The God who Pursues Us – Psalm 23

Sometimes reading a different translation of a familiar passage or psalm opens up vistas of new understanding. I’ve been using Alec Motyer’s Psalms by the Day: A New Devotional Translation. I’ve been struck with his translation of Psalm 23. The English translations of this beloved Psalm don’t seem to vary much, but Motyer’s grasp of the Hebrew text has more than once inspired me. Below is his translation of verses 4 through 6:

4. Even when I am walking in the valley of deadly shadows

I do not fear evil,

because you are ever with me:

your rod and your staff reassure me.

(The Host)

5. You lay a table before me, in front of my adversaries.

You have refreshed my head with oil; my cup is more than full!

6. But indeed good and committed love

will pursue me

all the days of my life,

and I will return to Yahweh’s house for ever.[i]

Motyer, in his insightful endnotes, makes this observation about verse four, “However black the next stretch of the journey through the valley may seem, verse 4 changes from the ‘he’ of shepherd-leadership (v. 3) to the ‘you’ of side-by-side companionship: My shepherd is beside me.”[ii]

What a picture of Jesus’ care for us during our days of trial and suffering. He is not disinterested with third person viewpoint, but up close and personal, right next to us in our circumstances. King David experienced this and so can we, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Motyer envisions Psalm 23 written about David’s flight from Jerusalem and Absalom’s pursuit (2 Sam. 17). This makes verse 6 even more poignant. “But indeed good and committed love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will return to Yahweh’s house for ever.” (emphasis mine). Though Absalom pursues David, Yahweh’s pursuit is even greater. “Whenever danger pursues there is always a greater pursuit afoot – Yahweh’s goodness and committed love.”[iii]

“Pursue” is a stronger and more accurate word than the traditional “follow.” Follow is more passive. God’s chesed (Hebrew – lovingkindness, steadfast love, covenantal love) pursues me, never lets me go (radaph – pursue, chase, persecute).

This is the true story of the gospel. God the Father doesn’t passively follow us, hoping we will somehow turn around and acknowledge Him. No, He leaves the 99 and pursues us “all the days of my life.”

[i] Alec Motyer, Psalms by the Day: A New Devotional Translation, (Ross-shire, Scotland, Christian Focus Pub. 2016), 60

[ii] Ibid., 61

[iii] Ibid., 60

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The Vine Project in a Verse

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:2-6

The Vine Project is a book written to help churches in “Shaping your ministry culture around disciple-making.” The authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne see this book as a sequel or follow-up to their book The Trellis and the Vine, in which they help pastors focus on disciple-making by building people rather than programs, training people instead of running events, and growing people instead of using them.

The Vine Project is designed to help people take one step to the right (not politically J) along a continuum from not knowing Jesus to being fully equipped for ministry. This process is brought to us by the letter ‘E,’ Engage, Evangelize, Establish, and Equip. Our team added one more ‘E,’ Expand. How can we help move the people we meet in town, our coworkers, our friends, and neighbors one step closer to Jesus?

The apostle Paul’s close to his letter to the church in Colossae contains elements that highlight some of the 5E’s. Before the 5E’s, prayer is the place we need to start. “Continue steadfastly in prayer…pray that God may open to us a door for the word.” Disciple-making must begin with prayer. Pray for the hearts of the people God wants to use you to reach. Lay the foundation of dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit. Then live out verses 5-6.

Engage – “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” Every relationship we pour into can be a conduit for the Gospel. The “outsiders” are those who do not yet know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Listen to them well, be wise and sensitive to their needs and conversation. Redeem the time you have with them, we do not know what tomorrow brings. Every interaction may be their last in this world and we want to be sensitive and open to what God is doing.

C. S. Lewis brings out the seriousness of engaging those not-yet-in Christ. “You have never talked to a mere mortal… it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit…your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses… It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”[i] This is the heart of engagement, helping people take one step toward Jesus.

Evangelize – “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” The Gospel needs to be demonstrated, yes, but it must be eventually spoken. Notice the apostle Paul writes our speech should be always gracious. This is often missed by the proverbial fire and brimstone street preachers I’ve witnessed. Yes, the Gospel is preached, but sometimes not with grace.

Our conversations with people are not cookie-cutter ones. We need nimbleness when sharing the Gospel with others. Sometimes we need a hammer, but other times we need to make sure we are not crushing a bruised reed. This takes prayer, thought, and preparation. That is where the next E comes in.

