God’s Shepherding Hand

So I finished sermon number four in the series God’s Shepherding Hand yesterday, and just completed my Saturday night review of the message for tomorrow.  It has been a really good series in the Psalms.  I started with Psalm 23 which was really good because it helped me to focus on what really connects these particular psalms together.  I followed the readings from the lectionary, so I started with Psalm 23, followed by Psalm 148, Psalm 67, and the one I just finished in Psalm 97.

I picked up on the theme in each of the psalms of God’s shepherding hand, and it is really not something that we spend a lot of time thinking about.  I looked at making the shepherd deeply personal, stressing that we think of him as my shepherd throughout this series.  What is it about my shepherd that means so much to us?  Could it be that we really do need or crave to have someone keeping an eye on us?  Do we forget that God really does take care of us our entire lives?  And then what is required or expected of us as we start claiming God as my shepherd?  It is really a concept I don’t remember hearing any of my professors talk about in seminary.  And over my 20+ years of ministry I have not really thought about it much until now.  Is it the events that have been going on in our church over the last year or so?  Is it maybe what has been going on in my personal life?  Only God really knows the answer to this question, but it is a good one to ask.  I am really glad that we have been looking at this question as well as others over the past four weeks.

Each week I start working on my message on Monday, and after reading through about 4 or 5 translations (usually KJV, NRSV, NIV, ESV, and NASB), I sit down and write my academic outline.  Then I work on the bulletin outline I call the applicational outline.  When I am done with that I complete a discipleship study based on the Scripture for the study.  After reading Sticky Church by Larry Osborn I really like this way of preparing for Sunday.  So my applicational  thoughts were My Shepherd for Psalm 23 looking at how my shepherd provides, my shepherd protects, and my shepherd pursues.  With Psalm 148 we looked at praising my shepherd looking at the heavens lift their praise, the earth lifts praise, and humanity praises the shepherd.  Last week Psalm 67 looked at my shepherd’s blessings and the shepherds ways are known, the shepherds ways are just, and the shepherds ways bring blessing.  This week, with Psalm 97 we are looking at my shepherds glorious reign seeing how his glorious reign is revealed, how his glorious reign is rejoiced, and how his glorious reign is upheld. As I shared earlier, this series has really opened up my own thoughts about the Book of Psalms and why we as Christians should be studying it more in-depth.

So what will this mean for us as we move forward with our Christian walks?  It really goes well with what our theme was for 2015 here at DCPC, which was Come Grow With Us-Growing the Family of God which was stressing personal spiritual growth and discipleship.  With this series we dug deep.  We concentrated on the anchor of everything we are as Christians, and that is God, my shepherd, being our foundation.  No wavering, no losing focus, but being locked in on the anchor Jesus Christ.  Without that we can’t have the security we need, the security we crave, that eternal security that only Jesus Christ can offer.  If you would like to read the complete sermon series, please email me at pastor@dcpcfamily.org.


A Cultivated Life-A Review

I have just finished an excellent book and wanted to share it with you all.  The book is The Cultivated Life-From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy by Susan S. Phillips.  I received the book as a gift in October, but picked it up to read late in March.  I posted about it a few times on my Instagram @revdougs.  Dr. Phillips is executive director and professor of sociology and Christianity at New College Berkeley and will be one of the faculty at San Francisco Theological Seminary for my Pastor as Spiritual Leader Doctor of Ministry.  I am very excited about having her in class after reading this book. It has been a long time since I have written a book review, but I really want you to read this book, so I am going to highlight some of the reasons why.

This book serves as an introduction to Christian spirituality, and if you have never read a book on this topic before, this is an excellent one to start with.  Eugene H. Peterson, who wrote the foreward, had me hooked even before I had read of word of Dr. Phillips.  On page 10 he writes: This is a book written specifically for those of us who are assigned the task of developing an imagination for living the Christian faith with insight and skill in and for a society that is disconnected from the biblical revelation and the Jesus incarnation.  This was exactly what I was searching for to help me make sense of a world that has drastically changed over the course of my 20 plus years of ministry.  Now that I was engaged, what would I learn from this author?

