Comfort

Where you go to find comfort? This is an important issue. People attempt to find comfort in a great variety of places. Some try alcohol or drugs. Others try sex or pornography. More respectable sources of comfort might include, family, spouse, or perhaps money, power, physical appearance or skill. The list goes on but by now you get the point. The thing is – we all need and want comfort.

We want comfort because we live in a hostile environment. “Life is tough and then you die,” as the saying goes. Christians take comfort in knowing that when one dies trusting in Christ, he or she goes directly to be with him while waiting for the final restoration of all things. We know that a wonderful future awaits us.

The problem is that in the meantime, we live in a broken world, which is fraught with frustration, anger, dissatisfaction, and evil. The promise of a wonderful future fades when we are faced with difficulties and disappointments. Again, an old saying sums it up: “it’s hard to remember that your objective is to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ears in alligators.” (No political pun intended!)

Take for instance a young family who is trying to get established. Expenses easily outgrow income. Advancement is slow, if at all. Family financial needs escalate with expectations, unexpected expenses brought on by choices or illness. Life gets harder and the future seems bleak. Potential disaster looms. Uncertainty, doubt and fatigue produce pessimism. The optimism and enthusiasm of youth dissipate. The future seems more threatening than hopeful.

Consider a shepherd boy. Alone, he treks over the rough countryside, defending and tending his sheep. To provide them with much-needed water, he follows a path which winds its way through a dark and threatening gorge. Not knowing what is around the next bend, he senses the unseen danger. His enemies are real – wild animals like a lion or a bear, or worse yet – wild men!

David, the author of Psalm 23, knows well what it is to face the threatening uncertainty of the future. Indeed, he has walked through the valley of the shadow of death. He has experienced the peace of God which passes all understanding. He knows what it’s like to find comfort in the presence of God. Further, he informs us how!

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

These words give us crucial insight as we face the intimidations of the unknown. Let’s consider the words in the order written.

Your rod – the Hebrew term is used to indicate a slender rod used to beat cumin or a weapon or of a shepherd’s implement, used to count his sheep. The word was also used to describe the corrective or punitive activity of God. God corrects his own people but punishes his enemies. In this verse (Psalm 23.4), the term is used symbolically to indicate God’s protection of his servant, who is walking in “passive righteousness” which also lead through the valley of threatening doom and darkness.

Your staff – this Hebrew word derives from a verb meaning “to lean on.” It depicts the familiar shepherd’s crook bending at the end of the long “walking stick.” The staff supports the one using it. That is, it is used to supplement the work of the shepherd as he cares for, defends, protects, and guides his sheep. The staff is something used to accomplish the work the shepherd is doing.

Rather than trying to identify specific tools which the Lord is using to protect and guide his people (David and all believers), it is best to think of them symbolically. God uses all kinds of circumstances, including people, to shepherd his people; they are his implements to carry out his purpose for his people, both individually and collectively.

It is no wonder that this encourages David. “Your rod and your staff they comfort me.” Notice that this thought goes beyond the fact that God is with David. He is saying that the things that God brings into his life are, in reality, God’s tools. They are implements God uses to work out his purpose.

Comfort – a primary meaning of this word is to console or to show compassion. It comes from a root which means “to breathe deeply.” In other words, to comfort someone is to help them “take a deep breath.” Our English verb comfort means to ease the grief or distress; to console. It depicts David (or you or me), pausing to consider that God is with him (and us!). We have another English word which describes this experience. A comforter is a heavy quilt–like blanket, which one might drape around her/his shoulders to ward off the cold.

So, here is a “comforter” which comes from the Heidelberg Catechism, a historic Creed of the 16th century, which should encourage you today.

 

QUESTION 1. What is thy only comfort in life and in death?

That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.

 

Life is hard. Your future is not better – it will be the best with Jesus. As you walk with Jesus and trek through the dark experiences, remember that you are not alone. Jesus is with you and is preparing you for a future which is much too wonderful for us to comprehend. In the meantime, find your comfort in his promises.

What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between “I will be with you…” And “you are with me…”

In my last blog post (Scared), I told of a so-called “near-death experience” which I had in the hospital, not long after my neck injury. As I struggled to “hang on,” precious promises of Scripture flooded my mind. Many of these are statements about the faithfulness of God’s promised grace to his people. Others focus on the promise of forgiveness through Christ. The first and last quotations included that divine promise of God’s presence: “I will be with you.”

The promise of God’s presence is a theme which runs throughout Scripture. A phrase search on my Bible research software reports that the phrase “I will be with you” occurs in 11 biblical passages, 10 of which are in the Old Testament. The one time it is used in the New Testament, it is spoken by Jesus. In speaking of his earthly ministry, he states, “I am with you a little longer and then I am going to him who sent me.” These are comforting words but not a continuing promise. The words are the same but the sense is different.

