Riding for the Brand

John 10-11-13

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
John 10:11-13

In Western Cowboy Culture there is a saying, a question really, “Do you ride for the Brand?”

It is a question of commitment.

You see, there are two kinds of ranch hands out there: There is the ranch hand that is in it for the fame of saying he’s a cowboy or because he just needs a paycheck. But the day  the barn door slams shut wrong he is out of there. Audios amigos!

Then there is another kind of hand. This is the ranch hand that probably started working the pens when he was young. Now grizzly and old, he has seen the ups and downs of a place. He has ridden though all weather. He has fixed the barn door. He has ridden fence in blistering heat. He has drug in calf after calf in blizzard winds so cold he’s not sure he still has fingers…or toes. He’s seen seasons of plenty and seasons of drought or sickness. Yet, every day he wakes up, steps of the bunkhouse porch and goes to work.

A cowboy that rides for the brand is committed. He sees that herd or flock as his own. Not as his possession really. No, He knows the animals in his charge belong to the Big Boss. But he is going to do everything in his power to make sure that they have the feed they need, and that they are doctored when sick. He’ll watch over them at night during calving, and he sure as heck isn’t going to let a wolf or cat come in and take one of those new born calves…or lambs. Not on his watch anyway.

You might think (especially if you live east of the Mississippi) that people and ranch hands like this are fables of the past. In today’s high dollar, high stakes work force it really can be hard to imagine. But, I’m here to tell you that there are still men and women who ride for the brand. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some. These people are tough. Like, real tough. They have the courage to keep going. They persevere even when it costs them or looks like there is little gain.

So what about us? What about you? ….me? Do we ride for the brand? Or are we some fly-by-night-rhinestone-cowboys? What are we in for? What happens when the going gets tough? What happens when we face trial and hardship?

Are we out? or are we committed, Riding for the Brand?

The great news is that in terms of the outfit we are on. We have the best “Big Boss” around. Even better, he has laid out exactly what he expects of his hands and even has given us a “Ranch Foreman” via the Holy Spirit to help us along the way. Will we still mess up? Will there be times we want to cut out early on Friday and head to town? You bet! But come Saturday morning, we better be up and ready to take care of the stock. We as the hands have a responsibility to His flock… or herd.

The Christian life is not like some Dude Ranch where we can check in when it sounds exciting. And check out when we’ve had enough. Being true Christ followers is going to cost something. It’s going to require something. It’s going to mean long hours in all weather.

But, you know something? I have yet to talk to a real rancher or hand that doesn’t count every moment of it worth it.
I’ve also never meant a true saint of the faith that hasn’t said the same thing.

So, Will you ride for the brand?

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

John 21:  15-17

 

 

~Rita

 

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God is Faithful

mary-and-joseph-603772[I first wrote these words 6 years ago on my personal blog. I was just recently reminded about these events. I pray this story encourages you as it did me once again.]

As I have mentioned before our family celebrates the Christmas Advent. We really enjoy this tradition and the devotional from yesterday especially good. I would like to share some of it with you.

The subject was on Gods faithfulness.

Matthew 2:19-23 (NIV)
 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

This is not the biggest part of the Christmas story, but It so resonated with me. As I think about how Mary and Joseph felt at the thought of going home. Here again another angel had appeared and told them they were safe to go home. I can only imagine the Joy and excitement but also the fear and  uncertainty as they faced a long uncertain journey. The bible doesn’t say, but I wonder if they still were trying to process all that was going on in their lives?

I mean think of the year (or two) they had just had. Unexpected Angel visits (truthfully that would get me right there.) An unplanned pregnancy, an almost divorce, a long journey 9+ months pregnant, for a census that could cost them dearly. A home birth in a stable. Strange encounters with unexpected guests. Blessings beyond their dreams. A death threat to their child who P.S. was the SON OF GOD! Another long journey to a place they had likely never been. More Angels. Another long journey home, and the uncertainty of what they would find or how they would be received.

