Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Happiest Day of My Life


Twelve years ago today, the most beautiful, wonderful woman on the planet said "I do" in our wedding ceremony. Joy, happiness, and thankfulness can only get close to the adjectives she has brought to my life. She is the most patient, kind, sweet person who ever lived and my bestest buddy. I thank God everyday for her.

I love you, honey.

joe


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Matthew 5:17-20 The Christian and the Law

To the ears of His audience, the statement Matthew records in 5:20 must have sounded pretty startling. These people perceived the religious leaders of the day as being the most holy, righteous men in the world. I imagine it might be like someone telling us “You’ve got to putt like Tiger Woods” or “You’ve got to be as successful in business as Donald Trump”. The issue Jesus was discussing was, of course, much more important than golf or capitalism. He was discussing a right standing before God. Psalm 1 tells us that the unrighteous will not stand in the congregation of the righteous. There will be a judgment and those judged guilty will suffer eternal torment in hell. Therefore, it is paramount for us to understand true biblical righteousness. How can we have a right standing before God and be declared “Not guilty”? Jesus begins in verse 17 to answer that question.

First of all, Jesus states what His purpose is not. He says “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish.” Jesus, since He was omnipotent and fully God, may have realized that there were people there who thought He was teaching some radically new way of relating to God. Therefore, Jesus beings His statement by alerting His audience to not assume they knew what He was teaching and how it related to the Old Testament. In fact, He says he is not looking to tear down (abolish-kataluo 2647) the revealed word of God (the Law and the Prophets). Some people may have thought Him to be a religious rebel or assumed that He was teaching contrary to the word of God. He goes on to state what His purpose was. He says that He came “to fulfill”. The word used here is the Greek word “pleroo (4137)” which can mean not only to bring to completion or to accomplish as in the fulfillment of prophecy but it can also mean to fill as in filling a container or a hole. Therefore, in relation to the Old Testament and all the revealed truth that it taught, Jesus came to accomplish everything that was written there but also to fill these truths fully.

For instance, in the law there were ordinances which were ceremonial in nature related to worship. Items were determined to be clean or unclean. All these ceremonial laws were a shadow of what was in heaven (Hebrews 9) and pointed ultimately to the perfection of God and of Christ. These requirements related to worship and sacrifice in the temple and were a shadow of that which our Lord was the substance. There was also civil law which regulated life for the nation of Israel. These laws were the basis of government in the Old Testament. Jesus ultimately fulfilled these as well by being perfectly obedient in all things. Thus, the ceremonial and civil law truly are filled out or fulfilled in Christ. The law also contained moral law. Christ certainly fulfilled this aspect of the law as well seeing as how there was never a time where He sinned. He was perfect. Therefore, since Christ fulfilled the law by keeping it completely what is the relation of the believer to the law? How does the law relate to us who are under grace?Jesus I believe answers this question for us in the next few verses. First of all, Jesus defines the scope of the law. He says “Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished”. The law is for man while we live here on this earth and is perfect, God revealed truth. Christ accomplished everything that was in the law when He lived on this earth. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the ability to live moral lives and keep the law (2 Cor 5:21). We know the ceremonial regulations were only a shadow (Hebrews 9) and Christ Himself even lifted some requirements while He lived on this earth (Matthew 15:11). Civil law changes with the change in governing authorities and Christians are obligated to obey the authorities (Romans 13). The moral law still guides us as Christians by giving us a picture of the holiness of God and what He expects. We are told in verse 19 that we should not “break (luo-3089: to loosen or tear down-similar to kataluo above) these laws or teach others to break them but rather a Christian will be one who “keeps” them—not to earn salvation but rather as a result of having been saved and being indwelt with the spirit of Christ.

To live a godly life is impossible for any man or woman. Paul himself bemoans our fallen existence in Romans 7. The fact is that we are going to sin—daily. Because of our sin, we should recognize our inability to produce a righteousness that, as Jesus says, “surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees”. We must look beyond keeping a list of do’s and don’ts to achieve the righteousness that Christ calls for in these verses. We must recognize that it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can live a life pleasing to God—a life that brings Him glory. It’s not by keeping the letter of the law that we become right with God but by crying out to Him in repentance “I am a sinner. I can’t save myself. Lord, save me.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

II Peter 1:5-7 The Goal of the Christian Life-Completeness in Christ Part II

I love watching football. My favorite team is the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. The team has some good players this year (John Parker Wilson, Tim Castille, Rolando McClain) and will, hopefully, contend for the National Title this year. However, what makes the team good is not these individual players but rather the fact that these players play together as a team. On both sides of the ball they are an 11 man monster. Their strength is in numbers—working together collectively they are able to achieve much more than they would if they were working as 11 individuals. The Christian, likewise, should seek to develop spiritually and use the virtues Peter lists in these verses in tandem to become all that God has called them to be.

Peter says, in verse 6, that a Christian should develop “self control”. It translates a Greek word “egkratia” (1466). The word literally means to have a grip on one’s passions. This virtue is important in the Christian life because, as Paul notes in Romans 7, we still live with our fallen flesh. In Galatians 5, he further describes our fleshly desires as being at war with our spiritual desires. Clearly, a Christian who is not able to “get a grip” on themselves runs the risk of doing something sinful. In fact, the book of Proverbs 25:28 describes someone who doesn’t exercise control over themselves as being like a city which has its walls broken down. If we are going to live lives pleasing to God, we must have self control in order to be able to choose God’s way over our way.

