He Guides Me In Paths of Righteousness for His Name’s Sake

Well, I hope each of you have had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I can tell some of our folks have the January Blues already with the cold weather we have been having.  Stay warm and Roll Tide tonight to all my fellow Bama fans!

In our study of the 23rd Psalm phrase by phrase we find ourselves at David’s thought, “He Guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Let’s dive in a see what this means and what kind of picture the shepherd David was painting for us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are two thoughts that we need to zone in on here.  First off, the Psalmist David would have known that sheep are creatures of habit.  Seriously, if left to themselves they will follow the same trails until they become ruts; graze the same hills until they turn to desert wastes; pollute their own ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites.  Sheep can not just “get along anywhere.”  No other class of livestock requires more careful handling, more detailed direction than do sheep.  This brings us to the second point that we need to focus on…many pastures are ruined beyond repair by overgrazing, poor management, and indifference or ignorant sheep owners.  When this happens, sheep owners get a bad reputation or name.  It was very important to a sheep owner to have a good name and reputation as a shepherd.  David knew that if the flock was to flourish and the owner’s reputation was to be held in high esteem as a good manager, the sheep had to be constantly under his meticulous control and guidance.  Due to the behavior of the sheep and their preference for certain favored spots, these well-worn areas become quickly infested with parasites of all kinds.  In a short time the whole flock can thus become infected with worms, nematodes, and scab.  The final upshot is that both land and owner are ruined while the sheep become thin, wasted and sickly.  The owner’s entire name and reputation depends on how effectively and efficiently he keeps his charges moving onto wholesome, new fresh forage. 

The intelligent shepherd is aware of all this and has a plan of action.  The predetermined plan of action usually centers around rotation from one grazing ground to another in line with right and proper principles of gound management.  This is precisely the sort of action David had in mind when he spoke of being led in paths of righteousness.  The testimony of a good shepherd will attest to the fact that following this plan of action is the one thing that commands more of the shepherd’s time and energy.  He must map out his plan, constantly survey his fields, move his flock at the right times and repair fields that have just been used.  One shepherd said with an adequate field you needed to move your flock to a new field every week.  The shepherd must go over the ground of his fields again and again seeing where his flock will thrive and knowing where the feed is poor.  One shepherd said that a point worthy of mentioning was that whenever the shepherd opens a gate into a fresh pasture the sheep are filled with excitment.  As they go through the gate, even the staid old ewes will often kick up their heels and leap with delight at the prospect of finding fresh feed.  How they enjoy being led onto new ground.

Let’s look at some parallels between us and sheep now.  It is no mere whim on God’s part to call us sheep.  Our behavior patterns and life habits are so much like that of sheep it is embarrassing. 

First of all, Scripture points out that most of us are a stiff necked and stubborn lot.  We prefer to follow our own fancies and turn to our own ways.  Isaiah 53:6 says it best, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”  We do this deliberately, repeatedly, even to our own disadvantage.  This is locked into our own personal pride and self-assertion.  We insist we know what is best for us even though the disastrous results may be self-evident.

Just as sheep will blindly, habitually, stupidly follow one another along the same little trails until they become ruts that erode into gigantic gullies, so we humans cling to the same habits that we have seen ruin other lives.  Turning to “my own way” simply means doing what I want.  It implies that I feel free to assert my own wishes and carry out my own ideas.  I do this inspite of every warning.  Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  In contrast to which Christ the Good Shepherd comes gently and says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me”  John 14:6.  John 10:10 Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Second of all, most of us don’t want to come.  We don’t want to follow.  We don’t want to be led in paths of righteousness.  Somehow it goes against our grain.  We actually prefer to turn to our own way even though it may take us straight into trouble.  Yet, Christ our Good Shepherd comes and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  We don’t want to deny ourselves, give up our right to make our own decisions.  I think some of us…or really most of us, if confronted with this charge, would deny it.  We would say that we are “led of the Lord.”  We would insist that we would follow wherever He leads.  We sing songs to this effect and give mental asssent to the idea.  But as far as actually being led in paths of righteousness is concerned, precious few of us follow that path.  This is actually the pivotal point where a Christian either “goes on” with God or at which point he “goes back” from following on.

The fact of the matter is there are many willful, wayward, indifferent, self-interested Christians who cannot really be classified as followers of Christ.  There are relatively few diligent disciples who forsake all to follow the Master.  Jesus never made light of the cost involved in following Him.  In fact, He made it painfully clear that it was a rugged life of rigid selfdenial.  It entailed a whole new set of attitudes.  It was not the natural, normal way a person would ordinarily live, and this is what made the price so prohibitive to most people. 

If we are to be led in paths of righteousness then we need to adopt 7 fresh attitudes.  They are the equivalent of progressive forward movements onto new ground with God. 

1.  Instead of loving myself most, I am willing to love Christ best and others more than myself.  What is love?  Any ideas?  Love according to this world is a soft, sentimental, moving and/or passionate emotion.  A feel good feeling.  Love according to God’s Word is a deliberate act of my will.  It means that I am willing to lay down my life, lay myself out, pour myself out on behalf of another.  This is precisely what God did for us in Christ.  “This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down His life for us” (I John 3:16).  The moment I deliberately do something definite either for God or others that costs me something, I am expressing love.  Love is “selflessness” or “self-sacrifice” in contradistinction to “selfishness.”  Most of us know little of living like this or being “led” in this right way.  But once a person discovers the delight of doing something for others, he has started through the gate being led into one of God’s green pastures.