I could easily look at their circumstances and think; “My goodness, look at what you have been through. Why would God let all this happen to you?” “Why?”
But that’s not what they did. They trusted God, and they had faith. Though I have to believe that as humans it may have been shaky faith at times. I have to think that when the bible says,
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19 NIV
She was really just trying to get a grip on what was happening in her life. But, no where does it say she got hung up on the, “why?” She knew that God had been faithful thus far and trusted that God would remain faithful. Which probably made the whole ordeal look more like:
When they received unexpected Angel visits: God was faithful and revealed his plan. When Mary was found pregnant they had faith that it was as the Lord had told them. Even with the stress on their relationship and all the trust issues this pregnancy brought on, God was faithful and saw them through it. God was faithful in giving them safety during their long journey. God was faithful and provided a place to have their baby. God was faithful to provide for their needs as these unexpected Magi brought them gifts. Even when the life of their child was threatened, God was faithful and gave them time to escape. God faithfully brought them to Egypt and provided for them there. And God faithfully called them home. And faithfully directed them to Nazareth. God had provided for all their needs. He had seen them through what was surely one of the most difficult season of their lives. At least up to that point.

Just as assuredly as Mary and Joseph had to be people of Faith, they had to know that they weren’t alone in this. It was just on their shoulders to believe. They had God with them (quite literally actually. Which is a bit ironic if you think about it.) And God was faithful. He didn’t leave them wondering what to do. He didn’t drop the ball. And just as He did his part in being faithful, they did their part in having faith and trusting that God knew what He was doing.

Which makes me think about my life, and more specifically this past year. I’ll give the short version: Our family moved 1,800 miles in JANUARY this was our second cross-country move in 10 months. We came home to a house that was too small, We struggled to restart a business and find work and make ends meet. This all put a huge strain on our marriage.  I became pregnant unexpectedly, and just when I had come to grips that a third child was on the way… I had a miscarriage.  Follow that by an intense grieving period. Only to have my husband have a serious back injury that will likely forever change how we live or make a living, and couple that with the financial strain of a loss of income ….and that brings us to now.

Roses right? No, and I don’t think my story is unique. I know we all have years like this but what I am learning is that its the perspective we have. God is faithful but, it is also my job to have faith. And so when I rehash this story NOW it looks more like this:

In January for reasons unknown to us we were led back to Michigan. God was so faithful to give us safe travel. God so faithfully through our friends and family prepared our home for us, with everything we needed. God faithfully provided a job for Kyle, and gave him many of his old clients back. God faithfully provided for our every need as we re-started this business. Even with the stress of Kyle working so much, God was faithful and saw us through some of our most challenging “married moments”. With an unplanned pregnancy, and the subsequent loss of the baby. God has been so faithful to comfort me in my grief and to teach me how to lean harder on HIM. Praise the Lord for that!!!!

Even now as we struggle with my husbands injury and a loss of a large part of our income. God is STILL faithful. We have not gone hungry, All our needs are being met. Be it by groceries given to us, or the anonymous gift that arrived in the mail, to the many gifts of friends and clients,  to the unexpected job I have had sewing items for a friend. God has been faithful. And I can walk forward in the assurance that not only HAS God been faithful, He will be faithful.

I only just now, feel like I am coming to grips with all that has happened and I realize I have a choice; I can look at all that has happened and ask “why?” or I can look back and thank God for all the times he has been faithful.
Thank Him, and move forward knowing that I am not in this “life struggle” alone, that like Mary and Joseph, God is with me.

As a final note, the following are some of the key scriptures that I have prayed and meditated on. I can’t help but wonder if Mary or Joseph thought of these words as they walked out their faith? These verses are written  and posted in my house. They have offered me great hope and strength. I would like to share them with you that you also may boast of Gods faithfulness.

