Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Your Goodness And Love Will Follow

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.. (Psalm 23:6)

It can be easy, as a Christian, to spend a lot of time looking forward to the Afterlife. To Heaven. What could possibly sound as appealing, to those who love God, than the prospect of spending Eternity with Him? But you know, the first part of Psalm 23:6 reminds me that we don't have to wait for death to enjoy life with our Lord.

The NIV translates that section as "
Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life."

When you commit to a life following Christ, you're inviting Him to dwell with you, to share your life. That's what Christians mean when we say we have a "relationship" with Him. It means He is there. It means we can talk to Him. We can enjoy His presence. 

So often, we get so caught up in our day-to-day lives, it's easy to forget He is literally with us. Because we can't see Him by our sides, it's easy to think of Him as being far away; as being someone we can only reach during our devotions or those quiet moments of prayer. But if you allow yourself to see, you will find His goodness and mercy follows you.

You can live an abundant life, filled with the goodness, love and mercy of Christ, right now. You don't have to wait for Heaven. He is there with you, if you just look for Him. 


Let this be an encouragement. No matter what's going on today, no matter what you have to do, your Lord walks by your side. He is with you in that meeting you've been dreading at work. He's with you in the crowded grocery store, when all you want to do is pack up your kids and go back home. He's with you as He nudges you to talk to that lonely person at school or work.

He is with you, once you find Him, with all His goodness and mercy, all the days of your life.

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Cup Overflows

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5)

We've talked before about what an interesting, amazing picture is painted in verse 5 of the 23rd Psalm: Sitting amongst your enemies, dining comfortably in the presence and safety of your Lord. This last phrase completes the picture: "my cup overflows." 

It is here that we begin to understand the glory of God's blessing -- how His grace is in His every act. It's enough that He is our Shepherd. It's enough to know He is wish us even in the valley of the shadow of death. Enough that He not only protects us from our enemies, but prepares a table in their presence. But now we see that when God blesses, He gives above and beyond mere need. Indeed, He so delights to give good things to His children, that He just continues to do so. 

But note here: He doesn't make the enemies disappear. He doesn't pluck us from the Valley. He could, but does not. Jesus promised in John 16:33 that we would have trouble, and we see that, even in His presence, the trouble remains all around us. But just look at the rest of what Jesus tells us!

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

I believe this is the meaning of the overflowing cup of Psalm 23:5: that you and I and the whole world might get a glimpse of God's power and authority over the evil on earth. Here is the big, bad world, controlled for a time by darkness. And here's God in the midst of it, blessing His children beyond measure. It's a poke in the eye of the evil one that makes me smile, but it's also a reflection of God's glory and greatness! And of His grace.

Grace is when we get what we do not deserve, and in verse 5, we see a filling of what we don't deserve, beyond the limit of even the cup He has placed before us.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Stubborn Children In the Hands of a Loving God

Yesterday was one of those moments in the life of a parent. That moment when something silly -- stupid, even -- becomes something subtly heartbreaking. The situation: my daughter got caught with a candy wrapper. Though she claimed she was just throwing it away, circumstances -- and her overall demeanor -- suggested otherwise. But, she continued to deny any wrongdoing. A half hour later, I went out to the kitchen and noticed a piece of candy on the floor -- the very same kind which would have been found inside that empty wrapper. We confronted her with the evidence, which, when combined with the other circumstances of the evening, only solidified her guilt. But she wouldn't budge.

Several story changes and many tears later, she still wouldn't admit what she'd done. Of course, from a Mommy and Daddy perspective, the actual crime was nothing. She would have been reminded that we don't take food, particularly sweets, without permission, and possibly lost an after-school snack for a day. The big deal, for us, was simply that she wasn't telling the truth about it. This went on far longer than it ever would have, simply because she wouldn't admit what she'd done. And because of that, she got into more trouble, losing privileges for the week.

And the whole time, there she was, crying those big tears out of those huge blue eyes, breaking my heart with every drop. As her daddy, it killed me seeing her like that. I'll readily admit it took everything in me, during the conversation, to not just scoop her up into my arms, tell her everything was okay and that I believed her (even though I didn't), and send her off to bed with a conciliatory cookie. Yeah, I'm a sucker. I guess that's love.

The thing of it was, what I really and truly wanted was for her to simply be honest with us. To simply confess what she'd done and apologize. That one, simple thing, and I would happily have erased every indication of guilt. I'd have happily picked her up and kissed her tears and told her we loved her and forgave her, and always would. That she'd been forgiven even before she fessed up. But it was important to us that she confess. Vital, in fact. Not just for our own satisfaction, but in order for her to grow as a person. In order for her to learn to take responsibility for what she'd done. Because, without that understanding -- without taking that responsibility, our forgiveness is next to meaningless. She learns nothing, continues to justify what she'd done wrong, and keeps facing the consequences over and over again.

Maybe it makes me a bad parent, but in that moment, if she'd simply said, "I'm sorry," there probably would have been no punishment at all. It's just a stupid piece of candy, and all I wanted to do was comfort my little girl.

It was one of those moments in which I truly believed I finally understood God. At least, I finally understood His unconditional love and desire to forgive. I finally understood, in some very small way, His own heartbreak. Imagine, there He is -- having already paid the penalty for what we've done wrong -- just waiting on us to acknowledge it. To simply confess. To say, "Lord, yes, I've done something wrong. I've disobeyed you. I have sinned and turned away from what was right."

He waits for that moment with each one of us, wanting nothing more than to scoop us up into His arms, wipe away our tears of guilt, and say, "I love you. I forgive you."

 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8 & 9)

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.