LEADING QUESTIONS SERMON SERIES
THE WANDER YEARS – WHAT IS GOD’S PLAN FOR MY LIFE?
MAY 31, 1998
At first we laugh it off. We say to ourselves, what a reach. Compare me to anything but that. But after closer inspection, we begin to tilt our heads a little bit and smile and comment that there are a lot of similarities. I just described to you the reaction most of us have the moment we are compared to a sheep. Man didn’t make the comparison. Man would have chosen to compare himself to something strong like a lion, a tiger or a bear. But God has made this comparison. Our creative, loving and transcendent God parallels men and women with sheep. When you look at a sheep, it is kind of scary because we are a lot alike.
Sit tight for just a second and I will be right back. I will show you what I am talking about.
PASTOR EXITS DOWN STEPS FROM PLATFORM AND RETURNS
CARRYING A LIVE SHEEP
Oh, wait, he is going wild. Now this is an honest to goodness real live sheep. Curtis, can you get a close-up with your camera? We kind of look alike, don’t we? You have heard of Dolly and all the reports about cloning and all that. Well, this is Dolly. No, really this is David. Now this sheep has shed a little bit on me. We will talk about wool in a little while.
Anyway, I am doing a series of messages on the Twenty-third Psalm and the Twenty-third Psalm was written from the perspective of the sheep right here. I wanted to bring one out so that we could really understand the comparison. I think this is enough for David. It sounds like this little guy wants to preach himself. Let’s take him off stage now and give him a round of applause.
The Twenty-third Psalm was written from the viewpoint of a sheep. What I want to do with this message is take the Twenty-third Psalm and the image of the sheep and compare them with your life and mine. I believe these comparisons will compel us to understand God’s plan for our lives. Remember, this series is called Leading Questions. Once we understand God’s shepherd-like qualities and our sheep-like qualities, then and only then will we be able to grasp the answers to life’s most profound and deepest questions.
Let’s talk about some similarities right up front. First, sheep are directionally challenged and most human beings are directionally challenged. I am so directionally challenged that I will even stop and ask for directions and that is a tall order for a man. Are you directionally challenged? Some of us are, but I am really talking about challenged in a deeper sense. I am talking about spiritually speaking. You see, sheep if left alone are in trouble. Sheep will graze on the same grass until it becomes a wasteland. They will track along the same trails until they become eroded. They will soon ruin their land. They will pollute the same pasture until it is infested with parasites. If a sheep is left alone, it is in trouble.
It is a big misconception that sheep can make it by themselves, that they are OK, since they are just a bunch of livestock. But just the opposite is true. Sheep need care. There is no other class of livestock that needs nurture and guidance and protection like sheep. If left alone, sheep are in trouble.
If we are left alone, if we do life shepherdless, we are in trouble. Human beings track along the same trails until they become ruts that erode character issues in our lives. And amazingly, we will cling to the same destructive habits that we see other sheep cling to as they go over cliff after cliff to destruction. We will do the same exact thing. A good shepherd would take his flock and set forth a plan, a rotational system. He would move them from pasture to pasture, from grazing area to grazing area. And our God, our loving and shepherd-like God wants to do the same thing in your life and mine. He has a rotational system, a plan set forth whereby He wants to move us from pasture to pasture, from grazing area to grazing area. Yet, we see multitudes of sheep, multitudes of men and women who track along the same destructive trails. They might take the path of workaholism even though they know it can ruin their children. They might pursue the path of an adulterous relationship even though they know it will ruin their marriage. They might take the path of a destructive personal habit like drug abuse or alcohol abuse even though they know it will ruin their bodies.
Human beings and sheep are directionally challenged. We talked a couple of weeks ago about the Biblical quote that says all of us like sheep have gone astray. That is why David came along and penned these words in Psalm 23:3. “He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” A lot of us think we serve a rawhide type God. We think that God is in heaven singing, “Rollin, rollin, rollin, keep them doggies rollin, rawhide…..” God doesn’t drive, He guides. He leads me and He leads you in paths of righteousness, in paths that are right for you and for you and for you. What a great God we serve. What a Shepherd we follow. And as we shadow the Shepherd, He promises us that He will lead us to the right paths, the right avenues of life. But we have to become clean and say I am directionally challenged. I need a shepherd.
There is another parallel to talk about. Not only are we directionally challenged, we are also intellectually challenged. Sheep aren’t that smart. Human beings aren’t that smart. It doesn’t matter how many letters you have after your name, you are not that smart. I am not that smart. If we were smart, we wouldn’t go over the same cliff and participate in the same behavioral patterns that destroy life after life, relationship after relationship, family after family. Now a lot of us don’t like to hear this. I don’t like to think of myself as a sheep because sheep don’t have high IQs. But we are alike.
