Author Archives: lrbartel

Good works won’t save you… But they DO matter (a lot)!

Matthew 25[31-46I read Matthew 25:31-46 – Christ’s description of “the Final Judgment” in parabolic terms – during my time of “coffee with the Lord” today and jotted this in the margin of my Bible: “Good works matter!” (They don’t give you salvation, that is granted by God’s grace through faith [Ephesians 2:8-9] – but they do reveal whether or not you’ve been truly saved and transformed by the grace of God [Ephesians 2:10!)

Got a “B.C. (Before Christ)… When you were young, irresponsible, and self-willed? Here’s a prayer for you…

young and irresponsible

Over the years I don’t know how many individuals who have become followers of Jesus, and have experienced His life-transforming forgiveness and grace, have admitted to me regretfully about their sinful past… They told me “that was B.C. – Before Christ – when I was young, irresponsible, and self-willed!”  Sometimes it wasn’t those exact words – but it was the same message, nevertheless!

Hey, all of us who are followers of Jesus have a “B.C” – “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!” (Romans 3:23)  But the “Good News” – the “Gospel” – is that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1)

I thought of that wonderful truth today as I read Psalm 25, which I labeled in my Bible: “The Prayer of a Redeemed Person Who was Once Young, Irresponsible, and Self-willed!”  Perhaps – just perhaps – that person was you… or someone you know and love!  Here’s some of the words of that prayer…

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul!  O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me!  Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame…

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

“Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love… Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

“Good and upright is the Lord!  Therefore, he instructs sinners in the way.  He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.  All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

“For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great!  Who is the person who fears the Lord? He will instruct them in the way that they should choose.  Their soul shall abide in well-being… The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.  My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.  The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses!  Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins!

“Consider how many are my foes… Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.  May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you! (adapted from Psalm 25)

What a prayer!  Hey, I was once “Young, irresponsible, and self-willed!”  I have a B.C. – a “Before Christ” – just like many of you!  But I’m so glad I met Jesus, asked for God’s forgiveness, and experienced His mercy and grace!  So today, during my time of “coffee with the Lord,” I made the words of Psalm 25 my sincere prayer one more time!

“The Lord is MY Shepherd!” … What’s that mean anyway?

Shepherd 2I just finished reading Psalm 23 (the Shepherd’s Psalm) this morning during “coffee with the Lord.”  As always with very well-known passages of Scripture, there is a risk… The risk is familiarity!  We rush through them saying to ourselves, “I already know what this passage is about!” and we read past them or over them.  In fact, many of us, have a passage like Psalm 23 memorized from childhood!

That is why I recommend something called “innocence of eye” when reading and reflecting on a passage like the 23rd Psalm.  Ask my Bible Study students over the years what that means and they will tell you that it means we read passages like this, “as though we had never seen them before as a deliberate and conscious act.”

So today I tried to do that with Psalm 23… And here’s the challenge I faced… Maybe you can help me with it…  The imagery of this Psalm is challenging for “moderns” – It is the image of the “shepherd” (and not just any shepherd – an ancient Bedouin shepherd!  First of all, we didn’t live back then… and secondly, we have not had an opportunity to observe a Bedouin shepherd in action with a flock of sheep.  Now we have “shepherds” where I come from in Montana – but most of them do their “shepherding” from the saddle of a horse… A Bedouin shepherd would NEVER “shepherd” that way! … You don’t “drive” sheep, you “lead” them!  Oh, I wish it were possible to watch an ancient Bedouin shepherd in action – even be out on a Judean hillside with him over an extended period of time!  I’ll bet after that experience Psalm 23 would mean a whole lot more to me!

But I can’t do that… So when it came to the imagery of this Psalm today I just had to depend on my imagination and reflection – as well as the words the Psalmist used.  So what modern imagery might help us here?  I went through several possibilities… “caregiver, leader, parent…”  (You may have some good ideas as well to add).  The best I could come up with was “A loving, caring parent of a large family” (You are aware, aren’t you, that the Psalm says, “The Lord is MY Shepherd” (i.e. He provides PERSONAL care within His loving concern for a large group)!

And then these wonderful words with profound significance… “I shall not want… He leads me… He restores… even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [i.e. a valley as dark as death]… no fear… a prepared ‘table’ in the presence of my enemies… an ‘anointed’ head… an ‘overflowing cup’… goodness and mercy following me… and finally, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever!”  Stuff to chew on – reflect on – for a long time!  Rich, rich, profound imagery!

Take it from me… I’m still trying to practice “innocence of eye” on this one – still searching for the best of modern imagery to correspond with “shepherd” – and still soaking up all the Spirit-led significance I can to the descriptive terms for what the Lord [“my Shepherd”] does and provides!  Listen, I’m just really glad “the Lord is MY shepherd!”

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