Monday, June 21, 2010

The Lord is my Shepherd Again

I wrote this years ago for a group of women at Blacknall Presbyterian Church. And post it today for myself to read. Maybe you need to read it too.

The Lord is My Shepherd
I shall not want
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
he leadeth me beside still waters
he restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil
for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow
me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever

Psalm 23 KJV

This is likely the most famous Psalm in America, if not the world. As a 3rd grader, at Davie Ave. Elementary School in Statesville, NC, I memorized this psalm and other bible verses, in exchange for a certificate of accomplishment at the year’s end. Only, in the South in the late 50’s and early 60’s could you get away with violating the separation of State and Church.. Through those years of teaching and memorizing, I was imprinted with an image of Jesus that was enhanced by Sunday School lessons, fans in the pew racks at Forest Park Presbyterian church, and Miss Knight’s bible class, complete with flannel board and the first verse of “Onward Christain Soldiers” sung every other Tuesday morning in the cool, damp, basement classroom at school.

It would be many years later before this imprinted image would be reexamined and the Jesus painted on my mind’s canvas would begin to look different and I would begin to see and grasp, if only minutely, the evidence of authority and sacrifice in the life of Christ. No longer did Jesus look like he walked off a Cecil B.DeMille movie set. As Jesus grew more REAL to me, and my own reality more exposed by His light, the depths of truths in this psalm began to be revealed.

We don’t know exactly when David wrote this Psalm. It is my thought that it was deep into his relationship with the Lord. The images that we will examine express a relationship with David’s Shepherd that only could have grown out of experiences that tested him and refined him. David’s psalm is spoken by one who knows the reality of security through abandonment into the care of his Shepherd King.

If we had the time to examine David’s life thoroughly, we would be able to look closely at his growth in the Lord from the days of being a Shepherd boy through his call and anointing as the king of Judah and Israel. We would see him struggle through the valley of the shadow of death … a valley long in years of conflict, running, and hiding as King Saul pursued and David actively waited for the time when the promised throne would become his. We would see him grow as God’s anointed King and see his love for his Sovereign Lord grow deep and rich as he fought through the battles and is given victory over the enemies of God’s people. Through all these years David would be filled with joy and “dance before the Lord with all his might.”

We would see that this man after God’s own heart was also as truly human as the rest of us when we see him grieve the death of his soul mate/soul brother Jonathan. And then, later, well into his kingship… “In the Spring, at a time when kings go to off to war…David remained in Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1). This was to set forth a wave of events that would impact the rest of his life.Bearing the consequences of not being where he was supposed to be, we would see him wrestle with his own temptations and grieve over the results of his own selfishness when he sent Bathsheba’s husband to the warfront, so that he might end up with this other man’s wife . We would see him yield himself to the Lord in the midst of his valley of the shadow of death when the prophet Nathan brings the Lord’s rebuke upon him. Then, when his son, by Bathsheba, died and later when rape and murder are committed by his other sons, we would see David mourn and weep.

Yet, through all the darkness David sang praises to the Lord….my rock…my fortress…my deliverer …my refuge…my shield…my stronghold…my savior…”I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise…The waves of death swirled about me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I called out to my God.” (2 Samuel 22)

The Lord is my Shepherd

So, we have seen that David knew this Lord when he was a shepherd boy as the years carried him to green pastures and still waters along paths of righteousness. He knew this same Lord to lead him through the valley of the shadow death. He learned through all this to allow the Lord to lead him. It was not always sweet and easy. Whether through the valley of the shadow of death or in the quiet green pastures along shores of still waters…whether through battles or times of peace… David followed the One he loved and trusted. Along the paths of righteousness he followed if even in a round about way. Along these paths he came to understand himself honestly. He was not the Shepherd.

I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
He leadeth me beside still waters
He restoreth my soul.

Through it all David came to know that he was a sheep. He maketh me…He leadeth me …green pastures…still waters … peace, well-being, absence of fear, of conflict…He learned through what he suffered that he needed a source beyond himself that would “free him from fear, deliver him from conflict with others of his kind, protect him from pests and parasites, and satisfy his hunger.” See, these are the needs of sheep, according to Phillip Keller, author of A Shepherd’s Look at the 23rd Psalm and a shepherd as well.

