Thursday, October 29, 2009

You Anoint My Head With Oil...

W. Phillip Keller, in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, begins chapter 10 by reminding his reader that the entire poem (Psalm 23) is a story about the cyclical life of a year as sheep in the flock of a good shepherd. At this point in the poem, the sheep are enjoying the mountain mesas, the tableland their shepherd has prepared for them. What should be the most blissful, peace-filled time of the year is threatened by three problems.

The first problem is flies, gnats, mosquitoes, and the general flying bug population. You Oregonians don’t understand fly season because we live in paradise, but ask anyone who lives any place where it gets hot and humid in the summer about fly season and you’ll get an earful. When we lived in Illinois, we paid to have a lovely paver patio installed in our very private backyard, and every summer evening we sat inside at the kitchen table, looking at our beautiful patio and wondering why we spent money on something we could never use. Those stinkin bugs just plagued us. You couldn’t sit outside without getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes and horse flies or having pesky gnats fly up your nose or into your eye. Forget about wrestling in the grass with your kids, especially the tall grass, cause then you have to do a thorough check for ticks. The only respite from the bugs is to be in constant motion or retreat to the great indoors by turning off the lights and slamming the slider shut as fast as possible to prevent the swarms of bugs from flying inside. Keller described in graphic detail the sheep’s battle against bugs, primarily the nasal fly, and my heart resonated with the desperate measures they took to escape the nasal flies that tormented them. Their only hope for relief was an antidote of oil mixed with herbs that the shepherd would rub on their heads. The oil repelled the insects and protected the herd.

What bugs you? People who drive too slow in the fast lane? Or how about people in the fast food drive-thru who take ten minutes to contemplate heart attack A, B or C on a platter? Your friend who said she’d follow up on something and then dropped the ball? Your spouse who brought the garbage to the curb but left the cans inside full? Your kids who clamor for your attention and insist on having their needs met RIGHT NOW? It’s impossible to live in this world without dealing with annoyances and it seems that the smaller the annoyance, the peskier it becomes. “At times some tiny, tantalizing thing torments me to the point where I feel I am just beating my brains out. And so my behavior as a child of God degenerates to a most disgraceful sort of frustrated tirade.” I’m sure you can’t relate at all.

So what’s the antidote? “A continuous anointing of God’s gracious Spirit to counteract the ever-present aggravations of personality conflicts. The fresh application was the effective antidote.” CONTINUOUS. Just because I have victory at 8:31 a.m., does not guarantee continued victory until I turn 81. Every day, every hour, every second I feel my blood start to boil and my heart rate increase, I need to stop and ask the Holy Spirit to be gracious enough to anoint my head with His Healing Balm. When I ask Him to “apply the oil of His Spirit to my mind both at the conscious and subconscious levels of my thought-life, He enables me to act and react just as He would,” and the world is a calmer, quieter place because of it!

The second problem the shepherd deals with is scab, a contaminating disease, and I squirmed my way through the graphic description. In short, instead of shaking hands or welcoming friends with hugs, sheep rub heads. Get one sheep with scab saying hi to his neighbor and before you can say BOO, you have a pasture full of scabby sheep. Once the infection hits, the shepherd has to decontaminate the entire flock by dipping them fully in a vat of oil mixed with herbs. The heads are crucial and often have to be dipped more than once.

We may not spiritually cross contaminate each other by rubbing heads but what about when we interact with each other? “In the Christian life, most of our contamination by the world, by sin, by that which would defile and disease us spiritually comes through our mind. It is a case of mind meeting mind to transmit ideas, concepts and attitudes that may be damaging. Often it is when we get our heads together with someone else who may not necessarily have the mind of Christ that we come away imbued with concepts that are not Christian.” Maybe you don’t have a mind that soaks up every image and every word and then mews it over like a cow chewing its cud all day, but I sure do. We are surrounded by constant mental intake through internet, smart phones, newspapers, TV, magazines, and school. You can’t even watch a football game without being inundated by half-naked women selling beer, old men toting the benefits of Viagra, and commercials advertising the latest smut as the next TV series. It’s completely ridiculous, yet we’ve grown numb to the filth and to the influence it has on our children who are always watching, always listening, always observing, chronicling and filing away each piece of information they absorb.

Philippians 4:8-9 says, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” How counter-cultural is this? One of my favorite verses is II Corinthians 10:5 and it says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” To eradicate scab in my life, I must take captive each wandering thought that would dare to set itself up against my Good Shepherd. But I can’t do that without consciously asking the Holy Spirit to dip me in the vat of His oil, force my head under the cleansing balm, and control my thought life. “Then, having done this, I simply proceed to live and act and think as He directs.” Is it really that simple?

By early autumn, the shepherd finds himself dealing with the season of rut. Ewes come into season and the rams engage in pretty heavy battling to win the right to mate. The fighting is intense and often rams and even ewes are left battered, bruised and exhausted from the bickering. A smart shepherd minimizes the infighting by slathering the rams’ horns with oil. When they smash heads, the salve prevents the horns from locking and their heads simply slide off each other. After a few frustrated, wimpy head butts, the rams give up in frustration and the destruction is limited.

Why is that the flock belonging to the Good Shepherd is so often marked by infighting and bickering? And why is that wounds from Christ’s family hurt more than ones issued by those outside the flock? Bickering, gossip, fighting, and the struggle to be top sheep leaves a wake of battered, bruised and exhausted lives. Some people never recover. What can we do to stop the bleeding and help the wounded?

“Our Shepherd loves to apply the precious ointment of the presence of His gracious Spirit to our lives.” When I allow the Holy Spirit to invade my life, the attributes of Christ begin to flow out of my life. I begin to see peace replace anxiety, gentleness replace harshness, patience replace anger, graciousness replace a spirit of judgment, and my interactions with fellow flockmates become less contentious. “This is to come to a place of great contentment in the Shepherd’s care. A quiet, restful contentment should be the hallmark of those who call Christ their Master.” My cup overflows with Christ’s goodness to me.

Keller concludes the chapter with a powerful twist on “my cup overflows.” My life cup overflows with Christ’s goodness to me, but “there is in every life a cup of suffering.” Jesus invited us into His intimate time of suffering in Gesthemane and at Calvary. My eternal destiny hung in the balance as He chose to either drink the cup of suffering and take my sin as His own or take the path of least resistance and walk away. “Had His cup not overflowed with His life poured out for men, I would have perished.” His cup of suffering spills over into my life, splashing His love, forgiveness, strength and vitality into the deepest corners of my being.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

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