Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Psalm 23:3 – Restoration & Guidance

He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

Have you ever heard of a cast sheep? Before I read Mr. Keller’s book, I had never heard of that term before. Basically, it’s a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot stand back up without help. The sheep will die if left that way for even a short amount of time, either from gas building up in its abdomen or as easy prey to a predator. All that is typically needed to save that sheep’s life, though, is for the shepherd to go over and help it back up.

What a simple but appropriate image of God’s restorative work in our lives! How many times have you found yourself down on the ground, unable to stand under your own power and calling out in desperation for your Shepherd to help you back up? I know I’ve found myself there more times than I would care to admit. Yet, the simple and enduring promise is there: “He restores my soul.” When I am tired or beaten down by sin or simply life in this world, when I am discouraged or lost as to which way to go, my Shepherd is right there waiting for me to turn to Him – to trust in Him – so that He might restore my soul and lead me in the ways of righteousness.

     He restores my soul from the stain of sin. – Isaiah 1:18; Acts 22:16

     He restores my soul from the weariness of this life. – Matthew 11:28-30

     He restores my soul with a hope of eternal life with Him. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8

It’s important to remember, though, that He restores my soul with the intent that I follow His lead in the paths of righteousness. If there are paths of righteousness, there are also paths of unrighteousness (Matthew 7:13-14). Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Jeremiah 10:23 adds, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.” It’s quite clear from these passages that I am not able to determine on my own which paths are ones of righteousness and which are ones of unrighteousness. Yet, this is exactly what we try to do so often, isn’t it? This is how we get into trouble in the first place! 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

We tried to choose our own paths and found ourselves hopelessly mired in the pits of sin. We were that cast sheep, crying out for help. And Jesus suffered and died so that He could offer us the restoration we so desperately needed. And He continues to offer restoration to those who fall but cry out for His help. So why then would we not gladly follow His lead in the paths of righteousness? We have His word (Romans 1:16-17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) and His example (1 Peter 2:21-24) to follow. Let us be diligent to follow faithfully!

Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Psalm 23:2 – Green Pastures & Still Waters

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” (Psalm 23:2)

As was said in the last post, the rest of Psalm 23 expands on the basic truth stated in verse 1, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” For all those sheep who submit themselves to the loving care of the Good Shepherd, the blessings are bountiful and beyond compare. Here in verse 2, the focus is on the abundance and the superior quality of the sustenance that the Lord provides to His sheep. How great a blessing is it that our Lord does not just make provision but that He provides the very best!

In his book, Mr. Keller points out that the best areas for sheep are typically dry and semi-arid and that green pastures would require a lot of diligence to build up and maintain. Likewise, it would take some effort to either find or create such a good watering hole for the sheep. This is especially important since sheep, without guidance to a good water source, would simply find their own, quenching their thirst at polluted and parasite-infested watering holes and often ending up sick.

How familiar does that sound! How many times do we search out our own means of quenching our thirst for love, meaning, and happiness and find only misery as a result? This is a pattern long known to man: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). The bulk of the book of Ecclesiastes focuses on this very thing. Yet, after pursuing desire upon desire and finding emptiness in every single one, the writer’s conclusion is this: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

This is why those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are blessed (Matthew 5:6). They go to Jesus as the source of the living water (John 4) and the bread of life (John 6) and in Him find such fulfillment that could never be found in any other source. Jesus has done the work needed to provide His sheep those green pastures and still waters. He laid down His life so that all who are found in Him “may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). He makes provision for our every need, whether physical (Matthew 6:25-34) or spiritual (2 Peter 1:2-4).

But to enjoy His care I must accept His leadership. Going back to Psalm 23:1, I must submit myself as a trusting sheep in His fold. And so I must ask myself: Am I insistent on going my own way, or do I appreciate the leadership of my Shepherd and follow Him to the great blessings He provides? Do I turn to His word to fill my heart up with His rich spiritual sustenance and to find in Him a place of peaceful rest?

Mr. Keller points out that for sheep to choose to lie down means that they feel no fear, tension, aggravation, or hunger. They are content and at peace. What allows them to be this way? The presence of the shepherd in whom they trust. This reminds me of Peter who, although imprisoned and facing certain death at the hands of Herod and the Jews, was able to sleep (Acts 12:1-6). Whether he would awake to rescue (as he actually did, Acts 12:7-11) or death, he was at peace in the presence of his Shepherd. We too can have this peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7) as sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock. Praise be to God for His mercy and love!

