A Meditation on Psalm 23, Part II

I have been meaning to write a meditation on the 23rd psalm for a while now.  I am continuing to study the bible with Dr. Bill Creasy (see http://www.logosbiblestudy.org/), and right now I am studying the psalms.  This is the second part in a two part posting

Dr. Creasy examines the psalms, as he does the rest of the bible, from a literary perspective.  As discussed before, in Psalm 23, as in many of the other psalms, Dr. Creasy focuses on what it tells us about David.  It is my intent to focus on what the psalm means to the reader, to me.  Like Dr. Creasy, I take the psalm apart and proceed verse by verse. The 23rd psalm, as I like to remember it:

1. The LORD is my shepherd:
        I shall not be in want.
2. He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
        he leads me beside still waters.
3. He restores my soul.
        He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4. Yay though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
        your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5. You set a table before me in the midst of mine enemies; you anoint my head with oil;
        my cup overflows.
6. Surely goodness and love (or mercy) with follow me all the days of my life,
        and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Continuing with verse 4, “… though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”, walking into darkness and places where death lurks, is an inevitable consequence of following God as our Lord, Shepherd, and Savior.  If we follow him on the “paths of righteousness”, we will be led into the midst of enemies.  We will have to stand in places we do not want to stand, do things we do not want to do, and face what terrifies us.

God will be there.  “His rod and his staff, they comfort me.”  “I will fear no evil.”  When I pray the psalm, I pray that I will fear no evil.  That I will follow the LORD with courage.  That God will grant me the courage to do his will.  I also remember that he has a rod and a staff.  He will use these to smite my enemies and protect me.  He will also use these to keep me on the path.

My wife herds sheep with her dog.  She has a rod or a staff.  When the sheep is straying in the wrong direction, she will use herd staff to whack the sheep and encourage it to move in the right direction.  She sometimes has to use the staff or a rod on the dog, to encourage it to follow her will.

Like the sheep and dogs, we will get whacked.  But we may take comfort in this, because this keeps us on the right path.  If we do not follow God, we will follow sin to our death.  But when we are in relationship with God, he keeps us on the path for his name’s sake, and he uses his rod and his staff to make sure we do not stray.  And I take comfort in this.

“He sets a table before me in the midst of mine enemies.”  Again, an amplification.  Not only will God protect us from evil, from our enemies, he will exalt us in front of them.  He rubs their noses in it.  We are honored and fed in the midst of darkness, and there is nothing the foes of God can do about it.

“He anoints my head with oil.”  We are given even greater honors, authority, and power.  Still in the midst of our enemies, God makes us Children of God and Kings.

“My cup overflows”.  He gives more than we could want or need.  He is generous beyond measure.  When Jesus turned water into wine in Cana, he turned more water into wine than could possibly be needed or drunk.  And not just any wine, but the very best wine.  God gives us more than we can ever need.

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”.  Another amplification.  A prayer.  But more than a prayer. “Surely”: we can be sure.  We are not just asking.  We know.  This is hope.  This is faith.  Goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives.  We trust in the LORD, and goodness will follow.

“And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”  This is the THE blessed hope that Paul discusses in Romans.  We know goodness and love will follow us as long as we live, but we will be with God forever.  “Dwell” is more than lie down.  And to be with God, to live with God, is the antithesis of sin.  If sin is alienation from God, to live with God is to be without sin.  “Forever” not all the days of my life.  We will be with God, without sin, without death, forever.  For a servant and follower of God, there is no greater hope.

Amen.

A Meditation, Verse by Verse, Word by Word, on Psalm 23

I have been meaning to write a meditation on the 23rd psalm for a while now.  I am continuing to study the bible with Dr. Bill Creasy (see http://www.logosbiblestudy.org/), and right now I am studying the psalms.

Dr. Creasy examines the psalms, as he does the rest of the bible, from a literary perspective.  His training is in literature, so that is what he teaches.  He examines the bible as a single literary work, inspired by God.  The characters are God and his people.  The conflict is sin.

When looking at the psalms from this perspective, he examines the structure and symbolism, and he focuses on what they tell us about the characters and the biblical story.  David, son of Jesse, wrote about half the psalms, so more than any other character, the psalms tell us about David.  Dr. Creasy focuses on this to some extent.

I want to focus on what the psalm means to the reader, to me.  When we pray the psalm, what are we asking for?  And why is it so popular, being one of the most familiar, and most memorized psalms of the bible?  Or, more accurately, why is Psalm 23 such an important psalm and prayer for me?

Like Dr. Creasy, I will take the psalm apart and proceed verse by verse.  For the 23rd psalm, that is easy.  It is only 6 verses.  For reference, the psalm is available, here: NIV, KJV.  I have memorized an amalgam of those translations, so please bear with me:

1. The LORD is my shepherd:
        I shall not be in want.
2. He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
        he leads me beside still waters.
3. He restores my soul.
        He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4. Yay though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
        your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5. You set a table before me in the midst of mine enemies; you anoint my head with oil;
        my cup overflows.
6. Surely goodness and love (or mercy) with follow me all the days of my life,
        and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

“The LORD is my shepherd”: notice the “LORD”, originally “YHWH” or Yahweh.  This is the personal, covenant name of God: the name God gave Moses to give to his people.  This name is so holy that God’s people would not pronounce it out loud, and instead would say LORD.