2.  Instead of being one of the crowd, I am willing to be singled out, set apart from the gang.  Most of us, like sheep are pretty gregarious. We want to belong.  We don’t want to be different

3.  Instead of insisting on my rights, I am willing to forego them in favor of others.

4.  Instead of being “boss”, I am willing to be at the bottom of the heap.  Or to use sheep terminology, instead of being “top ram,” I’m willing to be a “tail-ender.”  When the desire for self-assertion, self-aggrandizement, self-pleasing give way to the desire for simply pleasing God and others, much of the fret and strain is drained away from daily living.

5.  Instead of finding fault with life and always asking “Why?”  I am willing to accept every circumstance of life in an attitude of gratitude.  I find it very interesting that we as humans feel entitled to question the reasons for everything that happens us.  I know…I have been there myself.  I have watched many who’s lives become a continious criticism and dissection of one’s circumstances and acquaintances.  We look for someone or something on which to pin the balme for our misfortunes.  We are often quick to forget our blessings, slow to forget our misfortunes.

But if one really believes his affairs are in God’s hands, every event, no matter whether joyous or tragic, will be taken as part of God’s plan.  To know beyond doubt that He does all for our welfare is to be led into a wide area of peace and quietness and strength for every situation.

6.  Instead of exercising and asserting my will, I am willing to learn to cooperate with His wishes and comply with His will.  When men or women allow their will to be crossed out, canceling the great I in their decisions, then indeed the Cross has been applied to their lives.  This is the meaning of taking up one’s cross daily – to go to one’s own death-no longer my will in the matter but His will be done

7.  Instead of choosing my own way, I am willing to choose to follow in Christ’s way:  simply to do what He asks me to do.  This is basically simple, straightforward obedience!  It means I just do what He asks me to do.  I go where He invites me to go.  I say what He instructs me to say.  I act and react in the manner He maintains is in my own best interest as well as for His reputation (if I’m His follower).

Most of us possess a formidable amount of factual information on what the Master expects of us.  Precious few have either the will, intention, or determination to act on it and comply with His instructions.  But the person who decides to do what God asks him has moved onto fresh ground which will do both him and others a world of good.

Now, before you look back over these 7 things and begin to feel overwhelmed or think that you have to do all of these things yourself, I want to show you something.  Some have concluded that the demands are too drastic or that this is impossible to actually live out on a day to day basis.  Well, it would be if we had to depend on self-determination or self-discipline to succeed.  But if we are in earnest about wanting to do His will, and to be led, He makes this possible by His own gracious Spirit who is given to those who obey (Acts 5:32).  “For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey Him and the power to do what pleases Him.”  Phil. 2:13 NLT.  So you see, it is not you doing this it is Christ doing it in and through you.  Rest in Him and in the good paths that He leads you in today.


He Restores My Soul

Well, let me get back to our entry’s on the 23rd Psalm.  We are dealing with the phrase, “He Restores My Soul”.  Now even though this Psalm is coming from one sheep in the Good Shepherd’s care it is important to realize that one can still become in need of restoration. 

David, the author of the 23rd Psalm knew this all to well.  He knew he was much-loved of God but he also knew what it meant to be cast down and dejected.  He had tasted defeat in his life and felt the frustration of having fallen under temptation.  David was acquainted with the bitterness of feeling hopeless and without strength in himself.  In Psalm 42:11 he cries out, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God…”

The parallel to this in caring for sheep is going to blow your mind.  I had no idea the depth or magnitude that this parallel gives to us as Christians.  Only those intimately acquainted with sheep and their habits could see and understand the significance of a “cast” sheep or a “cast down” sheep. 

First of all, the term cast is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself.  This is an awful site with the sheep’s back to the ground and feet dangling in the air frantically struggling to stand up but having no success.  Sometimes it will bleat a little for help, but generally it lies there thrashing about in frightened frustration.

If the shepherd does not arrive on the scene within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die.  This is but another reason why it is so essential for a careful sheepman to look over his flock every day, counting them to see that all are able to be up and on their feet.  The other problem that arises for a cast sheep is that if the shepherd does not arrive and help the sheep soon predators could hear and find the cast sheep.  Buzzards, vultures, dogs, coyotes, and cougars all know that a cast sheep is easy prey and death of not far off.  Needless to say, the sheep would be an easy meal for the predator.  All of this makes the problem of a cast sheep very, very serious for the shepherd. 

One may wonder how a sheep becomes cast.  A heavy, fat, or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortable in some little hollow or depression in the ground.  It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax.  Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground.  It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically.  Frequently this only makes things worse.  It rolls over even further.  Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet.

As it lies there struggling, gases begin to build up in the rumen.  As these expand they tend to retard and cut off blood circulation to extremities of the body, especially the legs.  If the weather is very hot and sunny, a cast sheep can die in a few hours.  If it is cool, cloudy and/or rainy, it may survive in this position for several days.

Another major tragedy in this situation is that if the cast sheep is a ewe with lambs it is a multiple loss to the owner.  If the lambs are unborn, they perish with her and if they are young and suckling, they become orphans.  So you can understand why a shepherd is always alert and aware of the needs of his sheep.  This is also where the “counting” of the sheep comes in to play.  There is much pageantry and drama in this for the shepherd and you may have sensed that in reading the magnificent story of the ninety-nine sheep with one astray.  There is the shepherd’s deep concern, his agonizing search, his longing to find the missing one, and his delight in restoring it not only to its feet but also to the flock as well as to himself.

