Monday, November 23, 2015

November 22, 2015 The 23rd Psalm - A Blessed Life

A college friend of mind has a story that is an incredibly powerful reminder of appreciating the blessing of life.  She worked for IBM, and one day she was preparing for a business trip.  After booking her flight her boss asked her to cancel the trip.  She argued that it was an important trip to take but her boss was insistent that she cancel the trip, as IBM had decided to place a freeze on business travel.  She reluctantly canceled the trip.  The flight she booked flew on September 11, 2001, and turned out to be the second flight that hit the World Trade Center.

It would be impossible not to think of life as incredibly blessed after such an experience.  To awaken every day, knowing that because your trip had been canceled, you are alive.  You are alive and have the blessing of enjoying many more years with your spouse.  You are alive and have the blessing of watching your children grow to adulthood and have families of their own.  You awaken every day with the knowledge that life could have ended far too early – but it didn’t.  I believe such an experience to be a blessing that would prevent one from ever taking life for granted.

As we conclude our brief series of messages on the 23rd Psalm, this morning we study the last portion of verse five – my cup runneth over, with a message titled A Blessed Life.  As this is Consecration Sunday, when we pledge our time, talents, and resources to the church and to God’s kingdom, I believe it is an appropriate time to consider what blessed lives we lead.

Hear, again, the 23rd Psalm –

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will 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 mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I love the image of an overflowing cup, as it represents the blessedness of life, so let’s talk about A Blessed Life.

1.  We are called to bless the lives of others. 
Those of you who have been part of the Bethel Bible Study learn something that is foundational to the study – as we are blessed by God we are called to, what?  To be a blessing to others.  You better get that right, or Thelma and Jim are going to get after you!

Sometimes, faith is viewed as such a personal matter that it can be void of a connection with others.  Some people even claim that faith belongs solely in the personal domain, and should not have a place in the public realm at all.  But faith is far more than personal; it has a very public side as well, as we are called to help fill the cup of others, so their cup too might overflow.  As we are in that time of year when we plan our church budget for next year, I want to take a moment and reflect on the way you, as a congregation, are such a blessing to others.  Consecration Sunday is about much more than simply raising money to keep the lights burning, the heat going, and the staff paid.  It is a time when we recommit ourselves to the offering of our time, our talents, and our lives to being a blessing to others.  As a congregation you are doing just that in so many ways, and not all of those ways of doing mission and ministry are reflected in our church budget.  I am working on a document in which I will list not only the many types of mission and ministry we do as a congregation, but to also calculate the money and volunteer hours that are given, and I think it would be an amount to surprise us all.

There is not a month, a week, or even a day that does not pass without someone in this congregation engaging in some type of mission or ministry activity, and the number of hours given would be incalculable. 

What does it mean, this image of a cup that runs over?  It is an image of abundance, of have so much more than enough that the vessel of our lives cannot contain all that comes our way.  Now, I realize that most, if not all of us, don’t always feel as though we have enough in life, let alone having more than enough.  But the reality is that, in some way, all of us have an abundance of something with which we can bless the lives of others.  Maybe you don’t have an abundance of financial resources, but you might have an abundance of time.  Maybe you don’t have an abundance of time, but maybe you have an abundance of some talent or ability that can bless the lives of others.

We are living in a time in history when there are millions of people who have been displaced because of violence and warfare.  There is a robust debate in many countries about whether or not to take in the people who are fleeing those war-torn areas of the world, and there is a robust debate in our own country as well.  Of course, we ought to take in people from those areas of the world.  I believe our faith compels us to do so.  We are so blessed with freedom, security, and resources and we ought to allow overflowing cup of blessing to bless the lives of others.

2.  Learn, from the blessing of adversity, how to bless others in their time of adversity.
It’s by design, I believe, that adversity is one of the great themes of Scripture.  Some of the most powerful writings and experiences come out of adversity.  When I was taking church history, I can well remember when we studied St. Augustine’s City of God, which was written centuries ago.  I was bored out of my mind.  I sat in the back of the class and thought to myself, there is absolutely no reason for me to know anything about this book as it has no use or relevance to my life.  And lo and behold, years later, I taught a class on that book for four years and wrote a study guide for it as well.  During that process I often wished I had paid attention in church history class! 

