Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Yahweh's Promise to His People (Psalm 23:6)

[This is the final entry in this series on the 23rd Psalm]

1Yhwh is my shepherd…6Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The Shepherd song now reaches the end.  David has praised Yahweh for the provision, protection and ‘promotion’ He has given to His people.  David concludes by singing of Yahweh’s promises.

6Surely goodness and love will follow me…

There is a certainty to all God’s promises.  David knows that surely Yahweh will keep His promises; what He says he does.  And what is it that is promised?  First, David recognizes Yahweh’s promise of His goodness and love towards David.

The word ‘goodness’ refers to something ‘beautiful’ or ‘pleasant’; it is that which is good from God’s perspective, primarily that that which is becoming to, or ‘adorns’ the life of faith (see 2 Peter 1:5-8 and Titus 2:9-10).  The term ‘loving-kindness’ is used to attempt to capture the meaning of the Hebrew word hesed, which is the unique, covenantally based love and favor of Yahweh for his faithful people (it is, as near as I can tell, the OT equivalent of the Greek agape used in the NT).  This ‘goodness and love’ of God will follow me.  Here is the sense of a pursuit or a chase, which what the Hebrew term for ‘follow’ conveys.  Yahweh longs for and desires to win over His people and He follows hard after them with the purpose of overtaking them and making them His special possession.  David rejoices in this pursuing passion of Yahweh.

…all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The second part of the promise is found in these words about the duration of Yahweh’s pursuit of David: all the days of my life.  The Lord never tires in His chase to make His people whole and blessed; each and every moment of each and every day God’s presence is near and real for His people.  But—O the wonderful truth!—the ‘goodness and loving-kindness’ of the Lord does not cease when a person dies, but carries them on through death in the promise of new and eternal life: I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  The Hebrew literally reads, I will dwell unto perpetuity of days meaning ‘all the days of this life and all the days of the age to come’.

What promises!  What blessings for God’s people to look forward to; to hold onto with hope and joy!  These promises are certain.  Sometimes we fail to see the ‘good’ in things, but God always knows what is good and I am confident that God is bringing good out of all situations.  God’s unique ‘hesed’ is mine because I am one of His ‘sheep’.  The goodness and love of the Lord will chase me down every day because He loves to lavish them on me. (see Matthew 7:9-11; Romans 5:5, 9-17, 8:28-29; 1 Timothy 1:14; Titus 3:4-6).  I live in confidence knowing that because I am God’s child, He will always have a place for me in His ‘house’, both the body of believers here on earth or in His forever Kingdom.  

All this is possible only because Yahweh is my Shepherd.  I own no other; I desire no other.  Yahweh alone—His provision, His protection, His ‘promotion’, His promise.  I have the goodness and hesed of the Lord hot on my trail.  It overcomes me and I gladly surrender.  In this life and all the ages to come, I will sing of my shepherd.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Yahweh's 'Promotion' of His People (Psalm 23:5)

1Yhwh is my shepherd…5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

The song to the Great Shepherd continues.  Yahweh provides (23:1-3); Yahweh protects (23:4) and here, Yahweh ‘promotes’.  David sees a relationship between himself and the Great Shepherd which moves from simple dependency towards sublime intimacy.  The image of the table, the oil and the cup all point towards relationship, friendship and favor.  Yahweh has looked upon David and ‘promoted’ him into this special place of relationship.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. 

David is invited to eat at Yahweh’s table as a confirmation of the friendship he shares with Yahweh, and he sits, no less, in the presence of all those who have stood against him.  God invites each believer into this relationship of intimate friendship.  As the believers sit to enjoy the banquet of God, enemies are forced to stand mute and humiliated as they watch the faithful enter into the joy of fellowship with God which the wicked have rejected for themselves.
The present reality is that each of us may enjoy a communion with God that cannot be taken away even if surrounded by foes.  There is also a hint of a future feast (see Revelation 19) at which those who once mocked and ridiculed hope and faith in God will be judged by their exclusion from this table (see Luke 14:1-24).

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Yahweh anoints David with oil, symbolic of a special choosing of David to rule with Yahweh’s authority.  This anointing also represents a great display of hospitality, affection and love.  The ‘cup’ overflows with blessing and favor reminding us that in the presence of God there is abundance with no end (refer also to Luke 6:38; 7:46; Ephesians 3:20; 1 John 2:20, 27; Hebrews 1:9).

