Let's Get Personal
Psalm 23 May 27, 2001
Scripture: 1Sam. 17:34-40
Chances are that the title of this message, Let's Get Personal, may already have a tendency to put off some of you because getting personal is something you just don't like to do. You don't like it when people pry into your affairs, assume knowledge they have no right to assume, or make unwarranted claims upon your commitment. And there are times when you just want to live your life undisturbed. But this can also turn a tragic twist, like the story about the discovery of Adolph Stec as reported in the Chicago Tribune on May 10th.
The tragedy here is not single-sided. It would seem that Stec didn't reach out to his neighbors and his neighbors didn't go that extra mile either. And so we hear of a man who was dead for four years without a care. We would think that in a city with as many people as Chicago, it wouldn't be that difficult to allow others to get personal with you or for you to be personal with them. But we all know it doesn't work that way, don't we. It's like an inverse principle – the greater the concentration of humanity (density), the less the concentration of humanity (caring).
For years now, the Canadians have prided themselves on being a people more compassionate than their southern neighbors. And so most Canadians were appalled recently when it was reported that a 17 year-old girl lay all day long in a coma, naked and beaten in a parking lot in an upscale Montreal neighborhood, as passersby gawked and snickered without anyone even dialing 911 to help her. Office workers looking out the windows commented to their co-workers to come see the peep show going on outside. She made unconscious and feeble efforts with her arms to cover her nakedness, but everyone thought this victim was on drugs or drunk since she was just a street kid covered with tattoos. Appropriately it has stirred somewhat a sense of national remorse for such indifference. But it brings us back to the same issue, doesn't it. Nobody wanted to get personal enough to care – really care.
These are things that must matter to us if we are to be the people of God. And how can we be that kind of people? We look to God himself as our example since the people of God are to be like him, to represent him to a world that is increasingly impersonal. Others must see God in us. We can and must afford to be personal since life matters, even down to the lowest level – if there is one. We must be a people of care and compassion since God is a God of care and compassion. Since he is just that, we can have full assurance, confidence and trust in him. He will take care of us. God wants to get personal with us. God wants us to get personal with him. It is all about relationship – relationship that matters.
David had one of those kinds of relationships with the God of the Universe. We see it in the most famous of psalms, Psalm 23. Psalm 23 is so well known because it is so applicable to our human need and situation. It gives us divine comfort in our darkest and neediest hours when we face death, sickness, and uncertainty. It gives us that comfort because our God is a personal God who cares for his children. It reminds us of the truth of his eternal blessing and concern. So the title of this morning's message, Let's Get Personal, involves our personal relationship with the living God.
Our Judeo-Christian God is the only personal God there has ever been or ever will be among the nations because he is the only living God able to be personal with us. Perhaps the reason some other religions enjoy whatever popularity they have is because the sinful heart does not desire a personal God to whom we must be accountable. But the downside is the uncertainty of being left to ourselves. And we will lie naked in the parking lot or die mummified in our living room chair. I praise my God that he is personal – so personal in fact that he died in my place that I might have a place with him. He is my Shepherd and my Host. And these are the two metaphors used in Psalm 23 to tell us about God's personal nature.
I want to read Psalm 23 to you in the New English Translation. Notice the shepherd metaphor in verses 1-4 and the host metaphor in verses 5-6.
23:1 The Lord is my shepherd,2
I lack nothing.3
23:2 He takes me to lush pastures,4
he leads me to refreshing water.5
23:3 He restores my strength.6
He leads me down7 the right paths8
for the sake of his reputation.9
23:4 Even when I must walk through a dark ravine,10
I fear11 no danger,12
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff keep me calm.13
23:5 You prepare a feast before me14
in plain sight of my enemies.
You refresh15 my head with oil;
my cup is full of wine.16
23:6 Surely your goodness and faithfulness17 will pursue18 me all the days of my life,
and I will live in19 the Lord's palace20 for the rest of my life.21
A. The Lord is my shepherd.(v.v. 1-4)
a. I shall not want. (v.v. 1b-3)
l He makes me lie down in green pastures.
l He leads me beside quiet waters.
l He restores my soul.
l He guides me in paths of righteousness.
b. I fear no evil.(v. 4)
l You are with me.
l Your rod and Your staff comfort me.
B. The Lord is my host. (v.v. 5-6)
a. The Host of the Table (v. 5)
l You prepare a table before me.
l You anoint my head with oil.
l My cup overflows
b. The Host of the House (v. 6)
l Goodness and love will follow me.
l I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Now there was something else I hope you noticed as you followed along with this most beautiful psalm. Did you notice the proliferation of personal pronouns? There are 27 of them in the usual English translation of the Hebrew and 29 of them in this translation – 18 of them personal with us and 11 of them personal with God. There is a real relationship going on here between God and the one he loves and cares for.
And there is something else I want you to notice. It is the verbs and the tense they are in. There are 10 verbs (imperfect – incomplete with ongoing process [continually]) here that have the sense of generalizing the typical or ongoing experience we have as a result of having the Lord as our Shepherd or Host. There are two verbs (perfect – complete with ongoing results [already and forever complete]) that stand out in having the sense of present and eternal accomplishment.
