Change and Thanksgiving

Since it has been three weeks since my last post, perhaps I should explain why I have not been writing. Connie and I have been undergoing a major move to a new city. We are now living in Valdosta, Georgia, near our daughter, son-in-law, and five grandchildren. It has felt like an upheaval in our lifestyle and circumstances. At our age, a change of this magnitude is not easy.

But we are not the only ones experiencing profound change. Today I had a conversation with a neighbor, Steve, who described his feelings about gradually losing his eyesight. He is learning to adjust to some unpleasant realities because the doctors have told him there is no cure for his condition.

My son Michael and his wife Lulu are grieving the unexpected illness and death of their beloved golden retriever, Sampson. He was a beautiful creature and a gentle and faithful companion. My wife and I cried too, when we got the sad news.

Yesterday I read a Facebook post from my friend Jason whose lovely wife Lori has entered a memory care facility because of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Even though they both knew this change was coming, it was painfully difficult. Jason expressed his grief in a sensitive and beautiful lament.

Each of these people in their own way coupled their sense of loss with expressions of thanksgiving. Steve thanked God for his grace in helping him  navigate with limited vision. Michael wrote a touching Facebook tribute to his dog, whom he called his best friend for eleven years.

Jason thanked his “angels,” friends who have been present to help him and Lori. He expressed gratitude for the 24 years he and Lori have been married and for her written words in a journal, which continue to speak to him now. He described feeling a “profound sadness and overwhelming gratefulness.”

Change is hard. It just is. I am experiencing the change of saying goodbye to a great network of friends, leaving the beautiful house we loved, and trading familiar surroundings for a different environment. But like the others, I do this with thanksgiving.

I am thankful that I get to do this with Connie. She and I are thankful for our apartment in the very nice retirement community where we have chosen to live. It is smaller, much smaller, than our house was. But she and I agree that setting up housekeeping here has been fun, sort of like when we were newlyweds getting established in our first place.

We are very thankful for our children who lovingly helped us with the move. All five of them received some of our furniture. Our two sons, Jay and Michael, transported it all to Kentucky, Virginia, Alabama, and here by UHaul. When we arrived in Georgia, Carrie, John Mark and Michael had our furniture in the apartment, set up and ready for us.  Our kids are our heroes!

One more thing. Connie and I are thankful that we get to live near our Georgia grandchildren and closer to the others also. I look forward to playing golf and pickle ball, and fishing with my grandsons. I anticipate attending my granddaughters’ volleyball, basketball, and soccer games.

Last week, my granddaughters, Charis and Lizzy, brought Chic-fil-a to our apartment and we had supper and board games together. It was great! Lizzy and I spent four hours another afternoon putting together a 3-D puzzle of the Neuschwanstein Castle. Grandchildren are grand! How could I not be grateful?

So yes, change is hard. But I am thankful.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Lessons Learned Discarding Stuff

Picture me sitting on a stool in front of three file cabinets in my garage. I am sorting through files representing almost fifty years of pastoral ministry. The files contain schedules of events, mementoes, photos, and letters from church members and friends. I know I must discard all of it. I cannot take it with me when I leave Oklahoma. There simply will not be room in the apartment where Connie and I will be living, beginning next week.

Picture me with tears running down my face as I read notes of appreciation from people who say they have been helped in some way by my ministry. I can’t help the tears and I am not ashamed to admit that reading these letters again is an emotional experience.

Picture me sifting and sorting though files of Bible study materials, notes of countless sermons, and the fruits of years of exegetical study. Much of it has to go. I must reduce everything to only one file cabinet to take with me. In this one cabinet will be the Bible study resources I hope to use in the future if the Lord allows me to continue to teach or preach.

The files and notebooks I discard end up filling two curbside trash bins. I have to let go of all of it, letters, photos, journals, and memories, memories, memories. Moving soon to a retirement community in another state has proven to be the intervention that I thought would come much later. I had thought (foolishly I realize now) that there would be time in retirement to savor these memories in a more leisurely fashion. It is not to be.

I have learned a few things from this experience.

Lesson one: Keep the memories in your heart. My sensible wife said, “If you haven’t looked at it in 25 years it’s not important.” She is right, of course. When I ask her how she can find the courage to throw away our wedding pictures and family photo albums, she points to her heart and says, “I have them all in here!” I happen to know she has them in her phone too.

Lesson two: God encourages us through people. Some of the letters I found in my files were from people who have been dead for years. I remember them with fondness. They took the time to write to their pastor to let him know what his preaching, his visits, his counsel, or his prayers meant to them. I was blessed to have many friends who were nicer to me than I deserved.

Reading those notes and letters was, for me, a little taste of what I think heaven may be like when the Lord pulls back the curtain and shows us more of the impact we have had in the lives of his people. It was really thoughtful of those friends to write to me. There were times when an encouraging note provided just the lift I needed to keep going in the ministry.

Lesson three: Travel light. This lesson, a reminder from my experience in backpacking, applies as well to life’s pilgrimage. We don’t need all the stuff that fills our attics, closets, garages, and storage units. The Bible tells us what is going to happen to it anyway. It’s all going away. It is people, not things, who have an eternal destiny and infinite worth in the sight of the Creator.