A review of the 10 Old Testament usages is both encouraging and instructive.

Genesis 26.3 – The Lord speaks to Isaac:  “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, … and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.,”

Genesis 31:3 – Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and… I will be with you.”

Exodus 3:12 – The Lord speaks to Moses: He said, “But I will be with you,… you shall serve God on this mountain.”

Deuteronomy 31:23 – And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

Joshua 1:5 – No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.

Joshua 3:7 – The Lord said to Joshua, “… as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.

Joshua 7:12 – Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies.… I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.

Judges 6:16 – And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

1 Kings 11:38 – And if you will listen to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David my servant did, I will be with you and will build you a sure house…”

Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

 

Let me make some observations:

  • The promise is given as a statement of fact. Based on God’s faithfulness, the statement becomes a promise.
  • The promise is a personal promise, often spoken directly by God himself; other times, it is announced by a messenger.
  • The promise is made in the context of serious threatened danger.
  • The promise is accompanied by other words, which give courage and strengthen the resolve of the one addressed.
  • The promise may be rescinded by lack of faith and disobedience.
  • The promise gives assurance of God’s future care and protection by guaranteeing his personal and direct benevolent intervention.
  • The promise is fulfilled when the recipient responds in faith and obedience.

 

In addition to these passages, there are 17 more which contained the words: “I am with you.” Because I suspect that most of you skimmed through the previous verses, I won’t burden you with 17 more passages. (If you that interested, email me and I will provide you with these.)

The intent of these verses is the same. They each promise God’s presence as a means to encourage both obedience and faith. Perhaps the best known of these are the words of Jesus: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

To summarize, God promises to be with his people when we need special encouragement to obey and follow him. The promise is intended to stimulate our trust and obedience because of our personal relationship with him.

Now, consider again, this question: What’s the difference between “I will be with you…” and “you are with me…”?

My answer: the first statement is a promise of God to his people who need encouragement to faith and obedience. (That’s what we just confirmed above.)

The second statement, “you are with me…” Is declared by one who has both received and appropriated the promise. He has seized God’s promise and is acting on his faith. He believes that God is with him and is finding strength and encouragement even as he speaks.

In other words, David is walking through the valley of the shadow of death and declares that he is not afraid, because he realizes that God is with him. His words testify or boldly declare his confidence in his Lord. He knows that God is with him.

Looking back on your experience with God, I’m certain that there are times when you have felt the assurance of God’s presence. I know I have.

One such time occurred during my catastrophic accident. One moment I was cruising along on a road bike at 20 miles an hour the next I was flat on my back in a 5-foot deep ditch and surrounded by cattails. Uncertainties swirled around me. I had great concern for my immediate and distant future. In the darkness of that threat, I sensed the presence and purpose of God for me. I was not afraid because I knew that my Good Shepherd was with me. I thank and praise him for being with me. Even now, he continues to strengthen and build my faith.

How about you? Take a moment and consider how God has then been especially close to you in your times of need. Thank God for his mercy and faithfulness.

Scared?

Scared?

I once asked the little boy if he had ever prayed. He quickly responded with, “yes.” Then he told me that he was riding his bike down the big hill on a bumpy road when his brakes failed. As he was about to lose control, he “prayed to God for help.” He was “scared he was going to die.”

Have you ever been that frightened? I have. When I was younger I thought I was invincible. The 1st time I can recall being “scared I was going to die” occurred when I was snorkeling off the south coast of Australia. A complete novice, I was caught in a rip current and was being pulled out to sea. I was a very strong swimmer, but no match for the surf. In answer to a quick prayer, I recalled the wise counsel of swimming parallel to the shoreline. Obviously, God had more work for me to do here on earth; I survive the exciting experience.

Some circumstances may be even more frightening than death. For instance, fear associated with uncertainty – the uncertainty of the future, including employment, poor personal health or especially the circumstances of someone you love may threaten us. Challenging situations, interpersonal confrontations and consequences of poor decisions may also rival “being scared to death.”

Have you ever been that fearful? King David, the author of Psalm 23, implies that he has. He boldly invites us into his experience: 4. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

David envisions circumstances in which he either has or will face the threat of death. He depicted it as a deep ravine or valley, dark and dangerous, like a peril or eerie shadow. He feels alone; the prospect of harm is real. Surrounded by doom and gloom, he recalls that the LORD is his Shepherd. His only hope is in the LORD. And so, he conquers his fear through faith in God.

I had an experience which helps me to understand this verse. Not long after my debilitating implicit injury, I had surgery on the vertebrae of my neck. Sometime within the next few days, I developed an E. coli infection in my lungs. Heavily medicated, I didn’t sense the danger (or future) I faced. Although the details leading up to this are fuzzy, the experience remains real. I was having difficulty breathing and struggled to remain conscious.