The Bible says in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death.” If you walked around the hillsides of Palestine during Biblical times there would be mazes of paths. Some of the paths would have been made by robbers. And if a sheep who was directionally and intellectually challenged would take the path made by the robber, the robber could jump from behind a boulder, take out the shepherd, steal the sheep and get some cash. Other paths were made by predators. A directionally and intellectually challenged sheep would walk along this path and the predators would jump on the sheep and kill them. It would be ugly. Other paths would have been made by the wind and the rains and those paths might wind around and lead over a cliff. They would lead, literally, to death.
Our Good Shepherd has a great path and a great plan for our lives. If you want God’s best, you will get in on this plan. But if you don’t, just sit back and put it on autopilot. There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end leads to death and we see so many people take those paths.
I guess the question that begs to be answered now is how to get in on the path? How does one get in on God’s plan? Let me give you two quick suggestions. First, we have to come to the point where we admit and submit. We have to admit that we are wandering in the wilderness, that we are directionally and intellectually challenged. Then after we admit the obvious to God, we have to submit ourselves to shadowing the Shepherd. We need to say that we want Him to call the shots, that we want Him to guide us and lead us in the paths of righteousness. But, amazingly, a lot of people balk at this. A lot of people say that they have got to do their own thing. That they will not give up control. Yet little do they realize that when they give up control, they gain control.
Jesus said in Luke 11:24, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body is also full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness.” What is He driving at here? He is simply saying that if we have both eyes focused on the Good Shepherd, if we are shadowing Him, following Him, we will have light. Our paths will be illuminated. But if we have one eye on the Good Shepherd and one eye on our career, on this relationship, on whatever, we are going to be in darkness. We have got to admit and then submit.
But then we have to do something else in order to discover God’s plan for our lives. We also have to obey and pray. We have got to obey and pray. Have you ever thought that most of God’s plans are right there in front of you and in front of me? Have you ever thought about that? Because they are. Ninety percent of God’s will has already been recorded. It is right here for us. Isn’t that cool. We have got to obey what is already written down. Ninety percent of it is in the Bible. For example, if you, young person, are being disobedient toward your parents, you are out of God’s will. You are not following God’s plan or His path. So what makes you think that He is going to reveal to you the next step in His agenda. It is a pipe dream. You have got to obey what you already know is true. The Bible says that children should obey and honor their parents. Maybe you are in a relationship with a nonbeliever. There is no use to pray about this relationship or to get counseling about this relationship or to even cry about this relationship. This relationship is not in God’s plan. The Bible says that those people we date, those people we marry should be Christ followers. Why? Was God being discriminatory? Was this spiritual apartheid? No. God wants the best for his sheep. Everyone matters to God, even those outside the flock but He wants those of us who are in the flock to be hooked up with others who are in the flock. God is the creator and author of communication, of sex, of intimacy. And if we don’t have this operative with another Christ follower, we are not going to discover this great path, this great plan of righteousness that He has planned for us.
Parents, if you are not giving and marking your children with God’s transcendent values, if you are not obeying the ninety percent of parenting stuff recorded in the scripture, what makes you think God is going to show you the next step in His path? Obey what you already know. Do it. Some may be wondering about the other ten percent. That ten percent is kind of out there. Well, as we obey, as we shadow the Shepherd, as we do what is in the word, as we are talking to God, as we pray, the other ten percent just kind of moves us along and it falls right into place. I can’t explain how it happens, but it happens. So you have got a 100 percent deal going on. The Good Shepherd says, here is My plan, here is My path, here is My agenda for you. Admit, submit, obey and pray.
A while back I wanted to come up with something that I could get my hands around regarding this whole path thing. I want to share with you my path principle. The Good Shepherd wants to guide and lead you and me into paths of righteousness and here are four things that we have to do in order to stay with the Shepherd. This is an acrostic. P stands for persevere. I love the word persevere because the word severe is in the word persevere. Things are going to get severe as we track along the path that Christ has for us. It is going to get tough. And look what the Bible says. Romans 15:4. “Through perseverance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” What is perseverance? It simply means blasting through barriers. Are you at a barrier? Are you facing a marital barrier? Are you facing a financial barrier? Are you facing a career barrier? You need perseverance. When you add perseverance, God will give you supernatural strength and grace to blast through the barrier and to continue to track with the Good Shepherd.
A stands for attitude. Philippians 2:5. “Have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus.” You see it is our attitude not our aptitude that determines our altitude. And the picture here is a shepherd leading his flock slowly through the valleys to the mountaintop. So it is our attitude not our aptitude that determines our altitude. Now what kind of attitude did Christ have? Was it self-centered? Was it ego-driven? No. It was other-centered. It was service-driven. It was generosity. It was supernatural. And that is the kind of attitude that me must have as part of His flock.
I call T trust. Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” How many times have I leaned on my understanding and gotten lost. I have gotten messed up. I have gotten off the path. Remember, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths…what? Straight. I love a straight path. And the Good Shepherd has promised me that He is going to make me some straight paths if I follow Him, persevere, have the attitude and trust.
H stands for higher ground. The Good Shepherd always wants to move us to higher ground. The Bible says in Psalm 61:2, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” And that brings us to our next comparison.
