Evaluation

I had a rough evening yesterday. You know that feeling of your life, heart, and actions not lining up with where you thought they would be as you made ambitious goals as a young(immature) Christian? These feelings got me down and I was struggling to get back up. In a rush for the day to end, I went ahead and got in bed and watched an episode or two of The Office. It was familiar enough to put me right to sleep.

I woke up this morning with much more optimism—about everything in general. I feel good about the idea of being able to go see my family soon. I feel encouraged by the (very)few close relationships that I have surrounding me.

As I drove to work, I began to talk to the Lord about what he thinks about my lingering ideas of failure. Failure to meet the goals I made in my quiet room, just between him and me, and even the goals that I made with other people. I realized very quickly that the Lord does not evaluate my life as I do. He is not concerned with reaching goals. I mean, sure, he likes goals. He even likes us to reach them(with him). But he is far more interested in how we are reaching from day-to-day. How we are reaching for him. How we are reaching for sanctification. How we are reaching to sing to him in the quiet of our lives.

The eyes of the Lord are running to and fro across the earth, searching for a loyal heart, not for an accomplished, satisfied heart.


Sheep are Invited to Dine

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.

To continue some of my thoughts concerning Psalm 23, I want to begin in verse 4 and move through verses 5 and 6.

The premise was established in the first three verses that when we are sheep, the Lord is a shepherd. As a shepherd, He provides for our livelihood and He also causes us to prosper. He does all of these things for His name’s sake. He wants voluntary worship from our hearts and He does what it takes to get it.

In verse 4, there is a sudden shift. The shift is from prospering in v.3 to a trial in v.4. There are just a few quick things that I want to point out about verse 4. I think this verse is still in reference to being a sheep and the shepherd leading the sheep through this valley. It specifies that they do not stop in the valley, but rather they are walking through it, together. The sheep are fearless because of the presence of the shepherd. The sheep are comforted by the leadership and the disciplining of the shepherd. His leadership and disciplining are not overbearing or to be feared but rather a picture of His love and of His desire for partnership.

The tables turn (pun intended) in verse 5. We have gone on this little journey with a specific shepherd and His sheep that He cares for so well. All of the sudden, the shepherd invites the sheep to dine at His table with Him! Growing up, my sister used to get in trouble for having her pet rat, Tommy Templeton, on her lap during dinner. You just don’t bring a pet to dinner, no matter how much you love it.

It appears to me that there is a transition from being a sheep, and being on this side of eternity, to being a glorified human and being on the other side of eternity. I am just now constructing this opinion as I write this, so be patient with me.

I think that the first 4 verses are what we are called to be a part of now and for eternity we will partake in the joy of verses 5 and 6.

I know this ended a little abruptly, but I feel like I should go ahead and put it up. I will continue my thoughts as Jesus directs me.



The Shepherd of your Soul, for His Name’s Sake

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.

I have heard a few times that Psalm 23 is one of the most widely memorized passages of scripture, along with the Lord’s Prayer. I think that people would actually feel very uncomfortable about the content of this passage if they sat before it and realized the implications that it is making. It even makes me a little uncomfortable. I want to break this passage down a specific way. I will be breaking the passage up into three pieces and then commenting on how these pieces work together. After I began to write this, I decided that it would be best to write this across multiple posts. In the first post I will write about verses 1-3, in the second 4-6, and in the third I will write about how these all work together to express some emotions of the heart of Jesus.

The first part is v.1-3.

Based on the first verse, it is clear that when the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The realization of my need for things, only exists when the Lord is not my shepherd. In my opinion, a very strong implication being made here is that there is only a shepherd when there are sheep. If there are not smelly, dopey sheep that need led to water, food, and security, there is no need for a shepherd. We are sheep. If we choose not to be sheep, we do not have a shepherd. It is that simple.

After a relationship has been established between a shepherd and his sheep, we begin to see the actions of the shepherd toward his sheep. Notice that we really only see what the shepherd is doing. Once the sheep realize that they are helpless sheep, the thoughts or actions of the sheep are completely contingent on that of the shepherd.

The next 2 verses are about what the shepherd does that allow the sheep to first, survive, and also what he does that allows the sheep to prosper. In the final line of v. 3 we see that the Lord is doing all of this for the sheep for His name’s sake. He does these things so that He may cause our hearts to worship Him.

