THE SHEPHERD

MERRY MONDAY BY PARRIS BAILEY-

“I lay down my life for the sheep, I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”John 10:15

The month before Hurricane Katrina hit our city, Frank and I traveled to Bulgaria to preach. Little did I realize what would happen 30 days later. But while in Bulgaria I had a very touching experience that would carry me through Katrina and beyond. We had just eaten lunch up in the mountains and were making our way back down into town traveling through quaint little villages. It was if I was being transported into another world-everything seem to stand out to me in a vivid way. The sunflowers were in full bloom, the sun was bright and beautiful and to my amazement I saw this shepherd. His face with filled with ruggedness and yet joyfulness and he seemed to look right at me. I felt this intense warmth come communicating that “everything would be alright”. His sheep were all around him. He wore shepherd garb from head to toe- and the years upon his face did him well. All I can say is I will never forget that Shepherd I knew that the Lord was my shepherd and He will be our guide all through our life unto the end. No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Everyday when we wake up he will satisfy us to the uttermost. When we follow him we don’t have to worry of others doing us harm. Yes-indeed.
Spurgeon said, “The Good Shepherd does not stint his sheep, but he gives them so much, that they lie down amid the exceeding plenty of the green pastures. They cannot eat it all, and they lie down in the midst of a superabundance, which infinite mercy has provided. See, then, how God’s boundless love piles mountain upon mountain, that we, up from the depths of our distress, may climb to the heights of his blessedness, and enjoy the fullness of the glory which God has treasured up for us in the person of Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Slowly the good Shepherd wins the confidence of the soul. He patiently waits for us as if he rescued us from an animal shelter! Grace works upon our hearts and cements us to Christ all the days of our lives. Do we listen for His voice? Do we accept the good things along with the bad? All I have to do is close my eyes and see that Shepherd standing there with his sheep, day after day. He watches over me and guides through the great maze of life. The shepherd Christ has gone before us and will watch over you. All we have to do is follow him all the days of our life.

FREE FROM MY ENSLAVED WILL

Rom. 5:5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

We live in a real dangerous time. Humans are medicating themselves from the pain involved in day to day life with a variety of pills and drink. The power to liberate man is found in the ancient well that Jesus spoke of, the well of living water. This is a well of joy that is available to all who come by grace and drink of God’s incredible gift of life. The problem boils down to this. Rather than making this well available in our churches we act as if the well is not needed. Instead, we are told that God loves us like we are and accepts us like we are because of grace. That is only partially true. He loves us so much He refuses to leave us like were are. There is freedom from all kinds of sin that comes from drinking from God’s cup of grace. There is freedom from addictions to alcohol, drugs, sexual sin, greed, etc. John Piper uses the teachings of Augustine to make this very clear. Check this out.

“So saving grace, converting grace, in Augustine’s view, is God’s giving us a sovereign joy in God that triumphs over all other joys and therefore sways the will. The will is free to move toward whatever it delights in most fully, but it is not within the power of our will to determine what that sovereign joy will be. Therefore Augustine concludes,

‘A man’s free-will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he knows not the way of truth; and even after his duty and his proper aim shall begin to become known to him, unless he also take delight in and feel a love for it, he neither does his duty, nor sets about it, nor lives rightly. Now, in order that such a course may engage our “affections, God’s “love is shed abroad in our hearts” not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but “through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us” (Romans 5:5).’”

So it is the very grace of God that actually changes what we love. Rather than lusting for drugs, or someone we are not married to, we are set free. Our enslaved will is set free from the chains that held us captive. What were those chains? The promise of pleasure found in sinful activities. The freedom comes when we taste the pleasure found in knowing Christ intimately.

WHY THE FIGHT ABOUT GRACE ?

