Goodness and Mercy

I can’t help thinking about my future with Parkinson’s disease. Frankly, some of the information I’ve been given is depressing to read. I prefer to live one day at a time and try not to let Parkinson’s define me. I intend to stay as active as I can for as long as I can. I’ve continued to play racquetball, tremor and all. Today I rode my bike for fourteen miles around Lake Hefner. It was great. I feel alive.

Since I received my diagnosis, I have been meditating on Psalm 23 and writing about it on this site. The assurances offered by this inspired poem have  given me renewed confidence in the Good Shepherd who faithfully watches over his sheep. He is watching over me.

The psalmist, David, a shepherd himself, wrote, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (v.6).” Here are promises for time, and eternity, for this life, and for the afterlife. “All the days of my life” means just that. All the days, whether they are days of health or days of disability. Whatever changes may be ahead, the promise is that the Lord’s goodness and covenant love (mercy) will shepherd me.

I have heard the Lord’s goodness and mercy compared to sheep dogs that guard and pursue the sheep, rounding them up to protect them and to keep them from straying. These strong, intelligent, well-trained animals move the sheep along to pasture at the command of their master, the shepherd.

The word “surely” implies certainty. The certainty is not that life will always be easy or pleasant. The certainty is that God’s character and promises never fail. His nature does not change. His goodness and mercy will pursue me like sheep dogs, all my days on earth, and beyond.

Speaking of “beyond,” there is a truth here that gives assurance of immortality. Death, to David, is not the end of the story. Even the grave cannot deprive him of the hope of eternal life. His words, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” point forward to a promise of Jesus: “My Father’s house has many rooms . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14: 2-3).

David is writing about the future, eternity.  He is grateful for the Lord’s faithful care throughout all the days of his life. Now he knows he will be cared for after he dies, in an eternal home in the presence of the Lord.

I once heard a radio interview featuring folks who were describing memories of their childhood homes. They talked about kitchens, furniture, musical instruments, bedrooms and gardens. But it was not those things that stood out most prominently. It was the people who inhabited their homes. They told about following Mom around in the kitchen, waiting for Dad to come home, pillow fights, family meals, and holiday reunions with extended family members. They were saying that home is what it is because of the people who are there.

That is what David had in mind as he closed the 23rd Psalm. He was looking forward to an eternal home in the presence of the Lord. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” can surely be taken to mean an afterlife for the believer in actual communion with God. His goodness and unfailing love are expressions of his eternal character. They pursue God’s sheep through death into eternal life.

True fellowship with God is what is offered. The Christian understanding is that this is possible because of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who laid down his life for his sheep, and who has gone ahead to his Father’s house to prepare a place for them.

I hope you can say with certainty that you know that you too have an eternal home in the house of the Lord. It is available to you if your faith is in the Lord Jesus.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

My Cup Overflows

I have been thinking quite a lot lately about the 23rd Psalm. It reminds us of the care of the Good Shepherd for his sheep. As I reflect on  my life story I can only give thanks to the Shepherd for his care throughout my life.

Verse 5 says, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” In beautiful Hebrew poetry, David, the inspired writer, continues to describe the lavish provision the shepherd makes for his sheep. He is reminding us that the Lord doesn’t mete out his blessings with a medicine dropper or a thimble. He is generous in his provision for his people.

When the Near Eastern shepherd anointed his sheep with oil, he was applying a remedy for the irritations caused by insects and parasites. The oil-based medicine was also to treat injuries the sheep might have incurred. Bruises and wounds would need the shepherd’s gentle doctoring. “You anoint my head with oil.”

This text reminds us of the Holy Spirit. (In the Bible oil is one of the symbols of the Spirit of God.) John 3:34 says that “God gives the Spirit without limit,” abundantly, generously. We who follow the Shepherd can pray for the fullness of his Holy Spirit when the irritations and injuries of life threaten to distract and defeat us.

When David wrote, “My cup overflows,” he was expressing gratitude for the ample provision of God for him. A cynic might say, “Well, David could say that. He was a king. He had power and wealth. No wonder his cup overflowed.”

