Christianity 201

December 2, 2016

For His Name’s Sake

sheep in green pasturePsalm 23 is one of the best known passages of scripture. It is familiar to both believers and the unchurched, and has brought comfort to millions over the years. In this Psalm the Lord is described as a shepherd who does these things:

  • He makes me lie down in meadows of fresh grass
  • He leads me beside calm waters
  • He restores my soul
  • He leads me along the paths of righteousness

At this point the form address changes from He to You:

  • You are with me
  • Your shepherd’s staff brings comfort (security)
  • You prepare a banquet for me as my enemies watch
  • You anoint my head with oil

The results of all this are:

  • I have everything I need (lack nothing)
  • My cup is full to overflowing
  • I have the expectation of His goodness and mercy with me daily
  • I have a certain hope that His house is my home for my whole life (or forever)

(Wording above is an amalgam of various translations.)

That covers the entire Psalm except for two phrases. One of course, concerns walking through the deep, sunless valley of death. The other is our focus today:

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  (v. 3b, NIV)

Other translations have:

  • You are true to your name (CEV) or your Word (Message)
  • for the ·good [sake] of his ·name [reputation] (Expanded Bible)
  • for the sake of his reputation (NET)
  • bringing honor to his name (NLT)
  • truth and righteousness echo His name (The Voice)

Elliott’s Bible Commentary says: “God’s providential dealings are recognized as in accordance with His character for great graciousness.” In other words, his provision in this Psalm is simply a natural consequence of nature in general and his compassion specifically. It’s who he is, which should remind us of the popular worship song, Good, Good Father (see below).

The Benson Commentary states the phrase means, “Not for any merit in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his mercy, faithfulness, and goodness.” As Max Lucado reminds us in a book of the same name, “It’s not about me.”  Matthew Poole reiterates this: “not for any worth in me, but merely for the demonstration and glory of his justice, and faithfulness, and goodness.”

Barnes Notes extend this thought:

For His own sake; or, that His name may be honored. It is not primarily on their account; it is not solely that they may be saved. It is that He may be honored:

(a) in their being saved at all;

(b) in the manner in which it is done;

(c) in the influence of their whole life, under His guidance, as making known His own character and perfections.

Finally, Matthew Henry would argue that the previous verse is key to understanding the whole Psalm, namely that this is the testimony of a dying saint who would say,

Having had such experience of God’s goodness to me all my days, in six troubles and in seven, I will never distrust him, no, not in the last extremity; the rather because all he has done for me hitherto was not for any merit or desert of mine, but purely for his name’s sake, in pursuance of his word, in performance of his promise, and for the glory of his own attributes and relations to his people. That name therefore shall still be my strong tower, and shall assure me that he who has led me, and fed me, all my life long, will not leave me at last.

So many times we pray and our prayers may not be entirely unselfish, but their us-focused instead of God-focused. The full accomplishment of God working in our lives should be that His name is honored and glorified.

“I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols.
 – Isaiah 42:8 NLT

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus
 – Col. 3:17a NASB


We’ve looked at Psalm 23 before:


For Psalm 23 in all English translations at Bible Gateway, click this link to get to verse 1, and then change the very last character in the URL in your browser to move to the multiple translations of verse 2, etc.

The classic commentaries on verse 3, with the exception of Matthew Henry were sourced at BibleHub.

May 10, 2015

For Mother’s Day (Because God is not Gender-Specific)

This was shared in the opening of our worship gathering this morning. Many years ago a popular Christian book portrayed God as a woman, and some people were quite outraged. But there is a variety of imagery for God used in Holy Scripture. Someone observed tongue in cheek, “Just because it says God gathers us under his wings, doesn’t mean God is a chicken.”

Although the church has used the pronoun “He” for centuries — because English lacks a suitable substitute — we see the character of God extending far beyond any male-specific definition. Also, some people see the God of the Old Testament as violent compared to the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild;” but in these verses from Isaiah and Psalms, we see the compassion and love of the God of the First Covenant.

Our Gentle Patient God

(An Invocation Prayer for Mother’s Day)

by Laura Steen

Gentle, Patient God
Today we thank God for the gift of mothers and those who mother.
Isaiah wrote that God is a mother to us, comforting and carrying us in her arms.

As one whom a mother comforts, so I will comfort you. Isaiah 66:13.

Gentle, patient God
thank you for your tender care.

Isaiah also wrote that God will never forget us and that he
knows each one of us just as a mother knows her own children.

Can a woman forget her baby at her breast, feel no pity for the child she has borne?
 Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you. Isaiah 49:15

Gentle, patient God
thank you for your tender care.

David wrote that in Gods presence, he was quiet and at peace,
trusting his God like a child safe in its mothers arms.

No I hold myself in quiet and silence, like a child in its mothers arms. Psalm 131:2

Gentle, patient God
thank you for your tender care.

Jesus spoke of himself as a mother, longing to wrap his arms around us like a
mother-hen gathering her chicks under her wings.