How beautiful for God’s people in Christ!  Though we are His sheep (Luke 12:32) we are privileged to be called His friends (John 15:15).  We are invited to eat with Him (Revelation 3:20).  He has anointed us in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:21-22) and has overflowed our ‘cup’ with blessing (Ephesians 1:3).  We are not simply dependent sheep, but intimate friends with our Shepherd.  We are ‘promoted’ to this place through the love and mercy of God through faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. 

To Him be the glory! 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Yahweh's Protection for His People (Psalm 23:4)

1Yhwh is my shepherd…4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

David sings of and to his heavenly Shepherd.  He rests and trusts in the care and provision of Yahweh towards him (verses 1-3).  He now turns his attention towards thoughts of Yahweh’s protection. 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

David knew what it was like to go through difficult times- the ‘valley of deep darkness’ (or ‘shadow of death’).  Yet David knew also that he never walked alone through these ‘valleys’; Yahweh was always with him.  And no matter how dark it seemed David was confident to come through the valley. 

I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Although faced with evil and danger, David knew he had no cause to fear these forces for he knew Yahweh’s rod was present to defend.  David did not need to fear becoming lost, for Yahweh’s staff was present to guide.  Likely both these terms are referring to the single shepherd’s crook.  The shepherd would use the long straight ‘rod’ to fight off wild animals or thieves while he would use the hooked ‘staff’ to guide his sheep, keep them on the path and pull them out of dangerous places.  Together, they brought David comfort.  Yahweh the Shepherd was with David in every situation of life.

Sometimes it happens that I find myself in places, dark and frightening places, places I’d rather not be.  How did I get here if my Shepherd is supposed to be leading me in “the paths of righteousness”?  Perhaps I wandered off the path through my own sin or stubbornness; or perhaps—and  maybe we don’t consider this enough—perhaps God has led me there as part of His good and right Way; leading me there “for His Name’s sake”, because even these dark places are part of my ultimate journey of Faith—they have a purpose in my life. 

I am encouraged to know that these places dark places of life are not the final destination; I am going through them, which means I will come out on the other side.  I am not sure how long it will take to get through, but I must trust that I will come out. 
I know there is no cause for fear because my Shepherd goes into the valley with me.  I am not alone or abandoned; His presence is with me and I can call upon Him in the valley—note how David addresses Yahweh directly, “You are with me…”

God’s protection and care are always present for his people.  How much this Psalm still resonates as a source of comfort to the believer today! 

Be blessed!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Yahweh’s Provision for His People (Psalm 23:1-3)

1Yhwh is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  2He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, 3He restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for His Name's sake.

What an earthly shepherd does for his sheep, David understands that Yahweh, the Great Heavenly Shepherd, does for His human ‘flock’. 

I shall not be in want: Yahweh provides for all the needs of His sheep

He makes me lie down in green pastures: Yahweh brings His sheep to places of safety and plenty.  Sheep do not ordinarily lie down in the open field.  They must be completely convinced of their safety. 

He leads me beside quiet waters: Yahweh leads His sheep in places of peace and rest. Sheep do not like fast running water.  God leads to quiet places where the sheep can be refreshed without fear. 

He restores my soul: Yahweh takes care to refresh and strengthen His sheep; tending their hurts, physically, emotionally and spiritually (see Isaiah 40:11 for another great passage about the Divine Shepherd’s care).

He guides me in paths of righteousness: Yahweh sets His sheep on solid footing; ways that are sure and true; ways in which they will not stumble (see Psalm 94:18); these ‘paths of righteousness’ are the ways that honor God most fully. 

for His Name's sake: Yahweh does all this that He may be known and celebrated as the Great Shepherd; that His sheep will honor Him; that His Name will be given the respect and glory so well deserved.

We must notice in all these acts that it is the Lord Who takes the initiative.  Yahweh IS; He makes; He leads; He restores; He guides.  Sheep have limited capacity to do for themselves, except perhaps to get into trouble (see Isaiah 53:6).  If sheep resist the shepherd and choose their own way, they cannot be sure of safety or peace (see John 10:1-13; Revelation 7:17).  Therefore it is the duty of the shepherd to do for the sheep all that is for their welfare. 

I am a ‘sheep’; the Lord, my Shepherd, does for me all which is necessary for my security, health, well being, etc; not chiefly for my honor, but for His own Name- that He will be given glory as the Great Shepherd.  Therefore I must stay close to my Shepherd or I risk wandering away from the good paths which bring me what is best and give the honor to the Shepherd.

Are you near the Shepherd today?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Yahweh My Shepherd (Psalm 23:1)

YHWH is my shepherd

David, the shepherd, sings of Yahweh, the Great Shepherd.  Everything David knew of Yahweh could be described in shepherding terms; His care and compassion, His provisions, His protection, His guidance and correction.  But David moves deeper, beyond shepherds and sheep, to a relationship and intimate fellowship, and a blessing that continues through, and beyond this life.

