GOOD SHEPHERD: MY FATHER’S WORLD – PSALM 23:6 In the beginning, God created… That’s the framework for the whole sort of meta-narrative we find in the Scripture. For the Hebrew mind….for the people that first sunk anchor into these ancient texts and found their story in this story, that’s the beginning. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth, it says in the beginning of Genesis 1, was without form and void. Literally, in the Hebrew, it would have read empty. Then if you know the first two chapters of Genesis, we have the author of Genesis, in a very poetic way, invites us to consider the way the earth goes from empty to full. And at the heart of that, it’s God created. He creates birds, he creates mountains, he creates trees, he creates oceans and the things that live in them….he creates it all! Then in the end of Genesis 1, beginning of chapter 2, we have this declaration that the crowning achievement of God’s creation, his filling of his earth, is that he creates you and he creates me. People. Humanity. But before he gets there, there is this really interesting phrase that the author of Genesis points out: The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Gen. 1:1-2) Really interesting. So you have this picture {Ryan fills a fish tank with water.} in Genesis 1 that this earth is without filling, it doesn’t have anything in it, but it has one thing in it before it has anything else and that is the Spirit of this good creator, God. First thing present. Before anything else is created the Spirit of God is there. Maybe better said…is HERE! Now in all that God creates, it never nullifies this reality. I want to invite you to reconsider the world that you live in.
One of the patriarchs, Jacob, had this experience in Genesis 28:15-17. He was a shady character and, as I read through Scripture, I love reading about people who have these sort of checkered pasts, because my thought is that if you’re editing the Scripture to be something you wish it were, you would not include these stories. So one of the heroes of the faith early on is a shady guy, his name is Jacob. The name literally means “swindler or trickster” and he lived up to his name. He’s on the run from his brother. He has this dream. In this dream, when he’s laying his head on the rock, angels are ascending and descending along this ladder. Jacob wakes up and here is his explanation and exclamation about the world he lives in. Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” Have you ever been there where all of a sudden, and it may be an event or experience that happens or just that still small prompting from the Spirit of God that lives in you if you’re a follower of Christ, your eyes are just opened and you go, “Wow, God! You dwell here! This is your space and you’re at home here and I didn’t see it before, but I do now.”
Fast forward a few centuries and you have the prophet Isaiah recounting a scene from the throne room of heaven and here’s what he says. Here’s the echo back and forth in heaven of angels around the throne of God: And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts….{Some translations say the Lord God Almighty. Now this holy, holy, holy is exponential holiness that follows holiness. It’s holy, Holy, HOLY moley, right?} ….the whole earth is full of his glory!” What a claim! So it’s not just that the earth has some of the glory of God that hovers over it. Oh no, no, no, no, no! It’s better than that! It’s the whole earth! {Ryan puts more water in the tank to fill it to the top!} It is full of His glory! Here’s what the prophet Isaiah says: He is declaring that what heaven says is that you cannot go or find one square inch across this beautiful planet that God’s glory is not present in. Well, you might go what about unreached people groups. Here’s the thing: Reaching unreached people groups is not about bringing the glory of God. It’s about pointing out the glory of God that’s already present. And every square inch of his globe in your home, in your family, in your neighborhood, in your workplace, you can rest assured because Isaiah says it and it’s heaven’s echo that the glory of God dwells there.
Interestingly enough, fast forward another few hundred years and the Apostle Paul finds himself preaching at the Areopagus—this sort of hilltop—where they exchanged ideas in Athens. Listen to what Paul says in this brilliant evangelistic moment. Paul pulls from some of the poets of the day and says that even though they’re pagan poets, they nailed it here. “‘In him we live and move and have our being.'” (Acts 17:28) So maybe it looks a little more like this…..Ryan adds two toy figures to the water tank. So here’s what Paul says: In Him you live and you move and you have your being. The world that you live in, that you walk in, that you call home is permeated, flooded, pregnant with….the glory of God. I was living with 11 of my best friends when I was in college and one of the things we loved to do to one another was to scare each other. If you’re a man and you’ve lived with other guys, my guess is this experience is not unique. As we lived for three years together, the longer we were willing to stay in very obscure places to scare one another grew. I can remember getting married and the first time I hid in a closet and jumped out to scare my wife, Kelly, it was not well with my soul that day! I learned quickly that there were things you could do with your roommates that you cannot do with your spouse! Every time I walked into the (college) house, I opened the door and I was immediately on edge. Didn’t matter what time of day it was, it did not matter! I had a friend that stayed in the shower for three hours to scare my friend who he knew was going to work early, didn’t know quite when, but when he stepped into that shower at 3 am, he grabbed his leg….woke the whole house up! You open the door and it’s like….I know you’re in here….I don’t know where, but I know you’re here! I started to wonder what it might look like for followers of Jesus to maybe be reawakened to this ever present reality that the space that we inhabit God inhabited and inhabits first. And his glory, according to Isaiah, covers the entire thing. There is no place where it’s language is not heard. What if God is far more present than we think? What might it look like to embrace THIS reality?! What might it look like to reawaken our souls to say, “God, you’re present and you’re at work.” I think it looks like what David writes about in Psalms 23:6 as he ends this epic poem that puts on display the character of God by saying: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. David didn’t go to premarital counseling either because he would have known not to use absolutes like this. He says “surely,” as if to say there is not a category I have in my mind for this not happening. “ALL” of the days of my life….there has never been a day where your goodness and mercy did not follow me. “Forever.” Surely. All. Forever. As if to grab us by the shoulders and shake us and say, “Wake up! The world you live in is God-bathed, according to Dallas Willard and God permeated.” His goodness and his mercy following you every single day of your life. This is the world that you live in. I’m convinced that if God were to reawaken an awareness of his glory in our souls that it would breathe hope into our lives.
An awareness of God’s glory breathes hope into humanity. Can you hear it in David’s words: Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life and for every single one of them from here and now until eternity; I will dwell in his house forever. If we’re losing hope, I firmly believe we’re losing sight. We’re losing sight of the reality in which we live….that this world is God-bathed, God-permeated. It is our father’s world. The heavens declare the glory, the skies do, creation does, everything around us points to “this is His world.” But sometimes, we lose sight of it, don’t we? Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that the world that we, I, you all live in is God-bathed and God-permeated. Here’s the way C.S. Lewis puts it: “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” Do you believe that? Do you believe that he’s here? This is His world and He is present in it. Today, I simply want to read the Scriptures and propose that this is the world that we live in and in doing so my hope is that God would reawaken something within our souls. That He would tear some blinders off of our eyes that we might walk out these doors or maybe just look around in this room and see something very different than we saw when we walked in.
I read a story this week about a monk who went away and spent time in solitude for a month. When he came back and joined back with his people, his cloister, they said to him, “Well, you don’t look a lot different.” He responded to them, “No. You do.” I wonder, if we’re able to see it, what we might be launched into the world to become and to do in response. Let’s unpack a little bit. Psalm 23:6, listen to David’s announcement, proclamation, about the presence of this benevolent, beautiful God. Surely {As if to say there’s never been a day where this didn’t happen.} Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all of the days of my life. I love that he says goodness and mercy follow me, because you and I would both agree that there’s times, there’s days, there’s seasons of life where we look really hard and we can’t find God. Life is painful. Life is difficult. There’s suffering, I’m not ignoring that. We look really hard, but we can’t find him. Then we’re removed from that season and we can look back and say, “God, I didn’t see you then, but I see you now.” I love that David says goodness and mercy follow him, because here’s what he’s declaring: Sometimes to see it, you need to look in the rear view mirror. And those experiences that we have…we start to see a little bit differently. God, you were present. God, you were at work. Here’s his declaration: God’s presence {I’m just gonna own it} shapes my, our, hopefully your….experience daily.
Okay, a number of questions popping up in your head, that’s my guess. If the world is God’s and God is good and God’s glory covers every square inch of his globe, well, then why does this happen, why does that happen? Why does it look like things seem to be going on a downhill spiral? If this is His world, why does the world look the way it does? I’ll one-up you. Let’s ask the same thing about David’s life: Did goodness and mercy follow him all of the days of his life?! We talked a little bit about his biography, but I’ll just throw a few things out there. One, David’s a part of adultery and on top of that, murder……goodness and mercy following him. In David’s own family he has a son who completely turns his back on him, tries to kill him and take his throne…….goodness and mercy then? In his own family lineage….incest and murder……..goodness and mercy then? David’s life is absolutely littered with evil and pain and hurts. How do we marry that with this picture?? God, this is your world, we believe that. We just sang it. God, you’re present in it, your glory covers the whole thing, then why does the world look the way it does?? Here’s the picture in Genesis 1 and 2….the gospel, I was just reminded by one of our elders this last week, starts in Genesis 1. If we start anywhere else other than this, we have a gospel that is other than what the Bible portrays; a good news declaration that’s other than what the Scriptures portray. Here’s what happens: In Genesis, chapter 3, and this is where a lot of people want to start, we have evil, pain and suffering introduced into God’s beautiful world. (Ryan puts a killer whale toy into the water.) It feels like evil, pain and suffering is winning, doesn’t it? What is David’s solution to this problem? Well, surely goodness, mercy and love follow me all the days of my life, and YET the world that I live in has pain, sorrow and suffering…..he goes ABSOLUTELY! The psalmist never shies away from reality! This is the world we live in….God-bathed, God-permeated, glory-breathing world of a good God that has the presence of evil, suffering, pain and death in it. Here’s what I found in my own life: It’s real easy to focus on the pain and the suffering and lose sight of the goodness and the glory.
David uses these two words. One is “good” and in Hebrew it would literally mean “to be beautiful,” “to be morally excellent,” or “to be right.” As if to say that this good God who follows him like a shadow every single day of his life has never said, “Oops!” Or I wish I would have had more information then I would have done it this way instead. He’s never done that. And David says, “He is present with me at all times and in EVERY single season.” In fact, he says in Psalm 34:8, this same David who has a son who dies, is a part of murder, who has a family that has incest and division, he says: Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! I love the way Dallas Willard puts it: “To his (Jesus) eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world. It is a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control – though he obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as he wishes.” (Hymn) This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget. That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
David goes on. It’s not just goodness and beauty and moral excellence that follow him. He says it’s also mercy. In the Hebrew it’s “hesed.” It’s rich. You can’t plum the depths of this word in Hebrew. It’s this rich, beautiful, two-sided word. On one side of it is a declaration of covenantal faithfulness. So David is saying every single day, even when I’ve tried to hold you at arm’s distance, you were holding on to me. Your covenantal faithfulness…one. And on the other side of that coin it’s this freely, by grace given invitation to relationship. So you have this picture: God, you’re following me in all of your goodness and in all of your grace. I’m in a covenantal relationship with you in your world that’s permeated with your presence and your goodness. I love the way the scholar, Kenneth Bailey, puts it when he says: “David seems to be affirming that he lives his life, with all of its fears and danger, with the awareness that following behind him is a God who both supports hime out of convenantal faithfulness and at the same time extends grace (loving kindness) to him that he does not deserve.” Now, look up at me for just a moment. This is an optimistic view of the world, is it not? I’ve been wrestling with that this week. I don’t see Christians described as…..man, those followers of Jesus…they’re like really optimistic people. If you’ve heard it, let me know, because I would love to be wrong in this, but that’s not what I hear. I hear a lot of gloom and doom. But I don’t hear surely goodness and mercy follow me every day of my life and I dwell in his house….I live in the house of the Lord. This is his world, his glory fills every single nook and cranny. There is not a place you can go on the globe where my God does not dwell and his glory cannot be seen. I just don’t hear it!! I wonder what it would look like to reawaken….and I’m not saying put your head in the sand and ignore all of the things that are going on in the world when you look at the news. I’m not asking you to ignore what you see. I’m not. I’m not asking you to put your head in the sand and completely detach from the reality of the world we live in. David doesn’t do that. God doesn’t invite you to do that. I’m not doing that either. I simply want to say that alongside the evil and pain and suffering and death comes goodness and mercy and it’s present also every single day of your life.
What would it look like for followers of Jesus to instead of trying to be evacuators of the world……so sometimes this is our hope….God’s gonna take me out of here! What would it look like to instead of trying to be evacuators of God’s glory-permeated, God-bathed world, if we were excavators of the good, instead of evacuators of the planet. What would it look like if followers of Jesus were known for being absolutely optimistic, not ignorantly optimistic, but informed optimistic. Like we knew what was going on around the planet. For example, in case you want to journey into this with me, just a few stats to throw out to you. Over the last 30 year period—from 1981 to 2011—extreme poverty in the world fell from 53% to 17%. You think Jesus is stoked about that? I think he is. Hunger is on the decline. From 2000 to 2012, child labor decreased by 1/3. Now, that’s still not good enough, but it’s progress and as followers of Jesus if we’re excavators of the good, that’s good! Life expectancy across the globe is on the rise. Child mortality is way, way, way down. Some argue, in a recently published Wall Street Journal article, that war on a global scale is actually on the decline. Literacy is rising. I know you’re thinking, “Yeah, but….” Absolutely there’s a “yeah, but”, but there’s also a “yeah!”
We went on vacation a few weeks ago. If you were to ask my daughter, “how was vacation?”, she’ll say, “I threw up!” And wow, she did! We were outside of Green River, Utah at 1 am on our way home and the smell in the car kept my wife and I up the entire time!! How was the vacation, Avery? I threw up! True. She also went camping with grandma and grandpa, went fishing, went to the beach—two beautiful, breathtaking days, went to Lego Land, swam in six different pools, went to the Safari park, ate In&Out burger two times, and had a carne asada burrito that made heaven visible!!! But….if you ask her, she’ll tell you, “I threw up.” Both are true, right? The question is NOT will we see evil or will we see good? My hope is we see them both, but my hope also is that we pitch our tent, that we set up shop, in the good and are the type of people that are able to point it out to the world around us. My God is at work. His glory is on display. Yeah, it’s common grace. It’s so common it’s the world we live in, the water we swim in, it’s the air we breath and some of us have gotten so used to it, because it’s the world we live in every single day that we no longer see it. Here’s the thing: If you’re able to see the good, your life will be marked by gratitude!
The same thing is true for hesed—this mercy, lovingkindness, this God who says I’m holding on to you even when you lose hold of me, covenantal relationship God. When you hold on to that….worship becomes the song of your soul! His grace, his lovingkindness, his steadfastness, his mercy all tied up in this word and David says it’s with me every single day of my life. So we can choose to see our failures or we can choose to see His grace. We can choose to dwell on our pain and our past, or we can choose to move forward trusting His goodness and mercy follows us into the future. Lives that understand, eyes that see and hearts that step into this hesed relationship with God, with Jesus the Christ, those lives are marked by worship. Eyes that see his goodness, those lives are marked by gratitude. People that understand hesed, mercy, their lives are marked by worship.
David goes on and he lands the plane of this 3000 year old poem by declaring: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. He’s saying that because the Good Shepherd is my shepherd, I don’t need to spend one moment out of his hesed, out of his goodness, out of his beauty…because the Good Shepherd is MY shepherd. Every day I live here and every day I live throughout all of eternity, will be lived with a recognition of and a world that’s permeated with His glory and with His goodness, with His beauty, His majesty….that is David’s hope. Not only does God’s presence shape his experience daily, but he would say that God’s provision seals his destiny eternally. God’s goodness, God’s work, Jesus’ work on the cross on your behalf and mine….. Because here’s the deal: The enemy, it says in John 10 talking about the Good Shepherd….there’s an enemy named Satan in the Scriptures. He wants to steal, kill and destroy. But the Scriptures definitively declare that God, in his goodness, sent Jesus that you and I might have life and have it abundantly. That life starts today! Right now, when we come under the care of the Good Shepherd. In eternity, here’s what it looks like —- Ryan removes the killer whale toy/enemy from the tank. Where the enemy’s defeated and all that’s left is mercy and all that’s left is hesed and all that’s left is goodness. One day the veil will be raised and this incognito, everywhere God…you’ll see Him everywhere face to face; his glory will shine. That is the hope of the new heaven and the new earth: God with his people in a way where we can interact with him and see him in a way that’s different. We live in his presence now, but our hope is that as we dwell in his goodness and his mercy every single day of our life, that his presence then in the new heaven and new earth will be just a little bit different. He’ll wipe every tear from your eye. No more death. No more sorrow. No more crying. No more pain.
The hope of followers of Jesus is….yeah, absolutely the “wages of sin is death”…..we turned our back on this good God, this glory-permeated world and said we could do better ourselves. And in doing so we fractured our relationship with him. We can’t even see it some of the time. The Scriptures declare that while the wages of sin is death the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. David echoes that. I don’t know how much he knows he’s echoing the Messiah’s sacrifice that’s going to come, but he echoes it. He invites us to imagine a world where the enemy is definitively defeated and we live only in this goodness and mercy that we were designed to live in. Listen to the way the Apostle Paul writes this (I’m going to summarize this): In light of a world that has evil in it, he says so we don’t lose heart. That’s easy, isn’t it? You just open up the paper or turn on the news. Look at your own family, probably. We don’t lose heart. Why? Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For these light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. He goes yeah, there’s evil, yeah, there’s pain, but all of that is preparing me, is broadening me, expanding me that I might step into meeting Jesus face to face and receiving His glory in all of its beauty and all of its weight and all of its magnificence. He goes we don’t lose heart. We look at what’s going on. No, we don’t lose heart. We keep in mind goodness and hesed. It’s following us, it’s present and we remember that even the tough things, the afflictions, they add to this glory that’s going to be revealed. He says: As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corin. 4:16-18)
Surely goodness and hesed, mercy, shall follow me all of the days of my life. Look up at me. They’re following you. Do you have eyes to see? Do you have a heart that understands? All the days of my life and I shall dwell, God, in your house under your care, under your provision, under your goodness, under your blessing and your favor, I shall dwell in THAT house forever. When the Good Shepherd is YOUR shepherd, you are NEVER outside of his care. We’ll close with this. When I and you and we are able to see God’s activity in the world, I’m convinced it changes the world that we see. When we’re able to see God this is your world, this is my Father’s world let me never forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, You are the ruler yet. When we see it, when I embrace it, when I step into it and under it, it changes the world that we see. I long for a day, for a time, when followers of Jesus are known for being informed optimists. Not people that long to escape, but long to excavate….God, you’re here. God, you’re present. I think that’s the new evangelism…..let me show you the way that God is already present and already at work. That’s a gospel that starts in Genesis 1 not Genesis 3. God, you’re at work. This is your world. This is your beauty. It’s on display. Give us eyes to see. Not just the bad…that’s easy. Anybody can camp in the bad……I threw up on vacation! Catch me on this, friend….it takes intentionality to see the good. And when you have an awareness of God’s glory, it breathes hope into your soul. This is our Father’s world. Luckily for us, it’s a world he invites us to live in! May we become aware in a way that would shape who we become. Let’s pray. So Jesus, I want to pray specifically for the person who, over the last few weeks, has heard about the way that you satisfy. Has heard about the way that you lead to green pastures, to quiet streams. Has heard about the way that you bring your sheep back when they wander away, you restore our soul. To the people who’ve heard that you walk with us in the valley of the shadow of death…you don’t leave us, that you’re there to be present, to correct and to protect us in the midst of all the storms of life. For the person that watched as we taught about the fact that you feed us the gospel feast in the presence of our enemies. The way you anoint your people with spirit and the life. And your design, Jesus, that your presence would shape our daily experience and your provision on the cross—-your body given, your blood shed—-would seal our eternal destiny. Lord, if there are those that aren’t a part of your fold today, God would you prick their heart? Would you draw them to you, the Good Shepherd. Lord, I pray that you would redeem some this morning. So, if that’s you….if you’re here and this picture of what God is like….you just want to run to him, I invite you to do so this morning. Jesus, Good Shepherd, we love you. We step under your rule and your reign. We trust even when we cannot see that goodness and mercy follow us and Jesus, we also…our anchor is sunk into the reality that what you did on the cross sealed our eternal destiny. And that we can dwell in your house of goodness and mercy all the days of our life. Jesus, may your goodness stir us to gratitude. May your mercy stir us to worship and may the fact that you dwell in every single corner of your great globe shape the way that we go about walking in your world. And it is yours! In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

