Searching to See God in the Psalms

One year ago today I was recuperating from my second heart procedure within a two week period. I wrote the following thoughts four months later when I returned to the hospital for very difficult bladder surgery. My resulting study in the Psalms during the intervening months sent me on the course to launch this blog Grace Journey.

In November of 2018, during the time I was dealing with several heart cath procedures, I began studying the Psalms with the purpose of focusing on God as I read. I wanted to especially key on what the Psalmists reveal about God’s person, character, works, and glory. This has been a very rich study and blessing.

I use the YouVersion Bible app on my iPad as I read. With the use of technology I can compare reliable versions as I study a Psalm each day. The app allows me to highlight verses in various colors. And I highlight in a yellow color any verse that says something specifically about who God is, what He does, how He acts, and especially what He promises.

I use other colors to highlight commands, lessons to be learned, and truths to ponder. But my main focus is on seeing the overriding message of God’s goodness, greatness and glory in each of the Psalms. This approach has been very enriching. I find each day that I have an eagerness to learn more about my God.

This week I reviewed the first 22 Psalms and made a cursory list of things that the text declares about our God. He guards, decrees, protects, delivers, vindicates, makes us safe and secure, leads us to righteousness, gives good favor, hears our appeal for mercy, is just, sovereign, majestic, does amazing deeds, rules, shelters, is faithful, restores, guides, and on and on. These are just some of the revelations of God’s greatness that are spelled out in Psalm after Psalm.

Not all of the Psalms are words of comfort. Some are Psalms of lament, instruction, warnings, and judgment. Many are Psalms of praise, promise and encouragement. But all of the Psalms are rich in theology – the knowledge of God. The Psalms magnify our great God and they reveal the coming Savior. What a privilege to daily ingest these truths and see the greatness of our God in His eternal Word.

Guest Post from Pastor Steve Benedict, entitled: “Lost!”

Gerry Carlson: For many years I dreamed of hiking the famous Appalachian Trail. Well, it is not going to happen. My time for such adventuring is past. But in 2012 Connie and I camped several days at Harper’s Ferry, WV, where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters is located. This building and store is considered the half-way point on the 2,200 mile trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. We enjoyed examining the small museum at the HQ, purchasing a memento ball-cap, and meeting some bona-fide hikers. I’ve always admired those who hike the Trail – whether partially, or completely.

This past year I learned that one of my valued former students from Maranatha Baptist Bible College did a ten-day expedition through the Shenandoah National Park section in Virginia. Steve Benedict had completed 18 years pastoring at a Virginia church and was taking a sabbatical to consider his next steps in ministry. As part of a season of prayer and seeking God’s will he embarked on a solo hike on a segment of the Trail in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Below is an excerpt from a personal post that Steve wrote last June on his own blog. I asked Steve if I could reprint a portion of his excellent post on Grace Journey. His words of experience and learning are wise and profitable for us all. Read and be blessed!    

LOST!

Hogwallow Flats Overlook

On the Appalachian Trail there’s a special blaze to indicate a sudden or unexpected twist or turn in the trail. Instead of a single blaze, there’s a double blaze.  This warns the hiker that the trail is about to take an unexpected turn, so pay attention.

Somehow, I either missed that section in the hiking manual or forgot it.  So, as you can imagine, I was in for a rude surprise when I blew past my first double blaze on day two of my hike.  I had just passed Hogwallow Flats and reached the summit of Mount Marshall.  The trail meandered along the ridge of the mountain for maybe a half mile, getting more rugged and narrow all the time.  The views were stunning and there were striking rock formations all around, where ancient movements of the tectonic plates had thrust massive sedimentary rocks into all kinds of crazy angles.  The terrain had an other-worldly look. And then, there came the double blaze.  The trail took a sharp turn down the mountain and I, assuming that there was another scenic overlook just ahead, took a sharp turn up the mountain.

I didn’t notice anything for maybe 10 minutes.  I just kept wandering down what looked like a trail.  Maybe it was, for deer or bear or something.  But there came a point at which I knew I was lost.  Then, I compounded the error.  Since I assumed that the trail had gone up the hill, I headed off at a 90 degree angle to intercept where I thought for sure the trail would be.  It wasn’t.

At this point, there was no retracing my steps.  I stopped, got out my trail map and compass and tried to figure out what went wrong.  What I discovered was, even though I thought I was right, I was headed in the exact opposite direction and had been for a long time.

I charted a new course and headed out over some of the steepest, rockiest terrain imaginable.  It took me a good 45 minutes or more, but I eventually found the trail.  But there were some consequences.  I had blown about 2 ½ hours of time and energy- both valuable commodities for an out of shape hiker like me. And I had also shredded my feet.  The hard angles and rocky surfaces, untamed by a trail, created blisters and a stress fracture that dogged me the rest of the hike.

