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The 23rd Psalm (Originally presented as a three-part, three-day series)

There was once a woman going through a divorce. She was focused on the
loss, and she hurt worse everyday.

There was a man who had great financial difficulty. He focused entirely on
his problems, until he couldn't sleep at all.

There was a woman who prayed for healing, and yet, the majority of her
daytime focus, was upon her illness.

When each learned to simply "REST" in God, their lives dramatically changed.

This day we are going to talk about a gift to humanity that was given many
years ago by the Shepherd David. I wonder if we have actually received it
yet. My hope would be that we will truly receive this gift that has been offered.
The most precious gift we can give another person is sharing a part of our
soul, part of our being, part of whom we are, to share the experience and
the depth of the spiritual experience that is taking place inside of us.

There was a shepherd boy named David. He gave such a gift to humanity. It
was of tremendous value to him, but more than that, it truly can be of
tremendous value to us.

Sometimes when we have something that is valuable, we don't even realize
it. It can be as if we owned land, and there was oil deep down in the
earth but we did not realize it was there. Maybe it's our children-maybe
we don't value them in the way we might. It could be a beautiful song, but
we don't hear the words that could touch us and lift us up, or we do not
let the rhythm and harmony of the song touch us in the depth of our souls.
Allow me to share the 23rd Psalm to you. [Revised Standard Version].

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green
pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads
me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art
with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table
before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

How many of us had to learn the 23rd Psalm in Sunday school? Most of us
have. It's a part of our soul. Those are probably the most beloved words
in the Bible. We are probably more familiar with those words than we are
with any others that we have ever read and embraced from the Bible.

It has many, many facets. We're going to look at this in a way that you
probably have never looked at it before. You probably had to memorize it
years ago, and as a child you probably resented having to memorize it.

But today we're going to look at it from a new spiritual viewpoint.

What we have in this Psalm is a record of an individual's experience with
the presence of God. This is what happened to David who became the King.

It begins: "The Lord is my shepherd." It is God as shepherd and us as the
sheep. The shepherd is devoted to the care of the sheep. I think it speaks
of God's caring nature for all of humanity. The universe has been devised
in a way that we can be cared for.

We may have had times where we did not feel cared for. There may be
experiences in our lives that have been hard for us to live through, but
the truth of the matter is that our life been devised in a way that we can
feel that caring, loving Spirit of God, that never departs from our side.

We have Jesus saying to us later, "It is the Father's good pleasure to
give you the kingdom." We have the prodigal son, and the father who said
to the son who stayed home: "All that is mine is yours."

In that parable Jesus is saying, "All that is mine is yours." Why is it,
then, that we have sometimes accepted the belief that we are lacking many
good things? How could we possibly be in need when we have this caring God?

What is it that is being offered to us? What is it that is ours? I think
it is exactly as Jesus said: It is the kingdom of heaven that is ours. It
has been offered to us. And that is-the awareness of the presence of God.

If you look at all the parables and the things Jesus said (like "The
kingdom of heaven is within you") and you put it all together, you come up
with a calming, soothing, awareness of God.

We have been created in a way that we can become aware of our Creator.

We can become aware of God in moments of ecstasy, and in moments of
tragedy. The amazing thing is that when we wake up, when we are in that
state of mind and heart in awareness, God can then pour through us and
God's good can be our experience and the experience of others.

There was a minister named Bob Sikking who was in combat in Korea. There
was an incoming artillery shell. He and his comrades threw themselves to
the ground. The percussion went off very, very close by. When Bob got up,
he was naked. While he was lying there, the percussion actually had ripped
the clothes off his back, and when he stood up they just fell at his feet.

The amazing thing is not a hair on his head was harmed. He did not even
have a scratch. That's an example of God's help that can come in the worst
of times. There's a spiritual awareness in us that helps and allows that
kind of experience.

A man and a woman were in London during World War II. When the city was
being bombed, this couple volunteered to be on watch every night. Many
would go to the shelters, but they would go to some high place so they
could see where the fires were. They would then direct people to help put
the fires out. In all those years of bombing, they were never harmed.

The amazing thing is they had a little home in London. Although there was
carnage and damage all around their home, their home was never harmed. Not
a window was broken or anything. They were asked about this and they said,
"We really don't live in a house; we live in the house of the Lord." They
lived, moved, and had their being in the Presence of God.

It's not so much that God protected them. It's the fact that they lived in
God, and in God there was no conflict. There was no carnage. There was no
war. It's a state of mind and heart in which they lived. Being aware of
the presence of God brings a state of peace inside of you in any war zone
that may occur in the office or the home.

The 23rd Psalm goes on to say: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not
want." The words "I shall not want" have taught me much in my life. You
see this is recording an experience of the presence of God. When you have
that experience-you are not in want.