Further, we must be able to bear up under the pressures of having to live in this fallen world, enduring persecution, and standing firm. Peter describes this quality as having “perserverance” (hupomone-5281). The word literally means “to remain under”—under some sort of burden or circumstance. However, for the Christian, this endurance is not an Eyore-like resignation of muttering to oneself “Oh well, nothin’ I can do about it. Might as well get comfortable.” Rather, it is the resolute, determined mindset of one who is more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus. Our Lord Himself used this word in the parable of the sower in Luke 8 when He said "But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance “ The Christian life is not a sprint and in order to run with endurance (Heb 12:1) the race set before us, we must have the spiritual staying power to stay with it, no matter how hard or how long. Without this quality, we might succumb to the temptation to give up.

As we persevere to live for God in this world, we should live godly lives. Peter exhorts these believers to live godly and therefore in a manner consistent with their faith. God is a holy, righteous God and if we are truly worshipping Him with our lives we will want to live holy lives as well. By calling these Christians to “godliness”, Peter called them to live a life that outwardly reflected their true spiritual character. Make no mistake, godliness can be faked—there are tons of people in churches every Sunday that put on a good show and impress a lot of people but their godliness is only surface level. This outward character of godliness Peter calls for from these believers and from us as well is the result of a true inward spiritual transformation. This is not a Sunday go-to-meeting thing but rather should affect how we live our lives Monday through Saturday. It is godliness that permeates our lives when people are looking and when we’re alone. This true godliness is only possible with the power of the Holy Spirit.

When our lives are spiritually transformed by God’s indwelling presence, our affections and attitudes will be different toward people. First of all, within the church we will exhibit “brotherly kindness”. Jesus said that people would recognize us as His disciples by our love for one another. This love is described by the Greek word “philadelphia” (5360). This is the kind of love that a family would have for one another. Let me ask you something: is this kind of love something we see unconditionally practiced in churches today? Sadly, I think it’s not something that’s as common as the Bible says it should be. People in churches don’t even treat each other as friends sometimes much less as family. This kind of love should be the outgrowth of our relationship with God and through this love we should be able to be patient with one another because we love one another (Eph 4:2). However, not only should our treatment of those of our spiritual family be different, our treatment of all people should be different. Peter lists the final attribute in his list as “love”. This, as I’m sure you could guess, is agape love. This is he highest, most sacrificial form of love. This love seeks the good of the one loved with no regard for self. We should be willing and able to serve our fellow man, our neighbors, our community as a way to demonstrate God’s love. People should know we’re Christians because of how loving we are toward people. When we proclaim the truth, it should be proclaimed in love. When we confront sin, we should be confronting sin in love. When we serve, we should serve out of love. In fact, I submit to you that Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, listed this quality last because it binds all the others together. In fact, if we don’t have love, our lives really do not reflect the character of God because we do not love as we should.  Without that love, our witness is certainly incomplete.  With that love, we demonstrate clearly the character of God.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Senior Adult Choir Bridges Generational Gap

My blogging friend, Steve, over at All Toes in the Water posted this video. I laughed so hard it hurt. All I can say is this is DEFINITIVE proof of the doctrine of total depravity. I feel sorry for their grandchildren--they are going to need MASSIVE amounts of therapy if they see this.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Best of-Psalm 23:5c-6: God's Provision and our Redemption

I am blessed to live in a country where we have the kinds of freedoms that we do. There are a lot of brave men and women who died to make sure that my family and I can sleep in peace in a great country. They provided this freedom at the cost of their very lives. However blessed I am to live here in America, I am fully aware that I will not be here forever. Eventually, my God will take me home to the place prepared for me before the foundation of the world. While I await the day of my heavenly homecoming, however, I know that my God, in His providence, provides for me here on this earth.

This is echoed in the last part of verse 5 where the psalmist writes “My cup overflows”. I have experienced hardship and tough times in my life. From changing careers to going back to school to studying accounting and being laid off 3 times in a row all while dealing with the trials of a first time father, there was a period of a few years there where I honest to goodness thought I was going to crack up. I can still feel the scars, metaphorically speaking. I once described myself to someone as being like a clay pot that had been under too much pressure and had developed small little cracks. I was held together but only barely.

However, even in those dark days, my God allowed me to keep food on the table, gas in the car, clothes on our backs, a roof over our heads, and diapers on my baby girl’s butt. I didn’t have everything I wanted but I had what I needed. Compared to what my situation could have been, I would definitely say my cup did, in fact, run over. God blessed me abundantly beyond what I deserved. It was by His sovereign grace that I was able to finish school and land this really great job. Even though things looked bad sometimes and I didn’t know how I would make it, God definitely filled my cup to overflowing and I praise Him for that. The psalmist echoes those sentiments in this verse.

Of course, I realize that this world is not my home to quote the old hymn “I can’t feel at home in this world anymore”. I can have joy, peace, and contentment in this world because of my relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I know, however, that the ultimate peace and joy will not come until I reach heaven. I can picture what it’s going to be like when I finally get there as I read the last verse of this psalm. I will experience God’s “goodness and mercy” while I live here on earth, but when I reach heaven where I “will dwell forever”, I will know what true contentment is. The psalmist, speaking as a sheep of the Lord, echoes here his feelings of complete satisfaction. He says “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”. Where else, he might say, would I rather be than here where my Shepherd who has provided for me as we journeyed into the table land of the mountains and back again. My Shepherd loves me and takes care of me. I wouldn’t leave here because I am so bountifully blessed. When we arrive home in heaven, we’ll know—truly know—what the psalmist means. We will experience first hand the blessings that will come from dwelling in the presence of God in heaven forever.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Best of-Psalm 23:5b: The Provision of the Shepherd

I have two dogs. The reason I have two dogs is that I do not want 3. Don’t get me wrong, dogs are cute and fun sometimes but mostly they are a big, hairy pain in the neck. Anyway, when I get home in the evening from work, I have to open the gate so I can park. We keep our gate closed not only so our dogs can’t get out but so other dogs can’t get in. After I open the gate, I have to get in and drive into the gate so I can close it. During the time after I open the gate and when I close the gate, my dogs have a clear chance to make a break for it. You know what? They might go outside the gate a few steps or whatever but typically they are back inside before I get out of the car to close the gate. Now, I don’t know for a fact, but I suspect that they have at least enough sense to think to themselves “We’ve got it pretty good here. Food, water, petting, shelter. You know what? I’m going to stay my happy tail right here.” Now, my God is a much better Shepherd than I am a dog-owner. Not only will I experience complete satisfaction when I arrive in my heavenly home, but I can experience satisfaction in my relationship with Him now because He is my loving Shepherd.

