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May 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 13, 2012 – Psalm 23:3

He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Psalm 23:3b

INTRO: Seeing that today is Mother’s Day, let me begin with a question for you

How did your mother comfort you when hurt, afraid, or upset?

After WWII, a British psychologist worked with children (British children and Jewish orphans) who had been displaced by the war
– John Bowlby discovered that those who had been deprived of nurturing during infancy demonstrated obvious emotional and interpersonal deficits
– much of his research entailed observing the dynamics of mother-child interactions, especially during the first two years of the child’s life
– he concluded that infants needed an “attachment figure” – normally the role a mother plays
– when a child receives nurture from its mother, it forms a “secure base” for exploring life that lasts through adulthood

Example: Observing small children who were upset, he noticed the intensity of the child’s emotion determined what it would take to soothe him or her
-if the child were mildly upset: it was calmed by its mother’s acknowledgment with a look and word
– if the child were very upset: it was calmed if the mother added meaningful touch
– if the child were intensely upset: it would require prolonged cuddling to calm down

A child with a secure emotional base is equipped to form healthy relationships
– gains confidence to build a stable life
– given skills to develop close relationships as an adult
– has the ability to correctly read others – discern moods

Obviously, not having this is a big disadvantage
– there is a blank space where there should be key skills for nurturing and intimacy

Does contemplative prayer offer us any help with these issues?
– we’re going to find out

The next stage of the shepherd metaphor: “He guides me”

We could have guessed that this was coming
– sheep have to be led out to pasture, then back to safety again
– it was this leading and guiding Jesus especially emphasized John 10 and the point he made there is the big idea in the second line of Psalm 23:3

Jesus said, the shepherd calls his sheep by name and they know his voice
– more specifically, “I am the good shepherd and I know My own and My own know Me” (Jn. 10:14)
At the heart of metaphor is the relationship Jesus has with his followers

“He guides me,” the poet says – notice, this is personal
– we are not following a rule book – or a manual for life
– I want to make this clear: There are rules – instructions, commandments, but we cannot separate them from God
We have to hear him speaking to us through them
– we must not think the rules can bring us to God or make us right with him
• we cannot let the rules become our total concern

God guides us – we do not have to find our own way
– we don’t have to be worried about being misled

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you
. (Ps. 32:8)
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
(Ps. 73:24)

Where does the shepherd lead us? First, “paths of righteous.”

What is righteousness? – it is whatever is “right”
– the right action to take, the right word to speak, the right attitude to have, etc.

It sounds like righteousness is a moral term, but it’s not
– at least, not exclusively – it is primarily relational
– doing what is right in relation to God, others, and the natural world

Jewish scribes and Pharisees made righteousness moral
– but while they tithed (“dues”) on garden herbs, they neglected “weightier provisions of the law” – relational: “justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Mt. 23:23-24)

There is a biblical morality
– its foundation is not an impersonal, abstract law, but the Law-Giver – it is based in God’s nature
– the terms God used when he revealed himself to Moses are relational

compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and [faithfulness]; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin . . . (Ex. 34:6-7)

Biblical morality is never tied to a free-floating, universal law
– it is specific – it is always about obeying God himself
– it is God’s voice we hear in the law (cf. Jer. 7:21-24)
Biblical morality is fundamentally relational
– that’s why the entire law can be compressed into two command.
– what are they? Both Jesus and Paul make this point — “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Ro. 13:10)

Being relationally right is no easier than being morally right
– the law is static – it doesn’t budge
– but relationships are dynamic – negotiating them is very tricky
• relationships often times fool us
• we think we know what the other person needs or likes
“No, I only pretended to enjoy football because you’ve always made such a big deal out of it”

The most difficult challenges Jesus faced were not moral, but relational
– the Pharisees typically confronted him with moral issues, “not lawful”
– he turned their attention back to relational issues

Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill? (Mk. 3:4)

So what are the “paths of righteousness”?
– perhaps we could say: out of love for God we give him what he wants (with Abraham, this was faith)
• out of love for others, we give them what we want (Mt. 7:12)
acceptance, attention, affirmation, respect, affection, assistance

“Paths” – tracks, like those made with wagon wheels
– there are specific, basic behaviors necessary to make relationships work
– God leads us along those well-worn paths (of right relationships)

God does this for his “name’s sake”

Several ways we can interpret this
1.) for his reputation – he gets the credit for our successes
2.) because of his name – the same word is used in Psalm 6:4

Return, O LORD, rescue my soul;
Save me because of Your lovingkindness.

However we interpret “name’s sake,” it comes down to the same thing: if I enjoy healthy relationships, it’s not because of me, but in spite of me
– this is where following my Shepherd has taken me

CONC: The most important decisions we make in life are those that affect our relationships

Our most important achievements in life, will be those that benefit others

One way to approach the righteous paths is in our silent prayer, if we will contemplate Jesus

  1. Meditate on all that he said about interaction with others: forgive, be reconciled to your friend or sibling, love your enemies, judge not, treat people as you wish to be treated
  2. Meditate on how he was with others – how he treated them
    – He listened to people
    He touched people (he never withdrew from the touch of anyone, not even Judas when he approached him with a kiss of betrayal)
    He spoke words of comfort
  3. Contemplate Jesus listening to you, touching you, speaking words of comfort to you
  4. Imagine yourself listening to others, touching them, and speaking words of encouragement to them

God is in charge of your progress along these paths
– just be with him and follow him – you’re going to be alright
– for his name’s sake, you will find the right path
And by his grace, you’re going to get there

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