Better than Sheep

Psalm 145: 21        TPT

I will praise you, Lord! Let everyone everywhere join me in praising the beautiful Lord of holiness from now through eternity!

Now here is someone who really loves the Lord! I bet you can guess who wrote it. If you guessed David, you are right. You can see one reason why God called David a man after His own heart. It was the love David showed Him. I find myself wondering how David developed such a strong affinity for God. The answer is perfect for a trying time of lockdown and isolation.

David was a shepherd. His brothers were older than he and were soldiers. While the brothers were off fighting the Philistines, David was home watching sheep. He spent many lonely nights with those sheep. All that time alone paid dividends though. He learned he was not really alone. He began talking to the one who was with Him, his God. In the lonely watches he learned to communicate with the Father, and he learned to wrap his life around the Father. He fell in love with Father and he also came to know the Holy Spirit, which few in the Old Testament can boast of.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. In this case, David turned loneliness into a close, intertwined life with the Lord. We can do the same. If you are finding yourself still alone a lot, talk with Dad. You could come out the other side of Covid with more than long hair and an extra couple of pounds. You could become a David, knowing and talking with the Father with ease.

Exploding Heart

Psalm 145: 1

I will exalt You, my God, the King, and I will bless Your name forever and ever.

How nice. Then again, how dry, tamed and devoid of emotion. Per usual, I took the verse from the New American Standard Bible. Now, see it from one of my other favorite translations, the God’s Word Translation, “I will highly praise you, my God, the king. I will bless your name forever and ever.” That is a bit better, I would say, but when you know more context for this psalm you might still question the uninspired choice of words. This psalm is a “Song of Praise by David.” It sure does not sound like David. Now, allow me to share the Passion Translation’s rendering of this verse, “My heart explodes with praise to you! Now and forever my heart bows in worship to you, my King and my God!” There you go! That’s better. Those words sound like David.

The NASB is my preferred version, but I use many Bible translations in order to get at the fullness of meaning. Today’s verse is one of those times when the NASB needs some help. It shows our stoic, rather constrained, British Biblical heritage. David wasn’t a western thinker though. He was a man who poured out his heart to God in hundreds of songs. He praised God with his entire being, singing and dancing with abandon. I think David would make me a bit uncomfortable. I quite like the restrained nature of some church’s worship. I must ask, though, is it really worship and can it qualify for praise. I find, too, as time goes by, I find myself less satisfied with it and will even admit it feels a bit stifling. Don’t get me wrong, I am not ready to dance like David, but I do find myself wishing I could.

Many of us would criticize people who praise like David. They make us uncomfortable. We used to condemn them as “too emotional.” I have begun to question myself in this regard because we are discussing praise to an entity who describes Himself as what we would define as an emotion, Love. Maybe Yahweh is emotional. Maybe Jesus is. We seem to have made this verse over in our image. We praise God with our hands in our pockets while David danced so energetically that he danced his clothes off. I am certainly not ready for that, but I bear in mind that God called David a man after His own heart. Then I think about how David praised God and sang love songs to Him. Thus, I begin to question my style. Maybe Father would like for my face to look more like there is feeling behind my words.

David could not refrain from shouting and singing. He couldn’t hold still because his heart was bursting with his love of God. There is no way I can criticize him for that, even if I am secretly glad he isn’t standing right next to me in church. Maybe someday, I will praise like David. Maybe someday the whole church will lose its inhibitions. Then perhaps we will all shout and sing our praises to God!

Heart’s Cry

Psalm 142: 1 – 2

I cry out with my voice to the Lord; with my voice I implore the Lord for compassion. I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him.

I shared with you Friday that God called David, “a man after My heart,” (Acts 13: 22). That declaration further resonated with me when I read this passage. I was moved at how David poured out his heart to God. You can hear the emotion and passion in David’s cry. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I admire David so highly. He was able to express himself with fervor and meaning. Perhaps I like him because he expresses for me what I am unable to say for myself. I can read this psalm and agree, effectively taking David’s prayer to the Lord with my name on it.