First of all, we should observe in the second half of verse 5 is that God provides for us spiritually. The psalmist writes that God has “anointed my head with oil”. As we have noted in our study of this psalm, a shepherd would take his sheep into the mountains during the summer months. During the summer months, all sorts of flying insects pester the sheep mercilessly. Furthermore, the sheep can develop a skin condition called scab which is also very irritating for the sheep. The remedy for this is to apply oil to the sheep’s head. Usually the oil would have some sort of medicine in it as well. David Keller, in his book “A shepherd looks at Psalm 23”, describes how relieved the sheep are when the oil is applied to the areas affected with scab and how much less agitated they are when they are no longer being pestered by the insects thanks to the oil. As he described it, you can literally see the relief on their faces after the oil is applied. In like manner, we as Christians deal with irritations in our lives. These irritations can range from a small problem like being a few minutes late due to a traffic snafu to a huge problem like finding out we have an incurable disease. However, we don’t have to let these things get the best of us. We have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. For the Christian, this is the “oil” that God anoints us with. We can face the trials and tribulations that come our way with peace because we know that our God works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

The oil that a shepherd anoints his sheep with serves another purpose. Male sheep butt heads in contests where they stand apart from one another, take a running start, and crash their craniums together to try to prove who is the most manly or ramly of the flock. Now, they do have thick skulls but even so, these sheep can injure themselves. Therefore, the shepherd applies some of this oil to the heads of the male sheep. When they line up to butt heads, they slip off of one another instead of hitting square on. The Holy Spirit serves a similar purpose in the life of the believer. God called us as the church to live in unity. Let’s face it, though. Sometimes, I get on my own nerves so I know for a fact that I’m not fun to be around.. However, Christians that are sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit are more likely to let little irritations roll off of their back rather than taking offense. Aren’t we blessed to have a loving Shepherd who provides for us spiritually by giving us the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Best of-Psalm 23:5a: Son, that ain't no dinette set.

Probably the most difficult thing about this Psalm is our familiarity with it. We have heard it read and preached so often that we only half listen when someone is teaching it. We’ve had it memorized since we were little kids and can probably quote it backwards if we ever needed to. This verse, in particular, probably is the one most misunderstood verse of the entire psalm. Here is what I used to picture when I read this verse-It’s a sunny day. The sky is blue with little puffy white clouds. I’m standing in a clear, grassy spot in the middle of a forest. In front of me is a long table with all sorts of food (fried chicken, mashed potatoes, collard greens, biscuits, etc). There is only one chair. The Son of God stands by that chair what an arm outstretched as if to say “Sit down and eat”. As I approach the chair, I see red, beady eyes peering from the forest all around and hear soft growls. My enemies see me about to eat this huge banquet and are jealous because they can only look on and watch. I sit and prepare to chow down. Did I mention there was a big ol’ jug of sweet tea on the table too?

That, my friends, has absolutely nothing to do with what this verse says. The shepherd has taken the sheep out from the farm and through “the valley of the shadow of death”. They have now ascended into the mountain. The top of the mountain is called the table. If you remember the old hymn “Higher Ground”, there is a phrase in the chorus that says “Lord, lift me up and let me stand/By faith on heaven’s table land”. I believe this kind of table is what David had in mind when he wrote this psalm because it fits into the kind of work a shepherd would do. In order to “prepare a table” for his sheep, a shepherd would have to go before them and make the table land safe for his flock. He would have to pull up the plants that would be poisonous to his sheep (because that would be the first thing they would want to eat). He would have to make sure there was safe, drinkable water. And sense the flock was in the wild, his sheep would be in the “presence of [their] enemies”. Therefore, the shepherd would have to make sure that he killed off or ran off as many of those dangerous critters as he could. The safety of his flock depended on it.

In like manner, our shepherd has gone before me to “prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”. God providentially guides and directs my steps to keep me within His will. While He certainly never causes me to sin nor is it His will for me to sin, He is able to accomplish His purposes in my life in spite of it. We can go confidently forward to carry out His will knowing that our God not only will go with us but has already prepared the way before us. When you go to witness to someone, you can be encouraged by the fact that God has gone ahead of you to prepare the way as you seek to share the gospel. Further, we should not be afraid of our enemies. As we read in Luke 12, we should not fear those who can only kill our bodies. They really have no power over us if that’s all they can do. We are coming to a time in this country I believe where the enemies of the gospel are going to try in some way to persecute us who stand for Christ. However, we know that ultimately, they have no more power over us than that which God has granted them. They can’t hurt us in any eternal sense. As hard as it is to live a life pleasing to God and share biblical truth with people that is exactly what God, our Shepherd, has led us here to do. Since He has prepared the way and He will protect us from our enemies let us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, serve Him as He has called us.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

My interview with the Daily Scroll

A gentleman in Texas publishes a compilation of Christian blog posts from around the web on a page called The Daily Scroll. Today, he posted an interview with me regarding this blog. I am quite humbled. I got the chance to give a few shout outs. Not as many as I would have liked. I have been encouraged by some really great Christians here in the blog-verse and am grateful for those that visit this blog.

