The Lord is my Shepherd

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The Lord is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
(Psalm 23.1)

Along with John 3:16, there may be no better-known part of scripture than Psalm 23. Many of our children, from a very early age in Bible classes, learn this psalm. Many can recite it for memory. Yet even though it is so familiar, we may often overlook the value of this psalm for our lives today.

Part of the failure to fully appreciate the psalm, aside from its familiarity, is that we (and by we, I mean most adults) have been conditioned to believe that our value comes from our ability to work hard and have something to show for our hard work. Ask just about anyone you see in any given church on a Sunday morning: “How’s life?” or “How’s work?” and you will most likely hear the answer: Busy. We take pride in our ability to prove our busy-ness. (Never mind if our being busy benefits us or the world we live in. We just need to be able to say we have more to do than we know how to get accomplished.)

So, contrast this need for accomplishment through our busy—and dare I say, important—occupations with a psalm that basically says: God gives me everything I need. No wonder we assume Psalm 23 is great for children, but has lesser value for us. We need to remind ourselves OFTEN that our busy-ness and our hectic, frantic pace of life is not valuable, nor a blessing from God. What is important is the realization that just like a shepherd does his sheep, God takes care of our needs.

Another failure of ours to appreciate the importance of Psalm 23 can be found in verse 3, where we read that God guides us for “his name’s sake.” The tasks we must do, or at least the tasks we choose to place in important positions on our To-Do lists, should be rooted in the value of giving glory to God. This goes back to my original point. We work hard to have something to show for our work, then of course we want to take the credit for those accomplishments.

What if we stopped and knew that anything we do or accomplish is only possible through the power of God at work in our lives. If we took on this attitude, I think we would find ourselves much more willing to give him the praise. It would be for “his name’s sake” that we celebrate our accomplishments because we know it was him working in us in the first place.

The last misunderstanding I will point out (and you could certainly find more) is this: We do not understand the power of God in the presence of our enemies. You may have heard people lament that America is no longer or at least moving away from being a Christian nation. Oftentimes, this cry is accompanied by a sense of despair that people who do not hold the same values as followers of Jesus will take over and as a result, we will be faced daily with the “presence of our enemies.” They will, the assumption goes, force us into accepting things contrary to God’s will.

I always wonder what the psalmist was thinking of his enemies when he wrote about sitting at a table with them, a table prepared by God. Surprisingly, perhaps, we do not hear the psalmist lament the power of his enemies or all the bad things they have done. Just as surprising may be the fact that we do not hear how they have been destroyed or how God puts them in their place. The enemies of the psalmist are faceless, nameless, and I would add powerless people. There are present, but without any standing, really. They garner but a brief passing mention from the psalmist. Why? Because the Lord is the one who has the power and gives goodness to those who follow him. We do not have to fear the overthrow of God’s rule. It’s not going to happen.

Instead of being fearful, we celebrate in the Lord’s house. Forever.

 

Questions:

•What is your earliest recollection of Psalm 23? How did you learn it and in what ways has it held value for you throughout your life as a follower of Jesus?

•When you read about the anointing of David as (future) king of Israel, what most surprises you about the way this story goes? How important is it to you that God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance? In what ways can we ensure that our heart yearns for God?

•Ephesians 5.1-14 gives us quite a list of things we are to avoid as followers of Jesus. How serious do we take this list? In what ways do we perhaps overlook some of the things Paul mentions in this passage, thinking: Well, you know, God understands? How can we work on making sure we live pure and holy lives for God?

•In what ways do you encounter people you would describe as “spiritually blind?” How can you help others see God clearly, or stated another way, how can you help them not be blind to who God is?

Week of March 26 — Text List

The 1 Home Bible Study texts for the week of March 26 are as follows:

Psalm 23
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Ephesians 5:1-14
John 9:1-38

Daily Bible Reading Texts are:

Mar. 27 – Psalm 89.1-29; Jeremiah 16:10-21; Romans 7:1-12; John 6:1-15
Mar. 28 – Psalm 97, 99, 100; Jeremiah 17:19-27; Romans 7:13-25; John 6:16-27
Mar. 29 – Psalm 119:121-144; Jeremiah 18:1-11; Romans 8:1-11; John 6:28-40
Mar. 30 – Psalm 73; Jeremiah 22:13-23; Romans 8:12-27; John 6:41-51
Mar. 31 – Psalm 102; Jeremiah 23:1-8; Romans 8:28-39; John 6:52-59
Apr. 1 – Psalm 107; Jeremiah 23:9-15; Romans 9:1-18; John 6:60-71

Grumblers and Complainers?