GOOD SHEPHERD: MY FATHER’S WORLD – PSALM 232020-08-20T11:57:53-06:00


GOOD SHEPHERD – ANOINTED PSALM 23:5 Pastor Ryan said he was glad to be able to get back to Psalm 23 after his vacation. He said it’s so popular because it paints a picture of what God is like. It draws out the nature and character of God. It puts its finger on the pulse of humanity….the declaration in our hearts and souls that this is what we long for God to be like. David, the psalmist, declares the deepest yearnings, the deepest longings of your soul about what God is like are actually true. Real.
I was thinking about this passage of Scripture this week. In light of the line of the psalm we’re going to talk about, I was reminded of a TV show I watched growing up in the ’80’s. The TV show was on Nickelodeon and the title of the show was “You Can’t Do That on Television!” I went back and did some research and it turns out (the show) was horrible. Terrible writing. Terrible acting. Terrible everything! In fact, I asked my wife if she watched that show growing up. She said, “No. My parents said if you can’t do that on television it shouldn’t be on television; so they didn’t let me watch it.” There was one thing about this show that made it stand out……GREEN SLIME! When you have a bad script, it turns out, the only thing you need to do to make a show watchable is at various, random moments throughout the show pour green slime on the actors! Works every time. Nickelodeon got so much press and notoriety out of this that they started to use this in game shows they were hosting. They started to use it in other TV shows. They were like hey, if the show stinks just pour slime on people. Now, I would submit to you that a lot of things have gotten worse since the 1980’s—-maybe not that kind of television. It was absolutely horrific!
But, I started to think….I wonder how many people’s view of God is reflected in “You Can’t Do That on Television.” I wonder how many people view God as the “slime” God. He asks you a question, maybe a theological question….where do you stand on…fill in the blank. And if you get it wrong…..green slime. This view is pushed forward by some people that have cable television shows. So when something like an earthquake in Haiti happens, they’ll tell you “green slime.” When a hurricane hits New Orleans and wipes a city out, they tell you “green slime.” It’s a wicked city, so God was exacting judgement on it…..green slime. When a tsunami hits a part of the globe, they’ll get out there and they’ll say, “Green slime.” Here’s the thing. You and I may not put it like that. We may not say, “I believe in the green-slime God,” but what we internally think is, “Am I being punished for this?” Did I do something wrong? Is God exacting judgement on me or punishment on me? Is life really, really hard because I did something wrong and God’s angry? Is he the green-slime God? Maybe we have to wrestle with that question a little bit. What is it that the God of the universe pours down on our head? Is it green slime? Is he up there going, “Got it wrong! Khhhh! Green slime!” Or is he better than that? Psalm 23. David—king, warrior, poet—David writes this: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. {David starts this poem, song, psalm by saying….in God, because He’s leading me, guiding me and shaping my life…He’s my shepherd. Because of Him I lack nothing. I have everything I need.} He makes me lie down in green pastures. {He makes me lie down not by force, not by pressing me down, but by favor. He’s so ridiculously good I just want to follow him, be with him and lie down and enjoy him wherever he’s at.} He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. {David says when I wander away, he brings me back. He’s that good.} He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. {When sheep are healthy, the shepherd gets the glory. We said in our message that nobody has ever looked at a sheep and thought “wow, they work out!” No. When sheep are healthy, they look back at the shepherd and go, “He’s an amazing shepherd!” David says that’s what God is like. Then he takes us to a place where we’ve all been or will be. We all know that life isn’t just green pastures, quiet streams and sitting in a field. Right? David goes on and if he didn’t go here we would say this poem has nothing to do with real life, but he does go there because he’s writing about real life.} Even 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. {Your correction and your protection over my life is a strength to my soul, that’s what David says. Last week we talked about this wonderful idea in verse 5 where David says..} You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. {We said last week that the truth of the Gospel is not that God destroys all of our enemies, but he does defeat them and he invites us to feast on the goodness of the Gospel as our enemies—-as our sin, as our shame, as our weakness, as our failure—look on. He goes on to say..} You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. So maybe He’s not the green-slime God. Maybe He’s not the you-got-the-answer-wrong-pblhhh God. Maybe, just maybe, He’s better than that.
You anoint my head with oil. It’s interesting because this idea, this concept, has its roots in the ancient shepherding community. Shepherds would anoint their sheep. They would take oil and they would pour it over their sheep’s head and work it into their sheep’s face and their ears and their neck area, because insects would get in there. And whether it’s a tick or lice or whatever would get into their skin and bite them. This oil, this anointing that shepherds would put over their sheep would protect them. It would keep them from getting sick. So this idea of anointing was taken and wasn’t used just in the shepherding community, but God used it. God’s people used it as a symbol. Anointing was a metaphor. A symbol of God’s blessing. Of God’s protection. Of God’s empowerment over a life.
Here’s two things you need to know about anointing. One, as you read through the Old Testament there are very few pictures, very few concepts, very few teachings that pack more richness and significance and punch than the idea of anointing. Starting in Genesis 28, Jacob is on a journey. He’s run away from his brother. He’s done some shady things. He’s walking through an area of the desert called Bethel and he comes to this place, and you may remember this…it’s sort of a famous line, he exclaims, “Surely God was in this place and I knew it not.” I didn’t notice it, but God was here and he takes oil and he anoints this rock and it’s this picture, this symbol, of God is present. An anointing carried with it that weight. God is present. God’s here….in a significant and real way. As you read through your Old Testament, places were anointed, but primarily three types of people were anointed. Prophets were anointed. Priests were anointed. Kings were anointed. It symbolized a special, unique sense of calling. It was a way of God saying through his people and TO his people, “I’m covering them.” Literally it’s what the word anointing means. I’m covering them. I’m surrounding them. I’m equipping them. I’m empowering them. Blessing them and releasing them for this task that I’ve called them to. A pretty narrow group of people received anointing in the Old Testament. It was a way for people to interact with God. When places were anointed they were claimed as holy places. They were places where God said, “Since that’s anointed, it’s holy and I will meet with you there.” It gave a picture of spiritual residue…significance…presence…blessing…protection…God is in this place. Prophets. Priests. Kings. The tabernacle in the Old Testament. That’s one thing. Anointing is unparalleled in its significance spiritually in the Old Testament.
Second thing you need to know about anointing. You ready? Look up at me. YOU ARE ANOINTED! If you’re a follower of Jesus this morning, the Scriptures say clearly YOU ARE ANOINTED. Paul’s going to write this to the church at Corinth and here’s what he says: It is God who establishes us with you in Christ. {We could camp out here for the rest of the month, probably the rest of the year, and never plumb this dry. He’s established you. He’s planted you as a body with us in Christ. That’s unbelievable.} …and has anointed us… {So he takes this concept from the Old Testament that was reserved for prophets, priests, kings, tabernacles and he moves it into……you all! He has anointed US!} …and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Cor. 1:21-22) Here’s what happens, friends. What’s reserved in the Old Testament for specific tasks, for specific calling, on specific people, in the new covenant is widened and isn’t just for specific people, this is for all people. Jesus, as he is in the garden of Gethsemane on the night he’s betrayed. Literally, he is standing in a place that is entitled Gethsemane, which means the “press of oils.” Where olive oil was made. Where anointing is birthed. He’s standing in the garden of the press of oils ready to go and step onto the cross to shed His blood and give His body that it might flow over his people, that you and I might, in Christ, be not just saved and redeemed, yes and amen, but anointed, according to the Scriptures. That flows over us. Have you ever heard somebody say, “Man, that worship leader is really anointed.” “That speaker. There’s just an anointing on their life.” I would say back to them, “Yes and amen!” But in saying that, I hope what we’re not saying is, “Wow! But nobody else is!” Really what we need to say is and so are you if you’re a follower of Jesus! You’re anointing might be in a different area. You’re gifting might be in a different area. You’re calling might be……but if you are a follower of Jesus you are anointed! Here’s the deal: A lot of us say well, I would be if I could get my act together; like, that’s a potential for me, but you don’t know my life. You’re right, I don’t, but I know David’s. Adultery, murder, no father-of-the-year award on his mantel. It turns out that in all of his failing, what David looks at and sees is not his achievement, but God’s faithfulness. And that’s where your anointing is found and that is where your anointing is birthed. I want to encourage you this morning, follower of Jesus, if that’s who you are, to embrace the anointing that’s on your life. It’s there right now. You may not know how to tap into it, you may not know how to walk in it, but I want to invite you at the onset, based on the Scriptures, to believe afresh that you are anointed. His spirit rests on you. I am convinced that if you’re able to embrace the anointing that’s on you, it will give you confidence for whatever God has in front of you!
It’s really interesting that this idea of anointing isn’t limited to Hebrew circles. It isn’t limited to just these people of God and the story of God. It was widespread. On King Tut’s tomb inside the catacomb, there was this painting that was found. It has this serving girl preparing a banquet for all of these higher-up women in the nation. If you look, on each of their heads there is this cone. That cone was oil in a solid form and as they went throughout this meal the oil would melt because of their body heat and this anointing……..they had this oil on there head that throughout the meal would just drip over their bodies, reminding them of the presence of the divine for the Egyptians. Here’s what I want you to do: Look at that picture then look around the room. You don’t see it on the heads of the people around you, but I can assure you that it’s there. I can assure you, based on the Scriptures, that those who follow the way of Jesus have been given the spirit of Jesus and the Scriptures clearly say, “YOU. ARE. ANOINTED.” There’s a covering over your life. There’s a blessing over your life. There’s a protection over your life. There’s an empowerment over your life. And I love it that David says: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies {I feast on the goodness of the Gospel as my sin looks on, as my shame looks on, as my failure looks on, as people who want to destroy me look on. Even then, in that moment, you don’t just get me by, but you anoint my head as my enemies look on.} You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. As if to paint this picture of God as the annoying waiter or waitress who, every time you take a drink from your cup and put it down they’re there to refill it! Been there? Annoying, yet awesome. David says that God is THAT good. He never runs dry. He never gives up on us.
In the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head. Kenneth Bailey, the great scholar, puts it this way: “No stone is left unturned in the host’s efforts to assure the guest (that’s you) that he or she is welcome, honored and beloved.” Whatever is going on in your life, you just need to know this! That you are anointed by the Spirit of God. It’s this anointing that reminds us who we are. It’s this anointing that reminds us whose we are in the presence of our enemies, in the presence of our friends. It reminds us that we are God’s and it launches us out into his beautiful world. Let me show you how. There’s three things this anointing does as it rests on us. You can flip back to 2 Corinthians 1:20-22, where Paul writing to the Corinthian church says this: For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. {That’s in Jesus. So here’s what Paul says: Every single promise God has given is fulfilled or will be fulfilled in the work of Christ. So if you’re hoping for something outside of Him, may I present to you that you’re hoping for something that the Scripture does not promise. I’d invite you to change what you hope in. Every promise that God’s given finds its yes in Him.} That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. So here’s what Paul does. He ties together a number of different ideas and they all circle around this: You are anointed and by that God means His spirit dwells in and lives in you and what He says that means is {Look up at me!} you are SEALED. As in claimed. As in His. He is yours and you are His. This word sealed is a business term and refers to a guarantee of the fulfillment of a contract. What you sign up for will be delivered. What Paul says is that because you’re IN Him, He’s claimed you and it’s a guarantee. You’re sealed into Christ. So as an anointed follower of Jesus, you are CLAIMED. You may think that you’re not sure you like that. I’d say back to you, “Sorry.” BUT God is not an abusive owner. He’s an empowering, loving shepherd of your soul. “And when you find yourself in Him,” C.S. Lewis writes, “you find your true self.” Your self as you were always meant to be. It’s not an “Oh my gosh and now I’m owned and now I’m claimed,” it’s “Now I have a spirit inside of me that doesn’t look back at God in fear.” I have the spirit of adoption as the son of God. Knowing I’m claimed and owned by the King of King and the Lord of Lords. Peter would say to the churches, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption.” Romans 8 says, “We have a spirit inside of us that cries out “Abba!” Daddy! Father!” Look at the way Paul says this and because you’re claimed you have these promises. You stand under this banner, this canopy of God’s goodness, His grace, His mercy. What He promised in Christ He will deliver. His love won’t run out. His grace is sufficient. He won’t leave you. He won’t forsake you. He WILL be victorious! He HAS been victorious and in Him you will overcome. That’s the promise and you step into that as you recognize that you’re the anointed child of God. Your Spirit rests on me, lives in me, dwells in me. And he says this: And he’s also put his seal on us, stamped us as His and his Spirit in our hearts. It means that God speaks. You believe that? It means that he’s working. John writes it like this in 1 John 2:27: But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. {Which begs the question what the heck are we doing here? Here’s my prayer. There’s a lot of ways people answer that. My prayer is that I’m not the one teaching you. Because if I’m teaching you, we’re at a disadvantage. But if you’re anointed and the Holy Spirit lives inside of you and we read His Scriptures and he goes, “That’s for you! Move on that. Act on that. Live in that.” I’m not the one pointing that out to you. My words are feeble. Luckily, God is at work. God is on the move. So John says that this anointing means His Spirit lives inside of us, His presence dwells on us and He teaches us. He leads us. He is at work. Because you’re claimed, the Spirit of God is your teacher and he won’t leave you.} Second point. So one, you are claimed. For this we need to unpack a little bit from the Old Testament where we get this idea and some of the weight that’s behind anointing. As I said, it’s really second to none in the metaphors in the way that God’s presence is displayed, in the way that His voice is welcomed and heard. The nation of Israel is commanded by God. They live in slavery for 400 years. They’re led out to be the people of God. They follow Him in the wilderness. He gives them some instructions—you probably know 10 of them, at least. Part of the instruction God gives to his people is how to prepare a place for worship. How do we prepare a place for encounter? How do we prepare a place to meet with God? And the short answer to that is we build a tabernacle and we anoint it. Exodus 30:26-29, God tells them how to make this oil and then commands them: With it you shall anoint the tent of meeting and the ark of the testimony, and the table and all its utensils, {He’s going to talk about the tent of meeting and the things that are inside of it and the way that anointing these is necessary to meeting with God.} ….and the lampstand and its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils and the basin and its stand. You shall consecrate them, {setting them apart} that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy. This is huge! So what God says is the place we meet in cannot stand as a meeting place, a dwelling place of you and the divine on its own, it needs to be prepared. It needs to be anointed. It needs to be made something different, because it’s unacceptable on its own to be a place where God meets with people. So take it and anoint it. {Look up at me for a moment.} You know one of the ways you’re described in the New Testament? You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. And the anointing that’s on you in the same way that the anointing oil made this place holy, made this place acceptable, made it a place where God convened with and dwelt with men and women and made it a sacred place….in the same way that that anointing made the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, a sacred place, so too does the anointing from the Spirit on your life make YOU a sacred space!! Make YOU a place where God dwells, a place where God meets with people, where he meets with you. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:19: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? Do you know that, follower of Jesus?! You have been claimed and you have been CONSECRATED. You are sacred space. WOW! There’s no more holy place you can go. As I was studying, I was struck by the thought of going to worship in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It looks a little bit like South Fellowship Church. The inside, more so. Can you imagine singing “Amazing Grace” in that chapel with the room packed with believers? “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Singing “10000 Reasons” — And on that day when my strength is fading, still my soul will sing your praise. Can you imagine how majestic, how beautiful, how powerful that would be??!! It took almost 110 years to build. The ceiling is 448 feet tall, from the floor to the top of the dome that Michelangelo designed. And it holds nothing on you! According to the Scriptures, YOU are the temple of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter’s Basilica….breathtaking. Amazing! But doesn’t hold a candle to you as far as creating a place where God meets with his people. {Look up at me for a moment.} YOU…CARRY…THE PRESENCE…OF GOD…IN…YOU! As anointed followers of Jesus that’s who you are. You carry His presence in you. You’ve been designed, uniquely wired, as the resting place for the Spirit of God and you, because He lives in you, have the ability to change every single environment you walk into because you carry His presence with you, follower of Jesus. You walk into your family you carry his presence. You walk into your job you carry his presence. When you walk down your street walking your dog, talking to your neighbors, you carry his presence. You carry it. And embracing the anointing allows you to carry it well. It allows you to carry it confidently to know that you are a consecrated, holy, called out beautiful space that God dwells in.
I want to give you three pieces of encouragement. One is to carry that presence, that spirit intentionally. The Holy Spirit is described as a dove. Flies away easy. Skittish. How do we cultivate this? How do we carry it intentionally? Second, cultivate it devotionally. Cultivate an awareness of His presence. Cultivate a conviction around: God you live in me and that has to mean something. That can’t be playing religion, can it? If the church is going to have any power, it cannot be words that we believe. It has to be a way that we live. Third, cherish it joyfully. Carry it intentionally. Cultivate it devotionally. Cherish it joyfully. Moses goes on writing to the people of Israel about how to set places apart. How to anoint not just places, but then he goes on to people, because people had special, unique anointings and listen to what he says after telling them how to anoint the Tent of Meeting: You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests. And you shall say to the people of Israel, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. In the Old Testament we had some people chosen and anointed because of their lineage as priests. In the New Testament, in the new covenant we have a kingdom of priests. That’s really amazing news…because instead of calling one person to be this literally “bridge builder”, which is what the word priest means, between God and man, what he’s saying is my spirit dwells in every single one of them. They’re a mini St. Peter’s Basilica walking around. I dwell there. I find my home there. I am at home in them and therefore, they are called. They are priests, bridge builders, for the glory of God. Here’s the way that Peter writes it the churches: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood….(I Peter 2:9)
So the Reformers back in the mid-1500’s caught back onto this idea. The church wasn’t intended to be hierarchical, where some people could talk to God and some people couldn’t. In fact, the Scriptures would say the exact opposite…..that not only is the playing field at the foot of the cross level—none of us carry any sort of credentials there—but so too in our interaction with God. So too in our calling. No calling is better of worse than another. We are a kingdom of priests with direct access to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Here’s the deal: No prophet, no priest and no king ever received an anointing to sit on the sideline. It wasn’t as if you were anointed a priest and told to put up your feet and grab a lemonade. The anointing was a commissioning to be a person that lived in the presence of God, embraced the Spirit of God and walked into God’s beautiful world partnering with Him to build His kingdom. You’re consecrated. You’re claimed. And you are also CALLED. It goes to the very core of our identity, friends. As followers of the way of Jesus, as anointed ones, ones on whom His Spirit rests, He does not make it rest on us to leave us on the sidelines, but to invite us into his beautiful world where He is at work at the restoration, renewal and redemption of all things, according to his Scripture. Let me give you a few things on calling. Three things. One, calling always begins where you are with what you have. David was called to be a shepherd before he was ever called to be a king; his faithfulness as a shepherd led him into his destiny as a king. The question I think we need to wrestle with is not so much what’s the calling way out on the horizon of the someday calling of God, but what’s the calling TODAY. Sometimes calling requires sequential steps of faithfulness that you and I walk in. Second thing, calling is always grounded in real life. It begins with faithfulness with where you’re at and what you have. Sometimes a calling requires moving, but calling always requires movement! Sometimes it is God calling me over there, but calling is always God is calling me to follow Him. Sometimes requires moving, but ALWAYS requires movement. Here’s the thing. Sometimes it’s way easier to move, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s way easier to pick up shop and think that the grass is greener somewhere else, right? I mean, if I go there and join that thing that’s going on well, then I’ll be part of God’s calling on my life. Everybody wants to join something significant, but very few people want to invest in a way where they become and create something significant!!! God’s calling is far more on his anointed…be faithful in the now. Follow me now. You’re called today. If you’re waiting to step into a calling, my guess is you will very rarely ever get there. But if you LIVE in a calling, you might find yourself in places you never dreamed, doing things that go far above and beyond all that you could ever imagine. Three, the size of your calling is irrelevant; faithfulness to your calling is essential! Some of you are anointed to be excellent businessmen….excellent painters…excellent teachers…excellent doctors, nurses….you name it. You are anointed by God to live in the place and sphere of influence that he has called you to live. You are called not to go somewhere else, but to follow Jesus today and become all that His Spirit prompts you, invites you and works in you to become. Martin Luther once said, “The Christian shoemaker does not make Christian shoes by putting a cross on each shoe he creates. The Christian shoemaker makes Christian shoes by making really good shoes.” That’s awesome. Here’s what he’s saying: Our vocation and our calling is not distinctly Christian because we put a cross in it or even because we talk about Jesus all the time. It’s uniquely, distinctly Christian because we do it in a way that honors Jesus and we do it with excellence. If the Spirit lives in you, His anointing is upon you and you are called. I don’t know where, I just know you’re called. You figure out where. If it’s somewhere else and you’re faithful today, we’ll send you to that somewhere else. If you’re a church planter and you long to plant a church, here’s what we’re going to ask you, “Are you being faithful today? Are you living into what God’s invited you to right now?” If so, let us send you to the glory of God. When you embrace your anointing, the claim that’s on your life, the consecration that’s over your life and the call that’s inviting you….when you embrace that anointing, you implicitly live in this confidence that God’s present…God’s here…he’s powerful…he’s at work…his love hasn’t run out on me…we live into it. One of the things that this anointing oil was also used for was it was put in these tiny basins then lit on fire. The oil would light up rooms, it would light up space and I want to tell you that I’m firmly convinced that for the follower of Jesus, His calling on your life is to live as an anointed one. And those who live as anointed ones are lit on fire by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords to be a light in the beautiful world that he calls us to live in. I pray, friend, will you embrace it? Will you live confidently under it? Will you learn what it looks like to cultivate and to carry and to cherish the presence of God that lives inside of you? {Look up at me one more time.} If you’re a follower of Christ, He lives in you. You’re anointed. David says, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
Let’s pray. Jesus, for my friends out there who wrestle with this idea, even looking at their past and think there’s no way, God, you would make sacred space in me, would you remind them of the power of the cross… that as you stood in the Garden of Gethsemane….that press of wine…preparing to give your body, to shed your blood that it might flow over us and consecrate us, make us holy, adequate, sacred spaces for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Would you remind us that we are yours…you have a claim on our life, Good Shepherd. Would you remind us that we’re holy. Would you remind us that we’re called. Would you stir something beautiful in your Body as you remind us of the anointing that’s over our lives. Thank you for not being the green-slime God, but the God of Holy Spirit anointing. Amen.

