How Do I Summarize My Life?

The writer of the twenty-third Psalm became the King of Israel.ÊThroughout his life, David had known and felt the presence of God.ÊHe grew up in Bethlehem, the youngest of eight brothers. As a young man, he cared for his father’s sheep. The Bible tells us that as the shepherd, he had some hair-raising experiences. He once killed a lion who was attacking the sheep, and another time he killed a bear who was after the flock. Not every day was routine.

David was not only an outdoors man, but a skilled harpist. His musical ability earned him entrance into the palace where he played for King Solomon. David’s music comforted the king when he was suffering from depression. There in Saul’s court, David learned about the strategy of war and the problems of governing a rebellious people.

David was well-known for his victory over the giant, Goliath, which made him a favorite in the minds of the Israelites. Because of his popularity, Saul became jealous of David and plotted to kill him on more than one occasion.

When Saul died, David was elected the King of Israel. During his reign, he placed a great emphasis on Israel’s religious life. Life was good for the people.

During the height of his success, David fell in sin and committed adultery with Bathsheba. To cover up his sin, he had her husband, Uriah, killed. However, God did not let these acts go unnoticed. After Nathan, the prophet, had confronted David with his sins, David had a new understanding of God’s grace.

After reigning for forty years, David died at the age of seventy. His psalms have blessed millions as they bore testimony to God’s love in many of life’s difficult times.

In the last two verses of the twenty-third psalm, David gives us his picture of life when he writes, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

With these verses, the Psalm moves from the pasture to the banquet table. With symbolical language, David sits at a banquet table. For David, life had been a banquet. God had not only provided him with the necessities of life, such as forgiveness, redemption, healing his diseases and life in the eternal Kingdom when his days on earth were over, but also luxuries that enriched his life. He describes these luxuries as God “anointing his head with oil.” His cup was not only full, but “over-flowing.” Some of these luxuries were God’s daily presence, the fellowship of faithful friends like Jonathan, and strength to do things which otherwise David could not have done on his own power.

We don’t know when in his life David wrote this Psalm, but I would like to believe it was near the end of his stay on this earth. If not, then I like to picture David sitting on the porch of his mansion, reading the last verse of this Psalm and saying to those around him, “These are some of my last words and testament that I leave for generations to come.ÊThese words describe what life has been for me.”

How do we view life? Is it with regret or thanksgiving? Do we think about what we could have done or become had we not messed up some of the opportunities we had? Or do we look at the great experiences and opportunities God has given to us.

Think through your life. What great days we have had! I recall being invited to give the opening prayer at the Republican National Convention the year Ronald Reagan was nominated for his second term as president. I was introduced to the convention by Senator Howard Baker. After I finished the prayer, the Senator shook my hand and said, “We don’t know one another, but after hearing your prayer, I know we are brothers in Christ Jesus.” What a thrill!Ê

What a thrill it was each Sunday morning to greet Tom, a man in our congregation with Down-Syndrome. Tom gave me that beautiful smile each weekend and told me he was on his way to the restaurant to have pie. What a beautiful personality this handicapped person had. He won a big place in my heart.

As we review life, do we find ourselves to be angry or amazed?ÊDo we think of the way some people have treated us with their unkind remarks and selfish acts which made life extremely difficult for us? David could have thought about the times Saul was so unfair to him, and even attempted to have him killed. David could have wondered why Saul did not appreciate all the wonderful things he had done for him. We might wonder why we had to put up with the injustice that had come our way. Why did we always get the short end of the deal? We never had the opportunities our siblings had. Our parents did not care for us.

Yes, there are many who close their life with a lot of bitterness and can only say that life has been unfair. But thank God, life does not have to be viewed this way. Rather, we are amazed at how wonderfully we have been treated by so many people. Think of the joys we have had with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever difficulties life presented turned out to be blessings as we received a new appreciation of God’s grace. David’s summary is brief. God has blessed me, and now I am going to be with Him forever.Ê

That is how Mrs. Ostrus described her life only a short time before she died. As a young pastor fresh out of the seminary, this old saint told me about her blessings. “God gave us a beautiful farm on which we could live. He gave me a caring husband, a wonderful son who has been blessed with great vocal talent. (Her son, Merrill, was an opera singer. At least once a year Merrill came home and often sang in church. On that Sunday Mr. and Mrs. Ostrus sat there proud as peacocks. But more than that, He gave me His Son, Jesus, and soon He will come and receive me into His heavenly home where He has a place for me.”