“shepherd”: conjures a ideal pastoral image, a life with more time, less stress, and less noise.  More time to be with the God.  Time to be in nature, with animals, leading a taking care of animals.

“The LORD is my shepherd”: notice that is is the LORD who is the shepherd, not us.  He takes care of us the way we take care of sheep.  He feeds us.  He guides us.  He keeps us from danger, and when we find trouble and danger anyway, he saves us.  When we take care of animals, and we must “be the human”.  That is we must lead, make decisions, control them, and care for them.  God does this for us.

“I shall not be in want.”: this sums up and emphasizes what has been said.  If the LORD is our shepherd, if he takes care of us, protects us, and leads us, then we shall have all we need and all we want.  We must follow the LORD as a sheep follows its shepherd, so we shall not be in want.

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures;”  “makes me”: we do not have a choice.  “lie down”: more that just brings us there, he makes us stay.  “green pastures”: good places, good situations.  Also, food.  He brings us to our food, he brings us to what we need, and he makes us stay there.

“he leads me beside still waters.”  Watering holes are very important for life.  But they are full of danager.  Lions, predators, and bandits lie in wait at watering holes. Competing flocks and animals are also at watering holes.  The LORD leads us to the water, and we drink.  But we do not stay.

“still water”: raging water is a common symbol of distress.  Flood water can cover our heads.  Deep water can overwhelm us.  But still water is good.  Still water is like a still soul: it is good.

“He restores my soul.”  Now let a simple shepherd try that!  God is no shepherd; he is the Lord Almighty.  He is God our creator, and only he can restore our souls.  As we wrestle and fight with God, our souls become roiled.  As we separate from God, we lose contact with our soul.  God restores us.  He makes us whole.  He is our creator.  He is our father.

“He leads us in the paths of rightness”: again amplifying the previous verse.  Not only does he restore us, bring us back to him, and make us whole, he then leads us where we need to go, along the “paths of rightness”.  Life is not a destination, but a journey.  If God is our guide, shepherd, and leader, if he is our lord, our life will be righteous.

“for his name’s sake”  not for us.  Not for love of us.  He does all this, he leads in righteousness, “for his name’s sake.”  His most holy name, that name that is so holy that his people would not even pronounce it out loud.  It is a great comfort that God has such a strong motive to take care of us, and to bring us to righteousness.

“The paths of righteousness”, like the watering hole, are not safe.  They are filled with danger, adventure, and death.  So they both foreshadow verse 4.  If we follow God in the paths of righteousness, we with surely end up walking through the “Valley of the Shadow of Death”.

But this meditation has gotten long.  It is time for a break.  Please look forward to the second half of Psalm 23 in my next post, part II.

Notes from the Conference, Part 3, Healing in a Broken World

Well it is now over a week since the conference, and I am running out of time to finish these notes. Soon, it will be time to publish some of the hundreds of pictures I have taken. Britain is execptionally beautiful, and our tour is keepiing us very busy. Well, enough of that! Back to the conference.

The second half of the conference focused more on healing and less on “new age.” We covered a bunch of different topics. The focus was healing those who are broken in body or spirit.

Filled with the Spirit.

The Rev. Jack Sheffield from Texas, USA took us back to the roots of the order. Don’t tie yourself up in the brokeness of the church and the world. The world has always been broken. That is why Jesus was sent. That is why we are called. When you see something that needs healing, go, lay your hands on it, and pray to Jesus. He will heal. Do not dialog with those who are lost. Call them to Jesus.

Jack told us the story about how he was at a conference, and there was a little old lady who did not believe. She had never seen a miracle. She told Jack, “You’re exaggerating!” She seemed to think that it is not as simple as ‘have faith, believe, and call on Jesus and he will heal you.’ She did not believe. She said, “Show me a miracle!” Jack said that before the conference was done, she would see a miracle. Then he thought, “Lord what have I done! You need to help me, Lord. Please give us a miracle.” Jack became rather nervous. He fasted. He prayed. For three days he fasted and prayed. Then came the last night. The little lady was staring right at Jack. “I better get my miracle!” Jack prayed to the Lord Jesus to give them a miracle so this woman would believe.

The woman started to feel something in her belly. It was a pain, and it was not hers. She became hot, and filled with the spirit of the Lord. Jack called out to the group, “Who has a pain in their belly? Who needs to be healed.” Someone did have a terrible pain. They had been diagnosedf with GIRD or something. That person went up to the woman, and the woman put her hands on their belly, and that person was healed. And the woman believed. And the people praised and thanked God. The next day, the woman sad, “Well I think I saw a miracle.” Jack just threw up his hands.