I came to appreciate the beauty of that great book, as it was written in response to a time of great adversity, and reminds us that one of life’s great lessons is the truth that faith is not forged and made strong by prosperity, but by adversity.  One of the great statements it offers is this – some of the best bread is baked in the oven of adversity.  I love that declaration – some of the best bread is baked in the oven of adversity.  Adversity is, as strange as it may sound, one of life’s gifts, because without adversity we could never truly appreciate the depths of love or gratitude or the blessings which are so abundant in our lives.

George Matheson was a Scottish minister who lived in the 19th century.  As a young man, when he was engaged to be married, his eyesight began to falter and his doctor told him he would quickly lose all of his vision.  When he told his fiancé of his oncoming blindness she immediately handed back to him her engagement ring, saying she did now want to marry one who would soon be so dependent upon her.  It was a crushing experience for him, but out of that experience he wrote the hymn O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
(The Taste of Joy, Calvin Miller, p. 89)

3.  A blessed life is a life of faith.
Ernest Gordon was the longtime Dean of the Chapel at Princeton University.  I’ve referred to him a time or two before, I believe.  He wrote the book Through the Valley of the Kwai, which was the basis for the movie Bridge Over the River Kwai.  As a prisoner of war during World War II, Gordon and his fellow soldiers suffered unimaginable difficulty, but it was in those difficult conditions that Gordon himself came to faith.  Of his experience he wrote, faith thrives when there is no hope but God.  It is luxury and success that makes men greedy (The Good Life, Peter J. Gomes, p. 262)
Skeptics will say that faith is a genetic predisposition, a weakness of the intellect, a desire to control others, or that it’s born out of a fear of death.

People place faith in a great many things, but faith in God is, I believe, a foundational need in life. 

Luke 5:17-26 contains one of my favorite stories in the gospels.  It is the story of the paralyzed man, who was healed by Jesus.  What I like about the story is that the paralyzed man is not the focus of the story; his friends are.  These friends carried the paralyzed man on a mat to a house where Jesus was teaching.  They believed that Jesus could heal their friend, but when they arrived at the house there were so many people gathered it was impossible to get their friend close to Jesus.  Did they give up?  No.  They climbed to the roof of the home, dug a hole in the roof, and lowered their friend through the hole and placed him right in front of Jesus.  Wouldn’t you like to have some friends like that?  They were some great friends.

Faith is a communal activity, not just one that is solitary.  Think of how the faith of those friends must have strengthened the man who was paralyzed.  Imagine his reaction when they said they were taking him to Jesus.  Imagine his reaction upon discovering they couldn’t get to Jesus because of the crowd.  Imagine his reaction when his friends haul him up to the roof and start digging their way through the roof.  Imagine his reaction to suddenly find himself at the feet of Jesus.  They weren’t about to give up and lose faith.

My favorite part of the passage is what Luke says – when Jesus saw their faith.  It was not the faith of the paralyzed man that Jesus saw, but the faith of his friends.  It was the faith of his friends that brought about his healing.

I don’t believe I could do faith on my own.  I haven’t done faith on my own.  I have faith because of my parents, who first instilled it within me.  I have grown in faith because of teachers and mentors and role models who helped me understand faith in a more powerful way.  I continue in faith because of friends and loved ones, who have encouraged me and reminded me that faith never gives up, and never quits.

Remember how you got to where you are in life, because you did not get there on your own.  We so need to remember, because it is too easy to forget.

We live in such a forgetful, disposable culture; we use something for a short time and then throw it away.  Forget it.  Toss it.  The Recycled Teenagers went last Thursday to Nonesuch, to Irish Acres Antiques, located in an old school building, as we have done in recent years.  A couple of years ago when we were there, I was looking at a piece made between the late 1800s and about 1910.  Deanie Logan was explaining it to me, and made the interesting comment about the quality and endurance of things made during earlier eras.  Technology has just about finished off any such idea.  A phone lasts until the next, cooler version comes out.  In my previous congregation, we had a rotary dial telephone that remained mounted on the wall.  One day, one of the kids asked if they could use the phone, and then stood there staring at it.  I asked, what was the matter?  He had never seen a rotary dial phone and didn’t know how to use it.  But it worked when the power went off, and it worked when the cellular network was down.  People laughed at it, but it was more reliable than the smartphone in their pocket.