GOOD SHEPHERD – ANOINTED PSALM 23:52020-11-16T10:07:30-07:00

Good Shepherd – Enemy at the Table – Psalm 23

ENEMIES AT THE TABLE-PSALM 23:5 In college, I was part of an organization called Young Life. Our freshman year was dedicated to training and then we went to serve on local high school campuses thereafter. As part of our training, our area director would meet with us every week and lead us through discipleship process. After one evening, he mentioned, informally, hey, why don’t you guys come over to our house for dinner next week? Here’s the thing: I didn’t have a planner in college. I couldn’t have told you when most of my tests were coming or even generally, my schedule most of the time, BUT if you invited me over for dinner, you better believe I was going to be there! So he did invite us over for dinner. My roommate and I pulled up to the house and we were the only car there. My initial thought was, “More for me. Thank you very much for forgetting about this glorious invitation.” We went up and knocked on the door. When our area director opened up the door from the initial look you could tell he was not expecting us. We reminded him of the invitation and he said, “Oh yeah. Let me go remind my wife.” Which was code for I need to tell my wife you’re here. There was an exchange that happens between husband and wife where, in one look, it’s the I’m sorry…please forgive me….I’m in the doghouse look and do we have enough food for these ravenous freshman guys? Most normal people at that point would say, “You know what? You weren’t expecting us. Let’s reschedule for next week.” You know this by now….I am not most normal people!!! We awkwardly, gingerly walked in their house where she exclaimed, “I’m sure we have enough food to go around!” They pulled us up a seat at their dinner table. We ate dinner. The food started to dwindle and it was clear they didn’t have enough food to go around. But that didn’t matter to us, because we were going to get ours! The whole time we were eating I’m looking around the table going, “We are not suppose to be here! They did not expect us to come!” It was a little bit awkward. Most normal people would have said I’m out. But we bore it and we made it through the dinner.
As I was thinking about that this week, I think there’s a lot of followers of Jesus who feel the same way about the invitation God’s given them. The Kingdom of God, in the Scriptures, is described In Matthew 22:2 as a feast, as a banquet. As a feast that a father throws for his son. Jesus says this is what the Kingdom of God is like…it’s sorta like a party. It’s a feast with great food and good drinks and celebration and this is Jesus’ picture of the kingdom. A lot of followers of Jesus that I interact and talk with sit around that kingdom table with this sneaking suspicion, “I really wasn’t invited to this. I really don’t deserve the place at the table that I’m sitting in. If Jesus really found me out, I’d be gone.” In this epic poem, this 3000 year old, beautiful depiction of the heart of God, David’s going to put his finger on why you and I often feel that way. One of the reasons we love this poem, we love this psalm is because we can relate to it. It has really high highs and really low lows and in this section, David’s going to say, “I know how you feel when you’re sitting at the banquet table. And I know why you feel that way. I know why you look around and go I don’t deserve to be here and this shouldn’t be my seat.” He’s going to put his finger on something that runs true for most of humanity….you may be able to relate to it. Listen to what he says. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. {As if to say, God satisfies every need, every desire that I have.} He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. {He brings me back when I run away is literally what the Hebrew reads. He brings me home.} He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. {At that point we’re all going yes, yes and amen. And David also continues and invites us into the struggle that all of humanity has where there’s really high highs…..we’re satisfied in the abundance of his love and goodness and then we seems to walk through the valley some times. You can probably relate.} Even through I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, {Why? Because the Good Shepherd’s with me. Because God’s with me. He says, in addition to that, it’s not only that God’s with me, but that he’s active in the valley.} for you are with me; your rod and your staff, {Your protection and your correction…even in the valley, they comfort me, they strengthen me. God, you haven’t let me go. God, you are with me even now.} they comfort me.
He continues with: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking back at God and going, “Really? They have to be there, too? Couldn’t you just wipe them out?” Here’s the reality that we’re going to look at in Scripture is that God has defeated all of your enemies, but he hasn’t destroyed them. They still show up to dinner sometimes. You know this….and I know this. Let’s do a quick little survey: Who in the room is free from struggle? Free from pain? Anybody free from doubts? Free from wrestling with God? Free from looking at life some times and going, “I’m not exactly sure what you’re doing here, God?” No one! And here’s why: Because God doesn’t destroy all of our enemies, he defeats them. In fact, he says, “I am making a table before you.”
Kenneth Bailey, the great scholar who has so much information about the Palestinian region, says this about this passage: This is a picture of the way that God’s character is unconfinable to solely masculinity or solely femininity. But this picture of preparing a table is a picture of one of God’s feminine attributes. He says that NO male would have ever prepared a table or a meal in the presence of anyone in the time that David’s writing this! Nor would you have wanted them to! This is a picture of some of God’s feminine attributes or qualities. He’s a great host. Makes a great meal. Has a banquet feast! You know who’s present at that meal! All throughout the Scriptures, this idea of a table or idea of a meal is a picture of joy. It’s a picture of celebration! In the story of the prodigal son, it’s a picture of the father’s victory and the son’s welcome home with a celebration thrown, the fatted calf killed and dancing and partying that ensues. This is the picture we should think of as we read David saying “You prepare a table. You prepare a festival. You prepare joy and goodness and victory before me.” And you invite my enemies?? Is this really the way that God works? Here’s what I often think: God, I’m a child of yours. I’m deeply loved and if you could just, not only defeat, like you did on the cross, but also destroy, wipeout, eliminate from my life completely and totally, my enemies….THEN…we can have a feast. Then we can celebrate. Then we can party. Many followers of Jesus are waiting for exactly that!
The only problem is….God prepares a table before you not in the absence of your enemies, but in the presence of your enemies. So as followers of Jesus, I think we need to get a little bit better at feasting on the gospel of grace in the presence of pushback. In the presence of enemies. In the presence of failure and defeat and things not going the way that we want. We have to get a lot better at eating with our enemies. Jesus was really good at this. It’s one of the things that got him killed. He ate with people that most folks, especially religious people, would say there’s no way we’re eating with them. In fact, there were whole New Testament communities that formed out in the desert for the express purpose of saying, “We don’t want to be tainted by people that might make us unclean.” One of the things that frustrated religious people the most about Jesus was that he was very comfortable dining with people who others thought were his enemies. In fact, listen to the way he talks about this in Luke 15:1-2. Luke’s recording for us this story about Jesus. Listen to what the people say about Jesus: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Right after that incident, Jesus tells three parables. One is about a woman who loses a coin and searches the whole night and the whole house to find that coin and celebrates when she finds it. The second parable is about a shepherd who has 100 sheep….loses one…goes and finds the one, brings him back and celebrates…throws a party because he’s so excited that this sheep is found. The third story is about a father who loses a son and when the son comes homes, the father prepares a FEAST, a meal. So Jesus starts off with getting accused of eating with sinners and ends his tri-fold parable didactic teaching by declaring, “I just don’t eat with sinners, I welcome them home! They’re part of my family and I rejoice at the fact that they dwell at my table!”
So, Jesus didn’t have a problem eating with his enemies. Do you??? What David says in Psalm 23 is that the feast that Jesus is preparing is a feast that’s not just for you…..a feast of grace…a feast of mercy…a feast of his goodness and presence and provision and protection and sustenance…but it’s a feast that takes place as your enemies look on. They’re defeated but they’re not destroyed. You know this. I know this. We just need to get better at eating in their presence. So it’s a metaphor….David’s psalm. The meal is joy, gladness, celebration and lavishness. The enemies are the people, the things, the thought processes, the circumstances, life not going the way Jesus intended it to go, the influence of sin in your life. These are all our enemies and you could think of 100 more. The meal is joy and gladness. The enemies are life not going the way that we would long for it to go. Here’s what David says: God prepares a table before you. A table of abundance. A table of grace. A table of mercy. A table of goodness. Even as people oppose you and circumstances don’t go your way and sin creeps in and so easily entangles as the author of Hebrew says….and even then….so God prepares this table before you while your enemies push back against you. This is the art of following Jesus. This is part of becoming a disciple…..is to sit down at the table with your enemies and learn how to feast on the goodness of the gospel in their presence.
Here’s the big idea we’re going to circle our hearts and minds around this morning. Here’s God invitation to us through Psalm 23:5: Confront your “enemies” with gospel authority and enjoy Christ’s sufficiency! I have two approaches oftentimes to my enemies. One is that I try to avoid them. I try to ignore them….if there’s a sin in my life, typically, I’ll either ignore it and avoid it. If I’m wrestling with anger or bitterness, I’m really good at keeping things in their sorta compartment over there…..I’ll avoid it. Let’s just not think about it. Let’s not talk about it, maybe it’ll go away. Or I can work really, really hard in order to be victorious against those things. So, I’ll either avoid or I’ll engage and work at it with my own effort. But what would it look like to not avoid our enemies or the things that sorta push back against our following Jesus wholeheartedly? What would it look like not to avoid them and not to work at it with our own effort and engaging them and trying to be victorious against them? What would it look like to say, “Welcome to dinner?” As your enemies stare back at you, whatever they are, my guess is you start to hear things in the back of your mind like, “They’re the reason I shouldn’t be here. I’m unworthy. I’m sure this is an awkward dinner for you, God. I’m sure you weren’t expecting me, because of all the junk in my life. There is no way I could actually feast with my enemies looking right back at me!” The truth of the matter is, in Scripture, Paul writes to the church at Colossae and says this: And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:13-15) He made a spectacle out of your enemies! That doesn’t mean they’re not at your table, it just means that they’re defeated already. He made a spectacle out of them by triumphing over them in him, in Jesus. Here’s my invitation today: To believe THAT fully and to sit down at the table of grace and mercy in the presence of your enemies and to enjoy the feast that the gospel provides for you. Here’s the thing….Jesus is buying! He’s taking care of the meal. Don’t reach for your wallet to try to leave a tip. He’s got that, too. He’s got it covered, followers of Jesus. He says, “This is my feast. This is my grace. This is my meal. You pull up to the table, not in the absence of your enemies, but in the presence of your enemies and feast on me even then!” You may be going what are some of the enemies that he invites us to feast in front of? Glad you asked that. I got a few. These are just mine, you have your own, I’m sure. Fear. Fear is one of the greatest crippling agents in the life of the believer. Fear and faith cannot coexist….one trumps the other. We either live in faith or we live in fear, but we cannot live in both. One of the reasons the Bible speaks so directly against fear…..and in 1 John 4:18, John says: ….perfect love casts out fear. Literally it means “pushes” fear, as you embrace his love, pushes fear out of your life. Why is he so passionate about writing about fear? He knows that fear has the ability to cripple you. The problem with fear is that it has a number of different faces. See if any of these relate to you. One of the faces of fear is WORRY. Fear expresses itself in worry in that we live in the reality, we embrace this reality of future failure before we even get there. A fear of what’s going to happen in the future robs us of being present in the NOW and robs us of the life that Jesus intends for us to live. So maybe, you pull a seat up at your table for fear. And you say back to fear: Wow, you’re looking pretty intimidating there, Fear. (Ryan takes bite of cinnamon roll.) Grace and mercy of God is really delicious! Sure, who knows what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow.
Maybe it doesn’t look like anxiety and worry in your life, maybe it looks like anger. Anger is fear….we’re trying to preemptively strike against whatever we’re fearful of before we get to it. So if we can be angry, we don’t have to be fearful. As guys we’re really good at this. Here’s our typical thought in Christianity: Let me give four steps to conquering fear! Four steps to conquering anger. Or four steps to getting beyond worry. Let me give you ONE STEP—–FEAST on the goodness of the gospel in the presence of your enemies! Allow the grace of God to weed out the power of your enemies as you live and walk and abide in his glorious love. We’re really good at running away! We’re really good at working on it on our own, but are we good at going God’s grace and mercy is sufficient and enough for me in every season and Fear, I’m not giving you the foothold in my life because Jesus has already defeated you!! (Ryan takes a bite!) But welcome to the table! Worry. Anxiety. Anger. Loneliness. Fear of being known, so you build all these walls. What does it look like to feast on the goodness of the gospel in the presence of our enemies? Enemy one – fear. Enemy two – Failure. You and I both have these thoughts when we sit down at the banquet of grace, at the feast of the Kingdom of God. We have a million different reasons why we don’t deserve to be sitting in this seat and they seem to come up right when we start to rest and abide in Jesus, don’t they? I don’t know about you, but I have a million thoughts in my mind when I start to read about abiding and I try to abide in his presence and the enemy just seems to go straight for my heart and go well, you can’t abide because of the things in your past! Because you walked through that….because you went there…because you did that…there’s no way you could actually be embraced by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. And you and I, oftentimes, start to believe that lie. We go well, you’re right! Really, the invitation for the seat at the table is there, it has like a “reserved” sign on it. It’s reserved for me. It’s mine, but I only get to sit in it when I clean up my life. I only get to actually sit down at the buffet of presence and grace and mercy when I clean myself up; well, then I can come and receive grace. Does that make sense to anyone? We can come and feast on grace after we don’t necessarily “need it” anymore? As if you ever get there!
The table’s prepared before you in the presence of your enemies and here’s what the Scriptures say about you. Let it wash over you this morning. Not only is dinner guest #1 fear, guest #2 is failure. Here’s what the Scriptures say about you with Paul writing to the Roman church. He says: There is {When? Now! So I’m with Paul here. It’s not some day. It’s not “when you get it all together.” The seat’s reserved, but you can sit in it when you get it all together.} There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You’ve got to look at your past and your failures and the things you messed up and go that is terrible. I don’t want to diminish it at all! A lot of what we walked through has been…..which makes the grace of God all the more beautiful! We’re great at justifying our past. We’re great at running from our past. We’re great at holding it at arm’s length. What would it look like, as a body of Christ, to be great at feasting on the gospel as our past looks on? Pasts we’re comfortable with. What about present? What about sins we’re struggling with right now? Theologically, are we okay with that? Or do we need to clean up before we get to the seat? It’s all determined by how you, in your mind, trust that you are made right to sit at that table, not looking around going I shouldn’t be here, I didn’t earn this, I don’t deserve this. Is it you or is it Jesus??! It’s not both, it’s one or the other. It’s either you or Jesus, so even in the presence of your failure right NOW, TODAY….(Ryan takes bite of roll)…if not for the grace of God, I would be the most wretched sinner, but because of his grace, I am the most…you are the most holy of saints! You know what the Scriptures say? That you are…..the sin loses its grip, its power, its dominion…Romans 6:14…over your life as you recognize that you are no longer under law but under grace. As you learn to eat at the gospel of his goodness and mercy…mmmmm (another bite)….even in the presence of your enemies….it loses its hold. The Scriptures say that where sin abounds, grace doesn’t just meet it and go alright I’m enough for you, grace trumps it!! Super abundance is sorta the Greek word. It’s this picture of a waterfall of mercy and grace that flows over you. Listen to the way Walt Marshall puts it in his great book The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: “You cannot love God if you are under the continual secret suspicion that he is really your enemy! … You simply cannot love God unless you know and understand how much he loves you. … In the gospel, you can come to know that God truly loves you through Christ. When you have this assurance, you can even love your enemies, because you know that you are reconciled to God. You know that God’s love will make people’s hatred of you work together for your good.” He says you can pull up a table even in the presence of your enemies. Dinner Guest #3: Lies. Scriptures say that Satan is the Father of All Lies, he is the enemy of your soul. He would love to steal, kill and destroy you. From the very beginning, you and I—humanity—have been buying his lies hook, line and sinker. Believing that there’s more life outside of God than there is inside of following Him. That’s really the original sin. There going we’re buying the lie that there’s life that’s out there that God doesn’t want for us. Here’s the invitation and this is a harder one. These two (Fear & Failure), I think in a way, are easy for us to identify with. The harder enemy to pull up to the table is LIES. Here’s two lies that Scripture seems to continually address over and over and over. One is the lie of RELIGION. It’s the lie that in the back of your mind that says if you perform God will love you a little bit more. If you accomplished….he would have his check list out there and go “Check. Check. Check. Let’s invite Paulson to the table.” It’s a lie that Jesus continually pushes against. The New Testament writers of Scripture continually push against saying, “No, it’s not based on your merit, it’s not based on your performance, it’s nothing that you do. The only thing you bring to the party is the sin necessary for God’s beautiful redemption. You bring that….you do that well.” The only thing necessary is God’s grace. This is the difference between religion and Gospel. I love the way that, once again, Walt Marshall puts it when talking about this lie specifically. His book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, was written in 1692 and it’s brilliant! He says this: “The real insult to Christ is when you condemn the fullness of his grace and merit by trying to make yourself righteous and holy before you receive him! You condemn the justice and holiness of God when you try to improve yourself before you receive the righteousness and holiness that can only come through faith in Christ.”
Second lie is my sin won’t affect me and my sin won’t find me; I can keep it segregated, I can keep it compartmentalized and it won’t really affect my life. It’s the opposite side of the coin. You need to bring that lie to your table. What we need to do with it is remind ourselves of the nature and character of God. It disarms the lie that says there’s more life outside of Jesus. Here’s what we do….as we…(takes a bite of roll)…look at his cross and as we look at his mercy, the lie that says there’s more life outside of the way of Jesus is disarmed. The lie that says hold on to your bitterness (because) it’ll actually make you more powerful is disarmed. The lie that says hold on to your anger (because) it’s really doing you good is disarmed. The lie that says my lust won’t affect anybody else is disarmed. And we bring those lies to the table and we start to rest under the grace and mercy of the words of Jesus who says, “I long for your obedience for two reasons. One is that you might abide in, make your dwelling place in my love. Not to earn my love, but as you walk with me you’re going to recognize that’s where you live. You’re going to wake up in the morning with a clear conscience, under his grace and under his mercy, and say God, you are good and I’m a child of yours. Thank you!” Second thing he says is that you might abide in my love and that you might know my joy. Don’t settle for less, friend. Bring that lie to the table and dwell on the goodness of the gospel in the presence of your enemies. Fourth and final dinner guest I’d like to introduce you to: Pride. In a masterful way, a way that’s unique amongst the world’s religions, the power of the gospel has the ability to elevate somebody. You are seated with Christ. You are the recipient, right now, of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, not one is withheld from you. You are holy, pure, spotless, blameless. You are elevated! Also, the gospel has this unique ability to hold, in tension, this humility that declares we couldn’t get there on our own; we needed the work of Jesus to bring us there. It both exalts and humbles, all in the same truth. The gospel confronts our pride. And so, as we feast on the goodness of grace we’re reminded…(another bite and talking with mouth full)…I needed Jesus. I need Jesus. We’re humbled, but we’re also reminded….I have him. I have Jesus. Pride has this unique ability to destroy the human life. Charles Spurgeon said it like this: “The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.” But when you bring up a chair for Pride at the feast of your enemies, you have to come to terms with this idea that we have: I can chart my own way….is absolute garbage. I can decide my own morality—-absolute garbage. I know what’s best, God, you can sorta take your cue from me is pride at it’s core. God, I’m smarter than you…has to die as we feast with that enemy.
So, friends, are you better at avoiding your enemies or feasting with them? Are you better at trying to work your way out of these things, or have you received the gospel of grace, the feast of the kingdom where Jesus says it’s already done…finished…conquered….I’ve been victorious….I am victorious….your enemies are in front of you, but they’ve been defeated and as you feast on the goodness of the gospel you actually start to step into that and live in it more and more. Not by avoiding them…not by working at it. But by going (Ryan takes bite) oh, yeah, your grace is amazing. Three things I want to give you as we close. Secrets to dining with your enemies. One, focus on the feast not on your enemies. What’s so easy to see is the faces of fear and failure and lies and pride looking back at me. I start to think of all the work I have to do, instead of remembering that Jesus has already done a glorious work. Is he still working in your life? Absolutely! Yes, he is….as you feast at the goodness of his banquet table. Look up at me for a second, friends. Don’t run FROM your enemies, run TO Jesus. He’s the author and perfecter of your faith. The author of Hebrews says don’t be snared by sin, don’t allow sins to easily entangle you, but, in contrast, fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.
As my oldest son picks on my daughter….and he just annoys the living daylights out of her!…my line to her is Avery, ignore him and he’ll go away. It’s the exact same thing my mom use to say to my brother as I was annoying him! Ignore him and he’ll go away. As in snuff him out, snuff Fear out. How? With washing yourself in the goodness of the gospel….in the presence of your enemies. Two, don’t wait for final victory to enjoy the festive feast. A lot of followers of Jesus are. They go I’ll feel okay at this table once these enemies are gone. This is really awkward. I can’t come to church with all my sin and all my failure. News flash: Everybody else does! I can’t enjoy your grace when I’m wrestling and struggling with all of this sin. Ironically, (Ryan biting into roll) the Scriptures say enjoying his grace is one of the ways he frees you from your sin. Don’t wait for final victory to enjoy the festive feast. Finally, remember, Jesus has purchased your seat at the table. You look at all your enemies who are gathered around the table and you look at them and you sit down in that seat and you look down that aisle and you look at yourself and go I’m not worthy and I didn’t deserve it and I didn’t earn it and this is really awkward, I shouldn’t even be here. Amen!! You shouldn’t! The gospel of Jesus is simply this: You shouldn’t! You can’t! But He will and He did! On Calvary’s hill he purchased and paid for every single one of your sins…..past…present…future. Cancelled the debt that was held against you. So when you start to look down the table and go well I shouldn’t be here and I don’t deserve it, you can remind yourself absolutely, no, I don’t! No, I don’t deserve to be here! But He purchased my seat, He purchased my way. His blood’s redeemed me! I am His own! I am His child and so, I will feast on the goodness of the gospel even in the presence of my enemies! And as I do that, Jesus will cause my enemies to lose their hold…for His glory and my joy! Friends, I pray we invite your enemies to your table and feast on the goodness of the gospel right in front of them!! Let’s pray. Jesus, our ask of you would be that you’d teach us how to do this. We admit we don’t do it very well. Lord, remind us of the place we stand with you…holy, spotless, blameless, pure. And even, Lord, as we wrestle with and struggle with and encounter the enemies that are present in our life right now, Lord, may the goodness of the gospel wash over us in a way that might free us. Might free us to receive your love and to live in it and to display it for the world around us. Help us run to you, Jesus. Remind us of all that you’ve done to purchase and make a way for us. Thank you that the seat at the table that is ours is purchased by the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. May we enjoy the banquet of your grace all of our days. In your name we pray. Amen.

Good Shepherd – Enemy at the Table – Psalm 232020-10-19T11:33:22-06:00

Good Shepherd – Valleys and Shadows – Psalm 23:4


It’s hard to imagine what it might have been like to be anointed as the next king at the age of 11.  I don’t know what you were up to at the age of 11, but I know what I was up to.  I was obsessed with two things:  baseball and the beach.  That was it!  My life revolved around hitting and throwing a ball and playing in the sand riding waves. What about you?  My guess is you weren’t getting ready to run a nation.  But that was/is the story of King David. At the age of 11, 12, 13…somewhere in his preteen ages he was anointed, by Samuel, as the next coming king of Israel.  There was only one problem and it was a pretty big problem and it was a problem that got him in trouble over the course of the next few years.  That problem was there was already a king!  He was handsome.  He was tall.  He was powerful and he was a little insecure.  So David’s life as a preteen gets started off with a bang.  He’s anointed as the next king and then he goes back to shepherding sheep.  You may know the next milestone in his story.  There happened to be a little giant in a valley named Goliath.  David comes on the scene as he’s delivering snacks to his brothers.  Finds himself in the middle of the battle field….takes Goliath down.  Everybody says, “This kid’s got something going for him.”  Saul, the king, notices this as well.  So David goes from the pasture to the palace.  He becomes an attendant for the king; he becomes an armor-bearer for the king.  He starts to rise in both power and prominence.  As he does that, King Saul starts to get a little bit more and more insecure.  So David goes from being a little shepherd boy to being a giant slayer to being prominent in the king’s household.  That’s quite the ascension, is it not?  That’s quite the storyline.  If we’re taking signups I’m going well, count me in!  That sounds like a storyline I’d live.  If you continue on in David’s life, here’s what happens: As quickly as he gets to the mountaintop he finds himself in the valley.  He’s an attendant in the courts of the king.  He’s an armor-bearer for the king and he starts to develop a following.  So instead of having food delivered to him in the courts of the king, he starts having spears thrown at him!  He goes from the pasture….to the palace…to on the run from crazy, insecure Saul in the desert.  If you were to chart the arc and course of his life, his life is a series of really high highs followed with really low lows.  I think one of the reasons we love reading the poetry of this king is because he invites us not only into his highs but into his lows.  He invites us into this world that you and I live in and we know and so if the Scriptures paint for us a world different than this beauty mixed with sorrow, this joy mixed with pain….if the Scriptures didn’t point out there’s going to be some really high highs and there’s going to be some really low lows through its characters that it presents to us, the narratives it invites us into, the poetry that it gives us of what it looks like to live a life of faith…..if it DIDN’T invite us into really high highs and really low lows, we would know we can’t trust that because it’s not what life is really like.

I can remember in February of 2013, my son had just been born.  We were sitting in the hospital room and my dad helped my mom get into the elevator and walk into the hospital room.  My mom got to hold my son for the very first time.  She could barely walk at this point.  There was no diagnosis on her brain condition.  We knew things were going down hill.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but it was this moment where beauty and life intersected with pain and death in a way that I couldn’t describe in words.  And somehow I had to choose…God, if you’re present in the miracle of this little baby, somehow you have to be present in the valley of the shadow of death also.  As my mom walks to meeting you face to face and my son is born and this mixture…this mish-mash of sorrow and pain, beauty and joy found itself in one picture for me….my mom dying holding my son just being born.  I thought that’s what life is like, isn’t it?  This mixture.  And if the Scriptures don’t speak to that they don’t speak to real life.  Luckily, for you and me, they do!