I am moved and impressed by the honesty of emotion with which David addresses the Lord. The situation was that Saul and his army scoured the land in search of David to kill him even though David had been a loyal servant to Saul.  So, David and his followers fled and hid in a cave.  They were desperate and frightened. While hiding in that cave, surrounded by his enemies, David literally cried out to the Lord.

There is another element of David’s relationship with the Lord that beckons. It shows in verse 5 where he wrote, “I cried out to You, Lord; I said, “You are my refuge.” David had an ability to cast his care upon the Lord and put his entire trust in God’s ability and willingness to rescue him. In verse 6 he wrote, “Rescue me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me.” His full faith and his confidence were in God. That is not to say he was not frightened. He cried out in desperate fear. None the less, he believed that God would not forsake him.

I believe this trust and confidence in God, along with the intimate familiarity he expressed in communion with Yahweh are some of the key factors which caused God to call David a man after His own heart. David didn’t stand afar and shout at God. He cried out to his Father. He poured his emotions out to the only one who could help him, and even if he cried out in desperation, it was with a desperate faith. He believed God would rescue him. David believed God.

Still, there is more. David shared his heart with God. He bared his soul to God. Many people would find that hard to do, but I believe it was a key element in their relationship. David’s belief and confidence were so strong, his faith so resolute that it drove him into an intimacy that most of us can only dream of. He cried out to his Father, divulging all his deepest emotions and fears because he trusted his Lord. He trusted God from the depth of his soul, and he gave God the care of that soul believing the Lord would never let him down. And he was right. God didn’t let him down. That heart that cried out like a little child is what moved the Father. The love and trust of a child for his father is what ministered to the heart of God such that they became knitted together in an unbreakable bond.

I want that and I hope you long for such a relationship too. We can have it, you know. We just need to break free of the fetters which restrain us. What are those manacles? Pride, perhaps; self-reliance, ego, coolness, guilt, unworthiness, sin. The list goes on. Anything which we allow to restrict our movement towards God or blocks His path to us creates the chains of bondage.

Prayer:

Dear Lord, loose us and set us free. Draw us closer to you today and answer our cry of desperation. Reach out to us, Father, and help us to relinquish any tie which has bound us; any barrier which has prevented pure and uninterrupted communication between us. Help us to give you our hearts. Give us a faith strong enough that we may surrender all of who we are in complete confidence that you will bear us up and protect our emotional as well as our spiritual wellbeing. Father, as many as who will pray this with me today, give them the strength to be weak and the courage to show vulnerability. For this, Father, I humbly pray and offer you thanks. May you be blessed in your children. Amen.

Fallible

Luke 6: 37

Do not judge.

Simply said, not so simply done. It is easy to be judgmental. Why? Because people are fallible. Look at even some of the great Biblical heroes. Take David, for example. God said of him, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.” (Acts 13: 22). What better testimony can one have? God has never said anything like that about me. None the less, we find it pretty easy to judge David. He messed up big time and, for some, that sin has become David’s legacy more than the years and years of trusting God and doing his will. Is he remembered as the man who wrote most of the psalms or as the man who sinned before God and country?

What of Moses? Here is another great heroic figure. He essentially created a new nation out of a group of slaves. He rescued his entire nation, millions of enslaved Jews but, he, too, was fallible. In the end, he failed and, subsequently, didn’t get to go into the Promised Land. He rose to prominence in his own eyes rather than trusting in God’s power and God forbade him entrance to the Promised Land. Wow! Are you kidding me?! This is the guy who parted the Red Sea, who got water from a rock, and more. He, too, had faults, and in the end suffered a major failure.

The point? People are fallible. It is easy to be judgmental because every person you know has faults and weaknesses. The harder thing is to be the instrument of grace. Grace is the opposite of judgment. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ,” (John 1: 17). The problem is, like the Jews of the New Testament, we get stuck in the law. Jesus told us if we live by the law, we will die by it. That is not what any of us want. We all want God’s grace and that is a major reason we should live by grace.

