The night was quiet. A soft cool breeze stirred the air. The sound of sheep baaing keep silence at bay, but didn’t disturb the shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Suddenly, an angel appeared announcing the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, who was the Savior of the world. The shepherds were stunned. Then the dark sky filled with light as heavenly hosts sang out a chorus praising God.
When their eyes adjusted back to the black of the night, Luke 2:15-16 says, “So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger” (NKJV).*
Little did these humble shepherds know they were about to greet the one who would one day call Himself the Good Shepherd. A king humble enough to connect with the ordinary people around Him. People like shepherds. In John 10:14 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.”
The Good Shepherd Knows His Sheep
Sometimes I wonder if even as a baby, Jesus was aware of His surroundings. Maybe as the God of the universe in the flesh, He actually remembered the adoration of the simple shepherds. Even though sheep are stupid animals, the shepherd knew all of His sheep by name and slept in the doorway to block out thieves and wild wolves who could attack the sheep in the night. Jesus was not born high and mighty into a throne room of a palace, but laid His head in a lowly manger. He could identify with the hardships of the people, not disdaining their pain, but entering it from the moment He was conceived to live on earth.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He cares for His sheep. Psalm 23 tells the story of how the Lord is our Shepherd, so we don’t want. He seeks good things for His sheep and protects them from the dangers of life. He leads them by still waters so they didn’t wash down the river when trying to drink water. Even when they passed through the valley of the shadow of death, the sheep had nothing to fear. They only had to follow their Shepherd through, and His rod and staff would keep them safe from any attacks.
The Good Shepherd Sacrificed Himself for His Sheep
Not only did Jesus care for His sheep during His life, He saved them through His death. There is no way the lowly shepherds could have fathomed that this baby Jesus was born to die on a cross. John 10:11 says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Jesus is our Good Shepherd because He willingly chose to lay down His life so that we could be reconciled to the Father. Apart from His sacrifice, there was no way the perfect blood could be spilled to pay the debt we owed for our sins.
This Christmas, may we be like the shepherds who ran to see the baby that the angels proclaimed as the Son of God. May we marvel at His humble beginnings that paved the road to His cross on Calvary and then final victory over the grave. I’m so thankful for the Good Shepherd who gave His life for me.
*All Scripture is from the NKJV version.
When I lived overseas for missions, my boss had workers install a heavy door for my safety. It weighed over 200 lbs and had steel pins that shot into the ceiling and sides of the wall. I had two keys, one of which I had to turn four times. I felt safe. Until I left town…. Then thieves broke into my house by climbing off the roof onto my balcony. They broke a window, ransacked my house, found my spare key in a coat pocket, and left out the front door with all my electronics and American food. Fortunately, Jesus serves as a much better protection than my steel door did.
Jesus is our door for protection
Jesus said in John 10:1 that only thieves and robbers enter places without using the door. People going somewhere for legitimate purposes enter by the door. John 10:7-8 says, “Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them” (NKJV).* Jesus serves as the door at the entrance of the pen to deter robbers and protect His sheep. Even though my belongings were stolen, I remained unharmed. God was the true protector of my home, not a steel door. He saved me from the thieves.
Jesus is our door for salvation.
John 10:9 says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” When we enter by the door, Christ, we have salvation. The sheep pen in Bible times had one door for security reasons. One true way to enter. The thieves and robbers tried to jump over the fence, but that way was not legitimate. Jesus is the only door to salvation for our souls. Many people will try to tell you that as long as you journey well, all roads lead to the same place. Don’t believe them. They are trying to steal your hope for eternity. Refuse the lies and embrace the truth. Walk through the door of Christ into His saving grace for you. There is no other way to enter into His salvation.
Jesus is the door for our provision.
Jesus it not only our salvation, but also our provision. In the second half of John 10:9, Jesus shares that we “will go in and out and find pasture.” God loves to give good things to His children. When we come to Him with our needs, He provides for us wherever He leads us to go. There have been times that I tried to do things on my own. Then I got frustrated because I was looking to myself for my provision instead of God. Now I go to the Lord and enter into a land of abundance where He feeds me so that I can thrive. He is not a stingy God, withholding His blessings from me. When I graze in the grass He gives me, I have all I could ever need.