One of the reasons that this song, this poem, this ancient Hebrew poetry has captured the hearts and minds and imaginations for centuries, for millennia is because it invites us into both the joy and the pain.  Listen to way King David says this: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. {As if to say, I’m satisfied.  He’s good.  He feeds my soul.  He leads my life.}  He makes me lie down in green pastures. {He makes me lie down not by force, but by favor.  He’s just so good, I long to be with me, to be near him.}  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul. {He brings me back. He carries me home. When I wander, when I stray he finds me and that shepherd is so good he hunts me down, puts me on his shoulders and brings me back into the fold.}  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. {If David simply stops there, none of us remember this psalm. Because we’re going there’s a lot more to life, David, than just green pastures, still waters, quiet streams, skipping through fields….life’s always good…life’s always awesome.  David, you don’t know what I’ve been through!  Now, luckily David downshifts on the freeway in fifth gear and here’s what he throws at you!}  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.    You almost want to pause and say, “David, you’re not allowed to do that.  You’re not allowed to go from still water, green pasture, paths of righteousness to valley of death that quickly.”  But then we look at our life and go no, no, no, no, you are able to go there. In fact, you HAVE to go there, because that’s our story, isn’t it?  That’s the story of humanity in many ways.  We can find ourselves on the mountaintop one day and in the valley low the next and wonder what in the world happened to us!!

David goes from warm fuzzies to deep valleys real quick, doesn’t he?  I think that’s what clings to our soul about this psalm.  He’s able to invite us into his story.  He’s able to invite us into God’s story and he’s able to retell OUR story in such a way where we’re able to see it a little bit better.  We wrestle with this, don’t we? We wrestle with the “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” line.  I’ll say it like this:  I wrestle with that.  Philosophers wrestle with that.  Theologians wrestle with that.  Listen to the way this author puts it.  His name is J.L. Mackie and he wrote a book called The Miracle of Atheism and in it he says: “If a good and powerful God exists, he would not allow pointless evil, but because there is so much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist. Some other god or no god may exist, but not the traditional God.” Here’s what he says.  This problem of evil, this problem of pain, this problem of sorrow that’s mixed with joy is just unreconcilable with a God who’s good and powerful and loving.  Have you ever turned back to Him and had that conversation:  Come on, God, if you’re good, why can’t we get pregnant? Come on, God, if you’re good, why did I lose this friend?  If you’re good and you’re powerful, why did the marriage flop?  If you’re good and you’re powerful, why did I lose the job? If you’re good……isn’t this our story?  I think what Mackie loses sight of and what maybe you and I lose sight of too, is if we’re going to propose that something is good, we’re automatically starting with some moral plumb line, aren’t we?  And if we’re going to say something’s good and something’s bad that “goodness” and “badness” came from somewhere, didn’t it?  So, philosophers and theologians will point to that and say no, no, no, you can’t have good and bad if you don’t first have God.

The second thing I’d point out to Mackie and others who may wrestle with pointing their finger back at God is: Hasn’t God used some of the darkest things in your life to bring some of the brightest light out of your life?  Just by show of hands, how many of you have been there?  Where you might have said something like, “I would never choose to walk through that again.  I don’t want to do it over, but what God did in and out of that is absolutely breathtakingly glorious and beautiful!”  I think Mackie and others lose sight of just how resourceful God is….not in preventing the pain, but in utilizing it to grow us, bear fruit in us and invite us to become and walk more in the way of our Messiah.

I love that David goes from quiet streams, green pastures, paths of righteousness to “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” in one sentence, because here’s his invitation to you and to me today.  His invitation is really simple: Walking with Jesus or trusting God as the Good Shepherd means that as seasons change, my faith remains.  It means that God can’t be God only when I’m anointed king or only when I slay Goliath—this is what David’s saying—or only when I’m in the palace eating good food, protected, provided for….God can’t be God THEN and then in the next moment cease to be God because I find myself wandering in the desert or having javelins thrown at me.  I have to either trust the shepherd in the good seasons AND the bad, or I have to trust Him not at all.  I want to propose to you as well, this morning, that walking with this Good Shepherd means that as seasons change our faith remains.  That’s a hard thing, isn’t it?  That’s a really hard thing in the reality of a life that’s mixed beauty and pain, trial and victory, joy and sorrow.  It’s a hard thing to say, “In every season, God, in every season, I want my faith to remain.”

Let me invite you back into Psalm 23:4, because David’s going to do something wonderful in this psalm and he’s going to invite us how to engage in the struggle.  I think one of the reasons it’s stood the test of time is not because it gives you all the answers.  And while we think that’s what we want, we think we want answers, but God knows we need presence.  And THIS passage, THIS Scripture, THIS chapter, THIS poem invites us not to have all the answers….a lot of people go I know why suffering happens and here’s why, X, Y and Z.  We all know in the midst of suffering that’s completely unhelpful!!  Have you ever been in the hospital and had somebody who knows it all come to visit you and felt like you know, that was really refreshing and great??!!  No you haven’t!!  And you won’t!! Because it isn’t!! What you want is somebody to come and enter into your pain and to be with you.  And that’s the picture that David paints of the Good Shepherd.  Not as a know-it-all, but as a presence-in-it-all.  Look at his perspective:  Even though I walk through the valley….    Here’s what he doesn’t say:  If I happen to encounter some deep valleys along the way and if I happen to encounter pain and if I happen to encounter suffering and if life happens to get a little bit difficult at some point along the way……if that’s a sort of a hypothetical throw-it-out-there type of situation…not for David.  David’s like deep valleys, dark shadows and death ARE going to be part of my, and I’ll say it to you, and your reality.  Here’s what he’d invite you to believe:  In the midst of every season, trust Jesus in the midst of every season, pain is inevitable. It’s part of the human condition.  It’s part of living in a fallen world.  It’s part of being alive.  And it’s an okay part of being alive.  It’s not easy, but in some ways at some point it reminds you..I am alive.

So for David as a shepherd in the Middle East, they would have these canyons that would be carved out by flash floods that would come through a region.  And over the course of years, these canyons would grow deeper and deeper and deeper—-think canyons in Utah, think some of those slot canyons…..because some of the canyons that I read about in the Middle Eastern region during this time would have been about 5 miles long and no more than 20 feet wide at the widest part.  So as a shepherd leading his sheep through this dark, deep valley….here’s what was in a shepherd’s mind: Is a storm going to come and wipe out my sheep?  Is a bandit going to come?  Is a thief going to come and destroy and decimate?  In a place where you can’t go anywhere and you can’t even turn around, David says THAT’S sometimes where the shepherd leads you.  Can I get an amen? There’s some seasons in life where you feel like I don’t have any options, I don’t know where to go.  The pain is pressing in, the sorrow is hard to endure and God, I don’t see how you’re present in this.  Theologically, David has zero problem with that.  He has zero problem with….man, one moment I’m in green pastures lying down, fed, protected, life’s good and in the next moment, I’m in the deepest, darkest valley.  He has no problem believing that God is present in BOTH situations.  In fact, listen to Psalm 34:18: The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.  As if to say that maybe those are the moments—in the deep, dark valley, in the shadow of death—God is closest!  God is most present! God is most available!  OR that I’m most intuned to the fact, “God, you better be out front, because I have no clue where I’m going and I don’t know how to navigate this.”  You see, the Good Shepherd knows where he takes the sheep before he takes them.  He’s not an aimless wanderer, he’s a Good Shepherd.  When He leads them in the valley of the shadow of death, he leads them there for one of two reasons:  one, because that may be where the best or only food source resides. OR he knows that that’s what they need to walk through in order to get to the mountain peaks.  One of two reasons he takes you there.  We typically will say back to God something like, “God, if you’re good and if you’re present and if you’re in charge, there’s no way this would have happened.”  I think sometimes the Good Shepherd wants to say back to us, “No, no, no, no, no.  It’s BECAUSE I’m good and BECAUSE I’m in charge and BECAUSE I’m powerful and because I know and because I’ve walked this course before you THAT’S why I lead you there!”  So we’ll say after something like, “God, you did something, you birthed something, you worked something in me that could never have possibly happened without THAT thing, THAT hardship, THAT sorrow, THAT trial and you were good in it all!”  Look up at me a second, friend.  If you and I are going to walk with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, even as seasons change our faith remains, if that’s the perspective we’re going to have and hold, we need to be aware that the life that we live, the world that we live in pain is simply inevitable.  We could go around this room and tell story upon story of…yep, been there…yep, absolutely walked through that…don’t know how I made it, but God, you were good in the midst of it.  Pain is inevitable.

Here’s the next thing David says: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….   As if to say, I find myself in this deep, dark valley, this painful situation, this sorrowful situation, BUT I’m not going to stop there.  I’m going to keep going, I’m going to keep walking.  The worst thing you can do in the midst of pain and sorrow is to say back to God, “God, I’m not going any further!  God, I’m not walking with you anymore! God, I can’t trust anymore!  How are you good in this?”  Let’s talk for a second.  Heart-to-heart.  I’ve been there.  The morning my dad called me to tell me my mom had passed away, I was….man….I’m looking back at God going, “Hey, I’m a pastor.  If you don’t give ME a miracle, who you going to give a miracle to?  And if you can’t shield me from pain, are you going to shield THEM from pain?  How am I going to stand up here and say you’re good week after week, Sunday after Sunday?”  My tendency is to stop and sink anchor.  The worse thing you can do in the valley of the shadow of death is set up camp.  Some of you have.  Some of us have.  Where the pain has just been too much, the suffering has just been too much.  It’s been too real.  It’s been too hard.  We forgot that through valleys as we come out of them, God often leads us to mountaintops and we’ve just said back to him, “God, I can’t believe that you’re good enough in the midst of this to continue to walk with you.”

Pain is inevitable.  Persistence or perseverance is essential.  So David says I’m going to walk through the valley.  I’m not going to stop.  I’m not going to set up camp in the valley.  I’m going to keep marching, keep going, keep trusting, because the only hope worth having is a hope, not that walks around pain and walks around sorrow and dances around it…the only hope worth having is a hope that walks through it.  I love the way that Winston Churchill said it:  “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”  Look up at me for a moment, friend.  If you’re in the valley, keep going.  Keep walking.  Keep trusting.  Keep hoping.  Keep loving.  Keep persevering.  Keep pushing forward.

David says here’s one of the things that can make you set up camp quicker than anything else.  One word:  FEAR.  We fear what’s on the horizon.  We fear what’s in back of us.  We fear our past.  We fear our present.  We fear…..    So we start to say well, maybe just maybe it’s easier to live in fear.  Here’s what David says.  It’s real definitive.  I will fear NO evil. I was thinking about that this week, as a Christian subculture we do not do this well.  In fact, we sell tons of subscriptions to magazines and radio programs and TV shows….we use fear in order to sell products.  Have you ever noticed this?  Just listen to the radio for a little bit.  If people didn’t fear monger, what would they talk about on some radio stations?  So I will fear no ISIS.  Have you ever heard that? I will fear no economic downturn.  I will fear no job loss.  I will fear no call from my doctor.  I refuse to be paralyzed by fear and I’m going to ground my anchor in faith.  That’s what King David says.  And he makes it so definitive that his prospect is simply this:  You can choose to either follow the Good Shepherd or you can choose to live in fear, but you cannot do both!  Listen to the way the Apostle Paul writes it to his apprentice, Timothy: For God gave us a spirit not of fear {So if we live in fear, if we dwell in fear, if fear shapes us and fear guides us, we can know for certain THAT is not from God.  You don’t need to pray about that.  It’s just true!  If you live in fear, it’s not from God, it’s from the enemy.  He loves that you live in fear.  He loves that we have these books that are written that will make us just absolutely live in…..oh my gosh, America’s just going downhill quick, it’s a moral decline!  Oh, no!  Listen, is there a moral decline?  Absolutely, there is.  Should we do something about it?  Absolutely, yes, we should.  Should we react in fear? No way!!  Absolutely not! And I’ll show you why.}  For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power….    So you can either live in fear or you can live in power, but you can’t live in both.   So if the situations that terrify you, if you actually want to make a difference in them, you can’t make your decisions based on fear.  Because automatically, when we make decisions based on fear, we unplug ourselves from the source of power that we’re designed to live connected to.  Because God says that’s not my spirit at work.  That’s not my presence at work.  You’re acting out of fear and you can get somewhere with that, but you can’t get somewhere with me.  That’s not my spirit I put inside of you.  Here’s the way I look at it: Fear causes me to want to control.  God’s presence causes me to want to trust. I can either control or trust.  I can either live in faith or fear, but I can’t live in both.  So Paul says to Timothy that that’s not from the spirit of God.

The second thing he says:  For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and of love.  Do you know it’s impossible to love somebody you’re afraid of?  It’s impossible!  You can either fear your enemies or you can pray for them.  You can love them.  You can live in the way of Jesus towards them.  But these two things are at odds with each other, is what Paul writes to Timothy.  God’s spirit that he put inside you isn’t a spirit of fear, but it’s a spirit of love, of self-sacrificial laying down your life for your enemy type of love and if you fear somebody, you can’t love them.  You can only react to them, but you can’t love them.

Finally, he says:  For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)    Have you ever stopped to think about how many dumb decisions you’ve made based out of fear?  Fear makes us make decisions, causes us to do things that in hindsight when we look in the rearview mirror we go I don’t know if I’d do that again.  There’s a reason that when you’re going on a roller, there’s a reason they don’t take your picture as you’re clicking up.  Cause you’d look like this (bored, pleasant look).  So they DO take your picture when your mouth (is open) and your hair is crazy and you look ridiculous.  Because you look ridiculous when you’re scared!  We all do!  We make dumb decisions when we’re terrified.  We all do! And what Paul is saying to Timothy and what I think David would say to us is simply this:  You can have a clear mind and live courageously or you can have a cluttered mind and live fearfully.

He says:  I will fear no evil….  Here’s the thing, maybe there’s a footnote at the bottom of your Bible that says “except this evil,” but my Bible doesn’t have one.  There’s no footnote.  There’s no “fear no evil except this kind of evil.”  None.  What kind of evil are you fearing?  What kind of evil has its claws in you?  What kind of evil’s driving your decision making, depleting you of power?  Rendering you unable to love?  Causing you to make some decisions you might look back on and go, “I don’t know if I should have done that.”  Pain is inevitable. Persistence, living without fear, perseverance is absolutely, 100% essential.

Listen to where David lands this plane:  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.   So here’s what he says:  God, you’re present when they anointed me king at the age of 11, 12 or 13.  You’re present when I slayed the giant in that valley at the age of 17ish.  You’re present when I moved from the pasture to the palace and God, even in the valley of the shadow of death, even in my desert wanderings, even when I didn’t know where my next meal was going to come from and the armies were bearing down on me, they were searching for me, there’s a bounty out for me head…..EVEN THEN in every situation, in every season, God, my faith will remain because I’m confident you are present with me and you’re for me.  For some of you that’s a word this morning.  You’re walking through that valley and you’ve lost sight of Him {look up at me for a second}.  I can assure you, He hasn’t lost sight of you.  The Good Shepherd is saying, “No, no, no, no, no.  I know where my sheep are.  I’m with my sheep.  I’m out front of my sheep.  I’m leading my sheep.  I’m good even in this!”

What does it really mean, though?  What does it really mean to trust and know and abide in the fact that God is present?  I’m going to give you four things.  One, it’s knowing a love that conquers fear.  That’s abiding in His presence.  In John 15, Jesus invites us to abide in His love.  It’s knowing a love that conquers fear.  Tim Keller, in his great book The Reason for God, says:  We cannot explain, based on our theology of who God is, we cannot explain why every bad, terrible, heartbreaking situation happens.  We don’t have an answer for why it happens oftentimes.  But we can know for sure that it’s NOT because God isn’t present.  And it’s not because God isn’t loving.  And it’s not because God isn’t good. And he said, “The follower of Jesus needs only to look to the cross to rest assured of that.”  Because on the cross He proves I’m with you, I’m for you.  I’m not going to just watch you walk through the darkest valley, I’m going to lead you there.  I’m going to give my very life for yours. I’m going to redeem you.  I call you by name, you’re mine.  When we walk with Jesus knowing His presence it means we know a love that conquers fear.  Second it means we know a joy that endures.  The Scriptures say in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.  As if to say he knew what was coming and so he was willing to walk through what was present.  Do you what’s coming for you, friend?

A love that conquers fear.  A joy that endures.  A power that overcomes.  Followers of Jesus are confident in the words of Christ where he says to his followers, “Oh, sure, sure, sure, sure, sure.  Tribulation is coming.  Trials are coming. Pain is coming.  I’m not going to circumvent that. I’m not going to try to avoid that or ignore that.  It’s coming,” he says. “But rejoice, I have overcome the world.”  A love that conquers fear.  A joy that endures. A power that overcomes.  And a resurrection that renews all things.  I love the way that Kenneth Bailey, the great author, put it: “The cross and resurrection are the platform on which the good shepherd stands to announce his vision for the future.”  In many ways, he’s taking from C.S. Lewis who said: “They say if some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony {that death, that pain, that tribulation, that sorrow, that suffering} into glory.”

