Help Us Understand

To communicate or explain the Gospel is very challenging.

The Gospel is this: God came into this world in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived here for thirty-three years. Jesus conducted his ministry during his last three years when he taught, he suffered and died at the cross, and he was raised from the dead. All this was to pay the price for the sins of humankind so that no matter where and when people lived, if they would repent of their sins and trust him as their Savior and Lord, they would belong to God, through faith in Jesus Christ. They would be his both now and for all eternity.

Explaining this doctrine can be quite difficult. Our Lord Jesus Christ explained it by using parables. Matthew chapter 13 contains several of these parables. One of them is today’s text. After the Lord gave the parable, he explained its meaning to the disciples.

Taking a fish off the hook is as common a picture today as when Jesus walked on this earth. Catch them now. Separate them later.

“This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“ÔHave you understood all these things?’ Jesus asked.” That was an important question for the disciples to answer, and it is also an important question for us to consider.

When I read difficult passages such as these, I like to turn to the masters of biblical knowledge for help.

One of my resource people is Bishop J. C. Ryle. He was a bishop in England who lived from 1816-1900. He writes in his commentary:

“It is intended to instruct us on a most important subject, the true nature of the visible church. Within the visible church of Christ, there were to be Christians of various sorts, unconverted as well as converted, false as well as true. The separation of these two was to come at last, but not before the end of the world. It is important to have this lesson deeply graven on our minds. There is hardly any point in Christianity on which greater mistakes exist than the nature of the visible church. There are none, perhaps on which mistakes are so perilous to the soul.”

We learn from this parable that all congregations of professed Christians ought to be regarded as mixed bodies. They are all assemblies containing good and bad fish, converted and unconverted, children of God and children of the world, and they ought to be described and addressed as such. To tell all baptized people that they are born again, have the Spirit, are members of Christ’s body, and are holy in the face of such a parable as this is utterly unwarrantable. It is painfully calculated to promote self-righteousness, and lull sinners to sleep.”

Another great biblical scholar, who taught at the University of Glasgow, was William Barclay (1907-1978). He writes, “The Church cannot be selective and discriminative. The earthly church is bound to be a mixture. That it will contain all kinds of people, good and bad, useless and useful, is not ours to judge. It is not man’s place to say who is committed to Christ and who is not. The Church must be open to all and be a mixture. And that is exactly what the parable teaches. Therefore, it is our duty to gather in all who will come and not to judge and not to separate, but to leave the final judgment to God who alone can judge.”

My third example is George Buttrick (1892-1980). One of Dr. Buttrick’s prestigious pulpits was Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church (1927-1955). In his preaching, Dr. Buttrick leaves no doubt that within the visible church are all kinds of people, and God will be the final judge.

This moves us to the congregation. Jesus likens us to a fish net. All kinds of people join us in the congregation, and we are thankful for this. We find the committed, seekers, respecters, and those who have come because of domestic or social reasons. This will continue to be the make up of any congregation, which is also referred to as the visible church.

Then comes the day of sorting who is who and what is what. This is God’s job. Only he is Judge. Hear Jesus’ words, “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Is Jesus contradicting himself when a hurried reading of his words could lead one to say, “If I live a good life, I am classified as righteous, and I am saved. If I do not live a good life, I will be lost eternally.” Not at all, for there is only one way that we can be declared good, and that is when the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sins. Then we stand before God through Christ as spotless and clean.

Universalism (all are saved) sounds comforting, but it is not biblically correct. Study John 3:16. The first part of that verse reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son . . ” However, the last part of it reads, “. . .that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” That is the meaning of the miracle.

We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Secret of Contentment

A young Catholic priest decided to enter a monastery, and he joined one particularly strict sect. The head monk told him in his indoctrination that they were sworn to complete silence. Not a word was to be spoken for 10 years. Then they would be allowed to speak just two words. After 10 years of total silence, it was time for the young monk to speak, so he said, “Food bad.” Then he resumed his silence.

After another 10 years had passed, when it was again time for the monk to speak, he said, “Bed hard.” Off he went to silently study and work.

Another 10 years passed, and when he was allowed to speak, the monk said, “I quit!”

