My Shepherd

Scripture: Psalm 23:1a

Key Idea: The Lord is my shepherd

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • The Lord is my shepherd
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

In a moment we are going to read a psalm together

  • A psalm is basically a song or a poem
  • The words of the psalm will appear on the wall
  • I invite the men to read the words in plain type and the women to respond by reading the words in italics
  • From Psalm 23 we read…

 

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 guides me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

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.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

May the Lord illuminate His word for us

 

Today we continue our new sermon series on Psalm 23

  • The plan (God willing) is to look at one aspect of the psalm each week
  • Last week we began with the opening phrase of the psalm – perhaps the most well-known verse in the Bible: The Lord is my shepherd,
  • And so you might expect this week’s message to focus on the second part of that verse, I shall not want
  • But that will have to wait till next week because we still haven’t finished with the Lord is my shepherd

 

The Lord is my shepherd:

Last Sunday we considered the meaning of the word ‘shepherd’

  • What did King David (the author of the psalm) mean when he called the Lord God his shepherd?
  • Well, very briefly, he meant the Lord is my security
  • God looks after me like a shepherd looks after his sheep

 

This week the focus is on the Lord as my shepherd – with the emphasis on my

 

Don’t you find it interesting that thousands of people in the world suffer every day, in a whole variety of ways, and yet for the most part that suffering doesn’t really touch us or affects us?

  • It’s only when we know someone personally, when we have an attachment to them, that their suffering moves us

 

We can watch children starving on the TV news and feel sad and maybe even send some money to help them

  • But if we knew those kids personally – if they were our own children – then we wouldn’t just send money
  • We would get on a plane with some Weetbix, find them, feed them and bring them home with us
  • That’s the difference a personal connection makes
  • Personal relationship has a powerful influence on our soul

 

It is quite striking really that David says, The Lord is my shepherd – singular

  • We would expect David to say, The Lord is our shepherd – plural
  • After all, sheep normally get taken care of as part of a flock, together with other sheep – it doesn’t make sense (economically) to have one shepherd for each individual sheep
  • Not only that but in Middle Eastern culture, where this psalm was written, people are far more community minded – they are more inclined to think in terms of we as opposed to me
  • Generally speaking in the west today we are the opposite – the focus for us tends to be more on the individual

 

 

It’s not that one way is right and the other is wrong, we need to value the importance of both the community and the individual at the same time

  • There might not be an ‘i’ in ‘team’ but there is an ‘i’ in ‘community’

 

Anyway, David, who was brought up in a culture where the sense of community was so strong that the importance of the individual could be neglected, [1] he says, The Lord is my shepherd

  • In other words, I have a personal relationship with the Lord
  • I know, from my own personal experience, that God can be trusted to take care of me
  • This was something David knew to be true, not just because he read it in a book or inherited the idea from his parents or the society he grew up in, but because he lived it and owned it for myself

 

So when Goliath challenged the army of Israel, David’s default setting was, “I’m not afraid of this Philistine. The Lord is my security”

  • And when Saul was trying to kill David, David did not get scared and take matters into his own hands – David trusted the Lord with his future
  • And when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem, David didn’t worry about what people thought of him
  • He danced before the Lord in worship because his security was in the Lord, not in public opinion
  • David wasn’t perfect as we know, but he did trust in the Lord

 

Sometimes in science fiction movies the characters learn new skills, new languages, new ideas simply by having the information downloaded into their mind with a computer

  • So in the film The Matrix, Neo learned Kung Fu in a matter of minutes by being plugged into a computer and having software fed into his brain
  • But in the real world, that we live in, learning is a process which takes time – often years
  • David learned to put his security in the Lord the hard way – through real life experiences – not just through a download of information
  • It’s the same for us – simply listening to a sermon isn’t enough to make God your personal security

 

Bloom's Learning Taxonomy

 

In the 1950’s an educational psychologist by the name of Benjamin Bloom did some research and found there are different categories of learning – some learning happens at a deeper level than others

  • For example: memorising something so you can remember it and repeat it by rote is a superficial form of learning
  • Understanding what you remember and being able to apply it, is a deeper level of learning again

 

