The Lord Has Made Me Empty

“I went out full and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? ” (Ruth 1:21).

FEW  of us have had to suffer such loss and trial like that of our friend Naomi. These are the words of an afflicted soul, a soul who like Job has suffered and has nothing left.  She went out a wife and a mother and she comes home a widow and childless. She went out pleasant and came back bitter.  The trials came in waves and billows and just would  not give her a chance to stop and breathe. What is worse are all the questions. You are a child of God, you love Christ, but where is the favor of God? Where is His mercy? Where are the tokens of his love?

It is not the trial, so much, it is over. It is time to pick up the collateral damage and pieces of a broken life. As she does it, she finds unsatiable emptiness.  She is empty. There are some even now, where you feel just like her, there is nothing left that brings a sense of relief. There is no spark of joy and your body is sickly and weak. She has reached the point where life has lost it’s meaning.  She feels like a failure. All she knows to do is go home. 

Do not be too harsh upon our sister Naomi. Pain is a language all its own and sometimes we should learn to be fluent in it. Doctors would give pain killers to anyone who was in extreme physical pain, but what numbs the pain of the heart, the agony of the soul and mind? We should be patient with those who are going through difficult times and are at the point of giving up. 

What a crushing blow this was but it is THE LORD that brought her home empty. God is in charge. She can deal with that, but now she is empty. Empty!  Oh my friends have you felt this recently?  Has everything exploded and then imploded. The tears won’t stop.  You are around people, but you feel isolated. You are angry that no one helps. When you are alone, you wonder where everyone has gone? The joy has gone out of life. I grieve with you! Everything reads “E” -whether it is your job, family, church and health and you are empty.

“Naomi heard that, “the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.” (Ruth 1:6). She was hungry. She was not just hungry but starving. When this happens there is sense of powerlessness to control circumstances and we desperately try to put a lid on Pandora’s box. This may annoy and even anger some of you: but the emptiness has been placed there by THE LORD! It is that hunger that drives you even now back to Christ. This does not mean that you have backslid, but everyday we must be reminded that Christ is our sole resource and so need drives us to him! You are empty for a reason. It is in your makeup, after you are born again that you become a person that only God can satisfy! This explains this disappointment, heartbreak and misery! You soul is parched and dry and your stomach is full of pain for God alone!

You think this trial will never end?  The old Puritan Richard Sibbes says, “Is it not an unreasonable speech for a man at midnight to say, “It will never be day?” So it is an unreasonable thing for a man that is in trouble to say, “O Lord, I shall never get free of this; it will always be thus with me.” Glory follows afflictions, not as the day follows the night but as the spring follows the winter; for the winter prepares the earth for the spring, so do afflictions sanctified prepare the soul for glory.” No afflicton is without purpose and trusting that God has “sanctifed to us our deepest distress” meaning that once the trial is over and it will end, the song you will sing is,

“If God should let me there review the winding paths of earth I knew, it would be proven clear and true : “Jesus led me all the way. “Jesus led me all the way, led me step by step each day. I will tell the saints and angels as I lay my burdens down, “Jesus led me all the way.”

Naomi began to move in the direction of the city of Bethlehem or Beyth Lechem which is called “the house of bread or food.” Is not your heart deeply touched by this idea? Naomi who calls herself Mara or “bitter” and feels the chastisement of the Lord has come home empty and yet He already has provided a way to secure her future and family by learning that she can be fed in the house of bread! Ah yes, dear Christian there is a place where God feeds his own precious people, even when there is famine all around us, God says, “there will I nourish thee.” (Gen. 45:11).

I am sure you realize that Elimelech and Naomi had no business living in a pagan country and allowing her sons to marry pagan wives.   Let me say for the record: those who have failed and those who see those that have failed returning to the Lord and the church: let the past go! Tragedy is not as bad as the bad advice and criticism of fellow Christians. We should see others and be warned and merciful for as Paul said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” (1 Cor 15: 10).

It was written that, “…All the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?” And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.” (Ruth 1:19-20). As strange as this may sound there is nothing more precious than a person who has returned fresh from God’s chastising hand. Call her pleasant, she feels bitter right now but call her pleasant. Weep with them, mourn with them as if it were your own sins and trouble for you shall see them restored for God’s glory and all our benefits! While it is true that she and her family at one time, “despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word.” (Ps. 106:24). She will be full once again and her sweetness will return! She will see her lines fall in pleasant places (Ps 16: 6).