Obviously when we examine the conduct of Jesus Christ we see Him coping with human need.  We find Him again and again as the Good Shepherd picking up cast sheep.  The tenderness, the love, the patience that He used to restore Peter’s soul after the terrible tragedy of his temptations is a classic picture of the Christ coming to restore one of His own.  He comes to us quietly, gently, reassuringly no matter when or where or how we may be cast down. 

Psalm 56:13 we are given an accurate commentary on this aspect of the Christian’s life in these words, “You have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.”

As we take a realistic view of our lives as a Child of God we must remember that all of us at some point of time find ourselves “cast down”.  We discover that often when we are most sure of ourselves we stumble and fall.  Sometimes when we appear to be firm in our faith we find ourselves in a situation of utter frustration and futility.  Paul gives us a warning in I Corinthians 10:12 that would behoove us to remember:  “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”

As with sheep, so with Christians, some basic principles and parallels apply which will help us to grasp the way in which a man or woman can be cast.

1.  There is, first of all, the idea of looking for a soft spot.  The sheep that choose the comfortable, soft, rounded hollows in the ground in which to lie down very often become cast.  In such a situation it is so easy to roll over on their backs.

In the Christian life there is great danger in always looking for the easy place, the cozy corner, the comfortable position where there is no hardship, no need for endurance, no demand upon self-discipline.  Sometimes if, through self-indulgence, I am unwilling to forfeit or forego the soft life, the easy way, the cozy corner, then the Good Shepherd may well move me to a pasture where things aren’t quite so comfortable-not only for my own good but also His benefit as well.

2.  Some sheep simply have too much wool.  Often when the fleece becomes very long and heavily matted with mud, manure, burrs, and other debris, it is much easier for a sheep to b become cast, literally weighed down with its own wool. 

Wool in Scripture depicts the old self-life (a.k.a. Flesh) in the Christian.  It is the outward expression of an inner attitude, the assertion of my own desire and hopes and aspirations.  It is the area of my life in which and through which I am continually in contact with the world around me.  Here is where I find the clinging accumulation of things, of possessions, of worldly ideas beginning to weigh me down, drag me down, hold me down.  It is important to note here that the high priest was never allowed to wear wool when he entered the Holy of Holies.  This spoke of self, pride, and personal preference-and God could not tolerate it. 

The truth of the matter is that if I want to go on walking with God experiencing His life, joy and peace and not forever be cast down, this is an aspect of my life which He must deal with drastically. 

When a shepherd realizes that a certain sheep is being cast because of this reason he must immediately shear the sheep clean and so forestall the danger of having the ewe lose her life.  Shepherd’s note that this is not always a pleasant process.  Sheep do not really enjoy being sheared, and it represents some hard work for the shepherd, but it must be done.  When it is over sheep and shepherd are relieved.  There is no longer the threat of being cast down, while for the sheep there is the pleasure of being set free from the hot, heavy coat.  often the fleece is clogged with filthy manure, mud, burrs, sticks, and ticks.  What a relief to be rid of it all!  Consequently, this is true for the believer when God sets him free of many fleshly hangups.  There comes a time when the Master must take us in hand and apply the keen cutting edge of His Word to our lives.  It may be a unpleasent business for a time.  No doubt we’ll struggle and kick about but oh, the pleasure of being set free from ourselves!  What restoration!

The third cause of cast sheep is simply that they are too fat.  It is a well-known fact that over-fat sheep are neither the most healthy nor the most productive.  And certainly it is the fattest that most often are cast.  Their weight simply makes it that much harder for them to be agile and nimble on their feet.  Once a shepherd suspects that sheep are being cast for this reason, he will take long-range steps to correct the problem.  He will put the ewes on a more rigorous ration; they will get less grain, and the general condition of the flock will be watched very closely.  It is the aim to see that the sheep are strong, sturdy, and energetic, not fat, flabby and weak. 

In the Christian life, we are confronted with the same problem.  There are men and women who, because they may have done well in business or in their careers or their homes, feel that they are flourishing and have “arrived”.  This sense of well-being and self-assurance is very dangerous.  Often when we are most sure of ourselves we are the most prone to fall.  God warned the church in Revelation 3:17 that though some considered themselves rich and affluent, they were actually spiritual poor and in danger.  It is important to note here that material success is no measure of spiritual health.  Nor is apparent affluence any criteria of real godliness.  The Good Shepherd of our souls will take measures to correct the problem as He sees through the exterior of our lives.  One has said that He may impose on us some sort of “diet” or “discipline” which we may find a bit rough and unpalatable at first.  In this case we need to assure ourselves that this is for our own good because our Shepherd is GOOD and out of His goodness He is very fond of us.  Hebrews 12 speaks of how God chooses to discipline His children.  At the time this may prove to be a rough routine but the deeper truth is that afterward it produces a life of repose and tranquillity free from the fret and frustration of being cast down like a helpless sheep.

This in and of itself should be sufficient to continually refresh and restore my soul.  I know of nothing which so quiets and enlivens my own spiritual life as the knowledge that God knows what He is doing with me!

Hebrews 12:10-13 “For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how.  But God’s discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in His holiness.  No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening-it is painful!  But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.  So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs.  Mark out a straight path for your feet.  Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong.”

Merry Christmas!!


Accept the Chaos

I was blessed to be able to attend the Glory in the Highest Tour this past weekend with Chris Tomlin & Louis Giglio.  WOW!  It was an incredible worship experience where God spoke to me in a BIG way.  Oh, how I love to hear Him speaking to me.  His words are so soft and tender, yet so powerful!  On this night, His words to me were, “Accept the chaos.”  These weren’t exactly the words I wanted to hear; my flesh was fighting hard against them.  You see, my flesh is highly perfectionistic and controlling, so chaos is the enemy.  How could I embrace this “enemy”?  When things in my life are chaotic, spinning out of control, I feel VERY insecure & anxious.  So, I try to contol things, make them just right, extinguish any choas in order to give myself a sense of calm, peace, and security.  Whoa…now that’s just the kind of self-reliance & self-dependence that God wants to weed out of our lives.