But David’s experience is a reminder that the abundant spiritual life is often lived in spite of tragedy and and pain. David had his cup of sorrow as well as his cup of blessing. His beloved son Absalom led an insurrection against him. His trusted advisor Ahithophel betrayed him. His wife Michal mocked him. Another son, Adonijah, tried to steal his throne, to name just a few of his troubles. Yet here he gives praise to God for the overflowing cup of spiritual blessing.

As a pastor I have prayed with and stayed with people in countless painful circumstances. I have seen them respond with grace and courage even when facing suffering and death. I have heard their words of testimony about the way God provided for them in their hour of need. Their words have sounded very much like David’s: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Protection, Direction, Correction

When God created sheep he must have had in mind the metaphorical use the Bible would make of them. In one way or another sheep are referred to over 600 times in scripture. In Psalm 23 King David thinks of himself as one of God’s sheep with the Lord himself as his shepherd.

One way the Lord cares for his sheep is by the comfort and security he provides. “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me,” David writes. “Comfort” means to care, to strengthen, to ease, or to encourage. David needed this and so do you and I.

The ancient shepherd would care for his sheep with the use of two tools of his trade. Armed with the rod and the staff, he provided protection, direction, and correction for the sheep. The rod was something like a club, or cudgel with which the shepherd could fight off predators that might threaten the sheep. The staff was  like a walking stick which could be used to round up wayward sheep and guide them to pasture.

According to Phillip Keller, the shepherd would fashion the rod from a young tree. The enlarged base of the tree would be carved and shaped into a rounded head of hard wood. The handle would be fitted to the hand of the shepherd. The rod would become his main weapon of defense.

The staff was a long, slender pole with a shepherd’s crook on one end. With it the shepherd could guide the sheep, reach out to rescue them, and draw them close to himself. The shepherd used the staff to apply gentle pressure as they walked along. This comforting presence of the shepherd was reassuring to the sheep.

The application is obvious. The Lord wants us to think of him as our shepherd. He cares too much for us to let us go our own way. “We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. And the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  In his death, Jesus bore the judgment for our sin so that we could be rescued, redeemed, and forgiven.

The Lord wants us to think of him as our shepherd. He corrects us when we go astray. He pursues the wanderer, disciplines the willful, helps the weak, anoints the wounded, rests the weary. He uses the discipline of the rod and the staff to prove his love for those who are his own sheep. C. S. Lewis famously put it this way: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. (Pain) is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

God wants us to think of him as our shepherd. He is protecting his sheep even when they are not aware of it. I can think of situations in my life when the Lord has intervened to keep me from harm. Perhaps you can, too. His comforting presence has also directed me in times of decision-making and in unsettling seasons of change.

Regular readers will know that I have been diagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease. Whatever is ahead for me, I am secure in the knowledge that I have a Good Shepherd. The prayer of the prophet Micah has proven true in my life: “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance” (Micah 7:14).

Just as the Lord has been my faithful shepherd in the past, I can be confident that he will be my faithful shepherd now and in the future.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Through the Valley

Connie and I have said goodbye to several friends who have died this year. We will attend memorial services for two more of them this weekend. We hope that somehow our presence and assurances of our prayers will be of some comfort to their families.

An old proverb says that “death carries a king on its shoulders as well as a beggar.” Another says, “Death answers before it is asked.” These tell us that death is as inevitable as it is unexpected.

The Twenty-third psalm has a familiar statement about death: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v.4). David, who wrote this shepherd psalm, was thinking about his own mortality (as we all do). He knew he was setting forth a profound theological affirmation. This is more than merely a poetic sentiment. It is a statement of faith in an ultimate reality.

“I will fear no evil.” David gives us some reasons not to fear death.

  1. Believers experience the shadow, not the sting of death. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” ( 1 Corinthians 15:55).

F. B. Meyer wrote, “Christ met the substance, we encounter but the shadow. The monster is deprived of its teeth and claws. Our Shepherd has destroyed him who has the power of death, that is the Devil. . . . A shadow is the exact counterpart of its substance but it is not in itself harmful. The shadow of a dog cannot bite. The shadow of a giant cannot kill. The shadow of death cannot destroy.”

David is not denying the darkness and gloom of death. In fact the Hebrew word for “shadow” in Psalm 23:4 is the strongest word for darkness. Job 3:5 uses this word to refer to the underworld, the realm of the dead. But the valley is not called the valley of death. It is the valley of the shadow of death. This is an important distinction. The power has been removed from death for those who are in Christ, who conquered death to give us eternal life.

