The Valley of the Shadow of Life

The Valley of the Shadow of Life

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.

Psalm 23:4,5

The was an ambulance at the bank as My mom dropped me off a little early for work that day. The store was still closed. She always dropped me off in the alley behind Main Street where all the stores had entrances in back as well as the front. Beside the alley there was a large parking lot and the Midland National Bank drive up window. It was the summer before my last year of High School, and I worked for a clothing store. The manager must have been late that day, as the employee entrance was usually open by then.

I noticed an ambulance in the lane at the bank drive-up where a crowd was beginning to gather. I had time so I walked over to see who was hurt; it was a small town and it seemed our family knew everyone. I noticed Lee, my mom’s cousin, a tall man who was VP at the bank standing in front of me. I could see an old man laying on the ground as the EMT Techs were trying to revive him from an apparent heart attack.

I said to Lee, “Hey, who is that guy, I don’t recognize him?” When turned and saw it was me who was asking him, his face went pale. “That’s your Grandpa”, he said. My heart sank! I didn’t recognize him with his glasses off, false teeth removed, and his face so purple. I’d never seen anyone so close to death, except on TV; it was so different in person.

Psalm 23 is without a doubt the most well known, beloved of the Psalms. It was the first scripture I memorized as a child at Weekday Bible School. Interestingly, it seems the only time we hear or read it is at funerals. For most of my life I thought it was written expressly for times of death. However, in my ministry studies, when I studied the depth and meaning of the Psalms I came to realize that among all the Psalms, the 23rd is perhaps the most relevant to all of life, not just death.

The image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd is found in the writings of Saints John and Peter, as well as the writer of Hebrews. More than a Savior, Jesus is our Great Shepherd, and all who have faith in Him, are His sheep. He not only cares for the entire flock, He knows each one by name (Ps 95:7; Jn. 10:3).

Jesus is the source of all refreshing in life. The Fathers of the early church saw in Psalm 23 a threefold image of sacramental life in the Kingdom of God, the Church. They saw the cool waters as Christ restoring the soul of the believer in Baptism. And, in the early church, Baptism was followed by an anointing with oil called, Chrismation. And finally, they say Christ preparing a table before his sheep in the Eucharist of Holy Communion in this life, as well as in the Heavenly Wedding Supper of the Lamb in the life to come.

Psalm 23, was to the early church the Psalm of great comfort that described the very life of the believer, as He walked with the Shepherd. All of life is a valley we walk in the shadow of death, for all living things die. But thanks be to God we don’t walk alone; He is with us and we have nothing to fear.

As my Grandpa lay there on the ground that day, I began to fear death. He didn’t die that day. In fact, he lived for another year. During most of that last year of his life, I lived with him in hopes of being some kind of help to him. As I look back on it all, I can see as I lived in fear of Grandpa’s death, Jesus was with me, holding my hand through the valley.

I don’t know what your valley looks like, but I know one of the many things it includes is death. Yet, for those who believe in Christ death has lost its power. When you look at your life, don’t live in fear. You’re not walking through a canyon that ends in death. You’re walking through a valley that ends in life, life everlasting, life with Christ, and indeed with all those who in faith have gone on before you. I can’t wait to see my Grandpa again at the other end of my valley. What about you?

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: http://yahwehishisname.blogspot.com/2013/06/psalm-23-in-depth-study-on-king-davids.html

From Fear to Praise

From Fear to Praise

2 O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

3 Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

Psalm 22:2,3

Every night, as I laid down to sleep, I would remember my friend in prayer – He’d been missing for over a year. Some nights I would literally cry out to God. The burden to pray for my friend was sometimes so strong I would get out of bed and find a quiet place to pray; a place where I could prostrate myself before God in petition.

Many Catholic churches have a small chapel that is filled with prayer for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They call the prayer Eucharistic Adoration. People sign up for one hour a week to go to the Chapel and pray before a consecrated Host of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), which according to their theology is the transubstantiated body and blood of Jesus Christ. A Catholic friend who knew of my burden told me about these chapels and said if I really wanted a sacred place to pray I was welcome anytime, day or night.

One lonely, cold, winter night, as I was particularly burdened in prayer for my friend, I was losing hope and beginning to fear the worst had happened. So, I got up about 3 O’clock in the morning and drove to one those chapels. There in the chapel, was an elderly man spending his hour in prayer. I knelt down and prayed for a while. My custom is to turn to Psalms for guidance in prayer – they are the ancient prayer book of God’s people. That night I turned to a few different Psalms, but when I got to Psalm 22, I heard my voice echoing in the words of Psalm.