I learned some valuable lessons that day which carry over well into the journey of life.  Maybe you can benefit from them too.

Lesson 1) When you realize you are off track, STOP and return to where you lost your bearing.  Don’t try to fix it on your own, it only compounds the error. It was self-reliance that got you there in the first place.  The very moment you discover your’e lost, stop and return, God is waiting for you there (2 Chronicles 15:4).

Lesson 2) When you’re lost, everything looks like a trail. Have you ever noticed that?  The woods appear to be full of trails, but most of them lead nowhere.  When I was a kid, I’d walk in the woods near our house and follow supposed “trails,” imagining that they were Indian trails or deer trails, or bear.  Usually, the trail would dissolve into nothingness and leave me standing in the center of a briar patch. We call these rabbit trails.  When we stop relying on the Holy Spirit as our guide and lose our way, we become susceptible to all kinds of worldly rabbit trails. We think these trails will lead to fulfillment, but they never do.  Are you chasing a rabbit trail right now?

Lesson 3) When you’ve lost your way, don’t trust your feelings, trust your instruments. When I finally broke out the compass and map, I had an incredibly difficult time believing that I was headed in the exact opposite direction.  I’m headed east? That can’t be right! I looked at the map and the compass and double and triple checked it. It was really hard to turn around. To do so meant admitting that I had been going in the wrong direction for a long time.  Even in spite of all of the evidence, a part of me still thought, “Maybe if I just go a little farther, I’ll find that trail.”

God’s word and Spirit are the only true north in our lives.  God has given us completely reliable resources, but like Peter walking on the water, the surest way to sink is to get our eyes off Jesus and trust in our own strength and resources.

I learned a lot on the trail that day.  Sometimes people think they are lost but they aren’t, they just need to keep walking. Sometimes people know they’re lost and the battle is to find the humility and courage to turn around. But the absolute worst place to be, is to be lost and not know it.  It’s from that place of arrogance or ignorance that our souls are truly in danger.

Which describes you?

The Ministry of Mentoring

“…able to teach others also.” II Timothy 2:2

This week we had the sad human experience of saying an earthly farewell and remembering the life of Terry Price, our pastor at Maranatha Baptist Church. The striking characteristic of Terry’s life that emerged at his memorial service was his impact on others. As his son Oz declared; his dad’s faithfulness, friendliness and steadfast following of Jesus left a marked influence on their family and a host of individuals he touched.

Pastor Price’s grandsons serve as pallbearers to honor their grandfather.

This was especially seen in his 42 years of teaching and coaching young people in two different Bible colleges. Scores upon scores of students and players have spoken out this week about the significant influence Coach Price had on their lives. Members and friends of Maranatha Baptist Church have also expressed a similar testimony from the three short years Pastor Price led by serving the church ministry here in Sebring, Florida.

It is a distinct privilege to participate in the lives of others through mentoring, discipling, and sharing significant life-building relationships. At the memorial service I was able to reconnect with some of Terry’s football players that I knew from over twenty-five years ago when I served on the administration at Maranatha College. It was a distinct joy to see them going on – enthusiastically serving their Lord.

Pastor Ross Johnson, Coach Malmanger, Pastor John Morlan, and Pastor Rob Cronin.

While serving at the college, I was a big fan of the football team. That was especially influenced by my observation that some of the strongest spiritual leaders on campus, at that time anyway, were the leaders of the football team. This was no doubt due, in large measure, to the emphasis of Coach Price, and supported by his coaching staff. But it was obvious to me that these student athletes were genuinely “team players” and that spirit was exhibited by them in their attitude toward the whole student body.  

The football players were leaders in cheering for the other athletic teams, and they were excellent role models and encouragers for the new recruits on the squad. Football was seen as a realistic metaphor for life – and especially for the struggles and challenges of the Christian life.  

Twenty former players with Coach Mal and Colene Price at the graveside service.

One year a small group of underclassmen became involved in some off campus rule-breaking activity. They accepted the discipline meted to them, and were removed from the team. I reached out to those athletes and invited them to join other students for a Saturday morning prayer time. It was a good learning and growing time for me. And, as it turned out, it became a strategic support for our family because our Marine son was deployed into harm’s way during the period of Gulf War I. Those guys prayed with me and supported our family during a very difficult time.

I learned that the essential elements of mentoring are sharing, listening and encouraging. It is truly a gift flowing from God’s grace to have the privilege of mentoring and ministering in the building up of the body – the body of believers; serving together until Jesus comes for His own.   

