Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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

Sitting down to a meal shows the confident and serene attitude of those lead by this Shepherd. Even in the face of extreme opposition, the Psalmist conveys how God's gracious provision overshadows the enemy's threat!
In 1735 John Wesley was on board a ship on his way to Georgia in the American Colonies when a violent storm came up suddenly. During the storm, the main mast of the ship broke, and passengers began to cry out in fear. Wesley, who had been afraid of dying since his youth, could not help but notice the calm assurance of a group of Moravian Brethren. In the face of what seemed to be impending doom, the Moravians were calmly singing hymns and praying. Wesley at that moment in his life was like so many of us, though we many times refuse to acknowledge it. He was trusting his own religious "experience" and efforts. The Moravians were trusting Jesus Christ solely. After that near death experience in the Atlantic, Wesley sought out the Moravians to find their secret. He found that their secret was not a "secret," but a Person. He realized that he was not only saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone; he was kept by faith in Jesus Christ alone. The rest of his life, instead of trying to prepare his own table, he allowed Jesus to "prepare a table before him."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Even 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.

What an incredible scene. The day is ending and the shepherd is leading the sheep back to safety for the evening. As they go down through a narrow gorge the long shadows lie across the trail. In the Hebrew this is a "valley of deep shadows". The sheep, because they are so timid and defenseless, are frightened by their experience. But they trust the shepherd, and sense comfort. Their fears melt because the shepherd is with them.

Similar words are found in the New Testament -- "I will never leave you nor forsake you," (Hebrews13:5). Hence we can also say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do to me," (Hebrews13:6).
Have you ever felt scared? Alone? Abandoned? The circumstances of life can so often make us feel this way, but the truth of God’s Word is that He will not leave, He will not forsake. What comfort. His presence means that we also have His protection.

The Psalm goes on to say, "Your rod and staff comfort me." The rod was a club used to drive off wild animals. It was never used on the sheep but was a heavy instrument used to protect the sheep from marauding predators. The staff was a slender pole with a little crook on the end. It was used to aid the sheep. The crook could be hooked around the leg of a sheep to pull him from harm. Or it could be used as an instrument to direct, and occasionally to discipline the sheep, with taps on the side of the body.

One commentator that I ready said it this way: Understanding how the shepherd tends his sheep has helped me so much in understanding the character of God. When I go wandering away he doesn't say, "There goes that stupid sheep!” and -- WHAP! down comes that big club! No. His attitude is, "Well, there's one of my very own, wandering away again. How can I help him? How can I move in to bring him back into line? How can I comfort him, and supply what he needs?" He may have to discipline, but he always does it in love. He reproves, corrects, encourages, and instructs in righteousness, dealing with us firmly and gently.

The rod and staff are also used against the two greatest enemies we have to face. The rod is for the enemy without, Satan, who is working through the world system to destroy us. Jesus said, "He is a liar and a murderer." He's out to devour us, and so the Lord uses the club on him. But the other enemy is me, the enemy within. In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." I know that. The shepherd's staff is used to chasten, and to subdue the enemy within. But the confidence he gives is that I have nothing to fear, either from the enemy without, or from the enemy within.

Friday, February 15, 2008



As I continue sharing thoughts about the 23rd Psalm, I don't want to lose sight of the fact that the entire passage is couched in the relationship of shepherd and sheep. It's easy to pick the Psalm apart and look at various facets like comfort, guidance, provision...but the focus is, AND SHOULD BE, on the Shepherd! He is the Good Shepherd. He is powerful, benevolent, gracious, and wise. And the wonder of wonders is that He cares for His sheep. He knows them, He calls them by name.

Several years ago, Tommy Walker wrote a great song that celebrates the intimacy of a relationship with God. I thought that today I would share the lyrics of that song.

