The Rod and Staff of the Good Shepherd

“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.” (Psalm 23:4)

If you are a sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock, two comforting items are noted in Psalm 23: 4 as provided to you. One is principally defensive, His rod, and one primarily offensive, His staff. They provide two things we sheep, like real sheep, have always needed, protection and guidance. They both provide comfort because one shelters, the rod, and one stimulates, the staff.

Throughout Scripture the rod has represented authority. The authority of the Good Shepherd over the flock indicates. He has the right to govern us just as a shepherd does his sheep.  The rod was used as a defensive weapon to protect the sheep. This is comforting to sheep. Comfort also comes from knowing the shepherd provides guidance.

The rod and staff are property of the shepherd. They belong to the shepherd, not the sheep. One is to ward off predators and the other to mark off pathways. We sheep get in trouble when we try to rely on our own defense and guidance. Comfort comes from relying on the Good Shepherd for both.

In our western culture shepherds drive their sheep. In the eastern culture in the era of the Bible the shepherd walked in front of the sheep, affording  comforting guidance. He also had the vantage point of being the first to see encroaching danger  as well as direction.

Consider the application of both the rod and staff in your life. In our unstable world is there fear in your life? Throughout Scripture there are “fear nots” postets. Let them be reminders of the protection provided by the Good Shepherd and quell the fears. Knowing He knows what you are facing and cares for you is intended to provide comfort for you.

Are you concerned about an issue posing a need for understanding and guidance? Rely on Him before making the decision and seek His guidance. Uncertainty calls for a source of certainty. Gather all sources related to the issue, evaluate them, pray for His guidance and let Him mark your path. This comforts. 

There is comfort in there being a staff to guide the sheep. A couple of verses earlier in Psalms tells where the Good Shepherd leads. It is beside still water and on paths of righteousness. In your hour of need He still guides in these areas.

Having walked through the valley long known as the Valley of Death, now known as the Wadi (valley) Qelt, that runs from Jerusalem to Jericho, I have seen the evidence of the need for a rod and staff. It is so narrow and steep the sun does not reach its depth at places. The narrow path along a ledge on the side of the cliff drops off precipitously to a great depth. There are caves in which bandits dwelt and other caves occupied by predators. It is a collection of threats requiring protection and guidance.  The text is translated “Yea though,” meaning, even if I am under extreme conditions the Good Shepherd has what is needed to protect and provide for His sheep, you. He will guide you where you can find peace and restoration. Now, with that fact fixed, go forth with comfort.

Does Character Count? 9/20/98

Psalm 15:1-5
Page 805 Come Alive Bible

Jesus Christ dealt with a cast of characters as diverse as we. He provided for all the potential of peace with God in time and for eternity. In time He inspired hope and for eternity He enabled the love of God to be shared.

It is through the most circuitous route that He leads us to build our character. The path is marked for us: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:1 – 4).

This passage explains why so few people live positively with inspired hope. It is character that produces hope.

Character traits were once the words used when persons were spoken of. People were described as persons of character. Words, such as, honesty, integrity, truthful, and dependable were used.

Gradually the operative word changed from character to personality. Charming, cool, funny, and outgoing became the vocabulary.

Character has been so devalued as an admirable trait we have even been assured character doesn’t count. God said it does.

Psalm 15 opens with a strategic question: “Oh, Lord who may approach your holy place? Who may worship on your holy mountain?”

Transliterated that means what are the character qualities we should bring into the presence of the Lord? Then the answer: “Those who walk blamelessly, live righteously and speak the truth from their heart.”

How can it be said character doesn’t count in a world full of “oughts” and “shoulds.” Frequently in Scripture the expression “ought to” is used. It means what we “ought” to do is for our good and God’s glory.

Every “ought” is rooted in a value; every value requires a choice, every choice reveals character. Get it!

Every ought is
rooted in a value;
every value requires
a choice; every choice
defines a character.

Character isn’t something you have; it is something you are that inevitably shows itself in what you do.

As a child I learned the axiom: “Reputation is what people think you are. Character is what you know you are.”

Yet another: “Take care of your character and your reputation will take care of itself.”

And another: “Only you can damage your character.”

Aristotle, the godfather of Greek philosophy, asserted human behavior can be shaped, that certain behaviors are helpful for individuals and society, and the best way to develop good behavior is by observing good role models. The Greeks identified four cardinal virtues: PRUDENCE, JUSTICE, COURAGE, and TEMPERANCE.

Though there are many attributes of those who can come into God’s presence, let’s concentrate on these four. Consider developing these four character traits. Look for them in others and model them.