Thomas Merton who was a 20th Century monk said, "A rich person has no
needs." He wasn't talking about lots of money. He was talking about being
in a state of oneness with God in which there is fulfillment and
contentment. That's what happened to David. When the Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want; I do not want; I cannot want.

The Psalm goes on, "He makes me lie down in green pastures." During the
heat of the day, the shepherd would make the sheep lie down in green
pastures. They would be nourished in their rest. It would be moist there and shady.

Is there anyone experiencing the heat of life? Many. You couldn't have a
body of people this great and not have many experiencing the heat of life.
What is the normal human reaction in the heat of life? It's to run
sometimes, and sometimes it is to act, and do something. In this example,
during the heat of the day-they were told to rest.

The shepherd knows that power is in stillness. In rest, is the
nourishment. That's when the ideas come, the guidance from God comes. We
learn what to do and how to move ourselves through this experience,
whatever it happens to be.

"He leads me beside the still waters." Sheep instinctively fear turbulent
waters. Think for a moment of why that is. They have all that fur. If the
fur gets wet, then it is hard to swim. My research has said that the
shepherd would come to a stream and would make a little dam. In that
place, there would be stillness. The sheep would come and drink from those
still waters. They would feel safe. They would be nourished by the still waters.

Think of the power of a dam. Where is the power? Is it in the water that
is rushing over the spillway? Where is the strongest part of the dam? Is
it at the top? No, it's at the base. That is where the force is. That's
where the power is. That is there-where the stillness is.

There is a message in this for us. It is saying that the Lord is my
shepherd and there is a state of contentment and joy. But the way to
experience that is rest. It is the still waters, the stillness.

Meister Eckhart, the German spiritual teacher, said, "There is nothing so
like God as stillness." That's the key to experience God's Presence in
which we live and move and have our being. Then a spiritual portal is made
in our own awareness, an opening so God can pour into our lives.

What happens when we are still and we rest? The next verse says, "He
restores my soul." That's what happens when we experience the Presence of God.

You see, the first verses are about the relationship with God. Those I
have just read to you are about how to bring that experience. Now we are
looking at what happens after you are restful and still.

Probably the greatest loss in our culture of today is rest and stillness.
It used to be that families would sit together on the porch outside every
evening and be together. Now we hurry from place to place. Jesus went
apart a while. Out of stillness and rest, His soul was certainly restored.
Then he was refreshed enough to live the life he did.

There is too much viewing of God as the fireman putting out the fires in
life. What we really need to do (and this is what a part of this psalm is

trying to say to us) is to be still and rest and help God, help us. We
want to open the spiritual portal-so Divine help can come through. We
already have it, as a gift from God, but we must first rest in prayer to
receive it fully. We are made that way.

"He leads me in paths of righteousness for His namesake." We have a sense
of guidance. This is saying to be still and let the guidance of God show
you the path you are to go down. It will be shown to you, but let there
first be the relationship with God; the oneness with the Shepherd.

Notice whose sake this is for. It's for God's sake. It says, "He leads me
in paths of righteousness for His namesake." You are going to be
blessed-that's a given. But I can assure you, friends, the way God has
devised the universe, it's never JUST for you, even though that is the way
we approach it. We say, "I want this blessing for me." It is never that
way, because whenever there is someone who experiences the presence of
God, that person is blessed in untold and mysterious ways, but it doesn't
stop there. It continues pouring itself out into all of life, touching
those who are nearby. Something like this Psalm is stretched forth over
thousands of years to touch humanity. We feel it instinctively. That's why
we love it so much.

Doesn't this way of life sound wonderful? You would think, "Wow! I won't
have any problems at all." Well, that's not what the next verse says. It
says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I
fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

Sometimes we think in religion, "If I do this all right, I won't have any
problems." Well, often, we have problems, like everyone else. It's just a
part of the experience called life. I don't think it shields us from
problems, but it gives us something that allows us to move "through" the
valley. It isn't that we are going to set up a tent, build a city
there, and dwell there. It is to move through it. It's not that it has
come to stay. It is that it has come to pass. We say, "This too shall
pass. It is gone." We move through it. I think that's all-important. It's
a shadow. That's the key. It's not reality. It's not the way things really
are, in the reality of the permanent good of God.

You are uplifted when you come to God in prayer; you are taking hold of
God's truth and are uplifted.

Let me ask you a question: If you are the sheep, and there is a lion
stalking the flock, what do you do? Do you give your attention to the
tooth, to the claw, to the lion? Or do you put your attention upon the
shepherd? Which approach will dissipate the fear? Which will quicken the
fear? If you put your attention upon the lion, it will quicken the
fear. There is even scientific proof that the fear sends out a chemical
that could be smelled by the lion, attracting him to the fearful. My
suggestion would be to put full attention upon the shepherd.