Some people treat faith as though it is something from a bygone, forgotten age.  They want us to believe that the age of faith has come and gone, and that it is foolish to continue to cling to faith in our modern age.

A blessed life is a life of faith.  It has served humanity well for thousands of years, and will do so until the end of time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November 15, 2015 The 23rd Psalm: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

November 15, 2015
Psalm 23

As we continue our three weeks in the 23rd psalm, we come to verse 5 – Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.  In light of what took place in Paris this weekend, they are timely words.  We live in a world full of enemies, as has always been the case, unfortunately.
Hear, again, the 23rd Psalm –

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will 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 mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Why would the psalmist bring up the subject of enemies, and what does it mean that God is preparing a table before us in the presence of our enemies?

1.  It reflects God’s desire for reconciliation.
When I read the 23rd psalm, this verse, to me, seems to come out of nowhere, and seems out of place.  In fact, for a long time when I read the 23rd psalm at funerals this verse seemed so out of place that my temptation was to leave it out, or at least mumble my way through it.  Who wants a mention of enemies at a funeral?

But perhaps this verse should be clearly enunciated above the others, because if there is one lesson we should learn by the end of our lives it is that we shouldn’t reach the end of life without making peace in fractured relationships, and not just with family and friends, but even with our enemies.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I want to nurture my hurts.  I don’t want to let them go.  I want to return hurt for hurt.  I want to plot some revenge.  But I also remember the words of Confucius – Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.

What does revenge really accomplish?  I know it may bring some level of satisfaction for a few moments, but does it really solve anything?  What does it accomplish to hold onto a hurt?  What does it accomplish to nurture a hurt, keeping that wound ever fresh and tender?  What does it accomplish to maintain the brokenness in a relationship?

The heart of the gospel is reconciliation.  This is one of the foundations of the ministry of Jesus – to bring reconciliation.  Jesus brought reconciliation between humanity and God, but not just between humanity and God, but also among humanity.

As Jesus taught his disciples about love, it was always the type of love that exceeded the typical kind of love that we find in our world.  The type of love most often found in our world is a reciprocal love.  Reciprocal love is when we love those who do, or will, love us in return.  Reciprocal love is a transactional love because it depends upon whether or not a person’s love is returned by another.

The love of Jesus, however, had no such conditions.  In fact, the love of Jesus had no conditions whatsoever.  It couldn’t be broken.  It was never rescinded because of something done by another person.  It was not conditional upon another person returning the love.  Jesus simply loved all people with no restrictions, no conditions, and no expectations of being loved in return.  That is an amazing type of love, and is what the Scriptures define as agape love, which is a divine love.  It is best exemplified in the words of Jesus in the Sermon On the Mount, in Matthew 5:38-48 –

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This is one of the primary reasons why I believe so strongly in the church. I need to be in a place where I will find not only comfort and encouragement, but also some difficult truths.  And one of those difficult truths is that I need to love my enemies.  I don’t have a natural inclination to love my enemies, I can tell you that, and I doubt that most of us do.  But if I want to be like Jesus, I need to hear what Jesus was like, how he lived, and how he wants me to live. 

2.  Reconciliation asks us to step across the divide.
I think this verse could be read in a couple of different ways.  It can be understood in a human or a divine manner.  Perhaps David meant that his enemies would have to watch while he feasted at God’s great table.  It could thus be a taunt – God is preparing this bountiful table before me and my enemies are there to watch me enjoy it.  They get to see my blessedness but not partake in it.  David was not always forgiving of his enemies, and that could have been his attitude.  But God’s definition of this verse would be different.  In God’s view, it is a banquet table around which are seated enemies, and in God’s kingdom perhaps what he is doing is seating enemies together at the table in an effort to have them work out their differences and bring about peace, so they will become former enemies.  It becomes that step across the divide of brokenness – God has prepared this bountiful table for me, but he has also invited my enemies, and we are called to sit down together at a meal and work out our differences.