The head monk shook his head and replied, “I knew this was coming. You’ve done nothing but complain for the past 30 years.”

While this is a funny story, its subject matter is not. Complaining can be detrimental to your emotional, spiritual, perhaps even physical welfare. It can prevent you from savoring the present and seeing the blessings of each day.

The Greek word for complainer literally means, one who is discontented with his lot in life. Another word would be a grumbler. What is it that causes complaining within us? Sometimes changing circumstances, such as health issues, can bring out complaining. You don’t feel well and this bad feeling doesn’t go away. The temptation is to complain.

Or maybe the cause is issues at home. The kids are grown and gone now, and you just don’t have much to do or talk about with your spouse. It can make you a complainer.

Loss of abilities, can make us feel sorry for ourselves. I can’t do what I used to be able to do. I can’t see, can’t hear, can’t drive. In my situation, I used to run marathons, but now I’m wiped out even mowing my lawn for an hour. Sometimes we find ourselves wishing for the past, the good old days, and we worry about what’s around the next corner. It can be a tough adjustment, and it’s very tempting to complain.

Sometimes complaining happens as we compare ourselves to others. What they have and what we don’t have, whether its material things or success in life. We think to ourselves, “That’s not fair.”

Perhaps we complain because of unrealistic sense of entitlement. Especially in this country, we have the attitude that we have a right to live the good life. We have become a bit spoiled and want things to work faster or be more convenient for us. We want it all! We want what we think we want, and when we don’t get it, or when things don’t move fast enough, we complain.

Or then there are the disappointments in life. I didn’t get that promotion I thought I would get. Or the child who didn’t make the baseball team he tried out for. Or the parent whose kids haven’t turned out exactly like they had hoped they would.

I was reading an article by Jeff Manion who said, “The heart drifts toward complaint as if by gravitational pull. After all, complaint seems a reasonable response to a sequence of disappointing events. Generally, you don’t have to extend an invitation for complaint to show up. It arrives as an uninvited guest. You return home from yet another frustrating day to discover that complaint has moved into your guest room, unpacked its luggage, started a load of laundry, is rooting through your fridge. Even as you seek to dislodge complaint, as you move its bags to the curb and change the locks, it crawls back through the guest room window.

“You see complaint resists eviction. Before we know it, complaint feels right because it’s familiar. With every struggle we become like the Israelites in the desert, murmuring after God, grumbling, and we miss the faith lessons. God desires to prepare us and build things into us. But we are hunkered down in this pattern of responsive complaining. We need to wake up and notice what’s happening.”

Complaining also clouds our vision. If you turn into a chronic complainer, you can no longer see your blessings. Complainers typically drive people away. Others don’t want to be around us very long, and we soon find ourselves lonely. It is debilitating and can paralyze you from dealing with life’s circumstances. You get helplessly stuck, and it is easier to just complain. Complaining only serves to make the Christian’s witness to the world more difficult. Who, for example, would be attracted to a religion whose adherents are discontented with life and grumble and complain?

The land of complaint is not a place where you want to live. It’s unhappy, miserable, lonely, and not what God wants for us. So how do we evict the spirit of complaint?

Today I want to take a look at a person who had every right to be a chronic complainer. His name was Paul. He became a follower of Jesus after a conversion experience midway through his life. His encounter with Christ changed the whole direction of his life, and he became a missionary for Jesus.

Paul spent a lot of time in jail because of this calling upon his life. He was rejected by many and suffered terrible circumstances over and over again. In II Corinthians 11, Paul talks about being flogged and stoned once, caught in shipwrecks, and rejected by his own people and non-Jews. He spent a lot of time in jail and received 39 lashes three different times. He became worried, sick, hungry, and was concerned about little churches he was starting. Paul had an overwhelming number of reasons to complain. If anyone deserved to be a chronic complainer, it was Paul.

In today’s text, Paul is again sitting in a jail cell. He is chained to a guard and doesn’t know whether he’s going to live or die. And yet he says, “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. 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.”

Notice, Paul says, “I have learned . . .” It didn’t come automatically; he was taught. Behind this statement are life experiences where Paul was taught how to be content in any circumstance.