We can look at a person and see their flaws or we can see the work of God. We can cover them with a mantle of grace such that what we see is through the veil of Jesus’ work in us and them. I do not say this is an easy thing to do. In fact, I believe it can be quite challenging. The easiest thing in the world is to focus on the many flaws each of us presents. The grace of God is acceptance in full view of our shortcomings. If Moses failed and didn’t get to go into the Promised Land because of it, what is the likelihood that many of us will fall short of God’s best? Thus, we are all easily judged as failures and miscreants. We don’t show the fullness of Christ’s love. So, if you want to judge me, or most others, it’s just not that hard. What Christ is looking for, though, is the for the love he has poured out on us to be used to spread grace, forgiveness and understanding for others. I think his instruction is pretty clear, “Do not judge.”

What Price

Psalm 101: 1 – 4            NIV

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, LORD, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life – when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart. I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it. The perverse of heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with what is evil.

Most of us have at one time or another made a deal with God. If you will do this God, I will do that. At first glance, it looks like David might be doing the same thing in this psalm. However, throughout this psalm, he never makes a request of God. The whole psalm is a declaration of David’s intent on how he will conduct the affairs of his life. His motivation seems to be his adoration and love for God rather than anything he will get out of it. Because he loved God, he wanted to live an exemplary life. That is certainly a laudable goal.

It is also interesting to see what characteristics David chose with which to honor God. It is not surprising that he would choose praise and song since he was a musician. The rest of it is about living what he deemed a clean life, part of which is about the condition of his own heart. He decided he did not want anything foul to corrupt his heart. In truth, I think David’s concerns were more about a defiled heart than specific acts. I imagine modern believers proclaiming, “I won’t drink, I won’t smoke, . . .,” but David seems more concerned about negative associations and letting his eyes linger on that which is not wholesome. I think if David lived here and now, he would sound like a Jesus freak and pretty weird. Of course, he wasn’t always popular in his time either.

What price love? What is the cost of an extreme relationship with God? I find myself admiring David, but I wonder if I am willing to do what he did in order to develop that relationship. What of you? What do you want out of your relationship with God? Do you just want Him to take care of your needs and save you a place in heaven? Good enough. Or do you want Him waiting for you when you awake in the morning, wanting to spend time with you? And at some level isn’t that idea even a bit out there? That was David’s way with the Lord. They were friends and even though that is a bit mind blowing, we can have that too. Whatever you want, you can have. Some day you may choose to give up some negative friends or not even want to momentarily set your eyes on that which is corrupt because of the influence those things eventually have on you.

Give to the Lord what is in your heart as David did here. Your declaration will likely be different from his but make yours out of love and a desire to bless the Lord. As your relationship continues to change, the gifts of your heart will likely change too. Sometimes meditating on the Lord allows those things to bubble up. Whatever you choose to say to the Lord, whatever devotion feels right to you, will bless Him. Don’t worry about another person’s pronouncement of affection or that they pray an hour a day. What you and Father have is unique and awesome. Allow it to have its own expression. Let it out of you. Release your love and affection to the Father and bless His heart. That is a really cool thing to do.

Chrysalis

Psalm 39:1

I said, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle while the wicked are in my presence.”

You know, I was just missing David so here is a quip from a psalm of David. The more time I spend with David’s writings the more I like him and the more I learn. I told you that meditating on God’s goodness has a transformative effect on the inside of you. Well, the more time I spend with David, the more I see how close and personal a relationship with God can be. David’s walk with God illuminated his life and it now it is having that same effect upon us.

Learning to walk hand in hand with God has got to be the greatest joy of all time. David’s walk showed him, daily, the ways of God so that he could walk in them. On this day, David received a revelation about his words. A friend of mine once said that we need a Word of the Day on the words of our mouth weekly, if not daily. Probably, I need to be reminded daily that I am creating my world by the words of my mouth. Additionally, we sin with our mouths more than any other way, so it is wisdom which says to guard our mouths.