I beg you, treat these wandering sheep as if they never left, for in God’s heart he has placed a hook in their jaw (Ezek. 38:4) and hedged up their way with thorns (Hosea 2:6) and he has detoured them from the troughs of the pigs (Luke 15:5) back home to be treated sons and daughters! God promises that in “returning and rest shall ye be saved” (Isa. 30:15) meaning they show evidence that they belong to God in coming back. They have had it with trusting the world and now they rest at home where they belong in God’s care. Let us with God give them the ring of honor and robe of fellowship and receive them as Christ has to the glory of God.

Hear his promise today! “I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” (Jer. 31:25).  That is good news to some reading today and yes, God does speak through his written Word in our time! Let your emptiness drive you home to your Father who awaits and will rush to your rescue and help, as a Father who loves his most precious child. He who made you empty, will fill you with  fulness of joy.

© 2011 Stephen S. Gibney Soul Health Care

 All material may be reproduced and distributed for edification, just leave a note that it was our article, please.

Feed My Sheep 6: Beware of False Guides

Finally, we state once again the scripture, “Jesus saith unto him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ ” (John 21:17).

Christ has called shepherds not only to feed sheep, but to protect the sheep from the foul works and agents of the Enemy of their souls.  It is difficult being a shepherd. Not only do sheep have a propensity for wandering, they are vulnerable to predators.  This is why the pastor must both feed and protect the sheep.  Paul tearfully predicts that after he leaves, “shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30). 

John Calvin states: “Therefore we must have two voices, one sweet voice, to exhort them that shew themselves easy to be taught…another to cry out against wolves and thieves…”  How every preacher needs to pray that God would give him have these two voices!  Many people confuse this with negative preaching and being critical. They think we should only focus on the real and genuine and not waste time in exposing the fake and counterfeit.  This is unacceptable to Christ and the apostles (John 15:22; Eph 5:11).

It is not enough for a pastor to just preach about Christ and not against the anti-Christ. He cannot preach about grace unless he also condemns legalism. When it comes to truth and lies, “he must love one and hate the other.”  Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matt. 7:15). There is no side stepping these things, wolves come in sheeps clothing, left alone they will kill the sheep, a good faithful shepherd has to expose them.

According to Paul the danger will not only be external, “grievous wolves enter in among you”  but internal, “of your own selves shall men arise.”  It is hard enough to see the wolves, and even more difficult to see disease. Sadly, sheep are most victimized by people who carry the title, “Pastor.”  Jeremiah laments, “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD.” (Jer. 23:1). Christ spoke of the men of his day who only sought self interest and not the welfare of the sheep (Jn. 10:8). These are false guides which “have caused them to go astray” to the point that “they have forgotten their resting place.” (Jer. 50:6). The sheep are devoured and broken (Jer. 50:17) and what was worse was that, “none did search or seek after them.” (Ezekiel 34:6).

The possibility of sheep being ripped off spiritually is always present. In John chapter ten Jesus mentions three enemies of the sheep, thieves, robbers, and hirelings. Christ teaches that religionists are “thieves and robbers” because they have not entered the door of salvation, Jesus Christ , but climb up “some other way.” (Jn. 10:1).  They are not only strangers to the sheep but the saving grace of God (John 10:5).  The possibility of unregenerate men posing as shepherds is plausible especially in our day and age.  This is no conspiracy theory. Christ in his day saw those in leadership that would eventually “die in their sins” despite the fact that they begin their name with a title of Reverend, pastor, bishop, deacon or elder (John 8:21, 24).

The often quoted words of Christ say, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10).  These scriptures do not refer so much to  the devil as they do false religion and leaders who destroy the souls of men and women by employing worldly religion and legalism.  Christ sees deep in the heart of men in ministry who seek  through stealth manipulation or various forms of intimidation and angry domination to embezzle what belongs to the sheep (Mt. 21:13).

Later on in John chapter ten Jesus spoke of “hirelings” or hired men who are “absentee pastors”  who abandon the sheep when danger approaches on the pasture.  Churches today, like Paul predicted, hire them or “heap to themselves teachers”  piling them up, accumulating and surrounding themselves with false teachers who will scratch the itch of their love for lies and entertainment (2 Tim 4:3).  They have become the clientele of the devil and deception.

The hirelings or religious salesman are again hard at work and even God’s people are not immune to their marketing. What is sad is that they are selling them what is already theirs.  These religious salesman are  deceived and being deceived (2 Tim. 3:13). “They pile lie upon lie and utterly refuse to acknowledge me,” says the LORD.” (Jer 9:6NLT). They have bought into what they sell. They are convinced, that they have an  interest in the welfare of the sheep: wealth, health and success. They preach this and tell others that as a hireling they should be good example of their doctrine.

