Surviving The Final Curse of Evil

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of evil, You are with me.  Psalm 23:4

Of all evils we witness, the most frightening one is death.  As believers in Jesus, we don’t fear our final destination but the process of getting there.  The process is unknown and no one can come back to tell us what it was like except Jesus and He discloses two important things about it.  1.) He defeated it by walking out of the grave.  2.) And, He will go with us as we experience it.  Jesus understands every nuance and subtlety.  He didn’t collapse from a heart attack; He endured the slow process in the most horrific way possible.  

The ultimate reason death can be frightening is because death is the final curse and evil’s last performance.  When God created us, He didn’t equip us with the ability to understand and cope with its atrocities.  He made us for the Garden, for a world of perfection, but the sin of Adam forever opened our eyes to the vast chasm of evil and the breadth of it shuts us down.  We try to make sense of it and that’s why we end up calling it ‘senseless’.  We take what we witnessed, turn it over and over in our psyche, but are never able to grasp it because we weren’t wired to.  

Jon Bloom covers it best in one short article.  After reading it last year, I decided that I would never need to read anything else on the subject of evil and suffering.  Here is the link if you are interested.

As the perfect High Priest, Jesus’ intimacy with the final curse is a lifeline.  He’s not a cosmic scientist who describes it from a distance.  He’s the suffering Savior who, by choice, walked into the valley of the shadow to secure my own salvation from eternal death.  He’s the gentle shepherd who walks with me through the unknown and He’s also the Victor who opens the door on the other side to life everlasting.  

He doesn’t just wait for me on the other side ~ no, He takes me there by the hand.

So many bail out on us in our darkest times, You only draw closer.  Oh Jesus, your final display of faithfulness will be showcased in my final hours.  Amen

The Valley Of The Shadow

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will feel no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:4a

The definition of a shadow is an image cast by an object.  The word doesn’t usually bring warm feelings.  Someone hiding in the shadows is a person with a questionable agenda.  Someone afraid of their own shadow is a poor soul gripped by shyness.  Someone who sees shadows in the night is one who sleeps lightly.  And then there’s this phrase in the 23rd Psalm, ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’ 

While the topic of shadows makes us think of something foreboding, and while there’s nothing more frightening than the thought of the shadow of death, God’s shadow eclipses all darkness.  Our faith rests in these scriptures.

I am concealed in the shadow of God’s hand.  Isaiah 49:2

I dwell in the shadow of the Almighty.  Psalm 91:1

And, I take refuge in the shadow of my Father’s wings.  Psalm 36:7 

God is also described as One who casts a shadow. His presence shadows His children ~ going with them wherever they go. Psalm 121:5

If I am in Christ, I am overshadowed when the Spirit conceives something holy, heals something broken, prepares something yet unformed, and draws near to guide His child home.  If you, or someone you love, is sorrowing because the shadow of death has touched your family, know that you are ‘over’ – shadowed.

I am overshadowed by Your Spirit, even when I walk through darkness. You take me home safely to the place where there is no more night.   Amen

A Place For The Intellect

He leads me in paths of righteousness . . . Psalm 23:4a

The beauty of walking slowly through a passage is being able to look at every little thing as if it were a new gift to unwrap.  As someone well-seasoned in Bible study, I can just assume (especially if I can recite the 23’rd Psalm from memory) that I understand a phrase like ‘paths of righteousness.’  I don’t and I’m still learning.   

I have often asked, and perhaps you also voice these questions ~ “Why does God make it so hard?  Since He promises to lead, and since He tells me that I am a sheep who cannot find my way on my own, why not speak louder so that the path is unmistakable?”

God is all about growing me up into the stature and maturity of His Son.  If I can take God by the hand and not have to think for myself at all, isn’t this the stuff of toddlerhood? Infant faith begins with this kind of baby steps but mature faith encompasses the ability to engage my intellectual faculties to the glory of God. 

“Those who are skittish when it comes to rigorous study, deep thinking, and theological precision have wanted us to believe that our problem is the mind, when in fact it’s the flesh.”  Sam Storms

I must learn to train my mind, to know how to build precept upon precept, in the artful ways of wisdom.  Sound decisions are, more often than not, made by a student of the Word who has set out to learn the mind of God, through Scripture, with abject humility.  

Yes, great knowledge presents a temptation to be proud but it is not knowledge that is the enemy.  It is my pride.  Paths of righteousness are ever before me.  God makes them clear for every level of spiritual development.  Milk for the babes; meat for the mature.  And, in that light, I can know that God will grant me the humility to listen, the grace to obey, but He also encourages every intellectual pursuit to be harnessed to the truth of the Scriptures.

I can be lazy and want to be led like a baby.  Forgive me.  Amen

Revisiting The Breaking Of My Faith

He restores my soul.  Psalm 23:3

This morning, I thought ~ “I did really well coping with this last week but I don’t know what happened.  I’ve hit a wall with my faith!”  What I’m wishing for is that the state of my faith from last week could be restored.

The basic word for ‘restore’ means to move something back to the place of departure. The tender Shepherd restores my soul if I pay attention to my heart and address my faith before it completely unravels.  I must go to green pastures and still water to ask Jesus what’s wrong.  Something sure changed and oftentimes I don’t even know what.  He does though. 