The bishop sometimes finds Jack trying. He once asked Jack not to pray about the Spirit for three months. Jack did it, but as the three months were ending, he was filled with the Spirit and he had to preach. As he was preaching, a woman in the audience fell down and died. A doctor who was there pronounced her dead. Jack said, let’s go and pray for her anyway. The ambulance came and took her away, dead at the scene. They threw the blanket over her head and everything. On the way to the hospital, she sat up. Scared the ambulance crew half to death. They found nothing wrong with her. They asked if she would go to the hospital so they could watch her. She said no. “I haven’t had my communion. I want to go back to church.” Image the suprise as she walked in after everyone had seen her pronouced dead and taken away.

Are these stories literally true? I want to believe. God help my unbelief! Dr. Creasy says that if you explain away the miracles in the Bible, you gut the whole story. It loses all meaning and power. If you explain away the miracles in life, you gut life of its meaning and power. So I choose to believe.

After the talk, Jack called us forth to pray for those who needed healing. People prayed. People were filled with the spirit. Many were healed.

Forgiveness and Healing

The next talk was on forgiveness and healing. The Rev. Dr. Tom Brown of England told how he went to Ireland to give a short talk on a day that had been proclained a day of healing and forgiveness. He preached in a large cathedral. No one came. Or not many. They had expected hundreds. They had hoped for thousands. They had about a hundred.

After the talk, a man came up to Tom and asked that if it could be set it up, would Tom Brown come talk at his church? Tom, thinking that this man was have his people call Tom’s people, and maybe they would schedule something in a few weeks, said “Sure.” The man got on his cell phone and started making calls. In five minutes, they were in a car driving to the 10am mass. “Mass?”, Tom thought, “I guess this is a Catholic service, or a very high Anglican one.” Tom usually prepares his talks ahead of time. He had 15 minutes. So he prayed the Lord would give him the words. The Lord told him, “It doesn’t matter what you say, as long as you apologize.”

There were about 2000 people at the mass. The priest introduced Tom, “Well we don’t normally have a talk, but today this Englishman is hear to give a speach.” The priest glared at Tom and sat down. Tom said that he wasn’t a official from the government, nor was he a particularly important person in the church. Just a parish priest. But for all the things his people did to their people, he apologized. It wasn’t their land. The English had no right to take it. And they should not have waited so long to give it back. He was sorry. The congregation went wild: cheering and clapping. Once he had made it through that service, it turned out that there was another in an hour.

Then there was a yet another service across town. Before that one, Tom said, “Do you mind if I take a few minutes and make some notes.” “We have waited over 800 years for this apology; a few minutes more won’t make any difference.” They got to the point in the service, and Tom said his apology. There was dead silence. Everything was still. The priest’s mike must have been on, because you could hear him, saying to himself, “What do I do? What should I do?” Then the priest came over to Tom and whispered, “What do I do?” Tom said, “Your the celebrant priest; you can do anything you like.” Tom says, “Then he completely undid me. He got down on his knees in front of me, and said, ‘I apologize for all the bombs and the IRA and the killings.”

People and lands remember the deep hurts. Forgiveness is needed to heal. One must be humble, and accept God’s healing and his guidance.

Our Broken Children: Bleeding as a Rite of Passage

Our last speaker talked of the work she does at Holyrood House. This is a residential care facility for troubled, abused, and self destructive teens and adults. She talked of the stress young people are under these days, and how they seek to relieve the stress with cutting and other self destructive behavior. This is not a new phenomena. People from many cultures in different times have cut or scarred themselves as they enter adulthood. She showed pictures of people decorated with scars, tatoos, and ornaments. Young people starve themselves and purge, as well as cut, tattoo, or pierce themselves to become individuals.

The people who come to Holyrood House are often from abusive homes. They have no control in their lives and so hurt themselves to give them some small sense of control. They choose when and how to hurt themselves. They are in control. Or so they think. At Holyrood, they find enough safety that they are able to examine the painful and hurting areas of their lives, alone or with a counselor. “They are safe enough to be unsafe,” said one young man who stayed there.

Many of the OSL found this talk very difficult. The frank discussion of these young people’s pain, and the way they act it out, was terrible to hear. I, personally felt physically ill, and I had to leave for a while. Also, the order was exposed to a horrible reality, but we were not given any tools to address the situation. Reactions included anger, disgust, and frustration. Many felt that this talk was not appropriate or helpful.

I am glad we heard the talk. The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge and understand it. Also, we learned that this is not a new problem, and will not likely go away. Further, if we had such a reaction simply hearing about people with this problem, imagine if we were to actually be confronted by a young man or woman looking for help. If we became appalled and revolted when face to face with a person in pain, I think our reaction would only cause more harm. They need understanding, love, hope, professional care, and the power of prayer.

In Closing

John Scott again addressed us in closing. I barely remember what was said now, but I believe he charged us to go forth, healing and addressing the hurts we have discussed during the conference. Again, there was prayer and song. The final closing ceremony include a eucharist and an induction of new members. Then we said goodbye to the new friends we had made who had come from Europe, Australia, the UK, and elsewhere in North American. And we began our tour of Britain: England, Scotland, and Wales. Two more weeks in Britain. Pam and I are very excited.