So here’s where David invites us to sink our anchor this morning.  He says pain is inevitable, perseverance is essential and God’s presence, his love, his joy, his power that overcomes and his resurrection that transforms everything is possible, available in every situation.  Will you abide in that today?  Your life, like mine, is probably a mixture.  A mixture of pain and joy.  A mixture of beauty and chaos.  A mixture of “God, where are you?” and “God, praise your beautiful name because your blessings flow.”  Here’s what David says, “Even though I walk through the valley…whatever that valley is for you….even though I walk through it, I’m going to fear NOTHING!  NOTHING!  Because my God is good and he’s for me.

A friend of mine, maybe a friend of yours, too….her name is Jen….she was recently diagnosed with a health condition…I’m going to let her share about it.  But as I thought about this passage, her story came to mind.  I’d love for you to hear it and be invited into what might it look like to really walk with this King through dark valleys.

I’m Jen Orr, married to Jonathon Orr.  I have two boys, Jacob and Joshua.  Jonathon and I were married November 1, 2003.  I’m a Colorado native.  I grew up 10 miles from here.  We’ve been at South Fellowship nine years, probably.  I’ve just loved it here and really feel like it’s our family.  In August, I started coughing.  Everybody kinda had the cough and it was just a cough that lingered for quite some time.  Mine just never went away.  Then in late February, I started coughing up just very small amounts of blood.  My doctor asked me to go into Urgent Care.  They did a chest x-ray and the chest x-ray showed quite a bit.  I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma or lung cancer.  It had originated in my right lung, but by the time we caught it, it had spread to my lymph node in my chest and then spread to my left lung as well.  After all these tests, MRIs, PETscans, biopsies, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.  

The first week or two, I was terrified!  I couldn’t sleep very well.  It was hard.  I was so scared and I felt like I was in a dark room…visualizing myself in this dark room, reaching out my hands and just asking Him to meet me there.  The most terrifying part was not fear for my own life, but fear for my family.   Fear for my boys and my husband.  Fairly quickly, within one or two weeks of the initial diagnosis, I felt a peace just cover me.  I knew I should be afraid.  My nature is kinda fear and anxiety and yet, I just felt peace and that none of this surprised Him.  That He knew that this was my path.  He knew that I would be diagnosed with cancer.  He knows whether I’ll live or die.  He knows every detail of my boys’ lives, of my husband’s life, of my life—-He knows every detail.  I think as a mom I struggle with letting go of them. I want their lives to look the way I want it to look.  I want to have control over their lives and protect them.  I had to come face to face with the fact that I may not have that privilege. I had to relinquish control of them, of their lives, of their futures….of my husband, of his life.  

Isaiah 43:1-2 says:  But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”   I felt like this is a privilege, which is so strange.  Such a privilege to be brought to death’s door, basically, and to be allowed to feel and experience the grace of God in such a powerful way.  It feels like a privilege.

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, people talk about the “fight.”  I didn’t really know what that meant.  What does it look like to fight?  Especially when you are trying so hard to surrender.  But then I just kept thinking of this word “fight.”  What does it look like to absolutely surrender, but to fight.  I thought…the answer is hope.  There’s what the doctors say and there’s the statistics and then there’s God.  And God is bigger, so I started thinking absolute surrender, but you gotta have hope, you gotta have abundant hope.  That kinda became my mantra:  Absolute Surrender; Abundant Hope.  I feel like the image in my mind of being in a dark room and reaching out my hands has changed.  I feel like I was reaching out my hands trying to find Jesus, but lately the image has shifted and I’m still in the dark room, but I don’t have my arms reaching out anymore, because He’s standing right behind me with His hands on my shoulders.  

James 1:2-3 says: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  I’ve really tried hard not to let myself feel sorry for myself, but really focus on what a blessing it is to experience that peace that I’ve never felt before, when you should be just terrified and you feel peace.  (End)

Your valley might look a little bit different.  And I would invite you to not compare yours to Jen’s.  That’s her story.  That’s where Jesus is leading her.  That’s where Jesus is out front of her.  That’s her valley.  Yours might look a lot different.  Yours might look like a job you’ve lost or a relationship that’s crumbled or a different health call that you got from the doctor, but at some point we’ll all find ourselves there.  I love her line:  Absolute Surrender and Abundant Hope.  This is a person who’s learning what it looks like to trust Jesus in every season of life.  The good and the bad.  To remember that pain is inevitable.  That perseverance is absolutely is essential.  And that His presence is promised…..on the mountaintops and in the valley low.  I don’t know about you, but for me that’s an encouragement to press into my Shepherd in this season, whatever season he has me, to trust that He’s good, that He’s for me.  Absolute surrender—-I’m a sheep and I’m following.  And abundant hope—-I trust that You know what You’re doing and that You’re good.  I’d invite you to the same.  Would you pray with me?

Jesus, for all of us, we come before your throne where people are, where angels are, creatures are gathering before you in worship declaring you’re good.  Declaring you’re powerful.  And Lord, we want to join with them.  So Lord, some of us, we join in the valley.  Some of us, we join on the mountaintop.  Some in the joy and some in the pain.  Some in the beauty and some in the sorrow.  But all of us, we gather around your throne to remember you’re good.  You’re the Good Shepherd.  Lord, especially for my friends that are in that valley.  Lord, I pray over them right now.  In fact, if that’s you, will you just raise your hand?  You’re in the valley right now.  Life is difficult.  Life’s hard.  You’re wondering God, where are you?  Jesus, I lift these folks, especially, up to you.  May they know your goodness.  May they know your presence.  May they trust you.  Good Shepherd, speak to their souls.  In the valley of the shadow of death, may we collectively fear no evil.  For You are with us. And Lord, we want to be with you.  We love you.  It’s in the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.


Good Shepherd – Valleys and Shadows – Psalm 23:42021-01-17T13:54:14-07:00

Good Shepherd – Psalm 23:2-3 – Lead Me

Shepherd: Lead Me – Psalm 23:2-3
Last Friday, Kelly and I went rafting to celebrate our 13th anniversary. Kelly and I love being outdoors and rafting. The water’s pretty high right now—-about 2500 cfs, which is moving. We went with Noah’s Ark. We hopped on our raft with the wet suits, booties, life vests, helmets, etc. We were cruising down the Arkansas River. The guides tell you that the first half of the trip is the easy part. It’s the “lazy river,” if you will, the first five miles of it. Within about 10 minutes of beginning the trip, we hit a rock at just the right angle and I go catapulting almost out of the raft! My toes are hanging on by just a hair and I’m thinking this is the lazy river part??!! I’m in trouble!! We got to the rapid. It’s called Zoom Flume. As you’re going down it it looks like a mountain of water staring at you! (Pastor Ryan shows picture of them taken at this point. He’s paddling hard and his face displays it. Kelly looks like she’s on a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park!) Landon, our guide, is calm as can be. We’re facing a massive rapid and Landon is just…..he’s done this a few hundred times. We got through the rapid and I asked Landon, “How do you learn to be a guide?” I came to this realization that if I were alone in this raft I would die. That’s the bottom line. Landon said, “For the first five weeks of our guide summer and the first summer you guide, we take this trip 2-3 times every single day. I know this river like the back of my hand. I know every single rapid when it’s high like this. I know what the river runs like when it’s lower. I know which way to take and what things to avoid. I know where to go.” I thought to myself, “I’m glad you do because I have no clue whatsoever.”
I thought of that as I was preparing to teach Psalm 23 this morning. I thought of the fact that God, in many ways, is our guide in the same way. He invites us to get in the boat with him. He declares to us, “I know the way. I know what to avoid. I know where to go. If you trust me, if you get in with me and if you paddle “front 2” or “back 1″, if you paddle when I invite you to paddle I’m going to lead your life.” Listen to the way David says it in Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. {We talked about that one little phrase last week. We said that God is the great satisfier of our soul. The shepherd of your life determines your soul’s satisfaction is what we said last week.} He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I want to camp out on just verses 2 and 3 today as we see that God is not only the Great Shepherd, but he’s the Good Guide. Remember, we’re using this psalm, Psalm 23, that for millennia has resonated with the collective soul of humanity. We declare back to God, “God, we long for you to be like this psalm describes you. We want you to be this good, this caring. To be a God that provides, a God that comforts, a God that shields. We want you to be like this.” We’re using this psalm over the next few weeks to try to get a clearer picture in our hearts and minds of what God is like. What his nature and his character is like. Here’s what David said. What is God like? He says he’s a leader. He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness. So not only is he a great satisfier, as we looked at last week, he’s a great leader and don’t you just love that God is described as the good shepherd, the great leader NOT the determined cattle-driver! Because a shepherd is out front of his sheep, that’s how a shepherd leads. A shepherd leads from the front, a cattle-driver leads from the back. A shepherd leads to nourishment, leads to life, leads to sustenance. A cattle-driver wants to get you someplace in a certain amount of time. There’s a big difference. The Scriptures describe God not as the determined cattle-driver, but as the good shepherd. He’s out front. His motives are pure and he {look up at me a moment} longs to lead you to life.
Here’s what we’re going to see in our time looking at God’s word today: If you want Jesus to FEED YOUR SOUL, you must let Jesus LEAD YOUR LIFE. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run across that want Jesus to feed their soul, but they’re unwilling to follow him to green pastures, quiet streams, still waters and paths of righteousness. They say back to God, “I like you. I want to have you as an accessory for my life, but I’m not sure I’m ready to really commit. I’m really not ready to follow.” The only way you’re led to the quiet streams, green pastures, still waters and paths of righteousness is if you’re willing to follow. He can’t lead you if you’re not willing to follow him. So that’s the big question for us to wrestle with today. Is not do we admire Jesus, but are we willing to follow him? Are we willing to follow him in the way he invites us to love our enemies? Will we follow him then? To forgive those who wrong us—-will we follow him then? To embrace his way of looking at sexuality—-will we follow him then? To embrace his way of looking at service, of generosity—-will we follow this God who says turn the other cheek? If you want Jesus to feed your soul, you must let Jesus lead your life.
Listen to the way that Jesus says it in John 7:37-38: If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” I love this, because here’s what Jesus is saying: It’s YOUR job to follow and it’s MY (Jesus’) job to feed. I get my role mixed up a lot of the time. I think that it’s my job to find nourishment, to find sustenance, to find purpose, to find meaning, to find joy….and so that’s my goal. And I’ll admit that that’s the wrong goal. The right goal is to say back to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, “My job is to follow. Your job is to feed.” In order to follow, friends, we must hear his voice. In John 10, Jesus says: I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know my voice. So here’s the question for us this morning: If he longs to lead us in a way that feeds us, do we know his voice? Do we know his cadence? Do we know his call? Every shepherd that David knew, every shepherd even now has a call. Some may have a flute they play. They’d play a certain cadence, a certain melody and all their sheep would come. Some shepherds would sing a song and their sheep would know this is my shepherd’s voice. Kenneth Bailey, in his great book The Good Shepherd, tells a story of a shepherd that had all of his sheep confiscated by his government and his sheep were out of his care for a number of weeks. And he went to go pick them up after they decided he could have them back. The guy that was in charge of all the sheep said, “Why don’t you just pick out as many sheep as we took from you?” And the shepherd answered, “I don’t want just any sheep, I want MY sheep.” The guy looks back at him and says, “Good luck finding them.” And the shepherd steps back and does his call. Out of this massive mob of sheep, HIS sheep hear his voice and they come.
It begs us to ask the question: Is this the way we relate to our God? We hear his voice and we come, we follow, we chase after Him. Here’s the deal for me and you may relate to this. For me, when I hear God’s call two things go on in my soul. Two push backs, if you will. One is fear. God, where are you going to lead? God, what are you going to do? God, if I forgive in this instance, am I just going to get run over? If I’m able to let go of this bitterness, who do I become now…I’ve held onto it for so long. I start to doubt. The second thing that starts to stir in me is pride. I can remember going down that river with Landon as our guide and I’m thinking, “We’re going to hit this rapid straight on! Why not go to the side a little bit?” The thing is Landon wasn’t taking any suggestions from me. After all, I go rafting at least once a decade! And this is the same way our relationship with God works. He says, “Will you follow me? Drop your pride! I know you have a plan and I know you have an idea, but will you let me lead?” Because if you want Jesus to feed your soul, you need to let Jesus lead your life.
I want to point out to you a few different ways David invites us to do this in Psalm 23. Here’s what David says: He makes me lie down in green pastures. {Remember we talked about this last week. This idea of making us lie down….it’s not that God forces us down. Remember, no one can make a sheep lie down. The only way a sheep lies down is if it has three things: 1) if it’s had enough to drink, 2) if it’s had enough to eat, 3) if it’s not fearful of an attack from an outside invader. The way we said it last week is that God makes us lie down not by force but by favor. He’s so good that we just long to be under his loving care.} He leads me beside still waters. Really interesting since David was a shepherd, as we talked about last week, and many of the shepherds back in this day were what we’d call itinerant shepherds. So they wouldn’t be shepherds that would keep sheep in a pen and let them feed on a given pasture. Most shepherds, at the very beginning of the day, would lead their flock out into the wilderness. And you had two seasons in the Holy Land. One is the wet season and that lasts about two months. So during the wet season you wouldn’t need to go too far to find green pastures or even still waters. But during the dry season, which lasted ten months, some shepherds would need to lead their sheep out pretty far in order to get them the green pastures, the still waters that they needed. When David says he leads me beside still waters, his picture is not of a drinking fountain in town. His picture is of an oasis in the middle of the wilderness. In the desert, if you will. See oftentimes the shepherd would lead his flock into the wilderness in order to take them to green pastures. The shepherd knew exactly where they needed to go to find the best watering holes and oftentimes those watering holes, those green pastures were in the middle of the desert.
