Your Rod and Your Staff, They Comfort Me.

Psalm 23:4 – Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 8 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

Two essential pieces of equipment for the shepherd were the rod and the staff. We also know that David and many other shepherds carried a sling as well. Shepherds in the field traveled light, but the rod and the staff were always with the shepherd. And in this Psalm by David, those two pieces of wood were somehow a comfort to the sheep. But why?

Why is the sheep comforted by the rod and staff of his shepherd?

Rod

The rod was a shorter, club like device that the shepherd used for multiple purposes. Protection – A shepherd became deadly accurate in throwing this rod and used it effectively to protect the sheep from wolves and other predators. Discipline – sometimes a wayward sheep would wander away into danger and the shepherd whizzed this by the sheep to scare her back to the fold. Counting/Inspection – The Old Testament spoke of those who “passed under the rod,” and that referred to when a shepherd would have each sheep pass under his eye to inspect it and count it. He was not only making sure all sheep were present, but he was checking for any problems or diseases with His sheep.

Under the shepherd’s rod, you were his. You belonged to him. He looked over you and made sure you were healthy. Your loving shepherd uses the rod not only to keep you in line, but to keep you safe. It is no wonder that the rod is a comfort to the sheep.

Staff

A shepherd’s staff is a long, slender piece of wood, usually with a crook or hook in one end. There are many images, both today and in the Scripture of a shepherd leaning on his staff (Hebrews 11:21). Keller points out three ways he would use the shepherd’s staff. Drawing the sheep close to him – This is a picture of intimacy. The shepherd is pulling that lamb or ewe close to his side for inspection or to get a baby lamb by its mama. Guiding sheep – Not by beating it, but by pressing the staff against the side of the sheep. Rescue – Sometimes a sheep is caught and needs rescued and pulled from danger. The loving shepherd would use his staff with the crook on one end and help pull the sheep to safety.

It is no doubt why David looked at those two pieces of shepherd’s equipment as a huge comfort to the sheep. But of course, he was talking about himself as a sheep with God. God’s rod and God’s staff were a comfort to David. It is a comfort to know that God knows we are His. We are comforted by God’s inspection and discipline, even though for a season it might be uncomfortable. It is a peace of mind to us to know that our Shepherd is protecting us from predators sent by Satan himself. And I love that the Shepherd draws me close to Him with His staff, just as the Holy Spirit draws us to the Father’s side.

Intimacy. Protection. Relationship. Training. Rescue. Jesus’ rod and staff are truly comforting.

David and Goliath – Facing the Giants, Part 3

As we continue our unpacking of 1 Samuel 17, we can see David being run down by those in his life who should have been encouraging him. Here’s what is said by David’s oldest brother and by King Saul himself.

1 Samuel 17:28-33 Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before. When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.”

Don’t be distracted by naysayers on the sidelines.

Who of all people should have encouraged David as he went to face the Giant?

How about his brothers? Yes, they should have, but they didn’t. Eliab made fun of his little brother and called into question David’s motives. You can see why God refused Eliab (see 1 Samuel 16:6-7). What was Eliab doing about Goliath? Nothing but tucking tail and running like the rest. So how do you think Eliab liked it when his little kid brother comes from watching sheep saying he could take on Goliath? That didn’t go over well, did it? Those who are sitting on their hineys doing nothing have all kinds of comments about those who are standing up and facing the Goliaths of the world.

How about the king himself, King Saul? If anyone should have been an encouragement to the man who offered to take on Goliath, it should have been the King of Israel, but that’s not what happened. Remember that Israel wanted a king to go out and fight their battles for them (1 Samuel 8), but King Saul isn’t facing Goliath, is he? And what words does the King have for David? “You can’t do it! Goliath is too much for you, you are not even close to being able to do this.”

