Christianity 201

May 16, 2021

The Enduring and Beloved Shepherd Psalm

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Psalm 23 in The Message Bible (since most of you know it in more traditional texts)

1-3 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

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.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

From Melvin Banks at Urban Faith:

A professional speaker recited Psalm 23 and people went wild with applause. A saintly old man quoted it, no one applauded, but tears filled their eyes. What made the difference? The first speaker knew the Psalm, the second knew the shepherd.

I watched a few online church services this weekend and in one, Psalm 23 was read, or perhaps better to say quoted from memory. There are 150 Psalms, and a voice in my head asked, ‘Why this particular Psalm?’ Indeed, why is so loved through the centuries?

John Brantley writes at the blog My Sunday Sermons:

…The are two scenes in this song. One verse is a lush green field beside a refreshing stream and the other is at a noisy and busy dinner party. What do these two portents have in common and what makes them relevant for you and me?

Our culture is adopting the idea that “green” is good. This first part of the psalm is very green. Can you smell the fresh green grass? The sparkling clear water babbling by an ancient tree with broad branches and deep roots. There are other signs and smells that may be organic, but are not that green. Sheep are not known for their pleasing aroma. Every herd of animals leave a trail of processes green grass that the shepherd learns to step around. But let’s not lose the romantic and clean image just yet.

The comforting message of the first scene is the restoring and renewing experience of God. God can be trusted like sheep trust the good shepherd to provide food and drink, rest and growth. One message this psalm affirms is God’s continues to be trustworthy to provide for our growth, health and protection.

Life is not always in the green pastures. God provides even in the reality of life-threatening times. The Valley of the Shadow of Death.. might refer to an actual geographical bend in the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, and it might be metaphorical of life-and-death moments that come and go in our lives.

Where is God when danger, temptation and death surround us? We want to go back to the green pastures but sometimes that is not where we are. We are in trouble. God does not keep us out of the the shadowy valleys, instead God goes with us on the journey.

We thing God ought to hear our prayers and transport us out of tragedy or trouble, but that is not what happens 99.9999 percent of the time. The songs sings of the shepherd ‘rod and staff’. The staff is the long crook of nativity fame that is for rescuing wandering sheep. The rod is to beat off the enemies of the sheep, defending not chastising the sheep.

We are familiar with the proverb, “do not spare the rod” in child rearing. If we look at the function of the rod it is not to beat the sheep, it is to protect them. If we take that function of the ‘rod’ and read that as the proverb, our children need protecting from the evil in the world. As children of God, we need God protecting us, as much now, as ever.

Think of fishing with a baseball bat? You could tie a string to one end and dangle it over the water, but that is not it’s function. You could use a fishing pole to tan-someone-hide, but that is not it’s function. The rod protects the sheep. And in this evil generation, how we need God’s protection! …

At the New Living Translation blog, Mark Taylor writes:

Psalm 23 is the best-known psalm and the favorite biblical passage of many. Why? Because it does more than tell us that God protects, guides, and blesses. It shows us a poetic image of a powerless sheep being tended by an unfailingly careful shepherd. In a world of dangerous ditches and ravenous wolves, we need more than abstract explanations. We need pictures to hang on to. This is one of the best.

God took David from tending his father’s sheep and made him a shepherd of Israel because David was able to care for this flock with a tender heart and great skill. That tells us volumes about not only the kind of shepherd God chooses but the kind of shepherd he is. God is a zealous protector of his sheep, training us to hear his voice, leading us into pleasant pastures, and even walking with us through the darkest valleys. And he is extravagant in his goodness. He doesn’t just feed us; he prepares a feast in the presence of our enemies. He doesn’t just bless us; he fills our cup to overflowing. He doesn’t just offer his goodness and love; he pursues us with them. We aren’t simply his assignment; we are his passion—forever.

Several answers appear at the forum, Quora

■ Who doesn’t want somebody who has their back? We all want a big brother to keep an eye on us. In some situations, people find it to be to their advantage to buddy up to the neighborhood bully. Everybody needs somebody to lean on, right?

So, the LORD is my shepherd. That means he takes care of my food and safety. He is interested in my emotional health. He helps me make moral choices. And when times get tough, I mean really tough, life threatening tough, he sticks by me.