Not only are we directionally and intellectually challenged, we are also extremely dependant. We are extremely reliant. Yes, the Good Shepherd guides us in the paths of righteousness, but also He does this. Psalm 23:4. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…” We are dependant, we are reliant. See this word walk. We talked about those distant summer ranges and how the shepherd would lead the flock to the distant ranges. He would always lead them through the valleys. Why? Because the valley is the best route to the mountain ranges. And also, the valley is good because there is the most nourishment there. There are streams and lakes and the still waters that we talked about last week. You also have vegetation. So the picture is that the sheep are eating as they are following the shepherd. They are getting nourishment in the valley.
Christians are saying all the time, I want a mountaintop experience with God. I want to go to the next level. I want to feed on those distant, high summer ranges. Well, I will tell you how to do it. You get to the mountaintop through the valley. You have to go through the valleys to get to the mountaintop. I don’t know about you, but God has shown me more and given me more nourishment and refreshment in the valleys than on the mountaintop.
A while back I was going through a dark valley in my life, a difficult time. I walked into one of our Saturday evening services and sat down front. And as I looked at the words of the worship songs on the screen, as I took in the drama, it was like those words gave me spiritual calories and nourishment and refreshment that words cannot describe. Tears began to roll down my checks. I said, “God, you are so gracious. Here I am in this valley and you are feeding me. You are talking care of me and I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death.” The Bible didn’t say that we should camp out in the valley or chill out in the valley or stop in the valley or have a rest station in the valley. It says that we should go through the valley. No matter what you are going through, remember, if you shadow the Good Shepherd, you are going through. And sometimes when you are in these valleys, you can’t see any still or quiet water. You can’t hear any streams. You can’t even see any grass.
If you study about a shepherd, you will learn that when the going really gets tough for the sheep, he would take his rod and staff and knock fruit off a tree, open it up and even if there wasn’t any grass or water, he would feed the sheep by doing this. He would feed them while leading them. Well the Good Shepherd does that in our lives, doesn’t He? If we stay faithful to Him, He will feed us along the way. We are extremely dependent and reliant.
I am going to close down with one more parallel and it will be kind of direct. Not only are we extremely dependent, we are extremely dirty. Some might be saying that they are Captain Hygiene, really clean. But I am talking about another area of our lives, our walk with God. We get dirty just by doing life. We are born with this bent toward badness, this sin nature. The sheep I just picked up really smelled. My coat right here, this is horrible. So you might think twice about shaking my hand after the service. Sheep just pick up stuff. They lie in mud, in their own manure. They will get sandspurs and briars in their wool. And sheep would probably die due to dirt if it were not for the shepherd. The shepherd is there to clean them and to take care of them and to bathe them. They can become clean. The same is true in your life and mine. We get all dirty and sin-stained. Yet, if we follow the Good Shepherd, he can cleanse us. Isaiah 1:18. “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, if your stain is as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool.”
A couple of weeks ago we spilled some coffee on the carpet at our house. We used a variety of carpet cleaners, but we couldn’t get it out. It is like a stain that will not come out. You may be saying to yourself that I don’t know what you have been involved in, that I don’t know what you have done. You may think that you are in a rut so big that you can’t even jump high to see the paths of righteousness. But the Good Shepherd can take all that sin, forgive it and change the whole course of your life. He can put you on a new path, a new trail. He wants to do that. But you have to realize that you are extremely dirty, that you are stained with sin.
My wife and I have twin daughters who are 3½ years old. Their names are Laurie and Landra. They are different as night and day. Landra is taking Tae Kwon Do. Laurie is going to take ballet. Twins but they are totally unique. Friday morning, Laurie and I went to Payless Shoes to purchase some ballet slippers and tights. I walked into Payless with Laurie and we picked out the slippers and tights that we wanted. We paid for them and as the guy was putting them in a bag, Laurie looked up at me and pulled out some pocket change. She thought that would be enough to pay for ballet slippers and tights. But the funds were insufficient. They fell miserably short. They didn’t even come close to the price tag. But little Laurie, she didn’t know that. So she offered what she had. How often do sin-stained sheep, people like you and like me, stand before our heavenly Father and try to give Him pocket change. We believe we can take care of the price. I am religious. I grew up in the Baptist church. I am Catholic. I was baptized Lutheran. I am a good guy or a good girl. I have got more good marks than bad marks. And the heavenly Father turns and looks at us and just smiles. He says that He has already paid for it. And then God offers us Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. He became a sheep so that He could identify with other sheep. And now God challenges us through Christ to receive the lamb. Because the only thing that will make you and me as white as snow is when we come to a point in our life when we say, “Jesus Christ. Take control of me. I admit and submit to you. I want to obey and pray and do what You want me to do.”
So the next time you see a sheep, it is our prayer here that this parallel will compel you to remember God’s plan, compel you to understand one of the biggest answers to life’s biggest questions. God has an abundant plan for everyone here. And the moment we get in on it, no longer will we ever experience the wander years.