You can read the interview here.

Best of-Psalm 23:4b: The Security of Discipline

I can remember clearly when I was a child the times I got a spanking. It didn’t happen much but when it did I certainly learned not to do whatever I had done again. My parents didn’t spank me because they were mean or enjoyed hurting me. They knew, like all good parents do, that children who are allowed to misbehave become adults who misbehave. They loved me and wanted to teach me right from wrong. In the same way, our loving Shepherd disciplines His sheep because He loves us.

David writes in the last part of verse 4 that “Your rod…comfort[s] me”. David, of course was writing this from the perspective of a shepherd and he knew what the rod he spoke of was and what it was used for. A shepherd boy would choose a stick about the length of his forearm to create his rod from. He would carve the stick so that is was balanced, had a handle, and was comfortable in his grip. He would practice using that stick in target practice until he was as deadly accurate with it as Batman with a batarang. Once he became comfortable with his rod, it became indispensible to him in the protection of his flock. If a predator came calling and threatened the flock, the shepherd would smack that critter with the business end of his rod. This rod helped him protect the flock from danger not only from predators. Sheep, as we have noted in our study of this psalm, are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. If given the choice between doing something safe and doing something stupid, they’ll choose the stupid 99 times our of a hundred. Therefore, when the shepherd saw one of his sheep about to go to close to the edge of a cliff or about to drink of of some polluted water, he would smack it with his rod so the sheep knew that he wasn’t supposed to do that. Our Shepherd also has a rod that He uses to protect us as His sheep. God uses His word for discipline and protection. As we read His word, we see commands of what we are supposed to do and what we are not supposed to do. In this way, we see the dangers that lie in wait as we are tempted to sin. Furthermore, when we do sin, God’s word is a tool He uses to convict us of that sin. When I have behaved unkindly to my wife (which happens way more often than I care to admit) and I read in God’s word that I am to love my wife as Christ loved the church, I am wounded by the smack upside of my head by the word of the Lord. However, God uses His word to warn us and discipline us in order to conform us to the image of His precious Son.

David notes not only that the rod of God is a comfort, but also that “Your staff…comfort[s] me”. When I think of a shepherd, the first image that pops into my head is a silhouette from a Christmas card of a shepherd. The picture shows the shepherd standing sideways and over the top of his head is his curved staff. That staff, as much as anything, is like the nametag of a shepherd. It identifies him. The sheep may not always be able to see the shepherd. He may be surrounded by other sheep and may not be close enough for some sheep to see him. However, they can always see his staff towering high above everything else. They know the shepherd is there and can take comfort in that. In like manner, we are not able to see our God. He is spirit and therefore invisible. However, we have the real indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that lets us know that He is with us. As we see our spiritual gifts develop and we see ourselves becoming more Christ-like, we recognize the presence of God. Just as David did, we can say to God “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Help a child! Donate shoes.

Soles for Souls is a charitable organization that I recently heard about on another blog. I encourage you to check this out and see if it's something you or your church would be interested in being involved in.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Timothy 5:17-Does “honor” mean a salary?

I’m a self professed geek. I ask questions that would cause most people to think “Why are you bothering to wonder about that?” I remember things that most people would find completely trivial (J.S. Bach was born in 1685 and died in 1750. Now you know.). I was reading something the other day by John MacArthur related to I Timothy 5:17 where he seemed to be making the point that “double honor” means double salary. There are Christians who believe that this means to literally pay an elder who rules well twice as much as other pastor’s make. I decided I wanted to investigate for myself and see if I could determine what the word honor meant in the verse in question.

First of all, the English word “honor” translates a Greek word “time” (5092). Strong’s dictionary defines it as follows: a value, that is, money paid, or (concretely and collectively) valuables; by analogy esteem (especially of the highest degree), or the dignity itself. This word and its related word “timao” (5091) are used 58 times in the New Testament. Of those 58 times, forty-two times (72.41 % Oh, what do you expect, I am an accountant.) are about giving respect or reverence and have nothing to do with money. The remaining sixteen times (27.59%) the words are used in a way related to money or other material possessions. However, in the uses outside of I Timothy 5:17 there is no instance where these words are used to indicate that there was an ongoing payment of some sort being made. For instance, in Acts 4:34, the word is used to describe the money that is brought in by people after they sold possessions so that that money could be distributed among the poor. It’s pretty sure that they didn’t sell the possessions on some sort of payment plan and brought the monthly payment they received in and gave it to the apostles but rather they brought the lump sum proceeds from the sale. Therefore, it is not reasonable to conclude that the use of “honor” in the verse in I Timothy 5:17 means a salary.

Furthermore, the context of the verse seems to indicate otherwise. In verse 18 of this chapter, Paul makes two statements which are in scripture. He writes “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing” (Deu 25:4) and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” (see Luke 10:7 for a similar statement by our Lord). Since Paul uses these two statements to support his claim that elders who rule well are worthy of double honor we should assume they are intended to be parallel. People read the second statement about a worker and say “See, that proves Paul is talking about paying elders double salary.” However, let’s think through the first example Paul uses. An ox was given a regular meal. That ox did not depend on what he ate while he was working in the field as his primary source of food. So, as a friend of mine over at The Assembling of the Church writes, the point Paul is likely making is this: We wouldn’t prevent an ox from eating while it worked and we wouldn’t withhold wages from someone who has earned them. In the same way, we should not withhold double honor from an elder who is ruling well.