Psalm 23 , I believe, is a concise outline of what a person can expect if they allow God to be their Shepherd through this life. It is so amazingly concise and to the point…. a marvelous Word from God!

■ Would it not be logical to conclude that it is famous because it touches upon issues that are of deep and universal concern to human beings, that it supplies a positive perspective and solution to these issues, and that it does so in such beautiful language as we may easily believe it is divinely inspired?

It seems to me that the issue of being guided by God is the central concern of the entire Bible. Psalm 23 refers to God leading us in the paths of righteousness. And Jesus tells us (Matthew 6:33) that we should seek personal righteousness above all else. So Psalm 23 is telling us how we should respond to Jesus’ advice.

Finally, we have this answer from Texas pastor Matt Morton in a newspaper article at The Eagle. I’ve left this one to the end because if there’s one you might want to continue reading it’s this.

Even if you haven’t read the Bible very much, you are probably familiar with that line from Psalm 23. Also known as “The Shepherd Psalm,” Psalm 23 is probably the most commonly read and quoted chapter in the entire Bible. We recite it at funerals, and we read it when we feel afraid or sad. It even shows up in movies like Titanic and pop songs like Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio. A couple of years ago, Bible Gateway published a list of the 10 most searched-for Bible verses on its website. Five of the top 10 verses were from Psalm 23. I am certain that many people around the world have turned to Psalm 23 during this past month, as we’ve faced a terrifying global crisis and deep uncertainty about the future.

For centuries, Bible scholars have pondered the question of why this particular psalm is so deeply loved. Why do we return to it time and time again in the midst of crisis? After all, there are many Bible passages in which God is referred to as a shepherd. The Bible is full of reminders about how God provides for his people in the midst of uncertainty and fear. So what makes Psalm 23 so special?

I think Psalm 23 is powerful for a simple but surprising reason: the first-person singular pronouns. In case you’ve forgotten your middle-school grammar class, the first-person singular pronouns in English are “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” In other words, King David didn’t write, “The Lord is a shepherd,” or “The Lord is the shepherd,” or even, “The Lord is our shepherd.” Instead, the first verse of Psalm 23 begins with the powerful affirmation, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Psalm 23 personalizes the metaphor of God as our shepherd to a degree that no other biblical passage really does. Most of us know that shepherds provide for and protect their sheep. They lead their sheep to food and water. They fight off wild animals and bandits that threaten their sheep. The Scripture is full of imagery describing God as a good shepherd for the nation of Israel and for the world as a whole.

But it’s one thing to know that God is a good shepherd in general, and another thing entirely to know that he is my good shepherd…  [continue reading here]

June 26, 2020

The Security of God’s Protection

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A friend of mine shared this on Facebook in the last few days, but it was originally written in late March at the outset of the pandemic in North America. The author is Dianalyn Conrad. With over 3,700 posts here, I don’t often source things on Facebook, and perhaps it’s not your go-to for devotional content, but sometimes someone posts something worthy of consideration, perhaps even worthy of sharing, as I did here. She didn’t indicate where she got the image, but I’m adding it here as well.

Shut in Safety

I have always thought that Noah was safe inside the Ark because he built it according to God’s specifications. I thought that perhaps it was the strength of the gopher wood and the soundness of the architecture that ensured that the waters of the flood would not come into the Ark.

But today I encountered a verse that shifted this whole paradigm. Let’s read what Gen 7:16 says ..”The animals going in were male and female of every living thing as God had commanded Noah…THEN GOD SHUT HIM IN….

Don’t miss this…. even after Noah had built the Ark, ~ it was God Himself who shut him in, in order to shut out the waters of the flood… In other translations this verse says “The Lord sealed them inside.”

May the Almighty God seal us inside His Ark of protection through this Pandemic sweeping the planet.

It is not the fact that you have locked your house that keeps you safe at night, it is not your good driving skills that keeps you safe on the road, neither it’s your healthy eating habits that keeps you healthy – only God can shut you in and shut out the devil that is seeking to devour you.

