The verse in the old familiar KJV reads: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” Sheep get rattled and spooked very easily; the slightest movement can send them in a panic. Know anybody like that? Nevertheless, this sheep (writer) said he could enjoy a bountiful feast even with the knowledge that predators were nearby, simply because the Great Shepherd was with him. I can imagine the excellent physical condition the Lord’s flock possessed. As I mentioned before, a lot can be known about the owners by the appearance and physical condition of their animals or pets under their care. In the eyes of this sheep the table set before him was like a banquet where nothing was left out. With Thanksgiving Day approaching, many families plan to set a table that has everything in it but I’m sure that often some side dishes are overlooked. You may not say it but oftentimes you will say within yourself “That was a great dinner, but it would have been even better if they hadn’t forgotten the _________ .” That does not happen with the Lord; He supplies every need and never forgets anything. To me “in the presence of my enemies” is a reference to our everyday experience while here on earth. Our enemies are not necessarily people. They can also be worry, fear, or doubt. Yet, even though we know these things are nearby we can be perfectly at ease while feasting on the Lord’s blessings. Even in this life, we can be happy and blessed. We don’t have to wait for the “sweet by and by.” To me, “thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” has two applications. The first one implies that the Preparer of the feast, also anoints the head of His guests with a sweet smelling perfume. While they are enjoying the meal, they are clean in His eyes and in His presence. “My cup runneth over” indicates that the guests at the table are full and completely satisfied. The second application is this: In the time of this writing, a good shepherd made it a habit of periodically anointing the heads of his sheep in order to keep them free from insects and parasites. Without this mixture, the sheep would be constantly tormented by these pests. Because of it, they would not get their proper rest, neither would they be able to get their much needed nourishment nor enjoy their food. With us too, the “oil” is the Holy Spirit that gives us the peace, comfort, and the nourishment that keeps us spiritually healthy.
God’s word for today: (John 1:16) “And of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.”
The second part of Psalm 23:4 reads: “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” When I first studied the message of the 23rd Psalm, I associated the shepherd’s rod as an instrument of chastisement and correction, partly because I read a book written by a shepherd where he pointed out that shepherds would use the rod whenever one of the sheep was being unruly or was bullying others. It should be pretty obvious to all of God’s children that the Lord can and will correct or chastise His children when necessary, for their own good. Nevertheless, in the context of this particular psalm, when the sheep (writer) was going through a dark and frightful valley, what he needed was comfort, not correction. In the laws and rules for living, (commandments) given to God’s people by way of Moses, I found this enlightening verse: “Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord.” (Lev. 27:32) So here we see that the shepherd, among other things, used his rod to count his sheep. When I visualize the 23rd Psalm, I see the sheep (David) very much aware that the Shepherd is counting him as one of His own, and that gives him great comfort. Does the knowledge that you belong to the Lord not give you comfort? In the New Testament, Paul pointed out that same comforting truth when he wrote: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8) The second member of this comforting duo is the Shepherd’s staff. The Shepherd’s staff represents power. With it, the shepherds would defend and drive away predators that wanted to destroy or kill their sheep. In our lifetime, the enemy, plus many other things, will come against us with the intent of destroying us and keeping us from reaching our heavenly home, our eternal rest. They will never succeed because of our God’s faithful protection and supervision. Some Bible scholars allude that the Lord’s rod and staff represent His Word and His Spirit, and who can find fault with that. After all, how many times have we not been comforted when reading God’s Word, and did not Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit as the “Comforter”? Even though David wrote this psalm around three thousand years ago, the same Lord who comforted him is the One who comforts us today. Among the most valuable possessions we have is the comfort that only He can give. I pray it will lift you up today.
