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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 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 mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #12 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

Our son answered the doorbell one afternoon to the delightful surprise of seeing Diane’s mom and dad on our stoop. They had just completed a 7 hour road trip from Missouri to Arkansas, where we lived at the time. We must not have told our kids that they were coming to visit, and Tim (maybe 9 or 10 years old at the time) said, “What are you doing here?” He didn’t mean it in any unkind way. We all loved having them visit. They were a source of joy and blessing whenever they came. From help in the kitchen to furniture refinishing and repainting bedrooms, they brought a cheerful and willing-to-help attitude. But Tim’s was a bit of an unusual greeting.

David describes the blessings of God in the context of a close and intimate relationship. God does great things for David as he points out in the first three verses of this psalm. God is with him in challenging times. He hopes for and delights in God’s presence. He professes that he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. His delight in the Lord’s presence runs throughout these verses. God is leading, directing, providing, restoring, protecting, correcting, saving, and honoring him throughout his life. That happens because God is with him, and David is with God.

Perhaps you’ve heard Dolly Parton’s song, Don’t Make Me Have to Come Down There. I’ve pasted the lyrics below. It’s a somewhat whimsical take on the idea that we’re so messed up down here on earth that God is threatening to step in to straighten things out. We need to get our act together. But it misses the true purpose and impact of God’s presence in our lives. He’s not going to come down here just to straighten things out. He came down here to save and redeem us. When he comes again, it will be for the final accounting of all we have done or failed to do. It will also be to take his own to be with him forever.

The blessing of God’s presence will be fully enjoyed by those who love him and yearn for his guidance, provision, and salvation. That’s the promise of God recorded in Revelation 21:1-3

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them,  and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

God’s presence is a blessing for which his people long. It’s better even than a visit from the grandparents!

Don’t Make Me Have to Come Down There
Dolly Parton

Last night I had a dream about God
He was standing on a mountain top
Looking down, around in such dismay
And in my dream I heard him say

Don’t make me have to come down there
My children, you had best beware
If you don’t pay attention, consequences will be dire
Don’t make me have to come down there

I’ve told you time and time again
You can’t disobey and hope to win
I am still the boss here in case there’s any doubt
You know I put you in this world and I can take you out

Don’t make me have to come down there
You’ve always been my cross to bear
I’ve let you try my patience as all good Fathers do
You’re on my last nerve, I have had it up to here with you

I gave you a book, you didn’t read it
I gave you my word, you didn’t heed it
Gave you a map, you said you didn’t need it
And now you’ve lost direction and you’re wandering aimlessly

Don’t make me have to come down there
This is not a game of truth or dare
Now I don’t want to punish you, but if it has to be
This is gonna hurt you more than it hurts me

Don’t make me have to come down there
Bridge this great divide and make repairs
Go to your room and pray ’til you can learn to play fair
Don’t make me have to come down there

Politics, earthquakes, erratic weather
Pandemics, war, and hate
Turn a deaf ear, a blind eye; I am wondering whether
I should take my Bible belt and whip you into shape

Don’t make me have to come down there
My children you had best beware
Clean up this mess and put on something decent to wear
Don’t make me have to come down there

Don’t make me have to come down there
My children you had best beware
Why can’t you learn to listen, and learn to love and share
Don’t make me have to come down there

Don’t make me have to come down there
Don’t make me come down there…

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Dolly Parton

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 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 mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #11 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

Too many people think of God as a killjoy. A downer. A grumpy curmudgeon. An intrusion. Oh how wrong on so many levels! God is the author of joy. He lifts up the humble and downtrodden. He delights in lovingkindness. And to say that God intrudes is to get things completely upside down. We’re in his world. We live at his pleasure. We are his creatures. We answer to him.

God delights in blessing people. In order fully to experience those blessings to the fullest we must put ourselves in an attitude of humility and obedience. Humility acknowledges our need for God. Humility opens our hearts to receive from God. Humility puts us in a posture of openness. Obedience puts us in alignment with the blessings of God. Obedience puts us where he has placed the necessary provisions for life. Obedience enables us fully to experience God’s blessings.

