• Coming Christmas 2019

Overcoming Bad Days-Psalm 23: Part 6

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Psalm 23:4a

Valleys! Beautiful and majestic. So much fun to explore and hike through and maybe even camp in to get away from it all. Unless, of course, you are lost in the vastness of Denali National Park! Thankfully this doesn’t happen often, but when it does it costs many man hours and resources to rescue the lost individuals. What’s interesting, is that not just anyone is allowed to hike overnight in Denali. You must register with park services and show them that you are an experienced hiker and have all you need (plenty of water and food) and they want to know exactly where you plan to go and days camping, etc… Even then a good chunk of the park is off limits even to the most experienced hiker. Why? Because once you get into certain valleys of the park, you may never find your way out and rescuers may never find you; the valleys are that complex.

I have not hiked/camped in Denali because I do not fit the above criteria. I did, however, have a once-in-a-lifetime experience to participate in a sea/land tour of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon in the summer of 2018. To say that these beautiful lands of our world are “big” is ridiculous! They are HUGE! We were on a two week trip and only covered a small fraction of their vastness. Enormous! Gorgeous! Majestic! Wild! Mere words really, especially when talking about The Denali National Park. Not even with the most modern video technology can one truly grasp all that is Denali National Park. You have to see it in person! And  yet, even in person you can only see a small piece of it. They say of the half-million people who visit this park every year, only 30% actually get to see the giant of Denali itself! We were in the other 70% and so disappointed that this highest point in the United States would not come out and greet us while we were there. Even so, it was all just simply…breathtaking!

Since none of our group had any real hiking experience, we opted for the all day bus tour. Smart move on our part! In and out of valleys we drove on dirt and gravel roads, the bus craning to go up and too quick (in my opinion at least) to go down on the other side. Frankly, after a few hours of this, one valley started looking pretty much like another. Beautiful, of course, but so similar in types of trees and rivers flowing through it and rock formations, and so on. I often thought about how easy it would be to get lost in one of those valleys so I was sure to be obedient when the bus driver/guide insisted we get back on the bus when asked. I did not want to get left behind.

And I often thought of Psalm 23…

Isn’t it interesting that in our language the idea of “valley” is used as a metaphor for a bad season of a person’s life, because most valleys that I have seen, like the ones in Denali, are quite breathtaking. If I stand on top of a hill or hike on a mountain pass and look out, the valleys below are beautiful whether they are lush green or desert. The sure vastness of the scene is enough to take my breath away. I stand very still and am quiet. I want to hear the river rushing on its course below me. I want to imagine the wildlife hanging out in the valley and wonder what their day is like.  I scan the sky for the eagles and hawks soaring high above the valley looking for their next meal. I simply want to take the whole valley in. In short, I am in awe of what lays out before me.

So why the negative in equating valleys with all things bad in our human experience?

  1. A valley is a valley because hills and mountains surround it. Beautiful and majestic at first, these massive boundaries can become haunting like sentries of a prison as time goes by. The valley may be massive, but the claustrophobic feel of said “prison” is very real when there seems to be no way out day after grueling day.
  2. If you are in a valley, especially one you are not familiar with, there may not be, and probably there is not, an easy way out. Even the most lush valley will become tiresome if there is no obvious way of escape. The valley may seem like a fine place to hang out at first and even be pleasant, but as time passes, an exit to somewhere else is important to one’s sanity. If there is no exit or the exit is not easily found or seems too hard to access, despair will ensue.
  3. Traveling in a valley can be tedious and exhausting. If the valley is lush, you may have to cross rivers and clear your way through forests and thick undergrowth or climb through rock caverns within the valley. If the valley is barren, the lack of food and water would be of great concern. A great deal of time will be used to find these life giving necessities.
  4. In the valley you cannot see beyond the formidable mountains. You cannot see the whole picture of what is really around you and the truth of reality becomes blurred. All you know is the valley. There may be civilization just on the other side of the mountains, but you cannot see it. You may even know it is there, but like a dream, you cannot quite fathom your life there because you are “stuck” in the valley. The valley consumes you and consumes every minute of your day.
  5. You can actually be in one of these massive valleys and not realize that there is anyone else there; that there is anyone looking for you or trying to help you. Often in rescue stories you read of hundreds of rescuers being sent out, even planes and helicopters being used and yet the lost parties believe they are all alone and have no one looking out for them, no one to bring them home.