2.  Believers go through the valley, they do not stay in it. The Bible says that death is not an end to life, but an entrance to life. It is not a terminus, but a transition. Death for Christians, is not just a route to the grave, but a passage into eternal glory.

The valley is dark. It may be difficult to follow the path of the Shepherd. It may be lonely and disorienting. There may be pain. There is no denying or avoiding the fact that every one of God’s sheep must pass through this valley. This reminds me to say that it is vitally important to prepare for death by making sure you are in a right relationship to God through his son Jesus Christ.

“God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:11-13).

C.H. Spurgeon wrote these comforting words for those who are trusting in the Lord Jesus as their Good Shepherd. “The dying saint is not in a flurry; he does not run as though he were alarmed  or stand still as if he could go no farther; he is not confounded or ashamed. . . . We go though the dark tunnel of death and emerge into the light of immortality. We do not die, but sleep to wake in glory. Death is not the house, but the porch, not the goal, but the passage to it.”

3. Believers are not alone. The Shepherd is nearby. David has been talking about the Shepherd. Now he talks to the Shepherd: “You are with me.” If there is a good purpose in the darkness of the valley, it is that it causes us to draw closer to the Shepherd and depend more fully on him.

Psalm 23:4 is a promise that is reaffirmed elsewhere: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). ‘Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5).

So this weekend, as I pay my respects to the families of my friends who have gone to be with the Lord, it will be with the confidence that they have passed through the valley of the shadow of death into the light of eternity. I am encouraged by the promise that the Lord, who is their Good Shepherd, accompanied them through the valley, safe home to the other side.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Three Predictions of Good Friday

On this day of days, I hope you are meditating on the death of Jesus Christ. I further hope that your meditations are leading you to worship him with deep gratitude. Perhaps you will be found among the millions worldwide who will gather in local congregations for Good Friday services.

If so, you may hear a faithful pastor talk about the death of Jesus as a fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose. Indeed, the Lord Jesus himself knew why he had come. The Father in heaven had sent him to earth on a saving mission, and he willingly embraced it. The New Testament reveals how Jesus repeatedly foretold his suffering, death and resurrection.

The gospel of Mark, for example, tells how the Lord “plainly” (clearly, openly and unambiguously) spoke of his impending death.  Jesus “then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this” (Mark 8:31-32).

The disciples did not understand what this meant. Peter, their spokesman, protested vehemently that such a thing should never happen. Peter was wrong, and Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men” (Mark 8:33). Jesus was declaring that his death was necessary to fulfill God’s plan of salvation.

Later, Jesus repeated the prediction. He said to his twelve disciples: “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). The next verse says “They did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.” This was probably the time when Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He was determined to carry out the Father’s purpose and to fulfill the prophetic scriptures.

Mark gives us a third occasion when Jesus predicted his death. He describes the reaction of the disciples who were incredulous. “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise'” (Mark 10:32-34). Luke’s gospel adds the comment that “everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled” (Luke 18:31).

These three predictions in Mark’s gospel tell us that the Lord was aware of what was about to happen. He was preparing his disciples for the terrible events that were to take place in Jerusalem. He wanted them (and us) to know that his death would not be accidental. He was not a martyr or helpless victim. His death was purposeful. “The Son of Man must suffer many things,” he said.

He referred to himself as the Son of Man, which all Jews knew to be a Messianic title (Daniel 7:13-14). Another Messianic title was the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, a prophecy which describes his death on the cross. Jesus was telling his followers that his death would be the fulfillment of biblical prophecies such as these found in Isaiah 53:3, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,” and Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:12 says, “he was numbered with the transgressors.” Of this passage Jesus said, “I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me” (Luke 22:37).

Mark goes on to quote Jesus as saying, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It was for the salvation of sinners that Jesus paid the ransom to set us free. This is what we remember on Good Friday. This is why we worship the Son of Man with gratitude in our hearts.

Perhaps tonight you will sing with others this hymn attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century) and translated into English by James Alexander.

“O sacred head now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,/ now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown:/ O sacred head what glory, what bliss till now was thine;/ yet though despised and gory, I joy to call thee mine.

“What thou my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain;/ mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain./ Lo, here I fall my Savior! ‘Tis I deserve thy place;/ look on me with thy favor, and grant to me thy grace.

