Our Good Shepherd is the Messiah, the Anointed King. King Yeshua keeps His army safe and leads His troops to victory. The Twenty–Third Psalm:
The lord is my Shepherd–King, I shall not want;
He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters, He restores my life.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness, I will fear no evil;
For You are with me; Your Rod and Your Shepherd's Crook, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Only goodness and loyalty will follow me all the days of my life;
And I will be in the House of the lord as long as I live.
Or, as our Good Shepherd taught us to pray:
Lead us not into temptation.
The positive side of
Lead us not into temptation is
Lead us into opportunity The Good Shepherd–King leads us to the green pastures and the still waters where we have a chance to do good. We must seek opportunities to work, give, help, create, nurture, and defend the weak. Actively seek, not wait around for something to happen. Why must it take a hurricane or a tidal wave to bring out our pity and open our wallets? Why does someone have to die before we are moved to fight crime or terrorism? Hunt for good deeds. Pray to be led into an opportunity for generosity. Look into every closet and basket of our lives to find the lost chances to love, serve, and fix.
One of the best services we can offer is to increase the options our neighbor has to do good as well. To lead them into green pastures. The purpose of Christian charity is not to increase the dependence of others on us, nor to put them in our debt. We do the most good when we open up opportunities for other people. We might invest in a company that will give people jobs. To give people better options, we might assist friends in moving, or buying a car, or getting an interview for work. A few days of housing or food, a little coaching about job interviews, and perhaps another family can make it on their own again. We may help in jail ministries to give criminals new options in life, so that they might do well and stop their life of crime. We can vote to end socialism, which destroys human character and independence, and vote for freedom to say new things and try new things and make new things. Invention, science, and markets are opportunities that create new opportunities. That is the great charity, to give people back their choices and their lives. The even greater charity is to bring the lost into our fellowship, where they are found by our lord's grace and recreated as new men and women.
It is easy enough to blame luck or bad luck, God or the Devil, for our temptations to do evil things. We did not go to that party where we knew there would be drugs, we did not jump in the car with a bottle, we did not get in the back seat with a bad boy. No, the evil we get into is thrown at us, forced on us, surprises us every time.
Perhaps these are temptations we have out grown. But we have others. We do not go looking for another fifty pounds, it just shows up on our belly without our choice. The Visa bill must be wrong, we did not want to spend all of that money. We do not want to be too far in debt, too fast on the highway, too angry about our spouse's spending. No, the evil we get into is thrown at us, forced on us, surprises us every time.
And it is especially not our fault when somebody else gets out of line. But if we deny people the strict guidance of our lord's Law and Scripture, if we turn moral choices between good and evil into choices of personal inclination, if we allow people to get away with crimes because they are not caught, if we ignore hatred because everybody is entitled to their opinion, then we are leading others into temptation. Live together without marriage? It is just a piece of paper. Who are we to force our morality on others? The long list of old sins pretending to be new rights is the failure of freedom without permanent moral standards.
State control–censorship, blue laws, prohibitions, sin taxes–are not the answer in a free society like America. It takes wisdom to know what moral commandments it is best for the governments to enforce, ultimately with violence and jail, and which must be left to social and personal disciplines. Murder, all agree from atheists to preachers, is wisely made criminal by the laws of the state. We also agree that even though adultery is evil and destructive to society, it is unwise to use jail and state power to enforce this clear moral commandment. But in between these extremes lay a whole host of moral issues that may or may not be criminal. Only slowly, only by careful legislation, only by super majorities of all of us, including the atheists and the Jews and the Muslims and the church of Dontcareaboutnothin, dare we impose criminal penalties for sin. This takes wisdom, to tell the difference between the role of the state and the role of the church and no six word slogan can cover the complexity and seriousness of this balancing act.
Also, in America, tolerance is a public virtue supported by the church. American Christianity thrives in an open and free society, where every voice is heard and every person is responsible for their own lives. For us, political control is a waste of time and would actually hurt our efforts to redeem all people. Collectively, must we resist the Devil's temptation to political power.
But condoning evil is not tolerance. We do not use the weapons of the state, we may not use force or violence, but neither may we abandon our neighbors and run away from the battle with Satan. Whenever we fail to give our neighbor the guidance of our Good Shepherd, His Rod and Staff, we are leading them into temptation.
And what of our own temptations? Giving unwanted advice to our neighbor is much easier than giving unwanted advice to our own heart. Even when we can clearly see the difference between the opportunity and the temptation, the sin in us seems, too often, to chose the wrong path. We must all, believers and non believers alike, come to understand that there is no force of law, no educational program, no political leader, no personal strength, no biological inheritance, that can lead us not into temptation.
But we are not therefore doomed to evil. For the Man who taught us this petition offers to lead us. He is taking us through the Valley of Shadows but nothing there will kill us while we follow Him. There will be conflict, there will be injury, there will be suffering. After all we are His soldiers and this is the Valley of Shadows, the place of ambush. But the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep. He is in the front line, He is the front line. Evil shoots Him first, the ambush of temptation fell on Him first, and the suffering of war scared Him before any of us. He alone won the war against evil and His victory is ours as well by His grace and mercy. We are freed by the Gospel to do good.
Here we pray that He will not take us into battle without His Word to lead and support us. His Word of Law and Gospel are His Rod and Shepherd 's Crook, the means He uses to guide us and correct us. He leads us by providing a map through the maze of life, His Word. He leads us by training us on right and wrong and drilling us, not so we march in lockstep, but so that we know how to act in the heat of battle. A soldier does not have the luxury of thinking through moral implications as the swords swing and bullets fly but must act swiftly, instantly, as if by instinct. And that takes drill and training in the safety of the parade grounds, while there is time to consider and debate tactics and side effects, so that doing the right thing becomes a habit and a reflex. Our parade grounds have pews.
Led away from temptation, we are able to grasp opportunity. The opportunity we have first is to show gratitude to our Leader, which He directs us to show by doing good for our family, friends, neighbors, fellow citizens, and fellow human beings. And among our first duties to our species is to provide the same leadership we have received to every one else. We provide that leadership when we bring the Word of our God to the public square, presenting a free choice between temptation and opportunity.
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