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Sermon 9-21-08
Psalm 23:1-4 - Mercy Ministry

Audio Sermon

Mercy Ministry

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, 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.” (Psalm 23:1-4)

For those of us who have read the Bible, we know it has a “happy ending.” You can be assured, reading through chapters like 1 Corinthians 15, that when our loved one has accepted the Lord and then leaves this world, they’ve gone to be with Him and are in His joy. The Bible is deep and profound, leading us to understand through His Word, what we cannot otherwise know. The Lord is with us when we trust in Him, and whatever happens in life or in death, we will be with Him – forever. He helps us understand that when we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death,” He is indeed with you and me. And that goes for our loved ones, as well.

Yet, as Paul, in God’s Word reveals, we have what is called an “old man,” or perhaps the “old woman,” which was our nature before we trusted in the Lord. In some places it is called the “old nature.” But thanks be to God, when we give our hearts and lives to Christ, He gives us a “new nature” that takes us in a better direction – forever. That “old” nature is strong, however, consisting of the attitudes we acquired before we came to our Lord. The “old” is with us, but now, blessedly, the “new” is here as well (Colossians 3:9-10).

Somewhere inside, the new nature understands and rejoices that our lost loved one is safe, healed and filled with the joy of the Lord. But the old “man,” our old way of looking at things tends to be hurt, bitter and depressed at any loss. Are we somehow sinners because we mourn our loss? I don’t think so. Jesus walked this earth just like we do, and He is speaking to the Father right this minute, calling out your name and mine, saying “Father, forgive them,” for whatever attitudes we might have that are contrary to God’s best. Our Lord isn’t blaming us. He instead comforts us, heals us, restores us and give us His peace.

“Jesus wept” for the mourners at the tomb of Lazarus and He cares for you. In Psalm 56, where it says, “When I am afraid, I will trust in Thee,” we are told in Verse 8, that our tears are kept in God’s “book” and in His “bottle.” When we read Matthew 26, we find that among Jesus’ last prayers was, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.” He understands how we feel when we think we just can’t go on.

Jesus told us to be “wise as serpents” in addition to being “harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). “Harmless” includes those who are “poor in spirit… those who mourn… and the meek…” He said, “those who mourn will be comforted” (Matthew 5:3-7) and yet we can be so shattered by the loss of a loved one that we don’t feel God's comforting hand. The Lord reaches out in His Word, through friends, including our Great Friend, the Holy Spirit of God, and He will touch us through "mercy ministry," sometimes called “grief support;” a help to those who have suffered personal loss.

We need to see that not only are the spiritual gifts given to us today, but the so-called “natural gifts” are from the Lord as well. Athleticism is a gift from God. Intelligence is God’s gift, along with artistic abilities and eloquence. Some in the church have been suspicious of the psychological principles involved in grief support because they seem to be from those apparently “natural gifts.” But such ideas can be helpful to the Christian who has fallen into the pit of suffering that we call, “grief,” including the depression that can come from great loss.

Do you remember the words of Jesus, when he said about hell, that it would be a place where “the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies?” (Mark 9:44). Like all the others of that time in the area of the Mediterranean Sea, the Jews were heavily influenced by the psychological ideas and principles from ancient Greece. The Greeks were surprisingly modern in many areas. They had sanatoriums for the mentally ill, offering stone tanks that contained electric eels. Doctors would make a patient grasp one of the eels, causing some to experience alleviation of their symptoms through this early form of electroshock therapy. The phrase, “the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies,” is actually an ancient Greek expression for those who suffer deep depression.

Is the Bible for today? Yes it emphatically is – 40-years ago or so, it brought me to Christ. And it reveals incredible understanding of what is normally thought of as “psychology.” David, for instance, in places like Psalm 19:12, asked God to heal him of what he called, “hidden faults” or “secret sins;” thoughts we have and actions we perform while not acknowledging (even to ourselves) that they exist. In other words, David knew about the subconscious mind thousands of years before the world even thought about psychologist Sigmund Freud of 100 years ago. Are psychological principles helpful? They can be, and if they alleviate the suffering of those who are stuck in grief over the loss of a loved one – wonderful! Thanks be to God! Psychological grief support for suffering is like the hammer and saw in relation to building a house. Grief support is a useful tool to restore us from the destruction of great loss.

My major in college at graduation was “Religion With Emphasis in Bible,” but I also took 23-units of psychology, perhaps because the wife of my youth became mentally ill and I remained grief-stricken because of what had happened – I was shocked at losing her to that terrible disease of the soul. I remember intently reading the case studies in a class called “Abnormal Psychology.” The class contained wonderful, deep examinations of the tragic circumstances life can throw at us, but to understand, we also need the Lord.

When some individual or a set of ideas helps us through terrible loss, it is really the Lord who reaches out through them. “Mercy Ministry” or “Grief Support,” is a tool in the Hand of God. We can thank the messenger, but it is “the Lord (who) is my shepherd,” and “I shall not want” because of Him. “He makes me lie down in green pastures” and “leads me beside the still waters,” often through people He sends. “He (wonderfully) restores my soul” and “guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Many are helped to find “still waters” by people who don’t even know they are doing the work and the word of God. And when we are whole once more, we can boldly say: “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” (Psalm 23:1-4). Our Lord has all the “mercy ministry,” all the “grief support” we could ever need.

Lord, we have all lost so much in life, and sometimes we have felt we just can’t go on. Help us to see that You are with us and help us to recognize Your “still waters” and “green pastures” when You bring us to them, even if they seem “secular” to us. In Jesus Name. Amen.

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"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)
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