is God my shepherd?

A psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

“Lord” in “the Lord is my shepherd” is an English translation capitalized in most English versions when it translates “Yahweh,” the personal Hebrew name for God. Of course in the New Testament Jesus is revealed as the human who not only enacts this, but does so because he in fact is the God-human. So what is meant in Psalm 23 is God, and later that is fulfilled in Jesus, certainly true of the Triune God.

We are called sheep in Scripture, and for good reason. We go astray, are easily lost, and are quite dependent. To understand sheep better would be a good study in itself, but we need to be careful not to press those analogies from Scripture too far. We need to consider them in their contexts in Scripture. No question that sheep in Scripture are said to go astray, to be vulnerable against attackers such as wolves, helpless and harassed in need of a shepherd. And interestingly, sheep know the voice of their shepherd, each of them having their own name so that they’re known individually by their shepherd.

I am glad that this psalm is attributed to David. David was a shepherd early on which prepared him to be king over God’s people. Kings in the best sense of what they were to fulfill were to be shepherds. David was certainly no perfect shepherd, especially evident from his horrific sin involving Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. He had other faults as well. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart, having a heart for the people.

As I recently picked up from Dallas Willard, Psalm 23 is a prime passage to memorize so that one can meditate, reflect and pray through it. I think one can do well to say it again and again, and talk to God about it. Asking God if God really is our shepherd.

Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” in the classic passage in John 10. He calls his sheep by name and leads them out to find good pasture, even life to the full. And he lays down his life for the sheep.

The psalm is quite personal. God is “my” shepherd. Oftentimes to push against the individualistic emphasis in our culture in which little else matters except for “me and mine,” we neglect the reality that our faith is personal and that God really does care about and for us individually. Each sheep he knows by name. Yes, each of us are dear to the Lord. He knows us through and through, and really does love and care for us.

I don’t like a lot of things about myself, and have struggled to like myself at all. I often just put up with myself. But that’s not what God wants. The Lord wants us to accept the truth that he made each one of us, and that redemption and reconciliation is for each one of us in and through Jesus. In Jesus the shepherd analogy of Scripture fits to a tee. Do we see Jesus and God in Jesus that way?

We must not let go of this. Everything in Psalm 23 is meant for us, yes each one of us, individually. And we need to see it for others as individuals, as well. Each and every line. Here it is again, to be read and pondered and prayed over until it becomes more and more our own in and through Jesus.

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

 

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the sin of gluttony

…put a knife to your throat
if you are given to gluttony.

Proverbs 23:2

Winn Collier in a helpful Our Daily Bread Ministries “Discovery Series” booklet entitled, “Walking Free: Overcoming What Keeps Us from Jesus,” covers the so called “seven deadly sins.” It is most helpful in both understanding the actual sins, and what we can do about it, with an accent on God’s grace. See that for an excellent summary look into each, including gluttony.

Gluttony it turns out is more about trying to satisfy the God-vacuum of our hearts with other things, food being just one of them. Of course the actual term gluttony has primarily to do with food, as does fasting.

We want more and more of what’s pleasurable, of what we like. When all the time the greatest pleasure is God and to be in God’s presence. What  is actually the case is that we’re replacing the greatest pleasure, the actual worship of God for what ends up being idolatrous pleasures, such as satisfying our every desire, whatever that might be.

Gluttony is probably akin to greed which is listed in the New Testament as a deadly sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). In the Roman Catholic teaching, it along with the other seven sins is listed as a basic sin (not deadly) from which other sins derive. Gluttony ends up being a kind of substitute for the worship and practice of loving God. Instead we’re all taken up with our own cravings, warped as they are due to our sin. And whenever we violate loving God, not loving our neighbor will follow:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Ezekiel 16:49

Food and all the other of God’s gifts to us is not the culprit. It’s our own brokenness in putting the gifts above the Giver. We are indeed given all things richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17b). But we are good at becoming obsessed over whatever in the place of God.

Thankfully God is present to help us find our way back to him with repentance and a renewed commitment to leave behind what is destructive to us and to others. To find all that we long for in God, while we enjoy God’s good gifts to us. In and through Jesus.

 

what’s our condition?