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Come let us sign for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
(Psalm 95.1-2)

Psalm 95 is what is considered a Sovereign Psalm. It is focused on the fact that God has created the world (us included) and as such, is worthy of the praise we (should) give him. It also recognizes that he is the creator and we are the created, or as this psalmist has written: the people of his pasture.

Knowing that God is the one whom we need to worship would be enough to be considered a complete psalm. (We could use more admonition to worship, truthfully.) Unfortunately, we tend to live our lives in such a way that celebrates our accomplishments more than they give glory to God for the ways he is working in those lives. We forget the significance of God as an important part of why our lives are “blessed” in the first place.

But the psalmist goes on and says, in essence, BECAUSE God created you and is your shepherd and BECAUSE you are the flock under his care, you now have a choice. You may choose between recognizing God as you creator, or you can harden your hearts and ignore him.

The psalmist did not just make up the idea of “hardening your heart.” It was an example previously lived out by the people of Israel. In Exodus 17, we are told that the people of Israel are camped at Rephidim, but find themselves without water. Up to this point in their story, God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, shown himself strong in the process by bringing plagues upon the Pharaoh, and God had provided the people’s needs every step along the way. Yet at this point, the people grumble and complain against God, asking: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Think about this moment in Israelite history for just a second. God had done what you and I would probably consider more than enough to provide for his people. There was never a time in their journey through the desert—and yes, I can imagine a journey through the desert might not be considered plush accommodations—when God did not take care of his people. They were indeed the “flock under his care.” In spite of all of this, they quarreled and grumbled, testing their God.

So fast-forward past the time of the Psalmist’s writings to now. How do you live? First do you recognize all of the things God has done for you? And if you do, do you still grumble and complain, asking: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

Questions:

•In what ways have you seen God provide for you, taking care of all your needs? In what ways have you failed to recognize his provision and perhaps even grumbled about what you thought he was not providing you? How can you do a better job of recognizing God as your Sovereign Lord?

•How do you think you would have reacted to the lack of water that the Israelite’s faced? How does your reaction compare to theirs? Why is it so easy for us to forget the sovereignty of God and grumble about what we do not have?

•What is the greatest sacrifice someone has ever made for you? How would you say that compares to the sacrifice Jesus made for those who were ungodly (that includes you, by the way)? How does Jesus’ sacrifice for you change the way you feel about making sacrifices for others?

•How does Jesus’ treatment of the Samaritan woman at the well help you understand God’s mission to find those who are lost in the world? Who would be a person you know that might be considered “the woman at the well” today? How can you encourage her to know and understand the truth of God?

 

Week of March 19 — Text List

The 1 Home Bible Study texts for the week of March 19 are as follows:

Psalm 95
Exodus 17:1-7
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

Daily Bible Reading Texts are:

Mar. 20 – Psalm 77, 79; Jeremiah 7:1-15; Romans 4:1-12; John 7:14-36
Mar. 21 – Psalm 78:40-72; Jeremiah 7:21-34; Romans 4:13-25; John 7:37-52
Mar. 22 – Psalm 81, 82; Jeremiah 8:18-9:6; Romans 5:1-11; John 8:12-20
Mar. 23 – Psalm 83; Jeremiah 10:11-24; Romans 5:12-21; John 8:21-32
Mar. 24 – Psalm 92; Jeremiah 11:1-20; Romans 6:1-11; John 8:33-47
Mar. 25 – Psalm 85, 87; Isaiah 52:7-12; Hebrews 2:5-10; John 1:9-14

Making Countries Great

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Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.

No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
(Psalm 33.12, 16)

What does it take to make a country great? No, not to make a country great, again. To make a country a nation that is held in high esteem and seen as one who is run with wisdom and Godly guidance. What does it take for us to be a part of the people of God?

