23 Steps to Freedom
An exerpt from Dr. Conners upcoming book
The Lord is my shepherd …
“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’” – C.S Lewis
If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you’ve probably read Psalm 23. If we could take a deeper look at the familiar text that really ‘hit home’ for me when my father passed away a few years ago, I believe we’d uncover the real ‘secret’. I pray that you experience a new sense of oneness with your Father as I did; meditate on His word and let Him speak to you individually and personally in your special need. Let’s start by reviewing the entire text:
“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;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” NASB
Step number one: “THE Lord…”
There’s a lot of talk today about a Universalist approach to salvation, i.e. that God is love and since God is love, He loves everyone and would never send anyone to hell. Most don’t even believe in a hell and if a heaven exists, common thought is that it is created by one’s own personal choice. Our once-Christian culture in America has adopted Hindu philosophies that, ‘there are many roads to the top of the same mountain’ and have embraced doctrinal differences to the point of melding their beliefs into an Eastern-Jewish-Christian mix that is far from Biblical Christianity. Main-line churches welcome homosexual practices and ordain gays into the ministry, charismatic churches practice Secular Humanism in welcoming the prosperity gospel, and corruption is the mainstay of everyday church life. Where IS the Lord? Well, he is alive and well since the lord (small “l”) is one’s self as we have made ourselves in our own idol!
It is difficult to argue against the belief that we are currently experiencing what was prophesized by Christ in Matthew 23, Paul in his letters to the churches and the rest of the New Testament writers as to what could be expected in the last days.
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.” – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NIV
One might say that these particular practices have been seen throughout the ages, and that would be true. However, a closer look at the context of this passage reveals that Paul was not warning Timothy of what could be expected; he was foretelling the future to Timothy because of an incidence Timothy experienced in the church at Ephesus. Paul placed young Timothy in a pastoral position and Ephesus was a fast-growing church in a very commercial, godless city. Timothy ran into trouble with a few church members, professing believers named Hymenaeus and Philetus, who “have departed from the truth” (2 Timothy 2:18). Paul warned Timothy and other steadfast believers to stand firm against false teachers and then in chapter 3 consoled Timothy with the prophetic truth of what the church was going to look like in the last days, as if to say, “You think it’s bad now, dealing with a couple of egotists? Well, let me tell you what it’s going to be like in the last days. The entire church is going to be corrupted by self-seeking false doctrines!”
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he warned, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” (1 Timothy 4:1 KJV) This reveals the REAL problem – people depart from the faith, they leave the truth and believe the lie!
Paul expressed the same root cause of sin in his letter to the Romans saying that there will be those, “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.” One might argue that here he is speaking of those in the world, not the church, but the previous two passages Paul was most assuredly speaking of the condition of professing believers.
The problem of sin, selfishness, moral corruption, pity, and the narcissistic culture now easily find not only in the world but nearly equally in the church has one cause at its core – self on the throne of one’s life! We have replaced God with self; we believe that WE have taken the king’s chair and are in full control of life. The fact that THE Lord of lords is no longer OUR lord has never been more evident. God creator, God sustainer, God redeemer, has been replaced with that which has been created. We are, as did the Israelites of old, doing that which is right in our own eyes.
Psalm 23, in its original Hebrew text never uses the article ‘the’. It actually reads, “Jehovah my shepherd I shall not want…” “The Lord,” as most interpretations write, seems appropriate, as the original author left no doubt as to whom possessed the only qualifications of shepherding his heart. Jehovah was the special, sacred, and very significant name by which God revealed himself to the ancient Hebrews. In later times, the Jewish people believed that the name Jehovah was so sacred that it was never pronounced except by the high priest on the great Day of Atonement, when he entered into the most holy place. Jews used what we could say was God’s common name, Adonai, which is more synonymous with Lord. There are several expanded definitions of God’s name throughout Scripture, as man has no other way to describe the magnificence of God but by the works observed:
Jehovah will see; i.e., will provide, the name given by Abraham to the scene of his offering up the ram, which was caught in the thicket on Mount Moriah. The expression used in Gen. 22:14, “in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen,” has been regarded as equivalent to the saying, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.”
Jehovah my banner, the title given by Moses to the altar that he erected on the hill on the top of which he stood with uplifted hands while Israel prevailed over their enemies the Amalekites (Ex. 17:15).
Jehovah send peace, the name that Gideon gave to the altar he erected on the spot at Ophrah where the angel appeared to him (Judg. 6:24).
Jehovah is there, the symbolical title given by Ezekiel to Jerusalem, which was seen by him in vision (Ezek. 48:35). It was a type of the gospel Church.