What a testimony. This happened fifty years ago, but I remember her witness as if it were yesterday.

How will we be remembered? What will our closing days be like? Why do so many choose Psalm 23 as their favorite Scripture passage?

The answer is clear. It answers some of our first experiences of dealing with a dying person, but certainly not the last.

These blessings were the necessities of life, but God also showered David with luxuries as described in the words, “thou anointest myÊhead with oil, my cup runneth over.”Ê

Where Do I Find Security?

Why is the twenty-third psalm one of the most popular portions of Scripture for so many people?

Last week we looked at verse three which presents us with a positive picture of life. The psalmist talks about good days when God “makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.”

This week God tells us that life also includes frightening days. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” No one can escape those difficult days when we are frightened.

Fear is an emotion that all of us experience. It is fear that causes us to ask, “Where do I find my security?”

Let’s talk about fear for a little while. Some of our fears are products of the imagination.

We live in the “shadows” of death and ask the question, When will I die? Today my friend dies. Tomorrow it will be my time to leave this world. However, there are those times when our fears are real. They are not imaginative. The fifty-year-old person who is in middle management gets the pink slip. Now he or she is out of a job. It’s not easy to find employment at that age. The doctor tells you there is a cancer in your liver. It is common knowledge this is a very difficult place to fight this malignancy. This brings fear to all of us.

A few weeks ago I visited a couple who are now living in a large group home for the aged.

Through their sixty-some years of married life, they had lived in large homes. There was plenty of room to move about and keep many of the possessions which were precious to them. As we visited, the husband said, “Here we are, living in one room.” He gave the dimensions of the room and said, “There were a few things we simply could not sell, so we rented space in another building to store these possessions. I doubt if we’ll ever see them again, but it is nice to know where they are.”

Then he concluded, “Such a change is frightening. What happens next?” He knows the answer. This man trusts that Christ has prepared a heavenly home for him, and there are times that he longs to be there. It is just the “going and leaving a loving wife” that makes it frightening.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I attended her family reunion at Estes Park, high in the Rocky Mountains. The elevation is something like 13,000 feet, which can make the breathing very difficult for heart patients. Once, nearly one hundred people were at these reunions. This time there were twenty-seven. There were ten children in her family.

Today, four of them are dead and two were unable to attend the reunion because of health reasons. The next reunion is scheduled for 2003. How many will be living and how many will be able to attend, especially where the altitude makes breathing a problem? As preliminary plans were being made for the next reunion, it was very difficult to face the fact the plans had better be made by and for the second generation, because it was entirely possible that others in the first generation would be having their reunion in heaven. You could sense the fear that captured the group as we simply had to face reality. “We walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

Well, enough of that. The psalmist says, “I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” Fortunate is the person who not only is acquainted with this beautiful verse, but has experienced its truth God is with me.

It is interesting to page through the Scriptures and observe how often God’s message, “I am with you,” comes to us. He said to His disciples, “Fear not, little flock, for your Father in heaven has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Then, there was the time when the disciples were on the sea being tossed about by the winds, and they were afraid. Who came to them but Jesus with the words, “Don’t be afraid. It is I.” How often our seas become rough, and then the Savior comes to us with the same comforting words.

As He sent the disciples out to proclaim the good news of the Gospel, He assured them, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:16)

Look at what Christ has done for us. Through His suffering and death at the cross and His glorious resurrection, Jesus has restored us into fellowship with our Heavenly Father for all eternity. Even though life can be frightening, our Heavenly Father has us by the hand.

It is this verse, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” that answers our question, “Where do I find security?”

Receive Him. Walk with Him. Grow in your relationship with Him so that you are as dependent on the Savior as the sheep are on the Shepherd. In life we often say to a dependent child, you have to grow up and learn to stand on your own two feet. That is good advice. A child cannot forever be dependent on his or her parents. However, such is not the case with our Heavenly Father. Here the opposite is true. As we grow in the faith, we find our security in trusting Him. We become completely dependent on Him.

Our faith teaches us that we must lean on our Savior for He alone is our strength and our security.

Is there any wonder that this is one of those favorite passages of Scripture? It answers so many of our daily questions including, Where do I find my security?

What Will It Take to Satisfy Me?