David wrote the Psalm but it is historically understood to be the prophetic voice of the crucified Christ, calling out to the Father as He hung on the cross. We hear Jesus crying out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (v. 1), the very words which St. Matthew quotes of Jesus in his gospel, chapter 27, verse 46.

As I read and prayed the words of Psalm 22 that night, I realized that while much of them are words of angst and agony, many of them are of faith and hope. The Psalmist changes his voice in verse 23 to one of hope and assurance that God will hear his prayer and rescue him. In fact, the first line of the Psalm in the Septuagint version is, “concerning help in the morning”. Though Jesus prayed in agony, He knew His Father would send help in the morning. God would not abandon Him in death, and neither will He abandon us in our hour of great need.

It was another four months or so, and my friend was found – alive. He was hurting, but he was alive. God heard my prayers; He always has and He always will, and He hears yours too. What’s your burden in prayer today? Know that He hears, and that His desire is to deliver you as you surrender all to Him. And, just like the Psalmist in the midst of his outcry, let your cries turn to praise:

23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! all you sons of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel!

24 For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and he has not hid his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From thee comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live for ever! (Ps. 22:23-26)

In your prayers, don’t stop when you run out of words of petition. Don’t be afraid to lay out your deepest fears before God. Then, let your cries turn from fear to praise.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/february/feeling-forsaken-thoughts-on-psalm-22.html

Genie In A Bottle

Genie In A Bottle

A Psalm of David. In thy strength the king rejoices, O LORD; and in thy help how greatly he exults!

2 Thou hast given him his heart’s desire, and hast not withheld the request of his lips. [Selah]

Psalm 21:1,2

When I was a kid one of my favorite TV shows was, “I Dream of Jeanie”. For those of you who don’t remember, it was a situation comedy in the 1960’s about an astronaut who finds a bottle on a beach and when he opens it out comes a Genie (Named Jeanie), who has the power to grant all his wishes. How cool would it be to have a genie like that? Can you even imagine having your every wish granted? My great wish was to be elected to public office, maybe the Congress, Senate, or why not even President of the United States. After all, I believed in God, so why wouldn’t He grant my requests? So, I put my name of the ballot.

Sadly, some people think of God as some kind of genie in a bottle. I know I did.  Whenever they want something they take Him out and ask him to grant their wish. Oh, I know it’s not quite that way. But, when we only speak to God when we need something, isn’t that the same thing?

In Psalm 21 we hear Jesus (the King) praising His Father (the Lord) for granting, “his heart’s desire”. Scripture says the Father did not withhold any of Jesus’ requests. You may be thinking, “But, Jesus was God too, so of course the Father answered his requests.” However, St. Paul tells us that’s not how Jesus approached His Father:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,[a] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

The prophetic voice of Christ in the Psalms gives us a model for how we too should pray; this is why it is called the “Prayer Book” of the ancient church. When we learn to pray as Jesus did, that is to say, “Not my will, but Thy will”, then we glorify God as Lord, and not some genie who should give us everything we want.

Psalm 21 is Jesus’ prayer of praise to the Father for giving him victory of every enemy, especially the grave (v. 6-12). Verse 4 tells us the real desire of Jesus’ heart was to have life, real life with the Father. What was the Father’s answer? He gave Him life forever, unto ages of ages.

As I look back on my life, I’m glad God didn’t give me what I thought was my “heart’s desire”. Like the time I ran for elective office and wanted to win so badly. I thought I wanted to be a great public servant. But, God knew the fame and power of politics would be too much for me. I wasn’t mature enough to ask for what I really needed.

If He’d granted my wish I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have moved to Wichita. I’d never have met my wife. I’d wouldn’t have the two children I’m so blessed with. And, worst of all, I may never have found Christ.

If God had been my genie, I’d probably be on a long road to nowhere. But, thanks be to God, He is Lord, and in His mercy, He gives us what we need, not what we want. What are the desires of your heart?

Shalom, 

Pastor Brad

image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Dream_of_Jeannie

 

Caught In A Blizzard

Caught In A Blizzard

The LORD answer you in the day of trouble! The name of the God of Jacob protect you!

2 May he send you help from the sanctuary, and give you support from Zion!

Psalm 20:1,2

It snowed about a foot in the few hours we were in that little country church giving a concert. I sang lead in a gospel quartet when I was in my early twenties. Our concert was in a small, rural Mennonite Church miles away from the nearest town. In fact, it was miles away from anywhere and anyone. It was only about 30 miles from the city but it might as well have been hundreds because it was too far to walk in a freezing, blinding snow storm.