Jehovah our rightousness, rendered in the Authorized Version, “The LORD our righteousness,” a title given to the Messiah (Jer. 23:6, marg.), and also to Jerusalem (33:16, marg.).
(Credit Easton’s Bible Dictionary)
It’s Called Idolatry
The point is that our English article ‘the’ expressively reiterates the fact that there is only ONE God, ONE Lord of our world and our life, and it is NOT us! God has NO intention of sharing His Godhead with man yet we have become a culture of idolaters. Scripture is explicit that there is but ONE God. “Hath not one God created us?” (Malachi 2:10) “For there is one God; and there is none other but he.” (Mark 12:32) “There is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6) “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:6) “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5)
The question we all must ask is this – who is really THE lord of my life?
My wife and I used to tell our kids, “If there is something, anything, in your life that, if taken away would destroy you, it is an idol!” We cherish possessions, collect, and even hoard yet rarely do we hear of idolatry.
Idolatry, by definition, is image-worship or divine honor paid to any created object. Paul describes the origin of idolatry in Rom. 1:21-25: men forsook God, and sank into ignorance and moral corruption (1:28). In Scripture, idolatry is regarded as of heathen origin, and as being imported among the Hebrews through contact with heathen nations. The first allusion to idolatry is in the account of Rachel stealing her father’s teraphim (Gen. 31:19), which were the relics of the worship of other gods by Laban’s progenitors “on the other side of the river in old time” (Josh. 24:2). During their long residence in Egypt the Hebrews fell into idolatry, and it was long before they were delivered from it (Josh. 24:14; Ezek. 20:7).
Today idolatry is disguised in hobbies, past-times, job responsibilities, corporate ladders, athletics and revealed by examining the amount of time and money spent on things other than that which would glorify God. Idolatry is the universal human tendency to value something or someone in a way that hinders the love and trust we owe to God. It is an act of theft from God whereby we use some part of creation in a way that steals from honor due the King alone.
No one grasped this better than Martin Luther, who ties the Old and New Testament together remarkably in his exposition of the Ten Commandments. Luther saw how the Law against idols and the New Testament emphasis on justification by faith alone are essentially the same. He said that the Ten Commandments begin with two commandments against idolatry because the fundamental problem in law breaking is rooted in idolatry. In other words, we never break the other commandments without first breaking the law against idolatry; that is, all SIN has the root of SELF-exaltation above God! Luther understood that the first commandment is really all about justification by faith, and to fail to believe in justification by faith is idolatry, which is the root of all that displeases God.
All those not fully trusting God practice idolatry. Religion is idolatrous. Should one make every attempt to keep every commandment is, in itself, a sign of idolatrous living. Such was the root problem of the rich young ruler in mmmm. “How does one please God,” was essentially his question to Jesus who brilliantly allowed the young man to reveal the twisted thinking so commonly found in a self-righteous heart. “Obey the commandments,” he answered, to which Jesus essentially said, “Go do so then, if that’s what you think will get you to heaven.” I believe that Jesus already knew the man’s answers and was more teaching the crowd the lesson that keeping of the commandments was not God’s intention. The purpose of the commandments was (and is) to reveal to us that they are impossible to keep!
The religious man says, “Tell me the commandments that I may keep them.” The spiritual man says, “There is no possible way that I can keep up God’s standard. I look at my life and I am broken! All my attempts at righteousness leave me the puffed-up hypocrite I profess to hate. I deserve hell! Praise God for GRACE. If His mercies were not new every day, I would have NO hope!” THIS is the heart Jesus seeks and the heart that is produced in one crushed by the Law and broken under the weight of the commandments. Praise God they have done their work in you!
Luther writes, “(Those who do not) trust in His favor, grace and good-will, do not keep this [First] Commandment, practice real idolatry, even if they were to do the works of all the other Commandments, and in addition had all the prayers, obedience, patience, and chastity of all the saints combined. For the chief work is not present, without which all the others are nothing but mere sham, show and pretense, with nothing in back of them. If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false [savior]…. (Part X. XI Excerpts from Martin Luther, Treatise Concerning Good Works, 1520).
“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” – Exodus 34:6-7
“God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” – Numbers 23:19
“”O Sovereign LORD, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?” Deuteronomy 3:24
“For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.” – Deuteronomy 4:31
“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome,” – Deuteronomy 10:17
“For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” – Psalm 48:14
Step number two – “The LORD…”
Before I can claim one promise of Scripture, before I can expect one prayer to be heard, before one wish granted, this question must be answered: Who is my LORD? This is a serious question and I know no proclaiming Christian that would answer anything other than what is expected, but most are lying to themselves. Whoa, that sounds like harsh words, but let’s stop pretending.