My wife Judy and some others were with me as I attempted to give consent to update my will. One of my friends, an attorney, was asking me questions. All the while, I had this “hazy sensation” that I was lying prone on a large table which was tilting. I struggled to “hang on” but there was nothing to grab. Although the incline increased, I did not slip over the edge. Yet, I remained secure.

Something else was happening as well. My mind was flooded with significant passages of Scripture which I have cherished. Here are some examples:

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

“Everyone calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that in him, we might, the righteousness of God.”

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

“… If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

“God is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble.”

“My help is from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

“I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”

These thoughts and others occurred repeatedly and in random order. This encouraged and convinced me that Jesus, my good Shepherd, was with me and propping me in time of peril.

Some words of an old hymn were also brought to mind: “… behold, I am with you and will cause you to stand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.

You probably have some wonderful experiences of the Lord’s mercy and care. During the busyness of this season, make time to pause and consider the wonder of this promise. Remember, that Jesus is with you. Immanuel means “God with us.” Another of his names is more popular – Jesus. He came to save his people from their sin and to undo the works of the devil. He is our Shepherd, who has committed himself to be with us in our deepest trials. Our Shepherd is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.

Refreshments are served…

I’m a big guy and, due to my paralysis/quadriplegia, I require “high maintenance.” That is, it takes a lot of work to keep me going. In my “perfect world,” the Veterans Administration hires healthcare agencies for assistance with my care. For several (poor) reasons, however, the healthcare aides have not been supplied (again) for about 2 weeks. This means that my wife is left to provide my requisite and necessary care. Each morning she spends over 3 hours doing “the heavy lifting” of my care. Heavy demands on her physically result in fatigue. In plain words, she becomes very tired. So, after attending to my needs, she sits down for her break.

After a while, and following some breakfast, her strength is renewed. Although still tired, she is then able to get on with the rest of her day. You can see what has happened. The rest and nutrition have restored her energy.

This is similar to what David speaks of in Psalm 3.3: He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He is saying that the Lord has renewed his spiritual strength and is leading in the right way.

Think about this for a minute. How does the Lord restore us spiritually? I wish I could hear your answers, but of course, I can’t. I can suggest that in the previous blog I wrote about the Sabbath principle. This weekly practice of rest and reflection/worship is one way in which God refreshes us in him.

Are you familiar with terms the means of grace? I was not, and neither are many people. A while ago, okay a long while ago, I was training a man for his Elder exam. We took long walks and discussed the gospel, Christian disciplines, church history, and theology. In the process, I asked my friend, “What are the means of grace?” By this time, he knew that the means of grace meant, the manner or way in which God extends his grace to us. The means of grace are the ways in which God ordinarily works to communicate his grace.

Historically, the means of grace include the word, sacraments, and prayer.

  • By word is meant the Bible, the word of God, especially preached, but also includes various kinds of interaction with the Bible, including personal reading and reflection on the Scriptures.
  • The sacraments include observing and participating in Christian Baptism and the Lord’s Supper together with other believers.
  • Prayer refers to speaking to God with reverence, adoration, gratitude, confession of sin, confidence in his grace and providential care for us, together with our requests and petitions for physical and spiritual blessings needed for ourselves and others, while we recognize and submit to his authority over us.

Even a quick glance at these means of grace suggests the idea of corporate community. That is, these means are passed on to us in the context of God’s dealings with his people, the church. The church is the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit grows God’s people. The church, including its ministry, is the way God usually works in pouring out his grace to us.

Most of us in American culture have an extremely low view of the church for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are valid or at least understandable. This, however, does not diminish the importance of the ministry of the church to Christians. It has been well said that no person can have God as his Father, without the church as his mother. In fact, older theologians used the words “mother church” with great affection.

Again, you might object that the church has been the source of great abuse and evil. I agree. We could go on at length describing and cataloging the wrongs committed by Christians and Christian churches.

The fact remains, however, that “… Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Compare this to your view of the church. I know that sometimes, Christian churches have acted in unchristian ways. I know that many people have been hurt by the church and its leaders and members. I know that folks outside of the church are often more loving than folks inside the church.

The church has frequently disobeyed Jesus command. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)

Jesus has given his church to us for our benefit. Jesus uses his church to shepherd us, his people. Through his church, we receive spiritual nourishment, protection, training in righteousness, and opportunities to show our love for him as we love one another. He uses it to refresh us and lead us. So, if one ignores or resists the church, he or she hinders the work of God intended for their benefit.

God’s design is to use his church in his process of restoring and refreshing his people. God exhorts us: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, ESV)

The church is vital to our spiritual health. To neglect the church and its ministry to resist the Lord and his work, which is intended for your benefit. So, if you sense that you are fatigued and need to be restored, attend to the means of grace. Participate in the ministry of your gospel centered church. Submit to the Word. Participate in the sacraments. Pray to your father in heaven. Use these means of grace which God has provided for your benefit.

