I do not believe God forces us into faith but invites us into a relationship. We don’t have to accept this invitation. I believe God loves us no matter what we decide. With that said, I truly believe God wants us to choose good, to uphold every aspect of life.
a walk with our Shepherd through Psalm 23
The first smartphone I had was an Android that came with Google maps and an advanced GPS system. While those are pretty much standard on any smartphone, back then it was a novelty.
On road trips, my wife prefers to use actual paper maps to get us places. But during one trip to Tennessee, I chose to let my phone navigate us back to the airport. In a calm and reassuring voice, the magic phone lady said, “In 400 feet, turn right and proceed on route for the next 30 miles,”
Trusting technology, I followed her lead down a country road that zigged-zagged around the Smokey Mountains. A left turn here. A right turn there. A merge onto another small road. And then “the left.” As in the one that clearly screamed, “Uh-oh, this can’t be right.”
I didn’t need to see the “I told you so” look from my wife to know I made a bad choice. To call this a road was a stretch. It was more like someone’s driveway; the kind you see in horror films which never bodes well for the people in the car.
I think this is a perfect image of God. It’s poetic, pastoral and very personal. With the wonderful use of metaphor, the poet teaches us about the nature of God’s character. And what it means to choose God as our shepherd.
Life is full of choices, isn’t it? We even see it in this psalm which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd.” It’s so familiar to many of us that we might overlook the obvious. By claiming the Lord as his own, the poet made the choice to be with God.
Unlike real sheep, we’re given the choice to follow this Good Shepherd. Or follow the ways of the world. One demands and takes from me. Whereas the other only wants to give.
As the poet points out when the Lord is my shepherd “I shall not want.” Here’s the thing about sheep. They have a special bond with their shepherd. They know he only has their best interests in mind. If they are hungry, they trust he will feed them. If they are tired, they trust that he will watch over them while they rest.
In the same way, when we choose to be in a relationship with God, we too can count on God’s providence and provision to be upon us. Our shepherd knows what we need even when it’s not that obvious to us.
How many times have you been so focused on someone else’s welfare that you’ve ignore your own? The world makes me fend for myself. But the Good Shepherd “makes me lie down in green pastures.”
While the image of God making me do something contradicts the idea of free will, it does say something about God’s love for me. It tells me that God has my best interest at heart, making sure I take time to rest, refuel, and recuperate.
Between the pandemic, the economy and political turbulence around the world, most of us barely holding on. Stress, anxiety and fear have been leading us astray. A great reason to follow this Good Shepherd is not only does he make me find rest but that, “he leads me beside still waters.” In ancient Hebrew scripture water symbolizes chaos.
In the beginning God’s Spirit hovered over the chaos breathing life into the world (Gen.1). The Israelites crossed through the chaos of the unknown while fleeing Egypt (Ex 12). And remember how the disciples were blown away when Jesus calmed the stormy chaos they were facing (Mt. 8).
This shepherd wants us to follow him, through the chaos and fire of life to the very heart of God where peace and tranquility, the pure essence of God’s shalom awaits to “restore my soul.”
In case you didn’t know, God is all about redemption and restoration. This is good news because we sheep like wander. Our Good Shepherd faithfully and tirelessly pursues the flock to returns us to “the right paths for his name sake.”
Here’s another thing we shouldn’t be quick to rush over. When you choose to follow God's lead, be expected to walk in God’s footsteps. That means, if God’s way is love and mercy, then be prepared to show love and mercy towards one another. If God’s way is justice and fairness, then that should be reflected in everything we do or support.
watch the entire message here...some thoughts on Mother's Day are included like bonus material.
The Bible tells us that Jesus chose to live by this measure, even if it killed him.
By living into God’s righteousness, Jesus ushered in the kingdom of heaven, bringing salvation and restoration into the world. Jesus could face the worst of humanity because he trusted God enough to follow God's lead.
This poetic psalm gives us this assurance, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley I fear no evil for you are with me.”