I think of the story in Acts 16 where he ends up in a Philippian jail cell, or of his shipwreck later in the latter part of the book of Acts. I think of different times when he was driven away from villages in which he was trying to share the Good News. Paul was always able to keep going. He said, “I learned, through all that, the secret to contentment.”

So, what is the secret to contentment? “I can do everything through Jesus, who gives me strength.” Another version says, “I can face anything through Christ who gives me strength.”

Oftentimes this verse is taken out of context used by people as they take on an obstacle in life. The secret to contentment facing both plentiful circumstances and not-so-good circumstances through Christ. Paul is talking about having a living relationship with Jesus Christ. He’s been infused with Jesus, Who gives strength to face all circumstances in life, no matter how good or how bad they may be. Jesus is not a distant character tucked away in a history book or a picture in a stained glass window. He is a living reality who lived and dwelled in the life of Paul. He is the One who has told us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing.” He is the One who promises, “I will never leave or forsake you.” He’s the One who, in the midst of our failures and hurts, points us to the cross and says, “You are a loved, forgiven child of God with an eternal future.”

The secret of Paul’s contentment is Jesus Christ. Contentment is knowing you have all the resources you need to face your circumstances and get through them. Paul says, “I have that in Jesus Christ who strengthens me.”

This Jesus Christ, who strengthened Paul, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is available for you and for me. It’s a matter simply of surrendering ourselves to His care on a daily basis. It’s a matter of taking time to talk with Him, of having a quiet time with Him, of worshipping Him regularly, serving His cause, getting people connected to Jesus, and letting Him work on us as He speaks through those Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That is where we get infused with His power and strength to face all circumstances, where He can move us from the state of complaining to the state of contentment.

Is this just a bunch of preacher talk? Wishful thinking? Can contentment really be found today in 2014? Listen let me share with you a story about a woman named Mabel, written by a pastor named Tom Schmidt. He writes, “The state-run convalescent hospital is not a pleasant place. It’s large, understaffed, and overfilled with senile and helpless and lonely people who seem to be waiting to die. On the brightest of days, it seems dark inside, and it smells of sickness and stale urine. I went there once or twice a week for four years, but I never wanted to go there, and I always left with a sense of relief. It’s not the kind of place one gets used to.

“On this particular day, I was walking in a hallway that I have not visited before, looking in vain for a few more alive enough to receive a flower and a few words of encouragement from me. This hallway seemed to contain some of the worst cases I’d seen. People strapped onto carts or into wheelchairs looking completely helpless.

“As I neared the end of the hallway, I saw an old woman strapped up in a wheelchair. Her face was an absolute horror. The empty-stared white pupils of her eyes told me she was blind. The large hearing aid over one ear told me that she was almost deaf. One side of her face was being eaten away by cancer. There was a discolored and running sore covering part of one cheek, and it had pushed her nose to one side, dropped one eye, and distorted her jaw so that what should’ve been the corner of her mouth was at the bottom of her mouth. As a consequence, she drooled constantly.

“I was told later that, when new nurses arrived, the supervisor would send them to feed this woman thinking, if they could stand this sight, they could stand anything in the building. I also learned later that this woman was 89 years old, and that she’d been there Ð bedridden, blind nearly dead Ð alone for 25 years. This was Mabel.

“I don’t know why I spoke to her. She looked less likely to respond than most of the people I saw in that hallway, but I put a flower in her hand and said. ÔHere’s a flower for you. Happy Mother’s Day!’ She held the flower up to her face and tried to smell it. Then she spoke.

“Much to my surprise, her words, although somewhat garbled because of her deformity, were obviously produced by a clear mind. She said, ÔThank you. It’s lovely. But can I give it to someone else? I can’t see, you know. I’m blind.’

“I said, ÔOf course.’

“I pushed her chair back down the hallway to a place where I thought we could find some alert patients. I found one, and I stopped the chair. Mabel held out the flower and said, ÔHere, this is from Jesus to you.’ That was when it began to dawn on me that this was not an ordinary human being.