Why is the twenty-third Psalm the favorite passage of Scripture for millions of people?Ê

Because it addresses our personal needs such as “Who do I follow?” and “What will it take to satisfy me?”

I have so much and yet I am discontent. What will it takeÊto satisfy me? Does this psalm address that question? Let’s see.

The Shepherd has two basic concerns for his flock. He wants to care for their basic needs of seeing that they have plenty of food and water. He also protects them from dangers that would

harm the sheep, for they are helpless animals. To meet these needs the psalmist says, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” The Shepherd leads them to green pastures where they can graze on the soft grass. He then leads them to streams of fresh waters where they can satisfy their thirst. While all of this is going on, he keeps a watchful eye to be sure they are protected from the wildÊanimals that would kill them.

When we apply the truths of this metaphor to Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd, and believers to the flock, it becomes a bit more difficult. In comparison to human beings, it didn’t take much to satisfy the physical needs of the sheep. Keep their stomachs full and their thirst quenched, and the sheep are satisfied. Not so with human beings for they are more than bodies with physical needs. They are also souls. Thus the psalmist is uniquely referring to human sheep when he writes, “He restores my soul.”

It is the need of the soul which makes the question, “What will it take to satisfy my soul?” difficult to answer. The Scriptures teach that Jesus is the answer.

What does it take to satisfy my physical needs? For some people it takes very little. If they have a place to sleep, clothes to wear, and a few luxuries, they are satisfied. I have a friend who can’t figure out why there is so much dissatisfaction in thisÊworld. Give him a fishing pole, a boat, a set of golf clubs, and a bowling ball, and he is one happy fellow. That’s all the luxuries he seems to need. I imagine he would include the appliances in his house, the automobile, air conditioner, and the furnace as some of the necessities of life. The point is, he does not need to go on exotic trips, have a new home, or walk in high levels of society to be satisfied. In fact, he would not be comfortable with such possessions.

Others are not as easily satisfied. Having everything that one could ever hope to have, they cry out for more. Don’t we experience the frustration of Christmas shopping for the person

who has everything? What do I buy him or her that he or she doesn’t have? These people have beautiful homes but want larger ones. I am amazed at some of the new homes being built in our community. They are huge and obviously very costly. What makes the construction of these homes so amazing is that, in some cases, the children have left home and only dad and mom are left to occupy the 4,000 squareÊfeet most of the year.

I have some of this same fever. When I was young, I dreamed of the day when I could own a Cadillac. For most of our lives, Cadillacs were never considered. When we were raising and

educating our children, we were not riding in large luxurious cars. Then, about one year ago, it was time for us to trade cars. I walked into the showroom where most of the cars were Pontiacs and Dodges, but in the middle of these cars was this beautiful Cadillac. I kept coming back to it. Then I sat in it.Ê

By this time, the owner of the agency came out to the show room and asked, “Wouldn’t you like to trade for the Cadillac?”

“Oh, no,” I answered. I had looked at the price sticker on the window and that was not for me.ÊÊ

“Forget that price sticker. The car has 5,000 miles on it, and you and I have been good friends for years. I want to make it possible for you to drive a Cadillac, if that is what you want.”

“What I want?” I thought. What a joy it would be to drive that car and all of the rationalizing began. It would be so much more comfortable for my handicapped wife. We would fly less and

drive more. The list went on and by the time I left the showroom,ÊI had purchased a Cadillac.Ê

What a car, and we are enjoying it immensely, except when some people ask, “How can a preacher drive a Cadillac?” My patÊanswer is, “I’m retired.”Ê

Then we both laugh and go on our way.

For some of us, we always want a little bit more. This is supposed to be good, they tell us, because it is that desire toÊhave all these things that keeps the free enterprise system booming. What a shock it is to finally realize that all these luxuries will never completely satisfy me.

I had a dear old friend. We enjoyed eating dinner together at a study group which meets monthly. It always added to my evening when I could sit beside Carl and have him tell me of his experiences as a very successful businessman. He was very wealthy, but to look at him, you might think he lived from paycheck to paycheck. While he and his wife lived comfortably,Êhe didn’t have the latest gadget on the market. One evening,ÊCarl told me of the joy he was having giving away his money.Ê”It’s fun to make a lot of money, but it is far more fun to give it away,” he said. Carl has given away more than 50% of hisÊwealth for others. Colleges and our community have benefited from his generosity, but he hasn’t forgotten the poor either.

