Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Paths of Righteousness Psalm 23:3

Greetings in the Lovely Name of Jesus

I write today with the absolute certainty that my dear mother is having the time of her life. She entered into the joy of her Lord early Thursday morning (Feb 25). Having honored her request, the Lord graciously called her home to the Father's house. For that we rejoice! The words of the Psalmist "This is the day that the Lord hath made,: we will rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24) were so appropriate for her passing.

A special thanks goes out to all for your prayers,visits, flowers, cards,e-mail, calls and food. The expression of concern has been heart warming and humbling to say the least.

Now, enough about us, let's dig into God's word as we continue our study of the 23rd Psalm.

I) The Path of Righteousness.

As has been discussed there are seven (7) actions of the Good Shepherd on behalf of His sheep found in the Psalm. Last month we dealt with "He restoreth my soul."

There are times when every child of God needs restoration to the Lord's flock. A shepherd restoring a "cast" sheep has one thing in mind. Once found the shepherd makes sure the animal is brought back among the herd and is pointed in the direction he is leading the flock.

The spiritual progression is quite clear here. We are restored in order to be led and guided in the path of righteousness.

I can save you the time and trouble searching the secular dictionaries for a meaning of righteousness. It should come as no surprise that the humanistic definition of the term is quite nebulous. We could say the word has no secular connotations because righteousness is foreign to the mind of fallen men. We must go to the textbook for a proper definition.

Genesis 7:1 is the first mention in scripture of the word righteous. Noah was a righteous man. In Genesis 15:1 we read of Abram who "believed in the Lord; and He (the Lord God) counted it to him for righteousness."

The Hebrew root is tsaw-dak' which means to be made right. Scripture views the word from the standpoint of being right judicially, morally and ethically; depending upon the context. The word is often stated causatively in the original Hebrew. This rule of grammar recognizes that neither man became righteous through their own efforts. They were declared righteous by the Lord God himself. Such with you and I.

There are only two kinds of righteousness. First, there is the righteousness of human achievement. This is the state where a man deems himself in right standing before God based upon his own merit and achievement. The Scribes and Pharisees of the Lord's day are the quintessence of those who believed their human efforts surely satisfied the Lord's standard.

Human achievement has a synonym: It's called RELIGION.

The only other state of righteousness is what we call divine accomplishment. This is what David has in mind here. This is the path that he was being led down. The path of righteousness provided by the God of Glory. We believe, as did David, that unworthy sinners are declared innocent before God based upon the merits of the shed blood of an acceptable sacrifice. We know that sacrifice is the Lord Jesus Christ. He divinely accomplished our righteousness with His death at Calvary. This righteousness is freely given to those who by faith trust Him for their salvation. We are declared judicially innocent by the Judge of Heaven.

So David paints a picture of the shepherd leading his sheep down the path. That path for the Christian is the path of righteousness. But there is much more to this verse. Let's dig a little deeper.

II) The Purpose of Righteousness.

Volumes have been written regarding the purpose of true righteousness. Let's take the words of David and unpack, apply and illustrate them in our hearts. So what is David really getting at? Let me summarize : If you are being led down this path, you will be living up to His name. After all, what is written focuses upon His name and His sake.

The word "sake" in the Hebrew (ma'an) connotes purpose. We could read it; we are being led in the path of righteousness on account of and for the purpose of His name. Obviously, the emphasis is upon His Name.

I conclude that the God of Heaven is very concerned about His name. He is equally concerned that those who name the name of Jesus live up to His name. Would you not agree?

Let's consider three (3) areas of truth that speak to His name. They yield the true purpose of righteousness in our lives. Applied in our lives we can be certain that we are living up to His name's sake.

1. The Character of His Name.

For the daily walk of the Christian, no subject is more vital than our character. I saw a church sign in Chattanooga years ago that read: Have character, don't be one. Your character is the real you when no one is looking but God.

