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The other day I was talking with Peter, our upcoming President of Impact at UAlbany, and we started to discuss Psalm 23.  An interesting Psalm and possibly the most famous Psalm.  Just by me typing Psalm 23, you probably have already said “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for you (maybe you’d say thou) are with me…”  Upon reflection we both thought of funerals… this psalm can fit well at a funeral.

I asked Peter why he liked it and he gave a few points.  We then went through it line by line.

First though, here is Psalm 23 in it entirety:

1     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, 
    he restores my soul. 
He guides me in paths of righteousness 
    for his name’s sake. 
Even though I walk
    through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, 
    for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; 
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

So V1

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

Ok so the shepherd makes sure that the sheep have everything they need.  Food.  Water.  Safety.  Similarly, God is our shepherd taking care of us, providing for our needs.  I get stuck on the second part though.  “I shall not be in want”.  You know the 10 commandments?

You SHALL not….

You SHALL not….

You SHALL not….

You SHALL not….

I don’t know about you but I have always read those as ‘You should not.’

So when I read this is Psalm 23:1, I read ‘I should not be in want’.

How well do I do with the 10 commandments?

You shall not commit murder.  Jesus compares murder to anger… well I mess that one up…

You shall not commit Adultery… Jesus compares this action to be the same as thinking about it… have you messed that one up?

You shall not steal… I don’t think all the music on my computer has been paid for… how about you?

So I find myself struggling to follow these ‘Shall Not’s, hopefully you do better.  So I see this ‘Shall Not’ and it seems to be a struggle to follow.  It seems to be a struggle to not be in want, as much as I desire to be content.

Lets go to V2:

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

When I look at this verse the word that sticks out to me is “makes”.

It seems I’d be happy to lay down in this nice green pasture.  The idea the comes to mind is of having a picnic with the family and the dog.  It’d be nice to have the picnic blanket laid out and the family enjoying a lush green area, maybe in some shade on a summer day.  Everyone is relaxing but the dog. The dog wants to run around and do things and sniff things and eat things and probably chase things as well.  I also imagine the dad trying to calm the dog down and get it to relax with the family.  You have to make this dog lie down.

I so much see US in this verse.  How much do we desire to go here and there and be busy all the time.  God helps those who help themselves right? ummm… not really…

God has to make us sit down and relax.  He says to relax, to look around at the beauty that is around you.  Great green fields, calm beautiful water, maybe… maybe a mountain with a jagged rock face in the distance.  That seems like an area I could enjoy, how about you?

The thing is, a dog doesn’t care much about how beautiful an area is when there is something to do…

V3

he restores my soul. 
He guides me in paths of righteousness 
    for his name’s sake. 

Thank God.  We run ourselves ragged and then fall apart, but God will restore our souls.  He guides me.  In all the choices I have to make through the hours, days, weeks, and months, God will help guide me in the path of righteousness.

Why?

For His Name’s sake!

What is in a name?  Today, a name might not mean much, but back then a name carried with it the weight of the person.  So when you spoke of God, it wasn’t a vague idea of a powerful guy in the heavens, it was the God who delivered your people from Egypt.  It was the one who brought water out of a stone, who provided food each day.  It was the one who routed entire armies when your people only had 300 warriors.  So this idea of the name of God is a huge idea!  What could be bigger than the creator of everything!

V4:

Even though I walk
    through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, 
    for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

wait…um… WHAT?  I thought I was in a nice lush field by calm waters enjoying a picnic… I thought I was walking this path of righteousness by still waters…

‘you are, but that shadow isn’t from the Maple trees’

I see now why I had to be MADE to lie down!

I am in the Valley of the Shadow of Death!  This dangerous place seems so nice!  Sin often seems good at first too…

If I feared no evil, He wouldn’t have to MAKE me lie down, but I’m working on it!  I verbalize my trust because in my heart I trust Him and I want my actions to follow my heart.  If I think back to who God is and what He has done in the past, this trust thing becomes easier.  Ok… your power… your rod and staff, they comfort me.

V5:

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; 
    my cup overflows.