We live by stories. Your life is a story being lived out. Your autobiography would be your story. Recently we studied the life of the Old Testament character Joseph as a man of character. Let’s consider his story in evaluating these character traits.

Prudence is practical wisdom that leads to good choices and results in successful living.

Certain self-imposed tests of a decision are practical.
A. ACCEPTABILITY: Will this please my Lord?

B. BENEFIT: If this is known will it cause my friends embarrassment?

C. CONSEQUENCE: Am I prepared to live with the outcome?

Joseph was a prudent man, meaning, he had horse sense. As Prime Minister of Egypt he likely was the individual who oversaw the building of some of the greatest pyramids in Egypt. He was no minor player. He handled the fortune of the Egyptian empire. He was the overseer of the personal household of the pharaoh.

Every path has its puddle. There was a big one in Joseph’s path.

His character was shaped by keeping God center stage in his thoughts. When enticed by the wife of the captain of Potiphar, the captain of pharaoh’s elite guard, he resisted the temptation. His prudent choice was based on a simple fact. It wasn’t, I might get caught. It was, “How can I sin against God?”

Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright will guide them…”

A modern story compliments prudence as well as that of Joseph.

John, a young soldier, stood nervously straightening his uniform and looking through the crowd in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. He was looking for a woman he knew by reputation but not by face. She was to be identified by a small red rose she was to be wearing.

Their story began several years before in Florida. He bought a used book of poetry. When he started reading it he was more intrigued by the hand written notes in the margin than the words of the author. The notes were by the book’s original owner. They revealed an insightful and prudent person. In the front of the book John found the woman’s name and hometown. With great effort he found her address and wrote her.

The next day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the military and was almost immediately shipped overseas. He wrote again and she eventually responded. The continuing correspondence developed into a romance. He requested a photo but she refused. She said that if their relationship was meant to be what she looked like wouldn’t matter.

Finally, when the war ended they scheduled their first meeting in Grand Central Station on Friday evening at 7:00 PM. She wrote, “You’ll recognize me by the small red rose that I’ll have in my lapel.” He arrived two hours early. Let’s now let him tell his story.

“At just about 7:00 PM a young woman was walking toward me. I stood up. She was the most stunning woman I had ever seen in my life. I started moving toward her, and then I noticed she wasn’t wearing a small rose in her lapel. When she walked past me she said, ‘Going my way, soldier?’

“I was about to follow her when I saw directly behind her another woman who was looking at me expectantly. She was much older than I had expected and not as attractive as I hoped. She was wearing a small rose in her lapel. I wanted to follow the other woman. But I didn’t. I was clutching the book from the used bookstore that began it all. I was going to give it to her as a present.

“‘Hello, I’m John, I’m so glad to meet you.’ Even as I said the words, I was thinking of the other woman. ‘Would you like to go to dinner?’

“The older woman seemed confused and said, ‘Son, I don’t know what this is all about, but that beautiful young woman who was walking in front of me pleaded with me to wear this small red rose in my lapel. She said if you were still going to take me out to dinner, I should tell you that she’ll be waiting for you in the restaurant in the hotel right across the street. She said it was some kind of test.’”

That beautiful young woman was the one with whom John had been corresponding. He made a prudent choice based on his character.

Joseph made a prudent choice not to compromise his character. When the wife of Potiphar tried to seduce him he ran so fast his cloak was torn off him.

He did what Paul years later told young Timothy to do, “Flee … youthful lusts” (II Timothy 2:22).

The word “flee” means to run so fast as to kick up dust.

Flee and don’t leave a forwarding address.

Psalm 15 notes that in the eyes of a person of character “a vile person is despised”(Vs. 4). That is, there is no playful tolerance with evil. They do not develop friends of base, crude, evil, foul or gross persons.

Conversely a prudent person “honors those who fear the Lord” (Psalm 15: 4b).

Justice centers on acts of fairness, honesty, and the rules of law.

Psalm 15: 2 gives three descriptive terms for such a person:
1. “He walks uprightly…” This is one translation of the Hebrew word for “integrity.” (vs. 2a). He leads an uncorrupted life.

2. “And works righteousness…” (Vs. 2b). He does what is right.

Dr. Madison Sarratt, a math professor at Vanderbilt University, would tell his students before a test: “Today I am giving two examinations, one in trigonometry and the other is in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there are no good people who cannot pass the examination of honesty.”

3. “He speaks truth from his heart…” (Vs. 2c).

This type person tells the truth plain and simple. He doesn’t have a personal glossary of terms as defined by himself. He doesn’t play word games. He avoids semantical sand traps.

An old Hebrew translation of this is: “One who doesn’t trip over his own tongue.”