Daily, the formation of character in your soul will manifest itself as we shall see in a moment. It takes the silent and secret work of the Holy Spirit in a yielded heart to produce Christ like character. Let me suggest two simply ways you forge character:

A) Imitate the Lord.

Paul encouraged the churches to be followers of himself and of the Lord. Eight times he uses the word where we get our English word mimic. A mimic imitates another. He wrote "Be ye followers (mimics) of me, even as I also am of Christ." I Cor 11:1

Charles Barclay, former Auburn and NBA star; the round man of rebound, once told the American public that he was not a role model and did not want to be. That's OK Charles; we found a better model anyway. His name is Jesus. Jesus is our supreme example. To imitate Him will form inner Godly character.

B) Mediate on the Word.

What we know of the character of God, we learn from His word. Psalm 86:15 is a favorite of mine where David wrote "But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth."

We also learn from the Word of God of His kindness (Psalm 117:1); His joy when sinners repent (Luke 15) and His love (I John 4:8). All of these speak to His character.

So it is quite logical, in fact vital, that we spend time in His Word.

This Word will change your character. Period! That statement needs practicing more than it needs preaching. Meditate on the Word.

Regardless of the sport, coaches unanimously agree on one key principle. You play as you practice. When the week of practice and preparation has been good, the football team will almost without except, perform well.

If you meditate in the Word of God it will permeate your character. It will change you from the inside out!

2. The Honor of His Name.

David lived in a honor/shame culture. This typical Middle Eastern mind set exists even today. In David's day, a person of real character would do nothing to bring shame and disgrace upon his family name. The objective was to honor the name; not to disparage it.

Hank Jr captured this thought in a song he wrote back in the 80's. A line he penned went like this "I am very proud of my daddy's name, although his kind of music and mine ain't exactly the same." He went on to write "I'm just carrying on an old family tradition."

If the true character of Christ is being formed within you, you will be proud of your Father's name. You will reverence His name and bring no shame on the blessed name of Jesus.

We have seen the inconspicuous, the famous and the prominent within the body of Christ fail miserably to live up to His name . These provide object lessons in character traits, issues and faults that dishonor the name of Jesus. Their failures are isolated; they are not meant to be replicated!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Honor His Name!!!!!!! Stand up for His name when it is being profaned!

3. The Glory of His Name.

Christian character and honor will bring glory to His name. This is the ultimate purpose of being on the path of righteousness. It is the Lord's intent for you from the get go! He leads us for His name's sake. And we always come back to this subject of bringing glory to His name.

You can't put God's glory in a box, nor can you nail down a definition of His glory, but we recognize it when we see it. Is there anything more beautiful or beneficial to mankind than a Christian of character and honor living up to His Lord's name? You can say without hesitation; that person is on the path of righteousness. That person brings GLORY TO THE NAME OF JESUS!!!!!

III) Conclusion:

Jesus' own words of Matthew 5: 16 is the bookend to Psalm 23:3

Our Lord spoke these words "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

Your light shining............that's the character of Christ lighting your soul

Your good works.............that's character producing honor for Christ in your life

In order to do what????????? Glorify your Father.

These two verses are indeed bookends. "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake (His character; His honor; His glory.)

As we close this month, the words of Joseph Gilmore come to mind:

"He leadeth me, He leadeth me
by His own Hand He leadeth me."

Amen, and see you next month, Lord willing

Saturday, January 23, 2010

He Restoreth My Soul Psalm 23:3

Greetings in the Lovely Name of Jesus:

I appreciate all of you who pray for and study with us. I have found writing to be very challenging. This form of communication is more difficult for me than preaching and teaching.

It has always been my desire to provide insight and inspiration to those who read along with us. As we return to the 23rd Psalm our prayer is you will be edified in the few minutes it takes to read this month's post.

I) Introduction:

"He restoreth my soul." (Psalm 23:3).