IT’S BETTER TO BE IN HEAVEN

On Friday morning our great friend and faithful pastor, Terry Price, entered heaven’s portal and joined those already called home. Terry was diligently serving the Lord as pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church on the very day he was called to heaven. We mourn our loss — but for Pastor Price, or “Coach Price” as he was affectionately known by his Bible college students and football players, it is all gain.

Years ago, as a youth pastor, I wrote the following poem when a dear church member, and father of two kids in my youth group, was very unexpectedly promoted to heaven. It is homespun poetry that was influenced by a youth group camping trip to the awe-inspiring Colorado mountains a few months before.

 It’s better to be in heaven
Than to walk the plains of earth,
For a moment with Christ in glory
Defies any measure of worth.

Sure — I’d like to live on a mountain,
There the world looks majestic and grand;
But life is lived in the valley,
Where sin and disease grips the land.

Heaven must be like a mountain —
Where the struggles of earth seem small;
And the view of eternal values
Obscures the curse of man’ s fall.

Someday I’ll be moving to heaven,
When God has need of me there,
But now I must stay in the valley,
To tell of the Saviour’s care.

For Jesus has given the orders,
To strive with the forces of sin;
And tell the news of Salvation,
That Christ in His mercy might win.

I’d rather go on to heaven
But God has need of me here —
To love a lost world for Jesus,
And dispel men’s doubt and fear.

We sorrow not for our brother,
Who God has called from the strife;
We weep instead for the millions,
Who know no hope past this life.

Declare His Strength & Power

All of my life I have believed that our latter years are to be particularly important. That seems to be a sub-theme in Scripture. Many personages in the Bible made their greatest impact in the seasons of advanced age. Moses, Joshua, David, Paul, John and many others performed significant ministry in their later years. God clearly intends for each one of us to pass on His truth and testimony to the next generations. This thought is certainly expressed in Ps. 71:18.

But our later years are often filled with doctor’s appointments and medical procedures. I had one this week. It seems that we are being relegated to the sidelines more and more. All of these experiences remind us of our waning strength. But they should prompt us to remember that it has been His strength – not ours – that has brought us this far. In Psalm 40 we are reminded that, “Many, O LORD my God, are your wonderful works which you have done; and your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to you…”

We are left with this challenge, as gray heads, in our most important years of life. We are urged to leave a legacy that trumpets God’s greatness, strength and power to the next generation. We are to tell of His works in a way that points to His greatness and glory, and not just to our exploits and wisdom. Ps. 111 declares “He has caused His wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.” It is His faithfulness that we are to declare.

The Psalmist then delivers this punch line: “He has shown his people the power of His works…” God has shown His works of power in the pages of Scripture, in the record of history, and in the experiences of our lives. Not that history and experience equal, or validate, Scripture. They don’t. But the Psalmist in Ps. 37 explains “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.” Throughout our lives we have witnessed the faithfulness of an all-loving God, and we are to declare that testimony to those who follow.

God is true to His Word. That is what God’s Word tells us. That is what history and our experience confirms to us. The Lord is faithful to His promises. He is faithful to His Word. He cares for his own. We need to declare those truths and exalt the faithfulness of God’s character – His promise keeping character. That is what we need to leave to the generation to come. We need to leave a testimony of His strength and His power.

Mountain Top Journey

On November 25, 2018 I wrote some further reflections about the 1960 camping trip on which Connie and I met. This story is so powerful because it reflects the hand of God in such a definite and providential way.  

One more story from the 1960 Wyoming trip. Somewhere in the middle of the camping experience, one of the teenage young ladies, Sally Ley, developed a serious case of appendicitis. Remember, this is way before cell phones were contemplated. I’m not sure that remote area would even have cell tower accessibility today, even though it is not too far — as the proverbial crow flies — from Buffalo, Wyoming.

Evidently the wrangler who was with us rode down to the ranch with a plea for help. The legendary “Wyoming Jack”, who was the operator of Paradise Ranch, sprang to action. He contacted a pilot who flew his single engine plane to our rescue. That’s right. The pilot landed his plane in the long, narrow meadow, at 8,000 feet, that is identified on official maps as Soldier Park.

Our campsite was probably a half mile up into the woods from where the plane landed. So, the wrangler brought an Army surplus stretcher, and a group of us alternated carrying her over uneven terrain to the plane. She was in pain and the whole ordeal was very intense and scary. But that skillful mountain pilot took off over a bumpy field and got Sally to the hospital and safety.

The heroic pilot points out his flight plan to the legendary “Wyoming Jack” in the white shirt.

Above is a picture of the plane, with the pilot, some of the group and Wyoming Jack, waiting for the stretcher to arrive. Fourth Baptist youth activities seemed to frequently bring adventure and drama into the mix. It was kind of like a modern reality show without the TV cameras.