As a youth Joseph was sold as a slave by his older brothers. Years lapsed and God elevated him from a pit to prime minister. A famine ravaged the land of Israel and his brothers had to come to Egypt to beg for food. They stood before the prime minister not knowing he was their brother Joseph. He did not deal with them vindictively but justly. He had a sense of justice, fairness, honesty, and respect for law.

The person who pleases God is defined in verse 4b as one who keeps his word: “He swears to his own hurt and does not change.” What he says he will do even if it is challenging or costly to do. Parents that is applicable in the parent\child relationship. When you tell your child you will do something —- do it. Don’t promise your child you will go fishing and then cancel when someone with whom you have been wanting to play golf calls with a tee time.

If you do, don’t be surprised when your child promises to do something and doesn’t. You will have taught the child by example.

A sense of justice motivates honesty.

Joseph didn’t have a lapse of memory when it came to justice. He dealt fairly and honestly with his brothers. Justice prevailed.

We often joke about how forgetful we are. Age is often inappropriately associated with forgetfulness. As we age there is one thing we must remember. When we were young we also forgot things. One senior friend with a sense of humor said of a lapse of memory, “Excuse me, I was having a ‘senior moment.’”

An older couple was watching TV one night. As he got up he said, “How would you like some ice cream?” Happily she replied, “I would love it, and put a little chocolate syrup on it. However, before you go to get it write it down so you won’t forget. Write it down.”

She heard his scurrying around in the kitchen for the longest. He returned with a plate of scrambled eggs. She said, “I told you to write it down so you wouldn’t forget. You forgot my bacon.”

God has written down certain things so we won’t forget them. One is we are to “act justly.”

A sense of justice is of no use if we don’t have the courage of our convictions. Joseph was courageous. He was willing to endure false accusation, accept the wrath of Potiphar, and experience prison rather than compromise.

Joseph could have compromised in his conscience. He could have concluded at several stages of his life that following God’s path had gotten him nothing but trouble. It hadn’t worked. However, he had the courage to live by his God inspired convictions.

Temperance, the fourth Greek virtue, means self-control.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of individuals who failed to exercise self-control and lost control.

In the New Testament one of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control.

We all have appetites. You can run through an inventory of them starting with an appetite for good food. Controlling them is our responsibility.

There is no more classic example of self- control than Joseph. His ego had an appetite. The woman pursuing him found him very handsome the Scripture said. That fed his ego. She was enticing. That appealed to his libido. The ego and libido are two very demanding appetites. We are responsible for controlling them by the power of God. Those who make prudent choices do. Individuals who have a sense of justice do. Persons with courage to stand for the right, do. Self-control results from a combination of these.

Such persons are described in Psalm 15 as those who may abide in God’s presence.

Psalm 15 began with a question and ends with a promise.

Psalm 15 closes with assurance: “He who does these things shall never be moved.” Certain character gives stability and consistency.

God Ask Some Questions

In Job 30 – 41 God asked some pertinent questions. Most people consider the questions to be directed to Job, and they may have been, but it is more likely they were not. Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu each spoke without accurate knowledge just prior to when God begins His question asking, “Who are you…, and it appears the questions are asked of them.

In posing questions no human could answer His questions made sense of what seemed to make no sense. Prior to these questions by God, questions had been asked of God. Now God questions them, and indirectly us.

Regardless of who was being questioned, it was Job who was comforted by the questions. They showed God was real, attentive, and they revealed Him to be a God who loved Job, and us. That was enough for Job even if God offered no direct insight into the probing of Him.

Consider these questions in Job 38: 4 – 7 as though directed to you. “”Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.

“Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Kind of makes us humans look small, doesn’t it?

These things obviously happened and there were no human beings present to deny God did not do them.

There are mysteries into which our cloudy eyes cannot, and will never be able to see. There will always be conundrums which no one can definitively answer.  This only proves, “Great is the mystery of godliness.”

God made the earth with a specific length and breadth, and no more, and no one knows why. It’s a God thing.

Angels are here called morning stars and sons of God. They in reality did witness the creation of the earth, and they rejoiced at the glory, power, and wisdom of God in the creation.

All the sons of God shouted for joy. That implies Lucifer fell from his exalted position as the anointed cherub before God created the earth in that he surely would not have rejoiced over such a defining act by the Creator.

Further questions define the nature of earth to which enquiring minds to this day have no answer. 

It is as though God is showing off His superior knowledge to that of humans by stacking one unknown question upon another. In doing so He is shouting, “Trust me.” Search for answers, knowing there are some questions to which man will never have an answer, but God will always be knowledgeable and loving. It is His nature. He is all knowing, all wise, all powerful, and as a bonus, all loving.