David speaks of God’s blessings of rest, provision, peace, and restoration. All these come to him in his quietness of humility and posture of obedience. David recognizes that God provides for all his needs. He rejoices in the rest and restoration God provides along still waters and in green pastures. He embraces the gift of peace that comes from following the paths of righteousness. All this is not only from God, but also because of God’s good character and name.

Because of all this David has confidence in the face of death. He is not worried about his enemies. He is certain of an abundant supply of all he needs – no matter the challenges around him. This comes as he follows the paths of righteousness, which is obedience. If humility is the necessary first step in receiving God’s grace, then obedience is the necessary second, third, fourth, and every step for the fullness of God’s blessings.

David will experience this first hand when he wanders off the path of God’s blessing and sins with Bathsheba. He will see how destructive disobedience is when his own son, Absalom, rebels. He experiences the refreshment of God’s grace when he humbles himself in the face of Nathan’s confrontation. And he sets himself back on the path of obedience after confessing his sin. Take a look at Psalms 32 & 51 to hear David’s confession and admonition to us all. Repent and bring forth the fruit of repentance as John the Baptizer would say 1000 years later. (cf. Luke 3:8)

The first step in the AA 12-Step recovery program is to admit that you have a problem. That’s an attitude of humility. Other steps require confession, obedience, and even helping others along the way. That’s the path of obedience. That’s nothing new. These are God’s ways from of old. Blessed is the one who will humble himself before God, and who will fully experience the blessings of God in following his paths of righteousness.

Consider this also: David sought to help others along the way of God’s blessing. That’s why we have this psalm. The fullest experience of God’s blessings will come as we follow David’s example of repentance, faith, obedience, and leading others as God give us opportunity.

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 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 mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #10 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

I am known as a leader. It’s been validated in any number of ways – from responsibilities I have in the church, to comments of others, to my interest in leadership and in teaching others about it. I don’t say this to boast. In fact, we are all leaders in some realm. We all have influence over others. Some of us are more aware of it than others. Some are better than others. Some are more hesitant than others. And some are more dangerous than others.

The danger comes when you combine a high degree of competence with a low level of godly and moral character. Think of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin. David Koresh. Competent. Capable. Charismatic. Deceitful. Dangerous. Deadly. Too many people have been led by such as these. Too many have been used and abused by such as these.

Jesus makes a comment about such leaders, with Satan as the chief example. He is the one who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. He is capable but cunning, and set on our eternal doom. Jesus, however, describes himself as the Good Shepherd who has come to give us life in abundance. He speaks of leading his sheep who know his voice and follow him.

David – 1000 years before Jesus was born – writes about the LORD being his shepherd. And all that he does is good. Safety, security, and rich supply are the LORD’s gifts. Eternal joy in his presence is his hope. Confidence in the face of challenge and danger is his fortune.

David identifies the One who supplies all this: the LORD. This is the holy name of God, the One who is, who revealed himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14) He was to tell the children of Israel that “HE WHO IS” had sent him to them. It’s lost on us when we use the word, “LORD,” even when it’s written in ALL CAPS. But this is no throw away term. God has a name – a good name – and wants to be known by us. We can call on his name. He hears and answers when we call.

Perhaps this can better come into focus by way of an illustration. A tour guide in Israel was telling his group about how shepherds don’t drive their sheep, they lead them. And over the next hill there appeared a herd of sheep being driven rather than led. The group asked about this, wondering whether he had been mistaken. The guide replied, “That’s not the shepherd. That’s the butcher. He’s driving them to the slaughter.”

Are you being driven or led? Are you following God’s lead or others? Are you in a place of security, safety, and supply? If so, thank God! If not, seek him and know that he is the truly good shepherd.

Psalm 23

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 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 mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #9 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

I don’t like sentimentalism when it comes to faith or religion. I’m not particularly drawn to schmaltzy illustrations the pull on heartstrings without substantive truth at the core. I’m not unmoved by a heartwarming story, or a heroic tale. I am not unmoved by pain or beauty. But I am skeptical of emotional manipulations. So I’ve had to overcome a certain negative bias against this psalm. For whatever reason I used to think of this as my grandmother’s psalm. And I looked down on this psalm as if she didn’t have anything to teach me about God and faith, comfort and love. I confess this as a sin of arrogance and pride. For this psalm is not only a sentimental favorite of many. It’s also a beautiful profession and expression of faith.