Is the honor Paul speaking of monetary? I would say probably although it does not have to be exclusively monetary. However, it does not appear, based on the evidence in the Bible, to mean that Paul is saying that their salary should be doubled. However, as believers we should show love to those elders who do work hard to teach the Bible and we should show that love in any ways that they Lord give us the opportunities. One of the most affirming folks at the church I was privileged to pastor would occasionally give me a $20 after the service during the season where he would sell his crops and tell me to treat myself and my wife to lunch. His kindness encouraged me. I exhort you to find ways to do the same to those who teach you the word.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Best of--Psalm 23:4: The Assurance of the Sheep in the face of death

There are few things in this life that we can be sure about. The weather changes very frequently and the stock market is up and down like a roller coaster it seems. However, we know that there is one event every person will face in their lifetimes-death. The fact that our physical bodies do not and cannot live forever is one of the constant truths of our existence. It affirms the fact that we are created beings and that our existence on this earth is finite due to the effects of sin. In spite of this, the Christian has no reason to fear death or mourn for the dead as unbelievers do. We can be encouraged as we read this Psalm and reflect on the fact that our God is our Shepherd.

First of all, as we look at verse 4, we should remember that David was writing this Psalm under God’s inspiration from his perspective as a shepherd himself. During the spring/summer months, the shepherd would take the sheep from the ranch through the valley and into the mountain where it was cooler. Obviously, there was some danger involved in this trek. The flock was no longer in the controlled environment of the ranch. The shepherd did not have access to every resource in the field that he would have if he were at his home. With this in mind, David writes “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Observe, first of all, the pace that David describes here. He says “I walk” (Hebrew-halak). This is not a hurried pace. David does not describe being driven furiously or running in fear. He is walking. The other day, a colleague of mine told me he had talked to one of the supervisors at work and she had mentioned to him that she had ran 4 miles that morning. He said to me “If you ever see me running 4 miles, you can be sure that someone behind me is chasing me with a gun AND that they know how to use it”. Running is for someone who, for whatever reason, is in a hurry. David doesn’t describe being in a hurry even though the environment he is in presents danger. Likewise, a Christian doesn’t have to fear death regardless of the circumstances. David also recognizes that this is simply a journey, a transition from one place to another. He is walking “through the valley”.

Now, we know that you can’t have a valley without mountains. In the same way, we can’t have physical life without physical death. It is simply a natural transition. He is moving from one place to another. In like manner, we as Christians will move from one place (here on this sinful earth) to another place (in heaven forever with our Lord and Savior). Next, notice his perspective on the dangers he faces in this valley. He describes it as being “the shadow of death”. Shadows simply result from the blockage of light. They are not the object but simply indicate the presence of that object. As the author of Hebrews said, the things in the temple and the ordinances performed there were only a shadow of the real things in heaven and the spiritual truths they represented. In much the same way, death for a Christian is not the same thing as death for the lost man. As Isaiah wrote in the 8th verse of the 25th chapter of his prophecy, death and it’s power have been swallowed up in the victory of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. For a Christian, death is no real threat. It is only a shadow. The eternal sting of death is swallowed up in the overcoming work that Jesus finished. We don’t have to fear because we will never face the “real thing” but only the shadow.

Because of his perspective, David has peace. He says “I will fear no evil”. Because of the love of his wonderful, loving Shepherd, David is totally comfortable in this journey. He completely trusts God and knows without a doubt that anything that could happen will not cause him harm. This peace comes not because of blind faith or a warm, gooey feeling in his heart. He trusts God because of his relationship and because of the faithfulness that God has demonstrated. If God has been good to us before, and has kept His promises, it stands to reason that we can continue to rely on Him to be faithful and keep us safe just as He has promised. In conclusion, David says he has this peace because “You are with me”. The presence of his Shepherd is a source of comfort for David as a sheep. The flock can relax in the valley just as they did on the ranch because of the loving, attentive care of their Shepherd. Likewise, when we or our loved ones face death, we can take comfort in the presence of God. We don’t have to fear because He will be with us.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Best of-Psalm 23:3b The Glory of God

The ultimate purpose of everything in creation is to glorify God. In the first commandment, in fact, the Israelites are told that God is a jealous God. He is the only one in the whole universe who deserves our praise, honor, and loyalty as our first priority. Because God is holy and righteous, He rightfully expects us to be holy and righteous as well. Luckily for you and I, we are not responsible for living a holy life under our own power. As we read in the second part of verse 3 of this psalm, we are led by a loving Shepherd.

As we read this, we need to step into the sandals, as it were, of a shepherd. During part of the year, the shepherd and the sheep live at the ranch. However, the shepherd later takes the sheep out from the pasture near the home through the valley to the mountain plateau or “table land”. It is this part of the year that I think David has in mind as he writes this verse.

Remember, as we’ve observed before, sheep are not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree. They get themselves in trouble if left to themselves and make poor choices about what to do or where to go. Actually, that’s not too dissimilar to you and me, is it? Therefore, they need someone to show them where to go.

David declares here that God provides that direction for him just as He does for us. David writes “He guides me”. David doesn’t have to figure the way out for himself. He doesn’t need a GPS or mapquest. God guides His sheep. Notice that God leads the sheep—He doesn’t drive them. The word “guides” is a translation of the Hebrew word “nachah” which is normally used in the Old Testament to indicate someone going ahead or in front of someone to lead them. God has given us His word and His Holy Spirit to let us know the path we should take. We don’t have to use our intuition or reasoning to figure things out. We can trust God because just like He guided David, He will also guide us.

Further, notice that David knew that God guided him in “paths of righteousness”. We are told in Psalm 1 not to walk in the council of the ungodly. Also, in Colossians, Paul admonishes us to walk in a worthy manner. Therefore, it seems evident that where we walk is pretty important. Therefore, God not only leads us but He leads in what are literally “right paths”. These paths are safe. These paths lead us to where we need to go. When God tells us to abstain from sexual immorality, He is leading us down the right path. He isn’t a killjoy who wants to take all the fun out of life. He knows we can get hurt and hurt others if we take the wrong path. He knows that sheep are prone not only to go astray but lead others astray. Therefore, He leads in the right paths so that we can safely reach our destination. Jesus spoke of this path in Matthew 7 when He said there were two roads. The Lord, as our Shepherd, will never lead us down the path of destruction, but rather down the path that leads to eternal life.

