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.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Messing Up vs. Failing

I was going through one of my old notebooks and found a note I had written a while back, so I thought I might go ahead and share it with all of you. Those who know me well will not be surprised that there is a baseball reference in these thoughts… :)

Messing up and failure are interesting concepts. Neither is good in the spiritual realm, but does messing up necessarily imply failure? Certainly, it does in the short-term view of things, in the limited and most basic application of the word. When you mess up, when you stumble and fall, you have – in that moment – failed to live up to what is expected of you. If you never correct it, that sin remains stamped on your soul, and you will be held accountable.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  (2 Corinthians 5:10)

But as long as you are breathing, you have the chance to make correction and find redemption in the mercy of your loving Father. Consider, though, failure in its most absolute sense – failure where you hang your head and give up because there is nothing else that you feel you can do.

Look at it in the context of a baseball game: Messing up (i.e. limited failure) is striking out in one at-bat; ultimate failure is losing the game. At that point, there is nothing you can do to redeem that game.

So does messing up necessitate that feeling of ultimate failure?

Back to the game analogy, look at the batter who struck out in his first at-bat. Maybe he took bad swings or he wasn’t properly prepared to face what the pitcher was throwing. Maybe he got tricked by the pitcher’s craftiness or didn’t even take a swing at all. Whatever the case, he didn’t fulfill what was expected of him in that at-bat.

Now, there are some batters that will let the pitcher get into their head. They start to believe that there is no chance they can succeed against him, and they take their at-bats accordingly. They walk up to the plate with that sense of impending failure and thus essentially give up. Yes, they still walk out to the plate, and they may even swing the bat, but it’s obvious in their swing, in their posture, and in their dejected walk back to the dugout that they expected nothing more than they showed. Often, we see these struggles carried over into the next game and the next, until the word “slump” starts getting thrown around.

On the other hand, some batters go up there and strike out in their first at-bat – just like the other guys – but their minds are in a different place. This kind of batter walks back to the dugout thinking about what went wrong, not to dwell on and get dragged down by it, but to analyze the situation and figure what he needs to change for the next time. He doesn’t let his poor at-bat hurt him beyond those three strikes; he takes it as a learning experience and dedicates himself even more to making his next time at the plate a success. He is determined to be more patient, use better judgment, be more prepared, etc. As he sits on the bench waiting for his next at-bat, he watches the pitcher to figure out what he is throwing. He also cheers his teammates on, congratulates them when they do well and encourages them when they do poorly. He tells them what to watch out for, helps them see some of the mistakes they’re making (in a kind and supportive way), and is eager to get in that batter’s box again, to get another chance to come through for his coach and his team. He doesn’t let his poor hitting distract him in the field but sees that as another realm in which to redeem himself. This is a player that will struggle from time to time, but he is one who will pick himself up from his mistakes and refuse to fail.

Can you see the parallel to our spiritual lives?

Each of us is one of these kinds of batters spiritually. Are you the batter that lets your mistakes get in your head and discourage you to the point of complete failure? Or are you the one who sees those mistakes as mistakes (not sugar-coating the wrong) but learns from them without letting them drive you to ultimate failure? This second type of Christian – this is the one who will endure.

All of us will strike out spiritually at some point in our lives. The devil is crafty in what he throws at us; he has studied us and knows our weaknesses. His hope is to get inside your head, to get you to think that you’ll never be able to hit what he’s throwing you. He wants you to follow that path from messing up to absolute failure.

But God says you don’t have to follow that path. In fact, you mustn't follow that path if you want to have any hope of getting to heaven. That’s the point here: You have to have a strength of character, and you have to have hope. That hope is founded in God’s mercy, truth, and faithfulness. You know that He will not give up on you (2 Peter 3:9), that His door is always open to those who have strayed but make the choice to come back (Luke 15:11-24). Take a minute to read Romans 5:1-11, and tell me that doesn’t give you the encouragement you need to do what’s right!

Your mistakes don’t have to lead to failure. Repent of them, learn from them, and build your strength based on what you have learned. If you are struggling, don’t let discouragement cloud your mind and distract you from your walk (Hebrews 12:1-3). If you see that discouragement building up in another, reach out to him or her, and be an encourager (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Just remember that if Satan can get people to see themselves as failures, to believe there is no hope for them to be who they need to be, then he is that much closer to winning not just the battle (individual circumstance – that one sin) but also the war (eternal punishment of the soul in hell).

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, September 7, 2013

An Honor and a Privilege

On Thursday I went to a funeral. I hadn’t known the man for long, a little over five months, but he has left an incredible impression in the time that I was blessed to know him. This man had been very sick the entire time I knew him and for a good while before that as well. I never saw him off of an oxygen tank. I don’t remember the last time that I saw him moving around without a wheel chair. But you know what, none of those things will be what I remember about him.

I will remember how he was there at services more times than not, even though two oxygen tanks were needed to make it through.

I will remember how he and his wife hosted both a get-together and a Bible study over the summer. When the offer was made to have the Bible study hosted somewhere else, the answer was, “If the study is at our house, he can actually attend.”

I will remember how he lead multiple prayers in worship service from his seat in the weeks leading up to his death, even though he needed oxygen to breathe and a lapel microphone to be heard. He was determined to continue to serve in any way he could.

I will remember how he made it to every service of the week-long gospel meeting we had last month.

I will remember the beginning of the prayer he led on Sunday night of that meeting, when he said it was “an honor and a privilege” to be able to come before the Lord in worship that night. Knowing the difficult week that lay before him and the struggle he faced to leave the house each time he did, and knowing how few of those opportunities he would have left… Those words hit me hard when I heard them, and those words will stick with me, hopefully for the rest of my life.

I will remember the strength, courage, virtue, and kindness I saw in every interaction with him. The love that so greatly characterized his family. The love of the Lord that guided him.

In my life, I have had the blessing to know many great Christian examples. I have also had the mingled sorrow and joy to watch many of these men and women pass from this life and into their reward. Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). I am so grateful that I have so many examples in my life who lived this verse so faithfully. And my goal and desire is that I am each day living faithful to this verse as well. May God help us all in this quest.

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.