God’s word for today: (2 Corinthians 1:3) “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”
There is so much that I want to share with you regarding Psalm 23:4 that I decided to break it down in two parts, the first part concerning the valley of the shadow of death. Here is what that part of the verse says: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” Before we proceed, I remind you to keep in mind that the man who wrote this psalm, (David) was a shepherd himself. He knew what his sheep needed in order to thrive. Therefore, when he wrote the psalm, he wrote it from the perspective of one of the sheep of the Lord’s flock. In other words, when he wrote “the Lord is my Shepherd”, he could have obviously added, “I am one of His sheep.” Almost all bible scholars agree that David’s “valley of the shadow of death” is comparable to the troubles, trials, and afflictions we all experience in this life. When I think of this verse, I always liken it to the account in the 8th Chapter of Luke that tells of the day when Jesus’ Disciples were caught in the middle of a terrifying storm. They thought they were going to perish but they didn’t because Jesus was with them in the boat. In the case of the sheep in the 23rd Psalm, he already knew by experience that although the surroundings were more than spooky, he had no reason to fear because the Good Shepherd was with him. Another thing to remember is that, just like Jesus knew that His Disciples needed to go through that storm in order to get to the other side, the Good Shepherd knew there was no way to avoid going through the valley of the shadow of death. Life’s trials are like that. In order to get to the other side, (Heaven) we’ve got to go through them. Here are four key words in this verse regarding the “valley”: (1) It is only a “shadow.” A shadow cannot kill or destroy anyone. For the child of God, death is but a shadow. That is why Paul could later write: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) (2) It is a valley. Though some valleys may look mysteriously dark and frightful, all of them yield healthy vegetation. In other words, they are fruitful. And if they are fruitful, it is a good thing. (3) Our journey through valleys are “walks.” We don’t run through them in a panic or in desperation. It is a gentle and peaceful walk with our Good Shepherd who walks with us every step of the way until we reach the “other side.” (4) And we walk “through” the valley; we don’t stay there because it is not our final destination. I tell our church members often that life’s, trials, troubles, and afflictions are temporary, just like our lives here on earth. This is not our final home; we’re only passing through. If you are going through a storm or an extremely dark valley today, let me remind you that it will come to an end, probably sooner than later. Conclusion: In the end, going through “the valley of the shadow of death” is actually a good thing. And it’s all because we have a “Good Shepherd.”
God’s promise for today (Deuteronomy 20:1) “When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.”
Psalm 23:3 reads: “He restores my soul: He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.” Some more modern versions of the Bible say that “He leads us in the right paths.” There is no controversy here, both versions are correct. God is righteous. (Holy) Therefore, He always leads us to the places where He is. These also are the right places, as opposed to the wrong places. We can never find ourselves in sin or away from God’s will and even begin to think that He led us there. James wrote: “But every man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed.” (James 1:14) Whenever we stumble, when we let sin or things around us bring us down and discourage us, that is the time our souls need to be restored, and the only one who can do that is the Lord, our Good Shepherd. David could tell of the One who can restore our souls because he experienced it himself. Although, it is not known for sure who wrote Psalm 42, most bible scholars believe it was he who wrote: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Ps. 42:5) If you have followed the life of David in the Bible, it is pretty evident that God restored his soul time and time again. And if David needed to be restored constantly, so do we. The same Good Shepherd that did that for David will do it for us too when we need to be restored. He will restore our soul when we are sad, alone, discouraged, scared, confused, or brokenhearted. What a Savior! “For His name’s sake”; here’s what it means to me: An old TV shampoo commercial said something like this: “When you look good, we look good.” Think about this: If you walk by a fenced yard and see some skinny, scrawny, and unhealthy looking dogs in it, it makes their owner look bad, doesn’t it? The Lord will have none of this as it pertains to His sheep. In the same manner, when we don’t live lives that honor and please Him, we make Him look bad; we smear His name and reputation. He cannot permit that to continue for too long. He would want to present us instead as shining lights in a dark world, much like parents want to “show off” their children when they do well. He gives us the best of care, for His name’s sake. It would be wrong for us to try to look as good as we could if we did for ourselves, but it can never be wrong if we do it for His name’s sake, for the name of our Good Shepherd, the Restorer of our souls.
