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