“Later I wheeled her back to her room and learned some about her history. She’d grown up on a small farm and ran it with her mother. She was there alone after her mother died until 1950 when her blindness and sickness sent her to the convalescent hospital. For 25 years she got sicker and weaker with constant headaches, backaches, and stomach aches. And then the cancer came. Her three roommates that she was living with were all human vegetables and screamed occasionally but never talked. They soiled their bedclothes. Because the hospital was understaffed, especially on Sundays, which is when I usually visited, the stench was overpowering.

“Mabel and I became friends over the next few weeks. I went to see her once or twice a week for the next three years. Her first words to me were usually an offer of hard candy that she took from her tissue box near her bed. Some days I’d read to her from the Bible. Often, when I would pause, she’d continue reciting the passage from memory, word for word. On other days, I’d take a book of hymns and sing with her, and she would know all the words of the old songs. These were not merely exercises in memory for her. She often stop in mid-hymn and make a brief comment about lyrics she considered relevant to her own situation. I never heard her speak of loneliness or pain except in the stress she placed on certain lines in certain hymns. It was not many weeks before I turned from a sense that I was being helpful to a sense of wonder, and I began to write down things she would say to me.

“One day I asked her, ÔWhat you think about when you lie here?’

“She said, ÔI think about my Jesus.’

“I sat and thought for a moment about the difficulty for me to think about Jesus for even five minutes and asked, ÔWhat you think about Jesus?’

“She said, ÔI think about how good He’s been to me. He’s been awfully good to me, you know! I’m one of those kinds who’s mostly satisfied. Lots of folks wouldn’t care much for what I think. Lots of folks would think I’m kind of old-fashioned, but I don’t care. I’d rather have Jesus. He’s all the world to me.’ Then she began to sing the old hymn, ÔJesus is all the world to me. When I am sad, He makes me glad. He’s my friend.’ And I thought to myself as I listened to her, ÔHow could she do this?’ The answer, I think, is that Mabel had something that you and I don’t have much of. She had power. Lying there in that bed, unable to move, unable to see, unable to hear, unable to talk to anyone, she had incredible power. Here was an ordinary human being who received supernatural power to do extraordinary things. Her entire life consisted of following Jesus as best she could in her present situation with patient endurance of suffering, solitude, prayer, meditation on Scripture, worship, fellowship when it was possible, and giving when she had a flower or a piece of candy to offer. Imagine being in her condition and saying, ÔI think about how good He’s been to me. I’m one of those kinds who is mostly satisfied.’

“ÔI can do all things through him who strengthens me,’ Mabel would say.”

You know this kind of life is possible for every one of you listening in today. This is the Good News, the Gospel. This is what Jesus promised. It is possible for us to live in His presence and under His power and be able to face any circumstances, good or bad, with Him in our lives.

So I encourage you today to begin by asking Him into your life and entrusting yourself to His care. You will be glad you did. Amen.

A Bright Hope for Tomorrow

During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve on the streets. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. However, many of them could not sleep at night for they feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Then someone came up with the idea to give each child a piece of bread at bedtime. This bread seemed to remind the children that they had eaten that day and reassure them that they would eat again the next day. The children were finally able to fall asleep in peace. This is a true story.

It’s also true that many of us have insecurities and fears that keep us awake at night as we wonder tomorrow holds for us. Perhaps a person has to go through chemotherapy the next day, and they are worried the treatment will make them sick. Or someone has an appointment with the doctor to find out about what’s going on inside of them. Or a care giver might lie awake thinking about their parent or spouse who can’t take care of themselves anymore. Will tomorrow be a good day or a bad day for them? Or a person has been layed off from work for months now and lies awake feeling fearful about how they will provide for their family.

We all have insecurities and fears that keep us awake at night. However, we don’t hear our songwriter in today’s passage speaking about fear. He says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He’s confident. This is not simply some sort of fluffy optimism. It is instead based upon a deep, abiding confidence in the Lord, who is his Shepherd.

Surely Ð not maybe, or possibly, or I’ve got a hunch. He says, surely, meaning, no doubt about it, it’s a foregone conclusion. In the previous verses, David describes the blessings he’s received: rest and refreshment; soul restoration, guidance down right paths; God’s presence in the dark valleys and abundant provision. It’s as if he’s saying, Therefore, in light of all this, I am confident about tomorrow. I am trusting that I have a sure God who has made some sure promises and offers a sure foundation upon which I’m building my life.