This should settle the matter. Yet, sometimes old or even new wounds interfere. We have a hard time with “church.” We have been hurt and it is difficult to obey. Jesus has commanded us to love one another. Jesus has shown us how to love one another by giving himself up, that is, by sacrificing oneself. The church is not perfect now, but it will be! One day, Jesus will present the church to himself in splendor; I’ll be holy and without blemish, just like the rest of my brothers and sisters in the church. Thank God for the church and the means of grace through which God restores our souls.

 

Wintry mix or Green pastures and still waters…?

It’s nasty outside today. I hear hail or freezing rain bouncing off my window. It’s cold, damp and dreary. My heart, however, doesn’t have to be that way.

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters.”

The first warm days of spring mark the passing of the wintry season. The sun fights off the chill of winter. The earth is slowly warmed and begins to show new life. Trees bud; daffodils bloom. Robins sing. The ground issues fresh green sprouts, which form a luxurious, verdant carpet covering the land. The scene is peaceful even tranquil.

In contrast to this idyllic scene, picture a weary warrior. His days have been filled with turmoil, conflict, and confusion. Battle weary, this combatant desperately needs rest and refreshment. Feeling isolated and alone, he has fought fatigue. Exhaustion, physical, emotional and spiritual, remains a ruthless, relentless, yet unseen, enemy. Nevertheless, unaware of his weakened condition, he soldiers on. This slogan, “the enemy never takes a day off, so why should you?”, motivates him to press on.

I wonder if you have ever felt this way? At some time or another, almost every one has. I know that I have. As a church planter in a foreign culture, I have experienced firsthand the pressure of ministry difficulties, limited resources, high expectations and the restraints of time. The urgent demands and responsibilities not only included evangelism, discipleship, training, organizing and planning for transition which seemed endless, but also team obligations. Attempting to make every moment count, time off appeared unwise, out of the question even frivolous.

Then, one day in the midst of a very challenging week, I came down with the flu. Contagious to others and too sick to work, I was remanded to the couch for several days. This provided some extended time for reading and reflecting. I suddenly realized that my sickness was actually beneficial – a blessing. As I was recovering from my physical ailment, I recognized that I was being refreshed. I especially recall recognizing that the flu was a gift from God, providing the opportunity for rest, restoration. What I had been “too busy” to do out of obedience, my Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, had gently forced upon me.

Reflecting upon the twenty-third Psalm, it became apparent that the Lord Jesus had made me lie down in green pastures and was leading me beside the quiet waters. Although I initially resisted, I finally learned this life lesson. I humbled myself and repented.

God knows his creatures better than we know ourselves. Even busy church planters and pastors require a day off. Did he not say, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” (Exodus 20:9–10, ESV)

Following God’s command, even example in creation, I began to take a regular, scheduled day off for rest, refreshment and restoration. This especially meant avoiding ministry related tasks, but often included accomplishing necessary responsibilities and chores in my home. I still maintained the Lord’s Day as set apart for worship and refrained from unnecessary tasks or activities. I was further instructed by these verses: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13–14, ESV)

Following God’s wise instruction, I began to learn to delight in the Lord’s day by not going my way, but following the Lord’s way. I was surprised that I had more energy and accomplish more in six days that I had previously done in seven. Surprise! God knows best!

So, friend caught up in the rush of Christmas, let me pose a question. In the midst of your busy schedule, which often resembles a pressure cooker, do you take time – at least one day a week – to delight in the Lord?

The Lord God has spoken in his Word. His blessing will follow your obedience. Delight in him, not yourself! Obey his command to rest in him and you will be refreshed by him.

Wait a minute! I wanted to tell you something else…

Wait a minute! I wanted to tell you something else…

I didn’t have time to tell you something very important. Last time, we were considering Psalm 23.1: The LORD is my Shepherd. We briefly considered the name and character of the LORD. We also thought about the idea of Shepherd in the Bible, especially Jesus as “the good Shepherd.”

What I didn’t tell you was this. A somewhat literal translation of Psalm 23.1 goes like this: Yahweh (is) the shepherd of me. The emphasis is on Yahweh or the LORD as Shepherd. There’s something very important about the word Shepherd that you need to know. The word Shepherd is a participle! That’s right – a participle. In fact, it is an active, present participle! By now, many of you are thinking, “Big deal. I don’t care. And besides, I don’t even know what a participle is.”

Well, a participle is a verbal noun. That is, it is a word describing an action (verb) being used as a noun (person, place or thing). The idea conveyed by the participle is that of action, in this case, shepherding. The tense of the verb (present) depicts an ongoing action. And this action is directed towards me.