David had spent years amongst his father’s flocks. He knew sheep to be powerless, easily frightened, and in great need of the shepherd. And he knew that it was the shepherd’s responsibility to meet the needs of the sheep. He knew the sheep were not capable of living without the care of the shepherd. Nor was he.. “I shall not want…I shall not lack..I shall not be deficient of…I shall not be found incomplete….It was the shepherd’s responsibility to find green pastures in a dry and arid land. It was the shepherd’s resposibility to find still, unmoving waters that would not frighten the sheep..from which they could drink.

Let me ask you…Do you know that you are the sheep of His pasture? Do you know that you are NOT the shepherd? It is vital that we know that WE DON”T HAVE TO BE THE SHEPHERD !!! David gave himself fully to the relationship and I think he was able to do so because he knew the shepherd and he knew himself. He knew that the only way he would be able to find his way was by following. He also knew that the givens of this not-yet-fully-realized redeemed world…fear, conflict, parasites, hunger, even death …are not tolerable, much less walked through, without the guidance of the shepherd. Without trusting the shepherd to lead the way through the valley of the shadow of death, evil will generate fear. All forms and shapes of evil will invade our senses and paralyze us.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for Thou art with me”

You are a sheep. You don’t have to save yourself. That fear you feel…of failing…of loss…of rejection…. of losing control….the conflict and friction you feel…between family members, with your spouse, with coworkers, within yourself….Those parasites that seek to suck the life out of you…cluttered schedules, over-whelming work and/or family responsibilities, weakness (physical, emotional, and mental), depression, illness…the hunger you feel …loneliness, longing for heaven, desire for change …. All of this is real and part of this place we are traveling through…part of that which the sheep are led through. Through this place the shepherd leads. The evil is real but so is the Shepherd and greater is He that is with you than the evil that lurks in the shadows.

“For Thou art with me…. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me”

Imagine…see the shepherd of your soul with His rod and his staff in hand. He is taking you along a narrow path along the side of a steep incline toward a narrowing valley. You are clueless…you are a sheep. With his rod of discipline and authority he keeps you on the path of righteousness. Not by beating you down but by guiding. When you wander he rescues you with his staff. With His right hand he fights off the enemies of the flock and keeps you safe, even at the cost of his own life. One of you wanders away and becomes lost. The shepherd searches far and wide until that sheep is found. Passage through the valley is a long and arduous process. It is the responsibility of the Shepherd to lead the sheep through. The sheep know His voice and follow.

How many times do you find yourself in a place that feels weighed down with a cold blanket of darkness in the depth of a valley. That which you must do seems to be impossible. The difficulty of what lies before you feels impossible or frightening and you hear yourself cry out to the Lord, “I CAN’T DO THIS !!”

Or maybe you have wandered off and found yourself lost … lost in the brambles of this world, tangled up in busyness, duty, or daily drudgery, turned upside-down by circumstances beyond your control. You wake up to find you are disconnected from the flock and from the shepherd. You are alone and isolated by your self’s natural inclination to try to “go it alone”. Maybe you feel you have fallen off the edge and are stuck. Maybe you have been there so long that you fear your soul will never be restored.

I have this raised platform in my backyard. I often go out there at night and lay on my back and look up through the trees at the sky. There were many times over the years when I would lay there and cry out to my Shepherd….Lord, please be real…please be true to your promises … please be, in my life, the Shepherd I have read about in Your word.

I had already learned through my late 30’s and early 40’s that I was not the Shepherd, but a sheep… (and that, my friends, was a long learning experience for this southern girl who made a vow EARLY in her childhood that she had to take care of herself). Now, as a sheep lying on this altar in the backyard, I tried to understand why I had to experience such pain. The grief I felt was frightening. Sometimes, I wanted to die. I thought I would die. I felt my shepherd would never come. I feared I would not make it through the valley of the shadow of death. I couldn’t see. I was frightened. I could not find faith in my being. All that I thought to be true seemed to taunt me. In the midst of this frightening trek through a dark valley, I heard, “CHOOSE to trust the ONE who leads.”