We were in trouble. As we left the church, the van we were driving got stuck in the snow, in the middle of a country mile section a few miles away. It was obvious no vehicle had driven that road in the fresh fallen snow. It was about 9:00PM and it was so dark, all we could see was the swirling, blowing snow. Talk about unprepared, we had no blankets and no heavy winter coats.

Prayer was our only hope. We prayed as we sat there in the van letting the engine run to keep the heat on, but we knew that couldn’t last for long or we’d run out of gas. It was finally decided someone had to walk to look for help, in hope of finding a nearby farmhouse. The Baritone and I were the youngest, so we volunteered.

We set out walking with nothing to focus on; it was a blizzard all around, and we weren’t dressed for the conditions. We knew if we found help, it would be sent from God. Trusting Him to guide us in the right direction was the only way; anything but the shortest distance to help and we would freeze to death.

Psalm 20 can be read as a prayer of blessing over those who are in trouble, over those who need rescued. As you read through it, notice the confident, joyful tone of the prayer. The Psalmist doesn’t just hope God will help him, he knows He will:

4 May he grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans!

5 May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the LORD fulfill all your petitions!

6 Now I know that the LORD will help his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand. (Ps. 20:4-6)

What troubles you today? Do you have confidence in the Lord to see you through it? Call on His name and in His time, He will send you help from His sanctuary (v. 2). We walked as far as thought we could that night, and just as we felt like giving up we saw a light on the horizon. We didn’t know how far away it was, but we knew it meant help so we kept going.

The Lord sent His help. That light was just what we needed to keep us going. Look hard on the horizon of your life, and you will see His light. He will send help from His holy heaven.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: http://wetravelandblog.com/2014/where-in-the-world/united-states/yellowstone-united-states/caught-in-a-snow-storm/

Come Away with Me

Come Away with Me

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19:14

The sign on the door said “Quiet Prayer Only”. I’d been in many chapels but never one that didn’t allow any talking. I was intrigued so I opened the door. Inside I found a room with glass walls on three sides and large stone at the center of the room. It wasn’t just a rock it was a boulder. The stone was almost as tall as me and at least five feet around. Around the room the glass walls were lined with chairs, kneeling benches and some pads for lying prostrate in prayer.

The chapel is at the Spiritual Life Center. The Center is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Wichita and is open for all to use for everything from seminars to retreats. I was there on a weekend men’s retreat our church was holding.

I wasn’t in great need of a place to unburden myself in prayer; I was just exploring the building. Once inside the chapel, I sat down to look around and take in the beauty and majesty of being in such a sublime place. My mind and my heart began to dwell on the words of Psalm 19. As I stared at that boulder I could see in it, “Jesus, my rock and my redeemer.”

The Psalmist tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God, that day and night pour forth the voice of God without needing words (v 2-3). Growing up with a Catholic background in my youth, I was familiar with the spiritual discipline of meditation. However, in my years with the Church of the Nazarene, I must admit that I lost the call to such times of meditation, but there in that quiet place it all came flooding back. The gift of Christian meditation is for all believers; scripture calls us to it.

The windowed walls look out at the beautiful grounds surrounding the Center. There is a view of a lake with a fountain in the middle, and many trees and birds. It’s really quite serene. The stone boulder in the middle of the chapel had a small bronze tabernacle sitting atop it. Beside the tabernacle was a lighted lamp, and inside the tabernacle was the Eucharistic bread, also known as the Host. In Catholic theology to be in the presence of a consecrated Host is to be in the transubstantiated presence of Christ.

I thought I was dropping in for a moment. However, the moments turned into minutes, and the minutes turned into an hour. I was lost in the words of the Psalmist:

3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun… 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;

Have you heard the voice – the voice of God in creation? It is as the Psalmist says, “sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”

In the chapel that day there were no words from my mouth, but the meditation of my heart was pleasing to my soul, and I pray it was pleasing to my rock and my redeemer as well. As I write this devotion the words of a song by Norah Jones comes to my mind, “Come Away with Me”. Listen to the words. I don’t know who Norah was thinking of when she wrote this popular love song, but I’m hearing the words of my rock and my redeemer calling me to come away with Him, to meditate on Him and His love for me. Won’t you come away too?