“The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:

“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

Acts 28:25b-27

It’s a scary thought, but we’re not above developing a hard heart or seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2). When darkness seems light, and what is bad seems good (Isaiah 5:20). I think we’re there to a large extent in our society and world today, although it’s surely nothing new except in the forms it is taking. There does seem to be a sea change in terms of morality. A popular idea is that as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else, whatever one does is fine. But that fails to take into account the truth that sin harms us, and through that harm, ends up harming others. Of course nowadays sin is thought to be an outdated concept, just like good and evil. God is not in all our thoughts (Psalm 10:4), and that explains the condition we’re in.

Christians are not exempt. We’re told that we’re to hold on to faith and a good conscience, otherwise our faith might be shipwrecked (1 Timothy 1:19).

There is recovery of sight for the blind, and hearing for the deaf through Christ. He can open our eyes and ears, so that we might hear his voice and follow. And have a spiritual aptitude we can develop and grow in through the Spirit and the word. Christians need to show the way, and we do so in love for God and our neighbor, and in faithfulness to the gospel in our own lives, so that what we do and say can help others. As we are helped ourselves in and through Jesus.

 

“the redemption of reason”

The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped.
Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,
what kind of wisdom do they have?

Jeremiah 8:9

In a challenging, but interesting article, Dallas Willard speaks of a crisis of reason not only in the universities, but right in our Christian schools. Aptly called, “The Redemption of Reason,” because Willard is making the point that sin through bad philosophy has shipwrecked reason, so that it is now essentially meaningless. And what has gone down with it is any idea of moral knowledge. All lost because it has been separated from its source and ground, or place, from God who is spirit, and why creation exists in the first place (my words in part here; I would highly recommend a slow read of that article).

The Bible is essentially reasonable, even when we can’t track with all that is happening entirely. Taken as a whole, then considered in its parts, we can say without a doubt that there is plenty of sense in the story, whether or not it jives with all of our sensibilities. The problem nowadays is that our outlook has been shaped from centuries of what amounts to essentially bad philosophy in different forms, which end up denying truth because they’re untethered from the one source of truth, God. And so we go gallivanting, who knows where.

Religion is looked down on as something like old school. Of course the one revelation is fulfilled in Christ and the good news in him as unfolded from the pages of Scripture. Reason is very much apart of our faith, essentially Christ’s resurrection in history at the center of that, along with the reality of God mediated to us in Christ by the Spirit.

Where does that leave us? In a crisis even in our Christian circles, because we’ve by and large retreated from reason because of how it is understandably failing in the secular universities. We have done so by placing our study and appropriation of Scripture in a separate category probably without knowing it, because we have to make do in the real world. And Scripture seems different, anyhow. Well it is, and it isn’t. It’s from God, but it’s right down to earth where we live in our humanity. And that certainly includes reason.

Again what’s needed is nothing less than the redemption of reason, according to Willard. And Christians must lead the way, or show the way, because reason itself loses all significance apart from God, and won’t stand on its own, completely dependent on the meaning assigned to it. It’s not like we have to figure out the problem; it’s in the air, just assumed, grounded somehow in whatever human endeavor, good things like science, which essentially can’t be the basis of meaning since God is not in their equation.

So we shouldn’t flee from reason, or be apologetic about it. Instead we need to demonstrate through faith the reasonableness of it all, while at the same time holding on to mystery as part of the story, what’s up, and what God is doing in our lives and in the world. And see the gospel in Jesus as essential in all of this, leading us to God and the new life in him.

an old standby: the need to pray when in need

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

Prayer is something Christians often struggle with. As time goes on we likely pray more, but may feel that we pray less. Part of that I would guess is the growing sense we have of our need to pray. Ongoing growth means less satisfaction with where we’re at, whereas in our early days in Christ we simply enjoyed basking in the new found light and warmth of the Lord, finding that new life quite moving and revolutionary. It was in part God treating us as infants before “pruning” (John 15) us for growth.

Not that later on we can’t be relatively prayerless. Unfortunately we can, but I think the norm for those who are intentional in growing as Christians is to keep on praying, and gradually grow in doing so. Our inner poverty on the one hand can discourage us from praying, but on the other hand, can help us pray more, as we look to God for help.