How do you guard your mouth though? First it is the simple recognition that the tongue can be a violent member and needs to be guarded. Second, of course, we pray asking God to help us with our mouths. These need to be daily steps: remind yourself to guard your mouth and ask for the Father’s assistance. Beyond that, these meditations on God the Father and His ways begin to set up positive strong holds within your spirit. When you read a verse like this one, the next step is to think about it for a few minutes. What does this verse mean? What were the circumstances in which David wrote these words and what circumstance do you see yourself in that would bring this verse to life? How will you guard your mouth?

These simple questions turn into ponderings and it is those ponderings (meditation) which change your inner self. The “work” of Christianity is personal transformation. We are supposed to be changing into the very image of Christ. This takes time but it also takes effort and that effort is putting your thoughts on Christ so that they impact who you are on the inside. You are daily becoming the butterfly when you allow God’s Chrysalis to do its work. The chrysalis is God’s word meditated on within your own heart.

Our greatest liability may be our tongues, but it is harnessed by the spirit of God residing within us. The power within us is far greater than the weakness of the flesh. As you meditate on Yahweh and how He can influence your day, the things of the world begin to lose power and you will find it easy to guard your tongue, your temper or anything else. It’s a process. Daily, you are being transformed into the picture of Jesus so ponder these scriptures. Plant them in the fertile soil of your spirit and let them grow within you.

Tend the Sheep

Luke 2: 8 – 9          NLV

In the same country there were shepherds in the fields. They were watching their flocks of sheep at night. The angel of the Lord came to them.

Did you ever wonder why the angel appeared to shepherds? Why not clergy or statesmen? If an angel came with a message today, to whom would he appear? The answer, to those who tend the sheep. Selah.

There is speculation about these shepherds. Who were they? I offer you, rather than answers, food to ponder. We know they were shepherds near Bethlehem who were keeping the night watch. That alone is enough to fuel the imagination as it conjures thoughts of the boy David who was lowly and humble. While his brothers were celebrated as soldiers, little David was out in the fields keeping watch over, “those few sheep,” (1 Samuel 17: 28) as his brother taunted him. Mock as you will, big brother, for what city was the Savior, Messiah born but in the city of David. And, who had to save the day, and the nation, when the soldiers all trembled in their boots at the giant Goliath, but the little shepherd boy, David.

Shepherds were not a favored group of people, part of a lower caste. It is interesting that the angel would appear to a group of people who did not rank well on the social ladder. Because they were not people who were looked up to they would seem the least likely to be able to get the message out about the new king. Who would listen to a group of dirty shepherds?

Of course, any mention of shepherds is incomplete without a discussion of Jesus who is the shepherd. Was God, showing us that this newborn child would turn out to be the great shepherd by revealing his coming to a group of shepherds? Another connection to shepherds is that Jesus is often referred to as meek and lowly. He certainly was not a proud or arrogant man. His connection to shepherds doesn’t end there though.

Some scholars speculate that this group of shepherds was tending a specific group of sheep, which would explain why they would be near the town of Bethlehem and why they would be tending sheep in the open fields in winter. This may have been a flock of sheep selected for the sacrifice. How poignant would it be if the angel appeared to a group of shepherds who were tending the sacrificial lambs in order to announce the coming of the lamb whose blood would be offered for the salvation of all people? That is a pretty powerful thought. I told you Easter is embedded in the fabric of Christmas. From the day baby Jesus was born, his sacrifice was revealed.

Jesus’ first heralds were the angels, but they were followed by a group of dusty, lowly, peasant class shepherds. Those shepherds proceeded immediately to Bethlehem to see this miracle birth and having seen the babe, began to tell the good news received from the angel.

A child is born, a humble birth, proclaimed by shepherds rather than church or cultural leaders. To this day, Jesus is the friend of the lowly and savior of all.