LEADING QUESTIONS SERMON SERIES
AMAZING GRAZING – HOW DOES GOD PROTECT ME?
JUNE 7, 1998
Sit back and relax as I read to you one of the most important sections of scripture in the entire Bible, the text we have been studying lately known as the Twenty-third Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Can’t you picture God, our Shepherd, leading us, his sheep? What beautiful imagery. Let me continue. “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.” Suddenly, though, something breaks down. Something changes. Has the writer of this Psalm, David, begun to chase rabbits, to get off the subject? “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” I want to say, “David, I am tracking with you during the first section, but I don’t get the table thing, the oil thing, the cup overflowing thing. What is the deal?
I have been to Israel twice and I have walked through the pastures of Palestine and I have yet to see a group of sheep gathered around the table in the green grass nibbling on appetizers and ordering entrees. I have not seen that. My wife and I have a date night every Thursday and we go to a lot of different restaurants in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. I have yet to see a sheep walk up to the maitre’d and request a table for two in the baaahk. I have not seen that.
Listen the analogy doesn’t break down, it breaks through. It breaks through to a deeper level. David introduces us to a concept that can change the course of our lives, the concept of amazing grazing. Amazing grazing. Do you ever feel like the enemies of life, those pressures, are kind of encroaching on your career, your future, your family or your friendships? Do you ever feel that way? I do. Yet our amazing God promises us that if we make Him our Shepherd-Savior, we can bank on it that He will provide oasis after oasis in the wildernesses of life. That is the kind of God we serve.
For the remainder of our time together, what I am going to share with you only applies to those here who are connected to the flock. If you are in the flock, this is what will occur and play out. These are the implications of what God will do. If you are not in the flock, play close attention because this is what can and will happen to you the moment you make a faith decision and ask Jesus to become your Shepherd-Savior. Question. Can God protect me? Can God give me nourishment, replenishment and refreshment in the difficulties and dilemmas of life? Can He do it? Yes, He can. I want to show you several strategic steps our Shepherd-Savior takes in order to provide for you and for me amazing grazing.
First, He prepares our paths diligently. Last week we left the sheep in the valley. During the first few weeks of June, the shepherd would leave his flock in the valley and make some scouting trips alone to the tableland, to those beautiful, lush pastures at a very high altitude. And he would do some preparation. He would put out some salt and minerals so the sheep could dine on them in strategic spots. The shepherd would locate the best bedding grounds. And then, he would do some gardening. No Chem Lawn then. He would have to pull some weeds because there was a lot of poisonous stuff that could infect and ultimately kill the flock. After he did all the gardening and weeding, he would take all he pulled up and burn it. And then later, when he led the sheep to the tableland, the sheep could just dine in confidence because all the poisonous grasses were gone. I think the parents here who have toddlers can kind of relate to the shepherd. Parents childproof their apartments or their houses. They go before their toddler and put locks on the cabinets, remove any small objects on which the child could choke. They prepare the way because toddlers will put anything in their mouths. So will sheep.
If you missed last weekend, you missed something that we have never done before at the Fellowship Church. We brought on this stage a live sheep. And the sheep bahhhhed at the right time. The sheep was really cool. I had never been that close to a sheep before. It was a lot of fun. But you should have seen what happened back stage. Pastor Owen Goff had this sheep on a leash. He said, “Pastor Ed, I am going to walk this sheep before the service so he can do his business.” So he had the sheep was walking back and forth outside. Then Owen let him inside and the sheep tried to eat some electrical cords. He got him away from the cords but then he tried to eat some plants. Then one of our staff members gave the sheep an Altoid. The sheep looked up and said, “curiously strong.” No, he didn’t speak. But a sheep will eat anything.
Human beings will try anything. “Oh, I had better taste this. I have got to experience this. I have got to check this out.” Even though we know that doing some things one time can be addictive, destructive or even deadly. Yet, we serve a Shepherd, a God who has been there, a God who has paved our paths, who has forged our future. He is a God who is preparing diligently some pastures so that we may experience amazing grazing.