Consider this opening phrase, how it sets the tone.

Yahweh: the Lord; the God of the Covenant with Israel.  This is the One of Whom the Psalm speaks.  It is not a distant, unknown or unknowable god, but the Living and Ever Present Yahweh.

Yahweh is: the role of the Lord is a present reality.  It does not wait for a ‘someday’, nor is it something past; it is a ‘now’ thing.

Yahweh is my: the present reality of the Lord is also a personal reality.  What the Lord is, He is to me personally; not abstract or idealized.

Yahweh is my Shepherd: this is Who and What the Lord is to and for me.  As stated, all that a shepherd does for his sheep, so Yahweh does for me- all this and incredibly more!

The entire Psalm rests on this foundation.  If the Lord, Yahweh, is not my Shepherd, if I do not have a relationship of faith with Him, which we know to be through His provision of Christ, then nothing else in the Psalm is possible for or available to me.  Is He your Shepherd?  Have you come to Him by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus for your forgiveness?  If not, any time you may recite this Psalm, you are speaking in vain.  Know Jesus, Who is Himself the embodiment of the Shepherd (John 10:11, 14 Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25, 5:4; Revelation 7:17).

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Presents

We naturally associate Christmas with gift-giving, and while we’d probably all agree that Christmas has gotten far too materialistic, we all enjoy receiving a gift or two. 

When we think of gifts on that first Christmas the image that might come first to mind are the gifts presented by the Magi; gold, frankincense and myrrh.  However we are fairly certain that the ‘wise men’ did not appear on the scene until maybe a year or almost two years later.  So were there really any gifts were given on that first Christmas morning?  I would suggest to you that there were gifts given- but not of the type we might think.  They were not tangible items to be opened or unwrapped, but they were gifts that undoubtedly moved and blessed the heart of God.

Let’s consider the familiar passage found Luke 2:15-20 (NIV): 15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

It is hard to fully capture the emotion of this great moment with the written word.  We can’t hear what they heard, or smell the smells; we can’t feel the breeze on our faces as the shepherds rushed from the fields into Bethlehem.  They just had to see for themselves the wonderful event the angels had declared to them.  Searching through the darkened streets the shepherds finally found the child.  What a sight it must have been, these rough men, smelling of sheep and open fields, huddled around a feed box gazing at a baby.  There is delight and excitement among this group as they get up and go with great haste to find this child.

~The shepherds gave gifts of excitement and joy in response to God’s promise.

17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

How hard it must have been to leave, but as they went, these simple shepherds became the first ‘evangelists’ of the New Testament.  An evangelist is one who proclaims good news…and that is what the shepherds did.  Their message was simple, but breathtakingly powerful.  They told of the fear that gripped them, of the words that the angel had spoken, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11 KJV)  They told of the stillness of the night broken by the host of Heaven consumed with worship, praising God.  And people listened with amazement and wonder. 

~The shepherds gave the gift of witnessing to the truth of God’s promise.

19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Mary’s gift was different; her gift was reflective.  The word used for ‘treasured’ has the idea of remembering with the added intent of obedience.  Mary knew that all these things that had happened came as a result of her obedience and the years ahead of her would require her to continue in obedience to the God who had so blessed her.  Mary’s life was forever changed

~Mary gave the gift of remembering all that God had done and prepared to continue in a life of obedience to God.

20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

As they left, the shepherds gave the glory and praise to God.  It is important to realize that they based their praise on what had been revealed to them.  They did not manufacture any other story; they did not add to it or take away from it.  What they had experienced, they rejoiced in.

~The shepherds gave the gift of praise and worship to God.

These gifts that were given were not anything that could be handled or put up on a shelf.  They do have one thing in common: the gifts given on that first Christmas were all gifts that came from gratitude to God.

What can we give to God?  We can give God our material possessions, and so we should be generous with what God has given.  But, consider these words from Chuck Swindoll: 'Some gifts you can give this Christmas are beyond monetary value: Mend a quarrel, dismiss suspicion, tell someone, “I love you.” Give something away--anonymously. Forgive someone who has treated you wrong. Turn away wrath with a soft answer. Visit someone in a nursing home. Apologize if you were wrong. Be especially kind to someone with whom you work. Give as God gave to you in Christ, without obligation, or announcement, or reservation, or hypocrisy.'  (Charles Swindoll, Growing Strong, pp. 400-1.)