~Father we pray that in these times, during this Pandemic, as we walk into the streets and as we drive on the roads, Oh God shut us in. Father we pray for each other and our children that in the midst of the dangers of becoming contaminated, that You will shut us in, and keep us safe. Not only from the Contagion but also out the flood waters of abuse, rape, murder, accidents and untimely deaths… Oh God shut us in, shut us in your Ark of protection , into your Ark of compassion..

In Jesus Mighty Name we pray, May GOD SHUT US IN AS WE OBEY HIM AND TRUST IN HIS WORD


There were hundreds of comments but they were all quite short. However, on the page of the person that I know who shared this, someone added,

The ark is a picture of Christ;
the wood = his humanity;
the covering of pitch = the atonement.

Those in the ark were safe, while all others perished in that watery grave of death and judgment. All that God shuts up in Christ are safe. He absorbed the the Father’s wrath, and the just judgment of the law. He took all the hits for his people. “In Adam all die; In Christ shall all be made alive.”

That (the reference is I Cor. 15.22) reminded me of another image, one which we’ve used in the past on the sidebar here at C201.


Speaking of sharing things, you never know when you can be a part of what I call “the chain of grace.” I’ve always felt that anything worth ‘liking’ is possibly worth sharing; and that ‘share’ could be a critical element of someone else’s story. You might not be an evangelist, but you can leverage your small corner of social media to make a difference in someone’s life.


Because we have some extra room today, this is a link to a very early C201 devotional on Noah’s Ark, which also included this picture which is actually part of a set of four by artist Tom DuBois called the Noah’s Ark Collection, with this piece aptly titled:  The Commission.    Tom is currently offering a  set of the pictures for only $2,900 at his website.

 

August 11, 2018

The Psalms as Narrative

This one involves a lengthier introduction.

It started a few days ago when I was composing a book review where I noted that while there has been much emphasis lately on the importance of respecting the various genres of scripture and reading each according to its unique style; the author of the book I was reviewing “suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as ‘wisdom stories,’ existing alongside ‘war stories,’ ‘deliverance stories,’ ‘gospel stories,’ ‘origin stories,’ and yes, in a category by themselves, ‘fish stories.'”

Unless it’s one of the Psalms which contains historical narrative such as #137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
3a for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

…I personally don’t tend to think of the dramatic or narrative elements.

So when our son Aaron posted this to his blog earlier this week, I needed to read it twice to see the movement from micro-narrative to macro-narrative.

To make it easier for you to do, I’ve added a few sentences in italics below. It’s also helpful to ask yourself, “What is my present vantage point in this narrative?”

You can also click the title below to read the original.


Psalm 23 (CEV) 1 The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

The Shadow of the Valley of Text

by Aaron Wilkinson

I’ve been reading about Hebrew poetry lately and I’ve realized that I may have been reading Psalm 23 all wrong.

Over-familiarity is our worst friend when we’re trying to develop a deep understanding of a text. I’ve heard the words “The Lord is my shepherd” and everything that comes after so many times that I’ve come to take it for granted. It becomes an absent-minded recitation. While I think all of us who grew up in the church have a grasp for the basic ethos of the poem, I’m discovering that Hebrew poetry demands that the reader slow down to really unpack the parallel images and words that characterize it.

I’ll assume you’ve read or heard or sung this poem before. Shepherd, Green Pastures, Quiet Waters. This part makes me feel nice. Although the line “I shall not want” feels more like a wish than an assertion. When I see my friends getting promoted or engaged, I definitely do want. I could say a lot about how profoundly rebellious this statement is against an ambitious and consumeristic culture, but that’s not my main point.

The tranquil tapestry of this mellow meadow ends with this.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

And then…

New paragraph. A gap in the formatting of the text! Now we’re going to talk about a new idea. If this were a film, we might put a scene transition here.

The camera pulls back from a tight close-up to a wider shot.

The tone is still optimistic but we’re no longer in that prior pastoral paradise.

But were we ever?

The way that the text is usually formatted suggests a shift that I’m not sure is meant to be there. Verse 3 and Verse 4 both use language of journeying. Being lead down the path and walking through the valley. Verses 1 and 2 show us images of stillness. Verses 3 and 4 get us moving. Unless the editors of the text are using the gap between the verses to symbolize a valley between hills, I think this break can be misleading.