God’s word for today: (Micah 7:19) “You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
Last Friday, I wrote about the 23rd Psalm but I focused mainly on verse 1. I intend to write on each of it’s verses individually in my next five blogs because the psalm has so much to offer and has much we can relate to in our everyday lives. When reading and meditating on the 23rd Psalm it will serve us well to keep in mind that it was written by a shepherd. He was not the Good Shepherd, (Christ) but he was a good shepherd in his own right nonetheless and knew what it took in order to adequately feed, nurture, and maintain a flock. It was no accident or coincidence, therefore, that the Lord would later choose him to be the shepherd (king) of His own people. Verse 2 reads: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters.” A good shepherd would never settle his flock in an area where no nourishing grass was available. He would always seek the greenest and most lush areas where his flock could feed. In fact, a good shepherd knew where these areas were beforehand. In like manner, God’s children, because the Lord is ever with them and leading them by way of the Holy Spirit, always have at their disposal the love, peace, spiritual nourishment, and comfort He provides. All honest and spiritually perceptive children of God can say like the well known hymn of the faith, “it is well with my soul.” Being “beside the still waters” is a picture of serenity, calmness, and peace. That is one of our greatest benefits as God’s children. Those who are outside of Christ cannot understand this type of peace, one which is present even in the midst of danger or a difficult trial. It is beyond human comprehension. That is why Paul, in his letter to the Philippians said that it surpasses all understanding. (See Philippians 4:7) Child of God, were it not that the Good Shepherd is ever with us and always leads us, we would always be filled with worry, anxiety, doubts, and fears. Many poor souls who have not believed in nor have reached out to Jesus, go to bed each night dealing with fear and uncertainty, never getting the benefit of a good night’s sleep. Not so with God’s people. In a spiritual sense, we know what it is to lie down in peace in green pastures. It is because of our Good Shepherd. For that, we should always be extremely thankful. God’s word for today: (Psalm 4:8) “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Almost everybody in the world, even those who don’t attend church, knows Psalm 23:1 which reads: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Other more modern versions of the Bible say it this way: “I shall not lack.” “I have what I need.” “I will never be in need.” “I have everything I need.” Some Christians make a big fuss about the inaccuracy of the modern bible versions claiming that the only correct one is the original, the King James Version, because it was the first one ever written. (1611) Actually, the first one written was the Reina Valera Bible in Spanish, written eight years prior. Sometimes, those who staunchly defend the KJV Bible go as far as calling all other versions “perversions” instead. I’m not going to comment further on this issue. For now, I’ll just say that if you know the Lord personally, you have found by personal experience that, as children of God, we lack nothing, we have what we need, and always will, and really have everything we need. Therefore, at least regarding Psalm 23:1, none of these modern versions are too far off. Regardless of which verse interpretation you preferred, you should know by now that you are in the best of care. An auto insurance company can claim that “you are in good hands” but if you are in Christ, you are in the best and strongest hands possible. Referring to His sheep, God’s children, Jesus once told his audience: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:28) So if you’re worried about something today; if your present situation has clouded your spiritual vision or dulled your memory, permit me to remind you that your Heavenly Father is always watching over you. He will not permit anything or anybody to shake you from His powerful, but loving, grip. The writer of Proverbs 18:10said: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” God’s children know Who to run to when they are in need or in trouble, but even when they don’t, I believe He will reach out and bring them back in where they will once again be safe and protected. Back to Psalm 23:1, a little girl in Sunday School recited it this way: “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I want.” I don’t know about you, but this is now one of my favorite interpretations of that great verse.
God’s promise for today: (Psalm 34:15) “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry.”
What is hope? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it is: “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” Two biblical verses which, in my opinion, describe hope more clearly are found in the 15th Chapter of Romans where Paul wrote: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (vs. 4) Here we are reminded that the best resource for providing people with hope is the Word of God itself. Further down in verse 13, Paul wrote: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This verse is clearer still. It says that God is the God of hope. The closer people are to God, the more hope they will have in their lives. I was thinking of this recently when I was speaking to my sister. She is not my oldest sister but she is 90 years old. She was sharing that lately she has struggled getting some sleep at night due to pain in her legs. I told her that she could call me on one of these nights when the pain doesn’t let her sleep. I told her I would pray with her. “If nothing else”, I said, “You’ll have someone to talk to in the middle of the night.” She replied: “Really, would you do that for me?” I said “of course.” She then said: “Well, that certainly gives me a lot of hope.” Upon hearing this, two thoughts came to my mind. First, I thought “Why should that be such a big deal? After all, that’s what I do.” Like many of you, I love my job, for lack of a better way of putting it. Those who love their job sometimes feel slightly guilty for getting paid to do something they would probably do for free. If it’s not that way with you, I pray one day you’ll have that kind of job. My second thought was that all of us have been called to try to give or convey hope to others, especially our family and friends. The best way to accomplish that goal is by sharing Christ with others. Colossians 1:27 says that “God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” When we share Christ with others, we are giving them hope and this one thing is true: we all need more hope in our lives.
