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from his book, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Missions

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My honey sent this quote (below) to me. We are apart for a few days, but it’s nice to know I’m not far from his thoughts <heart al> Psalm 23 would have to be the best known psalm of all time. These thoughts ponder where it fits in the context of the bible and causes me to question why I’ve never thought of it like this before…and of how applicable/unapplicable it is as a highly quoted funeral psalm. Is this where non-believers get the idea that their loved one has gone “to a better place”, and what do we do to counter this deceit?

From: J Douglas MacMillan, The ‘Shepherd’ Theme, in The Lord our Shepherd, Bryntirion, 2004, Pp 46-49

We have been asking the question, Who is the Shepherd of Psalm 23? The Old Testament tells us that it was Jehovah, and the New Testament tells us that it was Jehovah-Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd of the flock of God. In answering that question we have been setting Psalm 23 against a wider background, and specifically against the clear teaching of the New Testament. And I think we need that background.

What is the setting of Psalm 23?

But now I want to come closer still to the psalm and ask another question: What is the setting of Psalm 23? What do I mean by that? Well, where in your Bible do you find Psalm 23? You say, ‘Well, preacher, that’s very easy. Psalm 23 comes after Psalm 22.’ That is absolutely right. But now I want to ask you another question: What is Psalm 22? Well, listen to it! Listen to its opening words: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Where are we when we enter into Psalm 22? We are at a place called Calvary.

Go through this psalm, and you are closer to Calvary than any of the Gospels can take you, because you are not merely looking at the one who is offering his life, but you are in his mind and you are in his heart. You are sharing and seeing his suffering, in a way that the history of the Gospels cannot allow you to see and share his suffering. You are listening to his heartbeat as he says, they … laugh me to scorn . . . saying, He trusted on the lord … let him deliver him … strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round [Bashan was famous for its breeding bulls – strong, terrifying animals] … I am poured out like water … they pierced my hands and my feet.

Where are we? We are at a place called Calvary, and we are seeing the Good Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. We are seeing what it cost for Jesus to suffer and to offer. We are see­ing what it cost this Shepherd (if I can put it like that) to get into Psalm 23. There was only one gateway for the Son of God to become the Shepherd of the sheep, and that was by the gateway of Psalm 22 and his suffering on the cross.

Let me say this – I say it with all reverence, but I make absolutely no apology for saying it. Even God could never have written Psalm 23 and its opening words, until there had first of all been the divine purpose to bring about the events of which Psalm 22 speaks. He will deal with sinners only on the basis of blood and only on the basis of sacrifice. We have to say this, you see, that even for God to get into Psalm 23 there had to come Psalm 22 in the experience of the Son of God.

The cross

Much more so, my friend, before you and I can get into Psalm 23, we have to go by the pathway of Psalm 22. There is only one gateway into the flock of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that gateway stands by the cross. That is why this psalm does not belong to any but those who come by way of the cross. It is only when you have been broken and humbled at the feet of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who has laid down his life for you, that you really become one of his sheep. There is no other way.

Knowing your Bible, that is good, but it will not save your soul. Going to church or chapel, that is good, but it is not salvation. Saying “The lord is my shepherd”, that is good too, but it can be nothing but a lie unless you come through Psalm 22 and have seen your God in Christ crucified for your sin.

The throne

Let me ask you the question again: Where is Psalm 23? You say, ‘Well, it’s after Psalm 22, and it’s just before Psalm 24.’ And you are absolutely right. What is Psalm 24? Well, just listen to it: ‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the lord? … He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart’.

There was only one pair of clean hands in this world, and men took them and drove nails through their palms. ‘He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart’—he shall ascend. And has he? Yes! Just listen!

Ye gates, lift up your heads on high,

Ye doors that last for aye,

Be lifted up . . .

