It’s a Bad Day, Part 9

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;  Psalm 23:5

Who wouldn’t want to have Psalm 23:5 happen to them? I mean, you have The Shepherd preparing a feast for you and anointing your head with oil and filling your cup to overflowing with God’s own specialty beverage, which has to be amazingly delicious. And the idea here is not just a one time feast or a one time anointing or just one cup overflowing, but rather a continuous lavishing of The Shepherd on you…on me…His stubborn self-absorbed sheep!

Sounds great, right?

Until maybe we catch the phrase, “in the presence of my enemies.” We may not be real comfortable with that idea. We like our enemies at a distance; out of sight and out of mind. We don’t want enemies lurking about or invading too close to our personal space. We avoid contact with the enemy at all costs. We may even be tempted to tell God to get those enemies out of our banquet hall or we won’t be able to enjoy any of the feast or specialty drinks.

But, as is always the case with God, The Shepherd knows what He is doing and the enemies will stay “in presence”. To help us understand, the why of our enemies being present at our feast lets expose just who are the enemies. Some of these categories  are obvious, but some may surprise us.

First let’s first expose the category of the true mortal enemy; the bad guy or bad girl (don’t want to exclude the females here.) This is a person who has actually done us or someone we love physical harm, maybe even caused the death of someone we love. This person may or may not have been convicted of their crime, but the guilt of what they have done is not disputed. They did physical harm. Interestingly, whether they have been convicted or not, the trauma of being such a victim and its affect on our daily lives is always with us. Even if we never speak with them or communicate with them in any way, this enemy is with us. How much influence and power we allow this person to have on us solely depends on how much we believe Psalm 23:5.

The second enemy category is that of a social enemy. This person, again, male or female, has harmed us, but not physically. By a host of means, this person has harmed us materially, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually or any combination of these. This enemy can be very sly and deceptive and in one simple Tweet can transform a comfortable and full life into a disheveled heap of disaster and pain.

This category differs from physical harm in several ways. One, is that there is often less legal recourse to the victim. Or, as is often the case, the justification for legal action to take place just isn’t there. Two, often there may be no way to “prove” the harm has been done though with so much of this type of harm happening on social media in our modern culture, the proof is always “out there somewhere”. Three, it is often harder for us to separate ourselves from these enemies. And, four, sometimes…we must admit that sometimes, these enemies are only in our own minds. Or, at the very least, the extent of their harm to us is only in our minds. But, whether with concrete evidence or with our own conjecture, the social enemy ends up being in our presence 24/7 and 365 days a year…year after year, after year. They seem to always be in our head and, if we are honest, we let this enemy camp out there…in our head. We deny this vehemently to anyone and everyone who will listen, but our social enemies are ever present with us at the table feast.

Sadly, the third category of enemy is the group enemy. Social media has exasperated a hundred fold the power of group enemies. Group enemies use the power of the “crazed mob effect” to perpetrate their true enemy terror on an innocent soul or on a whole populace. From the online girl bullies perpetrating lies about the person who doesn’t fit in at their school to radical beheading haters who laugh at their own vile videotaped executions…true group enemies feed on a mob mentality. Group enemies rely on the fact that a single person would never treat another human being with the planned cruelty, but the promise of anonymity allows the mob group to do just about anything to others and even enjoy being as cruel an enemy as possible.

The flip side of these true group enemies is the plight of false group enemies. In most cultures, these people groups are considered enemies simply because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs. For them, simply existing is tantamount to treason in their culture. The largest percentage of Christians around the world live as such enemies in their countries though they do not commit any criminal offense save for the one of loving Jesus. In the good ‘ole USA it is hard for us to imagine such a daily existence though we may not be far from joining our brothers and sisters  around the world who truly sit in the presence of their enemies every day.

The fourth enemy we face is much harder for us to admit and face because the fourth enemy is ourselves! This enemy goes with us everywhere we go. Sits everywhere we sit. Sleeps where we sleep. This enemy is relentless! We try to hush this enemy up with meager results. Maybe we exercise three hours a day or we eat three hours a day. We may drink or smoke or shoot up daily just to keep this enemy at bay for a little while. We buy clothes and toys and houses and pay for people to keep up all the barns we fill up just to quite the enemy. But until we realize it is The Shepherd who sets our table called life, we will never win the victory over the enemy of ourselves.

The fifth enemy is the curse of this world which gives us all kinds of disease and sickness and pandemics like Covd-19! The curse also gives us man’s ill treatment against man and against the animal kingdom and against Creation itself. The curse pits creation against creation and the powerful against the powerful leaving the weak in their destructive path.

And the sixth and final enemy is the Father of Lies, Satan! He sets in motion the hate groups, the bullies, the criminals. He spreads the lies of prejudice and superiority. He glamorizes evil and calls “old fashioned” evil. He tries to exchange The Truth with his lies and he tries to sabotage The Shepherds table. Notice I say, he tries to. Ultimately, he cannot and never will. But he can keep us from the table that is set before us. That is the real battle and one we must win and one we can only win through Jesus Christ!

Until heaven, we will always have enemies around us, but if we stay seated at the table the Good Shepherd has set before us then we will feast heartily, we will be blessed (on God’s terms, not America’s terms) and our lives will overflow for God’s Glory!

All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast. Proverbs 15:15

It’s a Bad Day, Part 8

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

There are a lot of enemies running around in 2020 and most of them are not in the news every day! In a year like this, it is more important than ever to get this part of Psalm 23 right!

This truth has two equal parts and they are both equally misunderstood and misused, at least by me. Maybe you will be able to relate.

