This is a shocking psalm–the only one that ends with not even a glimmer of hope. As a matter of fact, Psalm 88 ends with the psalmist shunned by his friends and loved ones, leaving him with darkness as his only companion. What happened? Where’s that happy ending? You’ll find it elsewhere in the psalms, but not here. Why not?
This psalm is really important. The Lord is telling us what we already know–that life, even as believers, doesn’t always feel neat and tidy, joyous all the time. We know that– at least in our heads but our hearts yearn for something better. Things don’t always turn out as we may hope and pray. We feel hemmed in– in a fix that seems to never get fixed, a fog that refuses to lift, through an exit that leads to nowhere.
I remember crying out to God in a church where it was no longer all heaven that was breaking out. Quite the contrary. Friends became few and far between. Tongues were wagging in an inflamed way. My only defense was in telling what I knew. But I wouldn’t. A pastor must never break confidences. I was hemmed in. No fix could be fixed without compromising what I refused to compromise, telling what I said I would never tell. A spiritual and pastoral ‘Catch-22’.
For better or for worse, I decided to move along. I was now living what Psalm 88 was all about. God’s hand felt like He had let go of mine and given me the back of His. Crying out to Him seemed hollow and futile. I was in bad shape. Felt like I had nowhere to hide and I wanted out of the limelight.
What can you say? Don’t throw pious, well-intentioned platitudes at them. It will only hurt and alienate. Stand alongside them. Listen. Shut up for once. Pray for them when they can’t. Wait to see what the Lord will make of all this mess and confusion. For ‘all things work together’…in His time.
He did that for me. It took a long time and some things got worse while others got much better. I discovered something about Psalm 88– it’s good to look at the beginning verse for that glimmer of hope. Where the psalmist affirms his faith in ‘O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you(Psalm 88:1). He hasn’t lost his faith in the Lord. He’s hanging on to Him for dear life…as best he can under the circumstances. You can too. I did and I’m still holding onto the One who is my salvation…no matter what, no matter if the happy ending will only be in Heaven. And that will be real happy ending indeed!
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for standing with us in tough times. Jesus’ knew the same. Amen.
That wasn’t a very long letter, was it? 3 John is one of the shortest books and letters of the Bible. Scholars think that the Apostle John’s 3 letters were carried by a courier to be read in various churches probably in Asia Minor. 1st John being a sermon on the larger theme of love. 2nd John seemed addressed to a specific church family, that of Gaius; and talked of walking in love and truth and obedience. 3rd John is a personal letter to the church leader Gaius commending the courier, named Demetrius. All 3 letters may have been carried in a packet by this courier. 3 John verses 5- 8 have captured my attention today. Take a moment to read them again. John is encouraging Gaius and his church family to support those who are journeying on a mission to tell others the truth of Jesus Christ. Our support…as fellow workers for the truth. Not just money, but prayers and encouragement and love and whatever they (and we) can do to further the work and word of the Lord. I must admit that I get very sceptical of TV ministries that seem to exist just to ask for more money, and that God will super bless you if you give to them. When I was doing my weekly TV show on our local-access television station, I made it a point of never, ever to ask anyone to give anything to support the ministry of ‘Person-to-Person’. And no one ever did! Not even one thin dime! And on top of that I paid to be on the air! Almost $2000 a year for 5 years. Some TV evangelist I was! Ah, but I was. And I needed to do the supporting. I needed to do the work of arranging guests and singers for the weekly shows. I needed to give and not just of myself either but of my prayers and gratitude for all the guests and singers, and for what God was preparing me to do next for Him. As John writes, ‘For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from…'(3 John: 7-8). It was good to give. It is good to give. Who said it’s better than receiving? We know… and He was right, of course! Anything you can do to be a ‘fellow worker for the truth’ today? Think about it. And then, don’t just think about it…do it!