Before we get into the exposition of this verse, let me remind you that this statement is made by one who knows the Lord as His Shepherd. This statement is for believers. That means that restoration of the sheep presupposes that you belong to the Shepherd. If you do not know the Lord Jesus you don't need restoration, you need what theologians call "regeneration". Simply put you need to be born again; you need to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord. You need the
Good Shepherd to become your shepherd. I just feel impressed to add this to our discussion.

Now on to the text itself.

This statement is the third of seven actions of the Good Shepherd that benefit his sheep. David writes "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul."

From the tranquility of green pastures and sufficiency of still waters, David focuses upon another vital action of shepherding: "Restoring His Sheep". Lets explore what David is really saying.

II) The Definition of the Soul.

Let me give you a simple definition of the soul. The soul of man is the immaterial and eternal essence each possess. Our soul is uniquely conveyed by personality. If Jane and Jan are identical twins in appearance, they present discernable and distinguishable differences through their personalities----their soul. They are identical and yet individual because of their soul!

The Soul then is that invisible part of you that is made up of the mind, the will and the emotions. We discussed this to some extent in the earlier blog of verse 1 "I shall not want." Your soul is a triad: the rational (mind); the volitional (will) and emotional. Genesis 2:7 says of man alone "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

The Lord's breath of life made Adam and all who follow a living soul. It is that given by God that makes us who we really are.

III) The Condition of the Soul.

"He restoreth my soul."

David writes as a shepherd so we must look at this through the shepherd's experience. If you tend sheep, restoration is a constant activity of the shepherd. You might say, it is a constant task.

Sheep by their nature, wander away from the flock. Even more so, sheep are prone to be cast down. Unlike other animals, when they repose it is quite easy for their weight balance to shift and a sheep will find itself on its back. It cannot roll over and restablish itself. While a dog or cat rolls onto its back and quickly regains mobility, a sheep cannot. They will remain on their back and they are in essence stuck. Shepherds would call this a "cast sheep."

A lamb in this predicament must have help to regain mobility. It will lie there with all four legs pointing towards the heaven, totally helpless. If prolonged, shepherds tell us that the digestive system in this animal will in essence back up, causing immense problems. A cast sheep is in danger; if left alone it will ultimately die.

Thus, a good shepherd every morning would survey his flock and get them on their feet. If an ewe was cast down, he would go to it and gently roll it over and then straddle the animal. He then puts his arms underneath and centers them between the legs and lifts up the fallen one. As the animal is made to stand, the shepherd would not release his position until the blood flow strengthens the legs and the sheep is able to walk again.

There are many spiritual implications. Just as a sheep may become cast, so do our souls. Psalm 42:5 states "Why art thou cast down, O my soul." It is the imagery described above of the sheep. Psalm 43:5 repeats this question verbatim "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?"

It is a spiritual predicament every honest Christian can identify with. How do we get cast down?

Let me suggest three ways:

#1. Sin. Unconfessed and unforgiven sin in the life of a Christian will cause you to lose your spiritual equilibrium. Sin produces guilt and fear that are residues long after the sin has been committed. Just as a sheep gets upside down so to speak, so do we. Sin just does that to us.

#2. Self. Only one person can occupy the throne of a believer's heart; Self or the Savior. There are no other choices. When self rules the throne we can invariably expect to be cast in much the same way the sheep do.

A sheep was intended to stand on its four legs and graze. When the ewe is cast down it is on its back looking toward heaven which is quite unnatural. When a Christian is cast down he/she gazes downward. That is quite unsupernatural if you will allow me to state it that way. God intended for His children to stand and look upward to the heavens. That is the normal position of a believer. To be preoccupied with self causes our gaze to be out of whack! In essence the focal point of our lives is blurred.

As strange it may seem, shepherds tell us that the sheep's wool can cause it to be cast down. When left unsheared, the wool becomes a hindrance to the sheep's balance. While wool is naturally grown by the sheep and quite beneficial to man, good shepherds will not let the coat of wool become an obstacle to the well being of the animal.