As my struggle gave way to surrender, I repeated through tears, “God, okay, I’ll accept the choas…I’ll accept the chaos.”  I began to hear the truth…I’m okay inside the chaos because God is right there with me.  He is my calm, my peace, and my security.  I don’t have to fight against the chaos to get it under control.  He has everything under control.  I can depend on Him and rest. 

This is Christmas:  Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, has come into my chaos/my mess and given me Himself–His fullness, His sufficiency, His salvation, His peace.

Merry Christmas!

Rebecca 🙂

Your Greatest Present

Hello everyone!

I am going to take a quick break on the writings on the 23rd Psalm and share a quick thought about Christmas presents but I promise to get back to the 23rd Psalm.  I hope to do another entry on that next week.

Down to the Christmas thought….As I was sitting in church this past Sunday and processing the sermon, which was fantastic, I was able to keep some things in perspective.  It is easy during the holiday season to get totally wrapped up in the hussel and bussel, buying gifts, worrying about the family get-together and wondering if everyone is going to get along until it is easy for us to lose our focus.  Well, this year I have a new theme for the holiday season.  Before I share my new holiday theme, let me ask you a question.  What would be the greatest gift you could receive this year?  More specifically….what would be the greatest gift you could receive from Jesus this year?

Well, here it is……

The greatest present is His presence!  The greatest gift God could give to us is His presence with us and that is exactly what we have dwelling within us!  Christ in you, the hope of Glory!  Just enjoy Jesus this year!  That should be our primary focus.  After  all, it is His birth we are celebrating.

Merry Christmas!


He Leads Me Beside Quiet Waters

Well, we have made our way in the 23rd Psalm to the phrase, “He Leads Me Beside Quiet Waters”.  It is a pleasant phrase to have roll off the tongue but it is also one of dire importance.  For each of us to survive we must have adequate water supplies.  A sheep’s survival is also dependent on adequate water supplies, even though they thrive in dry, semi-arid climates.

One main key that I want us to see with this phrase is this:  once again, it is the responsibility of the shepherd to provide adequate water for the sheep.  In case you have not caught on just yet….It seems that the responsibilities of the shepherd are endless and the responsibilities of the sheep are simply to follow the shepherd.  The shepherd is the care taker, provider, protector, and leader and the sheep simply live in dependency on him and follow him.  Correspondingly, We worry and fret over to many things that are of no concern to us, only to the shepherd.  Worry, stress and anxiety kill because we are taking on responsibility that was never meant to be ours to begin with.  We were made to rest in, trust in, depend on, and follow the Good Shepherd of our souls, the One Jesus Christ.

It is the shepherd who knows where the sheep can find adequate water.  In fact, very often he is the one who with much effort and industry has provided the watering places.  And it is to the these spots that he leads the flock.  When sheep are thirsty they become restless and set out in search of water.  If not led to the good water supplies of clean, pure water, they will often end up drinking from the polluted pot holes where they pick up such internal parasites as nematodes, liver flukes, or other disease germs.

In the same since, Christ, our Good Shepherd, made it clear that thirsty souls of men and women can only be fully satisfied when their capacity and thirst for spiritual life is fully quenched by drawing on Himself.  Matthew 5:6 He said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, let him come to me and drink.” 

So what does it mean “to drink” of Christ Himself?  In spiritual terminology it means “to take in” or “to accept” or “to believe”.  That is to say it implies that a person accepts and assimilates the very life of God in Christ to the point where it becomes a part of Him.  Sometimes men and women who are thirsty for God, meaning they have a deep inner sense of searching and seeking; who are in quest of that which will completely satisfy, often are unsure of where to look or really what they are looking for.  Their inner spiritual capacity for God and divine life is desiccated, and in their dilemma they will drink from any dirty pool to try and satisfy their thirst for fulfillment.

Saint Augustine of Africa summed it up so well when he wrote, “O God! Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our souls are restless, searching ’til they find their rest in Thee.”  Only God, the Good Shepherd knows where the still, quiet, deep, clean, pure water is to be found that can satisfy His sheep and keep them fit. 

One of the main sources of water for sheep is the dew on the grass.  Most are not aware of the fact that sheep can go for months on end, especially if the weather is not too hot, without actually drinking, if there is heavy dew on the grass each morning.  Sheep by habit, rise just before dawn and start to feed.  Or if there is bright moonlight they will graze at night.  The early hours are when the vegetation is drenched with dew, and sheep can keep fit on the amount of water taken in with their forage when they graze just before and after dawn.

Interestingly, in the Christian life it is of more than passing significance to observe that those who are often the most serene, most confident, and able to cope with life’s complexities are those who rise early each day to feed on God’s Word.  It is in the quiet, early hours of the morning that they are led beside the quiet, still waters where they imbibe the very life of Christ for the day.  This is more than a mere figure of speech.  It is a practical reality.  The biographies of the great men and women of God repeatedly point out how the secret of the success in their spiritual life was attributed to the “quiet time” of each morning.  There, alone, still, waiting for the Master’s voice, one is led gently to the place where God and man can commune together.  This one is able to come away from this time refreshed in mind and spirit.  The thirst is quenched and the heart is satisfied and ready to face the day.