My wife and I just got back from 4 days in Cornwall, England. What a lovely part of this amazing country. Farmland everywhere, sheep and cattle grazing away, little fishing villages surrounded by slate hillsides, and some of the best fish and chips we’ve had so far! In one of the villages called Tintagal I noticed a shop selling one of those proverbial tourist t-shirts that said, ‘The Older I Get, the Better I Was!’. If it wasn’t so true, I’d almost laugh! Well, I did anyway. Of course, as we get older, we notice changes in our bodies, our families, our country and the world we live in. It’s always that way. It’s always been that way. As Solomon said thousands of years ago now–there’s nothing new under the sun. But I’ve got good news, real good news! Did you read Psalm 92 yet? Notice, in particular, those last 2 verses. Still bearing fruit in old age…full of sap and green. Our spiritual life can and should be fresh and young and vibrant and growing–no matter what our age or condition. In the church where I now honorably serve as pastor emeritus we have had so many young older people who love the Lord and love to tell others just that. I think in particular of Cathy Brown. Cathy died 2 years ago now in her mid-90’s, but her mind and body had started to leave us and this world a number of years before. Even still, Cathy prayed to her Lord like a child to a loving parent or, in her case, her loving Auntie and Uncle. I loved to hear Cathy pray. You would have also. It was so tender, so affectionate, so trusting and loving. I could picture Jesus holding her hands as she opened her heart to Him. Life may have been getting more difficult and remote for Cathy, but not her times of prayer and worship of her Lord Jesus Christ. That was a fruitful relationship even in old age…full of sap and green, declaring that He is her rock and salvation. There are so many others just like Cathy who stay close to Him, and never really grow old and never really die at all. That is my prayer and I am sure yours as well…to stay close to Him, to value our relationship with Jesus above all else, to linger longer in His Word, to cherish and look forward to the future God has in store for all His children, all who have been born again in Jesus Christ. The Older I Get…in Jesus…the Better I’ll Become! Amen?
Let me recommend that while you read the entire Psalm that you spend a moment and focus on verses 11-12. The Psalmist talks about guardian angels, who are God’s agents to guard His children in ‘all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up…’ Our guardian angels…who protect us…no matter where, when, how or what…holding us in the palm of their hands keeping our heads way above water. While I’ve never seen or encountered a real angel from the Lord, yet I’ve certainly experienced their protection over my life. How about you? As you look back it seems so clearly felt even though unseen. It’s not luck –but the Lord’s care and covering of us. When we become believers in the Lord we just know, as if in our bones, that the care we’ve received is not from happenstance or chance or fate. No, but from the Lord Himself through His angels. Unseen to and by the naked eye. Seen through the eyes of faith. And these latter eyes will only grow sharper and keener the more we use them no matter our age. When we arrived in England for our 2 month vacation, we picked up our rental car at the airport facility. Having just dodged the sales desk, which wanted us to get way more car than we needed just to drive up the final bill, we proceeded to our rental car, squeezed in our luggage, tried to figure out that the driver has to get in the car on the right hand side instead of on the left, the gear shift requires using my left hand, and navigating the left-hand side of the road along with countless round-abouts that have their own rules and regulations with kind and patient English people only that way until they get behind the wheel of their cars! And we had not slept in over a 24 hours. And we had over 100 miles to drive to get to our 15th century home somewhere out in the English countryside. And a few miles from the airport I realized that I had not checked in at some area that would record any damage or dings to our car before we rented it. So, we needed to go back from who-knows-where we just came! And we were sunk. No way, Jose, were we going to find our way at all. And now we just wanted to go home! Lord, help us! Please…we’re lost and need some…well, angels, to bear us up, to guard us in all our ways. I noticed some garbage men by the side of the road in their truck (lorries here). I pulled over and lowered my wife’s window because I can’t ask from my side of the car. Asking them for directions back to the airport led to a litany of go this way, take 3 round-abouts, don’t do this, do that, go here, go there…yikes! They could tell we were desperate Yankees! Whereupon the garbage truck driver said to follow them, they would take us back to where we needed to go. And they did! Thank the Lord! They were like angels from the Lord. We made it. We survived. We’re still surviving…and we sense so clearly through the eyes of faith the presence and help of angels from our Lord Himself working through some very unlikely but kind workmen. Sometimes, when you get out of your comfort zones, your places of safety, those security blankets that we love to carry around with us to ward off our fears and make us feel safe , it’s there that God will be most evident that He keeps His promises, especially to all His children. He promises that ‘His angels…(will) guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up…’ He promises– that’s a safety and security this life cannot provide. And maybe, just maybe I can be like an angel to someone else in need!