Picture this: our scene opens on a young lamb, grazing on grass and sipping from a stream. We then see the lamb approached by a strong but gentle shepherd who signals to the lamb with his staff that it’s time to get moving. The lamb hops up and begins following the shepherd. As they go, they walk. They don’t run. They don’t hide. They walk.

The camera pulls back again.

Zoom out and we see that the two are, in fact, in a dark valley. Clouds thunder overhead and predators growl in the distance. Abandoned arrows, slash marks from swords, and spots of blood speak of some battle that was fought here recently. Warriors may still be crouching around the next bend. And there they walk, the sheep and the shepherd. Stopping for a break and a snack every now and then.

The green fields with quiet waters and the valley of the shadow of death aren’t two places. They are one. And Verses 5 and 6 will confirm this for us. How does the poem begin? Fields to graze in, water to drink, rest for the soul. Food, drink, rest. How does it end? A table in front of my enemies, an overflowing cup, goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life. Food, drink, rest – not in some idyllic ethereal otherworld, but in the very presence of enemies and threats. There are always the enemies, the shadow of death, but also the shepherd offers provision and comfort.

The camera pulls back one last time, this time showing a macro-image beyond imagination.

What’s more, we’ve zoomed out even further. We began in the sheep’s little world: the grass, the water, the shepherd. We zoomed out to see what the shepherd is protecting the sheep from: the valley. Now we are in “The house of the Lord, forever.” We end in the eternal transcendent House (surely this encompasses all creation) and the enemies and valleys are left sandwiched – surrounded – between the immediate local provision of the shepherd and the eternal promises of the future.

I’m sure there are layers of this poem that I’m still missing. The Israelites were masters of poetry so I’m sure that there are layers that shine out much better in the original language. But this poem is dense even in English. It’s packed. The images are tied together brilliantly and even the subtle implications of a verb like “walk” are carefully selected to tell us something about the beautiful relationship that God has to his creation, and the relationship between his providence and our challenges.

I think we miss this when we treat the Psalms first as theology and as poetry second. When we slow down and read them as poetry, their theology becomes much more profound.

July 29, 2018

A Prayer to Start (or End) the Day

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:46 pm
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Today we stumbled across a site containing liturgical readings with an unusual name, The Peanut Gallery. Art Chartier is a retired pastor who lives in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Although we usually post at 5:30 PM, EST, I know many of you read this in the morning, for which it was written.

Praying the Psalms:  Psalm 25: I give my life to you

Praying the Psalms

+ In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Opening(Northumbria Community)

One thing I have asked of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.

Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory.

Morning Reading: Psalm 25 (NLT)

O Lord, I give my life to you. I trust in you, my God! Do not let me be disgraced, or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat. No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.

Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past. Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.

The Lord is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.

For the honor of your name, O Lord, forgive my many, many sins. Who are those who fear the Lord? He will show them the path they should choose. They will live in prosperity, and their children will inherit the land. The Lord is a friend to those who fear him. He teaches them his covenant. My eyes are always on the Lord, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.

Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress. My problems go from bad to worse. Oh, save me from them all! Feel my pain and see my trouble. Forgive all my sins. See how many enemies I have and how viciously they hate me! Protect me! Rescue my life from them! Do not let me be disgraced, for in you I take refuge. May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you.

O God, ransom Israel from all its troubles.
__________

Morning Prayer

O Lord our God: Our lives are in your hands, we trust you –

+ For you guide and teach all who seek you
+ For you care for the humble and afflicted
+ For your ways are merciful and true
+ For you give our souls rest and refuge
+ For you include us in your covenant love
+ For you will never put us to shame as we wait on you

O Lord our God: Remember us in the light of your unfailing love –

+ Erase from our memories past sins already forgiven
+ Save us from our troubles and deliver us from evil

O Lord our God: Hear the cries of your people throughout the world –

+ Deliver us from shame and embarrassment before our enemies
+ Teach us how to live godly lives no matter our circumstances
+ Grant us forgiveness and look on us with loving-kindness and mercy
+ Keep us from wandering that we might live with integrity and honor

O Lord our God: We approach your throne of grace through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Grant our requests according to your sovereign purpose, that your Name may be glorified throughout the earth. Amen.
__________

“Remember Me” (Psalm 25) – The Psalm Project

__________

Blessing(Northumbrian Community)

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you. May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm. May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you. May He bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors.
__________

+ In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

February 23, 2017

Little Power and Great Affirmation in Philadephia: Revelation 3

by Clarke Dixon

You feel powerless. Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it. There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution. The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way. What are we to do when we feel powerless?

