LEADING QUESTIONS SERMON SERIES
UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT – WHO IS GOD?
MAY 17, 1998
People are asking questions these days. Biting questions. Questions with an edge to them. And often these questions are about the God of the Bible. Who is He? What is His personality like? Where is He when I hurt the most? Does He have the credentials, the resume, to manage my life? You might be thinking that you are a complex person, that this is the 90s, the age of fiber optics, direct television, the Internet and cloning. You question if it is possible to know God in an intimate way.
Today we are launching into a brand new series based on the Twenty-third Psalm called “Leading Questions”. I believe that this series will give all of us concrete, no-nonsense answers to the deepest and most profound questions of the heart. This text was penned by David. Most scholars feel that David had an IQ of 160 plus. He was an accomplished athlete, poet, musician and statesman. His military strategies are still being studied at West Point today. Can’t you just imagine David at the twilight of his career kind of thumbing through the scrapbook of his mind remembering all of the triumphs and tragedies and turmoil that he experienced?
Maybe he remembered that as a young guy he was a shepherd tending his father’s sheep on the Judean hillside. Maybe he thought about the upset of the universe when God empowered him to defeat that behemoth Goliath. Or maybe he recalled when he became an overnight sensation and toast of the town. Maybe he remembered fleeing for his life from the schizophrenic King Saul. Maybe he thought about how he took Israel to new heights economically and spiritually. Could his eyes have filled with tears when he thought about the adulterous relationship that almost ended it all? And on the heels of that recalling a coup-d’etat from his very own son.
Maybe, just maybe, as Kind David thought about these things, as he contemplated the snapshots and thought of the faithfulness of God, maybe, just maybe, that is when he penned these words. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The Lord is. That is present. I shall not want. That is future. We serve a God of the present and the future. And any good shepherd is going to take care of his sheep in the present, but also he is going to think about what is around the corner. Where they are going to go next? What they are going to do over there? They are thinking about pastures and quiet streams and still waters. A shepherd is thinking about the present and the future.
The thing that separates Christianity from all the other word religions is its personal pronouns. David didn’t say the Lord is a shepherd or I wish He were my shepherd, or the Lord is the shepherd. He said the Lord is my shepherd. We have a sense of possessing God and of God possessing us. There is power in these words. This concept of shepherding is a little bit foreign to us, but we need to get it, to know who God really is.
David was a shepherd boy and he was the son of a shepherd. He calls God the shepherd. When David wrote the words, the Lord is my shepherd, he was referring to God. And later on, Christ confirmed this statement when He said, I am the Good Shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. That means that I am satisfied. I have arrived. It is a statement of confidence. That is like saying, look who my shepherd is. Look who is managing me. Look who is running the show. Look at my CEO. Look at my coach. Look at my shepherd.
The God of the universe loves you so much that He wants you to be a part of His flock. He wants you to be connected to Him. But there is a problem. We have a problem. And David addressed this problem. You notice, this Psalm is written from the prospective of a sheep. And we, human beings, are compared to sheep. So turn to your neighbor and say Bahhh. Just kidding. Just kidding. Don’t do that.
Isaiah 53:6 describes our problem. “All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon Him.” I love what author and shepherd Phillip Keller wrote. “We are under obligation to recognize God’s ownership.” Now some may be saying, what do you mean God owns me and that I have to recognize that. You see, I am under obligation to recognize God’s ownership for three reasons. Number one, because I have been created as the object of God’s affection. Love has to have an object. And we are the object of God’s attention and affection and care.
This past Thursday I had lunch with a friend of mine who used to own some sheep. He was telling me how dumb sheep are. He said, “You can take a sheep and push it over a cliff. It might go, bahhh, but it will fall to its death. And the other sheep would come right along and fall over the same cliff.” We like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has gone our own way.
I was at the ranch of a celebrity recently. If I mentioned this person’s name, almost every one of you would know who I am talking about. As I was looking around, I thought wow, he had really made a lot of money. He had a lot of stuff. But then sadly, I thought about this individual. This person’s life is in shambles. This person has gone over the same cliff that has claimed hundreds and hundreds of other celebrities and other sheep. And he is right behind them, getting involved in the same destructive behavioral patterns.
Don’t ever sit there and say that you are not like a sheep, that you would never go over that cliff, that you would never fall into that lifestyle, that you would never be addicted to that aspect of rebellion. Don’t say it. We, like sheep, have gone astray; each of us has turned our own way. And we have got to recognize the simple reality, and the profound one, that God owns us and that we are the objects of His affection.