A reminder to have faith:
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

When I get hung up on the “why?” of things:
Isaiah 55:8,9 (NIV) (
I love this whole chapter but these verses in particular)
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

When I am worn out, and do not think I can handle another thing:

2 Corinthians 12: 9,10 (NIV)
9 But he [the LORD] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

My Prayer:
May these words edify. May they touch a soul. May Gods faithfulness be evident. And may we remember Your great gift to us, your son Emmanuel. Truly God with us. Amen.

 

~Rita

Action Faith

dl moody quote
I loved this D.L. Moody quote that was part of my Advent study this morning. The beauty of the word “Faith” is that it is not just a noun, but it has a verb tense to it as well. It is one thing the believe something, it is another to act like you believe it.
My study was in reference to Abraham, and how God said he would give him a promised land and make him the father of a nation. What a wonderful promise for him. But, what good would it have done Abraham if he believed the promise, yet never packed up and walked the miles to receive the fulfillment of that promise?
The fullest realization of a blessing from God comes not with just believing Him, But with receiving and moving into the process of the promise.

The Call of Abram

12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.[a]
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”[b]

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring[c] I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Genesis 12:1-7 (NIV)

~Rita

The Coming

advent-wk-1-psalm-25-5

This time of year the days can seem so dark. I rise before the sun and I lie down well after it has set. It seems that the brief moments in-between fly by with a twinkle of light. So momentary that we could almost miss it. 

Today, I wake before the sun, realizing that a new day will soon be upon me. A day which I really can have no knowing of what it truly holds. For all the futility of my planning I have truly no idea what lies before me. 

Yet, today is December 1st. This date wakes some light in my soul. Like that single candle we will light this evening. December first marks a new day on the calendar but also a new season. A season that in all its hustle and bustle and bright lights and charismatic calls to buy and be filled. December 1st also calls us to a place of quiet expectation. 

Advent – from the Latin means “Coming.”

It is a time to anticipate. 

A time to wait expectantly.

Because we have, in all our darkness been offered a great hope. 

~

I wonder how dark the night felt? God’s people had from the beginning of time been promised a Savior. A king. A Redeemer who would reconcile them all back into relationship with the Creator God. For thousands of years men and woman cried out for salvation. 

So, I wonder how dark the night seemed when for four hundred years there was silence like a dark night. No prophet, No priest. Exile. Separation, forgetting. Did God forget his promises in those years called silent?

We of course know he did not. We also have the blessed viewpoint to see how it all ties together. 

But, this is the perspective I wish to offer. That regardless of how you feel about this Holiday. Some will love it, some will shy from it. For some it brings back memories that bring joy, for others it is a representation of pain and heartache and what will never be. 

Regardless of your season. I wish to invite you into the Holy place of waiting for the coming of that Redeemer. The one who redeems the most broken. Let us anticipate His coming. Let us give space to remember that the night will not last forever. It cannot. Day will always break over the horizon. And some day, the night will be forever over. We will be forever redeemed. On this first day of December, I think that is a pretty great gift. 

 

~Rita

 

Listening

Hebrews 4-12

Do you ever wonder if God is speaking to you? Or maybe you wonder, how does God speak to us? I know I do. So often I’ll think I’m hearing Him, only to find out that I was totally missing the mark. While other times I’m certain it is my own thought process that is leading only to discover that it really was the Holy Spirit’s prompt. Oh, how I wonder if I’ll ever figure it out?

The other day was a prime example of the latter. Me and my 4 children had spent the day with another home schooling family and late in the afternoon we began our journey home. I’ll confess that I’m not a super planner and have a tendency to only focus on one thing at a time. That day was no exception, because just before we were to merge onto the interstate, I glanced at my gauges and was surprised to see that all important needle pointing very near the “E” on the fuel gauge. Stopped at a light I look up and see a station and the thought drifted through my mind, You should get some gas. I quickly surmise that I still should have plenty of fuel to get us to the city of our destination where my normal fueling station is. Doing so would mean earning those all important points as well as saving a few pennies per gallon. Yes, I’ll wait.