Our friends may respond with a big dose of positive thinking; you are powerful, you can do anything, you are amazing! And sometimes, when we are thinking of ourselves more lowly than we ought, we need affirmation. But sometimes affirmation falls short. It feels hollow somehow. It is not just that we think we can’t fix it, or find the solution, or find our way. It is that we can not fix it, find the solution, or find our way. Sometimes we don’t just feel powerless, we are powerless.

In Revelation chapter three we have a letter to a small community of Christians who are of “little power.” (Revelation 3:8) This small community of Christians in Philadelphia could easily feel overwhelmed by those loyal to Roman ways of thinking and acting. They could also feel overwhelmed by those who strictly observe the Hebrew Bible but who don’t share their excitement over Jesus as the fulfillment of those scriptures. These two communities were much larger than the Christian community, and persecution was known to happen. So what does Jesus have to say to these powerless Christians?

Here is what Jesus says:

“These are the words of the holy one . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus is in effect saying, “I am the Holy One, and so the only One who has the power of God.” We read in Mark chapter 1 of a demon saying “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24). The demon knew Jesus had the power to destroy because the demon knew Jesus was God’s Holy One. 

“. . . the true one, . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

The word “true” here means “authentic, genuine.” Jesus is the “real deal.” No one but Jesus can promise relationship with God, life, or eternal life, and deliver on the promise.

“. . . who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus holds the key of of the Kingdom, and makes decisions on the door of the Kingdom. Persecutors may make decisions about a person’s death, but Jesus is the one who makes decisions on every person’s life & eternal life.

“I know your works.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus knows stuff! Nothing escapes his notice, neither the patient suffering of the persecuted, nor the evil deeds of those who persecute.

“Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus creates opportunities. It may feel like opportunity belongs to the strong and powerful. However, Jesus can create opportunities for those with little to no power.

“I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet,” (Revelation 3:9)

In other words “I will make justice happen.” There is a turning of the tables here, from the Philadelphian Christians being kicked out of the synagogue to those of the synagogue gathering around them.

“ . . . and they will learn that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9)

Jesus will clear up misunderstandings. Those who hate people because they think God hates them will someday find out whom God loves and how foolish it was to hate.

“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)

Here Jesus promises to hold the Christians through a time of trial. There are differing interpretations on the “what” and “when” of this “hour of trial.” The important thing is the promise of Jesus to keep his people through it.

“I am coming soon;” (Revelation 3:11)

Jesus will return and those persecutors who say that he is of no consequence, will see him and come to a new appreciation of just Who He is.

“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it.” (Revelation 3:12)

Jesus will ensure the believer’s presence with God. They may have been cast out of the synagogue, and disowned by the city, but Jesus will give them a secure standing in his temple, the Bible’s great symbol for the presence of God.

“I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:12)

This is a promise of inclusion in God’s people, as well as a promise of reflection of God’s character, a “family resemblance” if you will.

The Christians in Philadelphia have little power. Does Jesus respond with affirmation, telling them that they have much more power than they think? There is affirmation, but most of the affirmations are about Jesus Himself! Let us look at the full letter to Philadelphia and notice the affirmations that pertain to Jesus:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens8 “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. 11 I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Revelation 3:7-13 (emphasis mine)

Jesus does not affirm the power of his followers. He affirms His own power! In other words Jesus is telling the Christians in Philadelphia that they do not need to be God. He is! They do not need to be powerful. He is, and He loves them. Their part is to keep doing what they have been doing;

“I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. . . . Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, . . .” (Revelation 3:8,10).

Do you feel powerless? Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it? There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution? The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way? Perhaps you are correct. But you are not God. You don’t have to be. Look instead to the One Who Is.

There is one matter in life where we are completely and utterly powerless. We have absolutely no power to reconcile ourselves to God. But God does. And He has made it happen through Jesus at the cross. Let us not look to ourselves with false affirmations, but look to our Lord and Saviour with honest affirmations of His power and love.