Then he adds, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” What does he mean by goodness and mercy?

Goodness Ð abundant care and good promises. God’s goodness is part of each event of his life and will continue molding him into more a mature person as he follows the Lord. God can bring goodness even in tough situations. Romans 8:38 tells us, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God uses our difficult days to strengthen us and shape us into the people He wants us to be. Perhaps you can look back at a dark time of crisis when you experienced God’s grace at work around you and are now stronger because of it.

Mercy Ð God’s unfailing, loyal, kind love. Israel experienced that kind of love even when they rebelled against God in the Old Testament. God never disowned them. Instead, He continued to pursue them and bring them back to Himself.

Then last, those words, “. . . shall follow me.”

Follow Ð to chase after or pursue. The Lord’s goodness and mercy chase after us. I am reminded of Jesus’ story of the Good Shepherd who lost one sheep, so he left rest behind and chased after the one who rambled away. When he found it, he brought it home and rejoiced.

Jesus tells us our heavenly Father is like that! He comes after us. That’s good news! Even when we rebel against Him, even in our sinfulness, He comes after us. The Bible tells us that, while we were lost in our sins, God gave his Son Jesus, who was nailed to a cross as payment for our sins so forgiveness could be ours and our relationship with God could be restored. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. That is mercy. Jesus pursues us with His mercy and His goodness.

And then David finishes the song by saying, “. . . and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” David was talking about being in the tent of meeting or synagogue in the Lord’s presence. He talks about it also in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I asked of the Lord,

that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” Isn’t that what heaven really is, to live all our days into eternity in the presence of our Good Shepherd?

In John 14 we have Jesus the Good Shepherd telling us, “Let not your hearts be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare that place for you, I will come again, and I’ll take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.” David, too, says with great delight, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He is describing a bright, confident future.

Notice, Psalm 23 begins and ends with the Lord. It’s like a frame around the song. “The Lord is my shepherd,” and “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He is the Lord of my present and of my future. My future is bright with that Shepherd.

Christianity begins and ends with the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. You become a Christian by committing all you are to all you know of Jesus. You grow as a Christian as you get to know Him and live with Him.

I feel compelled to ask you today, do you really know Him? Many people know about Him, but they don’t personally know Him. Many of us could recite the Shepherd Psalm, but we don’t know the Shepherd.

Do you know Him personally? Have you experienced the breath of His Spirit upon your life? His nearness in the valley-like times?

A story is told about an elderly Anglican vicar who had served a congregation faithfully for many years. As his health began to decline, he decided to retire. So the congregation decided to host a big banquet farewell to show their appreciation for his dedication and service. They invited a son of the congregation, who had become a renowned actor on the London stage, to participate in the program. The actor agreed to help them recognize their vicar.

At the vicar’s great farewell banquet, many nice things were said about him in the program. The actor also said some nice things about him, and then shared a recitation of Psalm 23. He began with his beautiful baritone voice: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters . . .” On and on he went. At the end, everybody was moved to applaud. They had never heard such a wonderful recitation of Psalm 23!

At the end, the vicar was asked to make a few closing comments and share his favorite Bible verse for the people to carry with them. The old man said, “Well, my favorite has already been done. It’s Psalm 23.” But the people urged him to recite it anyway. So he began: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 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 . . . ”

When he was finished, the room was totally silent. Eyes were filled with tears. It was a holy moment. The actor got up from his chair and joined the vicar at the podium. “Do you see what just happened? You see, I know the Shepherd’s song; this man knows the Shepherd.”

You can know the Lord is a Shepherd and He is the Shepherd of the universe. However, it is only when you come to know him personally that you can say with King David, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Then you can say with a firm conviction, “. . . and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is calling you to Himself regularly, “Come to me all are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He’s looking for response. Come to him.

Are you afraid of death? He tells you, “Truly, truly, whoever believes in me has eternal life.” Trust Him. Come to Him. Have you done that? You see, when the Lord is your Shepherd, you shall not lack for any good thing.

I’m reminded of a verse in my favorite hymn that celebrates this:

♬Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,

thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide.