And we must notice the setting of this psalm between Psalm 22 and 24. This psalm speaks of the gospel between the cross (Ps. 22) and the crown (Ps. 24). It lies between "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and "Lift up your heads that the King of Glory may come in." And if that is not hope, I don't know what is. Through the good news what Christ accomplished on the cross we are able to abide by the moral requisites of fellowship with the Lord, "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart ---."
This psalm exemplifies the message of our Lord Christ when he said in Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." It is written from the perspective of the sheep. It presupposes an awareness of helplessness and sets forth the fundaments of the covenant relationship because Jesus said in John 10:11, "I am the Good Shepherd." And in 1Peter 2:25, "For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." And in 1Peter 5:4, "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."
The Big Question:
What is the nature of the personal relationship God desires to have with us?
(Psalms 23:1-6 NIVUS)
1 ¶ A psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
The Lord as our Shepherd is in the sense of caretaker, guardian, or body (and soul) guard. We could put this in an urban theme that we are using for our VBS this year, "Jesus to the Rescue." In this sense, Jesus is our policeman, firefighter, caseworker, etc. But this falls far short, since he is much more. He is our Savior, but as such, he leads us to the ultimate rescue from the penalty of sin and gives us eternal life.
The sheep in our country often have notched ears as a sign of ownership. If they are lost, the owner can claim them because he can prove they are his, that they are already paid for. But this mark of ownership often comes by way of some pain.
Title: He's My Shepherd
Leith Anderson tells that his father, a pastor for more than fifty years, had conducted numerous funerals and he particularly remembers that his father often told a favorite story about a little boy who was desperately ill. His parents recognized that he probably soon would die. They sent for the local pastor. He came at night to visit the child, who was semiconscious. He was unable to speak and apparently never spoke in any acknowledgment of the pastor's presence.
The pastor was alone in the child's upstairs room and left late at night. He returned early the next morning after the boy had died. He did his best to console the parents. He prayed with them. He grieved with them.
Later the parents asked the pastor if he had any explanation for something that had happened. They told the pastor that in the hours before their son died and at the time of his death, he was holding the ring finger of one hand with his other hand. He died in that position.
It was then the pastor explained what he had said that night in the child's room. He had wanted to explain to that child on the edge of eternity not only the importance of being a Christian, but in a child's language how to become one.
He said he had taken their son's hand and first held his thumb and had said, "The" because, we're talking about one of a kind. Just as the thumb belongs to the fingers of the hand and yet it is different than any of them, and they cannot get along very well without them, so too is God. God is God and there is no other and we desperately need him.
Then he held his index finger and said, "Lord." Just as we use the index finger to point to things of importance, so too is God important and he has a name.
For the middle finger, he said God himself "is" right here in the center of our lives. God exists and he wants to be right at the center of our existence.
The next finger is the ring finger – you know, the finger your mom and dad put rings on to show they are married to each other and have a family based on love and commitment to each other. So think of "my" – that God wants and has a personal commitment and relationship to you.
For the last finger, the little finger, think of "shepherd" because the Lord knows we need personal care and he is willing to give it. As our shepherd he is the one who lays down his life for his little sheep because he knows we are helpless.
While he had not spoken, the child had heard. Before he died, he put his hand around the finger to say, "The Lord is my shepherd."
-- Leith Anderson, "The Lord Is My Shepherd," Preaching Today, Tape No. 136.
Before I can say He is my shepherd, I need answers to these questions.
Do I really belong to Him?
Do I really recognize His right to me?
Do I respond to His authority and acknowledge His ownership?
Do I find freedom and complete fulfillment in this arrangement?
Do I sense a purpose and deep contentment because I am under His direction?
Do I know rest and repose, beside a definite sense of exciting adventure, in belonging to Him?
-- Philip Keller, "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23"
In his beautiful book, I Shall Not Want, Robert Ketchum tells of a Sunday school teacher who asked her group of children if any of them could quote the entire twenty-third psalm. A golden-haired, four-and- a-half-year-old girl was among those who raised their hands. A bit skeptical, the teacher asked if she could really quote the entire psalm. The little girl came to the rostrum, faced the class, made a perky little bow, and said: "The Lord is my shepherd, that's all I want."
She then bowed again and sat down. She may have overlooked a few verses, but that little girl captured David's heart in Psalm 23.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
Time has skyrocketed in value. The value of any commodity depends on its scarcity. And time that once was abundant now is going to the highest bidder.
When I was ten years old, my mother enrolled me in piano lessons. Spending thirty minutes every afternoon tethered to a piano bench was a torture just one level away form swallowing broken glass.
Some of the music, though, I learned to enjoy. I hammered the staccatos. I belabored the crescendos. But there was one instruction in the music I could never obey to my teacher's satisfaction. The rest. The zigzagged command to do nothing. What sense does that make? Why sit at the piano and pause when you can pound?
"Because," my teacher patiently explained, music is always sweeter after a rest."
-- Max Lucado, God's Inspirational Promise Book, (Word, 1996), p. 103.