How often have I longed to gather your children together,
as a hen gathers her chicks under her
wings… Matthew 23:37

Gentle, patient God
thank you for your tender care.

May we have the power to grasp how wide and deep
and high and long your love is for your children
fully expressed in all that Jesus has done for us,
and may we share this love with others.

In His name we pray, Amen

May 17, 2013

Comfort From the Word

I tend to read the scriptures for instruction and teaching. I’m looking for passages that engage my intellect and illustrate the inter-connectedness and symmetry of scripture; not to mention scriptures I can share with personal contacts and blog readers.

I wrote about that in a blog post that has actually run twice here, sharing a popular verse of scripture, II Tim 3:16,  in three translations and then ending with my paraphrase:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

But while this list includes four benefits of studying the word, it is not inclusive. The point is that whatever we think of when we think of the Bible, it is always so much more.

In Ps. 23:4 we read:

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

What is the ‘rod and staff’ spoken of here?  Most translations, including The Message preserve this imagery:

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.  (The Message)

Matthew Henry affirms that this imagery is pertinent to the phrase that precedes it; that the protection of the Lord described here is that needed in the face of death:

It is a comfort to the saints, when they come to die, that God takes cognizance of them (he knows those that are his), that he will rebuke the enemy, that he will guide them with his rod and sustain them with his staff. The gospel is called the rod of Christ’s strength (Ps. 110:2), and there is enough in that to comfort the saints when they come to die, and underneath them are the everlasting arms.

Ultimately, our comfort is God Himself. The Voice version, which tends to add things to the text, simplifies it in this verse:

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
near with Your protection and guidance,
I am comforted.  (The Voice)

This echoes Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (KJV)

a verse which in many ways parallels the first verse of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd…

This itself echoes Psalm 121:2

My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.  (NIV)

This comfort should sustain us at all times; not just as we reach the end of life; though it is often at the end of life that people turn to God.

Now going back to where I started, many times in my day, both here and in my personal Bible study time, I find myself engaging scripture more as an intellectual pursuit than to seek comfort, solace and strength from its pages. My faith is way up in my head somewhere and isn’t penetrating my heart.

Or there is also the “This is really deep stuff; who can I share this with?” mentality that sees the truths about God more as a type of theological email forward to be sent on to ten people who must promise to send it ten others.  “This is so good, I must send it to Bob.”

The result of this is what I am experiencing as I write this: In times of anxiety, stress or fear, I sometimes feel I have woefully inadequate resources at my immediate internal disposal because I have not “banked” the truths of God’s comfort and life-giving strength. I find myself totally broken because I have studied God’s Word enough to know the comfort of God is there to be taken, but living in the middle of a disconnect, not being able to draw on it as I should.

I don’t need God’s rod or staff to drive away 3rd party oppressors as much as I need to be hit over the head with it as a reminder, “Hey…I am right here; I am the strength you need.”

Do some of you resonate with this? Is it possible you’re attracted here to the “201” nature of this page — perhaps even looking for Christianity 301 or Christianity 401 — but are missing the “Christianity pre-Kindergarten” principle that Jesus loves us?

Yes, we need to search the scriptures and study to know the core doctrines and history that we learn from its pages. But we also need to know how to find comfort from the Word; because in those times, all our Bible knowledge and ability to explain theology will not hold us up. We need to know the reality of  “still waters” spoken of elsewhere in the 23rd Psalm.  

I know I do.

March 15, 2012

Philip Yancey on Pain and Suffering

I really wish Philip Yancey blogged more often. His reflections are always fresh, insightful and pastoral. But between books, the blog and articles in Christian periodicals he does provide us with a large body of literature sharing his unique perspective.  Instead of reading what follows, I hope you’ll link to the fuller context and even explore more of the blog. Yancey is, without doubt, my favorite Christian author.

This is taken from two posts. The first section is from a fairly recent blog post, Following a Trail of Tears

On March 5 Janet and I leave for Japan, where I will speak at several events commemorating the earthquake and tsunami.  We’ve all seen videos that seem taken from a special-effects horror movie: of ships, houses, and trucks tossed down the streets like toys, of a modern airport suddenly submerged under water, of a nuclear reactor tower exploding in a thick black cloud.

While preparing for this trip I’ve been reminded again of the magnitude of the 2011 disaster in which 20,000 people died.  The wall of water reached a maximum height of 132 feet—as tall as a twelve-story building!—destroying 270,000 buildings in its path and forcing hundreds of thousands of people into temporary housing.  A year later, many still live in those temporary structures, and it will cost at least $200 billion to replace the damaged buildings.  When I think of the enormous effort involved in addressing the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, I can hardly fathom the challenges facing Japan…

…I have spoken in some tough places, such as Virginia Tech after the shootings and Mumbai the night after the terrorist attacks.  Never have I faced a tragedy so massive in scale.  I’ve learned, though, that for the people involved, scale doesn’t matter so much.  Pain zooms in very personally: a child swept away from a kindergarten playground, pets and livestock abandoned as their owners had to flee, a family business destroyed in an instant, a teenager terrified by the aftershocks that hit weekly, everyone frightened by the invisible threat of radiation.  For a theme my hosts chose the title of my last book, What Good Is God?—an appropriate question for people who have endured such an event…

And then he shares this:

The Apostle Paul gave us a clear formula for how we should respond to those in suffering and need:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” 

May we channel that comfort to the people of Japan, whose suffering has not ended.