“What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,/ for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?/ O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be,/ Lord let me never, never outlive my love to thee.”

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

 

Assurance of Guidance

The shepherd psalm, the twenty-third, has a familiar and important phrase: “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake”(v. 3). The psalm pictures a shepherd who leads his sheep to places of security and well-being. King David, who wrote the psalm, was expressing his need for the divine guidance of his heavenly Shepherd.

Decision-making and guidance can be a complex business. If they involve big changes, decisions can be unsettling and stressful. There may be conflicting options. Do we go this way or that? Our decisions effect the lives of others, adding to their weight and gravity. We do not know the future, and how our decisions might work out. Thankfully, our Shepherd is there to guide us.

This week I read a helpful article on guidance by Marcia Hornok. She based her thoughts on Paul’s description of the decision-making process in 1 Corinthians 16:5-16. She explained how Paul, Apollos, and Silas used God-given common sense to evaluate circumstances and to decide what to do. In this process they were confident that they were being led in God’s will.

“Divine guidance is not some sentimental theory,” wrote R.T. Ketcham. “It is a blessed reality.” God’s guidance can be a reality for us if we are paying attention to what it says in the 23rd psalm.

There are two persons mentioned in Psalm 23:3, “he,” and “me.” The “he” is the Lord, the Good Shepherd. The “me” is the believer who trusts the promise of the Shepherd who said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). Between the two personal pronouns is the word “guides.” Here is the promise of the Lord’s guidance.

The scriptures are filled with such promises. One is Psalm 32:8 where the Lord says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Sensible people take such promises seriously and pay attention to the voice of the Shepherd, staying close to him. He can lead them of they stay close to him.

I have read that in the ancient Near East shepherds would entice the sheep to follow by giving a piece of fruit to the one that was following the closest. The other sheep would also crowd in close behind the shepherd to try to get a juicy morsel. The sheep would learn to follow the shepherd who provides and guides.

He guides the sheep along the right paths, paths which he himself has scouted and knows. These paths lead to the pasturage and quiet waters that are just right for the sheep. In our decision-making and life choices we may trust the Shepherd to guide us to the right outcomes as we seek him in prayer and humble dependence on his will.

“You have made known to me the path of life,” David wrote in Psalm 16:11. Proverbs 4:18 says, “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter until the full light of day.” These promises mean that the Lord will always lead along righteous paths that conform to his moral will and lead in the right direction.

“For his name’s sake” means that we live on this earth for the Lord’s glory and honor. The Good Shepherd guides his sheep and they follow him to exalt his character and honor his reputation.

As a young Christian woman, Dorothy Burroughs was preparing herself to become a foreign missionary. She was a talented musician, poet and Bible student. She was suddenly stricken with a serious illness which took her life. Among her possessions was found the following poem which she had written about knowing and doing the will of God.

“I asked the Lord for some motto sweet, some rule of life to guide my feet;/  I asked and paused and He answered soft and low –‘God’s will to know.’

“With knowledge then sufficed, ‘Dear Lord,’ I cried. But ere the question into silence died,/ ‘Nay, this remember too — God’s will to do.’

“Once more I asked, ‘Is there no more to tell?’ And once again the answer sweetly fell:/ ‘This one thing above all other things above — God’s will to love.'”

The Good Shepherd knows the future. He knows us. He knows what is best for us. As we seek to know, to do and to love his will, we may trust him to guide us as we make important decisions along the path of life.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

The Shepherd’s Care

One of my favorite parenting memories is of my children reciting the Twenty-third Psalm. When they were very young their bedtime ritual often included kneeling for prayer and reciting the psalm in the venerable King James Version: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” That’s a good memory for an old dad.

I have been meditating on this psalm since I received my diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease a few weeks ago. This little masterpiece of scripture is a favorite of many Bible readers, and for good reason. It is a reminder of the Lord’s tender care of his people through the circumstances of life on earth. It encourages us to hold to the promise of eternal life “in the house of the Lord.”

I am writing these meditations on Psalm 23 during the weeks leading toward the celebration of our Lord’s death and resurrection. As you prepare your heart for Passion Week, I hope this will contribute to your faith and assurance that the Lord is indeed your Shepherd.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:1-2).