In Jesus’s parable above, he is encouraging his disciples and us to persist in prayer, to pray and not give up. We’re to keep on praying no matter what, through good times, bad times, and everything in between. The context is especially when one is running up against need, even great need. The widow was in trouble, even in dire straits. And our Lord’s answer for us when we’re in a similar place: always pray and not give up.

Justice is in the picture. On the one hand, it’s not like we’re deserving of God’s help. And we’re often at least partly to blame for the predicament we’re in. But God is more than ready to give us what we need to do well and honor him in whatever situation we’re in. For too many Christians in the world, yes, injustice is rampant against them. They need our active love and prayers. And for us, yes, we need God’s help, as we try to work through difficult places in a way that both receives and dispenses what is right and just and good.

Note in Jesus’s parable the widow’s plea to the unjust judge was nothing fancy. It was a petition, indeed cry for help. We need not worry about some perceived need for some kind of fanciful churchy prayer language. We simply cry out in our own way of saying things. Yes, appealing to God’s promises in Scripture. But not holding back. Always praying and never giving up. Believing that God will grant justice, that God will help us in time of need. In and through Jesus.

 

the good of boredom

It seems like in this day and age that entertainment is something everyone thinks they have to have at just about any moment. It’s at the tip of our fingers on our phones, for me not on the phone, but with classical music which I more or less prefer most all the time. Though often actually beautiful, not necessarily exciting so as to break through what boredom I may have.

I should give my definition of boredom. Something like simply finding something monotonous or tedious. But add to that our reaction. For me when I know I have to do something, I don’t let boredom affect me in the least. But I do have my small Bible at hand, with either coffee (or tea) nearby. But I find that even going through Scripture, and especially on a regular basis can seem boring since I often enough am not connecting firsthand, even if what I’m reading I might find interesting.

Perhaps the book of Ecclesiastes is the best book in Scripture for considering boredom. After all, the “Teacher” says all is meaningless. But in the midst of their turmoil also concludes that one should simply settle down and enjoy the gifts God gives in the normal everyday routine.

I somehow wonder if our penchant for excitement isn’t in and of itself idolatrous. It’s like we have to have this or that pleasure or whatever to satisfy ourselves. When God is the one who is ultimately to be our Satisfaction. Not to downgrade the enjoyment we should have from the gifts we receive from God.

I’m wondering if boredom prepares and opens us up to receive what we need from God. And it reminds me of Augustine’s words:

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

If we’re no longer bored because of something other than God, or in thankfulness receiving all of life as a gift from God, then we’re better off being bored. I live in boredom myself, and don’t mind it at all. It’s not like I don’t enjoy God’s gifts, and hopefully live in the enjoyment of God himself. Nor is it like my boredom isn’t telling against me to some extent. But I accept it as part of this life. Somehow a necessary preparation for growth in grace now, and for the change to come in the next life. In and through Jesus.

to remain in worship

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Habakkuk (audio) is one of my favorite biblical books, though each and everyone is just as important in its place. Habakkuk is helpful to me, because it challenges God over God’s leading, will, and work. It seemed to Habakkuk that God did not make sense in terms of what God was doing at the time. Habakkuk wanted life to make sense in a world bent against God and God’s will. And it was certainly personal to Habakkuk, who stood as one of God’s prophets, proclaiming God’s word, often of God’s judgment in anticipation of God’s justice and salvation. But what was to unfold according to God’s word given to him as we see in the book seemed to make a mockery of justice. That God would use Babylon which engaged in practices more evil than the nation God was punishing, his own people Israel, made absolutely no sense to Habakkuk.

This single thought, to be taken from the book as a whole, is vitally important, if we’re to be true worshipers of God. Habakkuk ends up being a book of worship, though it is in the process of working through real life that Habakkuk finally gets to that. And part of that process was questioning God.

God did answer, and that’s vitally important for us today. We have God’s answer in spades, when you consider not only the book of Habakkuk, but the entire Book of the Bible. And yet to live through the process, not to mention to try to get our heads around it, or more likely, just to try to begin to understand it, is really beyond us. We need God’s grace and help for sure.

But there’s nothing more important for us as God’s people in Jesus than to be true worshipers of God. To remain in that posture, we will have to work through challenges to God’s goodness and greatness. But it’s vital to us that we are committed to being worshipers of God, come what may. The thought Habakkuk closes with, quoted above. In and through Jesus.