When sheep are able to graze like this they can fed heavily and contentedly.  As the sun rises and its heat burns the dewdrops from the leaves, the flock can retire to find shade.  There, fully satisfied and happily refreshed, they can lie down to rest and ruminate through the day.  From things that I have read about shepherds is that for the responsible, good shepherd this is the site that he works so hard to see.  Nothing pleases him more than to see his flock lying down, contented and restful. 

This must be the same reaction of our good Shepherd when we chose to meet the day like this with Him.  He loves to see me contented, quiet, at rest, and relaxed.  He delights to know my soul and spirit have been refreshed and satisfied.

Sadly, this is not true for most Christians.  They often pursue almost every other sort of substitute to satisfy their thirst.  Many pursue knowledge, career, money, possessions, culture, music, prestige, hobbies, athletics, relationships, sex, and on and on the pursuit goes.  All of their pursuing just leads to more frustration, conflict and just a general sense of being miserable after their fascinations wear off.  That is the thing with the world….nothing lasts!    After the pursuit of all these other things, one is still left with the haunting, hollow, empty, unfilled thirst within.  I am reminded of what the prophet Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 2:13 “For my people have done two evil things:  They have forsaken me-the fountain of living water.  And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!”  It is a compelling picture.  It is an accurate portrayal of broken lives-of shattered hopes-of barren souls that are dried up and parched and full of the dust of despair. 

Christ invites us to follow Him.  He invites us to put our confidence in Him.  For He is the One who best knows how we can be satisfied.  He knows best that the human heart, the human personality, the human soul with its amazing capacity for God can never be satisfied with a substitute.  Only the Spirit and life of Christ Himself will satisfy the thirsting soul.

The other two sources of water for the sheep are deep wells and spring or streams.  In his book, “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm” Phillip Keller tells of one incident in Africa while tending sheep.  He was watching the native herds being led to their owner’s water wells.  Some of these were enormous, hand-hewn caverns cut from the sandstone formation along the sandy rivers.  They were like great rooms chiseled out of the rocks with ramps running down to the water trough at the bottom.  The herds and flocks were led down into these deep cisterns where cool, clear water awaited them.  But down in the well, stripped naked, was the owner bailing water to satisfy the flock.  It was hard, heavy, hot work.  Perspiration poured off the body of the bailer, whose skin glistened under the strain and heat of his labor.  Keller says as he stood there watching the animals quench their thirst at the still waters he was again immensely impressed by the fact that everything hinged and depended upon the diligence of the owner, the shepherd.  Only through his energy, his efforts, his sweat, his strength could the sheep be satisfied.  He goes on to remind the reader that the Christian life the exact same applies here.  Many of the places we may be led into will appear to us as dark, deep, dangerous, and somewhat disagreeable.  But it simply must be remembered that He is there with us in it.  He is very much at work in the situation.  It is His energy, effort, and strength expended on my behalf that even in this deep, dark place is bound to produce a benefit for me.

Isn’t our Abba Father just amazing!


He Makes Me Lie Down In Green Pastures

Well….you may be like me and wondering what in the world does this have to do with us as humans.  Those were my exact sentiments.  I think you will be just as amazed as I was when you see the deeper meaning here.

In order for sheep to lie down and rest, four requirements must be met.  The unique aspect of the picture is that it is only the sheepman (shepherd) who can provide for these requirements.  The health, stability and survival of the entire flock all depends on the shepherd.  It is actually he who makes it possible for them to lie down, to rest, to relax, to be content and quiet and flourishing.  Let’s look at these requirements one by one.

1.  Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear.  You may not know that sheep are very timid and panicky.  Just one site of the smallest unexpected creature popping out and the entire herd will stampede.  When one startled sheep runs in fright a dozen others will bolt with it in blind fear, not waiting to see what frightened them.  In Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, he tells of his horrifying experience as a shepherd when he awoke and went out to check on his flock and found nine of his choicest ewes, all soon to lamb, lying dead in the field where a cougar had harried the flock during the night.  He says after that experience he slept with a .303 rifle and flashlight by his bed and at the least sound of the flock being disturbed he would jump out of bed calling his faithful collie and rush out to protect his sheep.  One of the things that he soon learned through his experiences was that nothing so quieted and reassured the sheep as to see him in the field.  WOW!!  That is incredible.  The presence of their master and owner and protector put them at ease as nothing else could do, and this applied day and night.  In the Christian’s life there is no substitute for the keen awareness that my shepherd is nearby.  There is nothing that dispels the fear, the panic, the terror of the unknown.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit that makes known to us the presence of our Good Shepherd.  He comes quietly to reassure us that Christ Himself is aware of our dilemma and deeply involved in it with us.

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

2.  Because of the social behavior within the flock, sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with other of their kind.  Believe it or not there in the fold lies tension, rivalry, and cruel competition.  Just as there is the “pecking order” among chickens and the “horning order” among cattle, there is a “butting order” among sheep.  It is usually the arrogant, cunning, and domineering old ewe that will be the boss in the flock.  This ewe will maintain position of prestige by butting and driving other ewe’s or lambs away from the best grazing or favorite bedgrounds.  Succeeding this one in precise order the other sheep all establish and maintain their exact position in the flock by using the same tactics of butting and thrusting at those below and around them.  Because of this rivalry, tension and competition for status and self-assertion, there is friction in the flock.  The sheep cannot lie down and rest in contentment.  Always they must stand up and defend their rights and contest the challenge of the intruder.  Again, it is the presence of the Shepherd that will attract the attention of the sheep and they will forget their foolish rivalries and stop their fighting.  Occasionally the shepherd must use his staff and discipline the older ewes and we will see more of that in the phrase, “His rod and staff, they comfort me.”