 All Scripture references are from the NRSV

 Original Source: Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

August 28, 2012

Deliverance is at Hand

Today’s thoughts are from Upper Room Disciplines; an annual devotional compiled from the Upper Room devotional booklet that is written by readers like you.  This one is from 2007.

Psalm 91:14-16  New International Version (NIV)

14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation. ”

According to the psalmist, the God of love promises deliverance in return for our response of love.  Consider these six actions that God promises:

1.  “I will deliver.”  God was and will always be a God of deliverance.  God delivered Israel from the pain of slavery into a new land flowing with milk and honey – a land of new experiences, new beginnings.  God will continue this action into generations of those who love God.

2.  “I will protect.”  Protection is the response toward those “who know my name.”  We know who God really is and acknowledge God in acts of hallowing the Holy One’s name.

3.  “I will answer them.”  God answers when we call upon the name of the Lord; the Lord will act for us.

4.  “I will be with them.”  Presence, always an important aspect, confirms God’s involvement in our lives; we will experience God in our actions each moment but more so in times of need.  God’s presence gives confidence and strength.

5.  “I will rescue them.”  God will save us.  “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil”  (see Ps 23:4)

6.  “I will satisfy them. ”  The people of God will receive personal fulfillment – not simply a spiritual experience with no relation to every day life.  They will have a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, of looking back and saying Yes!

March 18, 2011

To Every Generation

This song from the Psalms Alive project, by Bill Batstone, is based on Psalm 90:

NIV1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
2 Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3 You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
4 A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.
5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
they are like the new grass of the morning:
6 In the morning it springs up new,
but by evening it is dry and withered.

7 We are consumed by your anger
and terrified by your indignation.
8 You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, LORD! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us—
yes, establish the work of our hands.

January 16, 2011

Psalm 23 Continues to Comfort

Doug Koop is the editorial director of Christian Week, Canada’s national Christian newspaper.  This appeared at his blog under the title, Why Psalm 23 Comforts Christian Souls

Psalm 23 is often on my mind. This is partly because the well-known shepherd’s psalm is source of great comfort to many. Partly it’s because as a boy I memorized it in old-fashioned King James English. And it stuck. I can still recite the words by heart. They come quickly to mind especially during hard times, especially in the dark watches of the night when sleep is elusive and the cares of life weigh heavily.

To repeat a psalm like this verbatim is not the same as saying that I know it by heart. I like that phrase, “by heart.” It somehow imbues a mere collection of words with great meaning and significance. It implies deeper understanding and more profound belief.

Psalm 23 has a powerful reassuring effect on many people, myself included. And although it is the Scripture of choice for funerals, it’s really about life in this world. It describes a perfect, pastoral setting and speaks to the yearning of every human heart. We all want our every need provided. Everyone wants to be protected. Everyone wants a soul at perfect peace. Everyone wants to live well.

But everyone also knows that the world we inhabit is rarely this hospitable. Many people lack even their daily bread. Hostility harries both innocents and aggressors. Those who live in great comfort and safety are still at risk for distressed spirits. There are very few truly righteous people in this world, which can be a very hard and lonely place.

Perhaps the reason why this psalm is so comforting is precisely because it speaks a strong message of hope in full awareness of the harsh realities of our deeply troubled world. It acknowledges want. It embraces the vexatious presence of enemies. It admits death.

The key to its comfort is that Psalm 23 confronts these situations with the mighty hope of a loving God. Its core message bombards the power of evil with images of bounteous provision, total protection, glorious honor and a soul at peace amidst even the most severe of circumstances.

Sustenance, deliverance and restoration speak to our most basic human needs, addressing the deepest desires of our heart and the yearnings of our very beings. It satisfies them with good things.

The psalm ends on a note of casual confidence—calm assurance—in the benefits of knowing God and living according to His will and ways. I like that word “surely.” The psalmist concludes with shameless certainty that the pathway of those who put their trust in the Good Shepherd leads to eternity in His loving presence, and that their legacy will be heartening to others.

“Surely,” writes the psalmist, those who follow the Lord leave a trail of goodness and mercy in their wake. They are harbingers of comfort and joy. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

~Doug Koop, Winnipeg, Canada