The psalm begins with a profession of faith. David professes his belief in God’s grace, provision, protection, and mercy. God provides for all his needs, he professes. God leads him to good places of refreshment and rest, peace and comfort. David was a man of war. He was a leader. He was a ruler. He was large and in charge. But he was not above expressing appreciation for peaceful repose, gracious provision, and merciful leadership. This is the first part of this psalm (v. 1-3).

Then comes an expression of faith. David begins talking not about God, but to God. He talks to God about death and fear. He talks with God about enemies and honor. He talks to God about protection and comfort. He talks to God about honor and abundance. In all these conversations, David is telling God that His presence, honor, guidance, and protection sustain and delight him.

David ends with a declaration of confidence and joy of being in God’s presence forever. This is not sentimentality. This is substance, faith, hope, and a recognition of David’s need for and delight in God. This psalm is a worthy prayer for the most gentle and humble grandmother and the greatest and mighty king. I suspect you and I would fall somewhere in the spectrum between those two examples.

Please pray these psalms with me on this Lord’s Day.

Psalm 29:1-2

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

Psalm 59:16-17

I will sing of your strength;
    I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
    and a refuge in the day of my distress.
17 O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
    for you, O God, are my fortress,
    the God who shows me steadfast love.

Psalm 89:1-5

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
    in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
    I have sworn to David my servant:
‘I will establish your offspring forever,
    and build your throne for all generations.’” Selah

Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,
    your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!

Psalm 119:105, 169-170

Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.

169 Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
    give me understanding according to your word!
170 Let my plea come before you;
    deliver me according to your word.

Psalm 149:1-4

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
    let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
    making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
    he adorns the humble with salvation.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016.
Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #8: To One Side | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

My son one time made a comment that he intended as a bit of constructive criticism. “Dad,” he said, “whenever you preach, no matter what you talk about you always end up talking about Jesus.” Maybe he was concerned that I was letting people off the hook too easily. Perhaps he was wondering if I was too narrowly focused. Could be that he was simply making an observation. Whatever the case, I used it as a teaching moment (not that I couldn’t learn something from my 18 year old son!).

“That’s intentional,” I told my son. “Jesus is the center of our theology. He’s the fulfillment of all Scripture. He is the ultimate answer to our greatest needs. We’re all about Jesus – us Lutherans.” Well maybe I didn’t say exactly that, but it’s the essence of what I believe and why – no matter what topic I’m preaching on – I end up at Jesus.

This psalm takes us to Jesus. In fact there are those commentators who will hardly speak of David’s part in the context or substance of this psalm. I find it helpful to look at both. David wrote it, and surely his life is testimony to the fact that there were many times he could have prayed this prayer. David was a man after God’s heart. But he was also a fallen sinner. Adultery, deceit, murder, false witness, and pride marred him. But just like this psalm’s swings from agony to glory, he was a man who also gave highest praise to God, and was seen as the greatest king of Israel. In fact the Messiah would be called the Son of David.

And so Jesus was. Son of David is a messianic title. Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1) identifies Jesus as the Son of David. The two blind men call out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” (Matthew 9:27) A Canaanite woman cries out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) On Palm Sunday the crowds called out, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9)

The imagery of suffering and torment in this psalm surely reflects that of Jesus on the cross: bones out of joint, pierced hands and feet, lots cast for his clothing, people mocking him. Jesus endures this for us because of his love for his Father and for us and all sinners. He perfectly fulfills all this – not just symbolically. I don’t know of a situation when David’s hands and feet were pierced, but Jesus’ certainly were – literally. Jesus also fulfills this most telling of hope’s expression:

30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Thanks be to God that he has done it. Whenever we are facing severe suffering and distress, we can look with Jesus to a day of redemption and the consummation of his salvation. I like to put it this way:

  • We have been saved when Jesus lived, suffered, died and rose from the grave.
  • We are being saved by God’s grace daily as he gives us the Holy Spirit and protects us from the Evil One.
  • We will be saved when Jesus comes again at the end of all time to judge the living and the dead and gives to all who believe eternal life.