So here’s Jesus’ invitation for you this morning: Not just will you follow me, but will you follow me into the barren land and there I’ll show you the hidden banquet. So the question we’re wrestling with in Psalm 23 is what is God like? This God is like….he’s willing to lead you to really hard, difficult places in order to feed your soul. That’s what he’s like. The shepherd knows way more than the sheep do, right? And he goes I’ve got a path that’s charted, I’ve got a way that we’re walking, I’ve got a way that we’re going and I have in my mind streams of living water that I long to guide you to. We talked last week that sheep aren’t the smartest animal that God could have chosen to describe you and I. Turn to the person next to you and say, “You’re a sheep.” They weren’t the smartest animal. They were sorta high maintenance. If the river was running too fast, they could fall in and drown. If it was running too slow, the water would get stagnant and the shepherd needed to know exactly what he was looking for and it was often the wilderness that provided the nourishment. When David says, “When I was a shepherd, I fought off a bear and I grabbed a lion by his mane. I guarded my sheep,” he’s not talking about in the middle of town. He’s in the middle of nowhere. And it’s there that he leads his sheep that they might find nourishment for their soul.
As a backpacking guide I can remember one year that was uncommonly dry here in Colorado. We were following a map. According to the map, we were suppose to cross a river at this certain point where we were going to fill up our water bottles, then head on to where we were planning on camping that night. We got to this river and there was no water running….it was just dry. As guides we had this decision to make: Am I going to continue to push forward or are we just going to stop for the night…just sorta wait it out, hope for the best. What we decided, it was not the popular decision, was that we were going to push forward, because if we don’t find water, we might….who knows what’s going to happen out here. If you don’t have water in the wilderness, you..are..done! It was an unpopular decision, but we kept pushing well into the darkness in order to find running water, because we knew it meant life! Every single kid on that trip hated us! Until we got to that stream!
I think that’s the way I interact with God alot, too. He’s like come on, let’s keep going. I know it hurts and I know there’s pain and I know it’s the wilderness and I know you don’t like it and I know you wouldn’t choose it, but if you will follow me I’ll provide a banquet in barren land. I will feed your soul even when it seems desperate. Look up at me for a moment. Some of you are in the wilderness season right now and your question for God is: God, have you led me out here just to let me down? God, are you really good in the midst of this? Can I really trust you? Am I going to keep following believing that if I follow you you’ll feed me, even though we’ve been trying to get pregnant for years and it hasn’t happened? Even though I can’t seem to hold onto the job and the relationship seems like an absolute mess? And even when…….you fill in the blank. Will you follow Him even then?? You see, sometimes quiet streams only come after tumultuous storms! And he longs to lead you to that place where, like David says, you can say back to God: He leads me beside still waters. Sheep need water. They’re finicky animals and need water just like you and I do and they, just like you and I, start to freak out if they don’t get it. If they feel like they’re getting thirsty and dehydrated, if they feel needy they start to get skittish and they leave and they wander.
So the question is: What does God do when his people wander? Here’s what David goes on to say: He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. {Even in the wilderness he leads me to a banquet in the barren land.} He restores my soul. If you were to look at the original Hebrew writing of this, it would read literally “he brings me back.” Kenneth Bailey, the great scholar, writes this: “The literal translation ‘he brings me back’ makes it clear that the sheep is lost and the good shepherd is obligated to go after it, find it and carry it back.” So not only does God say to us, “Follow me into the wilderness and I will lead you to a feast,” he also says, “Respond to my call and I’ll carry you home.” This is talking about those who are followers of the way of God. This is a sheep who is part of God’s flock. A sheep who wanders off, who gets unsatisfied, who starts to develop a need he doesn’t think his shepherd will meet. It could be, for you and I, a sin that leads us away from the Lord. It could be a longing in our soul that leads us away. He’s talking about followers of the way of Jesus who get themselves off course, stop following the guide of the shepherd……oftentimes a sheep would find itself caught between a rock and hard place. They would bleet, they would call for their shepherd and their shepherd would run and go find them.
Interestingly, Ezekiel, the prophet, writes about bad shepherds. His point about bad shepherds is they don’t chase after those who are lost. Listen to what he says writing to the leaders of Israel: The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:4) But he points us to a better shepherd, the Good Shepherd. Here’s what he says about this coming shepherd, who we now know is Jesus the Messiah: I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, {When you wander…when that bitterness builds up in your heart, when that sin just entraps, when you get off course he says I will bring back the strayed.} and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:16) This is beautiful! This is YOUR God! Listen up! He seeks the lost. He brings back the stray. He binds up the injured. He strengthens the weak. This is the Gospel, friends. It’s not that you find grace, that is not the Gospel. The Gospel is that GRACE FINDS YOU! When you’ve wandered, when you’ve strayed, when you’ve said to God, “No thanks, I think I can do it myself!” When you say to the guide in the boat, “You know what? I think I can take it from here, thank you very much,” and you get bounced out….this is the God who goes after you. Pulls you back in and says, “You are mine!” What is God like according to Psalm 23? He’s tenacious! He has a furious, passionate love for you! He will not let you go. He will chase you down in passion and in love, because that’s his character.
About a year and a half ago, our “puppy”, our 10-year-old yellow lab got out. It was winter. I’m always joking with my family about this dog: We need to get rid of this dog. We should put him up for adoption. We’ve had him for 10 years, right? Yellow lab but Kelly’s constantly vacuuming up his hair! It’s everywhere! I’m always joking that we need to get rid of this dog. We got home in the evening and he wasn’t there. And something in my heart just sunk! I talked about it for so long and now it happened! I was wiping away tears. I went to bed that night and it was snowing. I wake up the next morning and with my six-year-old son we put signs up all around the neighborhood: Lost Dog! Most attractive dog you’ve ever seen. Hairiest beast. If he’s in your house there’s hair everywhere. We put signs up EVERYWHERE! Finally I looked on Craig’s list and there’s this section on there “Lost Pets” and the first listing on there was: Lost Yellow Lab–“This is definitely somebody’s pet!” Sure enough, that was our Sherpa. I went to pick him up and the lady says to me, “Well, I clipped his nails. I brushed his teeth and I gave him a bath!.” Evidently, he was at a doggie spa. I was extremely happy to see him. I don’t know how happy he was to see me. I can remember the feeling of he’s lost and now he’s found!
Just the way God feels about you…when you wander and come home. On the surface it feels like conviction….the Spirit just poking and prodding and prompting and Jesus drawing you back. That’s what it feels like internally….God saying, “Come home, come home. You’ve wandered. You’re bitter. You’re angry. You’re not following after me. You’re not abiding in my love. You don’t trust me. Come home….come home…come home.” That’s what it feels like inside. When you look at it from the outside, though, it’s the shepherd going and finding the lost sheep, putting him on his shoulders and bringing him back to the flock. Anybody need to come home today? He’s saying the door’s open and the shepherd’s looking. Will you respond to his call so that he can carry you home? I love the way Charles Spurgeon put it: “He has not cast me off, or left me to myself, or abandoned me to my own devices—-but in Love to my soul, He has plucked my feet out of the net, drawn me up from the horrible pit, and set my feet upon the Rock of His Immutable Love!” What a beautiful picture! Here’s why I love this verse. It shows me that Jesus is far more interested in finding ME than I am in finding HIM. He seeks me out. He restores my soul. He chases me down. It reminds me that Jesus is capable of putting me on his shoulders and bringing me home! And it reminds me….my soul…your soul…are never too far gone to be restored. THIS shepherd is that good! I don’t know where you’re at this morning, but if you’re here and you’ve strayed I can guarantee you that your Good Shepherd wants to bring you home. He wants to bring you home….because He loves you and he’s good, but he can only feed your soul if he leads your life.
Here’s the way that David ends this section. He says: He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. {He brings me back.} He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. That’s awesome, is it not?! I started thinking about that this week, because what David doesn’t say is he leads me to the pasture of righteousness or he leads me to the camp of righteousness. What he says is righteousness, or living rightly, walking with God, is far more akin to a path. It involves movement. It involves action. It involves walking. It doesn’t involve just sorta sitting there. It involves movement. Phillip Keller, in his book A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23, says: “The greatest single safeguard a shepherd has in handling his flock is to keep them on the move.” Jesus doesn’t want you working…he DOES want you growing. Growing requires movement. If the pinnacle of our Christian experience is something that happened decades ago and that’s what we continually look back at to remember and to remind ourselves that God is good…can I tell you, I think we’ve missed it! There’s paths of righteousness that he intends for you to walk in today. The righteous life is a life of continual growth, continual maturity. Never arriving….always receiving and always walking with the Good Shepherd. Here’s the way Paul says it to the church at Philippi and remember, this is one of the most prolific Apostles the church has ever seen. Not that I have already obtained this {As if to say, I haven’t arrived. I love that!} …or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil. 3:12) He goes on to say in verse 15 that everybody who’s mature is going to take the same view. What view? The view that maturity is never quite arriving and Jesus is always doing something new. Maturity requires movement. So for you, friend, maybe there’s a fresh field on the horizon. The question is will we allow Jesus to guide us in a way that will grow us.
The problem I often face is that I think I know better. Proverbs 14:12 says: There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Phillip Keller, in the same book, says: “The stubborn, self-will, prod, self sufficient-sheep that persists in pursuing its old paths and grazing on its old polluted land will end up a bag of bones on ruined land.” Sheep are notorious for just absolutely demolishing and decimating the ground beneath them. If they are not on the move, they will destroy! Look up at me for a moment. If we’re going to lay our lives over this psalm, Jesus’ invitation to us is not just to camp out and bunker down, but to follow him. Actively pursuing him. Oftentimes I would rather forge paths of independence than I would follow in paths of righteousness. What about you? Here’s the hard part about following Jesus in paths of righteousness: One, I have to let him determine the course. He knows where the good water is. He knows where the nourishment for my soul is. Just like Landon, our guide, knew that river like the back of his hand, he knew which rapids to avoid, he knew which ways to take…..Jesus the Good Shepherd knows the land he leads you to and he invites you to follow him. He knows the course. The second thing that’s hard for me, though, is that I have to follow his pace. And oftentimes he’s slow…slower than I think he should be. Following involves, oftentimes, waiting. But he’s good. He knows the way, he knows the path and he invites you. Will you allow him to guide you in a way that will grow you? You see, Jesus can only feed your soul if you’ll let him lead your life. Is he the leader?
David makes this interesting point on this very last phrase. He says: …for his name’s sake. It’s a great phrase because it involves both the motivation of why the shepherd does what he does…..because everybody looks at the shepherd and goes, “Wow! You’re amazing, good shepherd.” It involves both the reason AND the result. Nobody looks at a healthy sheep and thinks to himself, “They must workout!” Nobody looks at a sheep and thinks they’ve been pumping the iron. That coat of wool is really thick….they’re awesome, they’re amazing. No, here’s what they think when they see a healthy sheep: they think they must have an amazing shepherd. That’s what people think. When the sheep are healthy, the shepherd gets the glory! And he should. The question is are we following him in such a way that we are healthy and that our lives reflect the glory of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He can only feed your soul if you let him lead your life.
And Jesus desiring to feed his disciples’ souls, led them to the table. He leads them into the barren land. He walks there first. He walks to that cross on Calvary’s hill. He gives his life. He enters into the wilderness knowing that in the barren land there’s a hidden banquet for their soul. And so the Good Shepherd gathers his sheep, gathers his disciples one last time around a table. In John 10, he declares prophetically the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. And on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he did just that. He gave his life for his sheep. He gathered them around his table and said, “Will you follow my lead, because I long to feed your soul?” So for 2000 years followers of Jesus have been gathering around this table to remind themselves that the shepherd is good. To remind themselves that he leads the way. And to remind themselves that there’s food for our soul when we follow after Him. I’ll invite you to contemplate this table in light of the Good Shepherd. Will you pray with me?
Good Shepherd, we love you! We are absolutely astounded that you would love us. That you would lead us in such a way as to feed our soul. Jesus, that you would, when we stray, that you would chase us down and bring us home, that you’d restore our soul and that you would long to lead us in the path of righteousness, of living the life that you designed us to live. And so, as we come to your table this morning, King Jesus, would you remind us of the fact that you are the Good Shepherd, that you do feed our soul, that you do long to lead us and that in walking to the Cross and dying on Calvary’s hill that you led the way to truth and to life. Jesus, may we find ourselves wholly and completely and totally in you this morning. We invite you to lead our lives in a way that would feed our souls. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Good Shepherd – Psalm 23:2-3 – Lead Me2020-08-20T11:49:50-06:00