These reasons and more are why our shepherd king, David, uses a valley to describe the shadow of death.

We all have experienced this shadow of death. If you are reading this you obviously have not died yourself. But the shadow of death has been your experience. Death of a parent or grandparent or a child. Death of a friend or even a coworker we barely know will bring death’s shadow to the door of our soul. We cannot escape it. We cannot put it off. And we have no say in it.

Death is the one thing we humans cannot control.

Some of us have experienced our own shadow of death; the confirmation of cancer or heart disease brings the shadow swiftly into our path. Even the prospect of these diagnoses and the ensuing tests bring us body and soul deep within this valley of the shadow of death.

And even in this, David boldly proclaims, that we do not have to fear!

“…for You are with me”!

 

 

Overcoming Bad Days-Psalm 23: Part 5

“He guides in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3b

Funny how no one has to train even a young toddler on the fine art of disobedience! No matter what modern pundits would have us believe, sin and the propensity to commit sin is part of our very nature. And any honest parent can see this very early on in their precious baby’s life.

“Please do not hit Rover with that, Amelia.”

Amelia lowers her arm and sits up from her crawl, plastic hammer in hand. She glances sweetly at Mother and then glances back at the dog sleeping quietly next to the cozy fireplace unaware of the danger inching toward him. Amelia returns to her crawling position and with careless ease crawls the few feet to close in on Rover. She’s mastered the ability to crawl and still carry her “weapon” in one hand. She is focused and determined. Rover is funny when wakened from his sleep.

“Amelia.” Mother’s voice is low but firm. “I said, No!”

Amelia thinks for just a moment about that word, “No.” She’s heard it many times already in her short life of just 11 months. It all started when she mastered the art of crawling. That word, “No” has really been a nuisance to her new found freedom , though, and she’s learned she can ignore it for a little while before there are any real consequences. She  realizes that Mother will be displeased if she continues on this short path to their dog. But, Rover is so funny!

There is no pause now. There is no glance back at Mother this time. There is only the innate desire to watch Rover jump up and run around the living room once bonked on the head. Rover is a big fury thing and the hammer is so small in comparison. He won’t be really hurt. No harm will really be done.

In a flash and before Mother can reach her, Amelia comes to her wobbly stance and her arm is raised. The hammer is lowered with all her toddler strength right on Rover’s nose!

You know how the rest of this story ends. Rover indeed jumps up and runs all over the living room. For an instant Amelia is entertained, but just for an instant. Her disobedience has a quick consequence of being knocked over by Rover and an unceremonious tumble to her backside. She is not hurt but cries out from the sheer force of Rover’s weight forcing her to the floor.

Mother finally arrives (Amelia cannot believe how slow parents can be sometimes) and scoops her up in soft yet strong arms. Amelia hears the familiar assurances from Mother that she will be alright, but she does not expect the admonitions of “Never do that again!” and “Why don’t you listen to Mommy” mingled in with the words of comfort. This toddler is confused.  Mommy says it is wrong to hurt others. But Rover is such an easy target and can be so hilarious. She didn’t like the tumble, but that instant of fun…well…maybe it was worth it.

And this is why we all need King Jesus! This is why David, the shepherd king said, “He guides in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

We do not naturally stay on the path of righteousness. Goodness! Sometimes we cannot even find the path let alone stay on it! We want our way and we want it now and any and all means of getting our way are acceptable. Usually when we get this way a righteous path is the farthest thing from our mind, just like our toddler, Amelia.