In other words, the LORD is the one who is shepherding me. Remember from last time: The name of the LORD, Yahweh (or Jehovah), means the living One or the self-existent One – the great I AM. He is the independent One, who depends on no one or no thing and upon whom all else depends. He is the One who created all things and who sustains all things. He is the One who is absolutely sovereign and “does whatever he pleases.” He has all power and authority; he is the sovereign Lord of all!

The rest of the Psalm explains how the LORD is accomplishing this act of shepherding (providing for, protecting and guiding) his people. This is more specifically stated in verses 2 and 3, which speak of the LORD. While in verses 4, 5 and 6, David speaks to the LORD and personally responds to these wonderful concepts.

He (the LORD) makes me lie down in green pastures.

He (the LORD) leads me beside still waters.

He (the LORD) restores my soul.

He (the LORD) leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

You (the LORD) are with me.

Your (the LORD’s) rod and staff comfort me.

You (the LORD) prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You (the LORD) anoint my head with oil.

Reading these actions as a list (notice the participial phrase which emphasizes action) helps me to see the personal benefits and blessings I have as a follower of Jesus. I am reassured of the Lord’s ongoing commitment to me and can see in writing, the loving and benevolent action of the LORD towards me. These actions are not only for me but for each and every sheep (individuals) belonging to the Lord Jesus.

Now, please do me a favor. Do not ignore this! Please, please read this slowly and thank the Lord for being your Shepherd. Think of ways he cares for and provides for you.

 

Psalm 23, ESV                                   “A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The next time we will consider the green pastures and the still waters which the LORD Jesus, our Shepherd, provides for us, his sheep.

 

Oops! My bad…

 

My last post had to do with Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Day. Due to an administrative error on Facebook (interpreted: I goofed), the post included only a part of my introduction and none of the substance which I intended. Thus, in an effort to rectify this, I include it now. Another post on Psalm 23 will follow it shortly.

Thanksgiving Day is an occasion to reflect and to thank God for a great many blessings he has graciously given to us. There are many things for which we could and should give thanks: spouses, children, family, friends, church, country, benefits and blessings individually given and received, opportunities, answers to prayer, good food… Obviously, the list could go on and on.

I don’t think it would be fair or necessarily helpful to try to determine the one thing for which one is most thankful. For me, however, what stands out as the single most important factor is that the Lord is my shepherd. It is he who has brought me into a relationship with him, watched over and cared for me all the days of my life, given to me a wife far better than I deserve, surrounded me with a  loving family, friends, and opportunities… And much more!

So, as I continue my reflections on Psalm 23, I offer these thoughts.

Only seconds after being thrown headlong from a bicycle and landing in a deep ditch, I realized I was unable to move and paralyzed from my shoulders down. All kinds of doubts and threats invaded my consciousness. “How long will this last?”… “If I am paralyzed, how will I be able to support my family?” “Will I be able to preach this Sunday?”…  “Will I be able to continue pastoring?”… “Will I be able to support my family?”… “How will I be able to support my wife?”…

Along with this uncertainty came a calming assurance. I remember thinking, “God is my strength and refuge, an ever-present help in time of trouble.” In the months that followed, and through many more difficulties while recovering, I had many opportunities to recall portions of Scripture I had once memorized. Many of these were Psalms, especially Psalm 23.

I have learned from personal experience why Psalm 23 has become precious to so many Christians throughout the ages. It has also become a very close and personal friend; I recite it, ponder it and meditate on it most mornings and evenings. God always encourages me and reminds me of his care for me as I contemplate him through its words. So, the next few posts will have to do with this Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.(Psalm 23:1, ESV)

  • The Lord when you see the word LORD printed in all capital letters as it is here, it signifies the name of God – Jehovah or also Yahweh.

The Jews of the Old Testament revered the name of the LORD so highly that they substituted some lesser word for God whenever his name appeared in the public reading of Scripture. Only once a year and on the Day of Atonement by the High Priest in the Most Holy Place, was the divine name spoken. The name of LORD Yahweh (or Jehovah), means the living One or the self-existent One – the great I AM. He is the independent One, who depends on no one or no thing and upon whom all else depends. He is the one who created all things and who sustains all things. He is the one who is absolutely sovereign and “does whatever he pleases.” He has all power and authority; he is the sovereign Lord of all!

  • Shepherd – when this word is used in the Bible it may refer to literal shepherds, those who care for sheep or it may be used figuratively referring to those who care for people.

A shepherd in ancient Israel was one who cared for or watched over sheep. His responsibilities would include leading his sheep to pasture and water, protecting them from danger and retrieving them when they strayed from the flock. The shepherd developed a very close relationship with his sheep, often calling them by name and knowing them quite well. The sheep also responded to the Shepherd by hearing and obeying him. Thus, it is not surprising to learn that the term Shepherd came to denote the leaders of people. The Old Testament refers to the LORD as the shepherd of Israel. In the New Testament, shepherds announced the birth of our Lord Jesus.

