Colorectal Cancer is a terrible disease that is on the rise in America. I personally have seen a family member and a friend suffer with this disease. Thankfully, if treated early, colorectal cancer is often curable. Still, it takes a tremendous toll on the person diagnosed as well as their loved ones who care for them.
Saturday, March 2nd, I have the opportunity to run to support families affected by colorectal cancer and to fund further research. Will you please join me in supporting the Colorectal Cancer Alliance by donating a couple dollars? You can donate through my Facebook fundraiser here: https://www.facebook.com/donate/567468763765855/10106408852545089/
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV)
Pardon my bluntness, but sometimes life just sucks, doesn’t it? You make these plans and they seem so important, but as the time approaches one thing after another just starts tearing them down. You have these people in your life, people you care about so deeply, that you’re ready to do almost anything for them, but when you need them, they seem to let you down. Maybe it’s your job, or you just can’t seem to find or keep a job. Maybe it’s a loved one who has fallen on hard times, illness, or death. Or maybe your own health burdens you on a daily basis. Whatever your situation, I am confident that each of us, whether presently or in times past, has experienced these kinds of discouraging situations.
I believe these kinds of situations can, depending on the circumstances, qualify as what the Bible calls “anxieties,” or “cares.” The Greek word has a long history and it has a double-meaning, very similar to our English word “cares.” In the positive sense, it can refer to any kind of heart-felt motivation to help someone else, “caring” for someone else when they are sick, weak, or in some kind of need. In the negative sense, it can also refer to any kind of heart-felt need that goes unsatisfied, like if you are sick, weak, or in need, but you feel as though you’re alone and no one is helping you. Both kinds of “cares” are strong enough to demand our full attention. And therein lies the problem—for when we fix our eyes on the situation, we take our eyes off Christ.
But there is a remedy for that feeling of discouragement and despair. You see, that feeling comes from a false perspective. You may feel alone, but you aren’t alone. God is with you. So, Paul says, the remedy isn’t to focus more on the situation, but to fix your eyes of the Lord. And prayer is the single most effective strategy for doing just that. And if you are willing to go to God in prayer, Paul gives a promise—the Peace of God will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Paul doesn’t say might or probably. He says will. That’s not just a style of translation—that’s the literal rendering of the Greek. When we fix our eyes on the Lord, we can be absolutely sure that His peace will guard our hearts and minds from the efforts of the Enemy and the world to discourage us.
During the Last Supper, I think the disciples were feeling some anxieties. For at least a few days, Jesus had been telling them about how he would be betrayed and killed. He was going to leave them. In my mind I can imagine reclining at the table among the disciples, thinking, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Aren’t you supposed to be the King of Israel? But you say you’re going to die. And what’s this business about rising in three days?”
While Jesus and the disciples were talking after the meal, Jesus instructed them about many things, including peace. As John 14:27 says,
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
The peace of God is a gift given to us by Jesus. It was made possible by the death of Jesus, which paid the debt for our sins and reconciled us to the Father. In this way, Jesus made peace for us with the Father (see Rom 5:10-11). And now, the peace of God can rule our hearts. But God does not force his peace on us. As Colossians 3:15 says, we have to let his peace rule our hearts. How? By fixing our eyes on the Lord through prayer. And how is this possible? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Then He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?
“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.
“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:22-34, NKJV)
Psalm 23:2 begins, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Sheep are timid, fearful creatures. They aren’t strong or smart, they’re always looking for food and water, and they’re easy pray for predators. So, sheep are typically restless animals, rarely feeling sufficiently provided for and secure enough to lie down and rest. Instead, they wander about on edge, easily spooked and rarely satisfied with where they are.
A responsible shepherd meets the needs of their flock to address these issues. Such a shepherd ensures that the pasture land is well cared for, providing nourishing food and having ample water for the flock. They also protect the sheep from predators, fighting them off in defense of the sheep. And sometimes shepherds use music to sooth the sheep, drowning out strange noises and helping the sheep relax so they can lie down and rest. But, of course, the sheep have to recognize the shepherd’s protections and provisions and then choose to rest in the shepherd’s presence.
In Luke 12, Jesus instructs his disciples not to fear because the Father is such a good shepherd. He promises His Kingdom to every sheep in His sheepfold. God protects us from our Adversary—Satan and his servants—as well as the forces of the world that threaten to overtake us. The Father also provides for our every need. He created us, after all, and He knows that we need food, water, clothing, and so forth. So, Jesus tells us, we can rest in the protection and provision of the Father.
But, as Jesus explains, our ability to find spiritual rest depends on our intentional seeking for God. Jesus gently rebukes his disciples with the phrase, “O you of little faith.” God made the universe in such a way that our spiritual rest depends on us focusing our hearts on Him. If we focus our hearts on the physical challenges of this life, we are restless, wandering on edge, searching for safer, greener pastures. But when we focus our hearts on seeking our loving Father, He promises that we will find spiritual rest in Him as He provides for our earthly needs.
May we seek God and His Kingdom with our whole hearts, that we may find He will not only supply our earthly needs, but He will also give us rest.
Then Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. And he said to them: “I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also the LORD has said to me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’ The LORD your God Himself crosses over before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over before you, just as the LORD has said. And the LORD will do to them as He did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites and their land, when He destroyed them. The LORD will give them over to you, that you may do to them according to every commandment which I have commanded you. Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. (Deut 31:1–6, NKJV)
In Numbers 13, we read that the LORD brought the children of Israel to the Wilderness of Paran, on the southern border of the Promised Land. From here, Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan, 10 of whom feared the inhabitants and instigated the Israelites’ refusal to enter Canaan. Moses interceded for the people and the LORD forgive Israel’s sinful disobedience, but as a consequence, none of that adult generation were permitted to enter the Land except Caleb and Joshua, the other two spies who brought back a good report. Even Moses and Aaron were not permitted to enter the Land because of their unfaithful representation of the LORD at Kadesh (Numbers 20). Our passage today begins Moses’ farewell speech to the second generation of Israel before Moses’ death and Israel entered the Land.