I love how Jesus sums up His description of being the door in John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Satan wants to leave us destitute. He wants to destroy our minds and reputations. The way of Jesus is the complete opposite. He gives us abundant life here on earth by protecting and providing for us and paves the way for our eternity by being the door of our salvation. I am thankful that I can trust Jesus as my door better than I did my door overseas. May we enter through Him for our protection, salvation, and provision.
Navigating in the dark is scary. Darkness fills my house at night. Walking to my bedroom after dousing the light requires me to stretch out my hands and feel my way so that I don’t hit the wall. My doorway is especially tricky. I have an alcove when I enter that I must maneuver past to reach the bathroom where the light switch resides.
The same way our physical eyes need light to see, our spiritual eyes need light to save us from walking in darkness. We need the light of Jesus. John 8:12 says, “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’” (NKJV). * Jesus lights the whole world. Those who follow Him have His light in their lives rather than darkness.
What can we know about this light of Christ?
Light Overcomes Darkness
John 1:4-5 says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” When we switch on the light of Christ into our lives, we experience abundant life on earth and into eternity. Satan works to keep us caught in a cycle of sin and shame. Jesus shines truth into our hearts so we can reroute from the way that leads to destruction. We can follow the road that leads to life, confident in the one who brightens the path. We live our lives differently when walking in the Lord’s light.
Walking in the Light Leads to Fellowship with the Father
God is pure and clean. First John 1:5 says, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” While our sunsets may have subtle grays that deepen as night overtakes the sky, God sees in black and white. Either we are obedient and walk with God or disobedient and lost in darkness.
Maybe we don’t realize we are in the dark. God looks at our hearts and sees through the lies we tell ourselves about our actions. We may think our footsteps remain firm in the truth. Instead, sin hides inside the stories we tell ourselves. We paint our actions as noble when in reality pride drives us deeper into disobedience than we care to admit. First John 1:6 says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” The way we live our daily lives will show whether we are in the light or not.
The good news is that we don’t have to stay stuck in darkness. We can choose to be obedient and gain the benefits of living in Christ. First John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” The spiritual light of God can turn our black stained hearts into pure white with the scrubbing power of the perfect blood of Jesus. Even if we have sinned and walked away from God, when we confess our sins, He forgives us (1 John 1:9). Then we can return to bask in the light of His love for us, which we are then to shine on others by displaying Jesus’ love (1 John 2:9-11). Every time we smile at someone on the street, listen to a hurting friend, or give water to a thirsty person is a time we share the light of the Lord.
Light Directs Our Decisions
One thing we can do to walk in the light is spend time in God’s Word. When we read the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate Scripture to us, He sheds light on the decisions we face. Once I was praying for direction. I had a firm job offer for a teaching position and also had applied to do event planning. I felt God nudge me to read the book of James. I wanted to focus on a few verses on wisdom, but God said to read the whole book. James only had five chapters.
I had already read some verses about wisdom when I came across words that leapt off the page. James 3:1 says, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” Even though the verse was not in context (which is how I usually read the Bible), I knew not to take the teaching job. Human logic would say to take the firm offer. Instead, I let it go and waited to hear from the event planning people. My time reading the whole book instead of a few verses gave me direction for my life. Because spiritual truths lit my way, when the event planning position was offered to me, I took it right away.
I am so thankful Jesus came as the light of the world. The same way that I need to turn towards Christ to live in His love, I need to turn on a light at the other end of the house before heading off to bed. When that light shines into the darkness, the darkness disappears. The rays drown out the black and illuminate the way. May we all walk in the light of Jesus today.
*All Scriptures are in NKJV.
This week I am honored to host a guest blog by Katherine Pasour. I know her through the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. Katherine is a great writer who encourages others in their writing journeys. She recently published the book "Honoring God with My Body: Journey to Wellness and Healthy Lifestyle." I appreciate her desire to connect taking care of our bodies as a way to honor God, and am excited about her words. I pray her blog below will challenge you to find new ways to create healthy habits. I'm also doing a give-away of her book where I will have a drawing for any new subscribers to my blog. I will announce the winner on Tuesday, November 1, 2022. Enjoy her article!
I am blessed.
