Sunday, February 15, 2009


TV has a mesmerizing effect on its viewers. Whether we like it or not much of what we see on the TV, is what we want in real life. During these cold and drudgery days, tired of shoveling the snow that frequents more than one would want, we long for far away destinations such as the Caribbean or Florida beaches. The ads will add more fuel to our imaginations: “Picture-perfect beaches, swaying palm trees, crystal clear waters and a relaxed tropical ambiance are all just part of the appeal. The Caribbean is affordable, accessible, and boasts warm weather year round. The region enjoys great diversity among its numerous island destinations, regardless of which island destination you choose, you can be sure to find paradise awaiting you!

When we hear, read, and see these cool ads we wish we have the money to take a flight and get much needed rest and relaxation. But think for a while! How far is it really true? Can they truly deliver all that they promise to deliver? In this hectic and hard driven society it is hard for people to slow down, stop, take a breather and rest for a while. A 17-year-old girl sent an e-mail to, “I am a 17 year old girl, a senior in high school. I am tired all the time, and I can't live like this anymore. It's been like this for over a year.” What is causing people to become so restless that they can't sleep at nights? Who can give me rest? Or where can I find rest? Who can truly give me Soul Rest. He makes me lie down in green pastures, Psalm 23:2

The imagery here is a well satisfied sheep lying down in the comfort of green fields in the presence of the good shepherd. This is absolutely a position of contentment and rest. Last week we learned that sheep and people have many similarities. Philip Keller notes in his book “A Shepherd looks at PSALM 23” four things needed to be in place for a sheep to lie down and rest.
The sheep are to be free from fear.
They are to be free from friction.
They are to be free from flies or parasites(irritations)
They must be free from hunger.

The well being of sheep largely depends on the care of a good shepherd. Therefore any good shepherd would make sure that all those conditions are met so that his sheep can lie down in peace and be at rest. Let’s look at how God the good shepherd meets these four requirements so that we the sheep of his flock can enjoy rest.
I. Dealing with fear.
Sheep are absolutely at rest without any fear when they know that their master is near them. Nothing cripples us more than fear. It is a strong emotion which causes us either to flee or fight. Fear of all kinds, such as the fear of heights, water, highway driving, failure, inadequacy, the uncertain and the un-known future causes restlessness. I remember in my early 20's I was part of a missions training base, several times the base leader would travel for weeks on end and leave me in charge of this international community. I was young and inexperienced and I was walking on my toes. When I would hear the leader had landed back in the city I would heave a sigh of relief and felt I could relax again.

The shepherd of our souls removes all our fears by his assuring words and by his indwelling presence. There are over three hundred scriptures in the Bible in which God tells his people not to fear.
When you need protection the Lord says, "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward." (Gen 15:1)
When we face enemies in life the Lord says, “Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you." (Deut 3:22)
When we are down, feel weak and anxious about our future the Lord says “do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

God’s assuring words:
“But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! 2 "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.” Isaiah 43:1-2

II. Dealing with friction:
Philip Keller observed, “In every animal society there is an established order of dominance or status within the group. In a penful of chickens it is known as the pecking order, among the cattle it is referred to “horning order” among the sheep it is called the “butting order”
Butting means: To thrust or push headfirst: strike with the head or horns. To strike, or shove with the head or horns. We have an expression “butt heads”: to come into conflict.

Generally an arrogant, cunning, domineering old ewe will be boss of any bunch of sheep. She maintains her position of prestige by butting and driving other ewes or lambs away from the best grazing or favorite bed grounds. Taking this as precedence other sheep also want to establish their position of dominance by pushing others causing friction and restlessness in the flock. There is a scriptural parallel to this phenomenon of butting.

In Ezekiel 34th chapter we read God’s judgment upon the shepherd’s who were not taking care of their sheep and also on the sheep who were butting others or pushing others out of their way. This is what he says about the sheep “I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pastures with your feet… I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away.” (Ezekiel 34:17-21)

Whether we like it or not this butting order can be seen everywhere, in politics, schools, offices, businesses, organizations and unfortunately even in Churches.(I hope this doesn’t happen in our church). We push each other in order to get ahead in life. We pull others down so that we can have prominence and control. We compete and aspire to be on top, in the process we don’t care when others are getting hurt. By hook or by crook we want maintain our dominance.

