Saturday, 1 August 2015

Daily Reading: Psalm 23v6

"Surely your goodness and love will follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever."

David lived life trusting in God's promises.  Before David came to the throne life was lived on the edge.  The battle with Goliath, other battles with the Philistines, the politics of the kings court, on the run from Saul, and so on.  What consistently strikes you as you read through 1 Samuel is that it is trust in God's promise that sustains him.  And when he seems to be doubting that promise Jonathan comes along and reminds him of God's promise and bolsters his faith.

This final verse of Psalm 23 looks at both present realities and future hope all as a result of both God's promise and his character.  David's security is found in God's indefatigable love and goodness which relentlessly pursues his people.  It is God's character and his faithfulness that enables David to utter that last sentence.  It is not confidence in his own ability to endure or to persevere, it is God's character, his love and goodness that emboldens David to say "and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever."

God's covenant faithfulness and love means David can be assured of welcome by God for eternity, a future hope that we share with him - God's people being with him enjoying him forever.  But there is also a present reality side to knowing who God is.  David's hope isn't just fixed on the future, but God's character grounds his present day to day experience.  He knows that God will be with him all through his life, each and every day, and that is what brings him security.  Each and every day he faces not alone but with God at his side.  God who is good and loving to those who are his people, his sheep.

What is my security today as I face whatever life throws at me?  It is that as one of God's people, through faith in Jesus Christ, God's love and goodness will follow me all the days of my life.  In every situation God is loving and good.  Not for one moment will I slip outside of that care no matter what I go through.  And one day I will see him face to face, one day he will put his thumb on my cheek and wipe away the tears and it will be as if they were never there.  One day the love and goodness I know now, but at times struggle in the moment to see, will be abundantly apparent and never dim again for eternity and I will enjoy dwelling in my Father's house with him forever.

The Psalms are designed to sing, not for us to sit back and admire the performance of the artist, but for us to join our voice with his as he leads us in praise to God.  Will I add my voice to his and sing Psalm 23?  Will I carry the tune and the words and its truths into my day, my week, my life?

Friday, 31 July 2015

Acts: God's mission unstoppable

I've quite enjoyed working through Psalm 23 this last week, thinking about verse by verse.  Sometimes it's helpful to slow down and read.

However, it's also helpful to read the Bible in slightly bigger chunks.  This autumn we're going back to Acts and picking up a series we started last Autumn when we looked at Ch1-6v7 and looked at the church in Jerusalem and the spread of the gospel there.  In September we're going to pick up where we left off and look at the next stage in God's mission unstoppable as the gospel goes from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria.  With that in mind I'm going to work back through Acts 1-6 in the coming weeks, blogging some thoughts as I go.  There's no preconceived plan I'm just going to work through it and blog as I go.

Hopeful it will reorient us in Acts, spotting themes and key ideas, refreshing us so that as we look at it key ideas and a sense of Acts melodic theme is in place.

Daily Reading: Psalm 23v5

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

Imagine that as you go downstairs there on the doormat is a letter with the royal crest on it.  You open it and draw out the heavily embossed high quality card that you find there.  You open it and to your amazement see that you personally have been invited to a banquet at Buckingham Palace by HRH Queen Elizabeth II.  That captures something, but only a little bit, of the wonder of these verses.

The image changes in v5 from that of God as Shepherd and his people as his sheep to that of a host and his guest.  God is the host and David is his guest.  And God as host prepares, welcomes and provides for his people.  The spread at the table is lavish and abundant and it is set before David.  But more than that this welcoming is done in the presence of David's enemies.  God vindicates David, his faith is proved well grounded and fully justified, and he rests and enjoys being in God's house totally secure.

But even more than that the key point is who the host is, who has prepared the table, who it is who has anointed his head.  It is Yahweh, it is the Lord, the mighty sovereign Lord of Hosts.  This meal isn't prepared by a servant, a peer, an equal, or even an angel.  This is God as host and provider.  That is an amazing thing to stop and think about.  Our future is secure but more amazingly our future is God's provision and God's presence.

Banquets were done somewhat differently in David's day than they are in ours.  If we greeted someone, the next time they had a meal with us, by pouring oil on their head we would get funny looks at the least.  But in David's day anointing your guest was a sign of honour and favour.  It told your guest that he had nothing to fear, and here it is God who anoints his guest, welcoming him with the sign of his favour.

Furthermore to be a guest at someones table was a sign of acceptance.  It was a sign that any enmity between you was set aside and that the host assumed responsibility for their guests protection.   David knows that there is no enmity between him and God, how?  He is trusting in God's future promises of a new covenant, in the same way we trust in Christ and all that is ours in him.  God's people know that God is for them, he is our protector and we enjoy his favour.  We have been welcomed in and will one day be welcomed in to the realised kingdom.