In this day where men are captivated by religious salesmanship and management-who will listen to the true Shepherd?!  Where are the shepherds who will build on the only sure foundation of Christ (1 Cor. 3:11). He will come on, “the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12) the day of his “episcopacy” which according to Thayer is, “that act by which God looks into and searches out the ways, deeds character of men.”  Christ as building inspector will investigate the treatment of the flock, he will examine carefully all the building materials: teaching, preaching and worship practices (1 Cor 14:26). Christ, the purifier and refiner will test and clean all their construction by fire (Mal. 3:3). If  it does not meet the grade of scripture and godliness  it will be incinerated. The only things that can withstand that fire  are the precious metals and jewels of gospel truth (1 Cor 3:12-15).

God calls the pastor, “to maintain the pure doctrine of God, which is the food of life, to the end it be not taken from them, for whom God hath appointed it.”  (Calvin). The bread may fall to the little dogs in crumbs, but we should never allow it to be stolen from the mouths of the children for whom it was prepared (Mt. 15:27)!  Shepherds should watch over the flock with a godly jealousy (2 Cor 11:3) and if they will guide them to good pasture, Christ will feed them there and give them rest. God promises, “And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the LORD.” (Jer. 23:4).

© 2011 Stephen S. Gibney Soul Health Care

All material may be reproduced and distributed for edification, just leave a note that it was our article, please.

Feed My Sheep 6: Stay On Course

We quote once again the words of our Lord to Peter: “Jesus saith unto him, “Feed My Sheep.” “(John 21:17). 

Paul, like his fellow apostle Peter, knew what the priority of pastors should be when he told the elders at Ephesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28).  Notice the wording here, “take heed unto yourselves.”  God wants the shepherd to make his sole priority Christ, after which follows the spiritual state of his heart and then the care of God’s people.  This phrase actually means a ship holding to its course.  He says, “Stay on course, pay attention!”

The shepherd must pay attention to the condition of  his heart.  Solomon warns, “Keep your heart with all diligence.” (Prov 4:23).  The heart is used to acting like a fugitive from God and we should guard our hearts like nothing else, otherwise it easily escapes. It is very, very difficult to guard.  If the tongue is the expression of the heart and it is humanly impossible to tame (James 3:8) the heart must be wild and reckless!  That is why we need the protective custody of the scriptures (Gal. 3:23NLT) and the Spirit of Christ with our hearts. The heart must be constantly wooed with the love of God and admonished with the holiness of God. The heart has such an influence for good and evil on our lives that we have no other choice but to diagnostically examine it by daily prayer and the pondering the scriptures.

The shepherd is called to navigate his life and his role as shepherd by the map of the written Word and the leading of God’s spirit (Rom. 8:14-16).  This navigation makes the faithful pastor well able to watch over the flock and protect them from being exploited by both players and haters: those who appear godly but are not  (2 Tim. 3:5) and haters of God and good men (Rom. 1:30; 2 Thess. 3:2 ). The pastor must stay on course with God’s Written Word, the Bible. It bothers me how pastors rely on so many others maps and directions offered in religious enterprise, worship center entertainment and ecclesiastical marketing rather than on the best guide: the Lord Jesus Christ as Captain of their own hearts directing them into a smooth and direct road into the love of God and the patience of Jesus (2 Thess. 3:5; Rev 1:9). Instead with many today and I mean many is that, “They that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me.” (Jer 2:8)

The pastor must stay on course with the Living Word, Christ. This is vital because the only way they can lead and guide the sheep is that they must have a loving relationship with Christ their Shepherd. After all, we are all sheep, there are no social classes of Christians. Man made religion begins when people begin to neglect their first love-Christ. It all goes beyond the command of the Lord (Num. 24:13) and becomes dead works, mechanical and oppressive.

Paul makes it clear that to be a pastor can only stay on course  when he knows  his work is not a career it is a calling, it is the choice of God (Heb. 5:4).  The Holy Ghost makes pastors. Only Christ chooses who will pastor (John 15:16). Oh for pastors that God has made! They are forged in the wilderness until He has them ready to go public (Luke 1:80). He who made fishers of men, makes shepherds of the flock.  Lord, give us men who are sent forth by the Holy Ghost (Acts 13:4)!

The shepherds primary responsibility is defined once again as feeding  or one with authority to provide pasturage or food (Thayer).  It is not just food but pasturage. I like that word! The Pastor should stay on course in this ministry. Christ feeds his sheep through shepherds.  Christ as a Lamb feeds his people while he leads his people (Rev 7:17). How we need to learn this! God has designed it that way. Christ says, “I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15). Those rare qualities are on the menu of the biblical pastor.  They are to bring God’s people to the “banqueting house” of the scriptures where Christ shows them his love (Song 2:4).  The lips of these righteous men, with pure hearts and skillful hands feed many sheep and give them their portion of meat in due season (Prov 10:21; Luke 12:42; Ps 78:72).