I love this truth of God, The Shepherd, preparing a table for me. It actually blows my mind to think this God of Creation not only takes the time to do this, He wants to do it! God wants to take care of me! He wants to take care of you! Crazy, isn’t it!? He doesn’t begrudgingly go about giving me tidbits here and there or haphazardly throw scraps my way. He lovingly and graciously prepares a table for me.

Recently, I set a milestone in my life by visiting my 50th state, Alaska! It is almost surreal to think of how God has allowed me to do this and the blessings and some heartaches that have come with this distinction. One of the blessings in being in all 50 states is eating! I don’t have a very adventurous pallet, but I have always tried to make a point of trying some of the local cuisine every trip or every new home location.

I’ve had everything from amazing Alaskan halibut to Maine lobsters to Nebraska beef and Louisiana jambalaya. And I’ve had just about every good, bad and ugly experience in a host of different styles of restaurants. I can honestly say that it made no difference if it was a “hole in the wall diner” or a 5-Star high rise restaurant, if the table set before me was thoughtfully executed and the service spot on, the food was just that much better even if it was not a favorite dish.

But if the table set before me was sticky with food scrapes at my feet and the service rude or uninviting, even the most delicious food was spoiled and the meal experience ruined. So, let’s clean up the mess surrounding this precious verse, clean up the misunderstandings and really enjoy the feast God has for us.

See you at our next table reservation!

How blessed is the man who does not walk in counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor seat in the seat of scoffers.    Psalm 1:1

It’s a Bad Day, Part 7

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4b

Experiencing the valley of the shadow of death is common to all of us and not just physical death. There are many types of death in our lives.

The death of a lost relationship.

The death of losing a job.

The death of losing our mental faculties.

The death of financial security.

The death of success.

The death of a dream.

And the Year 2020 reminds us and history proves, that there is…The death of nations!

Each one of these types of losses can leave us exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And that exhaustion leads to a vicious cycle of worry, doubt and fear. And these lead to poor choices and shortsighted decisions which leads to hanging out in the never-ending valley of death much longer than we ever dreamed possible.

And then we wonder, “How did it ever come to this?”

David had his share of “valley of death” experiences. Some were his own fault (think Bathsheba). Some were the jealousies of others (think King Saul.) Some were family problems (think Absalom). Some were career related (think Philistines). And some were lost relationships (think Jonathan). And when he reflected on all these valleys he could say, “I will fear no evil.” and the reason for this was because “You are with me.”

When we need comfort or we want to comfort someone else and reach for this Psalm, I think we stop reading or reciting right there, at Psalm 23:4a. We are very glad to know that through whatever valley being experienced, fear does not have to be part of that experience. And we comfort each other with reminders of God being in the valley experience. That’s great! Right?

Yes, of course, right! No fear and all God! That’s what we need! But do we take all of the One True God? Or do we really want the god we’ve made up in our heads? You know the one!

The one that gives us big hugs and says, “That’s okay. You can keep on doing this sin and I won’t let anything bad happen to you.” We want the god that gives us everything we ask for; even to bless our plans for disobedience. We want the god that we can bargain with; “You know, god, if you do this and get me out of this jam, I won’t go near a frat party for a whole month.”

We want the god that will just hurry up and show up and change our circumstances and get us out of this horrible wretched valley. We want the god that wouldn’t let us get in this valley in the first place and it doesn’t matter that it is my fault that I am stuck there. We even want the god who will zap the “enemies” who put us in this valley: the mean mother-in-law, the overbearing boss, the bully at school, the drunk driver, the thief. They don’t need any kind of god’s mercy. It is not deserved.

Being human, I would imagine that sometimes even David wanted a god like that.

But, when he looked at the history of his life and could see it as the True God ordained it, David came to the conclusion that it was The Shepherd’s rod and staff that brought the greatest comfort and peace in the valley AND provided the only way out of the valley. Seems quite the paradox, doesn’t it? A shepherd with rod and staff in hand bringing the most comfort and surety to his stubborn and wayward sheep. How can that be?

The LORD Shepherd has a rod and staff. They are called the Holy Spirit and the Bible. But here’s the thing. We have to take all of the Holy Spirit; His comfort, His peace, His joy…and His conviction and correction. We have to take the whole Bible, not just the parts that make us feel good or that we fully understand (who can even do that and claim we know the full mind of God!).

We don’t like the rod and staff of The Shepherd because we think it hinders our fun in life. We think it keeps us from obtaining our idea of success and having the American dream. And we would be right on those points!  God is so much greater than just having fun though He is no spoil sport. And His ways are not our ways which is a very good thing. And the American dream has absolutely nothing to do with having a life that is full and rich and meaningful.

The Shepherd uses His rod and staff to keep us close to Him. He uses them to keep us from wondering back into the valley of the shadow of death when He is trying to get us out of there. He lovingly uses His Word and give us The Comforter (Holy Spirit) to help us see as He sees; to give us hope and increase our faith when all seems lost. But even The Shepherd can’t do all of this if we reject the Holy Spirit’s guidance, if we pick and choose what we want to believe in the Bible and what we want to obey. The One True God will not force us out of our valleys, nor will He deny His deity and supremacy over all creation, which includes each of us.

The Shepherd is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! It is He who has made us and not we ourselves. (Psalm 100) It is He who laid the very foundations of the universe and gives us breath and life. (Psalm 103) And it is He who sent His only begotten Son to save us! (John 3:16) Did Jesus go to the cross and suffer the death we deserved just so we could keep on living in the mire of our willful ways and in our sin? God Forbid! (Romans 6-8)

When we forget all these things and try to manipulate our own way in life whether on a mountain top or in the valley, we think we know better than God. That keeps us far from the reality and wonder of Psalm 23.

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes. Isaiah 40:11