We often read this poem at funerals because there is comfort knowing that God is with us and will not abandon us. But we should always read this poem because every day someone is walking through the darkest valleys.
This could be a physical space, like war torn cities in the Ukraine. But more often it’s a mental and spiritual darkness…where feelings of shame, guilt, and resentment lead to depression, anger and violence.
This psalm provides me with the assurance that God sees me even when there is no light. Everywhere I go, every space I enter, everything I do, this Good Shepherd follows me in my wonderings – to guide, provide, and protect me along the way.
So, let’s assume you choose to believe God is always present. How might that change the way you act or react towards another? I ask because the poet tells us God has “prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
Does this mean I’m sitting at the table while my enemies are looking from afar? I don’t believe the God of this poem is that small and petty. I believe God invites us all to the table, even those we hate, judge, criticize, and despise.
Most scholars believe the metaphor of the table conveys God's goodness and power. A feast which Walter Brueggemann describes it as “A surprising gift that ends all diets of tears." The Shepherd leads us all to this heavenly banquet so every last one of us can be loved on and spoiled by God.
The poet proclaims, “you anoint my head with oil,” which in ancient cultures is how one welcomed a person of great importance into their home. We are important to God. So much so that God will spare no expense to welcome us and spoil us until “my cup overflows.”
In this space between the pasture and the palace, there’s enough love, mercy and grace for me and you and everyone else. There’s much so that it spills out all over the place.
The world wants to take. But this Good Shepherd wants to give, give, give. No wonder the poet declares, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
God does not wait for us to seek or to call or make a choice. Instead, God pursues us - steadily, tirelessly, and faithfully for no other reason than to love us where we are.
This makes me wonder, who chooses who?
Like I said earlier, life is full of choices. From what to have for breakfast to what college to attend to whether start a family or not. Some choices are small. Others are huge. All pale in comparison to the choice God has already made for us…to redeem us and restore us in God’s heart.
Were would our faith be if we didn’t have a choice to accept God’s gifts? What good would those gifts be if we were forced to accept them?
This week, a woman’s right to choose what is right for her body is once again under attack. Because this has been mostly justified by other people’s religious convictions, I feel compelled to speak on this issue, as both a member of the clergy, and a co-founder of Anamesa.
I do not believe God forces us into faith but invites us into a relationship. We don’t have to accept this invitation. I believe God loves us no matter what we decide. With that said, I truly believe God wants us to choose good, to uphold every aspect of life - from the womb to the tomb.
I believe that God came to be with us, through a woman’s body, in the flesh and personhood of Jesus the Christ. I believe this act was done so that we could see firsthand what God’s transformative love is capable of doing.
I have never shied away from stating that I am pro-choice. As such, I choose life. I choose to live that life abundantly by following the way of Jesus, whom I believe is the living Word of God. But I also recognize that this is my personal choice. I do not demand or expect that it become yours. It’s not an easy or popular choice.
To follow the way of Jesus, means to stand up against war, poverty, guns, hate speech, injustice, bigotry, sexism, and anything else that stops a human from living a full life. This is my choice which I make not out of fear of damnation, but out of great love for the One who first loved me, and wants to spoil me.
Here in Anamesa, we do not limit a person’s choice – especially women – because we believe having a choice is what leads people back into an authentic, trusting relationship with a God who is bigger than our pettiness and politics.
Every woman, like every man, is given the choice: She can follow God's lead. Or be pursued by God her whole life long. Either way, God does not give up on her. Or you or me.
We are all God’s sheep, called not to follow blindly but willingly.
As the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has proven to us, there are no limits to God’s power to shepherd us home. All one has to do is look at a map to see the many different ways to get to the same airport.
Some of us will take the interstate, some the backroads, and the trails less traveled. But in all of these spaces, between the pasture and palace, God is always there to meet us, love us, and spoil us until every last one of us is brought back into the fold.
So each and every last one of us can boldly proclaim, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life.”
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”