We are just as these sheep.  The struggle for self-assertion and self-recognition goes on and on.  Most of us fight to be “top sheep”.  We butt and quarrel and compete to “get ahead” and in the process we hurt ourselves and others.  I’m remembering what James said in chapter 4 verses 1-3

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?  Isn’t it the whole army of evil desires at war within you?  You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it.  You are jealous for what others have, and you can’t possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them.  And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it.  And when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure. (NLT)

We must remember that when our eyes are on our Master they are not on those around us.  This is a place of peace.  In the end it is he who will decide and judge what my status really is.  After all, it is His estimation of me that is of consequence.  Any human measurement at best is bound to be pretty unpredictable, unreliable, and far from final.  So, to be close to Him, conscious of His abiding Presence, made real in my mind, emotions, and will by the indwelling gracious Spirit, is to be set free from fear of my fellow-man and whatever he might think of me.  I would much rather have the affection of the Good Shepherd than occupy a place of prominence in society….especially if I had attained it by fighting, quarreling, and bitter rivalry with my fellow human beings.

“Blessed [happy, to be envied] are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”.  Matt. 5:7

3.  If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down.  This is essential to the contentment of sheep.  As we know it is in the summertime that flies are at their worst.  During this time sheep can be driven to absolute frustration by nasal flies, bot flies, warble flies and ticks.  They can not rest when tormented with these pests.  They are up on their feet stomping their legs, shaking their heads, ready to rush off into the bush for relief from their pests.  Again, we see that it is the diligent care of the shepherd who must keep a constant look out over his flock to know when they are being harassed.  A good shepherd will take swift action and use the application of insect repellents on the sheep.  He will also see that they are dipped to clear their fleeces of ticks.  He will also make sure that there are shelter belts of trees and bush available where they can find refuge and release from their tormentors.  All of this entails extra care and expense on the part of the shepherd.  The primary purpose in the shepherd’s mind is the aim of keeping his flock quiet, contented, and at peace.

Similarly in the Christian life there are bound to be many small irritations.  There are the annoyances of petty frustrations and ever-recurring disagreeable experiences.  What is the antidote?  Can any of us come into quietness and contentment despite them?

The answer for the Christian is “YES”!  This is one of the main functions of the Holy Spirit.  In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is often symbolized by oil-by that which brings healing and comfort and relief from the harsh and abrasive aspects of life.  The gracious Holy Spirit makes real in me the very presence of Christ.  He brings quietness, serenity, strength, and calmness in the face of frustrations and futility.  When I turn to Him and expose the problem to Him, allowing Him to see that I have a dilemma, a difficulty beyond my control, He comes to assist.  Often a helpful approach is simply to voice aloud, “Master, this is beyond me-I can’t cope with it-it’s bugging me-I can’t rest-please take over!”  He does in His own wonderful way.  He applies the healing, soothing, effective antidote of His own person and presence to my particular problem.  There immediately comes into my consciousness the awareness of His dealing with the difficulty in a way I had not anticipated.  And because of the assurance that He has become active on my behalf, there steals over me a sense of quiet contentment.  I am then able to lie down in peace and rest.  ALL BECAUSE OF WHAT HE DOES!  If you notice here….there are no “three points and a poem”.  There is nothing that you do other than call out to Him and He does the rest.  He is a Good Shepherd!

4.  The fourth and final requirement that must be met for sheep to lie down and rest is they must be free from a feeling of hunger.  In the areas of the country that are known as great sheep countries of the world there is a dry, semi-arid climate.  This happens to be the very best climate for sheep to flourish.  They are susceptible to fewer hazards of health or parasites where the climate is dry.  But it is very interesting that these regions are not natural places to find lush, green pastures.  David kept his sheep near Bethlehem which is a dry, brown, sun-burned wasteland.

These green pastures that the sheep so desperately need did not just happen by chance,  Green pastures were the product of tremendous labor, time, and skill in land use.  In order for green pastures to be made the shepherd must go in ahead of time and clear rough, rocky land, tear out brush and roots and stumps; he must plow deep and carefully develope the soil and make it ready for seeding and planting special grains and legumes.  Then there is also the matter of irrigating with water with careful, watch of the crops of forage that would feed the flocks.  To top it off he must also have several pastures prepared for his sheep. 

 All of this represents tremendous toil and skill and time for the careful shepherd.  If his sheep were going to enjoy green pastures amid the brown, barren hills, it meant he had a tremendous job to do.  But these pastures are essential to the welfare of the sheep.  Even when lambs are maturing and the ewes need green, succulent feed for a heavy mild flow, there is no substitute for good pasturage.  Incidently…no sight so satisfies the shepherd as to see his flock well and quietly fed to repletion on rich green forage, able to lie down to rest, ruminate, and gain.

Now, a hungry, ill-fed sheep is ever on its feet, on the move, searching for another scanty mouthful of forage to try and satisfy its gnawing hunger.  These sheep are not contented, they do not thrive, they are of no use to themselves nor to their owners.  One shepherd described it as, “…they languish and lack vigor and vitality.” 

What is the application for us as Christians here?  Well, focus now your attention on the “Promised Land” that God mentioned in Scripture.  This is the land that God worked so hard to lead Israel to from Egypt.  This land was described to the children of Israel as a land “flowing with milk and honey.”  When studying the scientific technology involved in agriculture you will find that this term “a land flowing with mild and honey” is not only figurative language but also scientific terminology.  In agricultural terms they speak of a “milk flow” and “honey flow”.  By this they mean the peak season of spring and summer when pastures are at their most productive stages.  The livestock that feed on the forage and the bees that visit the blossoms are said to be producing a corresponding “flow” of milk or honey.  So a land flowing with milk and honey is a land of rich, green luxuriant pastures.