This happens today, too. Sometimes those who are older are not as encouraging as they should be to the younger. In fact, Paul had to encourage Timothy not to be swayed or discouraged by those who would “despise” or “look down upon” his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). There are times when the younger person is reminding the older ones about faith, courage and the proper way to behave. That is exactly what Paul told Timothy to do. Timothy was to be an example to the believers and that includes those who are older. We all need reminders, don’t we? Even if we are older, and even if those who are reminding us are much younger, we still need to accept the lessons God is sending our way. David was probably a teenager, and King Saul was older (not sure how much older), but David was showing the King and all of Israel what real faith looks like.

What does David do with all of this negativity? Here is a great quote, and I’m not sure who first said it…

“In order to lead the orchestra, you must first turn your back on the crowd.”

David had to turn his back on the negativity and keep his focus on God’s strength. Verse 30 says that David “turned away” from his brother and kept asking about the reward. David had to move away from the negativity and keep his eyes focused on God and on the reward for following God.

Draw from past victories, don’t just sit on them.

David answered Saul’s negativity and discouragement by focusing on what God had already done for David.

1 Samuel 17:34-37 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!”

God had already worked amazing things in the life of David. With God’s strength, David had already struck down and killed lions and bears. What was a giant to the God who helped him kill such dangerous creatures? David was able to look back on what God had already done for him and draw strength for the next battle. This is what we need to do, too! What has God already done for you, with you and through you? Meditate upon the amazing things God has done for you already. If He helped you then, will he help you now? Of course God will. He promised it!

Remember that God’s victories He has worked through you are not intended to be used as trophies filling a case, they are intended to give you strength and courage to face the next Giant.

Hebrews 13:6 – So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

Worse Than The Flu

Proverbs 18:14 – A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Lots of folks around us are sick right now. The flu and other yucky-ness is going around. I had my own bout with it the past few days.

The above verse says that a man’s spirit will endure sickness and even carry us through the few days we are ill. We can be sick for a few days, fight a cold or flu and get over it. Our inner spirit isn’t much worse for the wear.

But Solomon says that if our spirit is crushed…who can bear it? It is a sad thought, but very true. We see in the previous chapter of Proverbs that “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). A vibrant and hopeful spirit can sustain a person and give them the drive to heal physically, but when someone is completely broken inside, their physical condition will many times deteriorate to match their inner state. They just give up physically because they have given up on the inside. David said it this way, “my heart is wounded within me” (Psalm 109:22).

There are those living in our midst who are broken and crushed, and are on the verge of completely falling apart. As we think about those around us who are like that, I want us to consider what the Proverbs says about words and the power of words to those who are broken.

Proverbs 12:25 – Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.

Proverbs 15:13 – A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.

Proverbs 15:23 – To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!

Proverbs 16:23-24 – The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

If you see those who are broken, remember that “a good word” may help him or her today. Those “gracious words” are like honeycomb and may actually help improve that person’s health. Our words have that power!

Daniel: Overwhelmed Then Strengthened

We have been camped out in Daniel 10 for a few days as we continue to harvest some great concepts from the text.

As we have seen in Daniel 10, Daniel was fasting, mourning and seeking God’s help for 3 weeks. God will send Daniel answers and comfort, but we will see that God brings a powerful vision that completely zaps the strength from Daniel until he is face down and unable to talk.

When the divine messenger came to Daniel, Daniel was not immediately strengthened and comforted. What happened first? Daniel was overwhelmed by the visions, the mere presence, and the powerful voice of this being. The men who were with Daniel did not see the vision, but just the mere presence of this being brought trembling to those men to where they had to run and hide (verse 7)!

When Daniel saw the vision of this heavenly being (which may be Jesus here, not an angel):

(8) So I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me. My radiant appearance was fearfully changed, and I retained no strength.

As this being spoke to Daniel, here was the initial effect:

(9) Then I heard the sound of his words, and as I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground.

So, Daniel started out mourning, fasting and praying. He then sees the vision and is completely drained of all his strength. As the words of this spiritual being are spoken, Daniel goes into a trance-like state.