Henry Hitchings has written a book with a premise that actually supports that view.  The book is Sorry!  The English and Their Manners, and in the book, Hitchings traces the development of manners to the ancient days, when dinner tables often hosted enemies.  There were kings of different countries, or a collection of tribal leaders, or other competing groups who would come together around a dinner table to work out treaties and other important matters.  At those dinners, people tended to have very sharp knives, swords, and other weapons, so codes of conduct were developed as a way of regulating violence.  Every meal became an opportunity for violence to break loose, but they came together to talk.

God asks us to step across the divide of brokenness and take part in his ministry of reconciliation. 
We cannot live in this world without the kinds of experiences that drive wedges between people.  We cannot live in this world without suffering hurts, conflicts, and betrayal.  But we cannot let those experiences dictate how we will respond and how we will live.  The standard by which we are called to respond is the words of Jesus on the cross – Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).  Wow, that’s tough, isn’t it?  Can you imagine that level of grace and reconciliation?

3.  In God’s kingdom, there are no enemies.
Why is it so hard for people to work out their differences?  Why is it that humanity must continually repeat this endless cycle of violence and retribution?  Beginning with Cain and his murder of this brother Abel, humanity has been on a long, painful descent into violence and hatred. 

We live, sadly, in a world where so many people are defined as enemies.  There are people who consider us enemies simply because of our nationality.  Others may consider us an enemy for other reasons.  And when someone considers us their enemies, it’s a natural response to consider them an enemy in response.  And it’s not just from one nation to another, but among our own society.  We hear an increasing amount of language that reflects how we see others as our enemies because they have a different point of view politically, religiously, or in some other arena.  The church is the body of Christ, and thus should reflect the nature of Christ, but in some corners of the church world we hear words that are more representative of division and rejection than reconciliation, unfortunately.

Jesus had enemies, obviously.  His teachings so enraged people they put him to death.  But Jesus did not name anyone as his enemy.  What Jesus did was to show a different way.  We generally want to do one of a couple of things when it comes to our enemies – we want to flee, but they remain our enemies and stay so in our hearts and minds; or, we can fight them, in which case we take on their character.

This verse is a mirror – it shows the ugliness and the hatred and the hurt and all that is broken about humanity.  We like to polish ourselves up with beautiful theological language and use these great clichés but deep down there is a different reality.  When Jesus calls us to love our enemies, that is, not a cliché; that is a cold, hard truth. 

I am often amused that people think I have a good memory because I don’t often refer to my notes while preaching.  I write a manuscript each week and also make a “cheat sheet” of notes that I carry around with me, and I scan those notes on Saturday and early on Sunday morning.  But trust me, my memory, in general, is not very reliable.

But I do remember some things, even when they go back a lot of years.  I remember all too well the times I walked down the hallway in high school and felt the anger and shame as someone made fun of me and embarrassed me in front of others.  I can remember even back into elementary school to hurts I suffered.  I imagine you have a good memory for such events as well.  Do you remember when someone took credit for something you did at work?  Do you remember when someone said something about you that wasn’t true?  Do you remember the hurt someone inflicted on you?

It’s a hard truth that God is asking for reconciliation, and that he asks us to step across the divide of separation, but when we do so we take on one of the greatest of God’s characteristics.  Jesus asked us to love our enemies.  Our tendency is to wish to destroy them. 

Tanya and I attended a dinner with a group of her coworkers some years ago, early in the month of December.  Twelve or fifteen of us gathered at the home of the owner of the business.  It was an interesting mixture, in terms of faith.  We were a combination of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim.  The hostess asked me if I would offer the prayer of blessing for our gathering and the meal.  We have some differences in our prayers and I asked her what she was expecting from me, in terms of my prayer.  She graciously said, just pray how you would normally pray. 

It was fascinating to gather around that dinner table and talk about our faith and other topics, especially when, in some places, such a gathering could not occur.  In too many places, people who are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim are considered enemies, and a gathering for dinner would be impossible.

