says, “he gives goodly words.”  I believe they both speak to Naphtali’s situation.

Considering the servanthood of his Mother, her elevation, also her children, and finally the naming of his children, I feel that is important. He gave his children a good name, or good words, and birthed a beautiful future before them, as a goal to leap towards.

Whether Naphtali named his children, or his wife did, we show no record of anyone else naming them.  Bilhah had not been allowed to name her children, no one said this about Naphtali.  Also, his Mother gave birth to two sons, Naphtali had four sons.

Naphtali was among the sons of Jacob who received one verse’s words worth of reference.  Others like Judah and Joseph received more, but more isn’t always a blessing. Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, at the time, would probably have traded with Naphtali.

Naphtali didn’t receive a large prophecy, but he also received no rebuke either. He may have seen the parallel. Still, I do wonder, was he happy at his Dad’s promise, or did it leave him confused, wondering what it meant?

Have you ever received a promise from God, that you did not understand?  Many times He does not ask for understanding, only acceptance. Don’t always try to figure out what God gives as a mystery. Ask for understanding, but don’t allow the lack of it, to be an obstacle in pursuing God’s promise.

 Earth shattering things happen when we follow God, and not our vision, or the blessings. We understand that God’s motive is life and light for all who meet Him at the cross, and He will take care of the rest! This is the type of faith embraced by Abraham, birthed in Isaac, established in Jacob, and instilled in Naphtali.

The Hebrew language is fascinating, one word has multiple meanings, as evidenced by the KJV and the ESV.  I believe Jacob meant his blessing to Naphtali in both ways. I believe Naphtali, in addition to being a good Dad, must have had wisdom of his own, which is different than knowledge.

In a house of 13 children, twelve boys and one girl, Naphtali had said something that stood out to Jacob. Even when one son was Joseph, and one Judah, Naphtali’s voice stood out to his Father. It must have been more than just a single phrase, because he said words, plural.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Naphtali said a lot, but that when he spoke, he said something of importance.  A wiseman taught me, its not the quantity of words you speak which matter, but both the quality and the consistency of what you speak.  

Lives aren’t built on flashes of brilliance, but on a consistent, and faithful commitment to what is right. Knowledge can be learned, but the same wisdom which says seek knowledge, teaches us to be faithful, or consistent. 

We know it wasn’t always the case with Naphtali, because Joseph brought his Father the evil report of the sons of Bilhah in Genesis 37:2. However, by the time of Jacob’s death, there had been a consistent change.

Jacob did not mince words during this prophetic speech. If he had any criticism of Naphtali, he would have voiced it, he didn’t. Jacob had only praise for this, not forgotten son. 

There is the lesson. Jacob, the Earthly Father, reflecting the fact that no matter our situation, Our Heavenly Father isn’t ignoring our circumstances.  No matter what we face, no matter how difficult, or how stressful, He hears our cry.  He will bless us, speaking a future into our lives, empowering us to give birth to a blessing far greater than our troubles.

It’s not about where you’re born in this life, or even whether your circumstances are triumphant or tragic. He produces greatness, in both the prison and the palace. What matters is that you are part of God’s family, and how you respond. 

The situation, the foe, the circumstance all are irrelevant to God, when it comes to your destiny. What is relevant, is will you trust in Him, when you don’t understand? Will you say, this doesn’t make sense, or I don’t understand it, but He does?

Naphtali said, God will allot, protected, forming and repaid. Naphtali emerged the squared circle of his story, to rely on God’s Will. In other words, I’ll trust Him to set the course, to keep us protected in the process, to form what’s needed in us, and to repay us, not by our merit, but by His worth!

Acrylic Rebuild

After watchin a program on Cornwall, it inspired this acrylic. It’s called rebuild for two reasons, first, is Illustrated by the rising sun is dispelling the fog. Second, reflecting that, despite the battle, the ruins of the castle still exists, ready for reinovation.

I believe, as a Christian, that no matter how hard your life has been, can be rebuilt. The Lord Jesus invades the fog of our situation, with Light and hope!

Welcome

In the ESV, the first time the word Welcome is used, is by Jesus. He was specifically talking, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, about making strangers welcome. Jesus wanted everyone to know, when you’ve made them feel welcome, it’s as if you were welcoming Jesus.

He spent His life inviting others. Letting them know, Jesus could take their burdens, their sins, and their problems, and replace them with life, joy, and happiness. He wasn’t promising a life without challenges, but a life that could overcome any challenge, because He would never leave us.

Jesus said you will have tribulation, or trouble, in this world, but I have overcome the world. In other words, I haven’t just beat what you’re facing, I conquered the environment that produced it. He doesn’t only welcome us into a new way of life, but a new Kingdom. 

A Kingdom that was in this world, but not of it. We aren’t isolated from battles, but we are insulated from anything that could destroy us. Which is why we should be so welcoming in our everyday life, reflecting the nature of Jesus.

He wanted everyone to know, that He had what they needed. That He wasn’t asking them to do something for Him to save the world. Jesus was going to sacrifice His life to save man, if no one responded, but if they did, a better Way was available to them.

It’s our duty to be welcoming, loving, and kind, and let Jesus shine through. He’ll lead you when the conversation starts, but people will only have a conversation with someone they want to talk to.  Let’s be welcoming today, just like Jesus!

Listen

Look for an opportunity to listen to someone today, not only what they’re saying, but what they’re not. Someone feels like no one hears them, or they’re battling sadness. A person close to each of us, is facing something. 