The good shepherd, Jesus foreseeing this butting phenomenon among his disciples said, “many who are first will be last and the last will be first”(Matt 19:30). Right after the first communion when Jesus announced to his disciples that he was going to be betrayed and his time of departure was at hand there was a discussion among the disciples regarding who would be number one. And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors.' 26 "But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. (Luke 22:24-26).
Paul exhorted the believers in the church of Philippi saying, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
The arrogant sheep which always wants to dominate is the most restless sheep in the flock. She is not at rest and she doesn’t let others rest. In the same way people who are seeking positions of prominence or to be in control are restless and they also disturb the peace of others. How could we overcome this restless syndrome? How can we be more peaceful and contented people? As we seek to have the same attitude of Christ and humble ourselves under the almighty God. How do I know I have the attitude of Christ? That’s when I consider others better than myself; when I easily prefer my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

If our life song is like Frank Sinatra "I had it my way", we may have to learn life lessons hard way to let the Lord have His way. “It’s not my way but its God’s way.”

III. Dealing with Irritations: (Phillip Keller) Sheep especially in the summer can be driven to absolute distraction by nasal flies, bot flies, warble flies and ticks. When tormented by these pests it is literally impossible for them to lie down and rest. Instead they are up and on their feet, stamping their legs, shaking their head, ready to rush off into the bust for relief from the pests. A good shepherd will apply various types of insect repellents to his sheep to see that they are free from flies and ticks.

Just like the sheep for us Christians there will be small irritants in life, such as children, or you constantly getting sick, a next door neighbor leaves his trash in front of your doorsteps, people parking in your parking place, people not keeping their promises, others finding fault with you for no reason, people taking you for granted, and others push you aside in order to get ahead in life, some one is picking on you for no reason. In modern terminology we say “I am being bugged” Or he or she is bugging me” Are you loosing sleep over these irritants? Is there a cure for the child of God who is facing such irritants? Of course there is a sure remedy for these irritants in life.

When we come to God and pour out these frustrations and say to Him that you can not cope with them one more day, then he will take over and fills us with the Holy Spirit who is often symbolized by Oil with that he brings healing, comfort and relief from those irritants of life.

IV. Dealing with hunger: Finally to produce the conditions necessary for a sheep to lie down and sleep there must be freedom from the fear of hunger. As the verse suggests “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” The good shepherd leads his sheep to green fields where his sheep can graze to their hearts content. After eating the sheep won’t lie down automatically as by nature they are quite scary animals, they easily become restless and agitated so the shepherd goes to each sheep and he makes them lie down.

Similarly the shepherd of our souls needs to step in from time to time and make His tired children be at rest. Some times this rest could come on a hospital bed. In a highly competitive world people find it hard to slow down. Many work two jobs to realize their dreams in the process hurting spouses, children and in the end they end up hurting themselves. That is why even under the new covenant we recognize that a Sabbath day in a week is a good idea. God said you work for six days and on the seventh day you take time off. We are never meant to work like a machine 24/7.

Are you sleep deprived? Are you in need of rest? Come to the Good shepherd, Jesus who says, “Come away with me and rest for a while.” In Him we truly find soul rest.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


We all know that it takes time to build trust. It is fragile; once it is broken it is hard to gain back. We give a lot of value to something that is proven and tested over the years. Advertisement businesses capitalize on the years of experience of a certain company or a product and promote it heavily. Hudson Taylor who went to China as a missionary in mid 19th century experienced that God is trust worthy, out of that experience he said, “Our heavenly Father is a very experienced One. He knows very well that His children wake up with a good appetite every morning... He sustained 3 million Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years. We do not expect He will send 3 million missionaries to China; but if He did, He would have ample means to sustain them all... Depend on it, God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply.”

My wife and I have spend our 20' and 30's serving in a faith based mission organization, in which no one from the head of the organization to the newest recruit received a salary. The motto was: Trust God for your finances. We have seen many amazing provisions of God in the area of finances. But I wouldn't be realistic if I didn't say that we also have had to learn hard lessons such as lessons of patience, denying ourselves and the dictates of culture, delayed gratification, contentment etc.

God is our shepherd, So what's next? “The Lord is my shepherd, next is; I shall not want.” Really? Is that for real? Let's see! There obviously is no problem with God, our God is almighty and all-powerful, and He is our shepherd. The second part of that profound but simple verse of the 23rd Psalm says I shall not want. Think with me…could it be that there really are two parts to this truth? God cares and provides but how about us? In spite of all God's care and provision do we still continue to want more? When are we satisfied, when is enough, enough?

Max Lucado in his book "Cure for the Common life" writes, " I' am rich enough – a phrase on the verge of extinction. We love to super size our French fries, television screens, and closets." He quotes the words of Linda Kulman "We are a nation that believes in having it all. In 1950, American families owned a car and saved for a second. In 2000, nearly 1 in 5 families owned three cars or more… Americans shell out more for garbage bags than 90 of the world's 210 countries spend for everything. Indeed, America has double the number of shopping malls as it does high schools."

A recent article in New York times "In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich" revealed the irony of so called millionaires, people who are supposed to be rich and at ease yet they don't feel rich at all because they are not Billionaires. This is just one example and there are many more who have not learned the art of saying "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want."