Here is a picture of quietness, contentment and peace. How is this possible in a time of anxiety when trouble reaches us? It is possible because the Shepherd is near. He owns his sheep. He knows his sheep. He calls each one by name, In the catacombs in Rome, there is an epitaph used by the early Christians: “In Christo, in pace;”  (In Christ, in peace). The early believers were comforted by the presence of the Good Shepherd who was with them in death.

At this time in my life, as I face the coming limitations and dependency imposed by Parkinson’s, I am comforted by the assurance of the Lord’s presence. “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you,” is the Shepherd’s promise (Hebrews 13:5). “The Lord is near”(Philippians 4:5). “You are with me,” the psalm declares, in life and in death.

Furthermore, the Shepherd provides for his sheep. King David, who wrote the psalm, had been a shepherd in his youth. The Bible records how he protected his father’s sheep from predators, wild animals who threatened the sheep. The shepherd’s “rod and staff” could be used to defend the sheep, as well as to guide them.

The Near Eastern shepherd also provided food and water for the sheep. He would lead his sheep from one green pasture to another. C.H. Spurgeon, in his classic work on the psalms The Treasury of David, applied this to the Christian’s need for spiritual nourishment. He wrote: “What are these ‘green pastures’ but the Scriptures of truth — always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted?” We are fed spiritually when we hear, read, and reflect on God’s Word.

Psalm 23 reminds us how the Shepherd guides. The phrase “he makes me lie down” is not as abrupt and forceful as it sounds in the English language. The original connotation is of gentle leading and setting in a good place. The shepherd guides to a place of rest. He is aware of how his sheep need calm security as they assimilate the food they have received.

Phillip Keller was a sheep herder and pastor. In his book on Psalm 23 he said that the Eastern shepherd would lead his sheep to quiet waters that he himself had prepared by creating stilled pools in flowing streams. According to Keller the sheep would be afraid of rushing water. So the shepherd, ahead of time, would dam the streams with rocks to make sure the sheep had quiet water that they would drink.

All of this imagery pictures the personal care of the shepherd for his sheep. Psalm 23 was written to assure us that the Good Shepherd, Jesus, cares for his own sheep in the same way (John 10:1-15). I do not know all that is ahead for me, but I am relying on the Shepherd’s presence, provision, and guidance.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

My Shepherd

A long time ago I read a story about the Twenty-third Psalm. It is inspiring whether or not it actually happened as described. According to the story, two men were invited to recite the psalm before a large audience.

One of the men, a young orater, was especially skilled and polished in his delivery. He gave the words of the psalm with rhetorical flair and dramatic inflection. When he finished, the crowd erupted with sustained applause and cheers. They called for an encore.

The second speaker was an elderly gentlemen who leaned on a cane as he shuffled to the podium. In a muted, trembling voice he uttered the words of Psalm Twenty-three. This time the audience responded with reverent silence. They were awestruck by the power of the words. The people seemed to pray.

As they sat in silence, the younger man got up again. “Friends,” he said, “you asked me to come back and repeat the psalm in an encore. But you remained silent when my friend here sat down. Do you know the difference? I will tell you. I know the psalm. He knows the Shepherd.”

King David knew the Shepherd. When he wrote this psalm, presumably near the end of his life, he was expressing his personal relationship with God. “The Lord” is our English Bible’s euphemism for Yahweh, or Jehovah, or the I AM. It was the name by which God revealed himself as the eternally self-existent God, the One who was, and is, and always will be. David was saying, “this God is my personal Shepherd.”

In different ways, our Lord Jesus took this identity upon himself. When he declared in John 8:58, “before Abraham was born, I am,” he was claiming to be God. When he said in John 10:11, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he was claiming to be the Lord, the Shepherd of whom David wrote. Can you say with certainty that the Lord is your personal Shepherd? You know the psalm. Do you know the Shepherd?

The New Testament refers to Jesus as the Shepherd in three ways. John 10:11 says that “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The Good Shepherd died for our sins. In Hebrews 13:20 our Lord is called the Great Shepherd of the sheep who “was brought back from the dead..” The Great Shepherd was raised from the dead for our justification. 1 Peter 5:4 refers to the Chief Shepherd who is coming again to reward those who have faithfully served him.

