Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me

Psalm 23:6 – Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…

Today’s article is inspired by chapter 11 of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.

Two thoughts about “goodness and mercy” following us all the days of our life.

From one perspective, we can think of how God’s goodness and mercy as our Good Shepherd will always be with us. His vision, tender care and protection will always be with us. He is our “rear guard” (Isaiah 52:21; 58:8). He goes before us and follows us from behind. We are completely encircled by God’s goodness and mercy as His sheep.

Another perspective is that the trail God’s sheep leave behind is goodness and mercy. Under the management of a bad shepherd, a flock of sheep will completely destroy a pasture and leave it bare, full of parasites, and erosion will wash ruts left by sheep into a gulley. But under the disciplined and loving care of a good shepherd, the pasture is left in good shape, maybe even better than before.

Let’s take a moment today to thank God for being such a wonderful Shepherd, and for the fact that His goodness and mercy always follow us!

Living on Purpose–Unity

The best secular job I have had so far in my life was serving as an officer in the United States Air Force.  The clarity of mission and common purpose, everyone living the value of service before self, the camaraderie and closeness of the unit…there was a lot of great aspects of being an Airman. I say that, because as I think about living on purpose for God and being a Christian (part of a local congregation), I should find those same elements in my service and the same unity in service.

As Christians, we are brothers, sisters, and fellow workers for the Lord.

 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17; NKJV)

25 Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all…  (Philippians 2:25-26; NKJV)

42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42; NKJV)

We are serving a Father and have an Elder Brother…we are a family with a clear and common purpose of service before self to one another to the glory of God.

15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15; NKJV)

As I think about this and I examine the state of my relationships with my brothers and sisters, the health of my local church, the emotional/spiritual well-being of my fellow soldiers, the clarity of purpose and our zeal for loving and saving souls…I need to be honest with myself and my God and consider what I am doing and the results I am getting.  It is my responsibility to be what God has called me to be in His family.  It is my responsibility to live on purpose for Him and live towards unity.  I can’t do that for others and what others are doing can’t be a distraction or an excuse for my not living the way God expects and doing the things He has commanded me.  God does not move and He will not forsake me.  Knowing that, I can be grounded in Him and allow myself to be filled with His love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, patience in such a way that I will be full and able to pour that out on others.  Only God can fill me like that and expecting my brothers or sisters to do that will cost me and it will cost them and it will not unify.

God wants us to start with Him and be united with Him.  Starting there, we can afford to be vulnerable and to serve because no matter what others are doing or saying, we can be sure God is the same and expects the same and we can go to Him for strength and to be fulfilled and refreshed.  To say it another way, if we take confidence in God’s unwavering love and security for us, we can then live in such a way that we can invite others to come along us when they are ready. This takes away the threat for all parties and provides an environment for unity.  A way for us to become of one mind, able to receive each other, not be divided…to join ourselves together against the wiles of satan and to God’s glory.

5Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.  (Romans 15:5-7; NKJV)

 10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10; NKJV)

Mercy – A Weightier Matter

Matthew 23:23-24 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

Jesus said there were weightier matters of the Law. One of those specific weightier things was mercy. The Jewish leaders of His day were counting spices to make sure they did not fail to keep the minutest detail of the Law, but they missed the big stuff: mercy, justice and faithfulness. If Jesus says there are weightier matters, then we must agree with Jesus that things like mercy become the foundation of our thinking in order to interpret and apply God’s word.

Here is a case in point. Jesus’ disciples were picking grain to eat on the Sabbath Day. They were hungry! But it was the Sabbath day, and you are not supposed to work on the Sabbath Day. The Pharisees were so committed to keeping the Sabbath Day that they failed to see that doing good and having mercy are weightier matters of the Law. Did we hear Jesus say that? Mercy is part of the Law!

Let’s read the following Scriptures and think about it.

Matthew 12:1-8 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

1 Samuel 21:1-6 Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread–if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the LORD, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.

Jesus clearly told the Pharisees that His disciples were “guiltless” in plucking those heads of grain in order to eat. I know of a man who was so determined to keep the Sabbath Law that he would not even turn the lights on the Sabbath Day. He couldn’t even help his wife when she was going into labor, because it was the Sabbath…that was considered “work.” Something is terribly wrong here, when our interpretation of Law completely eliminates and contradicts God’s command for mercy for those in need.

Several of Jesus’ miracles were performed on the Sabbath, and I believe Jesus did that on purpose (Matthew 12:10-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; John 5:5-18). He did this to teach that the Jewish leadership had really missed it with being so determined to keep every little detail that they set aside looking at the helpless who needed mercy. In fact, Jesus’ showing mercy on the Sabbath for the most helpless revealed the true character of the Jewish leadership: they did not rejoice that people were healed, they plotted to destroy Jesus! Jesus was very angry and sad about how they were behaving. We need to be very careful that our interpretation and application of God’s word doesn’t forsake what God says are the really “heavy” things on the scale. Things like mercy.