The children of Israel, including Moses and Aaron, suffered severe consequences for their unfaithfulness to the LORD. However, while God prevented the adult generation from entering the Land, He did not forsake His promise to Israel as a nation. The LORD raised up Joshua to lead the second generation of Israelites into the Promised Land. God always keeps His promises. We may not always understand the terms, and we often forsake many potential blessings because of our sins of unfaithfulness and unbelief, but God is always faithful.
I want to you notice two details about this promise that Moses recounted to the second generation of Israelites. First, notice that God promised that the children of Israel would go to war. The Canaanite tribes were strong, numerous, and many would not leave the land willingly. But because of their sinfulness, which included ritual human child sacrifice to the gods Baal and Molech, God dispossessed the Canaanites and promised the land to the children of Israel (Deut 12:29–31, c.f., Jer 32:25). But Israel would have to take possession of the Land by force.
But notice also how God promised to go with the children of Israel. Not just to go with them passively, watching the battle from the sidelines. But actively going before Israel, weakening the hearts of the Canaanites, as well as going behind Israel, protecting the rear ranks which included noncombatants—women, children, and livestock—the weaker, defenseless ranks. Thus, the LORD tells the Israelites not to fear, because the all-powerful presence of Almighty God is among them, fighting for them and protecting them in and through the war.
For me, the daily grind of life is filled with uncountable battles with mixed results—many failures, a few victories, and many stalemates promising to revisit us again in the near future. But, in a similar way that the LORD promised to go with Israel through the war, fighting for her and protecting her, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ makes us a similar promise in our war against sin and death. Food was one of my battlefronts. But praise be to God who has given me the victory over gluttony and enabled me to better lead and care for my family in the way I eat, exercise, and prepare meals for our household.
Christ goes before us in our salvation experience and in the daily struggles throughout our lives. Indeed, Christ went before us in death (1 Pet 3:18–20); He went before us in resurrection (1 Cor 15); and He has gone before us into heaven to prepare a place for us (John 14:1–4). So then, we do not fear the final judgment, nor its servants—sin, flesh, and Satan—because the live of Christ has rescued us from the fear of judgment by delivering us from death and giving us eternal life (1 John 4:17–19).
For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 34:11–15, NLT)
Earlier in the chapter, Ezekiel prophesies against the leaders of Israel, whom the LORD rebukes for being “bad shepherds.” These bad shepherds are guilty of (1) feeding themselves instead of their flocks, (2) taking the best food and clothing while the people starve, (3) forsaking the weak, sick, and wounded, (4) ignoring the wayward and lost, and (5) ruling harshly with cruelty. This is a picture of Israel’s political and religious leaders. But when we look long and hard at what’s going on in our country and in the world, I think maybe we can relate.
Anyway, Israel’s leaders bore a significant amount of the blame for Israel’s sinful ways. Israel’s kings, queens, prophets, and priests, for the most part, instead of leading the people in worshipping the LORD, led the people in worshipping idols. And instead of turning to the LORD in times of need, like invasion of foreign armies or famine, they turned to foreign nations, especially Egypt and Babylon, and many others. This is in addition to all of the previous ways we mentioned about how they amassed their own wealth while exploiting the people.
But at the end of the day, that’s what we do. We’re all sinful. Even as believers, while we wait to receive our eternal bodies and heavenly abode, we wrestle with our sinful flesh and it’s ugly selfishness. That’s why it’s so important for us to seek the LORD daily, dying to ourselves moment-by-moment, so He can live through us, especially those of us who are leaders, in our church, in our workplaces, in our homes.
We are like sheep, easily distracted, not very smart, and biting, kicking, screaming, when we don’t get our own way. When that doesn’t work, we run aimlessly to the world. That’s what Israel did. And that’s what we do, too.
But the LORD is a good shepherd. He is not like Israel’s leaders or our world leaders today. He is holy, righteous, and true. He is always good, whether in dispensing justice or mercy. When we run, He comes after us. When we bite and kick and scream, he lets us throw our fit, then He sets us right again. Sometimes he bops us with His rod, other times He holds us down until we listen. And always He’s calling to us, gently beckoning us to come back to Him.
In these verses, the LORD promises Israel that He will bring them back to their land, make them prosper in the land, and give them peace. These are special promises for God’s chosen nation Israel. Not because Israel deserved it. The entire Old Testament shows us that they didn’t. But because Yahweh chose them.
The land promise was specific to Israel, but our Lord Jesus Christ makes us a similar promise about our eternal inheritance. In John 10, Jesus says,
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:14–16)
And in John 14, Jesus says,
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.” (John 14:1–4, NKJV)
We are those other sheep, not of Israel’s sheepfold, but of the same spiritual flock, following the same Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. And though Israel’s land promise, may not be for us, the LORD promises us eternal life abiding with Him, if we will only trust in Him.
So, when your life is going great, trust the LORD. Don’t be like Israel’s bad shepherds, hoarding your wealth, ignoring those who are suffering, and exploiting those around you. Instead, generously share whatever blessings the LORD has given you with those around you. And when your life seems like it couldn’t get worse, know that if you’re trusting in Jesus Christ, this world is the closest to hell you’ll ever get. Because we have a Good Shepherd who promises us a future of eternal glory abiding with Him.