Do you know the Shepherd in a personal way as the One who died for your sins, who was raised from the dead, and who is coming again? You may know him as King David did. It is a matter of faith. Believe what the Bible declares to be true about Jesus the Shepherd. He said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10:27-28).

Elizabeth Elliot told the story of a little girl who was desperately ill and not expected to survive. Her caregivers taught her to be comforted by trusting in the Good Shepherd. The little girl learned to recite the Twenty-third Psalm on her fingers. Starting with her small finger, she would clutch each finger as she said each word, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” As she said the word “shepherd,” she would clasp her thumb in recognition of the Lord’s care for her.

One morning, after she had fought her illness for a long time, her attendants found her dead. She left a silent witness. Her lifeless hand was clasped around her thumb.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

I Shall Not Want

Last week I met with a friend who has been diagnosed with incurable cancer. She has been receiving hospice care. Before we prayed together, her husband, she and I joined hands and recited Psalm 23 as we remembered it from our childhoods. There was no better spiritual therapy for us in that moment.

This is why the 23rd Psalm is a favorite of many people. It is a source of strength for people who are troubled by anxiety, overwhelmed by difficult circumstances, or facing the reality that life is coming to an end.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” the psalm begins. This is personal. This is relational. King David, who wrote the psalm, wrote from his personal knowledge of the Lord. He had been a shepherd boy in his youth, and he knew what it was like to care for sheep. He knew how dependent the sheep were on the shepherd’s care. As king of Israel, he knew he needed the guidance and care of his (“my”) heavenly Shepherd.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.” The sheep need nourishment, rest and protection. God’s people need spiritual nourishment from the Word and regular times of fellowship with the Lord in prayer. David knew this and his psalms are filled with prayers and praises. “He restores my soul” expresses the healing, renewal and forgiveness we experience when we come to God in transparent faith and honest confession.

“He guides me along the right paths.” I have read that there are animals that have a homing instinct and they are able to find their way back home even over many miles of separation. This is not true of sheep. They have no internal compass, no sense of direction. Sheep can only find the right places if they follow the shepherd. The psalm is teaching us to follow in the steps of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

“I will fear no evil.” When facing the last enemy, death, that lonesome valley will hold no terror for the believer who knows and follows the Shepherd. Even people who do not think of themselves as especially brave, are promised supernatural courage because in that in that dark and lonely place they discover they are not alone. The Lord Jesus himself is with them.

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” The believer who lives by faith and daily dependency upon God will find that his promises are faithful and true. He takes care of his own sheep, loves them and provides for them. David is describing the personal relationship of the sheep to the Shepherd. All through this psalm we see the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my,” teaching us that the Shepherd wants us to know we are significant to him and that the concerns of our lives are important to him.

“I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This assurance of an eternal home with the Lord is the reason the psalm opens with the phrase “I shall not be in want.” I shall not want for provision, guidance and care throughout life. I shall not want for the protection and presence of the Good Shepherd in the hour of death. And after death, I shall not want for the comfort and security of a home with the Lord.

I enjoy singing in the choir at church. We are preparing an anthem based upon Psalm 23, “Shepherd Me, O God,” by Marty Haugen and Mark Hayes. It is beautiful and its message is strong: “Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”

One reason this is important to me right now is that just this week I received the unwelcome news from my doctor that I have Parkinson’s Disease. Obviously this means that Connie and I must begin to learn a whole new way to live. To paraphrase Michael J. Fox, I have no choice about whether I have Parkinson’s, but Connie and I have lots of choices about how we respond to it.

I choose to respond by following and trusting my Good Shepherd. His goodness and love have accompanied me for 75 years, and I know he will be a faithful Presence in the major adjustments and limitations that lie ahead. I shall not be in want.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

A Prayer for Peace

O God of love, O king of peace/ make wars throughout the world to cease;

Our greed and violent ways restrain./ Give peace, O God, give peace again.

Remember, Lord, your works of old,/ the wonders that your people told;

Remember not our sins’ deep stain./ Give peace, O God, give peace again.

Whom shall we trust but you, O Lord?/ Where rest but on your faithful word?

None ever called on you in vain./ Give peace, O God, give peace again.

Where saints and angels dwell above/ all hearts are joined in holy love;

Oh, bind us in that heavenly chain, / Give peace, O God, give peace again.

— H.W. Baker (1861)