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,

Blessings are mine with ten thousand beside.

Great is thy faithfulness,

great is thy faithfulness,

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed thy hand hath provided.

Great is thy faithfulness,

Lord unto me. ♬

He Provides Abundantly

If you were asked to finish this statement in twenty words or less, what would you say: “I have learned that . . .” Not long ago a book came out by H. Jackson Brown. In it he says that on his 51st birthday, he took out a sheet of paper and wrote this statement down twenty times. Then he spent the rest of his day completing the sentences. He found the experience so stimulating that he began to repeat it every Sunday morning. One day he decided to begin collecting “I’ve learned that . . .” statements from others. So he began to interview people and this book was the result.

Some of the answers are quite humorous. For instance, one seven-year-old wrote, “I’ve learned that you can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.” Another made a difficult discovery: “I’ve learned that the tooth fairy doesn’t always come. Sometimes he’s broke.” Adults had some funny things to say as well. “I’ve learned that the quickest way to meet people is to pick up the wrong golf ball on the golf course.” And another said, “I’ve learned that there are four ages in a man’s life: When he believes in Santa Claus; when he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus; when he is Santa Claus; and when he looks like Santa Claus.” One other said, “I learned that even when I am in pain, I don’t have to be a pain. ”

Today we have David’s what-I-have-learned statements found in Psalm 23. He talks about the Lord being his Shepherd and finding complete satisfaction in that relationship. He found rest, refreshment, guidance, restoration, comfort, witness, and strength with the Lord. And today he shares, “I’ve learned that He is an abundant provider.”

David is addressing the Shepherd in this part of the Psalm. He describes Him as a Provider who gives in abundance. David says, “Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” The image is of a shepherd preparing a summer pasture for his sheep so they can get out of the heat. There are dangers that need to be addressed: poisonous plants need to be found and pulled. The shepherd would pour oil around the holes of burrowed adders so their smooth skin wouldn’t allow them to leave the hole.

David goes on to say, “You anoint my head with oil.” One of the worst pests for sheep is flies. They would swarm around the sheep’s head and try to lay eggs in the moist membrane of its nose. If the eggs were allowed to hatch, the result could be deadly. Sometimes the sheep would do damaging things to keep the flies from swarming about them, like running into objects. So the shepherd used an olive oil mixed with sulfur and spices to use as an insect repellent.

He also used oil as a medicine if the sheep were scraped in the face or cut by a rock. Used as both a repellent and as medicine, the shepherd used it to anoint the head of the sheep.

“My cup overflows.” The picture here is of a shepherd drawing water from a well out in the wilderness. Those wells are deep and his leather bucket would carry about a gallon of water. He would lower that bag down, fill it up with water, and then fill the stone troughs or cups around the well to overflowing. If a shepherd had thirty or forty sheep, it could take about two hours of strenuous work to get water for the sheep. This is a good shepherd who takes good care of his sheep.

David, as a songwriter says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” As the shepherd provides abundantly for the sheep, so God had provided abundantly for him. Perhaps David was remembering his days in the wilderness when he was running from his son Absalom’s army. God used his friends, Shoebe and Brazile to sustain him with food and other supplies. God also abundantly provided manna and quail daily for the Israelites in the wilderness as they wondered for forty years after their freedom from slavery in Egypt.

David’s words Ð “You anoint my head with oil” Ð bring to mind the picture of Samuel anointing David as king. When the Lord told Samuel that David would be the next king, he anointed David’s head with olive oil from a ram’s horn. The Bible tells us the Spirit of the Lord then came mightily upon David. That day, he was sealed with the Spirit of the Lord. The Lord was with David and was taking care of him. He protected David as he faced all kinds of challenges. David had been sealed by the Spirit of God.

As David says, “My cup runs over,” he looks back on his life from being a shepherd boy to a great king. He has been on a long and amazing road with many material and spiritual blessings. He has received tender mercies from God and also a promise to make his house a dynasty that will go on and on. David says that he has been overwhelmingly blessed by the Lord, and his cup is overflowing. He is one satisfied individual who is experiencing the Lord’s abundant provision in his life.