When God’s people have problems, it is a sign of hunger.  It should not knock us off course when the people he shepherds are just a mess. No matter the generation God’s people seem ridden with problems.

Just because they belong to God does not mean they will always be doing well.

Just because they belong to God does not mean they will always make wise decisions.

Just because they belong to God does not mean they will not fall into sin.

God’s people of all ages have been problematic! They are a high maintenance people. That is why God provides shepherds to guide and direct them. In their times of hunger a faithful shepherd directs them to Christ, who alone can satisfy. Thus shepherds oversee Christ’s own flock with careful attention and love. Paul said that he had a self-sacrificial love for the churches his pastored and was willing to die for them because they were so dear to him. He was like a gentle mother caring for her little children and as a father who encourages and comforts his children (see 1 Thess. 2:7-12).

Yet despite all their issues, no matter how large or small the pastor treats the congregation with a dignity, respect and love. They are the church of God. These are the elect people of God, the assembly and fellowship of those who have been called out by Christ. Lord, send us men who minister to the flock with an awareness that those to whom they minister have been bought “with the blood of God.”  That is powerful! Christ the Eternal Son has laid down his life for these sheep and they never will and never do belong to anyone but God. God is their Father (2 Cor. 6:18) and Christ is their brother (Heb. 2:12) and the Holy Spirit is their Comforter (John 15:26). The pastor loves them because the Triune God loves them.

At the same time the pastor is to treat the congregation of the Lord with such a concern as though they were his flock. “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.” (Prov. 27:23). Gill says the Septuagint translates it, “the souls of thy flocks.”  The shepherd call  is to stay on course with a nurturing soul care.  Once again you see him guiding, not dictating; teaching not entertaining;  preaching not motivating.  The flock loves their Heavenly Shepherd and they already desire the will of God and they know his voice in the scriptures (John 10: 26-27).  Sheep are completely dependent upon their Heavenly Shepherd and they are never to be dependent upon another human being.

© 2011 Stephen S. Gibney Soul Health Care

 All material may be reproduced and distributed for edification, just leave a note that it was our article, please.

Come O Thou Traveler Unknown

This is an old hymn By Charles Wesley. I have never read lyrics like this-SG

Come, O thou Traveler unknown, whom still I hold, but cannot see! My company before is gone, and I am left alone with Thee; With Thee all night I mean to stay, and wrestle till the break of day. I need not tell Thee who I am, My misery and sin declare; Thyself hast called me by my name, Look on Thy hands, and read it there; But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou? Tell me Thy name, and tell me now. In vain Thou strugglest to get free; I never will unloose my hold! Art Thou the Man that died for me? The secret of Thy love unfold; Wrestling, I will not let Thee go, Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

Wilt Thou not yet to me reveal Thy new, unutterable Name? Tell me, I still beseech Thee, tell; To know it now resolved I am; Wrestling, I will not let Thee go, Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know. ’Tis all in vain to hold Thy tongue Or touch the hollow of my thigh; Though every sinew be unstrung, Out of my arms Thou shalt not fly; Wrestling I will not let Thee go Till I Thy name, Thy nature know. What though my shrinking flesh complain, And murmur to contend so long? I rise superior to my pain, When I am weak, then I am strong and when my all of strength shall fail, I shall with the God-man prevail.

My strength is gone, my nature dies, I sink beneath Thy weighty hand, Faint to revive, and fall to rise; I fall, and yet by faith I stand ;I stand and will not let Thee go Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know. Yield to me now, for I am weak, But confident in self-despair; Speak to my heart, in blessings speak, be conquered by my instant prayer; Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move, And tell me if Thy Name is Love. Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me! I hear Thy whisper in my heart; The morning breaks, the shadows flee, Pure, universal love Thou art; To me, to all, Thy bowels move; Thy nature and Thy Name is Love. My prayer hath power with God; the grace Unspeakable I now receive; Through faith I see Thee face to face, I see Thee face to face, and live! In vain I have not wept and strove; Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

 I know Thee, Savior, who Thou art. Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend; Nor wilt Thou with the night depart. But stay and love me to the end, Thy mercies never shall remove; Thy nature and Thy Name is Love. The Sun of righteousness on me Hath rose with healing in His wings, Withered my nature’s strength; from Thee My soul its life and succor brings; my help is all laid up above; Thy nature and Thy Name is Love. Contented now upon my thigh I halt, till life’s short journey end; All helplessness, all weakness I  On Thee alone for strength depend; Nor have I power from Thee to move: Thy nature, and Thy name is Love. Lame as I am, I take the prey, Hell, earth, and sin, with ease o’ercome; I leap for joy, pursue my way, and as a bounding hart fly home, through all eternity to prove Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.