A person might remember that the 23rd Psalm starts with the words, The Lord is my shepherd, and still not understand what those words mean

  • If you listen carefully to the sermon you might gain some understanding and learn that The Lord is my shepherd means The Lord is my security
  • If you are really keen you might go home and analyse the psalm yourself and discover other nuggets of meaning
  • The ultimate form of learning though is doing something creative with the psalm
  • Perhaps finding a new and inventive way of teaching the psalm to a group of Flock Sunday school kids
  • Or becoming less anxious in life as you place more trust in the Lord

 

Benjamin Bloom’s classification of learning has undergone a number revisions and adaptions over the past 60 years

  • Here’s another way of looking at it…
  •  Learning Pyramid

[2]

 

This version shows the different stages of learning to integrate a new idea or a new belief into your life

 

The first stage is simply becoming aware of the new idea

  • ‘Hmm, the Lord is my security, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of Psalm 23 in that way before’

 

The second stage is pondering the idea, finding out more about it, getting to grips with it in your head

  • This might involve going home after the service and meditating on the psalm in light of that word security
  • You might get your Bible out and look for the word shepherd in the index and consider other passages where the shepherding metaphor is used
  • Or you might do some other form of research into security and risk

 

The third stage is valuing the idea – agreeing with it, perhaps even telling others it’s a good idea.

  • Stage 3 normally begins with great enthusiasm for the new concept
  • ‘Wow, the Lord is my security, that’s so cool. That means I don’t have to worry because God has got my back. I feel really good knowing that.’
  • What we notice here is there is often a gap between agreeing this is a good idea and acting on it
  • There’s a gap between talking about it and doing it

 

Although stage 3 (the valuing stage) often starts with great enthusiasm, it normally ends with a deep sense of conviction – a feeling of guilt & remorse

  • Eventually this new idea that we are so excited about bumps up against reality – it is tested
  • ‘The Lord is my security’ is easy to say when things are going well
  • But when we experience some kind of loss, that’s when we really discover whether the Lord is my security or not
  • I might think the Lord is my security but then I might lose my job and start to worry about how I will pay the mortgage
  • I might also lose my confidence and not try applying for other jobs
  • At that point I realise, ‘actually my job was giving me a greater sense of security than the Lord was’
  • Not a nice feeling to be humbled like that but it’s the beginning of stage 4

 

Now, losing a job is just a random example

  • We could use other examples too – like losing health, or losing a loved one, or leaving home, or a marriage break-up, or anything else that might challenge our sense of security

 

The fourth stage is when we start to apply the idea

  • We reprioritise our life so the new idea actually becomes integrated with a new lifestyle and new behaviour

 

In the case of losing my job, reprioritising so the Lord is my security, and not my work, could mean…

  • Not allowing fear to rush me into things, but pausing long enough to commit my way to God in prayer
  • Reprioritising could also mean reviewing my expenditure and setting a new budget
  • Or not measuring my worth by how many job interviews I get
  • Reminding myself that I am valued by God and was loved by Him before I was born – that is, before I had achieved anything

The final stage (at the top of the pyramid there) is when we own the new idea or belief

  • Owning it means it is properly integrated into my daily life
  • So all my decisions & actions are based on this new idea – this new belief
  • The hard work of re-prioritising is over and I have a new default setting.
  • When I own the belief that the Lord is my security, I’m not concerned about being fully employed or unemployed
  • I’m not worried whether other people think I’m a success or a failure
  • I am content with little and with much

 

Why am I telling you all this – you may be wondering

  • Well, we can’t hide behind someone else’s faith – whether that’s the faith of our parents or our spouse or the faith of one of the pastors or whoever
  • We can’t assume that simply coming to church and listening to sermons will make the Lord my security
  • If we are going to follow Jesus (the good shepherd) then each of us must integrate the practice of trusting Christ into our lives
  • Each of us must be able to say honestly: ‘The Lord is my personal security’

 

This process of learning to own something isn’t just a modern idea

  • The process may have been articulated in the 1950’s but it’s been around a lot longer
  • We see it in the gospels over and over again
  • People don’t normally get what Jesus is saying straight away
  • It takes time for God’s word to sink in
  • And even more time for it to bear fruit in our lives