I thank God for all the times that I have seen Him protect me. But I also thank God for those times that I don’t even know about. I thank Him for all of those times when He has gone ahead of me and gotten all of those plants out of the way so Ed Young can have amazing grazing without any poisonous grasses or weeds around.
I love what the writer of Hebrews said. Hebrews 4:15. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are yet was without sin.” You never know the full force of temptation until you resist it. Christ knows the full force of temptation like we will never know it. Why? Because He didn’t fall. The Bible says that He remained sinless. He was the unblemished lamb, the Lamb of God. So, we talk to Christ and ask Him to prepare the way. We shadow him. We are not talking to some otherworldly person, somebody who is way out there, somebody who doesn’t know what we are experiencing. We can talk to someone who has walked the path, who has been there in the pasture.
Awhile back I was in Utopia, TX frantically searching for a friend’s ranch. If you know me very well, you know that I have a horrible sense of direction. So I found myself driving up and down a tiny street in the tiny town of Utopia. I noticed a weather-beaten, sun tanned rancher kind of leaning against his pickup truck watching me go by. He had a cigarette held loosely between his lips. He had some Copenhagen between his cheek and gum. Together! Finally, as I drove by once more, I waved to him. He gave me one of those Texas rancher waves, a slight tilt of the head. I could read his eyes. He was wondering who in the world was this clueless, directionally-challenged city boy. So I swallowed up all of my pride and stopped. I said, “Sir, I am lost. I am trying to find the so and so ranch.” I will never forget what he did. He asked if I had a pen or pencil on me and I handed one to him. “What is the name of the ranch?” He began to write in detailed fashion the directions to the ranch. “It is just about a half a mile from here.” Then he walked over to me and gave me the directions. I thought that was it and thanked him for helping me. But he didn’t stop there. He told me he would get in his pickup and if I would follow him, he would lead me to the ranch. So check this out. I had the written instructions. I had the verbal instructions. Then I followed the rancher in his red pickup truck. When he got to the entrance of the ranch, he stuck his hand out the driver’s side window and pointed to it. Then he was gone.
That is what our rancher, our Shepherd-Savior Jesus does for you and me. He writes the directions down in the Bible. He goes over the directions but He doesn’t stop there. Then He indicates that we are to follow Him, that we are to watch what He is doing for our paths and pastures. Some may be saying that it is incredible what God does but what is our part of the deal. Here is your part. Here is my part. We have to allow our Good Shepherd to do some gardening. We have to allow Him to pull some weeds in our lives. A lot of us have some insignificant, contrary grasses growing. And these are weeds. We are saying that they are not really a big deal, the uncontrollable tongue that spews profanity and takes the name of the Lord in vain. Everybody does that, it is just a little weed. Or maybe it is some uncontrolled anger. Oh, just a little grass, I don’t need to deal with that now. Or maybe that long, lingering lunch one more time with the secretary. Oh, just friends, nothing can happen.
You take a weed here, a weed over there, a contrary grass over here and if you begin to feed repeatedly on them, they will infect you and one day they can take you out and your life will be up for grabs. Deal with this now because sin and weeds dealt with radically are sin and weeds dealt with effectively. Allow the Good Shepherd to prepare your paths diligently.
The Good Shepherd also does something else. He also eyes our enemy regularly. Let’s go back to the shepherd in Palestine. One of the main problems of the flock is those predators that live on the rim rock. As the shepherd was leading his sheep to the high altitudes, to those beautiful summer ranges, he had to look up for those big cats, the lions, the cougars, etc. And the shepherd knows how and when and where they will attack. He is always looking up. It is usually the roamers and the wanderers that are attacked the most.
I read this past week about a shepherd by the name of Phil Keller. He writes that cougars would repeatedly attack his sheep. He reported seeing the sheep torn to pieces but he said that he had never sighted a cougar. So stealth-like were their attacks, Keller never eyed a cougar.
Our Shepherd-Savior eyes our enemy. Our enemy is the evil one himself. Jesus know when, where and how he will attack. I Peter 5:8. “Be controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” He is looking for those roamers, for those wanderers. Those are the ones who usually fall prey to the predators. That is why we have to be connected with others in the flock. We have to be a part of the local church. We push the local church away when we erroneously say to God, “Hey, God I have got this special deal going. You see, God, I am a sheep, by myself wandering, roaming and doing life in my autonomous way.” It is just a matter of time until the roaring lion attacks. We can look around our world today and see the effects of the roaring lion.