When God spoke of such a land for Israel He also foresaw such an abundant life of joy and victory and contentment for His people.  For the child of God, the Old Testament account of Israel moving from Egypt into the Promised Land is a picture of us moving from sin into the life of overcoming victory.  We are promised such a life.  It has been provided for us and is made possible by the unrelenting effort of Christ on our behalf.

Picture this…He works to clear the life of rocks of stony unbelief.  How He tries to tear out the roots of bitterness.  He attempts to break up the hard, proud human heart that is set like sun-dried clay.  He then sows the seed of His own precious Word, which, if given half a chance to grow, will produce rich crops of contentment and peace.  He waters this with the dews and rain of His own presence by the Holy Spirit.  He tends and cares and cultivates the life, longing to see it become rich and green and productive.  All of this shows the unrelenting energy and industry of an owner who wishes to see his sheep satisfied and well fed.  It really shows that my Shepherd’s desire is to see my best interests served.  His concern for my care is beyond my comprehension, really.  At best all I can do is to enjoy and revel in what He has brought into effect.

Now, this life of quiet overcoming, of happy repose, of rest in His presence, of confidence in His management is something few Christians ever fully enjoy.  Why?  I think it is because of our own stubbornness and perverseness we often prefer to feed on the barren ground of the world around us.  We don’t want to take the time to open ourselves up to our Good Shepherd and let Him do the work in our hearts to bring this about so we go off on our own looking for spiritual forage to satisfy our deep inner longings.  For those who do long for those pastures, there they will find peace and plenty.

Psalm 63:1-8  

“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you.  My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. 

I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.  Your unfailing love is better to me than life itself; how I praise you! 

I will honor you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer.  You SATISFY me more than the richest of foods.  I will praise you with songs of joy. 

I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night.  I think how much you have helped me; I sing for joy in the shadow of your protecting wings.  I follow close behind you; your strong right hand holds me securely.”  

Thank you, my Abba Father!


I Shall Not Want

In the 23rd Psalm, the Phrase, “I Shall Not Want”….. have you ever given that phrase much thought?  I must admit that I have thought about it some but maybe not to the degree that I should have.  In my study on the 23rd Psalm I have found some intriguing things that I would like to share with you.  The Lord used a great source to help me understand these things and I would highly recommend you checking it out.  It is a book by Phillip Keller entitled “A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm”.  It is an excellent book and one that will grab your attention and you will not be able to put it down.  All of the posts on the 23rd Psalm will deal with information discovered by Keller in his work as a literal shepherd with sheep.

The Word “want” here actually has a broader meaning than one might imagine.  No doubt the main concept is that of not lacking but can we really know what David was referring to here as he was a shepherd of sheep for many years as well.  It was discovered here that a broader meaning is that of being utterly contented in the Good Shepherd’s care and consequently not craving or desiring anything more.

We can be sure that David was not really speaking of a materialistic or financial means because we find him experiencing extreme, intense personal poverty and acute hardship and adversity at times in his life.  One would recall as David was on the run from Saul in his early years and again as being estranged and on the run from his own son Absalom.  Just recently in the Ladies Bible study that I teach on Wednesday mornings we looked at the passage in Revelation 3.  We focused in on Rev. 3:17 that states, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  Wow…there is it in Scripture that we can posses all that this world affords us physically, materialistically, socially, and relational and I can still be wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked in a spiritual sense.  When these attributes characterize my spiritual life, my fascination and excitement with these earthly things will fail me and I will not be able to find peace and contentment deep within me even though all manner of things that this world can give me are scattered about in front of me.

So what exactly does he mean here?  I think David could be saying here, “I shall not want or lack the expert care and management of my Master.”  Who is your master?  Jesus himself even said that it is impossible to serve two master’s.  We will hate one and love the other.  It is important to understand who our master is and the significance of belonging to that master or shepherd.  One is a Good Shepherd and the other is an imposter.  The imposter cares nothing for his flock.  Because he doesn’t love and care for the sheep, they are weak, thin, impoverished, malnourished and sickly.  They are riddled with ticks, parasites, disease, and filth.  The imposter abandon’s them and leaves them to fend for themselves.  The imposter that I am speaking of here is our enemy Satan.  You know you belong to either him or Christ.  We are either children of darkness or children of Light, children of a scandalous imposter or children of the King….and the only thing scandalous about our King is His great affection and love for us.  There are no boundaries that will prevent Him from being all that a Good Shepherd is for us.  The Sheep under His care and management will never want or lack any good thing.

If you and I can entrust ourselves to Christ’s control and management we will find there a radiant, serene and joyous confidence and quiet joy that surmounts all the tragedies of our time.  We will find that contentment we long so for.  Which, incidently….Contentment should be the hallmark of the man or woman who has put his or her affairs in the hands of God.  The paradox we see though in our society is the intense fever of discontent among people who are ever speaking of security.  The very thing that they pursue with all their might believing that it will be the thing that provides security for them is the very thing that can be sucked right out from underneath them in a heartbeat.  My friend, Christ – the Good Shepherd is the only sure foundation upon which to build ones life.  Spend your energies, time, and resources pursing Him and He will fill you and you will never want again.

