He Carries a Big Stick

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. Psalm 23:4

As you get older you sense that a journey through the “valley of the shadow of death” is imminent. Absent fighting a war as a young man, like my dad did in his late teens, threats in early life don’t normally involve death. There are some “dark and gloomy days” that I can remember. The prospect of losing a job while supporting a wife and four children. Some times of uncertain health. The failing health of my parents. But I was not in death’s shadow. But that day will come.

The key words here are “even though.” Whatever the threat, with the Lord at your side, you have no reason to fear. This should be like the feeling you had as a child while walking with your dad in an eerie place. You weren’t scared because he was strong and he’d protect you. Truth is, once the shoe was on the other foot, you find that your dad was probably a bit concerned too!

But the Lord our shepherd carries a big stick to ward off the wild animals out there, and it’s just something about that staff that shouts out the power to save and dictate our circumstances.

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Making Tracks

He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Psalm 23:3b Righteousness will go before Him and will make His footsteps into a way. Psalm 85:13

The Lord has a reputation to keep up. No one in his charge will be led astray. Psalm 85:14 talks about righteousness going before the Lord, leading him in its path, making it “a way.” It’s impossible for us to veer into sin if we walk the same tracks. These paths are straight, wise, upright and just.

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Peace and Quiet

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3a

“I just need some wisdom,” is my most frequent prayer request. In the beginning you asked one or both your parents for advice and counsel. Late in life it’s down to you. Unfortunately, adult problems are complicated, and they can come at you in twos and threes. When stress compounds and straits are dire, I know of no other passage of scripture more calming and reassuring than Psalm 23.

Read it and almost immediately there’s sufficient comfort available to stop the hyperventilating long enough to realize you’re not in it alone. He says to us as we wallow in frustration, doubt and fear, “Follow me, and you’ll want for nothing.”

I love it how his first step is to make us “lie down in green pastures.” It’s equivalent to saying “stop the pacing and sit down!” What better to collect our thoughts in than a peaceful patch of cool green grass, looking up. From this vantage point we’ll see nothing but the Lord’s handiwork. In such a pasture was the expectation, at least for the sheep, to be aptly fed. So should it be with us.

Then the Lord, our shepherd, leads us by “quiet waters.“ With the hustle and bustle of the world and cacophony of cares and concerns bouncing off the walls of our heads, we need to be quiet long enough to hear what he has to say.

So, the first things we need when there’s no talking to us are peace and quiet. In this state he restores our soul. To understand this best in this day and age, what he will do for us is hit our reset button, and we’re back to full dependency on him. It’s that simple.

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In Good Standing

It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” John 1:27

John the Baptist thought of himself as unworthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal, yet Jesus described John as the greatest prophet who ever lived. Then we read that those in the kingdom (me) are even greater than John!

Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matthew 11:11

This “depth chart” is difficult to understand, to say the least. Frankly, I’m just happy to be in the lineup.

While I should adopt John’s posture of unworthiness, Jesus grants me “bold” access into his throne room.

In whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Ephesians 3:12

By virtue of my standing in him, then, in this “spiritual” economy, I’ve achieved “greatness.”

To play it safe, though, I think it’s best for me to still approach the Lord’s throne with fear and trepidation, albeit on two feet.

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The Only God with Benefits

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1:16-18

The optimum condition of any Christian should be full of grace and truth. Both became available to us at salvation.

Normally, our humanity gets in the way of full deployment of these gifts. It’s a shame because they’re so rich in benefits.

Reliance on God through Jesus produces grace upon grace. In God’s word we have the sum of all truth (Psalm 119:160). What else do we need?

In everything we should seek out his favor and his truth. This goes for all the major (and minor) decisions and choices of life.

A study of the life of Jesus will give us a window in on God’s will, because Jesus explained him. We may see dimly from our vantage point now (1 Corinthians 12:13), but what we do see is extraordinary, illuminating and actionable.

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God Among Us

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Each year I try to find new meaning in Christmas. Watch any Hallmark movie and it’s all about finding true love. They’re on the right track. It is all about relationships, but one in particular.

The reason for the season is to harken back to the day when Jesus was born. On that day, and for 33 short years, the “only begotten from the Father” pitched his tent (i.e. “dwelt” or “tabernacled”) on this globe. The people to whom he came looked upon God in flesh and blood. He walked and talked among them, and He was “full of grace and truth.”

Some saw through to his glory and followed him. Others could not handle the truth and set out to kill him. In the end, they did him in, but it was for that end he came, to die, then live, to establish my eternal relationship with him.

His is a remarkable story that’s all but lost today. But for his followers, Christmas only serves as a reminder that when he folded his tent, we were promised that he’d return in the same way he left. Acts 1:11

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The Light of the World

There was nothing more exciting at Christmas–besides the gifts–than putting up the Christmas lights on the eves of the house. My dad had a system and used the same lights each year. It was magical to see these lights through my window as I struggled to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. On this special night, my dad, ever vigilant to reduce his power bill, made an exception and left them on all night long.

Truth is, it was also difficult to sleep with him throwing parts around in exasperation trying to assemble the toys that would “magically” appear under the tree in the morning.


Next to spruce trees, outdoor Christmas lights are what set apart this particular holiday from others. Ask Clark Griswold. Who didn’t pile into the station wagon—I carbon-date myself—to see gaudy light displays on infamous Braddock Street? Every town has one of these streets by the way.

What I should have been focused on is what outshines even the most dazzling light display that could be produced by humankind. The shepherd’s witnessed it in the fields and it blew their sandals off. The wise men followed it in the sky to a little boy who’d change the world. But the forces of darkness have strived to snuff it out from its onset. In that light is life, and for some reason, the world would rather grope in the dark.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5

One of the saddest days for me was when the lights had to come down, like clockwork, on New Year’s Day. But thankfully, for those who’ve gazed at and accepted the Light of World, Christmas lights are on permanent display.

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