Jesus used the term Shepherd to describe himself and his relationship to his people, especially relating to his atonement. For instance, in John 10.11, 14: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me… He goes on to speak of giving his life for his own sheep. Peter mentions him as the Chief Shepherd. While Hebrews 13 speaks of him as the Great Shepherd. The book of Revelation sees him as the Lamb and Shepherd.

  • My shepherd – the emphasis here is on the personal relationship of the shepherd to the sheep. Although the Lord has many sheep and there are a great many passages which refer to his flock corporately, this word is a singular personal pronoun – it encourages individuals who are Christ’s sheep – it speaks to me (and to you) personally.

So, when I read or think of Psalm 23.1 “The Lord is my shepherd…” I am reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ is my Shepherd, who laid down his life for me, making atonement for my sin (and redeeming each of his people). I am reminded that Jesus, who gave his life for me and who promises to never leave me or forsake me, will also attend to all my needs. I am reminded that he is Almighty as well as being compassionate. As a shepherd cares for his own sheep, the Lord Jesus will attend to each and every need that I have. The LORD is my shepherd!

Is it interesting that the Good Shepherd (Jesus), also the chief Shepherd, has actually called some of his sheep to be “under-shepherds.” The chief Shepherd uses some of his sheep as he himself shepherds his people. Since they are also sheep, these under-shepherds need shepherding too. I am greatly comforted to know that the LORD is my shepherd!

I once heard of a man who was asked to recite his favorite verse of Scripture. His response: “The Lord is my Shepherd – that’s all I want.” Although the recitation is him inaccurate, his testimony rings true. I concur. When I recognize that the LORD is my Shepherd I don’t need anything else! And neither do you!

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day.

 

Today is Thanksgiving Day. Today is a day to reflect and to thank God for the great many blessings he has graciously given to us. There are many things for which we could and should give thanks: spouses, children, family, friends, church, country, benefits and blessings individually given and received, opportunities, answers to prayer, good food… Obviously the list could go on and on.

I don’t think it would be fair or necessarily helpful to try to determine the one thing for which one is most thankful. For me, however, what stands out as the single most important factor is that the Lord is my shepherd. It is he who has brought me into a relationship with him, watched over and cared for me all the days of my life, given me a wife far better than I deserve, surrounded me with loving family, friends and opportunities… And much more!

So, as I continue my reflections on Psalm 23, I offer these thoughts.

Only seconds after being thrown headlong from a bicycle and landing in a deep ditch, I realized I was unable to move and paralyzed from my shoulders down. All kinds of doubts and threats invaded my consciousness. “How long will this last?”… “If I am paralyzed, how will I be able to support my family?” “Will I be able to preach this Sunday?”…  “Will I be able to continue pastoring?”… “Will I be able to support my family?”… “How will I be able to support my wife?”…

Along with this uncertainty came a calming assurance. I remember thinking, “God is my strength and refuge, an ever-present help in time of trouble.” In the months that followed, and through many more difficulties while recovering, I had many opportunities to recall portions of Scripture I had once memorized. Many of these were Psalms, especially Psalm 23.

I have learned from personal experience why Psalm 23 has become precious to so many Christians throughout the ages. It has also become a very close and personal friend; I recite it, ponder it and meditate on it most mornings and evenings. God always encourages me and reminds me of his care for me as I contemplate him through its words. So, the next few posts will have to do with this Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.(Psalm 23:1, ESV)

  • The Lord when you see the word LORD printed in all capital letters as it is here, it signifies the name of God – Jehovah or also Yahweh.

The Jews of the Old Testament revered the name of the LORD so highly that they substituted some lesser word for God whenever his name appeared in the public reading of Scripture. Only once a year and on the Day of Atonement by the High Priest in the Most Holy Place, was the divine name spoken. The name of LORD Yahweh (or Jehovah), means the living One or the self-existent One – the great I AM. He is the independent One, who depends on no one or no thing and upon whom all else depends. He is the one who created all things and who sustains all things. He is the one who is absolutely sovereign and “does whatever he pleases.” He has all power and authority; he is the sovereign Lord of all!

  • Shepherd – when this word is used in the Bible it may refer to literal shepherds, those who care for sheep or it may be used figuratively referring to those who care for people.

A shepherd in ancient Israel was one who cared for or watched over sheep. His responsibilities would include leading his sheep to pasture and water, protecting them from danger and retrieving them when they strayed from the flock. The shepherd developed a very close relationship with his sheep, often calling them by name and knowing them quite well. The sheep also responded to the Shepherd by hearing and obeying him. Thus, it is not surprising to learn that the term Shepherd came to denote the leaders of people. The Old Testament refers to the LORD as the shepherd of Israel. In the New Testament, shepherds announced the birth of our Lord Jesus.