He leads us down the right paths, as David notes, “for His names sake”. As Albert Barnes observes in his Notes on the Bible:

“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.”

As I stated in the initial paragraph of this post, the ultimate goal of all creation is to bring glory to God. Therefore, God leads us as a Shepherd in the right paths in order that we might bring glory and honor to His name. As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:9, we should proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Let our lives reflect that kind of change—darkness to light. Let us always be humble to follow the leading of our kind Shepherd who leads us in the right paths.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Blog Link-This election brings change.

I read a blog post recently called Obama Promised Change- And It Will Start with Me at a blog In the Light. It was , in my opinion, pretty profound. I decided to reproduce it here. I hope you're as encouraged by it as I am.

As different as the two presidential candidates were, there was a common theme this election season- change. America has chosen Obama's plan for change over McCain's. And as I woke up to a "new day," I realized that having someone moving into the White House whom I disagree with on so many issues should change a few things.And it has. It has changed a few things about me.I admit I was naively optimistic about this election. But my eyes have been opened to the reality of the struggles in this country that affect more people than I realized. The "moral majority" is a myth. I had grown complacent. But I believe in change, and it will start with me.

Change One- I commit to pray for those in authority fervently, humbly, and often.

Change Two- I commit to be more active in my pro-life stance. This means I will find ways to emotionally, spiritually, and financially support women who chose life for their babies. I will continue to support the right to live for every person. I believe that Trig Palin and his mom have set an example for other mothers who hear the news that their babies will not be perfect. And as the sister of someone with Down's Syndrome, who knows the amazing potential and capacity for love they have, I will be a stronger, louder advocate for people with disabilities.

Change Three- I commit to teach my children that our faith is in God, not in government.

Change Four- I commit to teach my children more about the persecuted church and suffering believers around the world. I admit I have become prideful in regard to being an American. I want my children to know that we are connected to our brothers and sisters in every country.

Change Five- I commit to remember who my enemy is. It is not those who hold different beliefs- those who want to teach my children universalism or Darwinian evolution. It is Satan, the Father of lies. He deserves my anger and actions, not those being deceived by him.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Best of---Psalm 23:3a The Shepherd as Savior

Today, I continue my reposting of an exposition I did several months back of Psalm 23. I pray that you will be encouraged.

Once, when I was 6 years old, my Dad and I were at the beach in Fairhope, Alabama with an uncle of mine who was in town and some of my cousins. I followed my cousins out into the water and eventually found myself in water above my midsection. Quite suddenly, the undertow pulled my feet out from under me. At that point, I did not know how to swim and was on my way to drowning. My dad rushed into the water, scooped me up, and saved my life. He’s done that more than once over the years. There was absolutely nothing I could do to save myself. If he had not intervened, I would be dead right now. In much the same way, David describes the predicament of a sheep in a most dangerous situation.

A point that I think should be made here is that as we read this psalm with which we are so familiar, we really need to get into the head of a shepherd. As I had stated in the original post of this series, David Keller has written a book called “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm” which has provided me quite a bit of insight into this psalm and, admittedly, has shaped a lot of the material I have included in these posts. You can get information on this book here.

When I read this psalm, I usually thought of the phrase “He restores my soul” as meaning God gives us encouragement when we are down. I knew of Psalm 42:5 talking about David’s soul being cast down and of course I’d heard about people having their faces downcast. To me, it seemed pretty reasonable to assume that improving our mood was the topic David had in mind. Actually, that would probably be a pretty common interpretation in today’s me-centered, feel good, prosperity pseudo-Christianity. After all, according to most TV preachers, it’s all about you and your significance in God’s plan.

However, as I studied more about this term, I found out that it had nothing to do with making me feel better. That wasn’t even in the ball park. In fact, the situation David describes here is nightmarish to the sheep. A cast sheep is one that has been turned over on its back. This sheep is in dire straits. In fact, without help, this sheep will die a slow and painful death. When a sheep is flat on its back like this, there is no way for it to raise itself upright again. When 98.46% of your body weight (ok, that is a slight exaggeration) is contained in your upper body, you don’t have enough mass in your lower body to move your center of gravity. A sheep in this state is totally helpless. In addition to being at the mercy of predators, the gases inside of a sheep build up in its abdomen as described by David Keller so that the sheep will suffocate. This is no laughing matter. This sheep is going to die and there is nothing—I repeat nothing—that he can do about it.

Luckily, this sheep belongs to a loving and gentle Shepherd. The Shepherd restored this cast sheep. Now the sheep is free from its death trap. The Shepherd has saved the day.

However, notice that David says that the Shepherd “restores my soul”. David, therefore, describes his soul as being in the predicament of a cast sheep. He, too, is in a death trap and he, too, is unable to help himself. Friends, you and I were in that same death trap before we came to faith in Christ Jesus. The book of Ephesians tells us that we were dead in our trespasses. Now, we were in a condition much worse than the sheep. The sheep was helpless but it was alive at least. It didn’t have to be resurrected. However, you and I, prior to coming to faith in Christ, were dead. Not close to death, not nearly dead, not sick with a terminal disease. We were dead. There was no way we could save ourselves. There was no way that we could turn to Christ and repent of our sins. We all had turned away from God and had sought to go our own way (Romans 3:10-3:18). Because we were helpless and hopeless, God restored our cast souls. The English word translated “restores” is the Hebrew word “shub”. It means “to turn back” and in this case means to set right. Our soul was in the grip of death. God, in His mercy, elected us to salvation through His Son and gave us the faith to believe and repent thereby restoring or setting right our cast soul. We couldn’t have done it for ourselves. We didn’t even have the faith to choose to turn to Him. Apart from His love and concern as our Shepherd, none of us would be saved. However, because He is our loving Shepherd, He does “restore [our] soul[s]”.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Blog link-What we should realize this morning.