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Psalm 23:1–The Lord Is My Shepherd

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”  (Psalm 23:1)

That’s basically a summary statement of it all right there, isn’t it? I mean, the rest of the psalm goes on to beautifully expand upon all the ways that the Lord’s sheep are never left wanting, but it’s all there in that first sentence.

The Lord

This part of the statement explains why the rest of it can be taken as true. The One being spoken of here is no mere man but the divine Master and Creator of all. His flock are not just sheep that He has bought or inherited from some one else, but they are His very creation, the one part of creation that was honored with the likeness of His image (Genesis 1:26-27). And in the years since this psalm was written, Jesus, the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), came to this earth and died in order to redeem the lost and wandering sheep of this world into His flock (Acts 20:28). This Shepherd is not limited in power nor grace (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). He is not fickle but is a true and constant Guide (Hebrews 13:8).

Is My Shepherd

This is a very personal psalm (as most of them are), speaking directly to the relationship between the psalmist and his Lord. To make this statement is to declare an allegiance and total dependence to the One whose flock you have joined. We are all sheep under a shepherd; the question arises, though: Whose flock are you in? Because here is where there is not a direct analogy to the physical sheep-shepherd comparison; physical sheep cannot choose their shepherd. They may, through no fault of their own, find themselves under the care of a cruel and foolish shepherd and will greatly suffer the consequences of it. Or they may be blessed with the great fortune of a shepherd who knows what he is doing, one who truly cares for his flock and will put himself on the line for them.

We have those same two possible outcomes, but the difference is that the choice of which flock to be in is up to us. Jesus greatly desires to be our Shepherd, to lead and provide for us in a way that no one else can because only He knows us to the very core of our beings. Satan is every bit as eager to take us into his flock. But those who choose to join this flock are not coming into the care of a loving shepherd. No, Satan is the shepherd that offers what pleases the eye but brings only destruction. Have you chosen the Lord as your Shepherd? Do you bear the mark of His flock? – 2 Timothy 2:19; Galatians 3:26-27; Romans 6

I Shall Not Lack

One thing that I learned from Mr. Keller’s book is that sheep typically demand more attention and focused care than other livestock. So for the ‘sheep’ of this passage to be able to say, ‘I shall not lack,’ is pretty impressive. It means that his Lord is able to not only provide everything he needed then but everything that he could EVER need (Matthew 6:25-33; Philippians 4:19; 2 Peter 1:2-4).

This statement speaks not only to the character of the Shepherd but to the character of the sheep as well. This is a sheep who is content in the care of his Shepherd (Philippians 4:11). He does not fret about an uncertain future or stare longingly across to the land on the other side of the Shepherd’s fence. Rather, he trusts in his Shepherd and follows His lead faithfully.

* * * * * * * * * *

So much depth there in just a few words! As we go through the rest of this day, may we all live in such a way that we can speak these words in full spirit and truth. May we put our trust in the Shepherd who gave us form, gave His life to redeem us into His flock, and continues in His wonderful care for His sheep each and every day. Praise be to Him!

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

 Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Study of Psalm 23

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I will be posting some of the personal studies I am doing using the SOAP method. I decided to start somewhere familiar – Psalm 23. This is a psalm that many of us have known and could recite since our childhoods, but, as with the rest of scripture, it has such depth as to constantly have more to teach us about our walk with our Savior.

One of the things about this psalm that intrigued me was the opportunity to learn more about how David wrote it from the perspective of the shepherd-sheep relationship. And as the shepherd-sheep allusion is used many times throughout the Bible to describe Christ’s relationship with His people, I wanted to delve deeper into how this psalm (and other similar references) would have been understood by a people who were much more familiar with the shepherding lifestyle than I am.

Having gone through this psalm verse by verse using the SOAP method, I then read W. Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. I would recommend that anyone who wants to take a closer look at these verses to likewise seek insight from someone who is well qualified to speak about the world of shepherding. Mr. Keller’s book really helped me gain a better understanding of what the work of a shepherd really entails, which in turn helped me gain a better of understanding of the full meaning of the words in these verses – written by a shepherd about his Shepherd. While I enjoyed reading Mr. Keller’s book, I cannot recommend without a caveat. From my reading, it does appear that he holds some false beliefs on some things, such as how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. For the most part, though, his book is very helpful in this study. What I feel would be even more helpful, though, is to find a Christian who is, or has worked as, a shepherd to study through the psalm with. How fruitful and encouraging a study that would be!