Then this heavenly messenger touched Daniel, but Daniel is still trembling.

(10) And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.

Do you see how God is overwhelming Daniel with His power, His presence and His voice? Then and only then, does God lift Daniel up to comfort and strengthen him! This is so awesome, and this is how God works with us all, even if not through a miraculous vision. God wants us to be completely humbled, overwhelmed and in awe of His majesty, so that we can truly be lifted up by His strength.

Here comes the comfort to Daniel by this spiritual messenger.

(11) And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling.

(12) Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.

The words of this heavenly being silenced Daniel’s words and took the last bit of energy and strength from Daniel’s body:

(15) When he had spoken to me according to these words, I turned my face toward the ground and was mute.

(16) And behold, one in the likeness of the children of man touched my lips. Then I opened my mouth and spoke. I said to him who stood before me, “O my lord, by reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength.”

This is where God wants everyone of us so that we can be filled with His strength and holiness. Look at the question that Daniel asked in verse 17, and ponder it. This is so true. How can we talk with our Lord unless He gives us the strength to do so?

(17) How can my lord’s servant talk with my lord? For now no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.”

Once again, we see the comfort from the touch and words of a divine being:

(18) Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me.

(19) And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”

If we want God to speak to us, do you know what He is going to tell us? Well, in the next two verses we will see the answer. God will only tell us the truth!

(20) Then he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come.

(21) But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.

Daniel: Still in Need of Encouragement

Here are a few observations from a sermon by Max Dawson on Daniel 10.

Daniel needed encouragement!

Age, Maturity – Daniel had served God for 70 years, but he still needed encouragement and comfort from God.

Position and Status – Daniel served in a very important position in Babylon, but he still had to receive strength from God.

Experience – Daniel had faced all kinds of trials and adversity in those 70 years, but he still was not above needing help from God.

Knowledge – Daniel was well-acquainted with the word of God, probably knew it backward and forward, but that knowledge was not enough. He still needed encouragement and comfort from God.

So, there you go for today. If you are 15 or 85, you will always need your Father in heaven. Being in need of encouragement and comfort from God is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength.

Daniel – For You Have Strengthened Me

And behold, one in the likeness of the children of man touched my lips. Then I opened my mouth and spoke. I said to him who stood before me, “O my lord, by reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength. How can my lord’s servant talk with my lord? For now no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.” Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”
(Daniel 10:16-19)

We’ve already looked at the fact that the visions that Daniel and others saw had an exhausting effect upon them. “By reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength.” God’s express purpose is to put these men into a position where they will need both strength and wisdom from him. Daniel will need strength to recover from what he just experienced. He will also need wisdom even to begin to wrap his mind around it and understand it.

Who put Daniel into that condition? God. Who will bring strength back to him? God. This is a consistent pattern throughout Scripture. Who led the Israelites out of Egypt? God. Who brought them right up to the Red Sea so that they would be trapped on one side by the water and on the other side by the pursuing Egyptians? God. Who allowed the Israelites to hunger in the wilderness? God. Who then fed them? God.

What is Daniel experiencing of which we all need reminding? That strength comes from God. The words of this heavenly being and his warm touch upon Daniel brought him strength. Daniel then asked for more of it!

And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”

Let’s ask for more of it today, too.

In Me You May Have Peace

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33)

I was thinking about this verse this morning. There are two “in’s” in this passage:

  • In the world you will have tribulation.
  • In Me you may have peace.

How do those two concepts coexist? Tribulation, meaning we are under pressure like grapes being crushed to produced juice. That is what happens to us in the world, according to Jesus. But then he also says that we can while under pressure and anguish have peace.

“In Me you may have peace.” We are physically located in the world, but our hearts and relationships are tied to the eternal Christ. This is how Jesus slept in a boat on the storm. He was physically located in the storm, but His heart was resting safely and quietly in the Father.