The truth is that most professing believers know how they are supposed to be living their lives, could point to many religious acts that ‘prove’ their salvation, and may even have all the right answers to theological questions. But, when the truth is told, most of us spend the majority of our lives as the king of our self-centered universe. We declare Christ’s lordship, raise our hands on Sunday, and carry our Bible to small group but spend the preponderance of our time consumed in thoughts of our vacation, growing our career, collecting more stuff and fulfilling our plans.
This evening I drove my daughter back to her college dorm after spending a weekend at home. She commented that she thought it both funny and sad that humans spend most of their lives going to school to learn skills and then the rest of their lives trying to use those talents to make money so they can buy more things. We talked about this for a bit and I made some comment about how it is important to find a career that means more than just making money. I thought more about this on the way home and became more saddened by my response to her the more I pondered.
What IS our purpose in life? Where is there any true value? The richest man that ever lived finished life with deep regrets that all the ‘stuff’ he chased were just ‘vanities’ that led him away from his true purpose that he was created to achieve – to live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! There is neither greater glory nor greater joy; everything else is a futile, hollow, empty attempt to achieve significance by following a lie.
Do not believe that since you once prayed a prayer, got baptized, grew up in the church, received some spiritual gift, or any other past work of self or act of God that you now walk under His lordship. It is a daily struggle to surrender to the King. My flesh regularly rears its head, sin creeps at my door and the enemy waits to devour if I don’t purposely and deliberately cry out to Him daily. My walk is hindered often and life throws countless obstacles to keep me from seeing the victory already achieved. I will be eternally grateful that His mercies are new each day because I need them new each day!
My prayer is to bind myself to my Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, that I may walk yoked to Him, keeping my need for Him at the forefront of my mind. Oh, if I could just remember how much he loves me. I was created to spend eternity with Him in heaven, ever enjoying His infinite love, learning of His wonder, and basking in His glory.
He not only knew my name, He planned me, drew out my vessels and sculpted my organs. Like a once barren woman, He longed for my time on earth, however, His waiting wasn’t passive; with His hands He formed my heart and tapped it to start its first beat; He stretched out my fingers and bent them to form their joints and etched each print into their tips. He smiled as he shaped my face and pulled on my ears, whispering secrets that my heart would only reveal years latter. He told me of walks we’d take, how we’d go fishing from an old log on the edge of a quiet pond, and how He made fireflies just to hear my laughter and watch me chase them around the yard. He said He’s painted sunsets just for me, created waterfalls and mountains, and green grass that tickle toes, and watermelon. I snuggled in his lap for nine months and listened to His stories of the world about both the beauty and the beasts that I would face. But then, I forgot, for a very long time.
Lord, let me remember that You are my Lord, my Father, my King. You desire that I come to You like a little child and crawl onto Your lap just to snuggle. Give me the ability to repent, lay everything down and count all I’ve done, earned, and strived for as rubbish compared to knowing You. Give me a hunger and thirst for You that can never be quenched.
Thank you Lord Jesus!
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” – Psalm 68:19
“Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.” – Psalm 68:20
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” – Psalm 73:26
“But the LORD has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.” – Psalm 94:22
The Lord IS…
Step number three – “The LORD IS…”
Religious people talk about God in the past tense. God did this and that at some particular time in the past as if the Bible stories were simply events on a historical timeline. It’s easy for us to get caught into the same mindset, seeing God separate from daily life, absent from present tense. I hear people pray as if God is distant, like He is unconcerned with our struggles and unattached to everyday needs.
Similarly, the Israelites had a religious view of God. They observed unbelievable miracles like the parting of the sea to allow their escape from Egypt, received fresh water from a rock in the desert, and fresh food falling from the sky each morning. Yet, within a week, they faithlessly rejected the Promised Land because they had no vision that God could possibly provide a victory over the current tenants. What was the matter with those idiots? Well, we often act the same way!
The Israelites failed to display faith because it wasn’t in them. They saw God as a provider of their desires. He acted out of their need when they called on His name but he wasn’t a present person with whom they communed. God was ‘out there’, away from them, distant, and though they ‘believed’ in Him, their concept of who He was, was skewed. You see, to the religious person, things that God does are events in time, not displays of character. God parts the Red Sea and they think, “Great, wasn’t that nice.” Yet, they have no concept of purpose beyond the event; it was simply a kind benefit that quickly grew into an ungrateful expectation.
It’s really a matter of personal presence – is God present with you, beside you, inside you personally? Religious people may know all about God, but don’t know Him; the Bible is a wonderful collection of stories to be learned, studied and memorized instead of observations of His personage, displays of His character, and a visual, tangible manifestation of His love.