Over the next six posts, I’m going to be sharing what I learned from my study. I used the SOAP method for my personal study, but the posts on here won’t really be laid out as such. While I will type out the Scripture, my observations, and some potential applications, I will not be typing out a prayer for each verse. I wrote out my own as I studied and would encourage all of you to pray to God about the things you are taking from each verse as well.

May God bless us so that we grow in understanding and wisdom as we study and make application from this beautiful psalm.

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Appreciating a New ‘View’ of Things

One thing that I’ve wanted to do for a while is to take the time to enjoy both the sunrise and sunset on the same day. I finally took the opportunity yesterday to do just that. While it may be a surprise to some of the people reading this (namely, anyone who has previously lived with me), I have actually been up before the sunrise pretty much every day for quite a while now. I just happen to usually be on the couch enjoying a cup of coffee and catching up on Facebook and things like that when the sun makes its appearance. Yesterday, though, I decided to take an early walk and, as such, was outside when the sun came up.

If you’re like me, when you think about sunrise (or sunset), you tend to focus on the visual side of things – the darkness fading away into the light of a new day and the beautiful colors spanning the horizon. That’s what I was expecting to see yesterday morning, but the clouds had other ideas. Instead of a burst of light shining amidst the pinks and oranges and blues, all I had to see was the gradual transition from pitch black to brighter shades of grey in the sky. Not quite the sunrise I was expecting, but then I noticed something else.

The hum and buzz of the crickets and other nighttime creatures was joined and then replaced by the singing of the birds. And it was just as beautiful to my ears to hear that transition as it would have been for my eyes to see the painted sky. It was like when my focus shifted off the visual, I could actually better appreciate the other wonderful things in God’s creation around me. Because I’m not sure I would have really noticed, much less fully appreciated, the birds’ morning music had I had the view of the sunrise that I had expected.

It makes me think of all the many times God has given me the opportunity to shift my focus on the things in my life and appreciate them in a new way. Maybe it’s a wonder of His creation that I have come to love any more having experienced it a new way. Maybe it’s a relationship that is so much more deep because of the new perspective that either a celebration or sorrow brings to it. Maybe it’s a familiar passage of Scripture that reaches deeper into my heart and my life because I read it at just the time that I needed it so very much. That’s the beauty of living in our Lord’s creation… As the product of an infinite Being, there is just so much depth, so much beauty, so much to gain from His work and His word that we finite humans will never ever ever exhaust the fullness of it all. And that is a tremendous blessing indeed!

May you all be blessed with the chance to see something familiar in your life in a new way today so that we may all give glory to the One who made this possible.

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Monday, October 14, 2013

Helpful Study Method: SOAP

Some (or many) of you may already be familiar with the SOAP study method, but I had not heard of it until a few months ago. It had been mentioned in several blogs that I followed and kept showing up in my Pinterest feed, but I didn’t really pay too much attention to it. Based on the little checking into it that I did do, it didn’t seem to be something I would be much interested in. However, I have been participating in online Bible study for the past six weeks which is completely based on the SOAP method. Let me tell you… I love it!

I probably should give a little explanation of SOAP for those who are just as clueless about it as I was. SOAP stands for: Scripture, Observations, Application, and Prayer. Its purpose is to really engage the studier in the scripture under consideration through several different steps:

  1. Write out the Scripture. So often when we’re reading through a passage we may breeze right through and miss some, or even many, of the more subtle lessons to be gained. The simple process of writing out the scripture provides the opportunity to slow down and really consider the words that the Holy Spirit has provided for our edification.
  2. Write out your Observations. Once you write out the verse(s), make a list of the things that stick out to you. These observations may be things that you have always known and appreciated about the passage or insights that are hitting you for the first time. (Just make sure that they are strictly observations and not personal applications; you’ll get there soon enough!) Many of the SOAP descriptions that I read through suggested writing out 2-3 observations each time, but there have been some passages in my study that are just so rich in meaning for me that I went far beyond that number. :)
  3. Write out personal Applications. This is where you get to take those observations and describe how you are making or plan to make personal application of those truths in your life. This could be written out in list format, perhaps with a personal application for each of the observations you recorded. I prefer to choose one of the observations (or more than one, if they are closely related) to focus on and jot down my applications in a paragraph format, which usually includes a lot of questions directed at myself about how well I am living out these principles.
  4. Write out a Prayer. Up to this point, God’s word has been speaking to you. Now, you get to speak back to God – glorifying Him, thanking Him, and asking for His guidance and help as you strive to better live as the Christian He would have you to be. To be honest, this was the part that I was the most unsure about going into it. I have tried writing out prayers before but never really stuck with it. I either felt that I began rambling or that I sometimes bordered on substituting “prettiness” of speech for sincerity. What has made the difference here, though, is that the prayer is targeted to the context of the scripture with which you are working. This gives me focus, which I desperately need to stay on task. (By the way, I have been able to use this concept in a separate prayer journal where I fill a page with each prayer – no more and no less. As such, I am much more focused on what I’m saying then how I’m saying it, and, most importantly, I am able to stay focused on who I am talking to.)