I got the following list from Digging the Word: MY PREDICTIONS ABOUT THE ELECTION. I actually am writing this post on Tuesday. I have a feeling sitting here today (haven't voted yet or seen any election coverage) that the bad guys won. The sad thing is, there are Christians who are happy about that. I believe you and I need to remind ourselves today (perhaps repeatedly) that:

1. God is still on His throne regardless of who was elected (Is 6:1).
2. Regardless of who is president, God will control their decisions (
Pr 21:1: Ezra 6:22).
3. Regardless of who is president, Christians are to pray for them, not prey on them (
1 Tim 2:1-3).
4. Regardless of who was elected, we will get up… go to work… and honor God on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, etc, etc, etc.
5. Regardless of who was elected, it happened in accordance with God’s will (
1 Sam 2:6-8, Is 46:9-10).
6. Regardless of who was elected, it does not change the call God has given Christians to be salt and light in the world (
Mt 5:13-14).
7. Regardless of who was elected, God’s plan to bring about the return of His Son to set up His Kingdom will be that much closer! (
Ro 13:11)
8. Regardless of who was elected, “Do not be anxious for anything (Including a presidential election!), but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (
Phil 4:6-7)
9. Regardless of who was elected, Christians have no reason to fear or be afraid! (
Rev 2:10)
10. Regardless of who was elected, Christians are to obey the laws of the land (
Ro 13:1-7) unless they conflict with the laws of God, then Christians obey God rather than men (Ac 5:29).

Our hope is not in government, elected officials, laws, or any man made institution. Our hope is in the true and living God who reigns forever and ever. Give Him praise and glory.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Best of-Psalm 23:2 Our Security as His Sheep

With the election of a President in the United States today going on, there are a lot of people who are concerned and apprehensive about the future. I am posting the second part of an exposition I did a few months back on Psalm 23. I believe in this scripture we are reminded that God is in control. No matter who wins, our God is still soverign and in control of everything. We can trust Him because He cares for us.

As I noted in the last study of this wonderful psalm, sheep are difficult to take care of. It takes a lot of work and a tremendous amount of attention to the details to provide a safe, productive environment for sheep to flourish. In the end, the condition of a flock rests solely on the shoulders of the shepherd tending that flock. Since we have a loving Shepherd, we can rest safely in His care. David, in the second verse of this wonderful psalm, describes what a blessing we have to be tended by such a kind and gentle Shepherd.

First of all, we notice the condition the Shepherd puts the sheep in. It says, in the beginning of verse 2, that “He makes me lie down”. This, from everything I have read, is quite a feat. Sheep are naturally skittish creatures. They re easily frightened and quite high strung. They do not relax easily. There are two reasons I would suggest for this constant state of agitation. First of all, sheep have no natural defenses. They do not have claws or big, sharp teeth. No one has ever heard of another person getting mauled to death by a sheep. They are not fast or agile. In fact, a 100lb sheep might well have legs of only 5 lbs. While I am joking a little about that, it probably is not too much of an exaggeration. Secondly, most animals probably consider the sheep to be very tasty. Your life in the animal kingdom is going to be very stressful when other animals are looking at you and thinking “Man, I bet that’d be good with some Dale’s” or “I’d like to throw that on the George Forman”.

Therefore, in order for a sheep to lie down as is stated in this verse, that sheep must be absolutely sure that it is 100% free from any danger. If the sheep is not in a danger free situation, it will not be able to rest. What David is saying, then, is that because the Lord is his Shepherd, he knows that he is safe and secure. He is not going to be harmed by his enemies. He knows that God will protect him and keep him safe. Isn’t that such a blessing for us to meditate upon as Christians? I mean, no matter how bad things get, no one can hurt us as far as anything eternal goes. Even here on the earth, we are blessed by His providence and protection. That is not to say that nothing bad happens to Christians. Rather, He is there with us in the midst of it. We too can relax and cast our cares upon Him, as Peter said, knowing that He is our Shepherd.

David goes on to describe the circumstances the sheep find themselves in. He says that the Shepherd causes him to lie down “in green pastures”. David, as a shepherd, would have known first hand the kind of hard work that involved. The area where he kept sheep was rocky, hilly, and oftentimes barren compared to what we would think of as pasture land. If a shepherd was going to provide pasture for his flock, he was going to have to work to provide that pasture. This meant hours of backbreaking, sweaty, painful work of clearing rocks, planting good grass, and pulling up weeds which were poor quality feed at best or poisonous at worst. A shepherd spent a lot of time preparing pasture for his flock in order to provide the best for them. This is a picture of the kind of hard work our Shepherd provides as He cares for the sheep. Not that it is difficult for Him to provide for our needs but rather that He is diligently, constantly working to provide for us. Of course, we know what grueling torture He endured on Calvary’s cross where He shed His precious blood for you and me. However, even before that, He was at work throughout human history putting the right people in the right places at the right times to accomplish His redemptive purpose. Not only does He provide green pastures for us as He provides for us materially, but even more so, He provided spiritual green pastures as He laid on His Son the sins of all who would believe.