Now you might be thinking Ð all that is great for David and for those sheep, but what does this have to do with us here in 2014? I’m glad you asked that! That same Shepherd is here to also provide abundantly for us. He went to the trouble of stepping into our lives by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, who called himself the Good Shepherd, into this world to give us life abundantly. He went all the way to the cross in order that we might have that life, and God raised Him on the third day to affirm the ministry of Jesus Christ.

When I hear David’s words Ð “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies” Ð I am reminded of the story of Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed. He took bread and wine and shared it with His disciples. It was a foretaste of the great feast to come, and on that night a spiritual banquet for the disciples. The banquet was held in the presence of Jesus’ enemy, satan, who seeks to destroy us and our walk with the Lord. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me for the forgiveness of sins.” The table has been prepared for our troubled souls Ð be it tension or hostility or fear of death Ð and assures us of the forgiveness of our sins.

Coming to the prepared table gives us an opportunity to experience His very presence and remember that He is with us. We taste Him, we touch Him, and we smell of Him in the bread and the wine as we come to the table of the Lord.

A few years ago, I visited a man who had been fighting cancer for quite some time and was now on his deathbed. When I walked in his hospital room, he said, “Where’s your communion kit?”

I said, “You want communion?”

“Absolutely!” So I quickly went back to get my communion kit and we had communion together in his room. When we were done, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Thanks. I really needed that today.” It was quite a testimony to the power of the table to provide abundantly for any situation in life.

“You anoint my head with oil.” Oil has always been representative of the Holy Spirit. In the old days and still today, when a person is baptized, olive oil is used first, and the mark of the cross is put upon the person’s forehead, and they are sealed with the Holy Spirit by baptism. This Holy Spirit dwells in us, and just like the oil that can bring about healing for the wounded sheep, He can heal our inner wounds with His power, with words of forgiveness, and with the assurance of everlasting life. It reminds us that we are not alone; He is with us!

Recently I visited with a young man who shared how he was being eaten up by his past regrets. He had done things in his life that he just couldn’t let go of. When he was done, I said to him, “It sounds to me like you have given confession. I want to remind you of the grace of God in Jesus Christ and what He did at the cross for you. By His authority I declare to you forgiveness for your sins. Now go and live in that grace.” It was a powerful moment as that individual was confronted with the grace of Christ in light of his need for inner healing.

Many of you can probably tell stories of times when something has been bugging you, so you open up the Word. Then the Holy Spirit comes and says exactly what you need to hear. Those words serve like a repellent to keep those things from bugging you any longer, dragging you down, leading you astray, driving you crazy, or causing you to do crazy things.

“My cup overflows.” Jesus once said, “”If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'(abundant life)” (John 7:37-38). We can think of how we have been blessed with so much here in the United States. Those are gifts from God. But we have also been blessed spiritually through Jesus Christ. We are abounding in grace and mercy. The forgiveness of God overflows into our lives, and we are overflowing with hope. We have His promises: “I will not leave you orphaned.” Or, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many rooms and I go and prepare a place for you and where I am you may be also.”

I just recently was on a phone call with a friend of mine who was dying. He could barely hold the phone, and I wasn’t sure how much he could really stay with me. However, that night we prayed together, thanking God for the assurance of Rick’s heavenly home, because Rick trusted Jesus Christ for eternal life.

How can you have this abundant provision? It first begins with following Jesus Christ, saying yes to Him, and asking Him to take over your life, to be your Good Shepherd, and put your life under His care and leadership.

Then I encourage you to never pass up the opportunity to come to the table of the Lord. The Lord’s supper has been given as food for your soul, for good days as well as the days that aren’t so good, to carry you and restore you. I encourage you to use daily prayer and confession as a part of your discipline in life. Take your woundedness, your irritations, and your regrets to Him. Just like the sheep don’t understand how the oil helps them, so we may not always understand prayer and its power, but we know the Shepherd, and we know He has the ability to heal us.

Finally, I would encourage you to daily count your blessings. As the hymn says, count them one by one. Every day, count the great blessings the Lord has provided you. He truly is an abundant provider.

I hope you make Him the focus of your week as your abundant provider. Go in peace now, trust the Lord.