I’m really not trying to be funny with that title. Any lawyers out there?Read on… as it’s get better for you! The Apostle John tells us in his first letter that Jesus Christ is our ‘advocate’ with the Father. He speaks in and on our behalf. He speaks up for us, because we just can’t do it on our own. We don’t know what to say. We have no standing with God on our own. We need a good lawyer. An advocate who knows the legal lingo and language, who has the knowledge of and experience with the law, and who can persuasively present ourselves and our case before the apppointed authorities. Again, he speaks up for us because we just can’t do it on our own. Hey, that’s Jesus, the Apostle John tells…our advocate! The Apostle Paul says that Jesus is also our ‘mediator’ (1 Timothy 2:5)–one who comes in between disagreeing parties and brings a peaceful resolution. And in Romans 8: 34 Paul says that ‘Christ Jesus…indeed is interceding for us’. Interceding…taking the active role, lifting us up when we’ve either fallen or been knocked down. Talking about our High Priest Jesus Christ, the author of Hebrews says ‘…He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them’ (8:25). Advocate…mediator…intercessor–Jesus lives and loves to be all those wrapped up in one big gift of grace and mercy…all for you and me! Many years ago now, I was sued by a neighbor. We were nice to this elderly neighbor couple. But an previous to us unresolved property-line issue bubbled to the surface, and we were the objects of just the longest lawsuit imaginable. Praise the Lord, our property-casualty policy on our home paid all our legal and related bills. All of them. Not so for this litigious neighbor–thousands and thousands of dollars over a 7 year period. This was the longest dispute our insurance company had ever seen. We’re number one! A dubious distinction indeed! Those years were scary, frustrating, endless, and seemed like a colossal waste of time and someone else’s money. But I learned some things that helped me. I got tougher as time went by. Fear was overridden by a fierceness to see that what’s right and just should be done. Don’t give in to a bully, not matter what their age. Our lawyer was very helpful. But interact with your lawyer…ask questions, check out what’s not clear andis somewhat fuzzy to you. Don’t be afraid to sound ‘stupid’…say whatever is on your mind and heart. But not to the opponent. Interact with your attorney. Don’t take anything in your own hands. Stay clean. Do nothing out of revenge. You’ll have a clear conscience and no regrets when the case is over and it will be over…someday. And someday came for us. It was over and our neighbors got absolutely nothing that they had demanded. Nothing! I imagine it doesn’t always work out that way, but it did for us in this case. And what did I learn about the Lord ‘through it all’? Talk with Him lots and lots. Tell Him all that you’re feeling. Don’t hold back. Stay close to your Lord who loves you so much. As it says in Hebrews 4:16–‘come boldly before the throne of grace…to help in time of need’. Boldness, confidence and courage to come before Him with all our fretting and worrying , real or imagined. Jesus is our advocate, our mediator, our intercessor forever. Anyone know a good lawyer? I do! And He doesn’t even charge by those billable hours!
‘There shall be showers of blessing’…as the old hymn so beautifully states and sings. Here in England today we are having our 1st day in 3 weeks where the promised showers are really coming down. And it’s very nice nestled in here at the Old Manor House, now over 600 years old! Psalm 84:6 talks of going from a very dry place, called the Valley of Baca, to place of blessed springs and rain and pools of water. And it’s the Lord who takes us by the hand, through the valley that’s so desolate and dry and hot, to His place of blessing after blessing. The psalmist was talking about the experiences of God’s people during the time of David and Solomon. But as I read those verses it seemed so current and modern… and directed to me. You too? Read those verses and see if God doesn’t put up a mirror in front of you to see yourself better. He did for me. I was thinking back to the latter 1990’s. We were active in a couple different churches. I was doing a weekly TV show and full-time financial planner with American Express. My wife Sue worked at our local Safeway grocery store, which was exactly 1 mile from our home. Many days I would get a ride with her to work and then walk the mile home. Or in the evening, I’d walk to the grocery store trying to meet her just as she finished her shift for a nice ride home. Taking practically the same route each time, I passed wonderful neighborhoods with lots of kids playing and obviously many families, most originally from Mexico. I’d always have Christian tracts with mein a wallet in my back pocket, both in English and Spanish. Opportunities often came to give a brief witness for the Lord in those neighborhoods. In addtion, I’d always pray for the one church on my walking route, the United Christian Church. It was so well located to reach those kids I kept seeing over the years… also, the adults in the apartments and homes as well. I knew some of the previous pastors and had even preached there once in 1982. I would pray for the people of that church, for its leaders and pastor, that they would reach out to the lost right around them. Maybe they were. I didn’t know… but I prayed anyway. One day a client of mine, who was a member of that church, phoned me asking if I still could preach. I wondered if that was a trick question! After all, I was in great demand as a preacher–once or twice a year if it was a busy one! So, I filled in for 2 Sundays. Only 18 people gathered, well 20 counting my wife and myself! I asked one of the elders to give us a tour of the building. Had only been in the sanctuary. As we were taking our brief tour, I could feel something churning within and it wasn’t that prune danish I had for breakfast!