What humanity has been doing, for the most part, has not been working.  The revenge, retribution, violence, and hatred has only given us millennia of revenge, retribution, violence, and hatred.  It would seem that, after so many years of the same results, humanity would understand it’s time to try something else.  We should try another way, and that would be the way of Jesus.  May it be so.

Monday, November 09, 2015

November 8, 2015 The 23rd Psalm - Enough

Today, and the next two Sundays, I’m going to do something that I rarely do; I’m going to revisit messages I have previously preached.  As we have just completed a series of messages on the Lord’s Prayer, and have only three Sundays until Advent begins, I decided to offer messages from a series on the 23rd Psalm.  Some of you have not heard these, as they date back some years, while others of you might find that they sound familiar.

One of the reasons why I chose the messages from the 23rd Psalm is because of the similarities with the Lord’s Prayers.  Both are favorite, and very familiar, passages of Scripture, but they are also deceptively challenging.  I use the word deceptively for two reasons.  First, because these passages are so familiar we don’t readily hear the challenging nature of the words.  And, second, the beautiful language can mask the challenge that comes to us through these passages.  It challenges us to slow down, and we’re not people who are very good at slowing down.  It asks us to trust God and not ourselves, and we aren’t always very good at trusting anyone beyond ourselves.  It asks us to care for others.  It reminds us of the dangers of life and even of our mortality.  It tells us that God wants to set us down at a dinner table with our enemies.  And, in our focus for today, it asks us to find God to be sufficient – to be enough – for our lives.  So much of what this psalm has to say runs completely counter to how we live in our modern age, but, thankfully, we still love the psalm.

This morning, I will begin with the first phrase of the 23rd Psalm – the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  But first, let’s read the psalm in its entirety.  I will read it from the King James Version, which is not my general practice.  My favorite translation of the Bible is the New International Version, because it retains the familiar structure of Biblical language but updates it to make it more readable and more understandable.  There are a few passages, however, and the 23rd Psalm is chief among them, that just don’t work well in other translations.  The Message (which I generally like) offers verse one in this way – God, my shepherd!  I don’t need a thing.  When people hear such a familiar passage offered in unfamiliar language, you can see their reaction as though they are thinking that’s not right!  So here it is, in the traditional language –

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will 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 mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This morning, we will focus on the idea of enough.  The psalm begins with this affirmation – the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  That is phrased as a declaration – I shall not want!

Let me ask you a question – does it seem a bit naïve to say, I shall not want?  How many times a day do we say, or think, of something we want?  Usually, we use the word need rather than want, because if we can convince ourselves that something is a need rather than a want, it’s much easier to justify getting it.  But if we are really being honest with ourselves, isn’t it a bit naïve to say I shall not want?  Really.  Who lives that way, saying I shall not want?  Anybody?

What does it mean to say the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want?

1. It means we are the shepherds for others.
In a recent meeting of the Ministerial Alliance we spent a long time talking about the difficulty of meeting the many needs surrounding us in our community.  Why didn’t we just say why worry about it?

Because while this psalm gives the image of God as our shepherd, there is something else that is implied.  A shepherd, in Biblical days, most often cared for sheep that belonged to someone else.  This psalm, then, is a call to care for others, as God promises to care for us.  As God is our shepherd, we are called to be a shepherd to others.  We find this call multiple times throughout the Scriptures.

The book of James, which is so practical as to sometimes be painful, says, If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  (James 2:15-16). 

In Mark 6 we read of the large crowd following Jesus, and Mark records this in verses 34-37 – When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (underline emphasis mine). And he began to teach them many things.  And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late.  Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

Why does it seem, that in spite of their trust, so many people don’t have enough?  Could it be that God is waiting on all of the resources to be put to use?  Some people ask why God doesn’t do more to help the millions of people in our world who need so much.  I think the better question is why does humanity let such things happen?  Why do I spend my money on unnecessary items when I know that money can make a difference to someone else?