That ought to shape our day.  When mocked or ridiculed for our faith, like David we fix our eyes on God's coming kingdom, that one day our faith with be vindicated.  But we also live now in the light of the welcome we have received.  We enjoy God's favour in Christ, we enjoy protection as his people, we know security not in our plans and purposes but in God's.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Daily Reading Psalm 23v4

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

The Bible is realistic about life in a broken world and so is David in this Psalm.  God is not just a fair weather Shepherd, he's not like the hired hand of John 10 who runs away when the wolf attacks the flock because he doesn't care for the sheep.  David can testify that when he walks through dark places God is with him.  When he faces threat, hardship and suffering, when he feels that oppressive darkness pressing in on him, when he cannot see what the future holds whether there is a light at the end of the tunnel or not he knows God is with him, present, guiding, leading.

David knew such times; fighting the bear as a shepherd boy, facing the terrifying and mocking Goliath, running from the throne room as King Saul hurled a spear at him intending to pin him to the wall, hiding in the caves when Saul sought him, overhearing his own men talk of stoning him.  David knew threat and faced danger.  But he also faced dark nights of the soul, when haunted by grief and conviction over his sin, when bereaved and gutted by loss.  But as he walks through those dark valleys he can face it, his faith is not eroded by fear because God is with him.

His confidence isn't an unrealistically blase everything with be OK.  Nor is it that God will remove all opposition and hardship and suffering.  Rather it is that God is with him in and guides him through the suffering and menace he faces.  The rod and staff speak of God's identity, presence, protection and guidance.  In Genesis 38 Tamar is given Judah's staff as a pledge of payment.  It identified him and tied him and his name to her.  So here, God is the shepherd with his people, his rod and staff are signs of his presence, they bring comfort.

It's worth noting the weight given to things in the verse.  David doesn't dwell on the darkest valley, he doesn't describe it, he doesn't strive to make us feel it's oppressive nature, it's menacing threat.  No the weight in the verse is on the hope in the darkest valley, the presence of Yahweh who is his people's shepherd.  It isn't minimising the struggle but seeking to provide perspective.  Our confidence must be theological not circumstantial.  Yahweh is our God and he is a good present shepherd leading us along the right paths to the destination he has in mind.  He doesn't leave us in hardship he is right there with us.

It's a perspective we're called to echo.  Too often I'm prone to dwelling on the shadows in the valley, David reminds me instead to recognise them, not deny them, but to fix my gaze on the shepherd.   Yahweh, who is with me and is leading me.  Who sees and knows what we face and is with us every step of the way, leading us through them by his presence and growing our trust in him so that we echo this verse, so that we sing along.

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

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Daily Reading: Psalm 23v3

"  he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
   for his name's sake"

David continues to meditate on the care of God his shepherd.  God doesn't just provide for his physical needs but refreshes his very soul.  What does this look like?  Well we see it in the book of Ruth, Naomi comes back to Bethlehem bitter after the death of her 2 sons and her husband and she seems to be stuck in a bitter spirit throughout most of the book.  But in ch4v15 as she holds Boaz on her knee the women say "He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age."  It's the same idea here in Psalm 23, to be refreshed in soul is to be strengthened and encouraged and given hope where there was none or where it was waning.  

Think of David's friendship with Jonathan as an example of that, when David was troubled or at a loss it was Jonathan who strengthened him.  In 1 Samuel 23 when David is on the run and at Horesh he learns that Saul has come out with an army to kill him.  But Jonathan meets David and "helped him find strength in God."  How?  By reminding him of God's covenant promise that he would be king and what that meant for right now in this very situation.  God provides refreshing for David's troubled soul, and that is just one example.

God as shepherd provides for his sheep, for the whole of their life, physical and spiritual.  Just stop and think about how God has done that for us for a moment.  Think of how God has worked through the centuries so that we have the Bible in our hands in a language we can read.  God providing refreshment for our soul.  Think of those who labour so that we can hear the Bible taught and applied.  Or think of the hundreds of resources we have available to us as a means of spiritual refreshment.  Or think of the people in your life who are like Barnabas, the son of encouragement, a guy so encouraging that it was as if encouragement was his dad and he'd learned and breathed encouragement from being knee high.  Those who, when we are low, listen, love and encourage us to see God's promises, to trust his love sometimes by words sometimes simply by being with us and modelling the gospel to us.  Each of those provided by God to refresh us when we are weary of heart.

David next turns to the guidance he enjoys as one of the great Shepherds sheep.  God guides his people to where he knows they need to go.  He takes us to the right path, the path of those who live life skilfully with God as their God.  God works to get us to where he needs us to go, though those paths may not always be easy as we'll see in v4.  Our comfort as we follow where the shepherd leads comes from the character of the shepherd, because God always acts in ways that are consistent with his character.  We choose names because we like the sound of them, or they have an attachment to someone we knew or who meant a lot to us.  But in Hebrew culture a name was thought to reveal that persons character.  We can trust God's leading because he will lead us in a way that is consistent with his name and character.  Our trust is in him, our gaze is fixed on him not the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  We live by faith in Yahweh not by sight.