Jesus used the term Shepherd to describe himself and his relationship to his people, especially relating to his atonement. For instance, in John 10.11, 14: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me… He goes on to speak of giving his life for his own sheep. Peter mentions him as the Chief Shepherd. While Hebrews 13 speaks of him as the Great Shepherd. The book of Revelation sees him as the Lamb and Shepherd.

  • My shepherd – the emphasis here is on the personal relationship of the shepherd to the sheep. Although the Lord has many sheep and there are a great many passages which refer to his flock corporately, this word is a singular personal pronoun – it encourages individuals who are Christ’s sheep – it speaks to me (and to you) personally.

So, when I read or think of Psalm 23.1 “The Lord is my shepherd…” I am reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ is my Shepherd, who laid down his life for me, making atonement for my sin (and redeeming each of his people). I am reminded that Jesus, who gave his life for me and who promises to never leave me or forsake me, will also attend to all my needs. I am reminded that he is Almighty as well as being compassionate. As a shepherd cares for his own sheep, the Lord Jesus will attend to each and every need that I have. The LORD is my shepherd!

Is it interesting that the Good Shepherd (Jesus), also the chief Shepherd, has actually called some of his sheep to be “under-shepherds.” The chief Shepherd uses some of his sheep as he himself shepherds his people. Since they are also sheep, these under-shepherds need shepherding too. I am greatly comforted to know that the LORD is my shepherd!

I once heard of a man who was asked to recite his favorite verse of Scripture. His response: “The Lord is my Shepherd – that’s all I want.” Although the recitation is inaccurate, his testimony rings true. I concur. When I recognize that the LORD is my Shepherd I don’t need anything else! And neither do you!

Struggling…

Struggling.

I haven’t posted for a little while (again…). One reason is that I am struggling. I am not struggling with my faith. God, who “has begun a good work in me is carrying it on to completion until the day of Christ.”

I’m not really struggling all that much physically. I am of course paralyzed from the shoulders down and continue to wrestle with the long-term effects of immobility and inactivity. This issue manifests itself in a variety of ways, which I don’t need to explain now. It is enough to say that I am grappling with a lot of little issues which impact how I feel and how I sleep. So, I feel tired and as the Aussies or English might say, “unwell” – just kind of blah and lousy. So, on several sleepless nights. I have written some wonderful blogs only to have forgotten them by the morning…

Another difficulty I have is just getting started writing. Early in life, I recognized this tendency. For example, I would do heaps of research for a junior high (now middle school) term paper but when it came to actually “putting it all together” in writing I struggled. The process was repeated through college and even in graduate school.   To compensate, I have learned to do series even extended series in my pastoral ministry. This way, I didn’t spend a lot of time just deciding what to do. I knew what I was going to do and tried to accomplish it.

As I mentioned before, the 23rd Psalm is one of my favorites and I frequently meditate on it, especially when sleep evades me. All this to say that for the next few weeks, unless providentially hindered or interrupted, I will attempt to lead us through some of the various and precious truths contained in this familiar Psalm.

I offer these meditations on the Shepherd’s Psalm. Psalm 23 is often referred to as the “Psalm of the Crook.”

The song or Psalm of the Crook is actually Psalm 23. It will not surprise you to know that it is located between Psalm 22 in Psalm 24! Psalm 22 is often called the Song of the Cross. While Psalm 24 is referred to as the Psalm of the Crown. Followers of Jesus recognize the progression: suffering/atonement, shepherding/sanctification, and coronation/glorification.

Consider Psalm 23: “A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

It is significant that Jesus himself uses the imagery of this Psalm and applies it to himself. John 10 quotes Jesus: “I am the good shepherd…” So, the song tells us about Jesus and our relationship with him. Psalm 23 speaks of the Lord in terms of a shepherd. The term used here is not so much of the title as it is a description of the continuous activity of the Lord. The idea is that the Lord Jesus is the one who is shepherding me.

This Psalm can be read profitably in various ways. It is instruction from the Lord; it can be a confession of what we believe concerning the Lord. It could be an affirmation or an encouragement of our faith in the Lord. Some have suggested that it could almost be a confession of our faith and others a minstrel to be the song on life’s journey, giving witness to the grace of God.

You might want to try meditating on it in a variety of circumstances. I frequently recite it from memory as I go to sleep or as an encouragement when I encounter trying situations. I use a Psalm in its entirety and also by considering its individual words and phrases. God often uses the words of the song to reassure me and remind me that I am not alone but that he is with me.

This is a song written by David, King of Israel and “a man after God’s own heart.” The Bible does not depict the life of David as tranquil and placid but rather filled with struggle and turmoil. Bible history informs us of David’s early years when he was a shepherd before God called him to be king. It seems that David never forgot where he came from or how he became king. Perhaps David wrote this song to be used as a reminder of his roots – to lift his eyes to look upon His Shepherd.