“All I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen,”

Ralph Waldo Emerson. It might be added, all that I know of God teaches me to trust Him with all I don’t know.

How Will You Be Remembered?

I Thessalonians 1: 2, 3

Paul had only spent three weeks with the Thessalonian believers, but they made a lasting impression on him. You are also making an impression. He spoke of three memorable traits regarding them.

Their work of faith. Every person has faith. The issue is “in what?” We either have positive or negative faith. That is, we either have faith in possibilities or impossibilities, in ideas that make us victims rather than masters.

Far from lacking faith, modern persons have a surplus of it. The former dictator of Italy, Mussolini said, “The capacity of modern man to believe is unbelievable.” A person can no more run away from the faith factor than he can run away from his own legs. Persons either have faith in anarchy or democracy, astrology or rabbit’s feet, in materialism or God. Faith is the most potent drug on the market. If a person says he will have no faith then the policy of no faith is what he has faith in. It is expedient to exhort persons to have faith. Everyone has faith. The issue is in what to place it.

Authentic faith results in an absorption with Jesus Christ. Such radical faith transforms our character to be like that of Jesus. Our ambitions, aspirations, and allegiance are completely reoriented according to our faith.

A friend once wrote to the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev: “It seems to me that to put oneself in second place is the whole significance of life.” His reply, “It seems to me to discover what to put before oneself, in the first place, is the whole problem of life.”

Will James, considered by many to be the originator of modern psychology noted, “Every sort of energy and endurance or courage and capacity for handling life’s evils, is set free in those who have religious faith.”

Carl Jung, one of the most important figures in the history of psychology, observed: “Side by side with the decline of religious life, neuroses form noticeably more frequently.”

Their labor of love was remembered.  A sure sign that Christ has come into a heart is that the mind is no longer imprisoned with negative notions, pessimistic precepts, and censorious criticism. Love incites labor. There is a difference between “work” and “labor.” Work may be pleasant and stimulating. The word labor translates “kopos,”stresses fatigue, exertion, and great cost. Where there is no love, there is no labor.

Their patience of hope was remembered.  Christianity produces an indomitable hope. A Christian’s hope is intimately related to Christ’s resurrection. His resurrection shows us God can take the very worst and give His very best.

The famous American cardiologist, Dr. R. McNair Wilson, wrote in “Doctor’s Progress,” “Hope is the medicine I use more than any other…Hope can cure nearly anything.”  Hope is desire plus expectation. Such hope instigates patience. It is aggressive persistence. It isn’t quiet resignation, but rather heroic endurance. Hope lasts. It is made of enduring fiber.

They were remembered because of their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope. By what do you aspire to be remembered?  Daily you are formulating your lasting impression. Elevate your aspiration.

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13  

“Faith rests on the past; love works in the present, hope looks to the future. 
Faith looks back to the crucified Christ.
Love looks up to the crowned Christ.
Hope looks on to the coming Christ.”

Caleb: What It Means to Whole-Heartedly Follow the Lord 6/7/98

Joshua 14:1-15

JESUS CHRIST said, “If any man desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt 16:24).

Following the Lord isn’t always easy, but it is always right. The Bible is filled with stories of
courageous people who were willing to do God’s will against all odds. Are you?

One such man emerged on the pages of Hebrew history at a crisis time. He stood as a minority in a moment when the mentality was “Thus saith the majority.” Would anyone dare to speak out and declare, “Thus saith the Lord?”

It was a hot day in the wilderness of Paran as the people awaited an important report. We know it was a hot day because all days in Paran are hot. Moses had sent twelve spies into the prospective Promised Land. The fact they returned was good, but the news they brought was bad. Hear their report:
“We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there … (Resume reading verses 31 – 33)” [Numbers 13: 27,28 & 31 – 33].

The land’s bounty is described by the terms “milk and honey.” “Milk” means there were many domesticated farm animals in the land. “Honey” translates the word “dibbs.” It actually is a dehydrated paste made from grape juice. The term meant there were many vineyards in the land.

Notice the response of the people Numbers 14: 1.

Caleb and his friend Joshua were the two among the twelve spies that dared to venture according to the promise of God. He was not deterred and responded — Numbers 14: 6 – 9.

Surely such courage will be applauded. Not so, notes Numbers 14: 10a, “…stone them with stones.”

Surely Caleb did not read the mood of the crowd. He knew such a bold declaration would be met with disdain. No, he didn’t misread the crowd. Neither did he misunderstand the will of the Father. The reason for him confronting the crowd in order to comply with the Lord is found in one description given him on six different occasions: Numbers 14:24; 32:11,12; Deut. 1:36; Josh. 14:8,9 & 14. In each of these verses it is said Caleb “wholly” followed the Lord. He was committed to the Lord with his whole heart.