Many of you have been, maybe are even now, in a place like this. A place that is suffocating you with fear, anger, sorrow, confusion, or simply dullness. Do you ask, as I do, “What do you want me to do, Lord?” As though we actually COULD do something to save ourselves. What if the question was turned around and instead you heard Him say, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Does He really say this to us in this day and time? Does He really intervene in the affairs of our day? Does He hear when we come to him with our child who “is thrown into the fire” by multiple “issues”…health, mental, emotional, financial…all of which feels “horrible, exceptionally stressful, exceptionally difficult”. It is a situation in which understanding is difficult to find and the child has been seen by scores of doctors and travelled down multiple paths trying to discover the way to wholeness.. Does He search for this child…this sheep that has not yet learned to recognize the shepherd’s voice. Do I believe? Do you believe?

My sister has sent me an e-mail message, a note, or a card everyday since my birthday in January. It is her gift to me for my 50th birthday….the gift of daily contact/encouragement for a year. This was her message to me a few weeks ago as we entered the Lenten season. She sent me a message from the Shepherd….a promise of hope as He leads me through.

Two small and vaguely human figures with furry feet are running desperately through the forest night trying to escape horrors unseen, but urgently sensed. They are running for their lives. They reach the top of a hill, and what they see in the moonlight terrifies them. Orcs! They must hide. Hide in the darkness of tall grass! Too late. They’ve been spotted. The Orcs are coming -- lumbering, powerful, without pity. Suddenly, the night air is split by the shrill screeching of giant eagles swooping down from their mountain perches. Elves show up to join the fray, then fierce Dwarfs. The horrific sounds of warfare clash and echo as each group claws, beats, screams, stabs, and mutilates the others in efforts to win the victory. Trolls, Dark Riders, Goblins, and Wizards arrive, adding their weapons and their voices to the cacophony. The carnage is awesome! The little ones hiding in the tall grass freeze, hunkering down, hoping to be invisible. Will those defenseless Hobbits survive the night, or will the forces of the Dark Lord have their way?

We, my friends, are the little Hobbits hiding in the tall grass. We are trapped in the battle between the Dark Lord and the True Lord, helpless and often hopeless. Somehow we must be rescued, Some One must help, because we cannot rescue ourselves. Without rescue, we will perish. This is our faith: that the True Lord has asserted his dominion over the Dark Lord and all his forces. The sacrifice of the True Lord himself has saved us when we could not save ourselves.

Let us remember that, through the resurrection of Jesus, the True Lord changed the rules of battle. There are still Orcs out there, and Trolls, Dark Riders, even Oliphants. They will be waiting in ambush to grab us whenever they find opportunity to use us for their own purposes.

But all things are new because of Jesus, who is the True Lord. We are no longer helpless and hopeless and afraid. We are marching in the Light of God.

We pray to you, True Lord: save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. The Kingdom is yours, now and forever.

Dallas Cronk

This is reality. As much as we may want to leave out portions of this Psalm 23. We can’t just dwell in the green pastures by the still waters. The fact is, most often we can’t get to the green pastures lest we go through the valley. We must live out the whole story with the promise of victory before us. We must believe that the eagles will come…have come..

Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies

As I write this we are one week into the season of Lent. Christ has turned his face toward Jerusalem. He fears no evil. I do, but He doesn’t. He knows where he has come from and where he is going. I’m lost in the dark most of the time. He leads us on. We follow. The table is set. The oil is in abundance. But, the victory that is assured and the celebration that is promised is not without a cost to the Shepherd. Yet, he is not ashamed to endure what he must. For the Joy set before Him….Christ, our Shepherd King, laid his life down and in doing so His enemies/our enemies are defeated.

Aren’t you thankful that you don’t have to be the Shepherd. You don’t have to be the responsible one who takes care of making your spiritual journey a success. You don’t have to figure out the way you must go. You don’t have to determine how transformation is possible. You don’t have to make yourself holy through disciplines of your own making. The Lord is the Shepherd.

The Lord is….He maketh me…He leadth me… He restoreth my soul….He leadeth me…

Thou art with me … Thy rod and Thy staff …. Thou preparest a table …

Thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over…..
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow
me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever

Our Lord leads us on paths of righteousness for His name’s sake … He calls us to follow, trusting Him to be in our lives, in our everyday events as He is in the Word. This is the only way to get to the end of the Psalm…where goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives…and we dwell in the house of he Lord forever. …Amen and Amen