Jesus is the fulfillment of Psalm 22 and all Old Testament promises and prophecies. I all comes together in him.

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Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #8 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great identified the “Stockdale Paradox,” named after Admiral James Stockdale. Stockdale was one of the most decorated United States Navy officers, who was also awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War. As a prisoner of war from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale was tortured over 20 times, had no prisoner’s rights, no release date, and no idea of whether he would survive to see his family again. Yet, he survived when many of his co-prisoners didn’t.

He did so by facing the brutal facts of his situation, but never giving up hope of being freed. 

“I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” – James Bond Stockdale

His was not a hope oblivious of his dreadful situation.

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”  – James Bond Stockdale

Stockdale might have learned this from this very Psalm. David faces the brutal facts; no question about that. He pictures himself surrounded by dogs, bones out of joint, abandoned by God. But he also reflects a hope in the goodness, faithfulness, justice, and mercy of God.

Look at the last ⅓ of the psalm. It’s filled with hope, beginning with “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” (v. 22). And ending with

Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Those are words of hope. Real hope. Not denying the grave agony and urgent distress of the current troubles, but holding to hope in the end. Such is the cry of true hope.

You may be facing nearly insurmountable challenges, subject to unimaginable stress, or feeling grave difficulties. God does not want you to deny these brutal facts. But neither does he want you to give up hope. He is good. And our hope has been secured in the One who quotes this psalm from the cross. Our Lord Jesus remained faithful to the very end, and now has the name above every name. At the name of Jesus Christ, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. We who hope in him will prevail.

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Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #7 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. There is some painful history behind this Negro Spiritual from the mid 19th century. It’s the cry of a child being sold at a slave auction; being taken from her mother to become the property of another owner. That is a powerful image. Deeply distressing. That would be a time to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Or imagine discovering a newborn baby left in the woods by his mother. What about a man who has sinned, repented, asked for forgiveness, and is seeking to rebuild his life but whose friends will have nothing to do with him. He is left utterly alone. Sure he’s done wrong. But in light of God’s promise of forgiveness, he may wonder whether God has forsaken him.

Sadly, not every response to this sense of abandonment is healthy or salutary. The feeling of abandonment may be legitimate. We all experience a sense of loss or disconnectedness from time to time. And sometimes we may experience a severe sense of loss and loneliness. A spouse dies. A child runs away. A friend moves away. A relationship changes. A co-worker turns on you. A neighbor shuns you. You might feel abandoned by God.

In those situations you might be tempted to resent God, become bitter, and refuse to forgive those who have wronged you. You may decide to abandon the faith and give in to despair. You might give up hope.

But you must remember that God has not abandoned you. Jesus endured that for you and all mankind. He suffered God’s abandonment so we would never have to. I say, “have to,” because we may stubbornly and sinfully refuse God’s presence. We can abandon him. The ultimate experience of that would be eternal abandonment from God in hell. But it need never be!

The good news, also, is that when we feel abandoned by God, and call out to him, we are in good company. And God hears the prayers of his people. He loves us all, and pours on us the balm of Gilead. That may come through the kind word of a brother or sister in Christ. A neighbor may sense your loneliness and visit you or invite you to be with her. Sometimes we must simply continue in prayer and seek God’s comfort from his word.

That’s where the Psalms are so very precious. We can pray the psalms and express our earnest needs and woes through psalms such as this one. But even in this one, we see words of hope-filled faith. That’s the other blessing of praying the psalms: They don’t leave us in the doldrums of grief and sadness. They also express great faith in God. He is good. He will act. He has acted in Jesus. Our ultimate future has been secured. And as lift our cry of abandonment to God, we must also hold to the hope that is secured in Jesus.