Good Shepherd – Psalm 23 – Satisfied

I went to high school in the late 90’s and I grew to fall in love with Dave Matthews.  I was an avid, rabid Dave Matthews fan.  I went and saw him at Red Rocks not once, but twice—the shekinah glory of the Lord came and hovered over that place twice as I was there.  It was amazing and I absolutely loved him.  I learned to play all his songs on the guitar and yet I haven’t listened to Dave Matthews in probably a decade.  Have you ever wondered how short a shelf life music has in our day and time?  Let me give you an example:  Last year, 2014, the song that topped the Billboard charts was a song Happy by Pharrell.  Now, I’m just going to throw it out there, I don’t think in five years anybody’s going to be listening to Happy by Pharrell.  Just sayin’.  You might be really happy, but I don’t think you’re going to dial into that song.  The top album of 2014 was the album from the soundtrack to the movie Frozen.  If there is a God in heaven, we WON’T be singing that in five years!!  We will finally have let it go, friends!!

Have you ever thought about how quickly things in our culture nowadays come and go?  How it’s just sorta the next, the biggest, the brightest thing and once that thing proverbially burns out it sort of just is tossed aside.  I was thinking of that as I was studying for a series in Psalm 23 that we’re jumping into today.  Because for some reason, this psalm, this ancient Hebrew poetry, this song, if you will…..we can’t seem to get over it can we?  I was standing here watching the bumper video play and many of you were mouthing the words to this beautiful psalm.  There’s something about Psalm 23 that resonates with the human experience.  There’s something that transcends culture.  There’s something that transcends time.  There’s some reason that for a few millennia people have been looking at this psalm and thinking: I HOPE that that’s what God is like!!  I NEED for God to be like that! And it’s not just followers of Jesus that feel this way.  In fact, you can go to a ton of different pop culture segments and find Psalm 23 playing a fairly prevalent part.  TV shows:  There’s a scene in the TV show “LOST!” where one of the characters passionately recites Psalm 23.  You can look at songs that are popular in our culture even now.  Many of your favorite songs:  “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West; “Gangster’s Paradise” by Coolio.  {Ryan rapped out the verse!}  Go back a few years and you’ll find U2 and their song “Love Rescue Me” with lyrics from Psalm 23.  Pink Floyd and their song “Sheep”; “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead.  You name it, people have attached some sort of meaning, some sort of prevalence, some sort of influence to this psalm….this few thousand year old psalm still resonates with our soul today.

Would you open to Psalm 23 and we’re going to jump in and read this beautiful psalm.  Here’s the way that David, the psalmist, writes this.  Remember, this is Hebrew poetry.  This is an invitation into the narrative of faith that the Hebrew nation sort of wrapped their collective hearts and minds around.  It was the way they told their story of what God was like and in turn, their invitation to you and I today to step into this understanding of who God is and what God is like.  Over the next few weeks as we study this psalm, our goal is going to be not just to memorize it and not just to recite it and not just to know it, but to climb inside of it and walk in it.  Here’s the way he writes it:  The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear not evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  There’s something about that psalm, isn’t there?  There’s something about that psalm that caused my great grandmother at the age of 102….when my dad walked into her nursing home room and asked, “Mama Rose, is there anything you want me to read to you?” And she said, “Psalm 23.”  And at the age of 102, my great grandmother didn’t know my name anymore….she had a hard time identifying the people around her, but when my dad started to read Psalm 23 to her, something clicked.  And she recited, at the age of 102, the entire thing verbatim,  word for word.  There’s something about this psalm, isn’t there?  There’s something about this poem that just draws us in as human beings that says yes, that’s what God is like and it says yes, that’s what you need for your life today because there’s both provision in this psalm and there’s need in this psalm.

One of the things that stood out to me as I studied for this series was that this image of God as a shepherd, a good shepherd, was the prevailing image for the early church.  Now that should be no surprise to us if you go and sorta trace the idea of a shepherd through the Scriptures you’ll find that the earliest mention of God as shepherd actually comes in Genesis 48.  So the first book in our Bible.  Listen to the way that Jacob, who’s blessing, speaking a good word over Joseph, talks about God.  He says:   The God before who my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day.   He says that’s the God we’re gathering our lives around.  A God who’s a shepherd, a good shepherd, and Jacob as he says this you have to know he’s walked through betrayal, he’s walked through hurt, he’s walked through pain, he’s walked through really, really difficult seasons, but somehow in someway he sees in all of those seasons and all of those circumstances…God was my shepherd in all of that.  Through the prophets you can see this theme coming back over and over again.  In the New Testament, we’ll see today, Jesus claims HE’S the good shepherd.  Writers of the New Testament epistles are going to attach to this idea also the role of pastors or shepherds to continue to live in the way of Jesus and shepherd the people of God.  What’s really interesting, though, is not just the way it’s portrayed in Scripture that God is shepherd, but the way that the early church really grabbed onto this.  Now we have a lot of images of what we think God is like in our mind.  For the early church, they didn’t have the image of God as an omnipotent judge.  It wasn’t so prominent their idea of God as the suffering servant or even of Jesus gathering his disciples around a communion table to celebrate Passover for the last time.  Those weren’t the images that held the forefront of the early followers of Christ.  The image that held the forefront in the minds of the early followers of Christ was that of shepherd, good shepherd.

Listen to the way that the great author, Kenneth Bailey, puts it:  “On no image does the early Church seem to have dwelt with greater delight than this of Christ as the good Shepherd bringing home his lost sheep.”   Look up at me for just a moment.  That’s a great image, is it not?  That this God loves his people so much that he chases after them.  God is so complex, so big, so beautiful that we need pictures, we need images to attach to God that help us relate to him.  The most prominent picture for the New Testament church was God as good Shepherd.

Tertullian, the early church father, had carved into his communion chalice a picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd carrying home lost sheep.  Phillip Schaff, the great early church historian, says: “The shepherd symbolized: rescuing of the lost, protection, green pasture and fresh fountain, the sacrifice of life: in a word, the whole picture of a Savior.”  That’s great, isn’t it?  It’s got a problem, though, at least for me.  It’s got a huge problem.  I grew up in Orange County!  I’ve never met a shepherd!  Everybody reading this passage back in the early church, or even back in David’s time would have known a number of shepherds.  It was a big job!  I’ve never met a shepherd.  I’ve never seen a sheep who wasn’t confined to a cage….and even those scare me a little bit!  My kids are feeding them and I don’t know if I’d do that.  I don’t trust these things!  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met too many shepherds and I haven’t encountered too many sheep, so I struggled with this passage.  I struggled to enter into what does this mean for us.  The fact that David will say, “The Lord is MY shepherd.”  Something about this has connected with the human experience.  Something about this has resonated with our collective souls to say back to God, “Yes, we need you to be this for us.”

It’s interesting because David says, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  He was a shepherd himself, so he knew the role well, but in THIS psalm he turns that on his head and says not that I’m a shepherd, but God, you’ve been my shepherd…you are my shepherd today and you’re good.  In doing so, here’s what he says about himself.  He says, “I’m a sheep.”  Turn to the person next to you and say, “You’re a sheep.”  Now, that’s not exactly a compliment.  Because I don’t understand the life of a shepherd all that well, I was reading a little bit this week and I came across a story of a shepherd who was watching over 1500 sheep in Turkey.   It was his role to make sure that they had green pastures and quiet waters and rest for their bodies.  Here’s the way the article reads:  First one sheep jumped to its death.  Then the stunned Turkish shepherds, who had left the herd to graze while they had breakfast, watched as nearly 1,500 other sheep followed, each leaping off of the same cliff.  Turn to the person next to you and say, “You’re a sheep.”  They’re watching and…..what kind of insanity does have a sheep have to do to go to the edge and look and say, “You know what? That looks like a great idea!  I’m in!”  So the story continues:  At the end, 450 dead animals lay on the bottom, one on top of another in a billowy white pile.  Well, you may be going, there were 1500 sheep, Ryan.  What happened to the other 1000+ sheep?  Great question!  The article helps us.  It says this:  Those who jumped later were saved as the pile got higher and higher and the fall got more cushioned.  You may be going this guy’s a sheep hater….no, I’m not!  I need to step into this reality of who sheep are, because here’s what the Scriptures say: I’m like a sheep!  The Scriptures say….you are, too!