 

Take Nicodemus for example [3]

  • Nic, as he was known to his friends, was an important man
  • He was a member of the Sanhedrin – sort of like a Member of Parliament
  • He was one of the leaders of the people
  • He was also a Pharisee – a learned and morally upright man
  • Highly respected and not inclined to suffer fools gladly
  • Nic was in a very secure position in his society – or so he thought

 

One day Nic became aware of a young Rabbi in his 30’s teaching the people with real wisdom and performing all sorts of miraculous deeds – healing the sick, casting out demons and making people freer in themselves

 

Nic ponders this & eventually concludes that this Jesus fellow must be from God – how else could he perform all those miraculous signs?

  • The idea that Jesus is sent from God is thrilling to Nic – he gets a bit excited by it and in his enthusiasm goes to meet Jesus
  • The problem is Nic’s Pharisee mates don’t like Jesus much and so Nic decides the most prudent thing is to visit Jesus by night – in private
  • That way no one will find out about it – after all he does have his reputation to think about
  • At this point Nic is at stage 3 of the learning process – he values the idea (in his head) but isn’t ready to change his life for it

 

Nic opens the conversation with Jesus by sharing his belief that Jesus must be from God

  • Jesus then challenges Nic to act on this new belief saying…
  • No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again
  • This confuses Nic
  • He had been born and raised a Jew, one of God’s chosen people,
  • Wasn’t he automatically accepted into God’s kingdom because he was a descendant of Abraham?
  • What does Jesus mean by being ‘born again’?

 

Jesus goes on to say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

  • In other words, ‘Nic, your security is misplaced. You think being a Jew and being a Pharisee makes you secure (safe), but it doesn’t
  • You can’t rely on the faith of Abraham to save you
  • And you can’t rely on your good deeds to save you either
  • You must have your own personal faith in the Son of God to be saved.’

 

Nic had come to Jesus like a triumphant school boy, certain he had solved a difficult problem and Jesus just seemed to be giving him more homework

  • Apparently there was a gap between what Nic said he believed about Jesus and what he was prepared to do about it

 

As time passed the hostility toward Jesus increased

  • Most of Nic’s Pharisee mates didn’t think Jesus was from God, like Nic did – they saw Jesus as a threat & wanted to arrest him
  • But Nic tried to stand up for Jesus saying…
  • “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing”
  • The other Pharisees shouted him down though

 

Nic wasn’t ready yet to re-prioritise his life around his new found belief that Jesus was from God

  • He wasn’t prepared to completely abandon his career as a Pharisee
  • But it was a first tentative step in that direction
  • Nic was attempting to bridge the gap from stage 3 (valuing) to stage 4 (re-prioritising)

 

Eventually the Jewish leaders had their way with Jesus

  • They manipulated the Roman governor and the crowd to have Jesus crucified
  • Nic didn’t go along with it – but there was nothing he could do to stop it
  • I imagine he felt a deep sense of conviction at this point
  • I imagine he felt guilty and ashamed at what his mates had done

 

Jesus was dead and so Nic went with Joseph of Arimathea to claim Jesus’ body for burial

  • Finally Nic ‘came out’ and identified himself with the crucified Jesus
  • This was a huge risk – to show support for Christ in his death
  • Not even Jesus’ closest friends were prepared to do that
  • Nicodemus finally owned his belief that Jesus was from God
  • He made Christ his security

 

Conclusion:

Today is the first Sunday in Lent

  • Lent is the 40 days (or so) leading up to Easter
  • It is a time when we re-prioritise our life in order to follow Jesus more closely
  • Lent is about bridging the gap between stage 3 (talking about it) and stage 4 (actually doing it).

 

What idea or belief do you personally need to integrate into your life?

  • What is it you need to re-prioritise in order to follow Jesus more closely?

 

Let us pray…

[1] Kenneth Bailey, The Good Shepherd, page 38.

[2] Peter Scazzero uses this adaption of Bloom’s taxonomy in his book ‘The Emotionally Healthy Leader’ page 44

[3] Refer to John 3:1-21; John 7:50-52 & John 19:38-42

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