The theme is quite similar at the end of a description of a tour that he did in Australia and New Zealand in September, titled Notes from the Great Southland:

…One of the sketches performed by the actors comes from the play Shadowlands.  “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world,” proclaims the confident professor C. S. Lewis from a lectern.  Yet later in the sketch, as he comes to terms with Joy Davidman’s imminent death, and then tries to comfort her son Douglas, his confidence has melted into confusion and doubt.  The book he wrote about Joy’s illness and death, A Grief Observed, has a very different tone than his earlier treatise The Problem of Pain.

Rather than megaphone, I prefer the image of pain as a hearing aid: while the Bible generally ignores the messy question of causation, it encourages us to “tune in” to the redemptive power of suffering.  Some respond by switching off the hearing aid and turning away from God.  Others follow the Apostle Paul’s example in allowing God to wrest goodness and growth from the bad things of this world.  Even wintry times offer reasons for hope.  We saw this most clearly at the site of our last event, held in New Zealand’s second largest city, Christchurch, site of a devastating earthquake last February…

…Often after a natural disaster, communities look to churches for help.  For example, six years after Hurricane Katrina, long after the federal government has moved on, churches in Houston and Dallas still send weekend teams to repair and rebuild houses in New Orleans.  In New Zealand, denominations banded together, assigned response teams to the neediest areas, and organized a food bank and tool bank.  More than 700 aftershocks have hit the area, creating an oppressive mood of fear and anxiety.  In a city whose very name expresses their identity, the churches hope to convey

“the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

As I told the group gathered in Christchurch, on the surface winter looks like death.  Trees once resplendent with leaves now appear as dead sticks.  Yet botanists tell us that most plant growth occurs during winter, below the surface, as roots spread out and absorb the moisture and nutrients they will need for the vitality of spring and summer.  May it be so, not just in Christchurch, New Zealand, but all across that nation and its larger cousin Australia, once known as “the great Southland of the Holy Spirit.”

…to which I would add, ‘and in Canada, the United States, the UK and everywhere else!’

If you’ve never read any of Philip’s books, may I recommend The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace as two good titles to begin with.

If you particularly resonate with Philip’s response to his world travels (as described above) you might enjoy the new title What Good is God? The title is rather provocative, and each of the 20 chapters consists of a description of the details which brought him to a particular place and time, paired with the transcript of the address he gave to that particular group of people, for a total of ten different locations and events.

June 30, 2011

Lord, May I Be Worthy of You

Jim Greer has a whole series on his blog called “400 Year Old Prayers.”  This one ran recently, and I’ve included his introduction, and also his link to the entire series which appears at the end.

The following prayer is from the largely forgotten deposit of the Puritan Movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It testifies to the richness and color of evangelical thought and language, as well as their devotion to the Savior. This prayer and others can be found in a book titled “The Valley of Vision”, by Arthur Bennet. I have included them in this blog so that others can use them in their own prayer life as a springboard to a more faithful walk with Jesus. These prayers are 300-400 years old! They were written in old English, but that should not get in the way if you don’t let it.

Need of Jesus

Lord Jesus,

I am blind, be my light,
ignorant, be my wisdom,
self-willed, be my mind

Open my ear to grasp quickly your Spirit’s voice,
and delightfully run after His beckoning hand;

Melt my conscience that no hardness remain,
make it alive to evil’s slightest touch;
When Satan approaches may I flee to your wounds,
and there cease to tremble at all alarms.

Be my good shepherd to lead me into green pastures of your Word,
and cause me to lie down beside the rivers of its comforts.

Fill me with peace, that no disquieting worldly gales may ruffle the calm surface of my soul.

Your cross was upraised to be my refuge,

Your blood streamed forth to wash me clean,

Your death occurred to give me a surety,

Your name is my property to save me,

By you all heaven is poured into my heart,
but it is too narrow to comprehend your love.

I was a stranger, an outcast, a slave, a rebel
but your cross has brought me near,
has softened my heart,
has made me your Father’s child,
has admitted me into your family,
has made me joint heir with yourself.

O that I may love you as you have loved me,
that I may walk worthy of you, my Lord,
that I may reflect the image of heaven’s first-born.

May I always see your beauty with the clear eye of faith,
and feel the power of your Spirit in my heart,
for unless he move mightily in me
no inward fire will be kindled.

For More of these old Prayers, visit our prayer page http://notforitchingears.com/prayer-of-the-week/400-year-old-prayers-1/

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