Be there, first with your smile, second with your ears, and only if absolutely necessary with your viewpoint. Your smile first, because they’ll see you care. Your ears second, because by listening they’ll hear that you love them. An restrain from sharing your opinion, not because you have nothing to say, but to show them you have no agenda.

If they need your viewpoint, they’ll ask. An once they ask, they’ll listen. In helping people, you’ll find a kind face, and attentive ears, speak a lot louder than anything you’ll ever say.

They Made Them Laugh

Jack Benny, while Bob Hope received well deserved recognition for entertaining the troops, Jack was a close second. In fact, it’s my understanding that only Mr Hope had more performances than Jack’s for the troops, both reaching into the thousands. 

These men recognized the quality of laughter, and it’s need on the battlefield. I’ve heard people criticize the publicity received for these performances, but I don’t recall the critics doing so from the frontlines.  Which brings me to a quick point.

Neither man tried to make themselves appear as scholars, they were comedians. They didn’t mind getting laughed at, or criticized. I’m sure they didn’t like it, but they looked past it to the need. The need will always be greater than the criticism you face. An the voice of those you help, will always drown out those who complain about your efforts.

As Beautiful As A Flower

“As beautiful as a flower…” That’s what the city of Canton, China said of our flag in 1784. Benjamin Franklin and John Adams described it as having a new constellation. It flew monumentally above Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Jefferson, before they were ever committed to granite at Rushmore.  

It is a glowing, and growing light, flying ahead of great men and women, pointing towards a better future. That has always been the truth, from thirteen small colonies to fifty states, I love the history of our country.  When I think of it, I visualize a cold Valley Forge, a solemn Gettysburg, France’s Argonne Forest, and D Day.  

Heroes, some well known, others known only by their actions. My heart swells at the thoughts those American GI’s opening the doors of Auschwitz, making hope a reality.  I also think of a tea party in Boston, a harbor in Hawaii, and two towers in New York. 

Each generation would have challenges to answer, hardships to endure, and tragedies to overcome. Many of which, had not been faced by those before them. America, named for an Italian mapmaker, has always been a trailblazer. 

She strives to be as noble as the lady in her harbor. As brave, as those men at Iwo Jima. An as wise as the bearded gentleman from Kentucky, Illinois, or Indiana. 

Like Lincoln, all of America’s children, have little bits of each part of our country in us.  Each of us, can hear, in our mind’s ear, our favorite singer’s renditions of the Star Spangled Banner. All go to some lyric, person, or event that causes patriotism to swell in our hearts on this day.

I’m reminded of Cohan and Cagney, and those Yankee Doodle Boys. A red haired comedian, of great articulation, Mr Skelton, and his Pledge Of Allegiance. Or two other baggy pants comedians, Benny and Hope, who both entertained more troops than any other person.

I think of statesmen and soldiers first, but then those civilians who risked their lives, fortune, and future traveling to entertain those soldiers in far flung regions of the globe. Men and women, not in uniform, did what they could, to make other Americans’s lives a little better. 

They did so, because they recognized the greater sacrifices those they were serving were making. During sad days, they paired laughter with bravery. Our country, like all, has its valleys, but oh how beautiful our mountains. Flaws are only final, if we don’t rise above them.

We continue to climb, planting the seeds of freedom. Working to shine liberty’s torch into new areas, and keeping in our minds what this banner means.  For it is more than a symbol of what was, or a promise of what could be. It’s something that is always with each American.

It is a constant reassurance, that if they did it, we could grow into it also. It’s a consistent star charting us to new endeavors. An finally it’s a monument to the fact that God has blessed this land, and it’s our duty to seek His providence on it for many years to come.

July 3, 1775

On July 3, 1775, George Washington took command of the Continental Army.  We talk a lot about July 4th, but we don’t always appreciate July 3.  Leadership made tomorrow a reality, it laid the foundation of freedom, through sacrifice.

There was no guarantees when Washington accepted this post. He faced obstacles, people trying to take his position, impossible odds, and a massive foe.  Why did he accept, because since 1767, he had taken a stand against tyranny. 

Washington certainly did not accept for the position, it was more a target than an honor. He said yes because America needed him. He said yes, because he believed he could make a difference. He said yes, because he believed in what he was fighting for.

General Washington began the hard work of training and preparation.  If you read the accounts of the war, it was anything but easy.  It was truly a miracle that thirteen colonies stood fast against an empire, to form a republic.

Our country was founded by men called to liberty, beginning the journey of freedom, which we continue. Tomorrow we will listen to anthems penned as promises. Patriots,  propelled to better the lives of those around them. Providing America the possibility of not just a better future, but a future at all.

This week we celebrate freedom, today let us celebrate the leadership and sacrifice of those who chose to make it possible. They said we will fight today, so tomorrow we could say it’s Independence Day!

Founded With Knowledge

No, our country was not founded by perfect men, but they were praying men. While people debate whether General Washington prayed in the snow at Valley Forge, we have his prayer book, written in his own hand. Whether he prayed in the snow, or whether he prayed by the fire, we know he prayed.

Our country was founded with knowledge, the knowledge of their own limitations, and the belief in a God not bound by man’s frailties. On the Fourth of July week, I choose not to seek out their faults, I have enough of my own. I don’t have to look anywhere but the mirror for those.

What I look to General and President Washington for, is how he, and our other founding fathers, looked for God’s help in crafting something unique in human history. A country founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In 2018, we seek, in every season, regardless of the weather, we ask, like the surveyor turned soldier, for God’s help and guidance.

May we do, as they did. May we add to America’s story great adventures, noble deeds, and a foundation for our children to build on. Because 1776 happened, in 2018 we can still ask for God to bless America, may that forever be the case!