David knew this about himself and humbly acknowledges that it is only by The Shepherd guiding him that he can find the path of righteousness and then stay on it. And David also acknowledges that God does all this for His own name’s sake.

Does it help us when God guides us on the righteous path? Yes, of course! Does it often keep us out of trouble? Indeed, it does! Is God showing His love to us as He walks with us on the righteous path? Absolutely!

But, The Shepherd guides His sheep in righteousness for HIs own glory and honor. It is Who He Is to guide His children in righteousness; not forced; not robots, but loving guidance. This brings God glory. There is no glory for a robot to do what it is programed to do. There is much glory when a stubborn, willful and stupid sheep willingly stays with The Shepherd on the path of righteousness.

We cannot do this on our own and it is an affront to the Creator when we try and take credit for any righteousness we may exhibit or keep in our minds and hearts once in awhile. And if we think it about, it is quite silly to harbor any pride in this. But we do! And so did David. That is why he wrote down the reminder that the truest restoration of our souls is when God leads us back to the path of righteousness.

We shouldn’t struggle against God’s guidance and keep inching toward sin and trouble. Stay on The Path with The Shepherd!

Psalm 16:11 “You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.”

 

Overcoming Bad Days-Psalm 23: Part 4

Green pastures and quiet waters…Ahh!

So far, David has given us a beautiful picture of God’s GRACE in Psalm 23. But if he ended his song here, I think there would be an incompleteness, an emptiness to David’s solution for bad days. (Actually, God’s solution for bad days, given to David. Just to keep God-breathed straight in our minds.)

God’s GRACE is beyond remarkable and I…we…don’t deserve an ounce of it. But, what earthly good is this GRACE if nothing is done about all the wounds we incur out on the battle field of life.

Think of a sheep, a wayward sheep. Said sheep probably has mulitple cuts and bruises because it wandered into rocky areas or a briar patch. This wayward sheep may have a matted coat for lack of proper grooming from the shepherd, since it is a wayward sheep and hasn’t been in the shepherds care for some time. It’s probably hungry because sheep are actually really picky about what they eat and so it wouldn’t have eaten in a nasty muddy field or dried up marsh. And, maybe, it would be thirsty since most water sources are not quiet, but rather boisterous and loud and a haven for wild animals that would love to eat said wayward sheep. And, maybe, said wayward sheep has been hiding for days and doesn’t dare to sleep because a big ole’ bear got a whiff of it a few days ago and the dumb bear just won’t leave the water source!

Now think of a shepherd who goes out looking for this wayward sheep and finds it. Yay! Wahoo! Such a lucky sheep!

Well, this sheep may feel lucky and even thankful at first. But what if the shepherd just plopped it down in the green pasture, sorta close to the water, but then just walked off without a word? What if the shepherd didn’t do anything about the cuts and bruises or the matted coat or the now “scardy cat” sheep who won’t go near any water? Just what kind of condition is this poor sheep in that is hungry, thirsty, tired, has open wounds oozing out puss and a matted coat, even in a green pasture by quiet water?

Said sheep is not doing very good and probably won’t do very good until the shepherd helps it because all of the self effort of the sheep is just not enough to overcome all that has happened to it. Life has just been too hard and it is just a dumb sheep!

BUT, don’t worry! No self-respecting shepherd would ever allow any of his sheep to suffer with hunger or thirst or lack of rest or refuse to clean and bind all wounds or to wash and bathe and groom each and every one of his sheep, especially the wayward ones.

And neither will the God of the Universe, The Shepherd! That is why God doesn’t just leave me in the green pasture by the quiet water where His GRACE resides. He “Restores My Soul”!

He gives me everlasting water and the bread of life! He gives me rest from all my burdens. He binds up my broken heart and pours His soothing healing oil over every open wound.

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:14

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” John 6:35

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19

This song is far from over! “He restores my soul!”