The light changed to green and we begin our journey again. Me, confident that we will save time and a little money by my rational decision.

No sooner did we get out of the city did the horizen light up with brake lights and the rapid deceleration of the vehicles in front of us. As soon as I realized we had all made the quick stop without a crunch, I breathed a prayer of thanks. As we inched forward in the backed up traffic I tried to guess what the hold up was? Construction? Accident? who knew? It wasn’t long though before I realized we might have a second back up on our hands. There it was, that worrisome ding that we were low on fuel. Great.

Traffic was now at a complete standstill. A first responder buzzed passed on the left shoulder of the line of cars. Next a State Police officer. Then the Jaws of Life. Followed by more police and an ambulance. This was not looking very good.

I did the only thing I could. I turned off the car to save fuel, and we prayed for the the people involved in the obvious accident. In the back of my mind however, I couldn’t help wonder, if God had tried to speak to me back when we were at that last traffic light? Was it He who put the thought in my head to look at my gas gauge? Was it He who stopped me right in front of a station that could have saved us from this inconvenient and embarrassing predicament?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it must have been a Holy Spirit prompt. But regardless of whether it was my own rational or if I had totally missed the message that could have saved us from the stress and discomfort of sitting on the side of the highway on a rather chilly evening with an empty tank. If nothing else, it did make me think. Where else am I missing Him? Where else am I not quite listening? I know it happens.

I know it happens in church when my head is bowed and I just barely hear that still small voice and then I finish the sentence for Him. I know it happens when I’m at home trying to survive the day and I snarl at the God images in my care instead of taking time to reach out for their hearts. I know it happens in the time spent on my phone rather than seeing the person in front of me that might desperately need a smile, a word of encouragement or a hug. I know it happens every time that I choose to do something “important” rather than opening His Book and listening to the words printed on the page.

You see, I do believe God speaks to us. He most obviously speaks though His Word. Every time a verse leaps off the page and cuts through to the heart. He speaks to us in the songs of worship and praise. He speaks to us in the quiet moments and in the chaotic moments. And I believe he whispers at the stop lights before we choose our own way home. God speaks to us, for our good. To bring us hope. He speaks and breathes love even when we least deserve it.

The question is: Are we listening?

~Rita

 

Where have you seen God?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Where have you seen God? This is the question that Western Days Ministries leadership often asks. Where have you seen God in your life this week? 

It is a familiar question, however, it has the tendency to make us all clam up. Why? Are we afraid? Do we suddenly draw a blank? Do we doubt that we have really and truly seen God at work in our lives?

At our most recent gathering, this familiar question was asked. I think we still –though we shouldn’t — get caught off guard when it is asked. Perhaps, and unfortunately, it is still not so common in churches today for the “audience” to participate. 

The thing is, that it is moments like these, where we are collectively sharing how God is showing up, (Not to puff up ourselves,) that we encourage one another. In doing so we bring glory to God. And it is no secret that Glorifying God is exactly why we are gathering together in the first place.

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another
—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:23-25
[emphasis mine]

 One of the purposes of the gathering of the Church is to encourage one another, especially as the day of Christ return is approaching! 

It is so important, vital even, that we believers regularly gather together with other believers (however God leads you.) To encourage one another, to comfort one another, to testify how God is working in your life. We (and I’m also talking to me here) should be jumping out of our seats to testify of God’s power, comfort, goodness, faithfulness, hope, correction, patience, healing, etc… and do you know what happens when we do?

They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.
Revelation 12:11

We triumph! There is coming a day when that enemy of old will be destroyed once and for all. That victory will come because of Jesus and his sacrifice, AND because of the words of our testimony. Because of these things we have a part in the defeat of the devil. We win. When we testify to how God is prevailing in our life, we push back the dark. Amen?

~Rita

 

 

 

In All Things…

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

 

Ah, those famous words. “All things God works for the good of those who love him…” Romans 8:28 are words that often seem to come up when we are confounded by life.  They are tossed our way by other well meaning souls in hopes of offering genuine comfort or at the very least in hopes of placating our souls. For some these words do bring great comfort, for others, they can seem empty and even mocking.

