September 9, 2017
Today’s Text and Thought of Encouragement:
“I will bless the Lord, who has given me counsel…I have set the Lord continually before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved…You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”
Laughter On Your Way
“May God be with you this day and every day
The faithfulness of God to keep you safe.
The friendship of Jesus to bring laughter on your way.
The fragrance of the Holy Spirit to be your refreshing.
May God be with you this day and every day.”
“God’s tender compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great and abundant is Your stability and faithfulness.”
Today’s Study Text:
“I am the Good shepherd. The Good Shepherd risks and lays down His own life for the sheep.”
Psalm 23 – Part 1
“Looking For the One Who is Looking For Me”
“The King of love my Shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never; I nothing lack if I am His, and He is mine forever.”
H. W. Baker
When I hear the words, “I am the Good Shepherd,” what images come into my mind?
“Our image of God is clouded by the memory of cold cathedrals and bitter religions, by pastors or priests who put the fear of God into us, or by all that we suffered as children from fathers who were absent, emotionally detached, brutal or weak. All of us have inexact notions of God. So the question is God, Himself: who is He? This is the question to which all others lead – the question that God Himself put into our hearts, and if He put it into our hearts, there must be an answer in His heart waiting to be revealed.”
“Why do we love Psalm 23 so much more than any of the other 149 Psalms in the Bible? Why do we reach for it at moments of personal distress, cherishing its recitation at funerals and memorial services? It is a beautiful literary creation, but the anthologies are full of beautiful writings, and they don’t capture our hearts as Psalm 23 does. In just a few lines, it conveys the distilled wisdom of generations, offering us a way of seeing the world that renders it less frightening, teaching us to deal with the loss of people we love and with conflict with people who don’t like us or who treat us badly. It shows us how to recognize the presence of God at times and in places where we might think God was absent or when we might be so distracted by our own concerns that we would overlook God’s presence. It has the power to teach us to think differently and, as a result, to act differently.”
Harold S. Kushner
The Lord Is My Shepherd
Several years ago, we took time in our devotional schedule to study my favorite Psalm -- Psalm 23. And since that time, so many of you have written to me saying, "If you ever run a group of devotionals again, would you repeat the series on Psalm 23?" Not only has this request been noted, but over the past four years, I've found so many more poems, quotes and comments on Psalm 23. And so in response to your letters, I am running this favorite series during the month of September as I prepare two new groups of devotionals for October and November. During this fall month, we will study, in depth, Psalm 23, which for many of God’s children, is the perfect study during times of confusion, chaos and suffering. And this, sad to say, is where many people find themselves right now. The thought that we have a Shepherd who is leading and guiding every step of our way is such an encouragement to my heart and I pray it will be the same for you. For not only do we have a vigilant Shepherd – He has promised He is the good Shepherd. And I ask you, what more could we desire in our lives right now? We have a Shepherd who tells us that He will even lay down His life for each of us.
The date December 14, 2012, is one that I know will be forever etched in our memories for it was the day that twenty children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School were victims of an unspeakable act of murder.
I’ll never forget watching the Memorial Service held on Sunday night, December 16, 2012. It was such a moving service and more than once I found myself wiping my eyes as tears fell. I realize that my tears and aching heart were nothing compared to the suffering that parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends not only felt at that time but continue to experience to this very day.
As the memorial program proceeded, one of the television announcers noted that there would be a reading of Psalm 23, the “Shepherd’s Psalm.” As an aside, he commented that this passage in the Bible was one that all the religions represented that day, agreed was appropriate to all beliefs and even to people who had no belief in God whatsoever. And so, at 8:06 P.M., Reverend Kathie Adams-Shepherd, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, walked onto the platform and began reading, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
As a Christian, I can’t begin to tell you how frequently, in my own life, I have returned to this short Psalm – a favorite of young and old alike. It was the first Psalm I ever heard recited for memory by my Godly grandmother and it was the first Psalm I ever committed to memory as a young girl. Whether it is the visual image of sheep grazing serenely in a lush, green meadow, tenderly watched over by their shepherd or it is the sweet refrain from the old gospel hymn, “The Ninety and Nine,” with these words penned by Elizabeth C. Clephane, “There were ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold, but one was out on the hills away far from the gates of gold, away on the mountains wild and bare, away from the tender Shepherd’s care,” whenever I read the “Shepherd’s Psalm,” there is something unexplainable which touches my heart. I feel a yearning to be held in my Shepherd’s arms and cradled in His eternal care. The Shepherd that the Psalmist David wrote about is Someone I feel I can trust because He has my best interest at the core of His being. This Shepherd is Someone I want to follow, whether the road is tough or smooth. But most of all, this Shepherd is Someone I want to get to know personally.
