I spent a significant portion of my childhood in a death trap.
At least that’s what my grandparents had me to believe.
Our car was built in the 70s and like a lot of things that were built in the 70s, it was ugly. To begin with, it was a station wagon so it never really had a chance. There was wood paneling on the side, the tires didn’t match and the upholstery on the ceiling sagged down to our heads.
The only cool thing about our station wagon was the back. Not the back seat, the back. I called it the back-back. I’m sure it was intended for groceries but I used it for my own personal space during the hour long trip to and from my grandparents. No seats. No seat belts. Just wide open spaces. For my grandparents, seeing me back there was like seeing me walk a tight rope across the Grand Canyon with a rattlesnake in one hand and an open bottle of liquor in the other. They were terrified and they made sure to share their fears with me.
“Jason, you be careful back there. We saw on the news where a little boy was sitting back there and got thrown out into the ocean. Sharks are still eating his precious, innocent flesh.”
They had a way of making me think.
My grandparents were worriers and that gene got handed down to me.
In the fourth grade I was missing school from worrying myself sick. By the fifth grade I was seeing specialists who were examining my stomach for ulcers. As an adult, I still hate going to doctor’s offices and hospitals. A few years ago I went in for a check-up and found out that I had something called White Coat Syndrome because my blood pressure was somewhere around 762 over 2. The nurse told me that it was like that because I was scared. It made me wonder about how well I was representing Jesus, the One whom I claimed to trust.
We live in a scary world. Kids really do get thrown out of cars. And hospitals aren’t empty. We can try to avoid the scary things but sometimes our alternatives can be just as dangerous, or so we’re told. For proof, look no further than the food you eat.
A while back we were told that some foods were manufactured in a laboratory by evil scientists working for Cobra Commander. The news told us things like, “that bowl of chicken noodle soup could take up to 15 years off of your life.” Soup! Really? And I thought the back of our station wagon was dangerous.
So some people decided to go organic and traded in Campbell’s for homemade soup made with all-natural fur balls from the cat. And we felt better about ourselves. Until doctors told us that soup made from all-natural fur balls from the cat would make your children’s ears stop working and that their kids were 73 times more likely to be born with a hacking cough.
What’s healthy today is what the experts will declare toxic in another decade. For worriers, life is a lose-lose scenario where we’re all just waiting for our time to go. The Bible offers a better alternative. You might know it as the 23rd Psalm.
The 23rd Psalm is about Jesus, the Good Shepherd. One of the things that makes a shepherd a good one is his presence. Others who know much more about sheep than I do have said that the mere presence of an alert shepherd can work wonders on scared and confused sheep. One of the many things we can say about our Shepherd is that he is present.
It was his presence with men like Abraham, Moses and Joshua that became the basis for their courage. But he is not just present with them. We are told in Matthew 1:23 that the baby born to Mary would be called Immanuel. Matthew fills us in on what that name means.
“God with us.”
Not God with Abraham. Not God with Moses. Not God with Joshua. God with us.
It’s good to be an us.
And so it is that presence that gives David, the former shepherd boy, great confidence as he passes through the valley of the shadow of death. Through the valley of the shadow of death. That word through is an interesting one. David knew that commitment to his Lord did not give him a bypass around the valley of the shadow of death. But he also knew that it wasn’t his home. He was just passing through. Under the constant care and supervision of the Good Shepherd.
Our Shepherd carries us through the valley of the shadow of death but he leads us in paths of righteousness. But why? Remember, the 23rd Psalm isn’t primarily about us. It’s about Jesus.
“For his name’s sake.”
That is to say, for his glory.
Our reaction to difficult or frightening situations tells a story about our Shepherd. If we are consumed by fear and worry, we are lying about him. It’s as if we are telling the world that we have been abandoned and left for the wolves. But if we realize the comfort that is ours in the Shepherd, with rod and staff in his nail-pierced hands, we tell quite a different story.
Around the same age that I was riding around in that station wagon, my church had a seminar on rock music. Some evangelist came in and warned us about the dangers of Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. For the record, that’s when I became a fan of Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. “If they sounded that cool played backwards, they had to be good,” I reasoned to myself.
Anyway, one of the dangerous songs he warned us about was Take It Easy by the Eagles. Yeah, that one. His argument was that the song would lead people to be too laid back. As if Jesus said, “Come unto me and I will make you uptight.”
It would do us good to take it easy. I don’t mean sticking our heads in the sand while the world starves to death or retiring early and finishing life out in the mountains. But as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we should remember that we are not alone.
And so we should take it easy.
Not because The Eagles told us to.
But because our Shepherd is with us.