"Before I formed you...I knew you! Jeremiah 1:5

Words and Music by Tommy Walker© 1996 Doulos Publishing

I have a Maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
and He hears me when I call

I have a Father
He calls me His own
He'll never leave me
No matter where I go

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Psalm 23:3

The word used for “paths” refers to a “well-defined and well-worn trail.” This is one more bit of evidence about how stupid sheep really are. Even when the path is perfectly clear, sheep will still stray. Since the shepherd knows the trails, he can guide them in the best way. God guides us for His sake, not for ours. His reputation is at stake. His character is on display. His name is Yahweh and He will accomplish His purposes and lead us on proper paths.

Without the guidance of a shepherd:

Sheep will wander! They'll wander into peril. I know this from experience! I am prone to wander...Sometimes it's because of my a.d.d. (things catch my eye and I'm off to the races in exploration) Sheep are often oblivious to the danger of uneven ground or of predators and so are we. We see "greener grass" and lose sight of what dangers are around us. That's the way temptations work.
Sheep will settle! They'll stop for brown, crusty chaff. They'll devour husks with no nutrients. Sheep will drink from stagnant, polluted pools. But thanks to the wisdom care and knowledge of the Shepherd, the sheep are led past stubble and polluted waters, and even past some pretty tempting oases, until they reach the grassy meadows. So also God our Shepherd will lead us in paths of righteousness. We too are called upon to walk right by paths that obviously lead to destruction and even some paths that seem on the surface to lead to happiness. But we follow the Shepherd because we know his kind disposition and his wisdom.
Sheep will perish! In Verses 1-3, the sheep are in sunshine, but we see a movement into the shadows. Without the contentment, nourishment, restoration and guidance of the shepherd, the sheep will die!
It is to the honour of our great Shepherd that we should be a holy people,
walking in the narrow way of righteousness
. (Spurgeon)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I have several friends that are into "restoration". Cars, houses, and furniture mainly. I am intrigued by their attention to detail, but more than that, I am fascinated at their vision. They see what can be in what is. I look and see a hunk of rusting metal. They look and see potential. They see a Sunday drive in an antique beauty.

The Psalmist said of God, "He restores my soul." John Piper says that this could mean either he returns our soul from erring in sin or he refreshes our soul when we are dry and lifeless. The same phrase occurs in Lamentations 1:16, which says, "My eye, my eye runs down with water because far from me is a comforter, one who restores my soul." The idea of comfort also occurs here in Psalm 23:4, "Your rod and staff comfort me." So I think we should probably think of soul refreshment here instead of moral correction. In either case...restoration is the work of a loving shepherd. He guides and He guards. He leads and He loves. He strengthens and He satisfies. More than all of this, He sees what can be. He looks at our tired, sinful, dry, depleted souls and loves us with a restoring love. He loves you where you are, but He loves you too much to leave you there. Perhaps on another occasion, I'll talk about the process of restoration. It can be painful... sandblasting rusty spots or stripping away old paint and varnish.

Today, relish the wonder of these simple words, "He restores my soul"!

“He leads me beside the still/quiet waters”

I love water! I love to swim, ski, fish, splash, boat (you get the picture. I have lived most of my life near waters… Near the Gulf of Mexico…By Pickwick Lake in Tennessee…In the river city of New Orleans…by the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene… and now near the mighty Mississippi as it rolls past Memphis. I have spend many days beside the waters.

I love the ocean. There is something intriguing about lapping waves, roaring and foaming and crashing.

I love rivers. On occasion, I go watch the waters roll down the banks of the Mississippi. Swiftly moving…not still water at all! There is something mesmerizing about the steady flow.

I love the glassy appearance of a lake or pond! There is something so peaceful and surreal about the deep waters, the still waters.

For the sheep in the Psalm, rushing water is frightening. Still water is important. Nervous and frightened by the rush of a river, sheep would become agitated and restless. A good shepherd knew this. A good shepherd finds still waters because he loves his sheep.
In His presence, there is calmness and quiet. Jesus loves us and knows that we need the security and serenity of the still water. He wants to lead us beside quiet, still waters...