Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, January 23, 2017

Losing Myself in Translation

He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. -- Psalm 23:3

Inward purification is a lifelong process.  To remain in communion with God calls for a constant state of turning toward God and away from what we might call the "sense life".  The word for that is metanoia.  In Psalm 51, the repentant David cries out, "Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit with me."

Restoration begins with breaking down, planting begins with uprooting, life begins with death.  I don't have cable or satellite, but, at a friend's house, our favorite shows to watch are things like "Fast and Loud" where they take some old car and hotrod it.  You'll never have a beautiful, fast, reliable car until you take the body off, find the flaws, the broken, worn out parts, the rust, and corrosion.  You can't just slap a new paint job on.

This is the (particularly, the evangelical) church's error in the modern age.  We want to meet Jesus, have a nice visit, get a word, a blessing or an experience we can talk about then leave.  We want to get cleaned up and looking good on the outside.  We somehow think this exterior renewal will penetrate to the heart.

Far better that we continue looking externally rough while undergoing a metamorphosis from the inside out through a renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2).  Who cares that we continue to look like a caterpillar for a while.  The end result is what we seek.

The second part of our verse reminds us that not only does transformation take time, but that no restoration is permanent this side of the grave.  We have to continue to walk with the Shepherd in His paths of righteousness in order to sustain and maintain the renewal and restoration.  Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us that the Lord's steadfast love and mercies are unending and "new every morning".  We can meet those new mercies and that ceaseless love with our own commitment to walk right today.  No matter how good (or bad) yesterday was, today has the potential to be better, with more love and grace on God's part and a greater dedication to metanoia and purity on our part.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Expected, Reflected

He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters. -- Psalm 23:2

Green pastures would be, for sheep, the place of replenishment and finding satisfaction.  I’m stealing this from someone, but I can’t remember who it is.  I ran across it just a day or two ago.  It is a suggestion that in dealing with our idols in life, we take the text of Psalm 71:1-2 and substitute that idol’s name for the Lord:  In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!  In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!
In you, O work, do I take refuge …
In you, bank account, do I take refuge …
Alcohol, meth, pornography, anger, government, in you do I take refuge, deliver me, rescue me, save me.

None of those things or any other will work.  It is only the place to which the Good Shepherd leads us that satisfies.  Too, wherever it is He leads us is the green pasture.  It may not seem that way at first, but we learn to let go of our expectations.  The way to bitterness, unhappiness, and discontent -- the way to hell, really, is to refuse to release our expectations of how things ought to be.  We don’t know what ought to be.  Every false religionist and every practical atheist believes they know better than reality.  The unbeliever knows exactly what a green pasture should look like, and it never matches the reality he finds himself in. 

The “oughts” will kill you and kill your faith.  I struggled for a long time because I believed that good should always triumph over evil.  It’s true, but only at the Omega point, the end in eternity.  Eventually all wrongs will be righted.  All wickedness will cease.  That is not for this world.  Not yet.  So remember, where the Shepherd is, the pasture is green. 

Walking a green pasture beside still water is a beautiful picture.  My margin note says that the Hebrew could be read “waters of rest”.  In the presence of the Lord, our spirit is like that deep pool of quiet water.  I can see it, not a ripple disturbing the surface, giving a perfect reflection of the sky, as our quiet spirit perfectly reflects the image of Christ.  Some of us get this once in a while, in our better moments. Those we think of as saints are in that place almost all the time.  Jesus, of course, lived every moment of His Incarnate life that way.  It’s my goal.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Shepherd's Rest

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  -- Psalm 23:1
I suppose this could be taken as a “prosperity” verse, and it is, in a way.  It’s something that might be said with regard to the Way in Taoism.  The Lord is there for us, with us, listening and responding as the shepherd looks after, is with, and attends to his sheep.  God interacts with us where we are, as we are.  He is Good -- this is certain, but our attitude may alter the character of His goodness.  Good to the straying lamb is the discipline that brings it back in line. 

We will lack nothing that we need, whether provision, favor, opportunity, strength, and wisdom – or weakness, loss, fear, confusion, and dead-ends.  Whatever is needed, whatever it is we lack to perfect us in Christ, this the Shepherd will provide. 

Even that makes it sound too much like an arrangement or a formula.  That’s not what it is.  It is a play of yielding and seeking, humility and trust that casts aside anxiety.  The Lord is my shepherd.  I follow Him, trust Him, knowing that it will never be given to me to figure out all that is or can be.  Yet, walking right here next to me is One who knows.  Even if He told me how it all is, I wouldn’t understand apart from an inkling in analogy, a hint from poetry. 

I can’t grasp it completely, but I can trust completely.  It is the secret of living in the peace of God; it is the rest of which Hebrews 4:3 speaks, “For we who have believed enter that rest …”.  All we need waits for us there.