Establish – “[K]now how you ought to answer each person.” This comes from a consistent study of God’s word and specific prayer for specific people. We need many tools in our Gospel toolbox. We are not to be one-verse wonders. We meet people where they are at and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the right words at the right time. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Proverbs 25:11 As we sit under good preaching, gather with others around God’s word in the Bible, and soak in it every day in our personal times of worship, God is placing tools at our disposal.

The apostle Paul knew how to make disciples and in his conclusion to the Colossians he reminds them of the importance of engagement, evangelism, and being discipled. Great lessons for all of us today.

[i] C. S. Lewis, Weight of Glory

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Jesus Walks on Water – Fear vs. Faith

When the Father God wants to get my attention, He brings certain passages to light multiple times. The account of Jesus walking on the water is one such passage. I had started this blog after hearing a sermon on John 6 from Mark Driscoll. This week, the parallel passage in Mark was the subject of our Kid/Parent Inductive Bible Study. This made me recall Paul David Tripp’s excellent message on this passage at the 2014 Desiring God Conference.

So in view of my recent prostate cancer diagnosis, God is using this story of Jesus to dig into my faith and ask where my trust is these days.

You know the story: Jesus feeds the 5,000 then sends his disciples to row the boat to Bethsaida. He then dismisses the crowd and goes up to the mountain to pray. After 8 hours, the disciples are still in the middle of the lake because the wind was contrary. Jesus walks on the water (wait, did you just say walks on the water?) and passes next to the boat.  In John’s account, Peter asks to come to Jesus on the water and does so until he sees the wind and the waves, then he sinks.

This story highlights the fear and the struggle with faith of the disciples. They are terrified of seeing Jesus walking on the water. They could not understand who Jesus was, even after all they had seen up to that point. The disciples were in a difficult spot – would they respond in faith or fear.

Tripp makes this observation: “God will take you where you haven’t intended to go in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own.” So Jesus was helping the disciples see what was missing in their faith. Fear can unsettle us so we don’t respond in faith.

Mark Driscoll says it this way: “Fear is the vision of a future that is not including God’s provision.  Fear is vision without God’s provision.  There’s the future and God’s not in it. Fear turns us into false prophets.  We predict the future that God has not promised.  Then we live in fear of that false prophecy that we have prophesied through our life.”

We need to remember that perfect love casts out fear (1John 4:18). It is Jesus’ love for us that drives out fear and makes a way for faith.

Amen…amen. Father God, let your love cast out my fear.  Let me shift my vision of fear to your provision – You are great and loving. As I look, I see your present provision.  Why do I doubt your future provision?  Let me take my anxious thoughts and fears and put them at the foot of the cross.  There is my provision, my inheritance that will never fade or be defiled, kept in heaven for me.

So Paul… don’t jump out of the boat in the storm unless Jesus is there.  Better to ride out the storm that Jesus has ordained than jump out into the sea of your own making and drown.

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Leadership Lessons from Saul and David – Part II

Last time we looked at traits of a poor leader. It is amazing to me (inconceivable) how David honored Saul, even with all these characteristics and actions of a poor leader. David’s list, ironically, is much shorter. Maybe this means to be a fruitful leader needs to concentrate on the things which have a bigger impact. Some of these overlap, but the list is given to see David from various perspectives.

David’s leadership traits and perspectives.

  1. A man after God’s own heart; 1 Sam 16:7
  2. David had a vertical viewpoint; 17:37
  3. Used earthly weapons knowing the spiritual reality; 17:45-46
  4. Understood ultimate purpose that people may know there is a God in Israel; 17:46
  5. Went above and beyond the call; 18:25-27
  6. Had a faithful friend; 20:1-12
  7. Inquired of the lord; 23:2, 30:6
  8. Aware of who God’s anointed was and honored him; 24:6
  9. Let God be the avenger (when people play games); 24:12, 19
  10. Protected God’s anointed; 26:9, 11, 23
  11. Let the Lord deal with Saul’s sin; 26:10
  12. David knows the Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness; 26:23

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Leadership Lessons from Saul and David – Part I

The relationship between Saul and David has always interested me. Saul was the first King of Israel and chosen by God. From the start, there were red flags in his character and leadership style. In the next two blogs I want to explore the bad and good of leadership. What can we learn about this important subject from a few chapters in the book of First Samuel.