That means, not just illustrated by that story, but if you look at sheep in general, they have a tendency to get into positions that really hurt themselves.  We’re like sheep, aren’t we?  We have this tendency to not be able to get ourselves the things we really actually need.  We need a shepherd!  Sheep hurt themselves.  They’re needy.  They operate—-you and I like sheep—-in this mob mentality, don’t we?  Well, if they’re going, I’m going with them!  You don’t believe me?  Just wait until Apple releases their new iPhone, then baaaa! baaaa!….we’ll line up at the door and baaaa give us a new one, right?  We need that!  We operate with this mob mentality, don’t we?  Sheep are also known for living timid, fearful lives.  The Lord is my Shepherd and I, in turn, am His sheep.  I’m going to throw this out to you:  I think I got the better end of that deal!

The Lord is my Shepherd, David writes and then he follows with this beautiful one line statement that I want us to anchor into today:  I shall not want.  So he ties these two things together.  He says because I’m a sheep and I’m need and I’m dangerous to myself and I operate with a mob mentality and I often live in fearful trepidation, BUT, in light of that, God is my shepherd and BECAUSE God is my shepherd my soul is satisfied.  I shall lack nothing that I need. (New Living Translation)   Look at me for a moment, will you?  Every single person in this room has a Shepherd that they cling to.  You have a shepherd over your life.  The question this morning is not whether you have a shepherd or that you are a sheep.  You are a sheep and you have a shepherd.  The question is does your shepherd lead you to this statement, this reality for your life, for your soul…I shall not want.  OR does the shepherd over your life lead you to a place where you go:  I need and I’m desperate and I’m broken and I’m in pain and I hurt and I lack.  The question isn’t whether or not you have a shepherd, the question is where is your shepherd leading you and WHO is your shepherd?  I love the fact that David makes this personal.  God is MY shepherd!  He’s not just a shepherd and he’s not just the shepherd, but David, in a very intentional way says I have come under this glorious goodness of God as MY shepherd.  And because I’ve done that I shall not want.

I want us to wrap our hearts and minds around one big idea today and it’s simply this: The shepherd of your life will determine the satisfaction of your soul.  Every day, every time and in every way.  We have a lot of ideas about the things that determine whether or not we’re satisfied and I want to say it’s just one thing.  It’s simply one thing.  According to our Scriptures, one thing that determines whether or not you can say, before everybody else and before God, I am satisfied.  Life may not be going exactly the way that I think it should, but there’s a calm, there’s a peace, there’s a blessing of favor over my life and my soul and I can rest in it.  And the ONE thing that determines whether or not you can say that……isn’t what your bank account looks like, isn’t what kind of car you drive, isn’t what kind of education you have, it’s not the job that you have, it’s not the family that you have….as good or as bad as those things might be….the ONE thing that allows you to say I’m satisfied……is having the Lord as your shepherd.

Satisfaction is a tough thing to come by, isn’t it?  I mean, to quote the great American poet, Mick Jagger: “I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction, ‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try, I can’t get no, I can’t get no.”  Right?  I think that’s the way we often operate and here’s our idea.  Our idea is if I had a little bit more of what I already have then I’d be satisfied.  Isn’t it?  If I had a little bit bigger….if I had a little bit shinier….if I had a little bit more then I would be okay.  But that the stuff that you have will never lead to your soul’s satisfaction.  That’s what David’s drawing out.  I can say I shall not want not because of what I have, but because of WHO I have.  The Lord is my shepherd.

When Kelly and I lived in Portland, I was going to school out there and we went to this park in the springtime.  Along the fence of this park there was a huge blackberry bush and being from this area and southern California, I hadn’t seen blackberries like that before.  We went over and popped one in our mouth and it was like “Turkish delight!”  We’re popping them in our mouths as quickly as we can and we have this idea:  Let’s get some bags from the car and get some more berries.  We FILLED these grocery bags full of blackberries!  We went back to the car and by the time we got home there were only a few blackberries on top.  All the blackberries underneath were good for only one thing and that was making a ton of pies.  They had gotten absolutely smashed and demolished.

I thought of that as a picture of the way my soul often tells me to find satisfaction:  Get a little bit more!  A little bit more and you’ll be okay.  A little bit more and then that will be enough.  A little bit more….a little bit more….a little bit more.  By the time we get all this “more” we realize it’s really not what we were looking for. Isn’t it? You know why?  Because your satisfaction in life will never be determined by the stuff that you have.  It will only be determined by one thing: the shepherd of your soul.  Your satisfaction isn’t determined by your circumstances, it’s determined by your shepherd.  Look at the way that Jesus says this: The thief comes {He’s talking in shepherd language. In John 10 he’s taken on this role of the Good Shepherd.  He’s put this metaphor over his life and in doing so made a very definitive claim to be God for everybody who was listening that had any understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures.} The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they {That you, that sheep….needy, smelly, hurt themselves sheep..} may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  {He’s going to point out two things:  There’s a war that’s going to wage for your soul.  There is.  There’s a war between the thief who wants to look like a shepherd and the Good Shepherd who wants to lead you to life.  There’s a war between the thief who’s going to come and say this is the path we should go down, come with me.  Let’s go.  And the good shepherd who says no, no, no, no, no.  That’s not the path.  I have the path for you.  I’m good, follow me.  I want your life—in the Greek it’s the word zoe.  It’s this life that goes beyond just living, but actually being alive.  And he says not only that, but that I want that life in abundance.    Quite literally, in excess.  That’s what this word means.  Excess—like you look back at God and go: Good shepherd, you’re ridiculously good!  I can’t believe you’ve given me all this.  I can’t believe you’ve led me here.  I can’t believe you’ve restored me, protected me, provided for me…..in excess.  Superfluous!  More than you need.  When David says, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want,” he’s not saying that I will never encounter a need in my life—-you know that and I know that.  But what he is saying is that when you drill down deep into that need, what you will find is that THIS Good Shepherd is sufficient.  And that THIS Good Shepherd wants not to lead you to death, but to lead you to life.

This is the picture, friends, all throughout Scripture that we get of our God. Start at the very beginning, in Genesis 1-2.  Adam and Eve aren’t walking through the Garden going: Man, I wish there was some food around this place.  They’re walking through the garden….God’s pointing out things and his declaration after everything he points out is: It’s good.  It’s good. It’s good.  He looks at them and goes: I’m awesome! Why don’t you walk with me?  And from the beginning of time people have been pushing back against his provision.  Your other shepherds may be a relationship that you have; a marriage that’s even ending; a wife; a family.  Your other shepherds might be a job or a bank account or some thing that you have that focuses the direction of your life.  Something you trust in, something you hope in and something you say to…lead me to satisfaction.  It could be knowledge, it could be schooling.  It could be your position at your work.  There’s one simple invitation from the text this morning, though.  Run back to this God.  Run back to the Author of Life, as the Scripture describes him.  He created you, intricately knows you, intimately loves you and is for you and his invitation is not push down all your desires and try to snuff them out.  That’s not his invitation.  In fact, that’s Buddhism’s invitation to you.  Try your best to rid yourself of desires.  The Christian invitation, the invitation from the God of the universe and the God of the Scriptures is amplify your desires to the point where only God can fulfill them.  Where only God can meet those desires, because the pinnacle of human experience and existence is drinking deeply from the wells dug by the Author of Life himself.  That’s why people love this psalm.  I think C.S. Lewis says it well:  “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.”

So my question as I wrestle with this…..God, you satisfy….God, in you I shall not want…..what does that look like? what does that mean? and how do I step into it?  I’m glad you asked that question!  Here’s how we step into it.  One, we rely on this Good Shepherd’s provision.  It’s interesting if you know and have looked at, studied the role of the shepherd one of their jobs is to find nourishment, to find food for their sheep.  If you can’t do that, you can’t be a shepherd. So one of the ways we step under the Good Shepherd’s care is by stepping under his provision.  So this is the way I started to think about it–I’ve started to pray back to God: Jesus, if you don’t provide it, I must not need it.  That’s helped me because I have a lot of things in my mind that I think I need, that I want and that my life won’t go on if I don’t get!  But if this is true, if this is real, if Jesus is the Good Shepherd and he wants to give us life abundantly.  If he doesn’t provide it, I must not need it!  Here’s another way to look at it:  If it’s not a desire God can satisfy, it’s not a longing I need to embrace.  So what are some things maybe that God would pull out of our hands–pry out of our hands–this morning as we reanoint him as the Good Shepherd and rely on his provision?  Here’s the way the psalmist says it and I love this passage.  He invites you delight yourself {as in satisfy yourself} in the Lord, and he will give you {as you’re satisfied in him he will give you} the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)  As you walk with him, you will look back at him and say, “God, you have given me everything I need and everything I want, because you are what I want and you’ve given me yourself.”  That’s the journey that these sheep are on.

But..but..but…one thing must be in place in order to rely on God for his provision.  Here it is…..you ready…you’re gonna go that’s it?   You need to believe he cares for you.  You gotta believe it!   1 Peter 5:7 is going to say back to you: cast your anxieties on him because he cares for you!  In Luke 15:4 Jesus tells a story and says: What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?   I’ve always read that and went that shepherd’s crazy!  He trades ninety-nine for one??!!  And I’ve wrestled with that and wrestled with that and wrestled with that until just this week I came to this realization: I’m the one.  You’re the one.  That’s what this story’s about, God going after not just “a” one but after “YOU!”  Why?  Because he cares for you and he’s for you and so this God….I must be able to turn back to him and say if you don’t provide it, I must not need it.  And he provides not only what we need, but he provides his very life.  Notice the way that Jesus talks about himself.  I’m the Good Shepherd and I’ll give you my job description: I lay down my life for my sheep. (John 10:11)  So when you doubt his love, friend, when you doubt his provision, when you doubt his goodness, when you doubt if he cares you simply need to look back at his cross, whereby he says back to you: I love you more than you could ever possibly imagine and I’m for you.  Will you let me be your shepherd?  I want to lead you…I want to lead you to life, but you and I, we must be willing to receive.  I don’t know about you, but the time I receive least is when I need provision most.  You with me?  The time when life gets hardest…the time when life gets the most painful is the time where I say back to the shepherd, “I’m not going there with you!! Look where you got me!”  And I think what he wants to say to us is: Stay with me.  I’ve got a plan.  I’ve got provision.  I’m good.  Every resource is at my fingertips, you will have nothing lacking that you need.

The second way that we wrap it around our hearts and our minds is we enjoy His presence.  God himself is the delight and the joy of every believer.  You have complete access to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  We’ll get there in a few weeks, but David’s going to write even when I’m in the midst of pain, sorrow and the valley of death, God, you are with me.  Have you disciplined your soul to delight in the presence of God?  This takes work, friends, it doesn’t come by accident.  It takes intentional discipline to delight in the presence of God.  It’s your invitation, it’s your calling.  The psalmist writes: (God) You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11) 

Let me give you three ways you can start to enjoy and delight in God.  One, through his Word.  Don’t just read his Word for information.  Read his Word for encounter.  Say, God, speak to me.  You live, you breathe through your word, by your Spirit speak to my soul.  Don’t just read for information, read for encounter.  Two, worship Him. As you worship, your soul starts to soar in the goodness and glory of the Gospel and you’re able to say, God, you are exceedingly, abundantly good in the midst of every season and every circumstance.  I love that passage we started with this morning: Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. (Ps. 63:3)  And third, relationally get to know the Holy Spirit that lives inside of you.  God says that he pours out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that lives in us (Romans 5:5), so as we engage with him through his word, as we worship and as we walk with His Spirit, we start to enjoy His presence.  As we enjoy his presence, he’s anointed as the Good Shepherd.

Finally, we trust His providence.  In the same way that we pray back to Jesus:  Jesus, if you don’t provide it, I must not need it, we can also pray back to him: Jesus, if you don’t take me there, I don’t want to go.  Here’s the thing:  sheep have to trust their shepherd.  What options do they have?  They can’t say, “Hey, shepherd, thank you very much, but I think I got this one!”  You know where that leads them?  Walking over a cliff and falling.  If they’re lucky, they’re in the back of the line!  And they’re still walking out going I don’t think that was the brightest idea.  And like sheep, you and I, we have to trust in God’s providence and here’s when that gets hardest:  When he leads us through the valley of the shadow of death.  That’s when that gets hardest.  When we look back at Him and say, “God, I don’t see you in this and I don’t know how you could work good through this. And God, the pain seems absolutely overwhelming.”  Even then, my question for you, for us, for me….even then will we trust in his goodness?  We have to believe that God knows more than us.  That seems really elementary, but I forget it often.  I forget that God knows way more than me.  I look at those pictures that the Hubble space telescope takes and I’m like man, your universe is expansive and I can’t even explain how a battery works to my six year old.  You’re unbelievable, God!   And yet….here’s the deal, God.  I don’t get what you’re doing here.  I don’t like it and here’s the way we should really go and here’s what we should do.  If I’m a sheep and God is my shepherd and he’s good and he promises to provide, then I must trust in his provision.  He has the bigger picture in mind.  And third, he’s been there before.  The great thing about your shepherd, he’s not walking down the valley going I really don’t know what’s coming next.  This shepherd has walked that road before.

As I got to the end of verse one and started to jump into verse two, here’s what David says next: He makes me lie down in green pastures.  It’s really interesting because I’ve heard a number of messages on this idea of he makes me lie down and most of them revolve around the image of a shepherd grabbing a sheep by the back of the neck and sorta forcing it down.  That was the image that I was taught, that I saw in my head when I read that: He makes me lie down.  We were suppose to believe for some reason that that was a really good thing. It’s interesting because Kenneth Bailey in his great book The Good Shepherd says this:  “No one can make a sheep lie down.  Sheep will only lie down when they have had plenty to eat, have quenched their thirst and are not threatened by any wild animals or disturbed by biting insects.”  Here’s the deal, friend.  Your God wants to satisfy you today and in satisfying you he wants to cause you, make you lie down and just rest under his goodness, but he doesn’t want to force you down.  He doesn’t want to make you lie down by force, he wants to make you lie down by favor.  He wants to speak a good word over you, blessing over you, satisfaction over you. He wants you to run to him and think and know and say back to him, “God, you have given me, not just life, but abundant and good life.”  Satisfaction of your soul is only determined by one thing and that’s the shepherd of your life.

Here’s my invitation.  I’ve read Psalm 23 to a number of people who were about to meet Jesus.  I want to read Psalm 23 to a number of people who are committed to walking with Him.  Where we don’t just read Psalm 23 on our deathbed, but we dwell in it while we live!  This beautiful passage that because it’s so transcended and so beautiful and so good has captured the collective imagination of thousands of years of people.  And I just want to point you back to what the Scriptures say:  He is the Good Shepherd.  He does provide for his people.  To rely on his provision, to enjoy his presence and to trust in his providence.

Before my mom passed away she made this quilt for Kelly and I. I love this quilt!  Not just because of the way it looks, but I love to get on the couch on a cold evening and I love to put this quilt over me.  Not just because it keeps me warm, it does that.  It also reminds me of my mom.  It reminds me of her sense of humor.  It reminds me of her creativity.  It reminds me of her life—the life she lived and the life she lives!  I think Psalm 23 is intended to work the same way for your soul.  That it’s not just something that you read and something that you memorize, but it’s something that you use.  It’s something that you use to cause your soul…you push in to intentionally to cause your soul to rest in the goodness and grace and mercy of God.  It’s something that as we remember it and as we recite it, it’s intended to remind us of the nature and character of God.  God, you’re good.  God, you provide.  God, you’ll be enough.  God, in every season you are with us.  Good Shepherd, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil for you are with us.  Put it on!! Drape it over you!  Remind yourself….use it to remind yourself of the nature and character of your good God! Don’t wait until you’re on your deathbed to read it.  Dwell in it while you live!  This God loves you, cares for you and longs to satisfy your soul.  I pray that we will collectively run to Him and allow him to do what he deeply desires: to pour into our lives.

Would you pray with me?  Jesus, in the quietness of this moment before we run out of here and continue on with the craziness of our day, would you search us, would you know us?  If there’s another shepherd at the forefront of our life that we’re following would you, even right now, help us identify that?  And help us hold open hands back to you to say God, we want to follow you.  We want to abide in you. We want you, Good Shepherd, to provide for everyone of our needs that we would be able to say back with David:  I lack nothing.  Nothing. So for those in this room that are struggling with satisfaction in life, Lord, maybe more they’re struggling with their shepherd.  For those who are struggling this morning, I pray, Lord, would you just do a work in their soul that would cause them to say back to you: Lord, I’m returning to your fold under your care, your provision, to enjoy you and to trust in your providence. Lead us, Good Shepherd, we pray and we thank you for laying down your life for us that we might know that you are for us.  We love you.  And it’s in the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, we pray.  Amen.

Good Shepherd – Psalm 23 – Satisfied2020-08-20T11:39:12-06:00
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