However, this Shepherd not only provides food for the sheep but as David notes “He leads me beside quite waters”. Again, we must remember the climate in which David lived. We would probably describe much of the surroundings are barren and dry. The pools of water that you found oftentimes were polluted and undrinkable. Of course, that wouldn’t stop the sheep from drinking them. Like we’ve observed before, sheep are not known for their intelligence. If you give them two choices and one of them is good while the other is bad for them, the will more often than not choose the one that is bad for them. So, if you left sheep to their own devices, they would drink for foul, polluted water all day long. Therefore, as a shepherd, if you want you sheep to have clear, clean drinking water, you had to go out, dig the pools or watering holes, and fill them your self. Again, the picture we get is that of tireless, constant work to provide the best for the sheep. This Shepherd, David says, does not turn the sheep out to find this still, quite water on their own. Instead, He leads the sheep. He knows the way and He lovingly takes the sheep where they will be safe and provided for.

What a wonderful heavenly Shepherd we have who loves us and takes such wonderful care of His sheep. Praise His holy Name.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Best of-Psalm 23:1 Our Relationship with God

For the next week or so, I thought I would repost a series I did on Psalm 23 earlier in the year. There seem to be several new readers lately and I've had a couple of new sites list my blog. I certainly hope you are edified and encouraged, brothers and sisters.

Bill Cosby, in one of his comedy routines, said that his father defined their relationship when he was very young. He was told “I am your father—I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me ‘cause I’ll make another one that looks just like you.” Now, this is quite silly and we can have a good laugh about it. There is, however, something about defining a relationship that gives one a sense of security. When you know what the boundaries and the responsibilities of a relationship are, you feel safe. In this manner, when David writes this most familiar psalm, we can be particularly encouraged as we reflect on our relationship to God and His love and care for us.
I should probably mention as I start this series that my interpretation of this psalm was greatly influenced by a book written by Phillip Keller titled “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”. You can find information about the book here. I strongly recommend it as a great resource to understanding what God meant when He inspired David to write this text.

I believe the first thing we should take note of as we examine this psalm is that David writes this psalm about a Person—specifically God. He beings the psalm by saying in verse 1 that “The Lord is my Shepherd”. The fact that he identifies God as his Shepherd should be of great encouragement to us as believers. This is the same Lord that made, and kept, a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 2:24). He displayed His power by freeing the Israelites from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 7-12) not to mention creating the entire universe by merely speaking it into existence (Genesis 1-2). This is a Holy God who judges sin and, as David would come to find out, forgives people when they repent. Suffice it to say, God has quite an impressive track record and it only makes sense that the Bible declares that there is no God like Him (I Kings 8:23). Considering the relationship that is defined by this psalm, the character of the One on whom David is depending seems particularly relevant. Therefore, we should remember that it is the Lord that David refers to as his Shepherd.

I think it’s pretty important to notice, also, that David is writing in the present tense. He does not say the Lord was his Shepherd or will be his Shepherd or that He might be his Shepherd but rather that He is David’s Shepherd. David made this rather bold affirmation of his relationship with God based on his daily walk with God. As we read in I Samuel 17:34-36, David depended on God daily as he carried out his task of tending his father’s sheep. When he faced dangerous situations, he knew through experience that God would be with him. What we have here, then, is not touchy-feely “You Best Life Now” garbage, but true saving faith grounded in a daily walk with God. It is not hope for the future or pining about the past but a present tense awareness of the presence of God in David’s life that leads him to write these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, in making this statement, David is acknowledging that he recognizes not only his position but also God’s position. By saying “The Lord is my Shepherd”, David is saying that he is a sheep. Recognizing who you are in relation to others is important in any relationship. For instance, the book of Genesis records that when a man is married he is to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. Basically, his primary responsibility is no longer to his parents but to his wife. Failing to recognize that change in relationship can result in problems with his new wife to say the least. (By the way, I also believe the same principal applies for wives. That was an aside. You don’t owe me anything for that) David has no delusions about his role in relation to God. He is a sheep. Now, this is a humbling admission for him to make. First of all, sheep are stupid. I mean, these critters, from all accounts I have read, will go out of way to get themselves into trouble of all kinds. They need constant care and supervision. If left to their own devices they will invariably get themselves into trouble time and time again.

You know, that is a pretty good description of you and me. I mean, I’ve been saved for 24 years now and sometimes I have pretty good days. But it is just as often that I feel like the apostle Paul in Romans 7 and I feel like shouting “I’m doing the things I know I shouldn’t do and not doing the things that I know I should do”. If it were not for the mercy, grace, and providence of almighty God I would get my self in pickles so often they’d have to change my last name to Vlassick. It’s the same way with sheep. Being a shepherd is very hard work because you have to watch out for those animals tirelessly. God does just that. He never sleeps, takes a day off, or turns His eyes off of us who are His sheep even for a moment.

Because of this wonderful, loving care provided by our Shepherd, we can come to the same conclusion that David did. He said that because of the Lord being his Shepherd, “I shall not want”. Sheep don’t take care of themselves. Therefore, if their needs are provided, it is a direct result of the shepherd’s care of them. Notice the condition he expects to find himself in. He uses a Hebrew word “chaser” which is translated “want”. That Hebrew word means lack. David isn’t saying that he will always have everything that he wants; but that he will not lack things he needs so as to suffer want. That’s just a wee bit different take on God’s care of us than you would find from your typical prosperity theology preacher. Saying that we will not want in this context does not mean that we will be happy all the time or in a state of abundance. What it does mean is that God will provide what we need when we need it. There have been Christians who have been hungry or lacked clothing or shelter. That does not mean that God is not fulfilling His role as Shepherd. In fact, I’m not sure I could even speculate on why a situation like that would occur. I would suggest that more times than not Christians are provided for with the things they need in this life by a loving Shepherd who takes meticulous care of His sheep. Let us praise God for His love and protection.