Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You Anoint My Head With Oil

You anoint my head with oil (Psalm 23:5b)

In Scripture, anointing with oil carried two purposes: to heal, both spiritually and physically, and to set apart for God's use. David, with his unique place in history, must surely have been referring to both uses when he sang of the Shepherd anointing his own head. David, who would be King, but who felt wounded physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It hadn't been that long ago, after all, that David was literally anointed by the prophet Samuel to become King over Israel. 

It makes sense that anointing oil be used for the purpose of both healing and calling, and speaks to the way God chooses and cultivates those who will serve Him. 

As humans, we are inheritors of the Fall, broken at birth. We are born into sin, into a world of disease and pestilence and death. We are, in short, born wounded -- physically and spiritually dying from Day One. 

When we recognize we are the Shepherd's, and that He is our Lord, He anoints us for His use. Through His Spirit, He anoints us first for healing -- a balm and salve for our naturally broken state -- and then to set us apart. As David discovered, this is a part of the Joy of belonging to the Good Shepherd.

When we work for the World, we are used up and discarded. The world will take the best of us and, when it's through, leave us to die. But God isn't like that. God prepares us with a healing, and then marks us as one of His Own. So marked, the end of our walk on earth isn't merely death, but a homecoming. "You are mine," God says in His anointing. "Not just My sheep or servants, but my children." 

Anointing, then -- in both its healing and sanctification -- is inclusion. Inclusion into the service, and the Family, of the Almighty.

Monday, September 15, 2014

You Prepare A Table Before Me

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies... (Psalm 23:5a)

As David continues painting a picture of a Good Shepherd, the first part of verse 5 finds the narrator still in the Valley. Still in danger, with enemies nearby, the sheep, however, remains unworried. 

Mealtime is something I tend to take for granted. Whether I'm secure in my own home, or even out on the town, I can sit down to a meal and not really be concerned about potential enemies surrounding me. I have a feeling this is true for most of us -- which means that we, perhaps, can't quite grasp the enormity of what's being promised here in verse 5. 

I have a friend, a war veteran, who suffers post-traumatic stress. I didn't know how deeply this was affecting him until recently. I didn't know, for example, that he was unable to even go out in public without his nerves being on edge. If he went out to eat, assuming he could, his eyes were on the door, on the windows, on everyone in the restaurant. His back was to the wall to give him as much control over his surrounding as possible. He didn't feel safe. He didn't feel secure. He didn't feel at leisure to simply enjoy his meal. Physically, he wasn't at war anymore. But nobody told his nerves. 

I think about my friend, and I try to picture myself on edge, constantly wary and on the lookout for potential threats to my safety. Most of us can't even imagine living like that, but my friend can't forget it. Now, when I read Psalm 23:5, I think of my friend. I think of a man knowingly surrounded by enemies -- by people who want nothing more than to kill him.

This was, for a long time, David's life as well. On the run, hiding where he could from the king, always looking over his shoulder. Yet, in trusting that God had more for him, he knew he wouldn't be let down. He knew the Shepherd would never let anything happen to him. And so, feeling safe and secure, even as the eyes of enmity stared down on him, he could sit at the table prepared by the Shepherd Himself, and enjoy.

Chances are pretty good, your enemies in this life are not people who want to literally kill you. Chances are, your enemies are not even people. Ephesians 6:12 says we "do not wrestle against flesh and blood..." but against spiritual forces. In every way, these forces are actually worse than what we could ever face physically, because their goal is an eternal death. Yet, David reminds us, don't be anxious. Don't worry about these forces. They can't do anything do you that the Lord has not allowed.

He's in control. He's got it covered. That's the thing about following the Shepherd: when He sets the table, no matter where you are, you are safe to enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rod and Staff

Yea, 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. (Psalm 23:4)

Two simple tools of a shepherd, and yet in them, David finds comfort even in the darkest times. 

The rod is in part a weapon, keeping at bay the devouring enemy. And in part, it is a symbol of the shepherd's authority over the sheep, used to mark the tenth sheep for tithe and to guide them through the entrance of the fold. There is evidence that the scepter held by Eastern kings had its origins in this tool, signifying protection, power, and authority. 

The staff was also useful as a weapon, but even more importantly, was used for balance on difficult terrain, allowing the shepherd to rightly lead his sheep, and as a corrective tool to gently guide the sheep where they needed to go. 

In short, as long as the sheep kept to the shepherd, they never needed to worry about anything. He would lead them and protect them, finding them good grazing ground and making sure they were safe from predators. No wonder this was such a comfort for David!

Surrender isn't something that comes easily to many of us. But isn't it easier knowing the Shepherd has our well-being at heart, and is more than capable to lead us right where we need to be?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Through the Valley of the Shadow

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me... (Psalm 23:4a)

The reality is, the world we live in offers much to fear, and precious little comfort to go with it. The average person is left with only a few choices for how to live in this world, then. We can ignore it -- that is, pretend the trouble isn't as great as it is. We can choose (because it IS a choice) to live in fear. We can become fatalists, believing that whatever's going to happen will happen, and there's nothing we can do about it anyway. Or, we can believe that whatever does happen, we serve a God who can make it to work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Following the Shepherd isn't about ignoring the trouble around you; it is about acknowledging that He is greater than whatever the world can throw at us. Evil will do what evil does. Evil men will behave in an evil manner. 