Two amazing little people call me Grammy and I have the privilege of caring for these wonderful gifts from God three days a week. Their mother usually has leftovers in the refrigerator for my lunch. Recently, she had a bowl of slaw covered with a stretchy lid and I dipped some out before attempting to put the cover back on the bowl.
After numerous attempts and much grumbling, I admitted complete lack of success. The plastic cover stretched over the bowl without too much difficulty. But after a second or two, the lid always popped off. After a dozen attempts, I accepted defeat.
Life presents us with challenges on a daily basis. If we find a task extremely difficult, our options may be similar to what I faced with the bowl of slaw—Persist in trying only one way—Adapt our strategy and find a different way to complete the challenge—or decide the task isn’t worth doing and give up.
What about the challenge of making healthy lifestyle choices?
Below are five suggestions for your consideration. These actions can lead to a healthier lifestyle, but first an answer to the obvious question:
Why bother to seek a healthier lifestyle?
Achieving a healthy lifestyle, which includes daily physical activity and healthy nutrition, provides significant benefits:
But achieving a healthy lifestyle isn’t always easy. We don’t always have the information we need to make healthy choices. Fast foods and unhealthy snacks tempt us. We may have a sedentary job and limited options for exercise opportunities. Perhaps we indulge in unhealthy eating habits that are difficult to eliminate.
So…let’s take a look at those suggestions for a healthier lifestyle.
Five actions for a healthier you:
Persist, adapt, and give up
In my situation with the bowl and frustrating cover, my solution was to find a different container and lid to store the slaw. I did some persisting, adapting, and giving up. I persisted in that I was determined to get the slaw back into the refrigerator. I adapted by finding another method. I gave up on the original plan and found a different way that worked.
Persist, adapt and give up (?) on your journey to a healthier lifestyle.
God gifted us with an amazing human body.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 138:14-15, NIV)
We honor God when we take care of His gift.
When preparing for a recent hurricane, I tried to stock up on food and water. The stores were nearly empty, but I found one loaf of bread pushed deep in the shelf. It was some thick white stuff that I’d never bought before, but bread was bread. I needed sustenance. Anything would do in the face of having nothing.
The same way my body needs physical bread to survive, my spirit needs spiritual bread to thrive. However, I can’t go to my local grocery store and buy bread that provides eternal life. Even a fortified bread will not extend my life span. To find spiritual nourishment, I have to go to the source of spiritual life.
In John 6, Jesus is talking to the people after having performed the miracle of feeding five thousand men (plus women and children) with just five loaves and two fish the day before. People are always looking for a free lunch. So, they returned demanding more.
The multitude crowded Jesus trying to justify their request by stating Moses had given the Israelites manna in the desert. Jesus reminded them that God had provided manna, not Moses. Yet, for all their munching on manna, the people still died. Physical food can only sustain our bodies for so long.
Because bread wasn’t lasting, Jesus didn’t give them food. He offered something better for them to feast on.
In John 6:51 Jesus says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (NKJV).
Take a minute for that to soak in.
Now, I seem to get hungry more often the next person. Sometimes, I have even threatened to chew off my arm if I don’t get a meal fast enough. However, I have never eaten myself. Ever. I’m just not that hungry.
The people of Jesus’ day freaked out too. Some thought Jesus was telling them literally to eat His body and drink His blood. Several of His followers abandoned Him because they weren’t about to hang with a cannibal.
What the people didn’t realize was that the coming sacrifice of Jesus’s body—His flesh and blood—would produce spiritual food that gave life. Not just life on earth, but life forever. Jesus is the bread of eternal life. When our spirits were separate from the Father, His broken body paved the path to our heavenly home.
We are reconciled to God through the life Jesus gave for the world. Since the life of the flesh is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11), the pouring out of Jesus’ perfect blood emptied His body of physical life so that we could have eternal life.
When we feast on the flesh of Christ, we are relishing the Word of God. Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:14). Our spiritual food is to soak in as much of Scripture as possible so we can stay fortified for our daily life on earth and our eternal life in heaven.
I need to approach my time in the Bible even more seriously than my time at the dinner table.
My full plate will only last until the next meal. God’s Word endures forever. I must feed both my body and spirit to have fullness of life for now and all time.
After returning from the store, I packed my white bread and my Bible as essential items. I needed both to outlast the storm. Thankfully, God kept me and my family safe during the hurricane.