Not all have made the discovery that earthly pleasures will never satisfy our need for true joy. It is so easy, and theÊScriptures warn against it, to make material possessions our god.ÊWhen this is the case, only a Christian conversion will take that horrible need away. Having said that, it is also true that many who can tell of their conversion experience still hang on to their wealth as if it too saves in one way or another. It is only after we have lived with Christ for a period of time thatÊwe become convinced that only a living, personal relationship with the Shepherd can give us the satisfaction our soul needs.

The psalmist says, “He restores my soul.” The soul is the real me, the eternal part of me.Ê

Learn the basic lesson, that no material possession will satisfy the spiritual needs of my soul, and you will have made the discovery of a life time. It is only when our souls are restored into a living relationship with Christ that we experience a peace which goes beyond our understanding.

The hunger and thirst of the soul can only be satisfied by Jesus. This is one of Jesus’ basic teachings. When He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:36), His meaning was very clear. Jesus alone can satisfy the deep needs of our souls.

What is this bread and wine to which Jesus refers? It is His Word with the promises found therein which satisfies the soul’s needs. Listen to the statements which come from satisfied souls:

From the pen of St. Paul:

Ê

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” Philippians 4:12-13.

Here is a word from King David:

” . . . as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion upon those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” Psalm 103:12-14.

There are hundreds of these testimonies found in and outside of the Scriptures.Ê

Here is one from Lena Sandal who wrote:Ê

Children of the Heavenly Father,

Though he giveth or he taketh,

God his children ne’er forsaketh;

His the loving purpose solely

To preserve them pure and holy.

These words were written after the author saw her father drown.

What will it take to satisfy me?

God’s Word gives us the answer: a living, personal relationship with God through trusting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Receive Him if you have not already done so.Ê

Live with Him daily in His Word, and He will feed your soulÊand quench your spiritual thirst.

Who Do I Follow?

A friend called me some weeks ago and asked if I would conduct a memorial service for his mother. As we talked about the service, he told me that she seldom went to church, but she did read her Bible and the twenty-third Psalm was her favorite passage. He asked if I would base my remarks on this Psalm, which obviously I did.

Our conversation caused me to wonder why so many people are fond of this portion of God’s Word. Is it considered a literary gem? Does it grab the reader’s emotions something like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address? Or does this Psalm have answers for some of the questions people are asking about the complexities of life? I think the latter is true for many of us. Let’s consider some of these questions which we battle on a regular basis and to which Psalm XXIII speaks.

“Who do I follow?” is one of those questions we often ask. Does the twenty-third Psalm have an answer for this question? It does. Our text talks about the Shepherd who has two concerns for the sheep. He wants them to be well-fed and protected from any danger that could do harm to the flock. In this metaphor Jesus is presented as the Shepherd, and those who trust Him are His sheep. He, too, is concerned that our needs are satisfied and that we are protected from the evil one.

Humans differ from the sheep of the pasture, because we have so many more needs than the animal does. The sheep is satisfied if his stomach is full and the wolf does not harm him. We have all kinds of needs Ñ physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Let’s get a bit more specific and examine some of these questions that reflect our needs and cause us to ask, “Who shall I follow?”

Here’s one. You find yourself in conflict with another person. There seems to be something between the two of you. You don’t have big arguments. In fact, you can endure a social evening together if it isn’t too often. You find yourself working overtime to control your emotions when you are with him or her. What has caused this relationship? Why does this person dislike you? What have you done to him or her? These questions are bothersome.

There are many people who give you counsel. One says, “Write them off your list of friends with whom you associate. Life is too short to be irritated with a person you don’t like.” Another says, “This person has treated you rudely. Wait until they apologizes to you for their unkindness. Then things might be better. But let this person come to you and make it right.”

Now listen to the Shepherd: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5: 23-24).

Jesus wants you to have a rich life. Living at odds with a person does not add to your joy. He doesn’t suggest that you avoid this strained relationship by writing your friend off the list. Nor does He want you to wait around for the person to come and apologize to you. Instead, He says, “Go to them and find out what caused the strained relationship. Apologize for whatever you did to bring it about.” This is the Shepherd leading you and giving you answers that will solve the problem.