Eagles’ Wings

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, 31 but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31; NKJV)

I encourage you to take some time and read all of Isaiah 40 if you get time today, but I wanted to bring the last 4 verses of the chapter to your attention as you start the week.  I need to be continually reminded to see my current life on earth from a Heavenly perspective.  This allows me to see God’s majesty and in seeing that I can have confidence that God knows my situations, will provide for me to deal with any short-term difficulties and will deliver me in the end.

I pray you have a wonder week and that you feel God’s influence and care in your life.

Softly and Tenderly

I appreciate the singing we have as part of God’s design in worshiping Him.  I appreciate the acapella nature of the singing because it allows us to use the one instrument God gave us to make music for Him…our voice and we all can do it and when it is done together with those who are of like faith, it is magical.  I especially love when one of the kids is excited about the song and you can hear their voice over them all.  I am thankful for the songs in our worship.

As of late, I have been making note of songs we sing in a particular week that either really moved me or is something that I want to revisit with my family during the week.  I thought I would share one of those with you today and for anybody who knows this song…I am sure the tune is playing in your heart and mind…another awesome result of God’s design…scripture hidden in our hearts and playing in our mind through song.

I hope these words are encouragement to you today.  Jesus is always near.  Jesus loves us and wants us to Come unto Him and be safe within His fold.

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30; NKJV)

Softly and Tenderly Lyrics (Will L. Thompson)

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me.  See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.

Refrain:  Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home; Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, pleading for you and for me?  Why should we linger and heed not His mercies, mercies for you and for me?

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, passing from you and from me; shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, coming for you and for me.

Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised, promised for you and for me!  Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me.

Psalm 107:8-14

8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! 9 For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness. 10 Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in affliction and irons—11 Because they rebelled against the words of God, and despised the counsel of the Most High, 12 Therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down, and there was none to help.  13 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. 14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces.  (Psalm 107:8-14)

There can be times when we are faced with adversity or our hearts could be filled with darkness because we have taken our eye off God and are following our own will instead of His.  This can take many different forms but it involves being “bound up” in our affliction. This brings to mind 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

Like us, the sentence of their transgression or the consequence of their rebellion (sin) was more than they could bear and so they called out to God.  Again, if we call out to God, He will hear us.  We can be confident in that because we read here that He heard them, and their souls were filled with the blessing He gave them.  Their lives turned around.  They found a life full of joy rather than despair…freedom rather than bondage…because they called out to Him and His mercy provided what had been missing or what was needed most.

Let these verses call to mind the redemptive power and His willingness to deliver you from what ever is holding you captive and away from the peace He promises.

8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! 9 For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.

Psalm 107:1-7

1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy, and gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. They wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses. And He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city for a dwelling place. (Psalm 107:1-7)

This past Lord’s Day, we studied meditation in bible class and Psalm 107 was discussed.  One comment made stuck with me.  Our class leader said something to the effect “Read Psalm 107 and you will find yourself in this chapter.  If you are feeling like (fill in the blank), go and you will find it here and see how God works of deliverance and redemption will bring you hope.”

The chapter starts with “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good” and a version of this phrase is repeated four more times.  (vs. 8, 15, 21, 31).  The verses that come after this phrase describe situations when we should be filled with thanksgiving.

In the first section of the Psalm, we find Israel wandering in the desert.  Previously, they were on their way to the new home God promised them but they got off track.  They disobeyed God.  They didn’t trust Him.  They thought they knew better than He did.  As a result, they found themselves wandering, lost, hungry, thirsty, tired and desperately needing to be saved.  What do they do?  They cried out to the LORD in their trouble.

Sure, the sin of God’s people (then and now) often was (and is) the reason they (we) are scattered.  But these verses show us if we find ourselves lost because of our sin, we must call out to the One who can save us.  (James 5:13).  Further, when we call out to God, He hears us, He is merciful and He will lead us out of trouble and back safely home with Him.  If we humble ourselves and go to Him, God is faithful to lead us to safety and that is worth our praise and thanksgiving.

God has demonstrated His ability to deal with a lost and wandering soul.  Trust in Him.  Call out to Him.  “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good.  For His mercy endures forever.”

Wants and Needs

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”  41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10: 38-42)

There is a continual battle I have and I think is shared by most if not all of you.  The internal battle deals with what I “WANT” to do versus what I “NEED” to do.  I had a brother once make a statement to me while I shared with him my struggles in wrestling with the direction my professional life was taking.  Without going into the long odyssey of that conversation/struggle, the basic advice was “Shane, there are things we want to do but more importantly there are things we need to do.  Start with what you need to do and be thankful you can get them done”.  I confess that was not what I wanted to hear.  What I wanted was for him to say something more along the lines of “you should do what makes you happy…what you want to do” but that wasn’t what I NEEDED to hear.  I am thankful for my brother and his words have stuck with me as I have encountered other similar dilemmas.