…this building could be used for so many different programs of the Lord but it looked like the rapture had already come and we were all left behind. Empty… but ready to move forward? That’s what I sensed at the time. And remember, I do love a challenge. The 2nd Sunday I preached, a grandmother came to the back of the church following worship telling me that her 9 year old granddaughter, who was standing next to her, needed the Lord and would I talk with her. Would I? Is this for real? Well, after they found the smelling salts and I got up(!), I talked with her, shared from the Bible the Good News of Jesus Christ, and she prayed asking the Lord into her life. Was God leading me from the Valley of Baca to a new place of blessing? I offered to preach a couple times a month to help them out for at least a few months until they found their new pastor. A couple times a month turned into most Sundays and a few months into 14 years. I remember when that young girl’s older sister came forward to accept the Lord, when one of the current elders asked the Lord into his heart, when on their death-beds some older members for the very first time asked Jesus to be their Savior, how on my 1st regular Sunday over 33 shoeboxes were waiting on the old piano bench to be sent off to Samaritan’s Purse for Operation Christmas Child. This was a church family eager to learn about the Lord, so appreciative of my wife and myself the whole time of our ministry with them, and who loved to give to Christian mission causes, and who never stopped reaching out to that neighborhood where God placed them… and us. Now, I’m retired and they have a wonderful, young, godly full-time pastor. Blessing after blessing after blessing! From the Valley of Baca to all those ‘Showers of Blessing’ from the Lord. If you’re in that Valley of Baca, pray for rain! Keep praying…and don’t be surprised, as I was, when the showers start and the rains come- a -tumbling- down!
Last time I was talking about going from the Valley of Baca to places of blessing in our lives. The Hebrew word Baca in the Old Testament of your Bible seems to mean dryness, desolation and depression. Verse 6 of Psalm 84 talks of going through that difficult valley to a place of springs and rain and growing and productivity. Going from bleakness to blessedness… through knowing and serving and trusting in the Lord our God (verses 4,5 and 12). Does that ring- a- bell in your experience? Is there now a place of dryness in your life that you’ld rather see swimming in springs of living water? Anything or anywhere or for anyone? There were 18 years between pastorates for me. A period of self-examination and self-recrimination… and just a long trudge through the Valley of Baca. But in that valley, spiritual things were beginning to happen for me. Even there and maybe because I was there. Like reading the Bible every day so that I’d complete it within a year. Never had done that before, I’m ashamed to say. But now I was doing it just to find my way back home…to God. Not because I had to or I was paid or expected to. None of those except to finds some springs and rain and pools of blessing from the Lord I really did love and want to serve. I found an old hymnal that I had and began leafing its pages and singing those wonderful songs that I used to sing as a new believer, at which time in my life I could not get enough of the things of the Lord. I would just sing all alone in my apartment. I found myself turning to that hymnal more and more just to hear those words and the wonderful melodies that I always loved and hadn’t heard in so many years. After marrying Sue, we decided to attend and then join an evangelical, Bible-believing church in town. It felt so good and so right– where we needed to be. It was there that I promised the Lord that we would never, ever join a church that did not lift up the name of Jesus, where the Bible was not preached as the inspired, inerrant Word of God. In 1995, I was asked to give the prayer at the Baccaleaureate service for son Dave. Introducing me was the manager of the local-access Christian TV station. Before the service I complained to him that we needed more local programming from his TV station , and not just ladies with pink hair that looked like cotton-candy and eyelashes a foot long. And he had the nerve to say to me, who had such great ideas, that maybe I should do something about it! What? Little, old me?! Wise-guy! But, as I thought about it, an idea germinated… my wife and I think our church friends really thought I was bonkers. Well, who knows?! TV–what experience have I had? Well, I was on the Johnny Olson show in New York City when I was 8 years old, where he, after the cartoons started, made me eat his bologna sandwich and drink his milk, both of which I don’t like to this day! Qualified–maybe overly-so! For 5 years ‘Person-to-Person’ was on TV in our area…a testimony and music program. What a blessing to hear every week the stories of how ordinary people, neighbors and friends, all came to know the same Jesus Christ. No two stories were ever the same. And then the guest would talk about what differences Jesus made in their lives. What a blessing week-by-week. But what nobody knew was that this show was restoring my calling to ministry through sharing the Lord in personal evangelism and mission. God was taking me through the Valley of Baca to a place of great blessings. That’s a journey He wants for all of us. I have more to share but that’s for next time. What I wonder, though, is what this means in your life? That’s for you to chew on today and ask Him to open up some springs of life and love and service to our Lord Jesus Christ. If it can happen for me, it certainly can for you!