Sometimes just being quiet in prayer will allow me to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice for the answer.  “This is the place where you stopped believing me,” He says.  The lie is revealed and I can deal with my unbelief.  Most of the time though, I must spend time interacting with scripture until I find the conflict.  I come across a verse that rubs against the grain of my feelings.  I know it’s true but I feel like it’s not true.  This is a sure sign of faith’s fracture. 

A more serious condition can also be exposed.  I can read scripture and admit, “I don’t feel this is true and I don’t believe this is true.”  At that point, I don’t need restoration, I need spiritual growth.  Jesus must take me to brand new pastures.  The manna will feel foreign but wonderful on my tongue.

Today is a restoration-day for me.  I’ve carved out some time for God to restore my faith about a certain situation in my life.  Confidence in His assurances have begun to deteriorate. I can’t live without joy and confidence in my Shepherd.  As I dive into the deep waters of the Spirit for restoration, I am praying for you too.  Doubt melts away, for each of us, in the embrace of the Restorer. 

You mend every broken soul who comes to You. Amen

Beyond Dehydration

He leads me beside still waters.  Psalm 23:2b

From all my years of traveling and fighting the noise in hotels at night, a sound machine is my answer for getting to sleep.  I like the gentle water sounds especially.  They are conducive to resting. 

That is why God promises to lead His children beside still waters. In Hebrew, the words for ‘still waters’ are “mai menochot”, meaning restful waters. They flow slowly and calmly, bringing peace to a person’s spirit. 

I have a cat named Geoffrey.  He loves to drink from the faucet.  He sits and stares at it until you notice him.  He’s high strung. The stream has to be just right or he won’t take a drink no matter how thirsty he is.  If I turn it on a full stream, forget it.  If it just drips, he’s annoyed and just sits there.  He waits for the perfect slow stream to take his drink.  Still waters – even for cats. 

Every living thing needs water to live.  Sheep, before they repose and graze in God’s hand-picked pastures must first quench their thirst.  

Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of John about water.  He said that it was possible to take the kind of drink where she would never again be thirsty.  At first, she confused His message with tangible water since they were sitting at a well.  But His message was about spiritual water, revealing that the drink He was talking about would save her soul, not her body. 

The message and its implications were earth shattering.  “It is possible to drink from Me in such a way that you will never again believe you have to have the love of a man to live. Your life will no more depend on fickle sources of water.”  

This woman drank and was filled with the love of Christ.  Her soul, thriving in an instant, ran to tell of the One who forever changed her appetites.  Perhaps, even though she was a Samaritan, she knew the invitation from Isaiah 55:1 Everyone who thirsts, come to the water.  At first, she was unaware of her deep thirst. Spiritually, she was dangerously dehydrated and had passed the point of thirst.  Only as Jesus talked with her and pinpointed her need did her heart come alive enough to recognize her need. 

“Go call your husband,” Jesus said. Beside still waters, much happens.  We engage in a way that normal life makes impossible.  We listen, quiet ourselves, and ponder.  In the stillness, the Shepherd speaks, unearths our great need, and offers Living Water.  He is the water.  A contagious testimony is born.  

You’ve transformed my needs to my need for One.  Amen

The Shepherd Became The Shepherd

He makes me lie down in green pastures. Psalm 23:2

God ‘makes me’ lie down in green pastures. That sounds like it’s done by force against my wishes. It’s not like that! The picture is one of a shepherd who gently leads and this corresponds with the beautiful picture painted by Isaiah.

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.   Isaiah 40:11  

The little Shepherd who napped in the manger would be the One who would call Himself the Shepherd. Pretty amazing as I sit here thinking about it because the One David addressed as Shepherd in Psalm 23 was God Himself. And yet, Jesus will define Himself as the shepherd of the sheep all throughout the book of John. How do the two tie together?

When David wrote Psalm 23, Jesus resided in the Trinity and was one with God in caring for the sheep of Israel. But because of Incarnation, the Shepherd became one who needed a Shepherd. The Shepherd became the sheep. He had to learn how to live out the lessons in the 23’rd Psalm so that He could become a Shepherd who was touched with our infirmities.

Little boy Jesus discovered that the world was not a place to lay his head in peace. Mary was probably the first who, by example, taught Jesus to run to Father God for spiritual rest and refreshing. Chaos and intimidation ruled the Roman Empire, and their personal lives, and Jesus could feel His people’s corporate anxiety having to dwell under the umbrella of brutes like Caesar Augustus and the Emperor Tiberius. Any resting of the soul would have to come from a spiritual resting place, the kind only His Heavenly Father provided.

Just like us, Jesus depended on the shepherding of Yahweh. In His DNA, did He have any recollection of being the Shepherd of Israel? We don’t know. But one thing is for sure ~ Jesus personally experienced the perfection of God’s green pastures amidst the imperfections of earth’s dwelling places. God’s food sustained Him through more trials than we’ll ever face. Without it, He would not have the wisdom, strength, and stamina to finish the course.

Every one of us has a deep desire to be known by One who loves us. Because we were made to be intimate, our soul strains to be under the care of someone who can see the expanse of our lives; One who has the power to shape an environment where we can thrive. 

You are my perfect Shepherd. Amen