The Lord Is My Shepherd

The Lord Is My Shepherd

“The Lord is my Shepherd…” Psalm 23:1

In the most famous Psalm, the shepherd-turned-king, David, makes a bold statement: God’s my Shepherd. This particular Psalm of praise seems to lay the tender framework of a face-to-face relationship with God. The next few weeks, we’ll spend some time together digging into the Psalm 23, looking into what I believe is a roadmap to intimacy with Jesus.

If we start at the beginning, standing right next to King David, we can hear his sacred declaration. This is step one, and the most important step, to following God: knowing who He really is (see also John 17:3). According to David, God was his shepherd. But what exactly does that mean? What does it take for a man who grew up shepherding sheep to step into the identity of the care-receiver and give all authority to Another?

To understand this statement better, let’s talk about the kind of shepherd David was.

“David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.” 1 Samuel 17:34-35

Take a moment to think about that. David was such a good shepherd that if any animal, no matter how dangerous, attacked his sheep, he would literally chase after it, kill it, and rescue his beloved sheep. Now that is a high standard of shepherding.

If David would risk his life to save even a single sheep, then we can assume he believed God would do the same. When he calls God his Shepherd, he’s paying God the highest compliment. He’s saying “I know the lengths my God will go to protect me. I am safe in His care.”

Psalm 23 begins with an identity revelation about God. I think we all need one of those. We all need to take a breath and check in on our belief system. Odds are, God’s better than we believe.

He is a care-taker. It is His joy to bestow His kindness on His sheep (that’s you and me). He has and will continue to risk all of Himself to rescue us. He is trustworthy.

The Lord is my Shepherd. He’s good. He’s better than we think!

A New Type of Resolution

A New Type of Resolution

Have you ever had a New Years Resolutions that didn’t make it to January 2nd? What about that resolution that comes back every year like a recurring nightmare?

Resolutions can be cumbersome and weighty. Sometimes they feel more like a heavy expectation, rather than a route to a “better you.” So, this year, we’ve decided to flip the tables on those New Years Resolutions and open the door to a new conversation. If the New Year is all about fresh starts, then why do we always bring the past with us everywhere we go? Nothing is more saturated in our shortcomings than the first couple weeks of January. More often than not, our resolutions have everything to do with what we dislike about ourselves, or what we’re ashamed of. And maybe that’s why they sputter, spit, and fall flat. No one was ever truly motivated by the negatives, right?

So here’s the idea. We’re going to pursue resolutions that are dead-center-focused on the good stuff. The heart beat of our fresh starts are going to be founded in love, compassion, joy, and diligence. Sound better? Here are our tips for a resolution that will last and impact you in all the best ways!

  1. Root your resolution in positivity. We find that it’s much easier to run into the arms of joy than to escape from a monster. Rewrite your resolution to be a welcome invitation for hope and encouragement.
  2. If it lacks self-compassion, it’ll fall. Practicing self-compassion is one of the bravest things you do. Most people are afraid to give themselves a break. Maybe that’s why their resolutions break them! This year, embrace the places where you fail and fall short. Give yourself room to be human, and love yourself well!
  3. Don’t sell yourself short. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’ve lost one of your most valuable supporters already! Your heart, mind, and body need you on board! It sounds funny, but a lot can change when you tell yourself that you’re capable, powerful, and good.
  4. Let people in. Our society is good at walls and isolation. Don’t succumb to that in 2018. We’re made for community and relationship, so embrace it! Find people you can be raw with and watch the fruit overflow! Nothing gives you permission to live joyfully the way community does.
  5. Dare God. Don’t click ‘exit’ yet. This is one of the best ways to start fresh! Dare God to do His best work in your life. Ask Him what resolutions He has for you? Give him the reins, and hop into the passenger seat. Odds are, He’s already got something incredible in the works, and He can’t wait to tell you about it.

Maybe these tips will work, or maybe you’ve heard them before. Regardless, we’ve got a feeling that there’s “more” to life than yearly to-do lists that never get finished, and we’re betting the “more” looks a lot like love in all directions.

Happy New Years!


Open Table

Open Table

Written by Matthew Frantz

What is one of the few things that everyone must do?

We must all eat! This is a matter of survival, and we can all understand the importance of meals. There is no argument about our need to eat; it is just a means of life to have food. This dependence on food has the beautiful opportunity to unite all people because it provides an avenue to sit down and connect with our most basic needs. Our need for sustenance drives us towards community. Throughout history, meals were most successful in community and they provided an opportunity to share with neighbors. What better time to think about communal meals than during the holiday season, when we all sit down with loved ones and share meals together in order to catch up and grow closer with one another. Meal sharing goes well beyond just food; we share our lives over meals as we sit down and rest.

Meals are crucial to community because they allow everyone to contribute to the common good and they provide an opportunity for everyone to share the stories of their lives over a few hours of being still. By sharing meals, everyone joins a collection and new bonds are formed between people. Barriers break down and people who would not generally convene can sit across the table and talk about life together. Meals are one of the best means of hospitality because they provide a response to one of our most basic needs. There are few more hospitable requests than to invite someone over for dinner to share in your work and time. So go out and share meals! Take some time to sit down, eat, and remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season!