That's a good way to approach life. We can focus upon the doctor's
diagnosis, the lost job, the loss of love, and the emotions that are
sweeping through our soul, or we can begin to give our attention to God.
It says, "I will fear no evil for You are with me." Obviously, in the
psalm, the attention is not upon the lion. It's not upon the problem. It's
upon the shepherd. God is with us, closer than you or I could ever
imagine. You have to experience it. That is true for us.

"Your rod and your staff comfort me." Do you know what the rod was?

The rod was an iron-tipped club used to fend off the animals or whatever
the threat happened to be. The shepherd carried this. Do you know what it
represents? It represents the power to act. When you have that sense of
oneness with God, there is the power to act and deal with whatever the
problem happens to be.

The staff is the stick with the hook on the top. It was just used to prod
the sheep and guide them in a direction. That's the guidance that comes
because we give our attention to God, NOT the problem. We have a sense of
God's guidance and we come through the storm.

The end result of this is comfort. God comforts us so the fear dissipates.
This is something you must not miss. The reason this happens is because we
awaken to the presence of God. There must be conscious awareness of
oneness with God. There must be an awareness of God. And when that occurs,
then all that God is, all that we are begins to rise up to do the work.

Verse 5 is interesting. Everything shifts. Here, God is no longer the
shepherd. God becomes the host. "You prepare a table before me in the
presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows."

Let me explain this to you. It is rather fascinating.

In Biblical days, if you were in conflict with another person, one of the
things you might do is put on the most sumptuous, incredible meal that you
could ever imagine for your enemy. You would probably borrow dishes and
things from your neighbors, try to get the best wine, and even kill the
fatted calf. You would put on one great party for this person. You would
invite him to come, and then you would wait on him hand and foot with
supreme service for his person.

But here is the catch. This was part of the culture. That person then had
to reciprocate in like kind. In this case, who is putting on the party?
God has prepared the table. So there is humiliation for the other person
because he can't match the spread you put on.

Then it goes on and says, "You anoint my head with oil." They burned oil
in their lamps and it produced light. They anointed their kings with oil
because they wanted them to be illumined. The Messiah actually means the
anointed one.

Let me ask you this. If you are waiting on someone hand and foot, you've
brought in all these things to prepare this sumptuous meal, don't you
think in the process of serving them your hardened heart might soften a
bit as you are serving this person? Your head is anointed; you begin to
perceive as God perceives-in love. In other words, you begin to see in a
different way. You begin to see them differently.

Beholding God's good in another. That's what would happen. The cup would
overflow. Where before you had a sense of emptiness about you, a sense of
loss, but now the cup overflows.

This is not because of something the person has done, but because you are
serving. You are doing something beyond yourself, and the change takes place.

May we each have a relationship with God, may we have keys of how to
nurture that spiritual relationship through stillness and rest, and we
have guidance of how to deal with the problems of life. The key is that we
must work out all our animosity, resentment, and condemnation for one another.

The last verse holds the most incredible promise for humanity and what is
there for us. It will never occur as long as we are in conflict with
others as nations, as individuals, and even ourselves and the guilt we
hold. Here is what is before us, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow
me all the days of my life, and I shall live in the house of the Lord
forever." How could that happen if you were in conflict with another human
being? There is no way it would occur. But that is the promise that is
there for all of us.

Look what is taking place now. We have moved from being the images of
sheep, to being sons and daughters of God. We have lived outside the
presence of God in our awareness, and now we are actually in the spiritual
home. We've had God outside of us, taking care of us, and now there is a
merger, a oneness, a dwelling together, living in the house of the Lord
forever, by living Jesus' teachings the way He told us to.

An awareness of God brings this kind of life. It's our destiny. It's
oneness with the Spirit of God. It is true right now. In this moment, we
are one with God as Jesus told us we are. All that is there is ready to
pour itself into your life. It matters not what your problem is, or the
sense of void you may have felt. It's all there, waiting to help. The
kingdom is within us, but it is ours to awaken within our free-will.
That is exactly what happened to David.

How do you like David's message to us? For me it is an incredible thing. I
think, of all the things that are written in the Bible, why is that "the
one" we hold to? Why is that the one we ask our children to memorize? For
me it is very evident. What a message it holds for all of us!

Would you like to hear it one more time? You've heard it before, but I
venture to say that you've probably never heard it in the way we have
shared about it today. So when I read this to you, it will be the first
time you've REALLY heard it, at least in the context and awareness that is
present in your awareness right now.

Let us pray...

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green
pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads
me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art
with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table
before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil,
my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

In Jesus Christ's name ...Amen!

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