You often hear people calling for our country to return to its “Christian roots,” that is, to be a Christian nation as our forefathers intended it to be. One could argue the validity of the latter point, but I do not think anyone would question that our sense of morality has waned over the years. It’s not even on the fringes where we find people’s action running counter to the things that just a few years ago most people would consider “wrong.” So how do we return to being a nation centered on Godly living?

If you take the four passages we find in our reading for this week, you discover four things that I want to list here.

First, our military power does not make a great nation, just like brute force is never the answer for Godly living for each of us individually. The psalmist says that you may have strong horses (perhaps today the psalmist would write: you may have powerful weapons), but their strength cannot save the ruler. I think what is most ironic is that we lament the fact that America is no longer a Christian nation, yet most of what America espouses as greatness centers on those things that are completely self-reliant. It is no wonder that our strength does not save us. We were created to be dependent on God, not ourselves.

Second, from the Genesis story, we discover that strategic planning does not make us a great nation. Again, this seems counter intuitive. Were you to seek a loan for a new business, you would be asked to provide the lender with a “business plan,” which would include the strategies you would use to go about creating this wonderful—and for the bank’s sake, profitable—business. Abraham wasn’t given a plan. His plan was just to pack and walk until God told him to stop. God, however, used Abraham’s willingness to go (even if Abraham did at times question God’s promise) to create through him a great nation.

Third, when we fast forward to the time of the Apostle Paul, we discover he wrote celebrating Abraham’s faith. Trust in God, rather than our associations with the right people or a glorious upbringing, is essential for God to be able to use us to make a great nation. Paul’s argument in Roman’s 4 is essentially that the people who were that great nation of Abraham (this would be the people of Israel) could not claim that their privileged status was the result of following the rules and regulations applied to God’s people from the time of Abraham. Abraham was not a good person and the nation he was promised was not built because of the way he followed all of God’s rules, but because Abraham believed that God said he could do what he promised. Whether you think you have your life under control or not, your trust in God versus your status or privilege indicates your willingness to allow him to work in you.

Last, being a member of God’s kingdom happens as the result of belief in Jesus, who was lifted up as a sacrifice for our sins. It is not a physical thing, like the rebirth Nicodemus was confused about in John 3, nor is it something we are able to do (Nicodemus, you were right. An adult cannot start the birth process over again). No, our inclusion into that great nation that is the kingdom of God happens through the Spirit of God. That Spirit comes only through a belief in Jesus to give eternal life.

I hope you recognize that this idea of “great nation” really has very little to do with a physical, tangible kingdom, like America, or Canada, or Mexico. It instead has everything to do with being a part of the people God calls to himself through his Son. The real question is: Will you believe in the power of God to bring you into his kingdom with him? That is what makes you a part of a great nation.

 

Questions:

•What sort of things do people use to show their power and worth? Why are these things considered valuable in the world we live in? How are they viewed in light of God and his kingdom?

•How willing would you have been to pack up all your stuff and head out to an unknown place like Abraham did? What do you think would have been Abraham’s biggest challenges in doing this? What things did he have to help him trust in God’s instructions?

•How well do you have faith in the promises of God? What events in your life have proven those promises to you?

•John tells us that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. How well do you think that message has been proclaimed to the people around you? In what ways do you think the opposite message has been communicated? What can you do to ensure the proper message about Jesus is told to others?

•How can you live a life that demonstrates your faith in God as the ruler of your kingdom, even if that means living a life counter to the values of the world around you?

Week of March 12 — Text List

The 1 Home Bible Study texts for the week of March 12 are as follows:

Psalm 33:12-22
Genesis 12:1-8
Romans 4:1-17
John 3:1-17

Daily Bible Reading Texts are:

Mar. 13 – Psalm 64, 65; Jeremiah 1:11-19; Romans 1:1-15; John 4:27-42
Mar. 14 – Psalm 61, 62; Jeremiah 2:1-13; Romans 1:16-25; John 4:43-54
Mar. 15 – Psalm 119:73-96; Jeremiah 3:6-18; Romans 1:28-2:11; John 5:1-18
Mar. 16 – Psalm 74; Jeremiah 4:9-28; Romans 2:12-24; John 5:19-29
Mar. 17 – Psalm 73; Jeremiah 5:1-9; Romans 2:25-3:18; John 5:30-47
Mar. 18 – Psalm 27; Jeremiah 5:20-31; Romans 3:19-31; John 7:1-13