And God's character is revealed supremely in Jesus who comes as the good shepherd (John 10) in the flesh and shows God's love and glory as he goes to the cross for us, rises again, and ascends to heaven from where he pours out his Spirit on and in us.  We can trust the guidance of such a God as Yahweh. Doesn't that give us confidence as we face another day no matter what it holds.  As circumstances assail us, as we live in a broken world experiencing it's brokenness whilst catching glimpses of it's marred reflected of the glory of God we do so knowing God is with us.  He does not change even as our circumstances do.  And he provides for our refreshment even at times when we feel like we might be failing.  Look out for those refreshments as they come, identify them, thank God for them as they are signs of his care.  And be God's means of refreshing others too.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Daily Reading: Psalm 23v2

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

Everything else that follows in Psalm 23 flows from those astounding opening words "The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing."  As one of God's sheep this is the security that David enjoys, this is the reality of his life as he considers it.  What follows are descriptions of what God as shepherd does for his sheep.

God is the one who has provided for his life.  Sheep need pasture and water.  David pictures God as the one providing what he needs, God meets his physical needs.  The picture is of lavish provision, in Israel's dry rocky landscape with sparse tough grass, where water sources were few and far between and often changed from season to season shepherds used to travel from place to place seeking provision for their flocks.  The best shepherds learned to know where to find what their sheep needed when they needed it, and they would lead them there safely.

That is the picture David gives of God.  I was always brought up saying grace, thanking God for what was on the plate before me.  Too often, however, it was little more than unthinking rote.  But David pauses here and so ought we.  God provides our food and water, God provides the basics of life that we need.  It may be more distant for us than for David.  ASDA, Tesco, Aldi or whoever may be what the shopping bags proclaim as the source of our food but ultimately it has come from God.  God has provided for us.  And not just the food but the home in which we eat it securely, at rest.

And step back one step further, our job or the means by which we can afford our food and water and other things comes from God too.  Every person who has lovingly cared for you has been provided by God, every time someone has gotten alongside you this week to refresh you spiritually or to challenge you, provided by God. Our God abundantly supplies our needs.

When was the last time I stopped and thought about that?  When was the last time I thanked God for every provision he has given me that enables me to thrive?  When was the last time I actually stopped and properly thanked God for my food?  My house?  My job?  This matters because it is thinking about these things, meditating on them that leads David to write this Psalm, to pen this praise of God.  It is thinking about these blessings that fuels David's trust and confidence in God.

Cynicism is the enemy of confidence in God. It says God didn’t supply it I earned it, it says God didn’t supply so and so they are just being nice, or they have an ulterior motive, or that was just coincidence. No, the bible says God provides and unless we learn to see God’s provision and thank him for it then we will take it for granted and lose sight of our dependence on him - forget we're a sheep.

I was challenged recently by this quote I'm not sure who said it.  "What would life be like tomorrow if you woke up with only the things you had thanked God for today?"

Monday, 27 July 2015

Daily Reading: Psalm 23v1

"The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing"

The first thing for us to take note of is the opening two words "The LORD".  Who is "the LORD"?  This is Yahweh.  He is the I AM.  He is eternal, he has always been and will always be.  He is everlasting and there is no one and nothing like him.  He is almighty and all powerful.  He is the creator and sustainer of all things.  He is the one who put Pleiades and the Horse Head Nebula in place, who created the atom and all its component parts, and he holds everything together.  He is the sovereign ruler of the cosmos.  He sits enthrone in the heavens right now in glory and splendour and power and majesty and might.

And David continues, as if that isn't enough, He "is my shepherd".  This almighty sovereign God "is"; present tense, right now, at this very minute "my shepherd".  Yahweh is my - this Psalm speaks of an intensely present and personal truth.  David knows God is his shepherd.  I can say my son is my son in a unique relationship that no other man on the planet enjoys with my son, there is a bond, he is my son.  So the Psalmist can say that he has a unique and special relationship with the almighty sovereign of the universe.  Yahweh is his shepherd.  David places himself in the position of a sheep, one of the shepherds flock enjoying his care and love and guidance and provision.  David is in the role of a dependent, he is one of the sheep of God's pasture.  And there is no more secure place to be because of who the shepherd is, the shepherd is Yahweh.

And because he is one of Yahweh's sheep he can say "I lack nothing".  That is an astonishing statement from David who has known plenty of lack in life.  On the run from Saul as his life is hunted David looks, to our eyes, to lack everything; physical safety, a home, a kingdom, friends, and so on.  Later on in life he is faced with the potential overthrow of his throne by his own son Absalom, and has to leave Jerusalem taking little with him.  David has known plenty of times when it looks like he is lacking to worldly eyes.  But David knows that if God is his shepherd then he is being led exactly where he needs to go.  That the shepherd will withhold from him nothing that is needful.  Therefore wherever he is led he can say I lack nothing.  I am exactly where God has in his plan and purposes for me to be.

As we go into our day our confidence is not in us it is in the one who is our shepherd too.  Psalm 23v1 calls us to lift our eyes up and see Yahweh in all his splendour and place our confidence for the day in him.  It calls us to remember that he is our Shepherd today, he isn't the shepherd he is my shepherd - he knows me and calls me by name.  Today he orders my steps and I am one of his sheep.  And that means that we will lack nothing.  Today nothing will confront me that is not in God's plans for me to face, I will not for one moment slip outside of his care and love.