The moments I tore my eyes from the weather on the screen to read the words of hope in the Word sustained my heart throughout the rain. And that meant more to me than a few slices of white bread. May we all feast on the body of Christ as our bread of eternal life through fair winds and high storms.
I recently had the honor to guest blog on Tammy Kennington's website about focusing on building God's kingdom. I know her through a Facebook Group of Christian writers and have always enjoyed her stories. Here is the first paragraph with a link to her site for the rest of the blog. Enjoy!
A seed of ambition recently tried to sprout into a weed that would choke out my witness. I helped my colleague organize my office’s strategic planning conference. During the conference, the big boss kept acknowledging two other coworkers for their efforts. I wasn’t mentioned at all. It stung to not be recognized.
I think the sun shines brighter in Florida than elsewhere. My left arm burns every time I drive. Something is just more intense about the sun here. I am thankful for the sun’s light to see by and how it warms the earth to bring forth fruit.
God’s love is compared to the sun. Number 6:25 says, “The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you” (NKJV). His blessings shine in our lives like sunshine as grace pours forth from His throne.
We as believers are also compared to the sun. Proverbs 4:18 says, “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day” (NKJV). As we grow in Christ, our light becomes brighter until we join our Heavenly Father for eternity. However, we don’t have our own light. Instead, we reflect the light that God shines on us, like the moon reflects the light of the sun.
It encourages me to remember that the moon has phases. It doesn’t achieve its complete brightness in one day. So too, sanctification is a process. The closer we get to the Son, the more our lives reflect His light to lost and dying people. Every day we grow in glory as the Spirit stirs us towards love and good works.
Philippians 2:15 says, “That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (NKJV). Our world contains obstinate people set on living life their own way. They live in constant night and don’t even know it. When we walk with the Lord, the light we scatter cuts through the darkness and draws people like moths to a candle. May we sit in the Son and draw near to the Lord. Then we can reflect His love and woo the world with His light.
A guy friend of mine once owned a really nice sports car. He parked it at the end of the row to keep it away from other cars. Every weekend, he washed and waxed that vehicle until his face shone in the hood. He was so proud. The first time he walked out to find a ding, he was beside himself. I explained to him that the main thing was that he was safe. No one was hurt. Inanimate objects are not as important as animate objects. It took a while, but he eventually calmed down.
Upon reflection, I realized that the reason he was so distraught was because he treasured his fast car. He had saved money to buy that vehicle, and it made him feel important. He put all that time and effort into something temporary. One day it would rust to pieces and cease to run.
Jesus admonishes us to place our treasures in heaven where they will last forever.
Matthew 6:19-21 says, ““Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (NKJV).
As a society, people value quality items. They think more of someone with a luxury vehicle than an old lemon. Yet, maybe the clunker was once a great car, but the owner decided it was more important to invest money into his local church instead of upgrading his vehicle every few years.
The time and money we give into the kingdom of God are eternal investments. No inflation can eat up the buying power of those deposits and no stock market crash that can foil our returns. You treasure in heaven cannot be stolen by thieves in the night. I’ve heard it said, “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.” No matter what material things you accumulate during your life on earth, they will not pass with you into eternity.
Remember the parable about the rich fool who had such a large crop that he tore down his barns and built new ones to hold his bounty? He prided himself on his wealth, and didn’t glorify the Lord. God struck him dead. The story ends with Luke 12:12, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (NKJV). Yikes! I have no desire for God to smite me because I hoard the riches that He has entrusted me to steward.
So, how do we spend our treasure in ways that build our heavenly homes? We invest our lives into loving God and loving others. We can tithe at our local church and give to charities that advance the kingdom of God. Also, because valuable things extend beyond just our money, we can use our time and talents too. Maybe you can teach children in the nursery or welcome people as they enter the sanctuary. Perhaps the Lord has blessed you with a great singing voice and you can encourage a congregation through song.
For loving others, you can share your resources with friends and family when they fall in times of need. With people coming out of the pandemic and gas prices sky-high, if you even have a dime more than you need, why not ask God who you can gift it to? Even if you have no extra dollars lying around, maybe you could babysit for a neighbor or knit a hat for someone with cancer. The options for eternal investments abound.