I want it to be clear that this is not a shepherd doing these things for another shepherd. Other shepherds do not even get to be included in this story. Jesus does not want to be ‘co-shepherds’ with us–He wants to lead sheep. A shepherd can never truly worship another shepherd the way that a sheep worships his own shepherd. We don’t simply use this passage to say that we are stupid sheep, Jesus has it all under control, so I can just check out and watch Him work His magic. When we sit before Jesus, we end up with a longing to be sheep because of who the shepherd is and what He provides. He does not provide it for our own comfort, but for His name’s sake. He wants worship and He will do whatever it takes to get it from our weak little hearts.


Disagreement is Our Disease

I am currently reading a book by Watchman Nee titled, Whom Shall I Send?. I am not very far in the book but I want to write down some of my trains of thought so far.

The book is mostly about God’s desire to partner with men and women to accomplish the things on His heart. Throughout biblical history we see that, other than the first 5 days of creation, God does nothing that affects man unless He has a person to partner with–someone to help Him reach a specific goal.

Watchman Nee states, “the highest responsibility of man is simply to cooperate with God, not to hinder His working.”

I think that many trials of our faith and daily lives settle around the issue of agreement. Man is made to agree with God. If Abram did not believe that God was able to satisfy the promises given to himself and his descendants he would not have left Ur with his wife and nephew. In following God’s command to be a sojourner, Abram not only showed that he believed that God could fulfill the promises He gives, but as a prerequisite Abram also portrays that he believes that God is who He says He is.

The core issue that keeps the body of Christ, and man as a geographic whole, from walking in the power of the New Testament church, is that the life-altering belief that Jesus is “the Christ the Son of the living God” has not been revealed to us by the Father like it was to Peter(Matt 16). If we do not agree that Jesus is who He proclaims to be, then we cannot truly place our hope in the fulfillment of the promises He has given us from His Word and to us personally.

When we actually approach the place of trusting that Jesus is who He says He is, it becomes natural to put our hope in His abilities to fulfill the promises that He freely gives. But when we do not fully agree with who Jesus proclaims to be, we cut ourselves off from the hope that He so longs for us to have in His abilities.

Many times the issue is that we are convinced that Jesus works according to our zeal and desires. Sure, He is very interested in the desires of your heart, in your dreams, your pain, etc., but He acts according to the desires of His own heart. He answers when we cry out because He wants to talk to us. He shows up(in many different ways) when we tell Him that we need to encounter Him because He desires communion. He is sanctifying us through His Word and through our life experiences because He so longs that we would look just like Him(Jn 17, Rom 8:29).

Our highest responsibility in this journey, that we thankfully get to do with Jesus, is to agree with what He claims to be true about Himself. By giving into our human tendency to shepherd our own souls to the most “godly” form we can imagine will only leave us tired and weary, while on the contrary, Jesus promised that His yoke is easy and His burden is light(Matt 11).

So, let’s be sheep. Let’s abandon our own ideas about how God should interact with us and surrender to what He says about Himself. Let’s meditate on His attributes and allow the burning zeal of His own heart to refine us.


Vacation

Vacations tend to be difficult for me. It is rare for me to totally wind down and ‘check out’ of everyday to get a little reset & relaxation.

I am going on a vacation this coming Monday, for 6 days. I am staying in a relative’s cabin, in the mountains, with my parents. There is no cell phone service, no internet, no TV, no traffic, no fast food, & hopefully no stress. [Why can't I just live like that all the time?] I am going to take my road & mountain bikes and go for a ride every morning in the brisk mountain air. I wish my dog would run next to my bike without constantly thinking that he needs to attack the bike as if it is out to get him.

I am setting some goals for my vacation. I want to read and write more than usual. It helps that my dog, Norman, wakes me up before 6 every morning, because it affords me some very quiet time before many things start happening. I’ll get to go outside and listen to the birds singing, the river rushing, rustle the left over coals from the previous night, and just not be in a hurry to do anything.

Life can just be way too busy sometimes. I recently read, for the 5th or 6th time, The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. It is one of my favorite books and I try to read it annually. The section entitled, Solitude has lingered in my thoughts through the past week or so. One quote in particular.

We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.

This has been a goal of mine for a while now. Not to have a geographic place to escape to, although that is always nice as well, but to be able to sit before the Lord even at the end of everyday, shake off all the fears and compulsions that have weighed me down and “dwell in the gentle healing presence of my Lord.”  I am excited to fight for this time with the Lord while at the cabin and then be able to continue pursuing it in my daily life. Between work, school, bills, etc. everything can get hectic very easily so this can sometime be something that truly must be fought for.

It is worth fighting for. I feel as if I have no choice but to sit before the refining fire of the Lord’s presence. It will be a little uncomfortable. It might hurt a little.

But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger they say, but our only birthright in this life, is the breath that we take.