Wool so reminds me of the self life. The self life is always present in the believer. It was not eliminated at your conversion but it must be kept in its proper place. It must constantly be sheared, just like the wool,in order to produce vibrant and mature Christians. Left unattended, the self life will produce all manner of obstacles to our Christian walk.

#3. Sorrow. As noted above, the psalmist twice asks the question, "Why are thou cast down, O my soul?" One experience of lost and saved alike is sorrow. It originates within the soul. There is both natural and unnatural sorrow for the Christian.

Sorrow is an issue of the soul. The emotions of grief, for instance are normal. Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount that "Blessed are they who mourn" (He's referring to our sins). We should mourn over our sins; we should mourn over the wickedness of our land. We mourn over the death of loved ones. We should lament over lost souls.

There are other emotions that distress the soul to the point of sorrow that are unhealthy. Constant worry, anxiety (that often leads to depression) and regret are just a few of the emotions that will cause our souls to be cast down. These prey upon our joy and skew our ability to comprehend and communicate with the Holy Spirit within.

#4. Suffering. Often a Christian who experiences suffering will become discouraged. A discouraged Christian can easily become a "cast down" Christian. Peter in his first epistle, Chapter 3 takes up this discussion. Each of us would be edified by studying what the fisherman had to say about suffering. Suffering is a cause that sometimes cast us down, make no mistake about it.

To be "cast down" demands attention; in particular the attention of the Good Shepherd: the sheep must be restored.

IV) The Restoration of the Soul.

"He restoreth my soul."

What a tremendous promise, what a precious truth these words are. Note David says it is the Lord who does this. Just as the shepherd must personally do this in his flock, so does the Lord for His own sheep. He restoreth my soul. Amen

What does that say to us? Well, let us look at what we said previously about the reasons our souls become cast down.

#1. Sin. You know the provision for your sin. It is the provision of cleansing. I John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." That could not be more explicit.

Ford Motors used to have a commercial slogan that said "Quality is Job One." Heaven says confession is Job One. And that begins with honesty over our sins.

When we confess He will restore. Is that simple enough?????I believe it is. Confession is received because of the Cleansing Blood of the Lord Jesus.

So cleaning for our sins begins the Restoration process.

#2. Self.

The only remedy for the self life is Calvary: death to the self life . "I die daily" Paul wrote. Just as crucifixion was not intended to be an instanteous death, our old nature does not die by waving a magic wand. It is a constant and conscious act of dying to self.

#3. Sorrow.

We don't really know if sheep experience sorrow. Experts debate that subject in the various species of animals. However it seems right to believe that the cast sheep is sure glad to see the shepherd arrive and restore it to its proper place.

There is no debate about sorrow in the human soul. While many well meaning professionals treat soul sorrow with therapy and drugs there is a surer remedy for the "sheep of His pasture." Our good shepherd provides comfort to His own when we are cast down. Someone well said, "You don't know Jesus is all you need, until you reach the point that Jesus is all you have."

Scripture time and again points us to the fact that our Lord is the God of Comfort. He certainly restores our souls. Just try Him. Embrace His comfort. Note that David has already touched upon the truth of comfort: "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."

#4. Suffering.

No shepherd worth his salt wants to see his sheep suffer. He will go to extra ordinary lengths to protect his sheep and restore those sheep on a daily basis.

While human suffering is inevitable, The Good Shepherd of our Soul went to Calvary and suffered there in ways no mere mortal will ever understand. In doing so, He drank the cup of suffering for every man. He can say I have been where you are. Suffering is experiential with Him and not something He has to guess about! James S. Stewart preaching on this subject of suffering once said; "Your sufferings are His Sufferings, your sorrows, His sorrows."

Thus, He can and does restore our souls when suffering comes our way. What a shepherd, what a savior is He.

Are you cast down in your soul? Cry out to Him. He is the Good Shepherd.

He is the Great Restorer of our Souls!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!