With the economic recession right now in the country many people are coming to grips with learning to do with less, trimming budgets, cutting costs. It's everywhere, in the papers on the Internet; TV people are learning to cope with less. People are forced to redefine what they really need and what they can go without. Of course some people are resenting it but interestingly many people are finding joy and satisfaction, as they stay closer to home. Instead of an exotic vacation they go sledding, instead of frequenting upscale restaurants they enjoy cooking at home and lingering around the table. My wife often says to our kids: "Happiness is not found in the mall."

Author, Peter Scazzero say: "I detach myself from the illusion that there is anything richer and more beautiful than the gift of loving and being loved."

What did it mean when David said "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want? Philip Keller who had spent many years in agricultural research wrote a book titled" A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23." He expounded on the word "Want" The word has a broader meaning. No doubt the main concept is that of not lacking-not deficient- in proper care. But it also emphasizes the idea of being utterly contented in the Good Shepherd's care and consequently not craving or desiring anything more.

When David wrote Psalm 23 his situation was nothing but peaceful. His enemy Saul, and his own son Absalom repeatedly hounded him, he was running for his life, certainly he wasn't rich as one could imagine, in fact he was living in wilderness and caves. So when he said I shall not want, he was not implying that the child of God will always have all he wants, but he will also have troubles and heartaches but in the midst of that he has learned to be content in the presence of the Good Shepherd.

The Apostle Paul in this letter to the Philippians' shares what he learned in this regard? Philippians 4:11-13 Paul had known plenty and then he also knew need. He says he learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want Paul says I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

When David said, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want" It was not about what he had but it was about who he had that was the Lord himself, therefore he could confidently say the Lord is my shepherd I shall not be in want. Full Stop. In other words David is saying this is the God I belong to this is what He does for me. All my needs are met in Him.

Pandita Ramabai who started a rescue mission to rescue child prostitutes in India in mid 19th century said “A life totally committed to God has nothing to fear, nothing to lose, nothing to regret.” During these economic hard times many live in constant fear and trepidation. You hear the news of your fellow employees being laid off and you are worried because you never know when you will be laid off. Under these circumstances whom could we really trust? Will trusting God really work for every one or only for a selected few? Besides trusting God what else do I have to do to see God providing for my needs? In order to find answers we must turn to God’s unfailing, unadulterated, proven words recorded in the Bible and to some life experiences of God’s children who have walked before us expressing unshakable faith during their time of need and crisis.

Scriptures that are pointing to God’s mighty power:
“For the Lord your God is the God of gods, and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty and the awesome God who does not show partiality.” Deut 10:17
Joshua repeatedly acknowledged God as “the mighty one, God, the Lord, the Mighty One God, the Lord” (Joshua 22:22)
-King Nebuchadnezzar marveled at the Greatness of God when he saw Shadrach , Meshach and Abed-nego were not burned in the fiery furnace and said “It has seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders which the Most High God has done for me. How great are His signs and how might are His wonder! His Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is from generation to generation.” (Daniel 4:1-3)
-David wrote this Psalm when the Lord had delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God and my rock in whom, I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge.” II Samuel 22:2-3
-To Job’s complaints God responded with a set of over 50 questions. After this confrontation Job had nothing else to say except “I know that you can do all things." (Job 42:1)
-Towards the end of his life David said “I once was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken and their children begging for bread.” (Psalm 37:25)
“To whom then will you liken Me, that I should be his equal says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, The one who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power Not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:25-26)

The beauty of our God is that though He is all-powerful and all mighty yet he can be gentle enough to be our Great Shepherd. Isaiah describes God’s gentle shepherd’s heart, “Behold, the Lord, God will come with might, With His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His rewards is with him And His recompense before Him. 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). This Shepherd King fascinated David, so he called him his shepherd and he calls all of us to worship Him. “Come before Him with Joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God. It is He who has made us and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Psalm (100:1-3)

David, by saying "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want" actually paved the way for Jesus who later on said I am the good shepherd. The Good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. And again I have come so that you might have life and life in abundance." Jesus also said my peace I leave with you not according the world gives. So when we come to Jesus the good shepherd we are satisfied. All our longings, are fulfilled, our needs are met. As we delight in his presence He will give the desires of our hearts. Therefore we too can truly say just like David the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Meditation on Psalm 23

Psalm 23: 1-2 “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.”

Psalms in the Bible record God’s answers to man’s questions and complaints. Psalms are poetry therefore they awaken the undeveloped spiritual poet in every man. As a result Psalms captures each of us differently because we imagine things differently, however the central truths in Psalms remain the same throughout generations.