When David talks about the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we recognize that, on some level, we tread that same valley each and every day. Death always hangs overhead, to some extent or another. Even when we're not thinking about it. From accidents to ailments to the acts of men, the number of things which could rob us of our lives while we're not paying attention can, if we let it, be truly daunting. We needn't pretend those things don't exist -- but we needn't fear them either. 

You have two things the rest of this big, bad world does not have, and they are all the advantage you'll ever need. You have the knowledge that death is not the end for us, but merely a step back toward Home. And you have a loving Shepherd who, even in the valley of the shadow of death, stands with you, walks ahead of you, and leads you where He knows is best.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When It's All Said And Done

William Wilberforce was a man who showed us what faith looks like when we allow it to permeate our superficial lives and saturate our whole selves. After finding God in 1785, Wilberforce began a journey that would last the rest of his life. He became concerned about other men -- and more to the point, about what men were doing to one another. Two years after becoming a Christian, Wilberforce met a group of anti-slavery abolitionists and found his calling. For 26 years, William fought in the British Parliament to end the atrocity of slavery until the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807. He would continue to fight until failing health forced him to leave Parliament. Through his efforts and those of others, the Slavery Abolition Act was finally passed 26 years after the Slave Trade Act, in 1833.

On July 29, 1833 -- just three days after hearing the passage of the Abolition Act was assured, William Wilberforce died. He died never witnessing the freedom he fought for; never having seen the fruit of his life's work. For nearly fifty-two years, William fought against prevailing social wisdom, against popular opinion, against all odds, winning hearts as he went, because God had called him to do so. A month after he died, the act was passed, and slavery was abolished in England.

I don't know what was on William's mind as he passed from this life to enter God's Kingdom, but I like to think it was these words from Paul:

 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

This is the passage I want on my tombstone; my personal inspiration. It's also the question I ask myself every day. Am I fighting the good fight? Am I keeping the faith? Am I worthy of a crown of Righteousness, laid up in Heaven? And I pray every day that, whether I'll ever see while alive the fruits of my labor, when it's my time, I'll meet Jesus smiling and know He was proud of me.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Drive-Thru Jesus

"Yeah, I'll have a better job, please. Happy family on the side. An order of good health. Better make that five orders. Do you have any World Peace?"

"There's gonna be a wait on the World Peace."

"Hmm. Nevermind. Just the other stuff then. Thanks."

How's your prayer life? What is prayer? What's it for? Is it just a time when we ask God for the things we want or need, the Almighty sitting patiently at the window, pen and order pad in hand? Or is there more to it? I'll be honest: sometimes, my own prayer life can feel more like I'm sitting at a drive-thru, just telling God what I need, with an "Oh, thanks," thrown in for good measure.

Maybe, if we're feeling super-pious, we'll throw the word "Lord" into our wish list a few hundred times, just to make sure He knows we're talking to Him.

Is this you, too?

Don't be embarrassed. This is part of our very real humanness. This is part of what we slowly overcome as we turn our lives over, bit by bit, to the Lordship of Christ. As we get to know Him better, as we get to know ourselves better, we learn how to trust Him. We learn that trusting ourselves, going after our wants and perceived needs, is what got mankind into this whole mess in the first place.

We learn that His will -- and not our own -- is what we truly need in our lives. If you want to enrich your prayer life, take that earlier scenario -- that whole drive-thru thing -- and reverse the roles. Put yourself in the position of listener, and God in the role of the one with the orders.

Maybe that's why Jesus, in teaching us how to pray, has us begin by recognizing God's true place:

In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name. (Matthew 6:9)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blotted Out

 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:19-21)

I love the phrase, "blotted out." It shows the power of forgiveness in Christ. It says that when God forgives, it's not a simple matter of simply deciding not to punish you for your past; but a promise that those sins are no longer a part of who you are, as far as He's concerned.

When I was a kid, I had this terrifying idea of Heaven and judgement. I had this picture in my head of God sitting on His throne, me standing there, small and scared, watching the movie of my life as He picked apart my every action. Mortifying! Then, when it was all over, all said and done, He would weigh all that sin against the grace and mercy of His son, and I'd escape Hell.

But "blotted out" tells us that's not what's going to happen. "Blotted out" says when I get to Heaven, what He's going to see is Christ in me, and then stack up how I've lived for Him. All that sin, all that filth, gone, as though it never happened.

See, God sees what we do. He knows when we sin, and that sin just piles up, slowly adding to the destruction of our immortal souls. That's life before repentance, and without Christ, that is the criteria on which we will be judged. But in Christ, we have the power to turn from that sin, and in the turning, leave it behind. And as Psalm 103 tells us, that transgression against His holiness is removed from us "as far as the East is from the West." It's no longer a part of us. It no longer holds us back, and is no longer even recognized by God.

How refreshing.