New Lives for a New Year When Your Heart Wants What Your Heart Wants

It's a new year. We are offered new lives, if we live in the way of this Jesus. 'Born in Bethlehem, reared in Nazareth, taught in Judea and the Galilee. He went to the cross at Jerusalem, only to be raised in that glorious garden. They call him the Good Shepherd, this Jesus. He said so himself. And he knew just what he was saying. He knew his hymnal, his songbook, well. The Psalms. And no Psalm better for the Good Shepherd and his sheep than the 23rd. So let's take a look at how it might invite us into new lives in this new year. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Like Jesus, let's live knowing God and the kind of God, God is. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Here's a plea for a personal relationship with God the Father in Jesus Christ. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. God is sufficient to satisfy our deepest wants… for love, relationship, a reason for living, even eternity. And God is good enough to provide, not what we want, but what we need. The sign of his promise lies in the waters we take and remember today.

I know I shall not want, because the Lord is my shepherd! Two weeks and a day after Christmas, this means, well, everything! Every year we celebrate Jesus' birth. We say everything's changed. Made over, new. And then bam! Within days, something happens in our personal lives, church life, or the world. It castes a pall over all we said at Jesus' birth. Same old same old. Jesus may be havin' a birthday, but Satan's havin' a field day! This year, less than 8 hours after Christmas Day, came the Tsunami. Thousand's dead, thousands more in deep despair. What do we do with this in the faith community? How do we hold onto our beliefs, new beginnings? Isn't what our hearts want assurance? What do we do when the heart wants what the heart wants?

It helps to see in the infant's face, the face of the Good Shepherd. And to see in him, the face and the heart of God. The other night, I happened on a TV talk show. 'So-called representatives of our own, Jewish and Muslim faith, with an atheist thrown in for good measure. The questions, "Where was God; what was he up to; what was he 'responsible' for this tragic Tsunami?" We can and do ask the same of our own most personal struggles and heartaches. How sad, what folks are willing to say/believe about God. Clearly, I don't have all the answers. Much less in a single sermon, or a part of one. What I believe may either reinforce or challenge what you do. That's OK. We can grow from talking with each other. But I'm confident of this. We can be spared the extremes. 'Between, "Everything is God's 'fault', or 'plan'", and "Nothing bad will happen to us who truly believe." We can be spared if we hang onto the image of God-the-shepherd of our lives and souls.

Our shepherd is not out to get us, our kin, or kind. "What kind of god is God?" Here's our answer. A shepherd, not a hireling who doesn't care. Or worse, a thief who will steal our loves. Or a beast who will thoughtlessly take away (devour) life. In good times when pastures are green, he slows us down, so we won't gobble up everything in sight, as at some Day-after-Christmas Sale. (God knows, you can't lie down and be a compulsive consumer at the same time.) In hard times, the pasture can be green, but only with the spoiled meat of things gone sour. Here too, God lays us down. "Get quiet," he says. Oh, sometimes the still waters of life will be that oasis we all desire. But he's still leading, when the "still waters" are the stagnant lakes of destruction. 'Leftovers of Tidal Waves that rush in and overtake our souls, as surely as our shores. He leads us, to be right with him, his creation, and each other. There can be judgment in that. But from Noah on, we've known God's promise not to will mere, wanton destruction. (Even Tim Lahay, of LEFT BEHIND fame, cautions against asserting this latest disaster is God or the devil taking toll or teaching some lesson. This is not misdirected anger. 'God zapping others to teach us.) Here's the key thing the Psalm teaches and Jesus-the-Good-Shepherd exemplifies. We can't understand God's will in a way that makes us misunderstand (or misrepresent) his character. If somebody tells us God does or wills evil, we need to remember he tells us his nature and desire is to do good, not harm. The Creator (whose earth-surface moves to save the planet) doesn't plot to wash away his children, but only their sin, by the redeeming blood of the cross. Praise Jesus, the Lord is our shepherd. But change the emphasis and we see yet another blessing. The Lord is MY shepherd. Here's an invitation to a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ! You know, that little baby we greeted just a couple of weeks ago really does grow, "in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and humanity", just like the Bible says. He shows and tells us what we need to know to love God, each other and even ourselves (in a healthy way). He shepherds our souls. And he says with compassion. "I know my own and my own know me." And again, "They know my voice, and they follow me." Times like these, private and public, hard times, ask of us, "Do you know the voice of the shepherd?" Do you personally belong to him, as he does to you? At the baptism we share today, we bring a little one to the waters of life, not death. And we certify those waters with the oil on this youngster's forehead. And we say, "You are hereby sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ's own forever." This family promises God, and we do too, to do everything we can, to spare no effort, changed habit or custom, to tune this child's ear to Jesus' voice. A dozen or 14 years from now, a hundred other voices will cry out to Brandon, "Follow me". (The gang, the cigarette & drug folks, the sexual sirens, the folks who'll want him to sell his soul to buy every imaginable product and unholy idea, the devil himself.) You and I have sworn today we'll have done our job of teaching the sound of the Savior calling so well, in those future days, he'll know the only way to go.

The Lord is MY shepherd. A personal relationship. In that TV talk I mentioned, the panel was arguing over whether or not God requires suffering. Or uses it in a redeeming way. Folks who know God-in-Jesus-Christ as their personal Savior can be spared this debate. God doesn't save us by our own suffering, any more or less than by our own behaviors. (He certainly doesn't require it of innocents in Asia or anywhere but Calvary.) God emptied himself into Christ. And poured himself out on the cross for our redemption by a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice. All that needs to be done has been done. All the atoning, however you understand that, has been made. Praise Jesus, the Lord is our shepherd. Only ask yourself, is he MY shepherd. If not, follow his voice beginning today. The waters, still and saving, are waiting!

The Lord is MY shepherd. I shall not want. Oh, what news this is in a world that craves everything and is satisfied with nothing! Want a new life for a new day? Wanna satisfy your heart when the heart wants what the heart really wants? Know Jesus, follow Jesus, claim God in Jesus Christ, and you've got all you need. The burning of this material age is quenched. The tidal wave of debt never crashes on your shores 'cause you know stuff doesn't save. You don't have to go chasing around to get your kid in forty two soccer leagues, scout groups, debate societies, just-outa-the-crib-classic-music-listening-classes to up his or her IQ, or get to dance class to make him or her the perfect date by the age of 13. Even SAT prep classes may not be required. (Not that there's anything inherently wrong with any of these, they just don't save. They're not what the heart wants when the heart wants!) And you don't have to chase after every new diet or doubt, or faith-fad from the hottest new book from the Christian Book Store. With the Lord as your shepherd, and mine, we shall not want. All we need is to know his voice and follow.

And He will lead us home to a God whose Character is love. He creates, redeems, sustains. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is steadfast. In him is light, and no darkness at all. The Bible tells us so. We needn't (dare not) believe anything or anyone who says otherwise. His Will… is ever directed to his children's good and not harm. His Way is righteous. A right relationship with us, and for us with each other. That requires him both to discipline and to judge. He disciplines us for our good. (Heb. 12:10) Not for our destruction. His judgments are true and right, on earth as in heaven. This is his way. Why, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous folks who all come to the pearly gates together at the same time! His preference is not for the lake of fire, or the flood of the sea, but for the waters of repentance where we can come at the call of the Good Shepherd and be saved. This is what our hearts want, when our hearts want. And here is the promise of a new life for this brand new year!

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