Rom. 6:1,2 ¶ What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

As wise old Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun”. It’s funny how people hear a repackaged message with hip, modern trappings and suddenly they think they are part of something that has never been seen or done before. We are living in one of those moments right now. Large mega-type churches focusing on relevancy to modern culture have largely bought into what they are calling the “grace message”. Focusing on a Santa Claus type of God (minus the switches and coal), the Lord is seen as the dispenser of mega blessings and overlooking all the requirements to clean up our act. Actually this message is as old as the church. From Paul contending for grace that delivers from sin to Augustine clamoring with Pelagius and his focus on man’s ability to improve his own life all the way to the champion of grace Martin Luther. Luther refused to back down on his message of grace even though many were using his teaching for an excuse to continue to live a worldly lifestyle. Luther even coined a name for it, antinomianism. Here is a quote from John Piper describing Augustine’s dealing with this dangerous error.

“But there was a deeper reason for his long engagement in the Pelagian controversy. When he was asked by his friend Paulinus why he kept on investing so much energy in this dispute with Pelagius, even as a man in his seventies, he answered, “First and foremost because no subject [but grace] gives me greater pleasure. For what ought to be more attractive to us sick men, than grace, grace by which we are healed; for us lazy men, than grace, grace by which we are stirred up; for us men longing to act, than grace, by which we are helped? This answer has all the more power when you keep in mind that all the healing, stirring, helping, enabling grace that Augustine revels in is the giving of a compelling, triumphant joy. Grace governs life by giving a supreme joy in the supremacy of God.”

Augustine nailed it. It’s not grace that gives us license to continue in sin, on the contrary. It is the pleasure found in God’s grace that liberates us from the prison of sin. So before you buy into the sugar coated ‘grace message’, dig a little deeper. Return to the ancient wells rather than the cesspool of modernism, drink from the fountain of liberty found in the crimson stream of calvary.

THY GOOD SPIRIT

Neh. 9:20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst.

Everything about the Holy Spirit is good. He is the goodness of Almighty God in action. He is the Father’s love, power, guidance, instruction, and purity. He is all of this and more, He is a distinct person, a member of the incredible Trinity. Having access to Him is the greatest privilege anyone can fathom. People try to get close to famous humans, even an autograph can be quite valuable. The Holy Spirit is the most awesome person and his has come to make His home with me and in me. Here are some thoughts from Spurgeon about the wonderful Holy Spirit.

“Common, too common is the sin of forgetting the Holy Spirit. This is folly and ingratitude. He deserves well at our hands, for he is good, supremely good. As God, he is good essentially. He shares in the threefold ascription of Holy, holy, holy, which ascends to the Triune Jehovah. He is good benevolently, tenderly bearing with our waywardness, striving with our rebellious wills; quickening us from our death in sin, and then training us for the skies as a loving nurse fosters her child. How generous, forgiving, and tender is this patient Spirit of God. He is good operatively. All his works are good in the most eminent degree: he suggests good thoughts, prompts good actions, reveals good truths, applies good promises, assists in good attainments, and leads to good results. He is good officially; whether as Comforter, Instructor, Guide, Sanctifier, Quickener, or Intercessor, he fulfills his office well, and each work is fraught with the highest good to the church of God.”

Once we yield to the Lord we actually begin to take on His goodness. We begin to live under the influence of His goodness and our life and lifestyle change. We come under His power and we begin to receive goodness. His goodness provides our daily bread and brings health to our bodies . In this dark and foreboding world the church needs the goodness of the Holy Spirit more than ever. I believe (and predict) there will be another great swing back to the person of the Holy Spirit in the very near future. I think our world is becoming painfully aware of its need for the power of His presence.

THE NEW AND LIVING WAY

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,
so that you also may have fellowship with us.
And our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
1 JOHN 1:3

When you ask people today why Jesus died on the cross people will always say something like, “to wash away my sins”. Even though that answer is correct it is not the ultimate reason Christ died. He died on the cross to bring us to God. It was our sins that were in the way of what God was really after and what we really needed. Some may think I am just being technical or playing word games but I have to disagree. You see many act as if the cross and forgiveness of sins are just a ticket to eternity in heaven and now we are here to live our best life now. Wrong!!! The blood brings us to God now. Access into His presence was purchased for this life as well as the life to come.The baptism in the Holy Spirit is available because of the cross. Walking in this light can change everything. Early in my Christian life I learned from Andrew Murray about what he called the ‘new and living way’ or ‘life behind the veil. This life in the Spirit is what calvary was all about. Here are some thoughts about this from Andrew Murray.