Why? Because the Shepherd who laid down his life and who took it again is entering into a throne. Where is the Shepherd of God and the Shepherd of God’s people today? He has ascended on high, and he has led captivity captive, says the psalmist (Psalm 68). He has made a mockery of the triumph of his enemies, and he is exalted in the midst of the throne.

You see, the three psalms are linked together. In Psalm 22 you find a depiction of the Good Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. In Psalm 23 you find the Great Shepherd who has taken his life again, and who lovingly will shepherd and pasture every one of his sheep and lead them from a knowledge of him­self, or in a knowledge of himself, to the Father’s house for ever­more. And then in Psalm 24 you have the glory of the Chief Shepherd, the one who is ascended into glory in order to give glory to his sheep, to make them like himself.

I once heard Professor Finlayson preaching on Psalm 23, and he linked Psalms 22 to 24 like this: ‘One is the psalm of the cross, the next is the psalm of the crook, and the third is the psalm of the crown.’ They stand together, and each of them sheds its own particular light upon the Shepherd who is our Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. And these lights blend, and they light up his glory, and they show him to be a Great Shepherd.

‘The lord is my shepherd.’ Is this Lord your Shepherd? My friend, let me say this. If this Lord is your Shepherd, you have not yet begun to know how blessed you are, how God has blessed you. And if this Lord is not your Shepherd, you have not yet begun to know how poor and how miserable and how blind and how naked you really are before your God and your Creator.

If you don’t read it much it appears you are not alone! According to the results of the 2006 National Church Life Survey, just over 40% of Australian church goers claim to read their bibles regularly; that is once a week (or a little more).

I read about this on a post by the Sola Panel. They have a bible reading survey you can take here. (I can’t see that it will tell them much as I imagine that their readership is the ‘high end’ of the regular bible readers and the questions do nothing to distinguish between age groups or other stats…oh well)

You’ll know this is for you….

Some thoughts about using the bible reading plan:

-Just read and enjoy. Pray every day before you begin that you’ll be enlightened but don’t try to make it happen or stress if it doesn’t seem to be happening. There will be moments when bells ring, and having the content in your head allows it to be built on in the future; through sermons, other reading, conversations….

-rest knowing that by reading in a disciplined manner you are becoming more familiar and your bible knowledge will grow. You also don’t need to think “Where now?” when you’ve finished a book because you have direction.

-use a notebook and perhaps a highlighter. Jot down thoughts or comments and perhaps note the date so you can connect it in the future with whatever reading you were doing.

-2 Peter 3:18 Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Thanks Renee for putting me onto Alistair Begg. (She tells me his Scottish accent alone is worth listening to). We have limited bandwidth for several reasons, most of which I’m not sad about (but it’s complicated). So I don’t download or listen to sermons online tho’ I know there are many great resources out there. But I have subscribed to Begg’s daily devotional which gets sent into my inbox.

He uses Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” which have proved just the right length for a devotional type reading and very encouraging.

Today was from Joel 1:3 Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. It begins:

In this simple way, by God’s grace, a living testimony for truth is always to be kept alive in the land: The beloved of the Lord are to hand down their witness for the Gospel and the covenant to their heirs, and these again to their next descendants. This is our first duty; we are to begin at the family hearth.

And: It is a pleasant duty to talk of Jesus to our sons and daughters, and the more so because it has often proved to be an accepted work, for God has saved the children through the parents’ prayers and admonitions.

Continue this short reading here.

John Piper recommends this bible reading plan in ‘When I Don’t Desire God’ and I have been meaning to download it since I read about it yonks ago.

The plan has only 25 days reading per month, which is fab for me because (realistically) I will miss days here and there. In that past when I’ve followed a plan, I get behind, feel out of the swing of things and give up! This way I can catch up on the leftover days. <big smile> Someone like Bette, who’ll never get behind, could use the leftover days to do some special reading.

Also Diane suggested that if the 4 readings (2 x OT, 2 x NT) were too much for one day, you could just read one OT and one NT and take it over two years.