In the Introduction there is a question presented, found on page 15, that starts moving me toward the answer I am seeking. How can we participate in the cultivation of our souls in a ceaselessly striving, circus-like culture that pushes us to be performers and spectators? It is with this question that I am drawn into Dr. Phillips premise that draws upon biblical imagery of cultivation and the narratives that animate it. In twelve chapters Dr. Phillips takes us on a journey using this concept of cultivation.  She defines it on page 35 this way:

The cultivated life is one of persevering in our longing.  In the garden and on the trail, grace collaborates with dedication.  Our completion comes toward us as we move toward it, and this is all part of what Paul calls the “still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Throughout these chapters, which at the end of each one there are at least two or three questions to help us dig deeper, we learn the basics of Christian spirituality.  We learn more about truly listening to others, as well as keeping our own Sabbath times.  In chapter nine she explains what spiritual direction is and why it is important for us as Christians to find our own spiritual directors.  Again, I am not writing a complete review, I am only highlighting a few key parts for myself.  I encourage you to buy and read this book.

If for any other reason, the Appendix makes purchasing this book totally worth it.  It has Guidelines for Practices in these areas:  contemplative listening, Sabbath Living, Lectio Divina, Finding a Spiritual Director, and finally for Cultivating Friendship.  These guidelines are well written and presented in a way that helps them make sense and provide a path for us to follow as we grow deeper in our faith.


Reflections after Easter

Easter services are over, decorations are starting to be put away, and thoughts of a few days of rest sound so good to church staffs.  All of the hard work and extra hours of preparation have been worth it as we look back over the past 40 days of Lent.  But what have we spiritually learned about ourselves?  How have we changed?  Are there areas of growth that are needed?  Many questions have been raised, and so I am encouraging a time of reflection on what all of this means for us as disciples of Jesus Christ.

For me, the first area that has really changed is that I am addicted to journaling.  Now don’t get me wrong, I journaled before this, but I see it now as an integral part of how I process my thoughts and how I organize my day.  I bought myself a Moleskine notebook and two Pilot Metropolitan fountain pens and I write every day.  In the process of these past 40 days my handwriting has also improved.  So when we look at how we can reflect, try journaling.  There are no exact rules on how to do it, so just do it.

Secondly, reflect on your devotional life.  I found that my time with God improved this year and I became more focused.  What did I do differently?  My attitude changed.  I no longer looked at what was in it for me, but how can what I am learning benefit others that I come across throughout the day.  I made my devotional time more applicational as opposed to reflective.  As I did that, I did learn more and I grew more, but I also felt freedom to share more of what I was learning.  That is important if we want to meet the needs of those around us.

Third, who are you trying to please?  Part of a study I was involved with over the past year helped me to identify that I was a people pleaser.  Now that is not a bad thing in and of itself, but when that is taking your focus away from what God wants for your life, that is when problems come in.  So put God first in everything.  Aim to please him before even thinking about pleasing the world.  That is when we experience the peace that many of us are seeking. I like these words from the Apostle Paul to the church at Philippi when trying to understand where are thoughts need to be focused:

Philippians 4: 4-9 (NRSV)

“4.) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5.) Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6.) Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7.) And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8.) Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9.) Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

So take some time to reflect on where you are in your walk with Christ.  And as you reflect, don’t forget your attitude of gratitude that I mentioned in one of my earlier posts.  A heart full of gratitude can produce a change in ourselves and in the world around us.



Passing of the Baton

Over the past several weeks I have had the honor and privilege of officiating at two Celebration of Life services and one graveside service.  These individuals were loved by their families, loved by friends, had a solid Christian faith, and were in their golden years.  They lived long, full lives and had seen their families grow.  We shared stories about the influence that they made on their children and so many others.  We laughed, we cried, we started healing the hurts that death inevitably brings.

This morning, at our second service, I baptized a 10 month old.  He is just beginning with his life, his proud parents are glowing as they enter the sanctuary, and the congregation is beaming with joy for the new life coming into the church.  It is a time where we all look forward;  to watch this new life grow, to project where he will go, and what career he will choose.  The sky is the limit, we just need to make sure we offer the guidance needed.

So the baton is passed.  As one runner is finished, a new runner takes off, running their part of this race known as life.

Every morning during my devotional time,  I read several passages and have read them for years.  They never grow old, each and every single time they seem to point me somewhere new in my thoughts or in my actions.  This morning as I was reading  Isaiah 40: 28-31, the idea of passing the baton came to me and so I want to share this passage with you now.

Isaiah 40: 28-31 (NRSV)

“28.) Have you not known? Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29.) He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30.) Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31.) but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Think about the life that you are running right now.  You do not have to run that life alone, relying upon your own strength.  Reach out to the God who can lift you up on eagle’s wings, giving you strength to meet any challenge.