Come away with me in the night
Come away with me
And I will write you a song

Come away with me on a bus
Come away where they can’t tempt us, with their lies

And I want to walk with you
On a cloudy day
In fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high
So won’t you try to come

Come away with me and we’ll kiss
On a mountaintop
Come away with me
And I’ll never stop loving you

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/55169164160870383/

Deliverance

Deliverance

30 This God–his way is perfect; the promise of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?

Psalm 18:30-31

It was dusk as I pulled into my driveway. In fact, darkness was falling by the seconds. There were no lights on in our house. All the curtains were still open, my first clue that something was wrong. My wife, Rhonda, was seven months pregnant with our first child and the house was full of moving boxes, which were in plain view from the uncovered windows. Rhonda never left the curtains open as night fell.

I don’t know why, but instead of entering the house from the back as usual, I went to the front door. I guess I just wanted to look around to see if Rhonda was outside by the neighbor’s. I didn’t see her anywhere. As I stepped up onto the porch, I caught the glimpse of a large man crouched down beside me, just inside the brick wall that wrapped around the porch. What happened next seemed almost like an outer body experience as I look back on it.

Standing there in my designer suit (I was a clothing salesman), and in my meanest, gruffest voice (not very mean, I’m sure), I called out, “Hey! What are you doing on my porch?” Much to my surprise the man answered, “I think I’m going to be sick”. He then acted as if he was going to throw up. In one of those moments that had to be God inspired I said (still as gruff as I could), “If you’re sick, I’ll go get help”. I then backed down the steps, never taking my eye off the man, and proceeded to walk backward toward my neighbor’s house. As I reached the neighbors yard the man on my porch got up and ran away – he was about twice my size!

I nearly collapsed from the rush of adrenaline my system must have used over those last few seconds. As I collected my thoughts and immediately praised God for His deliverance from what could have been a very ugly, perhaps deadly situation, my sweet, pregnant wife came out of the neighbor’s house across the street to return home – in the dark! She’d lost track of time.

In Psalm 18 we read of David’s praise to God for delivering him from his enemies, even King Saul and his armies. In verses 8-18, David, recounts the miraculous deliverance of God as he sings about the cataclysmic nature of God’s power and might to protect those who are blameless. In verse 21 he proclaims the Lord will reward those who are righteous. Prophetically, the Church hears the voice of Jesus in praise to His Father for delivering Him from His enemies, even death.

What do you need deliverance from today? Like David and Jesus, perhaps you feel like your enemies surround you on every side? Things may even seem impossible, but I have good news for you. With God all things are possible. Our God brings deliverance for the blameless, for those who trust in Him. The word used in scripture as deliverance is the same word for salvation in the original language. Salvation is assured for those serve God, for those who trust in Him, no matter what. Won’t your trust Him today?

And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” (Psalm 9:10)

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: http://www.goldenglobes.com/film/deliverance

Resurrection Is Always in View

Resurrection Is Always in View

15 As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form.

Psalm 17:15

Have you faced any injustice in your life? Probably. Most have of some form or another. But, what about a grave injustice; something so unfair you were brought to the brink of despair? Many of the Psalms are prayers cried out to the Lord in the face of such grave injustice. Psalm 17 is one.

Though we hear the prayer of David, who faced many great trials in life, the real voice of the Psalm is Jesus. Who of us would dare pray the words of verse three? Only Christ can truly pray those words. As we read them today, we can connect our hearts to Jesus’ words. While we can’t say that if God tests us He will find nothing but pure righteousness, what we can say is, “Search me O God, and know my heart” (Ps 139). Our hearts can be pure before the Lord – David’s was.

The prayer of Psalm 17 is the prayer of Jesus in the closing days of his life before the cross. His enemies had surrounded Him (v9). Their hearts were closed to all pity (v 10). Yet, Jesus knew the Lord would deal justly with His enemies. However, He also knew it would require His complete sacrifice on the cross. The same completeness is required of all who follow Christ.

The Psalm ends with the assurance Jesus felt, that when he would give up His spirit on the cross and lie down in death, He knew He would see God when he awoke (v 15). To Jesus, the resurrection was always in view. He always knew His Father would answer His cries for help (v 6), and so can we.

What injustice are you facing? Have you cried out to the Lord? I hope so. I hope you’ve cried out in confidence, knowing He will rescue you. I hope you always have resurrection in view. As Martin Luther wrote in his great hymn, A Mighty Fortress, “The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still.” The truth of God is that resurrection is always in view for those who place their hope in Christ, who dwell with Him in faith.

Shalom,

Pastor Brad

image credit: http://www.episcopalcafe.com/abc-justin-welby-resurrection-of-jesus-changes-our-view-of-the-universe/