The second reason that I am obliged to recognize His ownership is because I have been purchased with an incredible price. Jesus was called the Lamb of God. Jesus spilled His blood for your sins and mine. He caused the iniquities of us all to fall upon Him. He did that just because of His love, just because we matter to Him. And He has now afforded us the opportunity to become a part of his flock, to be connected to His family. And the moment we simply say, “God, I have been going my own way. God, I am astray. God, I am by myself. God, I am doing life without a shepherd.” The moment we admit that and turn and bow the knee and ask Christ to be our shepherd, to receive what He did for us a couple of thousand years ago, then we have a personal relationship with the Lord. So, God has every right to demand that we recognize His ownership. That is how much we matter to Him.
There is a third reason why God wants us to recognize His ownership. It is because He continually lays His life out for us. Now I am not talking about salvation. That work was finished on the cross. I am talking about the Lord, Himself, interceding for us, guiding us, caring for us, helping us in times of trouble. That is the good shepherd. That is how much He cares about all of us.
A pretty good deal, yes? Think about the length the Shepherd has gone to in order for us to be a part of His flock. We are the object of His affection. We have been purchased at an incredible price. And He continually puts it out there for us. Yet, we lock eyes daily with multitudes of people who are doing life shepherdless. You see them. So do I. Some are hearing my voice right now and you know down deep that you are shepherdless, that you are alone.
Listen to these words in Matthew 9:36. “And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them.” You see, the Good Shepherd did not take His shepherd’s staff and tee off on shepherdless people like a Freddie Couple’s drive. He felt compassion for them, for those people outside the flock. They were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.
My wife and I have three cats; Evander, George and Oreo. These cats are intelligent. We have the cats because we like animals, but also because they keep down the snakes. The cats stay on our little porch and they sleep up high on some furniture. They want to stay away from our dogs. We have a couple of bullmastifs with the combined weight of about 230 pounds. And when these cats venture out into the yard, talk about being distressed. They are always looking over their shoulders. Yesterday I was checking the situation out. One of the bullmastiffs was kind of looking at one of the cats. Having been slapped a couple of times, he is a little scared of them. The other one was coming around the rear to jump on the cat. When the cats venture out by themselves they are kind of distressed and downcast. They are open to being eaten by these giant dogs. Prayerfully that will not happen.
When we do life shepherdless, we are distressed and downcast. We are not connected to a flock. We don’t have a shepherd. So we are out there alone. A sheep is designed for a shepherd. A sheep will not last very long by itself doing its own thing, forging its own future, paving its own path. It is not going to happen. You might be OK for a year or two or maybe a decade or two. But one day, when you least expect it, the evil one will devour you. The scripture says that Satan is like a roaring lion looking and seeking to devour shepherdless people. Are you doing life shepherdless? God doesn’t want you to be doing life shepherdless. He wants you to become a part of His flock.
Over the last several weeks, as we have been preparing for this series, we have been praying like crazy that many of you would bow the knee, that many of you would say that you need a shepherd, that you are designed for one, that you want to admit the obvious to God and go His way. We are praying for that to happen. The moment that we establish a personal connection with the living Lord, here is what happens. He becomes our Shepherd and He tells us to shadow Him. We have got to shadow the Shepherd. When we shadow Him, three things will happen.
The Lord will give us direction. He will give us direction. John 10:27, Jesus speaking, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me.” We can hear the voice of God. I have never heard the audible voice of God. Eight years ago I didn’t hear God say, “Ed, Ed, go to the Fellowship Church and become the founding pastor.” I have never heard God speak like that. God speaks to my spirit, though, in ways that audible words can’t touch. He speaks through the Bible. He speaks through Christian friends. He speaks through private worship and public worship. He speaks through events. And we have got to stay sensitive to God’s voice.
A friend of my father’s, Dr. Ted Adams, pastored a great church in Richmond, VA. Dr. Adams related an interesting story about himself and his son, Teddy. He said one day he was in his study late one Saturday night putting finishing touches on his message. He had his little boy with him. His son was playing with some small cars and trucks. It was late, the church was kind of dark and Teddy was a little fearful. He told his father he was thirsty, that he wanted a drink, and asked that he walk with him to the drinking fountain. Dr. Adams replied that he was studying and for his son to walk down alone to get a drink. Teddy asked again for his father to accompany him. His Dad told him that he would start whistling and that as long as his son could hear the whistle, he would know his father was close by. Teddy ventured down the hall, got the water and returned. The whistle gave him confidence. Shortly afterwards he took his trucks out in the hall and began to play there. Fifteen years later Teddy had grown up and was drafted as a Marine. He found himself on the front lines the first night in action. He was hit by mortar fire. He survived. A week later he wrote his father a letter which said, “That night was the worst night of my life and I sure needed to hear your whistle.”