Was God? Yes, he was. Will God? Yes, He will. Facts point out the former and prophecy the latter but the question we all must ask ourselves is this: Is God? Is He for me? Is He present now, engulfed in my thoughts, overseeing my desires, beside my actions, moment by moment? Is He real, alive, more than Sunday school pictographs, or is He something I just experience from time to time?
Years ago I had the wonderful opportunity of preaching a message at my sister’s wedding. She and her husband are believers and wanted the Gospel declared at their most special day, especially because so many of our relatives just might need to hear. I shared an abbreviated yet pointed message that we prayed God would use for His glory. What I remember most about that day was something that my Aunt said to me. “Kevin,” she pulled my close, “that was wonderful, we need to hear that once in a while.” Maybe it was just I that found something strange in that comment, but I believe the Lord spoke to me after that saying, “This is the problem with religion, I become an event. I will NOT be an event.”
THE God of the universe sent His Son to establish a covenant with us that we might have an intimate, ever growing, one-to-one relationship with Him. Thinking that doctrinal knowledge, scattered experiences, and emotional events are what God intended is similar to believing that your Facebook friends are really relationships.
Never settle for religion; its lukewarm pretense of what He intended is an abomination to our Father. It’s time to get real with THE Lord who IS, and that He demands to be in present tense with those who hear His voice because they KNOW Him and are known by Him.
“The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.” – Psalm 116:5
“Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the LORD.” – Psalm 144:15
“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” – Proverbs 30:5
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” – Isaiah 61:1-3
The Lord is MY Shepherd…
Step number four – “The LORD is MY Shepherd…”
I love to just sit and contemplate the amazing truth that the Creator of the stars, the One with the infinite imagination, the maker of everything, and the sustainer of life, has chosen to call me ‘son’. I am His. He is mine. THE Lord of lords, THE King of kings, chased me, caught me, exchanged my heart, beckons me daily to walk with Him, and desires to be MY shepherd.
Would it be enough that God declares Himself as the shepherd of the world? He could be an indifferent leader whom, because His ways are so far above our ways, would be untouchable, unknowable. Like a CEO of a great business, the employees would know Him by His policies and demands. The weekly newsletter from the boss enlightens the workers with expectations and company earnings. This is reality for anyone working for a corporation and exactly how most Christians relate to God.
Praise God that He is NOT like man!
THE Lord of all is MY shepherd not just THE shepherd. Oh, I know that He is also your shepherd but that’s the point. He is our personal shepherd, desiring an intimate communion with His children. We must grow to expect to hear His voice, receive His discipline, enjoy His laughter, and grieve with His broken heart. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27) There is only one true flock; I want to be under that one true shepherd and want to know Him so well that I hear His voice and follow His commands!
Is He your shepherd or just ‘a’ shepherd? The world may say He was a ‘great teacher’, that is, He was ‘a’ shepherd. Many Christians profess that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. They know the facts and recite the texts but remain outside the flock. To them, He is more than ‘a’ shepherd, He is ‘the’ shepherd; they readily acknowledge Him as King. The demons also do so, and they shudder at the fact. (James 2:19) Yet, they remain deaf to His voice and only observers of the truth. This is the group that Jesus spoke of who would even do wonderful things in God’s name yet they fail to enter Heaven because He was NOT their personal shepherd. (Matthew 7:21-23) He needs to be MORE than ‘a’ shepherd and even more than ‘the’ shepherd!
God did NOT send His Son to die on the cross to give you a good example; He did so to bring you back to the relationship lost in the Garden and promised through the ages. Jesus Christ is our one and only mediator between man and his Creator, the author of the new covenant, our personal, intimate shepherd.
If He is not currently YOUR shepherd, ask Him, using your words. Something like this: Oh God in Heaven, I know all about you but I don’t know you intimately. I’ve spent my life learning about you but living for me. Search me; change me. Give me the ability to know you like never before. Make my relationship real. I don’t want to be religious. Heal me from thinking I can know you any other way outside of complete surrender to you. Bind me to your heart, to your Son, to your word, truth, and light. Give me your Holy Spirit. Make me your son/daughter. I want YOU to be MY shepherd. Thank you Lord. Amen
“I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” – Matthew 22:32
“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Matthew 12:28
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” – Mark 1:15
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24
The Lord is my SHEPHERD
Step number five – “The LORD is my SHEPHERD…”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1
“He was with God in the beginning.” – John 1:2
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” – John 1:3
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” – John 1:4
I shall not want
“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.” – Francis of Assisi