I confess I’ve been in both camps at various points in my life. Sometimes, I’m able to lean and trust that God’s plans, even if they are not working out in my favor are still good plans… Other times, I’ve wondered how any part of a life burden could bring good?

It was reminded me this week that a little more than 6 years ago, I was in a pit of sorrow. I had just gone through one of the most trialing times ever in my marriage to that point. We had made it. But life was still raw and uncertain. Yet, God found reason to place in my womb a new life. And all I could figure was that He must have a good plan. God must know something that I didn’t at the time. He knew I could somehow handle caring for a new life when my own still seemed so fragile.

But, as the weeks went on… that life, that flutter of a heartbeat vanished. And I was left in the dark about God’s good plan. I was left with a vacant hole in my heart. I was left rocking and trying to understand how a “Good God” after so much hardship would strip away the very thing that might of been good, that might have testified “Restored,” from our lives.

Yeah, Roman 8:28 rang hollow in those days.

But, life steps forward whether we are ready to step forward with it, doesn’t it? Sunrise to sunset the days come and they go, and we move with them.  And to some extent time does heal all wounds and God speaks again. Jesus softly whispers: “I didn’t do the destroying. I’m too good for that. I came for you to have life, abundant life.” (Ref. John 10:10

And there were glimpses of the good plan again. If only in that I now knew the grief another might encounter. I could now better (I hoped) walk alongside someone, and mourn as they mourned.

Good enough, I suppose.

Leading the children in Sunday school last week, I found myself lead to the story of Joseph. You know him? Josephs story begins in Genesis 37, picks back up in Genesis 39 and continues until the end of the book.

Joseph: the favored son, the one who bared the envy of his brothers. The boy who at 17 was tossed in a pit, sold as a slave, later thrown into prison, and oh yeah, who God was with the whole time, yet he still couldn’t seem to catch a break.

As I read the children’s version of this story to these wide eyed 4 and 5 year-olds, I heard myself saying after every turn of the page, “But, God had a plan.”
I began to wonder, if Joseph ever questioned God’s plan? Did he ever think, “Seriously? Now what?”
It is true we don’t know his thought process in the whole matter, and sure, there is plenty to wonder about. Was it wise for him to so chipperly chat up his brothers about these prophetic dreams of his? Eh, maybe not. Should he maybe have second guessed working in the house alone with his bosses wife? Probably.

However, the theme that I kept catching as I went back and re-read the story. I began to see that whether Joseph was acutely aware or not, whether things were good or not, God was still with him.

God was with Joseph when everything he did prospered and God was with him when it all fell apart in his hands. God never at any point said, “Sorry, I’m out.”

In the end what did Joseph have to say about all that he had gone through? Essentially (and I am paraphrasing) he was able to say, “I can now see God had a plan.” (Ref Genesis 45:4-8

You see, when we are in the midst of hard. When we are in the valley of sorrow, or pain, or whatever heartache we face. The thing I hope you will remember is that God has not left you. Whether we are the subject of the enemy’s cruelty or our own poor choices. Whether we are a victim of circumstance or have come to where we are by our own steps. God has not left. He sees. He knows. And He can and will bring us to the other side, however far the journey. Why? Because of the other part of that Romans verse. Because we love him, we have been called according to his purposes. He has a plan.

Later this week we are celebrating a birthday. Six short years after my time of deep sorrow, I will hold the hand of a little girl who will be turning five years old. I call her my “Rainbow Baby.” She is the child born after the storm. Born after grief and loss. She is our gift. And God didn’t skimp either. He gave her passion, and the light and love of several children. The very light of her smile is testimony that God overcomes darkness EVERY TIME.

Romans 8-28 blog

~Rita

__________________________

Reference
Romans 8:28
John 10:10 NKJV
Genesis 37
Genesis 39 – 50