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Alan saves quotes. He’s been doing it for years. When he reads a good’n, he bothers to write it down. This is great because then I can say “who was that guy who said such and such”. Keep it up bro’.

Today he gave me these from his storehouse:

“True Christians find by experience, that any interruption in the exercise of their faith, causes holy affections to decline, their corruptions to revive, and their comforts to droop”
– Matthew Henry (on John 15:1-8)

“First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure.”
– Mark Twain

Fear, anxiety and insecurity are a result of doubt. Unbelief. I know this well.

I have every reason to never doubt; a loving faithful family (of redeemed sinners), encouraging friends, the Word of God.

My reading this morning spoke clearly of the answer for any who, like me, are assailed by this sin.

Psalm 109:1-5

Be not silent, O God of my praise!
For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.
They encircle me with words of hate,
and attack me without cause.
In return for my love they accuse me,
but I give myself to prayer.
So they reward me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.

My testimony today is that *every time* I believe this and do it (give myself to prayer), God’s truth prevails.

David and I read this today in our daily readings by JC Ryle.

Read Luke 24: 13-35 (Emmaus road) Also read Mal 3: 16-17

What encouragement is given to believers in these verses to speak to one another about Christ! We are told of two disciples walking together on the road to Emmaus and talking of their Master’s crucifixion. And then there follow remarkable words (v. 15)

Conference on spiritual subjects is a most important means of grace. As iron sharpeneth iron, so does exchange of thought with bretherren sharpen a believer’s soul. It brings down a special blessing on all who make a practice of it. Malachi’s words are for the church in every age.

What do we know of spiritual conversations with other Christians? Perhaps we read our bibles and pray in private and [attend church]. It is all well, very well. But if we stop short here we neglect a great privilege and have yet much to learn. The Scriptures exhort us to provoke one another to love and good works and exhort and edify one another (Heb 10:24, 1 Thess 5:11)

Have we no time for spiritual conversations? Let us think again. The quantity of time wasted on frivolous, trifling and unprofitable talk is fearfully great. Do we find nothing to say on spiritual subjects? Do we feel tongue-tied and dumb on the things of Christ? Surely if this is the case there must be something wrong within. A heart right in the sight of God will generally find words (Matt 12:34)

Let us learn a lesson from the two travellers to Emmaus. Let us speak of Jesus when we are sitting in our houses and when we are walking by the way whenever we find a disciple to speak to (Deut 6:7). If we believe that we are journeying to heaven, where Christ will be the central object of every mind, let us begin to learn the manners of heaven while we are still on earth. So doing we shall often have One with us whom our eyes will not see, but One who will make our hearts burn within us by blessing the conversation.

For meditation: Matthew 12:36.

I’ve been reading When I Don’t Desire God – How to Fight for Joy by John Piper. Here’s a quote I read this morning:

When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life;…whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35), he is saying that “believing” in him includes a taste for the living water of his all-satisfying glory, so that the believing heart will never thirst again. That is, faith, having tasted the all-satisfying sweetness of the living Christ, will never forsake him in preference for the broken cisterns of the world. (Jer 2:13) There may be temporary strayings and backslidings. There may be great soul-conflict. But once the soul has truly tasted the water of life and the bread of heaven, it will never finally forsake the Lord.

He goes on to talk about how, in the western church, we have let go of Paul’s admonition to “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim 6:12) by allowing a devil-may-care, cavalier, superficial attitude toward the ongoing, daily intensity of personal joy in Christ, because people do not believe that their eternal life depends on it.

hmmm…

Colossians 1: 9-14

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

This scripture so sums up the study we did last week on decision making. Paul knows that God will give the Colossians knowledge of his will – it comes through wisdom and understanding! That’s what the mind renewal is all about.

And the purpose? So they live a life worthy of God and please him. This is how we do these two things – bearing fruit in good works, growing in knowledge of him, being strengthened to have endurance and patience and being joyful. This will bring glory to God.

<contented sigh>

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