Recently, my sister-in-law got in an accident and totaled the car that I had sold her a year and a half ago. I had owned the vehicle over a decade and loved it, even more than my current vehicle. Thank God, no one was hurt in that collision. I recalled the conversation I’d had with my guy friend years ago and had more peace about it than I would have had otherwise. The car wasn’t a human. The people were safe. That is what mattered.
My heart is with my brother and sister-in-law for their well being. Because my investment was in my sister-in-law, not the car, God turned the accident into a blessing in disguise. They managed to find a car for a less than what the insurance had paid and used the remainder to pay some separate bills.
What does your heart treasure? Do you seek to love people made in the image of God or are you focused on getting the latest and greatest gadget? Ask God to help you invest in things that last for eternity. His interest rate will yield a future harvest that lasts forever and will never rust no matter how many dings you receive in life.
Some things are worth quitting. Not just the things you usually think about quitting like smoking, drinking, or drugs. Normal things are worth quitting too sometimes. Recently, I was reading a series that was consuming my life. The books ran almost 1000 pages each, and I only had three weeks to borrow them on my Kindle from the library. I lost sleep, stayed away from friends, and didn’t call my family all to finish these books. After book six, I considered if finishing the books was worth it. It wasn’t.
The books weren’t bad, but the time suck they created in my life pulling me from more important things indicated they weren’t the best use of my time. I spent an hour on Wikipedia reading how the series ended and felt satisfied. To listen to the audio version of all the books would take almost 20 days to hear – and that is without eating and sleeping! Not reading these books let me literally regaining weeks of my life. I don’t like quitting things, but it’s healthy to let go of things that aren’t worthwhile.
Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (NKJV). I only get one life. I want to redeem the time from idle works and walk wisely in the remainder of my life. Now I can call my brother and read Bible verses with him in the evenings and chat with my mom without being anxious that I’ll lose sleep to finish a book. I can invest my time in people that matter for eternity. Those conversations are worth infinitely more than checking a box of completing a series.
How about you? Do you have anything that God is calling you to quit? Are you missing out on good things using your time on things that don’t last? Maybe you are spending too much time on social media and missing out on fellowship with people in person. Just a word of caution. I am not admonishing anyone to quit their marriage or their job tomorrow. I am suggesting that if you do things that don’t bring life, you may need to stop. I pray that God will help you let go of anything you need to quit so you can embrace the abundant life He has for you.
Recently, I had a season where the squeeze was tight on my family and friends. It seemed everything that could go wrong did – from hospitalizations to car accidents to COVID, the weight threatened to crush me. I fought the darkness with the weapon of worship.
Despite the press, I went to church on Sunday. I’ve learned that thinking I can gain time by skipping church is always a loss in the long run. That week, they sang “Firm Foundation (He Won’t)” by Cody Carnes. My mouth formed words that no matter how hard it got, God would never fail me ever. Tears of relief streamed down my face. God can’t fail. He always prevails. Even in the storms, the Lord helps me stay steady. The truth seeped into my soul and became my anthem throughout the week.
It makes sense that spiritual songs usher the Spirit into our minds and reinforce our hearts. Ephesians 5:18-20 says, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NKJV).
While the world may say to drink to drown your sorrows, the Bible says to pull out your hymnal. The time-tested words contain deep doctrine so you can tap into spiritual strength to fortify you soul. Sometimes, people knock the old hymns as antiquated, but if they have lasted hundreds of years, that says something. I love both contemporary praise music and the classics. The hymn “Have Faith in God,” reminds me of God's sovereignty that supersedes my circumstances. I can trust God when I don’t see answers to prayer immediately, because He will answer yet.
We also gain strength from singing the name of Jesus. Isaiah 12:2 says, “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’” (NKJV) It may seem silly to think of a person as a song, but think of the love songs on the radio. Many of them name the person the singer extols. So, why not sing Jesus? I love the old hymn “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest Name I Know” also known as “He Keeps Me Singing.” He does! When I keep singing the name of Jesus over and over, it brings His power into the room. When I vocalize His goodness and grace, and it puts my focus back on the character of God instead of my circumstances.
Now, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Fortunately, all God desires is for me to make a joyful noise. I pray that you find your songs of strength. May God keep you singing as you go to strengthen you heart more and more with each psalm of hope that you sing.
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Virginia.