I have identified at least twenty-nine (29) poor leadership characteristics for Saul. These characteristics apply to the church and business. It is amazing and a credit to David that he honored Saul even after Saul tried to skewer him to the wall.  For now, I present these traits without comment.

Traits of a Poor Leader

  1. Taking credit for some else’s work; 1 Sam 13:1-4
  2. Lack of forethought of consequence; 13:5-6
  3. Lack of inspiration; 13:6-7
  4. Lack of trust and obedience in God; 13:8-11, 14c
  5. Making excuses; 13:11
  6. Blaming others; 13:11; 15:21
  7. False humility; 13:12
  8. Rationalization: 13:12
  9. No heart for God; 13:14
  10. Can’t retain good people; 13:16
  11. Lack of equipping followers; 13:22
  12. Loses track of key leaders; 14:17
  13. Rash pronouncements; 14:24
  14. Does not consider consequences of decisions; 14:31-32
  15. Does not seek God first; 14:36-37
  16. Surrounds himself with “yes” men; 14:36
  17. Abandons the fight; 14:46
  18. Partial obedience; 15:9
  19. Focus on self; 15:9
  20. Self-glory; 15:12
  21. Lying; 15:21 (cf. 15:9)
  22. Rebellious nature; 15:23
  23. Presumptuous: 15:23
  24. Rejects the Word of the Lord; 15:23
  25. Taking sin lightly; 15:24-25
  26. Swayed by public opinion: 18:8
  27. Anger; 18:8
  28. Running up Ladder of Inference; 18: 8
  29. Distrustful of subordinates; 18:9

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The Brink of the Furnace

I was moved some time ago by reading Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Christ’s Agony, in which he looks at Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Father showed Jesus the cup he was being asked to drink – full disclosure; in Edwards’ words, took Jesus to the brink of the furnace and showed him the full horror of the wrath of God. Jesus then had a chance to walk away and let wicked sinners, who deserve no mercy, perish for their sins.

“Here is the cup that you are to drink, unless you will give up your undertaking for sinner, and even leave them to perish as they deserve”

Edwards imagines Jesus asking himself, “Why should I go to plunge myself into such dreadful, amazing torments for worthless wretched worms that cannot be profitable to God, or me, and that deserve to be hated by me, and not to be loved?

Why should I, who have been living from all eternity in the enjoyment of the Father’s love, go to cast myself into such a furnace for them that never can requite me for it? Why should I yield myself to be thus crushed by the weight of divine wrath, for them who have no love to me, and are my enemies?”

There are no reasons except for Jesus’ love for us wicked sinners and his desire to do his Father’s will. What love! That Jesus would see the full cup of God’s wrath and drink it for me.

How petty I am to not love all as I see how Jesus loved all.

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A Sacrifice that Costs

The account of King David’s foolish directive to number Israel (1 Chronicles 21) leads to a relatively minor event that has changed the face of Jerusalem.  In it we also learn a lesson about sacrifice.

King David, in his pride (after the affair with Bathsheba) wants to know how big his kingdom is. (When we count people, money, things, it is often to boast in them.)  The Lord judges David, giving him three awful choices; David chooses pestilence from the Lord’s hand.  In the midst of the pestilence on the land, the angel of the Lord commands David (through the seer Gad) to raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.  As the king approaches Ornan with his proposal, Ornan offers to give the threshing floor to David.  But King David says to Ornan, “No, but I will buy them (land, oxen, threshing sledges) for full price.  I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings, that cost me nothing.”

So David builds the altar and presents burnt offerings and peace offerings and calls on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven.  Then the Lord commanded the angel and the angel puts his sword back in its sheath (1 Chronicles 21:23-27).

We learn an important lesson about sacrifice and giving.  As we come before the Lord what we offer to Him should cost us something.  If it has no value (time, money, abstinence, or delayed satisfaction) then we are not offering it to the Lord with right attitude. It is so easy to give from our abundance, but not so much from sacrifice.

The Lord God shows this principle in the offering of His only son for us on the cross.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.” (Romans 8:31-32). What a sacrifice from our Father God for us.

Lesson for me: I will not offer that which costs me nothing.

By the way, Ornan got full price for his land – 600 shekels of gold (valued at $310,320 in today’s prices).  A princely sum for a threshing floor. A steal in today’s dollars for the most expensive 35 acres of land: The Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

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