The attic up above is empty. The garage is cleaner than it has been in 22 years. Bookshelves are vacant. The furniture has been transported to our new home, or distributed to the homes of our children. I will now admit, that it is something of a relief not to be carrying the emotional weight of all that stuff.

The patriarch Job put it well: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

Come to Jesus

Occasionally you may hear someone flippantly say, “We had a come to Jesus meeting at work today!” What is implied is a confrontation in which a supervisor admonished a subordinate to correct a problem, or change a behavior. The phrase has become a secular cliche, borrowed from the church.

Behind the expression is the ritual of the altar call. It comes out of the revivalist tradition in America, in which preachers would issue fervent invitations to their listeners to come forward at the end of the sermon and make a public commitment to believe in Jesus as savior. Hence, the expression, “Come to Jesus.”

That’s not a bad idea. In fact, that is exactly what Jesus himself invites us all to do, whether we are in a church service or not. His words in Matthew 11:28 are called the “comfortable words” in that they offer comfort and rest for the soul. They are often read in liturgical worship services after the confession of sin. These words convey the timeless promise of forgiveness and acceptance.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” 

The Scope of the Invitation

The Lord’s invitation is for all kinds of people to come to him. The scope of the invitation is immeasurable. His words imply that Jesus welcomes all those who are burdened with the weight of guilt, with the shame of sin. That is all of us. Sin is the reason life is frustrating and unsatisfying. Sin is the reason we lack peace of heart. So Jesus is speaking to all of us sinners who know we have fallen short. All have sinned. All are invited to come.

The Promise in the Invitation

Here is a magnificent promise for those who are weary in their minds and hearts. It is the promise of rest. I had the joy of praying with an inmate in the Oklahoma County Detention Center not long ago. He asked God to forgive him for his sins and in simple faith he opened his heart to Jesus. After we prayed together he smiled and said, “I feel like a ten thousand pound weight has been lifted from my shoulders.”

That kind of spiritual rest of mind and conscience is for those who come to Jesus. If you are weighed down by regret, shame, grief, guilt, you may be released from the burden of a guilty conscience if you come to Jesus. You cannot change the past, but Jesus can forgive you and restore your soul if you come to him. “The blood of Jesus, his Son purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

The One who Offers the Invitation

“Come to me,” Jesus said. We are not invited to come to a preacher, or to a therapist, or to a philosopher, or to a church, or to the waters of baptism, or to the bread and wine of communion. These all have their place, but they all agree that first we must come, in faith, to Jesus, and only to Jesus. He alone is the Savior, the Son of God, the Mediator, the Redeemer, the coming King. He is “the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

He says “I will give you rest.” He always keeps his promises, He promised to die for sinners and he did. He promised to rise from the grave and he did. His promise is a promise of free grace. “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

He does not say, “do,” or “join,” or “pay,” or “work,” to save yourself. Instead, he says simply, “Come to me.” Only God’s Son could make a promise like that and have the power to fulfill it. He promises the gift of eternal life. He died on the cross of Calvary to purchase this life for those who come to him. His gift is undeserved and freely offered.

What Will You Do?

I invite you to come to him now. Do not wait until Sunday. Come now. The spiritual rest he offers is for you today, not only after you die. Come to him. Pray to him. Confess to him, Lean on him. Trust in him. His yoke, he says, is easy. That means you can let him do the heavy lifting. He is ready and willing to receive you. He is not too busy, preoccupied, or distracted to listen to your prayer.

If you come to him in life, he will be with you in death. What will you do? To refuse his gracious offer is to reject him and devalue his word. To neglect his promise is to rebel against his invitation. The consequences of rebellion against God are dreadful and eternal. Surely you do not want to do that. So please come to Jesus and enter into his rest.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

The Arrogance of Jesus

Who does he think he is? He calls himself the Son of God. Really? Who talks like that? He says God gave him all authority in heaven and on earth, to raise the dead, to judge the world, to rule as King, to give eternal life to those who believe in him.

Readers of the four gospels in the New Testament are forced to come to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth made himself the center of his teaching. He brazenly claimed to be the only way for human beings to reach God.

Who does that? What kind of person would say as Jesus did, “No one can come to the Father except through me?” Religious propagandists and cultists maybe. Mentally unstable people with delusions of grandeur perhaps. But such egomaniacs are worthy only of our contempt, or pity.

Surely Jesus’ statements about himself seem to be supremely arrogant!

That is, unless they are true.

If Jesus’ statements about himself are true, that means he is more than a human teacher. If he is right, he is contradicting the idea that all faiths are valid pathways to God. If he is speaking truth, then he is not a dangerous religious shyster, or a pathetic, unbalanced narcissist.

If he is right, then the apostle Peter was correct when he preached, “There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all of heaven for people to call on to save them’ (Acts 4:12 NLT).  If he is right, then he really is the Son of God who gave his life on the cross to save us from our sins.

The renowned Christian intellectual C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. he would either be a lunatic — on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

“You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Read the New Testament and come to your own conclusion. Did Jesus speak with arrogance, or with divine authority?