I really need this right now. Maybe you do, too. May we come to Christ and to His words (and to His people) for the peace that passes all understanding. The peace that only comes through Jesus Christ.

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6-7)

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
(John 14:27)

 

Moments

My daughter Jessica wrote this today. One year ago today we had a barn fire that killed our animals, 2 of those animals were Jessica’s horses, Kale and Dublin. I wanted to share with you her thoughts.

Moments… Our lives are made up of millions of little moments. Many of these moments might seem insignificant at the time, but what if they just disappeared? What if in the matter of seconds your whole life was turned upside down; and everything was spun into a downward spiral. How do you prepare for that? When the barn fire took my horses and all of my family’s animals, there was no way to prepare for the devastation that caused. There was no way to be prepared for all of the various after effects of it either. Looking back I cannot even remember summer, it is all just a blur. For those who know me, they know that horses are like breathing to me. I love them, they are a part of me. To work so long and hard for something, and then to have it all gone in the matter of seconds is… there is no word for it. The point I have come to now is that I won’t give up. Even though I have been, and keep getting tested every day, with God all things are possible. Through all of this I have come to lean on Him more, and realize that no matter what happens, I will always have God with me in the storm. God pulls us out of the fire and tells us that He will carry us when we can’t walk, He will give us peace when all around us is chaos, He will give us strength when we want to give up. In Him I have a new hope, a hope for the future. So even though there is all of this pain, God is holding my hand, and I never want to let go of Him again.

Jesus Our Brother

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,
(Hebrews 2:10-11)

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
(Hebrews 2:18)

It was “fitting” for Jesus to be made flesh, live like us, and to be made “perfect through suffering.” This makes Him our brother. More than that, it says Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers. He being the Son of God and we being the children of God all have one Father (“source”).

When you are tempted, and when you are suffering, you have a brother who understands. I know that I have a physical brother, Mark, who is also a brother in Christ. When I am struggling or down, I know he will listen, understand, pray for me and give me wise counsel. That is such a comfort. But even more than that, Jesus is my brother. He understands, and He listens, and He brings comfort. Jesus went through all that we have gone through, and He knows our situation completely. When we come to the throne we find mercy and grace because He is our brother.

I often think of Jesus as Lord, God, Savior, and Christ, but not as much as my brother and my friend. Maybe you think the same way, I don’t know, but take time to meditate upon Jesus being your brother and what that means for you.

I Am He

Are you familiar with the old hymn, “Abide with Me”?

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me

In this song there is a crying out for the presence of God. When other helpers fail, and I feel helpless, abide with me. As the darkness deepens, abide with me. Change and decay in all around I see, but you, O God, do you change.

Please abide with me.

Today’s encouragement is to think about the unchangeable, abiding nature of the great I Am, Jesus Christ.

Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
(John 8:57-59)

In the book of John, Jesus made a clear and unmistakable claim to be the great I Am. The Jews knew what he was saying, and they tried to stone him for saying it. But I want to focus in on the statement of Jesus that, “Before Abraham was, I Am.”

Jesus has always been, Jesus will always be, so that means Jesus IS right now. When other helpers fail, Jesus is here. As the darkness deepens, Jesus’ presence is in the life of the Christian. When change and decay go wildly all around us and within us, Jesus is there.

“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been upheld by Me from birth, who have been carried from the womb: even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.
(Isaiah 46:3-4)

“You are My witnesses,” says the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior.
(Isaiah 43:10-11)

I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.
(Isaiah 43:25)

There is no other savior. Jesus is it. Even to our gray hairs, he will carry us. He made us, and he sustains us. Jesus cares for us. He never changes. His love never fades.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU.” So we may boldly say: “THE LORD IS MY HELPER; I WILL NOT FEAR. WHAT CAN MAN DO TO ME?” … Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
(Hebrews 13:5-6,8)