We sometimes want to protest about how complicated it is to be a shepherd to others.  We are tempted, as were the disciples, to push the responsibility off on God, but God’s call is for us to be shepherds and care for others.

This is a very complicated, difficult, task, to be called as shepherd other people.  The shepherd was in constant danger.  There was the danger of attack by wild animals.  There was the danger of others coming to steal the sheep.  There was danger from the elements.  There was the danger of not having enough food and water.  It is very, very difficult to be called to shepherd other people.  I think God has a pretty good idea of how difficult it is.

2.  It means we ask “how much is enough?”  What do we really need in life?
Out of curiosity, I watched a bit of a new reality show – Preachers of LA.  I was really intrigued by one scene, where one of the wives backed her Mercedes out of the garage of this grand home, and as she did her minister husband said be careful you don’t hit the Bentley.  I can’t tell you how many times Tanya and I have had that exact same conversation.

All four of the ministers on the program live in quite a bit of luxury.  Is this what the psalmist meant when he said I shall not want?  That we would have so much that we would want for nothing?

I don’t think so.  I think it’s about controlling our wants.

This psalm is in the language of its day.  If we were to put the 23rd psalm into the language of our own day, the phrase I shall not want might go something like this – Jesus has freed me from thinking I need the latest iPhone or other gadget.  He has helped me to understand that I don’t need a brand new car or rooms piled high with stuff.  He has helped me to understand that I don’t need everything the advertisers say I need.  He has helped me to say “enough.”  

Phone manufacturers and gadget manufacturers and other manufacturers know that because so many people feel so compelled to get the latest device they have a ready source of sales for their products.  I hear some people apologize, for instance, for their cell phones – oh, mine’s not a smart phone.  It’s just a basic phone.  Well, why do we need the latest and greatest gadget? Perhaps the deeper question to ask is, why do we accumulate so much?  What spiritual and psychological needs are we attempting to soothe with our incessant buying and accumulating?  Is there some deep, unmet need, or needs, in our lives that drive us to find satisfaction in getting more stuff?  Is a phone representative of the need for communication, a tool to help us in our daily lives, or is it the need to feel we are caught up to and equal with everyone else?

We want to keep up with everyone else.  People will drive themselves to financial ruin trying to look as successful as the next person.  It reminds me of a commercial that ran several years ago.  A man grinned as he said I’ve got a four-bedroom house.  I live in a great neighborhood.  Like my car?  It’s new.  I even belong to the country club.  How do I do it?  I’m in debt up to my eyeballs.  I can barely pay my finance charges.  Someone please help me.

We have to survive.  We need to eat, we need to have shelter and clothing and medical care.  But we also need peace of mind.  We need the ability to step off of the treadmill of earning and accumulating.
What keeps us from saying enough?

3.  Say “enough.”
The image of the 23rd psalm is one of peace – walking beside a quiet lake and lying down to rest in cool grass.  It strikes me as a call to put aside our striving and rest from all of our hurried and frenzied living.  But why is that so hard to do?  Why are we so driven to live in ways that we know are not good for us?

 The call to us in this psalm is to live a life of trust, which is certainly a very difficult way to live.  We want to accumulate enough to know that we will be secure in our lives.  But can we ever really accumulate enough to guarantee our security?  Plenty of people throughout the course of history have lost vast fortunes, so even immense sums of money are not enough to guarantee us security.  The best medical care may not be enough to keep us from disease.  The most secure home may not keep us secure from the evil and violence of our world.

The 23rd psalm, written from the viewpoint of a shepherd, is a reminder that while we live in the midst of uncertainty and even danger, God is always watching over us.  Does that guarantee we are always safe from harm?  No.  What it does mean is that ultimately we rest in God’s care.  Need, danger, and even violence never have the final word over our lives.  Whatever may happen to us in life and whatever struggle we may face, we can live with the confidence that our ultimate security is found in God.

Rudyard Kipling, giving a commencement address at McGill University in Montreal, said there was one striking thing that deserves to be remembered about people. Warning the students against an over-concern for money, power, or popularity, he said, Some day you will meet a man who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are.

This beautiful psalm, the 23rd psalm, reminds us that none of these things are what really give us life.