So we’re really doing this?  We are surrounded by people who want nothing but bad for me and you want me to relax and have a meal?

ok.  Trust in the heart.  Check

Trust in action… che… umm…. check…

V6:

Surely goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

This is good news!  Even though I am in a bad spot, goodness and love will be there with me.  No matter what happens, I will be with the Lord!

So what do we learn out of this?

What is a message?

Why can God be trusted?

He doesn’t do this for you.  He does what He does for Him!  For His name’s sake!  What will bring more glory to Him, having you die, or protecting you so much that you can have a feast in front of your enemies?

Even though we are nervous and unsure, we can put our trust in the one who guides us because He can see a better, bigger picture than what we see.  He will guide us through the nice looking valley of the shadow of death and show us where the path of righteousness lies.  All of the people who wish to harm us will not be able to if we keep your trust and our eyes on Him.

And should His better, bigger plan lead to death for you but Life for others, fear not, “I (you) will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

-Zack

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A number of years ago I was looking to buy a good size wooden cross, maybe a foot tall or so, to have around the house.  I wanted it to be something that would sit on my dresser or some other table around the house.  I wanted it to be visible and ‘in the way’ so it wouldn’t just become a part of the wall but something that I saw often.  I went to many places looking for one including multiple Christian stores and every other place I could think.  Of course they had crosses, but they are always the metal fancy crosses and I didn’t want that so I decided to make my own.  Easy enough.  Get some wood, mark it up, and cut it to the size that I am want, boom, cross.  For the past 6-7 years I have kept this around and it has spent time on my computer desk, in my living room and sometimes hung on the wall.  Recently my cross has been part of an assortment of things on my dresser.  If you look at the picture, there are a bunch of things that I like on there and it says quite a bit about me.  There are some bullets for my SKS Russian Assault Rifle, my hat from when I worked in New Orleans, a cool floating pen that I picked up from a NASA base, notes from my wife Melanie, hiking magazines that were given to me, and a number of other things.  Underneath all of this is the cross.

This struck me as a metaphor of something we can easily fall into.  When you first turn to Christ it is the biggest thing in your life and years later it still is!  What in life could surpass this massive change?  I don’t think anything could, but unless I work to keep life focused on Christ, I may unknowingly block out Jesus.  Looking at these things on my dresser, nothing is bad in itself and nothing by itself is large enough to block out the cross but when everything is piled together and my thoughts and attention are divided among many things, I may lose focus on the cross and it may end up being obscured by a pile of interests and activities.

Half the battle is realizing the problem, now I need to move forward and clean the clutter so I can refocus on the cross.

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The fall semester is coming to a close soon and it has been a good semester!  We wanted to focus on personal growth this semester.  We felt kind of like Paul in Romans 10:14-15 

 

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”


We wanted to talk about growth but first we wanted to talk about the progression of a Christian from seeker to new believer to mature Christian.  After those three weeks, we spent five weeks looking at Titus 1 and the qualities of an overseer and we looked at these qualities as that of a mature Christian.  We took the five negative qualities and paired them with the good qualities as opposites.


An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—(1)not overbearing, (2)not quick-tempered, (3)not given to drunkenness, (4)not violent, (5)not pursuing dishonest gain.  Rather, he must be (1)hospitable, (2)one who loves what is good, (3)who is self-controlled, (4)upright, (5)holy and disciplined.  He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.


After talking about the need to grow in our faith, we came across a problem.  Here we are teaching rules to follow but we didn’t want to fall into the trap of legalism where the point is to follow these rules.  


We just started a new series last week called “Christianity isn’t what you think…” We began with a discussion about developing a relationship with Jesus and not just following rules but instead, the love of the relationship makes you want to follow Him.

Tonight, we are discussing the church.  What is the church?  Is it Sunday mornings or all week long?  Is it sitting in rows and singing or living in community and sharing meals?  It is acting like everything is ok or being truthful with struggles so you can get help?

Moving forward who knows what is in store for us!  I know I don’t, but I do know that as long as we seek Christ, where ever we end up is where I want to be!

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Conference time

I am currently away at a conference with Impact right now and should be back to it on the 13th.
I hope you are having a good new year.

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