We have to stay in range of the whistle of the Good Shepherd. As long as we stay in range of it, we can hear God’s voice and follow him. We have got to hear and we have got to follow. John 10:27. “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.”
I had a conversation with a young man a couple of months ago on the brink of making a destructive decision. I told him God’s take on it. Others in this church counseled him. We cried with him. We prayed with him. He heard God’s voice. He heard the word of the Lord, but he chose the destructive path. He didn’t follow. And it is just a matter of time before he faces the consequences head on. The word of God says that if we sow to the wind, we will reap the whirlwind. It is great to hear the word of God, and that is part of it. But we have got to hear and then we have got to follow. We have got to trust and obey. God wants to give all of us direction, direction for decisions as we negotiate life. We need direction for that relational problem, in our career choice, for our family, direction for decisions. Are you part of the flock? Are you hearing the voice? Are you hearing it and following it?
As we shadow the shepherd, He gives us direction. He also gives us protection. John 10:9 says, “I am the door. If anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved and shall go in and out and find pasture.” Jesus just put it right out there, didn’t He? He said that He is the door. You see a shepherd back in Biblical times would lead his flock and since there were no barbed wire fences, the shepherd would make a sheepfold. He would take some rocks and make a little structure. He would leave an opening, and the shepherd would sleep in that opening and actually become the door. So the sheep could not go in and out and a predator could not go in and out unless they crossed over the shepherd. And Jesus said, I am the door.
See the word saved. If anyone enters through Me he shall be saved. You hear that word used a lot. He got saved. She got saved. What does it mean to be saved? To be saved means to be saved from hell. To be saved from an aimless, wandering life. We shall be saved, the Bible says. And we shall go in and out and find pasture. We will be saved and be safe because we are under the watchful care of the Good Shepherd. We will be satisfied because we are finding pasture. We are feeding and are free to become what the Shepherd wants us to become.
He gives me direction. He gives me protection. He also gives me inspection. God inspects me. David wrote these words. Psalm 139:23. “Search me, oh God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts.” Every day we are to say, God, Good Shepherd, search me, examine me. You see, a shepherd checks out his sheep. He looks at the cuts and the bruises and the parasites. He checks out the wool and makes sure that the sheep are OK.
A couple of months ago, I took my family to a dog show. I was taken aback because the dogs were better groomed than their owners. These dogs would stand there and the owners would put gel and mouse on them and use curling irons and blow dryers. They were taken care of. Then they would prance around the ring and the judges would examine them. They would examine their teeth and their ears. The dogs would just stand there at attention.
We have got to ask God to meticulously inspect us, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, physically. Is there any bruise, any cut, any parasite or any sin in our lives? As we make ourselves available to the Good Shepherd, He inspects, He cares for us, He bandages us, He guides us into great pastures and to the still waters. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Some men were hiking in the Welsh Mountains and they saw a young shepherd boy. They talked to him and since they were Christ followers, they began to share with him the concept of God being our Shepherd. Right before they left, they challenged him to memorize the opening words of the Twenty-third Psalm. They said he should let his thumb stand for one word, and his fingers for the others. The shepherd boy repeated it back to them. They were really happy because they thought that for certain he had gotten the concept of God’s shepherd-like nature. Five years later these men were back in the Welsh Mountains and because of the altitude they got thirsty. They spotted a cottage and walked over to it. When they walked in they noticed a picture of a boy over the fireplace. They all thought that the little boy looked familiar but they couldn’t quite place him. Then the lady of the house walked over to them and told them they were looking at a picture of her son who was killed the previous winter. He was going after a sheep and fell off a cliff. He lay there for many hours before they found him. The men looked back at her and said they had talked to her son and told him about God. There was a strange light in her eyes when she asked them to explain something to her that had always puzzled her about his death. For when they found him, he was grasping the ring finger of his left hand. The men responded by saying that he was just emphasizing the fourth word of the Twenty-third Psalm. The Lord is MY shepherd.
Can you say that?