“Fellowship with God is the unique blessing of the gospel. By His blood He dedicated for us a new and living way into the Holy Place where we may walk in the light of God. The promise is, ‘The LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory’. Fellowship with God must be the preacher’s theme. Preachers will fail grievously in their work if they are satisfied to preach only of conversion, forgiveness of sin, and safety after death. Christians should be led into the practice of fellowship with God, for therein lies the secret of holy living. Fellowship with God is the preacher’s only source of power. If fellowship with God is the blessing of the gospel and the burden of the pastor’s preaching, then it follows that the preacher must show in his own life the possibility and blessing of such a walk with God. Experiencing it himself, he will be able to tell others about its wonder and joy, and will win them to the same happy fellowship with God.”
Enjoy this new and living way, you can start today. Look to Jesus in prayer and determine that today will be a day of basking in the glory of His presence in whatever you find yourself doing.

MORE IS ON THE WAY

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.
JOHN 1:14, 16

We are enjoying our “Mardi Gras Saturation Services” at Victory Fellowship this year. Sunday was an amazing day of worship with Leeland. Sunday night the Lord came down and ministered powerfully to me. I don’t really have words to express what I received, I felt His incredible nearness and love and an incredible sense of expectancy. Monday night our brother Mitko from Bulgaria ministered to us. He shared about an expectancy of something new in the body of Christ. He described a fresh move characterized by a deep rooted joy and satisfaction in God. The kind of joy that keeps you and empowers you in whatever circumstances you may find yourself in. I guess if I had to label what I am hearing with a word I would have to say ’fullness’. I am being drawn to another degree of fullness in my experience of Christ. Here is how Andrew Murray explained this fulness available to us in Christ.

“Some receive Christ in terms of the forgiveness of sin and the hope of heaven, yet know little of His fullness and the wealth that is to be found in Him. Others will sacrifice everything in order to be able to say, “From the fullness of his grace we have … received one blessing after another.” Paul was such a one. He said, ‘I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’. Such is the Christian who perceives and desires to be united to the Christ who, in His fullness and love, was utterly devoted to the Father and humankind. Have you come to know the Christ in whom such fullness dwells? Or do you live as a pauper, largely dependent on the world for your joy? It is God’s will that Christ should fill all things, including your heart and its needs! Allow the Holy Spirit to imprint deeply upon your heart the words of our text in all its fullness.”

The world is becoming less and less stable, and to me, less inviting. My heart cries out for another measure of Christ and His joy. Don’t get me wrong, I have drunk deeply from His fountain but I know there is more. He is calling us and this increasing thirst I feel in His body confirms there is more of God on the way.

BETTER COVENANT

Heb. 8:6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.

Have you ever wondered what makes the new covenant better?  First it has a better sacrifice; rather than animal blood the new covenant is secured by the blood of the Son of God. It is also based on better promises. What is the better promise? The new covenant deals with the heart. Our heart is where all of our problems stem from, the new covenant not only cleanses our heart, it changes our heart. In the new covenant God’s Word is inscribed on our heart. Our very desires are changed, we actually begin to desire to know God, to love God, and to follow after His plan for our life. Andrew Murray taught about the blessing of the new covenant, here is some of what Murray said.

“The better covenant spoken of here was promised in Jeremiah: “This is the covenant I will make … I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts: (Jeremiah 31:33) and “I will make an everlasting covenant with them … to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). The Lord also declared, “I will cleanse you from all your impurities. I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:25, 27). The promises contained in these Scripture passages are more than clear: God Himself will do the work. He will plant the desire in the hearts of His children to never depart from Him, and He will cause them to follow His laws. This is the New Covenant of which Jesus is the Mediator. Through the Holy Spirit, He lives in us to keep us from sin, so that we shall have the desire and the power to do God’s will in all things.”

This makes following Christ very simple. It is not ‘trying’ really hard to live right and to follow Christ, it is yielding our heart to the Lord. It is in yielding that the blessing of the New Covenant kicks in. What is the blessing of the New Covenant? It is the anointing of Christ within us. He writes His word in our hearts and begins to live this new life in and through us.