The Table

When I think of table, an image that comes to mind is from childhood. With four brothers and two sisters, our table was always full. It had10 chairs around it so at meal times there was usually one empty seat, but not always. Often one of us would bring a friend home so the chair was filled. When needed, we could add more chairs and seat a dozen. Our home was open to others including a man from Guatemala, a family from Indonesia, and a homeless Vietnam vet who was passing through. We sponsored a family from Vietnam after Saigon fell and they lived with us for six months. Even though their religion and customs were different, and their food was definitely not Midwestern meat and potatoes, they were family. I can’t count the number of people who sat at our table. The diversity was something to marvel at. The atheist Vietnam vet, the Buddhist family from Vietnam, college students from California and Florida, and so many others I don’t remember.

I am grateful to my parents for the lessons learned. The person we didn’t know was a stranger only for a short time for once they joined us at the table, they became friends even if for just a brief moment in time. This doesn’t mean that my parents always agreed with the other person but they were still welcomed. I grew up realizing that people from Mexico, Guatemala, Vietnam, and other parts of the United States were different than we were, as well as with an awareness that their differences didn’t make them worse than us. One of my passions today is that we can see the world around us in a similar fashion to the table I grew up with where family was important and welcoming the stranger was too. For my family it was never one or the other, but both at the same time. Each time I serve communion and we share the liturgy saying that “we will feast at his heavenly banquet”, I picture a big table filled with all kinds of people and it is similar to what I grew up around. My prayer is that our society can learn to embrace that which is different instead of seeing it as a threat needing to be removed. I would also remind us that any differences we have are human-made and that at God’s table, all are welcomed. As a child, I knew I had a seat at our table. As a child of God, you also have a seat at the table with Jesus.

Rev. Jim Jones grew up in central Oklahoma and serves as the pastor at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Stillwater and is adjunct instructor at Northern Oklahoma College- Stillwater.

An Open Letter To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self

Last month I celebrated my 38th birthday. So, I suppose from one
perspective I’ve been 19 twice. Being 19 the first time was hard
enough. That guy made some decisions he really shouldn’t have. He made
some good ones, too.

I was wondering what it would look like for my 38-year-old self to sit
down and have coffee with my 19-year-old self. Here are some thoughts I’d
want to share with him.

There is just the right amount of time.
A college student once explained to me there were three things in the
world—school work, a social life, and sleep—and as a student you had
to pick two out of those three. I call B.S. on that idea. You have the
same 24 hours a day as every other human being on the planet has had
since time began. Don’t buy into the lie that there’s not enough time.

The trick to learn is discerning what really matters. Learn to tell
the difference between the “big rocks” and everything else. Get a
daily planner and start writing everything down. Don’t compromise your
“big rocks.”  Plan ahead. Think about what kind of person you want to
be when you’re 25, when you’re 30, when you’re 50.

Read the Bible and pray every day.
Make time for this. Even when you don’t feel like it. This is a “big
rock.” These things feed your soul. And your soul lasts a lot longer
than your GPA or happy hour.

Do these things with other people as frequently as possible. It’s not
enough to pray and read the Bible by yourself. You are hard-wired for 
community. Even if you’re an introvert. Being with God is best when
it’s done with others.

Belong to people.
This is really what being part of a local church means. Don’t just go
to church. Belong to people. Belong to people who don’t look like you.
You need some older people in your life. And believe it or not, they
need you in theirs.

Break up with her/him.
The odds are stacked that your relationships with the same gender are
going to last far longer than those of the opposite. Invest your time

More often than not, when we say the words “I love you,” what we’re
really saying is, “I love me, and I want to use you.” I’m devastated
remembering the times I’ve said the former and really meant the
latter, as well as the times I thought I heard the former but was
really being told the latter.

Be good to your mom.
Maybe she hides it well, maybe she doesn’t, but she’s freaking out
right now. The dynamic of your relationship is evolving, and when your
mom sees you, she still sees her little 5-year-old who wants to
cuddle. So don’t be a jerk. This is 10x if you’re the oldest kid in
your family. Call her regularly. Tell her what’s going in your life.
She’s still your biggest fan.

Figure out what you’re good at and how to talk to people about it.
Get good at two different things. Combine them. You know how to code?
You know the world of social work? Now you can build websites for
non-profits. Know what you’re good at and get comfortable telling
other people how awesome you are at it. Then people will give you
money. This is called a job and a career, and this strategy is 
infinitely more effective than a degree and a resume.

Figure out how to be more curious about everything.
Never stop learning. You brain is a muscle, so exercise it. Make it a
habit to write down 10 ideas every day. They can be absurd. They can
be practical. Just exercise your “idea muscle.”

Ask questions about everything. Be curious about the world. About
other cultures. About other people. About God. About yourself. Wonder
how things work.

And then, when you’re 38, you should have a whole catalogue of good
stories to tell a 19 year old.

By Peter White. Peter is a spiritual director and blogs at The Sabbath Life. He’s an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, serving at Restore Hope Ministries. He lives in Tulsa with his wife and two toddlers.