John 4:13-14 “Jesus replied, “People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water.  But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether.  It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life.” NLT

The LORD Is My Shepherd

Who is your LORD?  Who do you worship or serve?  Do you know Him personally?  Do you fellowship with Him often?  How do you perceive Him?  Do you know anything about His character, His attributes, His Ways?  My LORD is Jesus Christ.  He is my Shepherd and a very good one too! 

Sometimes our view of Jesus is often too small, too cramped, too provincial, too human.  And because it is, we feel unwilling to allow Him to have authority or control – much less outright ownership of our lives.  We lack in trusting Him and being able to experience a walk of faith that we are called to because we don’t know who He is.  When looking at sheep management, the lot in life of any particular sheep depended on the type of man who owned it.  Some were gentle, kind intelligent, brave, and selfless in their devotion to their stock.  Under one management sheep would struggle, starve, and suffer endless hardship.  In another’s care they would flourish and thrive contentedly.  Under God’s care He invites me to consider myself His sheep – His special object of affection and attention. 

The relationships given to us to communicate how we are to relate to our Heavenly Father are that of a father and his children and of a Shepherd and his sheep.  These concepts were first conceived in the mind of God our Father.  They were made possible and practical through the work of Christ.  They are confirmed and made real in me and you through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

You and I were bought with a high price.  Not only did He create me but He bought me again at the incredible price of His own laid down life and shed blood.  Therefore He was entitled to say, “I am the good Shepherd.  The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”  I belong to Him simple because He deliberately chose to create me as in the object of his own affection.  he literally lays Himself out for us continually.  He is ever interceeding for us; He is ever guiding us by His gracious Spirit; He is ever working on our behalf to ensure that we will benefit from His care.

An interesting mark of sheep is that they don’t “just take care of themselves” as some might suppose.  They require, more than any other class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care.  It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep.  The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways.  Our mass mind or mob instincts, our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance.  Yet despite these adverse characteristics Christ chooses us, buys us, calls us by name, makes us His own, and delights in caring for us.

If you know anything about real, live sheep management, you know that each shepherd has his own distinctive earmark which he cuts into one of the ears of his sheep.  In this way, even at a distance, it is easy to determine to whom the sheep belongs.  It is not the most pleasant procedure to catch each ewe in turn and lay her ear on a wooden block, then notch it deeply with the razor-sharp edge of the knife.  There was pain for both sheep and shepherd.  But from the mutual suffering an indelible lifelong mark of ownership was made that could never be erased.  And from then on every sheep that comes into that shepherd’s possession would bear that shepherd’s mark. 

There is an exciting parallel to this in the Old Testament.  When a slave in any Hebrew household chose, of his own free will, to become a lifetime member of that home, he was subjected to a certain ritual.  His master and owner would take him to his door, put his ear lobe against the door post and with an awl puncture a hole through the ear.  For then on he was a man marked for life as belonging to that house.  For the man or woman who recognizes the claim of Christ and gives allegiance to His absolute ownership, there comes the question of bearing His mark.  The mark of the cross is that which should identify us with Him for all time.  The question is – does it?

Jesus made it clear when he stated emphatically, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  Basically, A person exchanges the fickle fortunes of living life by sheer whimsy for the more productive and satisfying adventure of being guided by God.

Can you say as David did, “The Lord is my Shepherd!”  Are you thrilled to belong to Him?  It is then that we flourish and thrive no matter what life my bring to us.  Get to know your Good Shepherd!


My Secure Source

This week I have fought some discouragement.  I know we are going to face it but I was not prepared for it and really was not focused on it until my husband started asking me some questions about it.  All the sudden it became my complete focus.  It started to monopolize  the rest of my week.  I knew that first off I needed to get some time alone and figure out what I was believing about myself in the midst of the situation.  Upon doing that God had another divine appointment for me.  At the last minute Tony and I ended up going to lunch with a friend of ours on Thursday that is also in ministry.  I did not say a whole lot about my discouragement until briefly mentioning it at the end of our time together.  He asked me a very good “Why” questions that really got me to thinking and based on my response it revealed to me what I was looking to for security.  God began to confirm in my spirit what I had been sensing Him to be saying the last several weeks to me.  What I need is Him – time with Him – focusing on Him – being with Him – Abiding in Him – Depending on Him.  That is the message of what we teach here is that we are to “exchange our life for Christ’s life, our strength for His strength”.  I am to seek to remember Christ is my life!

Psalm 62:1-2 “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.” NASB

vs. 5-8 “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken.  On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.  Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” NASB

Psalm 63:1 “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you.  My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.  I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory.  Your unfailing love is better to me than life itself; how I praise you!  I will honor you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer.  You satisfy me more than the richest of foods.  I will praise you with songs of joy.” NLT

vs. 8  “I follow close behind you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” NLT

Lamentations 3:21-26 “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.  The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness.  ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.”  The LORD is good to those who wait fro Him, To the person who seeks Him.  It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD.” NASB


The Work of Grace

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,”

~Titus 2:11-12

Grace is much more than forgiveness for our sin.  It is what teaches us not to sin in the first place.  I have struggled with letting go of my incredibly legalistic way of living (my brand of flesh) because I’m afraid that if I don’t follow the rules, my life will begin to spin out of control.  I think this may be a common fear that keeps many people trapped in legalism.  We’re afraid that if we focus too much on grace, we’ll end up sinning more.  But the Truth is actually the opposite of what we think.  It’s the law that urges us to sin (Romans 7) and grace that teaches us not to.  Living by grace gets our self-effort in doing the right thing out of the way so that the Holy Spirit can produce His fruit in us–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Rebecca 🙂