One of the all day trail rides heading toward Cloud Peak that reached 13,000 ft. at the summit.

As young people we thought this adventure and drama was great stuff. Continental Casualty Insurance Company paid out many claims during those days to Fourth Baptist. No wonder that kind of insurance can’t be obtained anymore to cover medical claims for church youth groups.

I haven’t thought about this experience for many years, but I see it in a different light today. Just three years before that trip our dad was taken to heaven in a single engine plane crash. At that time in my young life the Lord gave me Ps. 91:2 as a life verse. The Psalmist says, “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.” That truth and promise has been an assurance and blessing many times since. Here I am as a young Wyoming cowboy in 1960.

Today it occurred to me that verse 11 in that passage may have been in operation during that time on the mountain long ago. It says, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” You see, it was just a few nights after this rescue flight that Connie, under great conviction, trusted Christ as her Saviour at that high mountain campsite. If Sally’s episode had ended in tragedy, could the mood of the whole camp been drastically changed? Instead, it was a true “mountain top” experience.

That is all in God’s hand. There is much that we do not know or understand. We do know that our great God cares for His own. How he does that is His business. 

Remembering the Shepherd

 On November 23, 2018, I wrote the following thoughts and now want to republish them so that they become a permanent part of my Grace Journey memoir. It was during the writing of this article that I determined to launch a blog and to name it Grace Journey. I want to record these thoughts as a part of my legacy.

My recent study in Psalm 23 brought to mind a unique experience we had many years ago with a Shepherd and his flock in the High Country of Wyoming in 1960. This was the time of the Western Camping Trip when Connie and I met. Our group from Fourth Baptist of Minneapolis was camping at about 8,000 ft. in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area of the Big Horn Mountains, just west of Buffalo, Wyoming.

Youth Pastor Don Nelson chose our campsite because it was near a mountain stream and straddled the trail heading up toward the Cloud Peak glacier. He had obtained the services of a wrangler and a string of horses from the Paradise Ranch where we parked our vehicles. Even though the campsite area was primarily among the pine trees, there was a wide spot on the trail that provided a good place for some tents and a makeshift corral for the horses.

Connie is on the right, with the sunglasses and black cowboy hat.

Each day part of the group would go on a trail ride above the timberline toward Cloud Peak. The rest of the group would stay at the campsite or go hiking, fishing, or creating activities that only teenagers can invent. One day when I was at the campsite we began to hear a strange noise coming up the trail. One of the leaders went to investigate, and learned that a Shepherd, on horseback, was driving a huge herd of sheep right up the trail to higher elevations beyond our campsite.

Our leaders realized we had a big problem! This was a herd of several hundred sheep that would follow one another right through the middle of our camp – trampling tents, equipment and everything in their path. Leaders quickly sprang to action and secured a long rope to a tree off to one side of the trail. Then they extended the rope, held at intervals by campers, to form a skirmish line around the perimeter of the campsite. It worked. The Shepherd, and his sheep dog, kept the sheep from straying too far off course, and the entire herd circumvented the campsite and headed on to their destination.

Later, on one of our trail rides, I saw the Shepherd, and his sheep, in a valley high above our campsite along the trail toward Cloud Peak.

The sheep were grazing all over the expansive lushness of natural grassy pasture land high in the mountains. The stream that ran down from the glacier passed through the middle of the valley. It was a fairly gentle stream, but made some natural twists and turns creating small pools of calmer water that were ideal for sheep to drink.

Here was a Shepherd, in late June – all by himself, except for his dog – tending his sheep for the short mountain summer. This was 1960, and I think he had a long-rifle in a saddle scabbard, and then his trusty dog, to protect and tend his sheep. The “green pastures” and “still waters” of Psalm 23 come to mind as I think of that lone Shepherd tending and guarding his sheep high in the Wyoming mountain range. But there were no human enemies armed with lethal weapons lurking in the trees, or camped in hidden enclaves like the Psalmist faced in his day.

David’s imagery of sheep and shepherd, and enemies and conflict, are used in the 23rd Psalm to direct our attention to the Great Shepherd. He is not a lonely Shepherd, but He is the lone Shepherd that we need. As Dr. Robert Ketcham expounds in his little volume “I Shall Not Want”, the Lord Jesus Christ is all that we need for: Rest, Refreshment, Restoration, Guidance, Courage, Comfort, Supply, Protection, Power, Mercy, and a promise of Forever with Him.

The Lord has been so faithful to us along the trail of life and ministry. I call it our Grace Journey. Dr. Ketcham quotes a little girl from his ministry who recited Psalm 23:1 and then declared, “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I want.” He has truly been all that we need.