Unlike Psalm 22, which is filled with complaints, Psalm 23 is refreshingly different. There are no complaints, but only the compliments of God’s loving care and confident expectation of a believer. In the course of the centuries Psalm 23 has won for itself a supreme place in the religious literature of the world. All who read it, whatever their age, race, or circumstances, find spiritual confidence that both satisfy and captivate their souls. It belongs to that class of psalms that breathe confidence and trust in the Lord. Psalm 23 has been listed as one of the top 25 famous Psalms.

Certainly Psalm 23 has been one of my favorite Psalms to which I have turned again and again. Especially when I was afraid, needed security, ran out of finances, needed provision, faced challenges of life, needed to hold on to something, lost perspective of life not knowing where I was going, I turned to Psalm 23. Every time I read Psalm 23 it never failed to give me comfort and reassurance of my faith in God.

I see the over arching theme in Psalm 23 passage is “Journey.” This is about the Journey of life. When you are on a journey you are not going to stop until you reach your destiny. Similarly for a believer life in many ways is like a Journey. A Journey that is supposed to be led by the great shepherd of all. But the irony is that many of us including sincere believers do not come under the Lordship of Jesus, we would rather run our own lives.

The LORD is my shepherd:(Vs 1)

In the Bible often people were compared to sheep and God to a shepherd. The metaphor of a shepherd was widely used for Kings and leaders both in Israel and elsewhere in the ancient Near East. I wonder why people are compared to sheep why not some other animal? Sheep are best known for their strong flocking (herding) and following instinct. They will run from what frightens them and band together in large groups for protection. There is safety in numbers.

Even from birth, lambs are taught to follow the older members of the flock. The dominant members of the flock usually lead followed by the submissive ones. If there is a ram in the flock, he usually leads. Sheep are a very social animal. In a grazing situation, they need to see other sheep. According to animal behaviorists, a group of five sheep is usually necessary for sheep to display their normal flocking behavior. A sheep will become highly agitated if it is separated from the rest of the flock. (Animal Behavior researcher Susan Schoenian) Sheep have an incredible sense of smell, sight, hearing, touch, and taste. There are many similarities between man and sheep.

God’s Shepherds heart in the Bible:
Abraham acknowledged God as His shepherd (Gen 48:15)
The Prophet Jeremiah acknowledged his role as a shepherd over Israel (Jer 17:16)
Jeremiah declares that God will watch over Israel as a shepherd will watch over his flock (Jer 31:10)
Jeremiah promises God’s shepherd’s care over Israel (Jer 50:19)
David addressed God as the Shepherd of Israel. (Psalm 80:1)
David wanted God to be Israel’s strength, salvation, and their shepherd to carry them forever. Psalm 28:8-9
David hoped that God’s people the sheep of his pasture will praise Him forever and ever. (Psalm 79:13)

David began his journey as a shepherd boy that eventually led him to become the King over Israel. His experience had taught him some valuable lessons about shepherding. David understands better than any one else the role of a shepherd. As a King he too needed to provide, protect, teach, save, and lead the people that God had entrusted to him. But who would be that Shepherd in his life? He couldn’t trust any one so he entrusted himself to the shepherd of all shepherds, God the chief Shepherd. God’s original intention was to be King over Israel and lead them, but the sad part was that they wanted an earthly King to rule them just like other nations. That led to the introduction of Saul.

When David says “The Lord is my Shepherd in one way he is saying Lord you are my personal King but he is also saying that God is the King of all of Israel and the whole world. You might be wondering who is this Shepherd King? No one else can fit this description other than our Lord Jesus Christ who said “I am the good shepherd.” In John 10 Jesus uses the same analogy of a sheep and a shepherd in order to explain that, he was the true shepherd and our part is to listen to his voice and follow him only. Sheep have an incredible ability to listen and recognize the voice of their shepherd.

In the east shepherds often travel together taking their flock in search of food. Various flocks may be sheltering in a common fold. When a particular shepherd comes to the gate and calls, a shivering movement can be seen among the sheep; in little groups of two or three they run toward the gate. No sheep of another flock will move.

Jesus said in John 10: “the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all of them out he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.

Jesus used this figure of speech to explain to his listeners that He is the good shepherd and he knows each of them by their name and He wants to go ahead of them and lead them. What would happen to people when there is no shepherd to lead them? They will be harassed and become helpless (Matt 9:36). Jesus sees your helplessness and mine; out of compassion He is calling us by our names. So what are we supposed to do? Taking the example of sheep we are to learn to listen, and recognize the voice of Jesus and follow him only.

How do you relate to the imagery of the Shepherd and the sheep? Do you say, wait a minute we are living in modern times I don’t need a shepherd. I don’t need any one to lead me; I am capable of leading myself! The Bible says about us that before Christ we gentiles were without hope and without God in the world. We were all like sheep going astray. Have you yet returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls? (1 Peter 2:25) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. I will surrender my life to you, please take the lead. Let's Surrender all to our gentle shepherd King.