This is a fabulous study method that I would whole-heartedly recommend to anyone who has, like me, struggled to find a way to better connect and grow from his or her Bible reading. It’s so easy to get started with: grab a notebook (or print off any number of the SOAP worksheets available on the internet!), pick a verse or set of verses to start with, and SOAP away! It’s also easy to adapt for studying with others, whether that be your spouse, children, study group, or whatever else might come to mind…

Like, for example, studies of various Bible passages that may be posted on this page sometime in the (hopefully) near future…

As this is something I am planning on doing, I wanted to share beforehand the structure I will be using to present these studies, for those of you out there who were not familiar with it before this. And while the posts will be written from the viewpoint of my own personal interaction with the scriptures, I would definitely encourage anyone who may be interested to SOAP each of the passages for themselves as I go through them. These posts will probably be handled as week-long considerations of either one long passage or of a group of verses covering the same subject. I’m going to start with some of my favorite passages but would welcome any suggestions that any of you might like to see covered as well.

Anyway, it’s getting late, and I have work tomorrow, so it is time to sign off. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rekindling a Neglected Passion

Before you get worried, this post is not about personal relationships in any way. I’m talking neglected passion in the strictly ‘something you used to do and love but don’t do much anymore’ sense. For me, that something is writing.

Now, you might be thinking, “Aren’t I reading your writing right now, though?" Yes, but this isn’t the kind of writing I’m talking about. I’m talking about poems, short stories, maybe even a full-length novel or two (if I can ever get them finished).

I’ve been a writer since I was a little kid, when I was constantly creating new characters and storylines, some of which I put on paper but many more that lived only in my own imagination. In high school, I would carry a stack of loose-leaf ruled paper on which I would craft stories in any free moments I had in between and during classes. It was invigorating to see my characters come to life, to see their lives and loves played out on the pages before me. In the last few years, though, I have seen that old passion for putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be) transformed into almost a dread at the thought of struggling through the writing process.

What happened?

What happened to that love that I used to have for writing? What happened to the joy I once had in creating a new character, almost as if I was meeting a new friend for the first time? What happened to that irrepressible drive to get the story from my mind to the page, to walk with my characters to the end of their story, and to bid them a fond farewell so that I could attend to the next set of characters who were fighting to come out and tell their story?

Truth be told, there are a lot of reasons that I could give to answer these questions, but I guess the biggest of these is impatience. Impatience with myself, impatience with my stories, impatience with the whole writing process. Writing can be incredibly challenging, especially if you try to take a perfectionist’s approach toward it (which you should NEVER do on a first draft, by the way). But if you love it, if you TRULY love it, you do it anyway, even when it’s hard, even when the plot doesn’t seem to be coming together or the characters start acting weird or you struggle to get a few useable words down a day. That’s why that passion is so important.

So I’m going to work on building that passion up again. I’m going to do all those things that they tell writers to do when they lose focus or the drive to continue: Start small. Do at least a little bit every day. Connect with others who have the same passion. And have fun again.

Before I sign off this post, though, I’d like to take it to the spiritual realm for a second.

It’s one thing to feel this way about writing. I mean, if I never rekindle that passion for writing that I once had, it’s really not that big of a deal in the long run. But how many of us have felt this same way about our spiritual lives at one point or another? How many of us have sat up one day and realized that, for whatever reason, we had lost that love, joy, and zeal that we once had for the Lord?

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.”  - Revelation 2:4-5

If this describes you, please consider your standing before the Lord. Rekindle that passion that you once had for your Lord and your service for Him. Start small. Do at least a little bit every day. Connect with others who have the same passion. And open your heart to experience the more abundant life that God offers to His faithful (John 10:10).

Thanks for stopping by!

~Erin~

 Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.