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…, 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.