No Purpose for Walls

I have been listening to a lot of Sleeping at Last since I first discovered the Yearbook project in March. Just last night this specific song really stuck out to me. The song is called Birthright and it features the wonderful Jon Foreman. I am not going to claim that I really know what it is about but some of the words are staying with me more than how a catchy song gets stuck in one’s head.

The 4th paragraph in the lyrics below has lingered in my mind the most. It contains a topic that seems to keep surfacing in my life and my walk with the Lord. The topic at hand has to do with the tensions of everyday life, especially those that have to do provoke a vulnerable response.

“Right or wrong, tension makes us stronger by making us weak when we needed to be.”

The idea of getting stronger by becoming weak is very far from natural human tendency. Jesus made it very clear that the last will be first. Success will not be experienced unless someone is willing to humble themselves before God and man. When we humble ourselves like this, we enter a place of weakness and vulnerability where the chance for our weak little heart to get hurts rises significantly. With the Lord, we win when we put our heart on the line. Jesus conquered sin and death by putting everything on the line. If there is no risk involved then the reward is fleeting. Believe me, Jesus considered His reward to be worth the risk.

Trials make us stronger because they make us weak. One may argue that the weakness spoken for is just a place of being able to learn from one’s mistakes, and I would agree that it is that, in one of it’s many dimensions. But aren’t we missing something about weakness if all we gain from it is a learned lesson that we can share with a buddy?

Why not embrace the place of tension and weakness? Why not allow it to force us to lean upon the Lord? Why does our human nature long to be a shepherd when Jesus clearly told us that sheep walk through the gate(John 10), not shepherds. [I'll write about being a sheep later.] I know that was a lot of unanswerable questions, but isn’t the human experience consumed with unanswerable questions? I think it is just one more tension to add to the list. Below are the lyrics to the song and a link to listen to the song if you are interested.

Update: 8/12/2011

Thought more about this song throughout yesterday. I think it is really about the journey that the Lord takes us on through our lives. I really like the opening imagery of God as a pack of wolves. It provokes me to feel more comfortable with God being able to handle the issues of my heart. Not only that He can handle them, but it is His nature to do so.

She was raised by wolves,
In the warmth of their fur.
Surrounded by fangs,
She knew that she was secure.

Language barriers
Made no difference at all.
When you’re truly cared for,
There’s no purpose for walls.

His fences stood tall
As the shoulders of old.
But he dreamt that one day
Maybe he’d break the mold.
But time shyly stands still
When you watch it unfold.
From these ivory towers
Freedom is only a ghost.

Right or wrong,
Tension makes us stronger
By making us weak
When we needed to be.

Privilege and pain
When compared look the same.
Comprehension begins
When we pull back the lens.

They made her their queen
On the day she was born.
They placed on her a crown
She wasn’t ready for.
But all impossible odds
Foreshadow our means,
Like paving a road
To kingdoms we’ve never seen.

He woke up one day,
Written out of the will.
They swore he’d be okay,
With lesser shoes to fill.

But what doesn’t kill us
Makes us stronger they say
But our only birthright
In this life, is the
Breath that we take.


Although delayed, I have returned

I am back to the world of blogging.

Recently I have been wanting to keep up with a blog, but I tend to think that I don’t have that much to say that people would actually want to read. I am sure it is true. I don’t have that much to say. At least not like some blogs that I enjoy, but I am going to go for it anyway.

I start my Fall semester in 6 days. I don’t have many opinions about it. It is what it is. I am only taking 9 hours of classes, but I will maintain a 40 work week as well. Then add all my other interests and pursuits and everything will get pretty hectic after a month or so.

This will simply be a place to put some of my thoughts and to work on my writing. I want to be an exceptional writer, so I am going to continue to read a lot and practice writing. I probably won’t proofread everything I put on here so you will have to sift through the typos and grammatical errors at times. But if you have the url to this blog, you are probably on a short list of people that I think might be somewhat interest in my ramblings.

Things I like right now:

  • Sleeping at Last – a brilliantly creative and heartfelt band that has been releasing a 3 song EP every month since October. The project is called Yearbook. Check it out here
  • Rushmore – Wes Anderson’s first film. It inspires me and make me laugh. You should watch it
  • Running – I have hated running for years but I started making myself run because I felt out of shape since I broke my arm last Summer. I am gradually starting to enjoy it.
  • Camping - A much to delayed return to a favorite past time. Not many things excite me like packing my backpack for a little trip into the woods.
  • Twitter – I feel like I am gradually giving up on Facebook because of the tendency to be “friends” with so many people that are not actually your friends. Twitter has been somewhat of a fresh start for me and I like that it is still small and more personal than the blue giant.

Kindest Regards,

Samuel


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.