So, let us lift our eyes to our Shepherd and resist focusing on the circumstances. If we begin to focus too much on our problems and troubles, they become so large that we cannot see our Lord. But if we look upon our Lord, he becomes so glorious that we are not overcome by our circumstances – We see the Lord, caring for us and shepherding us through them.

Good news or bad news?

Most of us are familiar with the “bad news” of extended waits for obtaining medical care within the VA system. Social media and “real news” reports have cataloged the unacceptable and looooong delays for medical care. I am no stranger to such delays. To be fair, however, I’ve also benefited from very quick responses, some quite recent.

One evening, about a week and a half ago, I had some sensitivity on my shoulder. I asked Judy to investigate. What I thought was an irritation, she diagnosed as “shingles.” As soon as I was able the next morning, I phoned the Nurse at the VA Medical Center in Hampton, Virginia, and asked for an appointment with my primary care physician. I expected an appointment in a week or so. To my surprise, she asked me if I was available almost immediately. I was. The appointment was made and within an hour and a half, I was seeing my doctor. He confirmed Judy’s diagnosis and then prescribed some medicine from the pharmacy.

I was amazed at how swiftly the whole process went. I was not as pleased with the length of time I waited to have the script filled… My physician arranged a follow-up visit with a dermatologist; the next available consult was for almost 2 months in the future… Fast-forward 9 days, another hastily arranged primary care appointment to confirm the conquest of the shingles virus. Praise the Lord I have been spared a long and painful ordeal.

During this same time, a series of administrative errors, combined with the end of the VA fiscal year, cause an interruption in the provision of my home health care services. Normally, our helper comes in the morning and evening of each day to help with my routine care. The aid relieves Judy from some of the arduous and heavy work of my daily care. Despite my efforts on the phone and in person, the VA had not authorized the nursing agency to care for me. Without the authorization, no care could be extended.

Finally, at the end of last week and after a particularly difficult time due to other domestic difficulties. It was apparent that we needed help immediately. Again, in the good providence of God, our aid, who had been without work for a week, called to inquire about his return. After a brief discussion, arrangements were made for him to work directly for us until the VA debacle could be rectified. He was happy to be working again and we were thankful for the relief. Again, praise the Lord for his care and provision.

It’s interesting that when I summarize these events, I filter out the emotions, drama, and grief. These have been very difficult days for us, and, especially for Judy. I am very thankful for her love and care. God has truly blessed me with a wonderful woman, who continues to receive the short end of the “for better and for worse.” She deserves far better.

On October 10, I head off to the Richmond VA Medical Center for what I hope to be a minor procedure and then some respite time. Following this Judy will enjoy a well-deserved and hard-earned break. Lord willing, she’ll spend a few days painting in the picturesque setting of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, before heading south to Tennessee where she will visit with our daughter and her family. Hopefully, by the time she returns the VA debacle will be resolved and things can go back to “normal.”

Normal – what is normal?

For me, I might define it as an indefinite time, when I am not overly influenced by outside factors or pressures, either positive or negative. But having said that, I cannot think of such a time. Even though I might long for it, normality is not reality. It’s a myth – even a cruel hoax.

The reason for this is that we live in a broken world. Look around. Read the headlines; watch some news clips. Life is ugly and messy and certainly not static. Regarding our personal experiences, it seems apparent that the one thing we can count on is change. Life is full of surprises (good and bad), unexpected developments (again, both good and bad). Those things which seem to please us, we quickly regard as “good” and those things which disappoint us are thought of as “bad.”

The problem is that we really don’t know good from bad. What I mean is that frequently something which seems to be bad ends up being good, and vice versa. Our perspective is limited by many factors, but especially by our proclivities. As our circumstances change, our preferences are altered. To complicate things even further, our preferences are negatively influenced by experience, outside influences, and especially self-centeredness.

What we really need is a sure guide to help us navigate the negative and harmful enticements and pressures which confront us. It’s instructive for me to consider the words of Hebrews 12.1 – 3, which explains the mindset of Jesus as he faced and experienced extremely evil and overwhelming circumstances.

Hebrews 12:1–3 (ESV)

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Here are some things I’ve gleaned from these verses. I’ll try to remember them and follow them in the uncertain days ahead.

  • Sin is a great hindrance as well as an enemy which is close at hand.
  • Our race has been “set before us.” God both rules and over-rules; all things proceed according to his plan.
  • Jesus not only saved us through his suffering on the cross but also sets for us an example of faith:
  1. anticipate future benefits,
  2. despise what is shameful,
  3. and recognize the presence of God.

So, as I anticipate the coming days and weeks, I will try to remember:

I live in a broken world as a broken person; sin abounds. Circumstances are not random; God is in control; he will work out his good plan for me. In the meantime, I will continue to trust in Christ and follow his example of anticipating a glorious future, while I resist what is shameful, and rejoice in the presence and promises of God.