The best gifts we can give to God are those that come from gratefully changed lives 

Be blessed

Friday, September 1, 2017

Five Things God Cannot Do: #5

[The following post is based on a sermon series presented in January-February 2006 while I served as pastor at Exeter Area Christian Fellowship in Newfields, NH.]

People love to get their own way.  A popular and well known slogan used by Burger King was ‘Your way, right away’.  America is the champion of individualism; of having things done our way, right away.  This individualistic thinking played a big part in the development of American Christianity and is also a significant reason why so many churches and Christians are doctrinally flawed.  Somewhere along the way, we came to God and said, in essence, ‘that’s nice, but we want things our way.’ 

Here we come to the final entry in this series, Five Things God Cannot Do.

God Cannot Accept Us Unless We Come On His Terms

The first issue we need to settle is whether or not God is God, meaning this: If God is God then His is the final word on every matter.  This is a premise that this post affirms.  If you accept, at least in the broadest sense, that God is the only God, then you either submit to His Word or live in rebellion against Him. 

So then when we come to God, whether in worship, prayer, the reading of the Bible or, most importantly, for salvation and forgiveness of sin, we need to always remember that we must come on His terms or we shouldn’t come at all.

An episode from the Old Testament book of Leviticus helps us understand this (text is from the ESV unless otherwise noted).

God had brought the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom at the base of Mt. Sinai (more likely in modern Saudi Arabia by the way, not the Egyptian Sinai peninsula).  God has given the ‘legal code’ (including the Ten Commandments) as well as the patterns for the Tabernacle where worship would take place.  Numerous times God directs that all the items are to be made “according to all that I have commanded you”. (e.g. Exodus 29:35)

In Leviticus 9:22-24 Aaron, the High Priest, initiates the sacrificial worship of God.  It is a momentous moment in the life of Israel as God responds with a display of glory: “and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.  And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar…” (9:23-24)

Then we are given an odd and troubling scene: “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them.  And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” (Leviticus 10:1-2)

What in the world is going on?  We have to jump back to Exodus 30, where God gives the instructions for the Altar of Incense.  As part of the ministry at this altar, the priest was to burn special incense, the make-up of which is given in Exodus 30:34-37.  In the case of Nadab and Abihu, they “offered unauthorized fire”, namely a different type of incense than that which God commanded.

It is probable that as God’s glory appeared and the people celebrated they were caught up in the moment.  Yet even with what might have been ‘noble’ motives, Nadab and Abihu stepped outside the bounds that God prescribed and took it upon themselves to determine how God was to be worshipped.  God would not, and could not accept these men on their terms.

Was it ‘fair’ of God to judge these two priests so severely?  Throw out your human conceptions of ‘fairness’; God’s concern is righteousness and holiness.  In the case of Nadab and Abihu, at the very outset of Israel’s formal religious worship of the Lord, God needed to show the people that He was serious about being approached on His terms.

Moses defends God’s action: “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord has said, 'Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'’  And Aaron held his peace.” (10:3)

Aaron’s heart must have been breaking for the loss of his sons, but he knew God was right.  They needed to approach God on His terms.

The late J. Vernon McGee notes, “God will not accept worship in our own will, no matter how sincere…note…that the high position of these men offered them no immunity.” (J. Vernon McGee Through the Bible vol. 1 p364)

Coming to God in our way and on our terms is known as ‘will-worship’; “a way that seems right to a [person], but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12) 

We can all fall into the trap of ‘will-worship’, but we can guard against this by remembering that true worship recognizes God as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures and gives Him the respect due to His greatness (see Psalm 2:11).

God has set His boundaries for us that we may find life.  To think that we can operate outside those boundaries is a belief and practice that can only lead to death.

God cannot accept us unless we come on His terms. 

This is especially important as we consider how a person can find forgiveness from sin, be made right before the Holy God and enter eternal life.  The pathway to these blessings is not a matter of our decision, but is completely dependent on the terms God has set.  And what are those terms?

~“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

~“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31)

~“ If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

God has provided salvation…but on His terms: Jesus Christ and Him alone.

People outside the church call Christians narrow and extremist for holding to this view of salvation being exclusively found in Christ.  They have that right.  Our loving response needs to be simply this: ‘I believe God is God and His Word is final.  This is what I am convinced God has said; and I choose to come on His terms.’

God cannot accept us unless we come on His terms.  Come ever and always on His terms and you will know joy and peace and life.

It has been enjoyable for me to revisit these messages, streamlining them for this format.  I hope you have found them challenging and helpful.  As always, your feedback is eagerly welcomed.

Be Blessed.