There are many believers who are truly Christ’s who are not wholly His. Christ is undeniably their Savior, but not undisputedly their Sovereign. He is present in their lives but not President of their lives.

He was like the missionary of a more modern era who died a youthful death serving among the American Indians. The following entry was found in David Brainard’s diary the day of his untimely death: “No reserve, no retreat, no regret.”

God said, “Possess the land.” Caleb said, “Forward hooooo.”
His response was based on:
-Confidence in God’s character and capacity.
-Commitment from a servant’s heart.

These two principles are summed up in God’s description of Caleb, “My servant Caleb…has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully” (Numbers 14: 24).

His exhortation did not prevail. The people protested and complained. God therefore declared that none of these people, including Moses, would enter the Promised Land. Only Joshua and Caleb among all the people would be allowed to enter the land (Numbers 14: 24). Caleb was 40 years old at the time he received this promise of the Lord.

Israel as a nation was pardoned and remained the people of God, but that “wilderness generation,” by their sin of rebellion forfeited their primary blessing. That generation was destined for “second-best.” By their sins they had placed limitations on themselves. They still saw many blessings of God in the wilderness but never entered the land of promise.

Forty-five years lapsed before the promise to Caleb was fulfilled. God always keeps His word and his time is always right.

Caleb’s spirit and servant temperament was revealed in the land of promise. Othniel had aided Caleb in defeating the giants in the land. Caleb gave him his daughter, Achsah, in marriage. As an inheritance they received the dry lands of the Negeb. Achsah asked her father for a source of water (Joshua 15: 13 – 19). This was the most valuable commodity in the land. In a loving manner like that which God had shown him, Caleb gave them the upper and lower springs to make their barren land productive. He is a role model for those of us who know we should always give our best.

Scripture passages related to Caleb reveal – – –

There were three witnesses of the fact Caleb followed the Lord. Our faithfulness has three similar witnesses.

A. Caleb himself. “I wholly followed the Lord my God” (Joshua 14: 8). This was no idle boast, it was a sincere testimony. He knew he had been faithful and he knew God knew he had been faithful. Can you give such a testimony?
B. Others testified of his faithfulness. Moses said, ‘Surely the land where you foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord” (Joshua 14:9).
C. The Lord was the third witness. God Himself said, “My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it” (Numbers 14: 24).

Caleb lived with a standard of appraisal worthy of all of us. It is summed up in his expression: “If the Lord delight in us” (Numbers 14:8). He wanted to please God at all times.

There are three testimonies indicating what motivates a whole-hearted follower to be obedient.

A. Glorification. Only a life wholly committed to Christ glorifies Him. Peter was God’s New Testament agent of exhortation when he wrote: “He who called you is holy, you also be holy in your conduct, because as it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy'” (I Peter 1: 15, 16).
B. Edification. A whole-hearted Christian is a positive witness for our Lord. A half- hearted follower is a negative witness. Such lifestyles have retarded the gospel.
C. Sanctification. Sanctification means set aside and designated for a specific use. True sanctification is evidenced by wholly following the Lord.

Caleb manifested characteristics becoming of a child of God.

No Anakim distresses the person who has a sense of God’s presence and the associated discernment.

Three traits characterize a person who wholly follows the Lord.
A. Concentration. To follow Him whole-heartedly means to concentrate all you have to Him. This calls for total allegiance.
B. Completeness. This calls for regularity and an uncompromising will to serve Him.
C. Constancy. Many persons run hot and cold. This confuses the non-believer and bewilders the faithful believer. It means to have a non-compromising mind set and heartfelt commitment.

Caleb was able to “wholly” follow the Lord because he had “another Spirit in him” (Numbers 14: 24). In John 14: 16,17 Jesus said He was sending us “another Comforter,” the Holy Spirit. He indwells and infills us as He did Caleb.

Hebron was promised to Caleb because of his faithfulness. It was 45 years before it was actually his. There are “Hebrons” promised those who follow the Lord. These spiritual blessings are actually ours under covenant promises of God. However, they truly become ours only when we demonstrate consistently in serving Him whole- heartedly. Let us like Caleb work diligently while waiting patiently for our Hebron. Such a wait is as much of a blessing as the possession when it too is a gift of God.

We like to assert our right to “whatsoever you shall ask,” while failing to realize it is entirely conditioned on God’s “whatsoever I command you.”

Are you willing to do “whatsoever” He commands you wholeheartedly?