“The Lord is my Shepherd.” This is the Shepherd giving us answers that will solve our problems. Before you say this answer is too simplistic, make a call on the person with whom your relationship has gone sour and see if it is that easy. I’m quite sure you will find it difficult to make the call, but it will be worthwhile in the end.

“Who do I follow? I am faced with a great challenge. I am in the process of raising children. This is no easy assignment today. I find much advice on how to best raise them, but I am not comfortable with all that I am hearing.”

You are so right. With all of the temptations, it is not an easy job to raise those children. A few days ago I was in the super market where I witnessed a child having a temper tantrum. It was evident that the mother had not let him have a piece of candy that he wanted very much. He cried and kicked and hit his mother. Finally the embarrassed mother picked the child up in her arms, left her cart full of groceries and went off with the little boy. I became so interested that I had to wait around and see what the outcome was going to be. She finally came back with a little boy all smiles and a big candy bar in his hands. He had won. I couldn’t help but wonder how she would handle him when he is sixteen.

The Shepherd says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother”, Which is the first commandment with a promise, “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1- 4).

You are to teach your children what it means to obey. Life cannot be lived successfully without discipline. Millions have not learned this simple lesson and their lives are a mess. Bring your children up in the instruction of the Lord. That means you are to teach them what God is saying in His Word. It means Bible study in the home and regular worship attendance in a church where His Word is being taught.

This is the Shepherd speaking to you. It translates into life at the super market. What would have happened had the mother remembered that Jesus said to discipline this child, and she applied his teaching at that moment? The crying might have gotten louder, and the demonstration of his anger might have irritated the onlookers, but the child would have a good lesson on what it means to obey a parent. It might have eliminated a bundle of problems down the road.

I don’t imagine the sheep who are literally referred to in the Psalm suffered from depression. However, many of Jesus’ sheep will often say they are depressed. By this depression, I do not refer to a chemical imbalance that sends the patient into despair. I refer to those depressions that are referred to as “being down in the dumps.” Things are not going well. Maybe it is because of some bad decisions you made earlier in life. It could be related to marriage. You sit in a restaurant with your little five-year-old eating lunch. She is coloring and having a great time. Every so often she will ask you a question, and you try to give her some attention, but you are far away in your thoughts. “What a mess I made out of my life!” you think. “I am not going to admit that to others, but it is true. My husband has left me for another woman. The court has awarded me child support, but that is it. I got the house in the divorce decree, but it is too expensive to keep.”

Now after years of marriage, you recall that your parents urged you not to marry this person. He was not for you. However, you were anxious to be married and you had met your “Prince Charming.”

Now the honeymoon was over. He had not only forsaken you, but his child as well. You are crushed, angry, and frustrated. “What shall I do?” you ask. Your friends told you to divorce him, and you followed their counsel, but now you know that is not the answer. I need help. Who do I follow?

There is a good case study of this type of problem in Psalm 32: 3-5. King David had broken God’s law. He had killed Uriah and committed adultery with this man’s wife. He was depressed after God’s servant reminded him of his sin. He could have said, Well, if the woman had not exposed herself in my presence by sunbathing in a location where I couldn’t help but see her, I would not have committed adultery. If I had not committed adultery, I would not have had her husband killed. Therefore, it is really her fault.

No, David knew that blaming others was not the solution to his problem. He tells us what the answer was. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ÔI will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ Ñ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

The Shepherd says, “Confess your sins. Receive me as your Savior, knowing that I will not only forgive you, but you can start life over again, this time letting me guide you. Get rid of your guilt, for it will kill you. You don’t have to sit in this restaurant depressed. Leave it with me. You were a rebellious kid, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of your life has to be lived out in anger. That is not the best for you.”

In order to benefit from what the Shepherd can do, you must know Him. When you know the Shepherd, you have a Lord who is your leader. He will not let you get too far from Him. The sheep sometimes nibbles its way out of the pasture, feeling the grass is greener where it should not go. Soon it is lost from the flock. However, it is then that the Shepherd goes after the lost sheep and brings it back into the fold. That’s the way with us when we walk away from Him in unrighteous living or unbelief. His eye is on us, and He comes to bring us back home.

The twenty-third Psalm is more than a literary gem that touches our emotions. It is God’s masterpiece revealing His love for us. It shows how much we need Christ as our Shepherd in this day of many voices that confuse us as to which way we should walk. Let Him guide you each day and life will take on new meaning.