I hope you’ve taken the opportunity to read Psalm 84…it is just wonderful. The word ‘blessing’ is used 3 times throughout this hymn of praise. Historically, Psalm 84 was often sung by God’s people travelling to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to worship the Lord. And blessings come their way from His hand. The first use of the word ‘blessings’ comes in verse 4– it’s the blessing of being in God’s Temple, His house, with Him, singing his praises and glories and wonders. Just to be with Him, that would be the very best blessing of all. But wait, there’s more. With the Lord, there’s always more. In verse 5 the author tells us of the blessings of strength and courage that comes from God who puts within our hearts a seeking after Him, a longing to find Him and be with Him–‘in whose heart are the the highways to Zion’. It’s as if God paves the inner highways so that our hearts are led directly to Him. The final use of ‘blessing’ is found in the concluding verse of Psalm 84 where people who trust in the Lord God of Israel, Yahweh Himself, they are the ones blessed beyond measure. Blessing…blessing…blessings! Now, the word for blessing in Hebrew is b’raca. That’s the word that starts off verse 5. But read on to verse 6. These pilgrims are going through the Valley of Baca on their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. The location of this valley is unknown, but probably refers to a place that is dry and hot and desolate at best. Ever been there, at least symbolically? Maybe you’re there now. The Bible says that even there we can sing God’s praises, hold His hand by remembering His promises, and turn the Valley of Baca into B’Raca, a place of blessing , where the springs keep bubbling up water and nourishment continually! I’ve discovered something about myself by reflecting on this verse from Psalm 84. I really have. I like going to the Valley of Baca. I liked being called to ministry and work that was just on its last legs only to see what God could and would do. I wanted to see Baca become B’Raca…from bleakness to blessing. The 1st and 3rd churches I served were big and growing and established places. I loved being there but honestly I was bored and always looking for some new challenge outside those ecclesiastical four walls. I was restless. Something just didn’t feel right, like I was treading water, looking for some bigger and better position. I was always on the move. Never satisfied or contented. Anybody say an ‘amen’? You with me? Sound familiar in your life? Maybe not. But for me I discovered later in my minstry that I loved a challenge, being in a church that was one step from closing its doors. A church in deep decline–in ‘the Valley of Baca’, so to speak. That 2nd church in New Jersey had a large membership, over 1000, in the 1930’s and ’40’s. But by 1975, when I was called to be its pastor, it was down to less than 100. My 4th church, in Aberdeen, Washington, had a thriving ministry of 300 plus members in the 1940’s and 50’s yet had declined to 18 faithful members when we began ministry in the year 2000. The Valley of Baca, dry and desert and desolate and depressing. Yet, the Psalmist says that it’s there that God’s people can make a difference– ‘they make it a place of springs, the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength…’ How satisfying and just plain fun to see the Holy Spirit work doing new things as we looked to Him, preached and taught only from the Bible, started giving to God’s causes beyind our church walls. People of all ages were coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Members were growing in Him. It was exciting to see what God could and would do. From Baca to B’Raca! Must stop now…gone on way too long for this posting. More next time…
One of the main points of Psalm 81 has to do with a very rare experience in life–listening. Whether it’s you or me listening to someone else, or someone else listening to us–it’s something hard to come by in life. Just listening or being listened to. I mean without all the distractions, all the thoughts that enter our minds that interfere with a concentrated listening experience. You know what I mean? Ever talk with someone who just can’t wait to jump in with their own examples or experiences –always greater or more severe than your own? Or asks you the same question 3 or 4 times letting the cat-out-of-the-bag that they were far away from any listening to you? One of my dear members in a previous church would write long letters to me inspired by my Sunday sermon. Was I really that thought-provoking and profound? This person so wanted me to know that the message had been well heard. Listening had certainly happened. Each week I’d read a new letter, and each week I’d get quite a chuckle out of what I was reading for the points this member was making had absolutely no relation whatsoever to anything I had said in my Sunday sermon. Nothing even remotely close to what I had been saying! And I mean nothing! Listening had not happened–not at all. In reading Psalm 81 you discover that listening is what God does for us…and what He wishes from us. Verse 7 says, ‘In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you…’ And in verse 8 He says, ‘Hear, O my people…if you would be listen to me!’ His people cried out to Him and He answered them. But, no, His voice has not been heard by His people. The Bible may be the most purchased book annually, but the knowledge of it almost anywhere (in society, novels, media, politics, wherever, and sadly among Christians and their pastors in our churches) diminishes dramatically with each passing year. As believers, are we listening to our God? Spending more time in His Word than less? Bringing those verses and stories from our Bibles and letting them enter into our every day life…from the distant past to the here-and-now, from thousands of years ago to right this very moment, where I’m living and struggling and joyful and fearful and loving and needy. Really listening to our Lord. The choir of my last church, the United Christian Church, that has generously honored me with the title of ‘Pastor Emeritus’, sang a wonderful song entitled, ‘Listen, Jesus is Calling You’. I loved to sing it with the choir. The message was precious–calling us, all of us who know the Lord, to listen to Him. Simply and honestly, to listen to Jesus. After all, He said we would, if we were really His own. In John 10, verse 3, Jesus says, ‘The sheep hear His voice, and He knows His own sheep by name and leads them out.’ It may be a rare art, this business of listening, but we can and really must listen to our Good Shepherd. He knows us intimately…even by name. And He leads us. He knows the best pasture land of all. He knows where Heaven is and He’ll lead us there some day. That’s what the Good Shepherd does for all His flock. All He asks of us, in the meantime, is to listen…’to hear His voice’. And to follow. Can you hear Him?
It’s just plain amazing how many sheep are grazing on the hills of England! And not just out our front door, and over the moat which keeps those sheep in their fields and us enjoying the privacy and the views here at the Old Manor House in Hadzor, Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire, England–but everywhere we travel driving on the left side of the road as best we can! Jesus says in the Gospel of John chapter 10 verse 7 that He is ‘the door of the sheep’. He is the Way to go. The entryway , the passageway–all through Jesus alone. When we arrived here at the Old Manor House, the housekeeper Debbie warned us about closing the gates behind us when we go walking to the dock area at the adjacent Worcester-Birmingham Canal–to keep the sheep from wandering off and creating a real problem for the owner of this house and probably for us as the renters.! It’s such fun watching the sheep grazing here and there, eating grass all day long, once in a while eating apples that are still on the lower branches of the trees or some that have fallen to the ground, following each other around eating…grazing…eating. What a life! And they probably think the same of us! Our sheep here are kept in a large field by fencing, moat, and more fencing all the way around, on all sides as far as we can see. They stay safe while grazing within the confines of the fencing provided. The farmer came last week and mowed the field which appears to make it even easier for the sheep to graze and eat. He takes care of them. They’re together with each other. Some sheep appear to lead while others are content to follow. Within the boundaries provided, they are sheep safely grazing. But once they transgress those fences and gates, trouble looms on all sides! And the same for you and me. As long as we stay close to the Shepherd, our Lord Jesus, as long as we stay within the boundaries He has provided and called us to, we can be sheep safely grazing. Jesus provides for us. He has ‘other sheep that are not of this fold’ (verse 16)…our families in the Lord keep growing and growing. New believers of every shape and stripe are always and more than welcome. But once we breach that gate or fence, we open ourselves up to troubles we were never intended for or certainly could ever want. Think about those 10 Commandments and stay within them…sheep safely grazing. Think about His calling us to love each other, to encourage others when down, to cry with those who are grieving…stay within and you’ll be sheep safely grazing. Have affairs, get into pornography, drink way too much and too often, gossip with relish– and soon you’ll be sheep lost in strange and scary fields knowing that’s not where you belong and far away from home. Stay close to Jesus, stay within His grazing land, listen for His voice, watch Him gladly provide for you and sometimes in the most amazing ways, and there you’ll be content, happy, provided for, with conscience clear and free and light…like sheep safely grazing!