Monday, May 25, 2015

Reflections on Psalm 23

Psalm 23, it’s a familiar Psalm. It’s probably one of the first Psalms that many of us memorized. It’s so familiar to us that we say it by wrote. I can still quote it in the King James Version of the Bible. It’s a Psalm that for many, may have lost it’s power due to over exposure. I know it had for me until I had someone walk me through it and show me different aspects of the Psalm that show just exactly how deep this simple Psalm is. I have grown to love the Holman Christian Standard version of this particular one:

A Davidic psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths
for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
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.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
as long as I live.

There’s just something about how the HCSB translation that hit me with meaning. Some if it we already know, like that the Lord is our Shepherd. Not only does this passage just tell us that He is our Shepherd, but it tells us how.
The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.

He provides all we need. I love the phrase in here “there is nothing I lack”. We can have total, absolute assurance that we will be provided for.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;

I know that deer love green pastures to lay down in. When we’d go to my father’s best friends place in the country, walking around in area’s that don’t have much human traffic, you see deer beds and deer paths. I imagine it’s very similar for sheep. The green pastures not only mean food, but a soft place to rest, a cool place to rest. He LETS us have this blessing.
He leads me beside quiet waters

Still waters run deep. He leads us to a place where we can get our fill of living water. When we rely on God, and trust and believe in God, we have living water given abundantly to us. Verse two, as a whole shows the caretaker side of God. Instead of leading us to sparse pastures and little streams of water, we are lead to abundance. We are provided for not just a little, but a lot.
He renews my life;

The green pastures and the still waters are refreshing-renewing to us. He is constantly leading us to be renewed, whether it’s in our spiritual life, physical life, family life, or any aspect of us. When we let God work, he will renew our lives. He’ll make them fresh again.
He leads me along the right paths
for His name’s sake.

We are not lead astray. We are not lead wrong. We are lead down the paths that He knows we need to go. As Christians, everything that we do is to be for God’s glory. When we rely on God, He will make sure that the path we are on is the exact path we need for our lives. For everything on that path will lead to God’s glory.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.

This is probably one of my favorite parts of this Psalm. Tough times will come. No one is immune to them. We have all been through them, but He is our protector. The KJV says it like this “Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” We know that God is with us. He won’t leave us. We are only in danger in the darkest places when we stray from God. If we keep focused on Him, we have nothing to fear. No danger, no evil, nothing at all. The Rod and staff of the shepherd were not only for the protection of the sheep from predators, but tools used to keep the sheep from leaving the flock.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

We live among enemies. We fight against enemies. They may not be a person, or people group. They could be our thoughts, our tendencies, anything that we can let come between us and God. He won’t put anything between us, but we can let the world influence what we do, how we think, how we process information. The world will give us biases that can be harmful to our relationship with God. But God has anointed us. He has marked us (for lack of a better analogy) as His. We are set apart from the world when we are His.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
as long as I live.

The Shepherd looks after the sheep. He keeps his eyes on the flock. One way that God keeps us on the right path is by pursuing us, and He is 100% good and 100% faithful love.
There is a lot of attention, love, guidance and trust that goes into the relationship of a shepherd to the sheep. This Psalm shows us that we can depend on all of those from God, even when things are the darkest, even when the enemy is trying to burst in and overtake us. If we rely on God, just as a sheep relies on the shepherd, then we can have a life full of blessing, and void of fear. I know I have a ways to go with the void of fear part. I know I don’t rely on God for everything. I tend to worry. David had it right with this Psalm. Trust God. He will provide for us, bless us, protect us, pursue us and keep us with Him always.

Friday, April 3, 2015

And Who is My Neighbor?

Over the last 5 or 6 months, there has been a lot of things happening all around me. A lot of things that I have had no control over, a lot of things that I haven't been shy about talking about. Most of it being asking for prayer, and living with a great and terrible daily concern and even fear. But even overall, wanting to know what I, as just one person, can do to help. Through everything that my (former) city has been through, one story has been paramount in my mind. One teaching of Jesus that has stuck out over all. I've always been able to explain it, but have never really put it into practice on a daily level before this last year. I always think of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In the book of Luke, a lawyer tries to tempt Jesus by asking Him which was the great commandment. I love how Jesus replies.

25 And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” 29 But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” ”
~ Luke 10:25-29

I love that question: “who is my neighbor?” Who am I to love?

In typical Jesus teaching, we get a great story with a huge moral. To understand how powerful the story is, we do need to understand some of the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. There was a lot of hatred and animosity between the two people groups that bible.org states started back when the remnant of 43,000 returned to Israel after being exiled, and has festered ever since. It's an ethnic/racial divide among people who live not far from each other. Neither group wanted to have much to do with the other, and Jewish travelers would often go out of their way to go around Samaria instead of the shorter way of going through Samaria. I can think of a few places that this takes place now, and some in our own country-as devastating as that is. Jesus gives us the story of the Good Samaritan.

30 Jesus replied and said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. 31 And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ 36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
~ Luke 10:30-37

Jesus is telling us a few things here: Don't be like the priest or the Levite, help someone in need when you have the ability to, even if it's not what you'd deem “enough” still help, help with no regard to who the person is. Love all. Period. End of discussion. Cross the boundaries that have kept us in chains with whom we help. It doesn't matter if they are Bill Gates, or the homeless man holding a sign. If we have the ability to help in their time of need, we are to help. We are to “go and do the same”. Show mercy. Be tender hearted. Be willing to love. Help rebuild a burnt down city. Help comfort a woman who's business was ruined by hatred. Let children know there is still a reason to smile. Use the talents that God has given you to pass on His love with out expectation of anything in return. We may be giving like the widow with her two mites, out of our need to honor God, but His blessings are immeasurable when we give.


When I read this story, I see all of this. I truly do. The man who was the neighbor to the man robbed was simply “the one who showed him mercy”. Have I shown mercy today? Do I show mercy often? I pray that we all learn to love like this. I know I need work with this topic myself