3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
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.
The NET gives us the translation of "dark ravine." This is the shadow of death or the things that seem like it. But note that this is a shadow only. From the steep sides of a ravine we cannot see out. But from the top of the slope we could see the blue horizon with the sun shining out across the hills. This is the situation of our lives at times – like Preparation Canyon or the deep ravines of Starved Rock State Park.
The ravine may be the most direct course to God's provision. The slopes are perhaps more treacherous than the valley floor and there may be advantage in coursing the valley toward the heights. Indeed, the choicest morsels for the sheep may be hidden in the protected crevices of the valley floor.
A saying noticed on a t-shirt says, "Don't take life seriously, it's not permanent."
Notice that the Lord as the Shepherd is always "with" the sheep.
God has his reputation as a Shepherd at stake in leading us.
Sometimes all need to do in life, the best thing we can do in life, is to just calm down and trust God.
Title: Being Hit by the Shadow
Donald Barnhouse was the pastor of Philadelphia's Tenth Presbyterian Church when his wife died and left him with young daughters to raise alone. He did something that I could never do: he conducted his own wife's funeral. It was while driving to that funeral that he realized that he had to say something to explain all of this to his girls, to somehow put in perspective for them something with which he himself was already struggling.
They stopped at a traffic light while driving to the funeral. It was a bright day, and the sun was streaming into the car and warming it. A truck pulled up next to them, and the shadow that came with the truck darkened the inside of the car. It was then that he turned to his daughters and asked, "Would you rather be hit by the shadow or by the truck?"
One of them responded, "Oh, Daddy, that's a silly question! The shadow can't hurt you. I would rather be hit by the shadow than by a truck."
It was then that he tried to explain to them that their mother had died and that it was as if she had been hit by a shadow. It was as if Jesus had stepped in the way in her place, and it was he who had been hit by the truck. He quoted the familiar words of Psalm 23: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me."
-- Leith Anderson, "Valley of Death's Shadow," Preaching Today, Tape No. 131.
Note the rod and the staff here. The rod protects and the staff guides and controls. Remember the Scripture we read in 1Sam. 17:34-40 before the message? David took being a shepherd quite personally. Since he was able to protect and defend the sheep under his care, he felt he was able to do the same for the nation. But notice what is was that David took into battle with him – it was not just his sling, he also took his rod, and with the authority of God he slew the giant, Goliath. His rod was the symbol of God's care for himself and the nation – the same care that God gave him and enabled him to give for his sheep.
Notice also how Goliath fell – facedown like Dagon in 1Sam. 5:3. There is no other power physical or spiritual that can successfully come against the sheep under God's care.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Title: Futile Censorship
In their efforts to suppress circulation of Tyndale's first edition of an English New Testament, the English Catholic authorities wasted the equivalent of several thousand dollars trying to buy up and burn all the copies he had printed. They did this twice. The waste to them was that their funds, funneled secretly back to Tyndale, made it possible for him to print up even more copies of subsequent editions.
-- "William Tyndale," Christian History, Issue 16.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Title: Thinking About Heaven
A friend of mine who was a minister in southern California told me recently of a woman in a mental sanitarium there. She'd been in the sanitarium for many years with an extreme depression. She used to just sit on a bench every day staring at the earth--no conversation, no response. And one day a new doctor who'd never seen her came down the hall and greeted her. He said, "Good morning!" She made no reply. "What is your name?" he said. No answer. "Well, my name is Doctor Heven, H-E-V-E-N, and I'll be by to see you again tomorrow." Then he started away.
But she lifted her head and said to him--and because he did not know the patient, he did not know how remarkable it was that she was saying anything at all--"What did you say your name was?"
He said, "Heven, H-E-V-E-N."
Now, somehow in the confused processes of that wounded mind, that woman confused the word Heven with the word heaven, and she began thinking about heaven. As she thought about heaven, she thought about God, and she thought of God's love made known to us Christ. The next day she said to everyone she met in the hospital, "This is the day which the Lord hath made." And the day after that, "Yea, I walk through the valley of the shadow of evil, but I fear no evil." Within six days she was saying, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Within five weeks she had been released from the hospital, and for the last fourteen years she has been carrying out her responsibilities as a leading teacher in southern California.
-- Bruce Thielemann, "Christus Imperator," Preaching Today, Tape No. 55.
Remember the cartoon feature "BC" by Johnny Hart? There was one where the man was climbing a great pinnacle to see the great guru. When he reached the top he said, "Oh, great guru, what is the secret of life?" The guru simply answered, "Don't die." And so on the way back down the man mused to himself, "You don't acquire wisdom like that, you're born with it."
His reward is waiting for us.
The Big Question:
What is the nature of the personal relationship God desires to have with us?
The Big Answer:
"The Lord is my Shepherd ---" That's relationship! Etc.
God takes things personally. That's what heaven and hell are all about. He withholds nothing from his friends. He withholds everything from his enemies. Since God is the essence of all things, it is good to be a friend of God. So let's get personal. God is!
(Revelation 7:15-17 NIVUS)
15 Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."