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

I Believe in Jesus

The Apostles’ Creed says “I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord.” The creed is an ancient, concise statement of basic Christian belief. To sincerely recite the creed is to testify to one’s faith.

When I affirm my faith in Jesus, I am saying that I accept the authority of his word. I trust the testimonies of those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, his teachings, his death on the cross, and his resurrection. I can see the effects of his influence in the world.

Let me tell you why I believe in Jesus. The apostles of Jesus recorded his acts and teachings. Their testimony is reliable. They describe him as speaking with divine authority and wisdom. He forgave people’s sins. He claimed to have been sent by God. He said God had entrusted to him the power to raise the dead in the last day. Then he actually did it. He raised people from the dead in the presence of eyewitnesses.

His moral life was impeccable. No one could prove him guilty of sin. He referred to himself as “the Son of Man” a title used of Messiah. He called himself “Lord” and “I Am,” names reserved for God. On more than one occasion, he accepted worship from people. He told people that to believe in him as savior would be to receive eternal life. He claimed to be the only way to God. He made himself the focal point of scripture, saying that the scriptures testified about him.

His many miracles were signs of his deity, and were intended to stimulate our faith in him. The apostle John wrote, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

The gospel of Mark describes the authority of Jesus: his authority as the Son of God (1:11); his authority over demons (1 :26-27); his authority over disease (1:32-34); his authority to forgive sin (2:7); his authority to supersede the traditions of the Sabbath (2:28-3:6); his power over the forces of nature (4:35-41); his power to raise the dead (5:40-43).

In Mark’s gospel Jesus repeatedly and accurately prophesied the manner of his death and resurrection (8:31, 9:9-12, 10:32-34). In answer to his accusers at his trial, he replied that “I am” the Son of the Blessed One and “you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One” (14:62).

The apostle Paul wrote a magnificent statement of faith in his letter to the Colossians. There he said that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). All things were created by him and for him (1:16). God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus (1:19). In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3). In Christ the fullness of deity lives in bodily form (2:9). Christ is the head over every power and authority (2:10). Christ is now seated at the right hand of God (3:1).

The apostle also magnified Jesus in Ephesians 1:20-23. Jesus is raised from the dead. He is seated at God’s right hand. He is above all rulers and authorities, powers and dominions. He is above every title that can be given in present and  future ages. He is the head of the church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything.

When I recite the Apostles’ Creed I am stating my belief that all these things are true. I am affirming my belief that “Christ died for (my) sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried and that he rose from the dead on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

The creed begins with the words “I believe.” This is the way to receive eternal salvation. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Because of this gift of grace, “In him (Jesus) and through faith in him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 2:13).

This is why I believe in Jesus.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

There Comes a Time

There comes a time in life when changes are necessary. My new situation with Parkinson’s Disease has accelerated the pace of change for Connie and me. We have decided to move from our home here in Oklahoma to a retirement community in South Georgia. We are trusting in the guidance of God as we relocate.

This disruption has involved the sale of our house. (It has sold quickly.) It has meant that we are engaged in a process of downsizing and letting go of familiar things. (Our children are coming next week to help us with that.) It means saying goodbye to many, many friends whom we love and with whom we have shared life for over thirty years. (We are going to miss you.)

Connie and I are exceedingly grateful for the people of Metropolitan Bible Church who supported and encouraged my ministry. In every season, we served the Lord together seeking to grow in his grace and knowledge. Metropolitan has been, and remains, a congregation committed to love, grace, and sacrificial service in the advancement of the gospel. I can never thank you enough for the privilege of being your pastor.

We are also thankful for the friendship of the members of Heritage Presbyterian Church who welcomed Connie and me, Baptists though we are, with kindness and affection. We will never forget you.

Moving away means I must say goodbye to my racquetball buddies at the Northside Y.  I have known some of them for many years. They have given me friendship, laughter, and some pretty fierce competition. It’s been good for my mind, body and spirit.

The deep fellowship of the Penlights, a small group of men who love to read, is special indeed. We have met monthly for over thirty years discussing books of biography, history, philosophy. politics, theology and fiction. We have prayed for and supported each other through life’s changes. I am sure these friends are going to be praying for me now.

There is another long-standing relationship which I doubt can ever again be duplicated this side of heaven. It is a monthly gathering of fellow pastors for prayer. This interdenominational prayer group has been for us a source of strength as we have faithfully prayed for each other, for our churches, and for our city.

I will miss making music to the Lord with the choir at Heritage. They graciously welcomed me, an aging wanna-be tenor. Singing harmoniously with these wonderful people has been a source of joy.

I will miss my quiet neighborhood, the bike trails around Lake Hefner, the arts festival, Braum’s ice cream, reading Berry Tramel’s columns in The Oklahoman, watching the OKC Dodgers play at Bricktown Ballpark, the Patience Latting Library, the Oklahoma City Thunder, classical music on KUCO, and two, count ’em, two NPR radio stations, KOSU and KGOU!

The wise man of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There comes a time to let go of the past and to embrace the future. That is what Connie and I are called to do now. And the future is as bright as the promises of God.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

 

 

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