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Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #6 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

Songs or psalms of lament are not very popular. We would rather lean toward happy, hopeful, and helpful Bible passages. “Rejoice in the Lord…” (Philippians 4) “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good and his mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 107) Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…” (Proverbs 3) “All things work together for good for those who love God…” (Romans 8)

We’re not too keen on passages like “My God, my God, why have you forsake me?” That sounds like a cry of faithlessness. We don’t find much comfort in phrases like, “I can count all my bones…” (v. 17) But here they are. And in that same psalm as joyful and faith-filled exclamations:

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!

This is exactly what makes faith true faith and not just wishful thinking. Faith doesn’t pretend things are good when they are obviously not. Faith looks beyond the troubles of this world. But faith doesn’t deny their existence. Faith trusts in God’s ultimate deliverance in the face of real and present dangers and distress. Jesus (and David) was in real distress. He of perfect faith was enduring unimaginable physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. Crucifixion is an extremely cruel and painful means of torturous execution. His friends and disciples had all fled. Peter had denied him. And worst of all, based on this cry, we must conclude that God Himself turned his back on his Son. Unimaginable! Difficult to believe.

Yet Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Though God had forsaken him, he kept faith in God. Please don’t try to comprehend the mysteries of the triune nature of God in regard to this. Entire seminary classes are given to Christology including things like the Genus Apostelismaticum, Genus Majestaticum, and Genus Idiomaticum, (the communication of human and divine attributes within the person of Christ). We study how opera ad extra indivisa sunt, and opera ad intra divisa sunt. I’ve studied all these things, can maybe satisfy a systematics professor that I understand it. But it would be more accurate to say, I believe it. I take it all by faith.

But even there, my faith is imperfect. Perhaps I’m too dismissive of the apparent contradictions and impossibilities of Jesus’ divine nature and his human nature as he suffers so and calls out to God in agony. But what I believe is precious to me. For me of little and faltering faith I look to the pioneer of faith (cf. Hebrews 12:2). Jesus never turned away from his Father – even when his Father forsook him. This is the cry of perfect faith. When my faith fails me, I have a Savior who is perfectly righteous and faithful. He is my righteousness. He is my salvation.

Jesus also looks with confidence to his ultimate delivery. That is expressed in this psalm as well. His is the ultimate cry of faith.

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Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Still Standing – A Study of a Roadside Tree #5 | Outside Elgin, TX | January 2023

Maybe you know someone given to extreme expressions of feelings and emotions. Hopefully they do not have Histrionic personality disorder (HPD). HPD is a mental health condition marked by unstable emotions, a distorted self-image and an overwhelming desire to be noticed. People with HPD often behave dramatically or inappropriately to get attention. More often we deal with people with bipolar disorders. One minute they’re highly joyful and effusive in happiness. The next day they are deeply sad and gravely depressed.

Some have suggested that David was such a one. Reading his psalms, you can surely sense strong emotions of great joy and deep distress. He cries, at the beginning of this psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In later verses, he sings God’s praises:

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

This is one of the reasons I love the psalms. They give expression to all kinds of emotions. From the depths of woe to the heights of joy, David and the other psalmists pour out their prayers to God. Sometimes I need that to put my joys and sorrows into words. They can also give me permission to be down. Sometimes life is not going well. Sometimes I am sad. God knows it already. And  he stands ready to hear us when we bring prayers of distress and sorrow to him. Not only is he not surprised by all this. He has promised, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

While this Psalm expresses both distress and joy, it is surely known as a psalm of distress. If God has forsaken us, that is cause for distress. And David begins this psalm with that cry. Perhaps as David was on the run from Saul, he felt this deep sense of being forsaken. It might have been in the throes of his sin with Bathsheba and the death of their child, he felt this. Was it when his son Absalom rebelled against him he cried out so.

Followers of Jesus, however, cannot read this psalm without thinking of Jesus on the cross. He cries these words as he suffers so unjustly. Later this week, I’ll be reflecting more on Jesus’ prayer. For now, consider with me the way in which these words – written 1000 years before Jesus so clearly describe Jesus’ suffering and death. He did that for you and for me. He was forsaken so that we may never be forsaken by God.

English Standard Study Bible Chart