Over the next several articles, I would like to explore this idea of Wants and Needs and what God says in His word for our instruction.  Many if not most of you are familiar with the story that contains Jesus’ admonition that starts “Martha, Martha”.  Take a minute and read it again.  Ask yourself if you really understand what you NEED to do and/or what kinds of things shift your focus to WANTING.  The cares of the world, a busy schedule, selfishness…these or something like it are what promote what we WANT to do to the top of list and cause turmoil in our hearts and minds.  I know I am guilty of being there…WANTING instead of recognizing my NEED.  We all have and that is one of so many reasons why we are blessed to have a loving, merciful, graceful, forgiving and long suffering Savior and Father who continues to give us what we NEED in such a way that He is all that we WANT.  That transformation is what we will look at over the next several articles.  Have a blessed day!

Word in Action

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hearslow to speakslow to wrath20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:19-22; NKJV)

Perspective and process.  God gives us His perspective and is teaching us how to see our world from an heavenly perspective.  He also provides us process for our lives and the order does matter.  Here, we are to be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath.  If we are swift in our hearing of His word then we will have a heart prepared to be swift to hear another while seeking to understand rather than be understood.  This requires us to listen first and not speak first.  It requires us to consider God’s Word, what another is saying, and then humbly respond.  In all of this, we need to remember that wrath comes last not first and that the wrath of man does not produce righteousness of God which should be our goal.

The focus really is us as individuals here and not others.   We are to lay aside filthiness and wickedness so that we can humbly receive His implanted word.  In elevating God and others in our lives, He will save our souls.  If that is the focus, then we can be Godly communicators and humbly maintain our cool.   If we leave evil behind and receive His word, then we will find salvation and share salvation.

All of this is active.  Though we receive and we react to God’s word, we do so deliberately and purposefully.  It might not be a lot each and every day but we focus on and we do what we can in in line with what God’s word says.  This changes us and changes our relationships.  We determine to listen…to God’s word and to others.  We determine to understand and apply it and allow it to work in our lives.  We purposefully turn away from evil and choose good.  In all of it, we are emboldened in our humility and God will work in our lives and our relationships.  Perspective and process do matter to God.  Reflect on His perspective through His word and work to maintain His process in your life.

 

Receive

17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. (Philemon 17-20; NKJV)

The good deed and importance is found in Philemon receiving Onesimus.  Before I start with Philemon, please recognize the Onesimus is returning.  He is determined to reconcile with Philemon though the worst outcome for him could be that Philemon doesn’t reconcile and he lose his life…a punishment that was given to slaves who were disobedient.  This was in the realm of possibility but Onesimus had a heart to go and to reconcile.  As much as Philemon had to receive him, Onesimus had to go.  This cannot be overstated.

Paul urges Philemon to receive him like he would receive Paul.  It seems they shared a close relationship so the picture here is of two dear friends reuniting.  That is what Paul is expecting for Onesimus despite the fact that he had caused Philemon harm.  This shows us what reconciliation looks like.  Forgiveness is not just a lack of retaliation but restoration.  It is about how we receive one another in all circumstances and how we build and develop relationships with one another.

This is how God receives us when we are forgiven.  We do not simply escape the wrath we deserve but He FULLY restores us into a relationship with Him.  Paul paints a clear picture of what this looks like for Philemon and we can glean what it needs to look like in our lives.  Receive one who has wronged you the same way that you would receive one of your closest and dearest brothers or sister.

Paul is a catalyst in this restoration and we can be too.  Philemon might have had a long list of grievances or wrongs and it might have caused him a great internal struggle with what Paul was asking.  But Paul steps in and offers himself to take that debt on.  He doesn’t stop there though.  He doesn’t want a list of wrongs from Philemon that are now a debt on Paul.  What Paul wants Philemon to remember is that we are all indebted to our Lord Jesus and in this case to the one who taught and led us to Him.  Paul simply wants to bring to mind how desperately Philemon needed salvation at one point in time and to return the same offering of grace and forgiveness and restoration to Onesimus which Paul offered to him.  Again, we all can understand what that looks like and at different points play our part as a Paul (catalyst for restoration), Onesimus (willing to go and restored), and Philemon (willing to receive and to restore).

We forgive because we are forgiven.  We erase other’s debts because we have a record of debts that others have against us and a debt we can never repay our God and Father.  We owe our eternal spiritual life to God.  We understand that, then it will be easier to forgive.  We forgive because we are forgiven and we work for restoration in whatever role or situation we find ourselves in.  We work because that is the action we must take in our faith and love for Jesus and each other.