God’s word for today: (Psalm 146:5) “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
A well known TV personality who apparently is also active in the stand up comedy circuit, was invited to come and perform recently by a New Jersey Catholic University. It appears he signed a contract agreeing not to include vulgarity and sexual content in his routine. When he didn’t hold up to his end of the agreement, the school demanded a public apology. Up to now, they have not gotten the apology. What they did get from him was a statement in his Twitter account saying: “I’m sorry your university doesn’t believe in freedom of speech.” I suppose you all have your own thoughts and opinions about this matter, as do I. I realize this type of product sells very well in todays society, yet I personally cannot understand why today’s comedians feel compelled to flood their routines with profanity and vulgar content. In my life, I have known, and I still know some, people who can keep you laughing for hours without having to resort to these things. Even I can do the same, especially around those who love corny jokes or will laugh at almost anything. My own sons have referred to me as “pop Corn” or “Captain Corn.” The university deeply regrets this fiasco but the problem began with them. Let me put it this way: You can’t invite snakes to your house and ask them not to slither. Nevertheless, before we stray too far, lets put our opinions regarding this matter aside, and lets consider what God has to say about it. This is what matters most anyway. To begin with, anyone who has ever had a genuine encounter with Christ, is a dramatically different person than before. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” People whose lives have been divinely transformed, think, act, and speak differently than before. Perhaps my theology is amiss once more but I take Mark 16:17 as a reminder that new creations in Christ don't speak like they used to. In other words, profanity and vulgar speech are no longer a part of their conversations. Oh, yes, the verse reads: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.” Some may be quick to point out that this verse is referring to known languages. That may be true; but this is also true. Before Christ, the speech of many of us was regularly laced with profanity. Do we speak like that today? No, we speak differently now because of the One who lives inside of us.
God’s word for today Colossians 4:6) “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
This is a line from a favorite song of many Christians: “What a day that will be/ when my Jesus I shall see; / when I look upon His face, / the One who saved me by His grace.” As a pastor, I often wonder why the return of Jesus is not preached or taught more often in churches. To be fair, a genuine minister of the Word preaches or teaches the things that God lays on his heart. Still, it is remarkable to me that a theme as important as this one is not presented more often. Did you know that the new birth is mentioned only nine times in the New Testament, baptism 20, and repentance 70 times? The return of Jesus, on the other hand, is mentioned or alluded to close to 400 times in the Bible. Yet, the three topics I mentioned easily get more coverage. This one thing is true: As the chorus I mentioned at the onset reminds us, the day that Jesus comes back to earth will be the greatest event of all the ages. Regarding that day, Paul wrote: “But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NLT New Living Translation) Then to the Thessalonians he added that the Lord Himself is coming for His own on that glorious day. It would have been wonderful enough if He had just sent the angels for us. Talk about special delivery! He finished the thought by adding: “Therefore, encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:18) Forget encouraged; if you didn’t get excited at this thought, find someone close by so he or she can pinch you. Whenever I hear something that is almost too good or exciting to be true, I turn around and ask my wife to pinch me, just to make sure I'm alive. When I get the opportunity to pray for God’s people at the altar, I often ask the Lord to remind them that their best days are still up ahead. To be more exact, their greatest day ever is still up ahead. I deem this to be important because life’s trials and heartaches often tend to cloud our spiritual vision, leading us to forget God’s promises. May God help us all to never forget His promises, especially the day of His return. I repeat, “What a day that will be.!”
God’s word for today: (Titus 2:13 NLV New Life Version) “We are to be looking for the great hope and the coming of our great God and the One Who saves, Christ Jesus.”
Today’s thought is an amplified version of the article I wrote for yesterday’s church bulletin: John the Baptist announced one day that Someone much greater than he had come. Then he added "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30) These words must always be kept in mind by Christ’s followers and servants. We should always make a sincere effort to insure that people keep their focus on Him and not on us. This is not always easy to do because our old nature still lives within us and, perhaps without realizing it, we want to share with others all the good things that we do. Since doing good deeds for others make us feel good, it is not always easy to keep them to ourselves. Nevertheless, we must also remember that Jesus said these words three times in the 6th Chapter of Matthew: "And your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." In many churches, ours included, members are given a chance to ask the church to pray for their special petitions or else share with the congregation the good things that Godg.” is doing in their lives. The idea is for the members to encourage one another while uplifting God for His mercies. Often, however, well meaning members, perhaps unknowingly, will include all the good things they did that day or that week. While many church members will not notice the error, those who are spiritually perceptive may feel frustrated or irritated, and will tend to no longer take it serious every time these same folks get up to “say a word.” We must always keep in mind that the more people see of us in our daily lives and conversations, the less they will see of Jesus. People can easily do without us but nobody can do without Him. Even when we don’t say it, others will eventually notice the good things we do. But even if they never do, what’s more important is that the One that really matters will always notice. Done this way, God will get always get the glory. Besides, if we get applause or pats on the back from others in this life, our reward may end right there. Because you are a true child of God, I choose to believe that you prefer to wait for the day when Jesus Himself will tell you: "Well done, my good and faithful servant." God’s word for today (Matthew 6:3) “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doin