And so, in the coming days, I invite you to come meet our Shepherd as together we study the words, the phrases – the six verses of Psalm 23. As Pastor Charles Spurgeon observes, “this is the pearl of the Psalms, whose soft and pure radiance delights every eye…it may be affirmed that its piety and poetry are equal, its sweetness and its spirituality unsurpassed…It has been said that what the nightingale is among birds, that is the Divine ode among the Psalms, for it has sung sweetly in the ear of many a mourner in (their) night of weeping and has bidden hope for a morning of joy.”
However, as several authors note, it is the comfort Psalm 23 provides during times of unbearable grief and deepest despair that on occasion might narrow our vision to the grandness which lies hidden in Psalm 23 in the meadows and streams as well as in the darkness and depth of the valleys.
I like how author Maurice Berquist, in his treasure of a book, David’s Song, encourages the deep study of the familiar in order to find what may initially seem hidden. He explains by stating, “Instead of probing into obscure passages that have puzzled scholars for years, I find that looking at those parts of the Bible that everyone thinks he or she already knows, is to discover God’s most valuable secrets…true, Psalm 23 is a comfort when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but more important is God’s leading us in the challenges of life.”
As we begin our walk with our Shepherd today, I want to pose this question to you: “What do you know about your Shepherd?” If, like myself, you contain a deep longing in your heart to get closer to our Shepherd of love, then come with me on a journey that will lead us into the world of the Psalm of our childhood. I want to assure you that our deep yearning to know our Shepherd better is not just some strange feeling or a passing fancy. No, this longing was placed in your heart and mine by our Father, who in the words of Francis Thompson, is the “One” we are searching for: “Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest; I am He whom thou seekest.”
Several months ago, as I was reading through multiple volumes regarding the heavenly message conveyed in Psalm 23, I came upon a poem written by Daniel Berrigan, entitled, “I Look For Him Who Looketh For You.” I will freely admit it took me several times reading through this poem to grasp the depth and meaning it portrays. But as the image of the young shepherd boy, David, came into my mind, I could only picture the Psalmist with his lyre, singing the words to Psalm 23. As Berrigan so astutely pens, the lyre is shaped like a question mark which invites us to come into the presence of our Shepherd with all our questions, and as we repeat the words to Psalm 23, we will find that indeed, we have found Him who is always looking out for us.
I Look For Him Who Looked For You
“You keep nudging me, mostly in dreams –
keep on keeping on!
Seek my son David, he has clues, clues.
I look for him who looked for You;
Footprints, like a fossil of fern
Shadow of a hand on a bone lyre.
Next to nothing.
What are those ‘clues, clues,’ you keep insisting on?
Arrowheads point toward the shore,
A skeletal sun boat, waters ingathered
Like tears spent or misspent;
Or Lethe crossed when the raft is the shore.
Not ‘what clues’; but ‘clues of what’
Scout or shepherd, David had asked.
Ask! You urge, nudge!
Is that why the bone lyre curves like a question?”
A Prayer For Going Deeper
“O Divine Presence,
I do not enter the deeper realm
all by myself.
Always You are there with me
as a Guide to protect and direct me,
as a Loving Companion to embrace and support me,
as a Wise One to provide both challenge and solace.
O Divine Presence,
as I go deeper to discover my roots,
wrap me in Your love.
Strengthen me as I face fear and insecurity,
surprise me with hidden treasures
waiting within me.
O Divine Presence,
when I feel shaky and uncertain
from seeking and searching,
assure me often
that I am always rooted in Your love.
Remind me often
that Your love never leaves me,
even when I lose the road.
O Divine Presence,
You desire my wholeness.
You would never lead me anywhere
that would destroy me.
Here is my life.
I place it in Your care
as I commit myself to going deeper.”
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus
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