Satan does not come at you and me in a shiny red leisure suit with a goatee, a Vince Price voice and Elvira on his arm. “Hi, I am the devil, come to devour you.” He doesn’t do that. I have never seen him. But he approaches you and approaches me in stealth-like fashion. He approaches us sometimes in our strength and sometimes in our weakness. He knows us. But the Shepherd-Savior knows when, where and how he will attack. He is always telling us to watch out, over there watch out, look at that rim rock. We see the substance abuse, the deviant sexual behavior in our world today. We see destructive patterns and habits of sinfulness everywhere we turn. That is the result of the roaring lion. The Good Shepherd looks up at the rim rock.
The Good Shepherd also looks down, because the sheep’s number one enemy is not up but down. Let me explain. The brown adder is a venomous snake who lives in Palestine. The adder lives in little holes in the tableland. The shepherd would go before the sheep, take his rod and staff and move the grass away to look for the snake holes. He knew that when the adder heard the vibration of the sheep above, it would slide out of its hole and bite them on the nose. The shepherd would take some oil out of his pouch and put it down the snake hole so the adder couldn’t slither out. Then we would take the sheep and anoint their heads with oil, which would serve as a kind of snake repellant.
Snakes are spooky, aren’t they? You never know where they will turn up. Memorial Day, Lisa and I and the children were out doing some yard work. I love yard work. I was putting some stuff in an outdoor storage closet. Lisa was about ten feet away pulling some weeds. We were having a good time talking, laughing, doing the family thing. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lisa appear to be dancing. She began to scream. “Snake, Ed, copperhead, Ed.” She jumped into my arms. I took the rake, walked over, kind of pulled the foliage back and took him out. I was her shepherd at that time. Well, one foot note. From Memorial Day until now, I have been looking down. Last night we pulled up in the driveway after the Saturday night service and I saw something lying there. It turned out to be a little stick. Paranoid.
God does not want us to be paranoid. You have heard, paranoia will destroy ya. He doesn’t want us to be that. But if we let the Shepherd-Savior look up and look down, we can experience amazing grazing in the presence of our enemies. Do you have some sin in your life that is covered up like those snakes? Are you telling yourself that you can never been bitten? Take care of it. One more time, allow the Good Shepherd to pour His oil, to anoint you with His repellant so you can live and breath and shadow Him.
I have got to ask you a question. How many of you would take your children to the Ft. Worth Zoo and dump them off in the lion’s exhibit and tell them: “Practice your soccer kicks and drive your Barbie Ferrari right there in the lion’s exhibit. Everything will be OK. They haven’t been fed in a couple of days. But they are really harmless.” You would say, what a reach. That would be ludicrous, that would be crazy. No thinking parent would do that. But I see parent after parent allowing their children to watch R rated movies, unmonitored MTV trash. They are just playing right there in the lion’s exhibit. I see other parents who have an insane, intense involvement in extracurricular activities. “Oh, you have got to be the best athlete. You have to be the best dancer, the best singer. You have got to be the best. You have got to be the best.” And they drive and push because they haven’t made it and they are going to live their lives through their children. And they do it at the expense of the church. Listen, parents, you are letting your children play around in the lion’s exhibit. Because I am going to tell you something. The soccer team, the voice lessons, the ballet lessons are not going to give your children and your young people the answers to life’s most profound questions.
If we shadow the Shepherd, if we stay a part of His flock, His church, then He is going to give us some mighty protection. He is going to alert us to our enemies. And oftentimes we will feel the elbows and the nudges and we do nothing about them. But when we feel those nudges and hear His warnings, we need to move away from that place, move away from that relationship, move away from that pattern.
Our Shepherd-Savior does something else. He pours out His presence liberally. Some may be saying that they have been nibbling on these poisonous grasses, have been mauled by a lion, been bitten by a copperhead or two. You wonder if there is a second chance for you, another way, another path. Yes. The Bible says so. You come clean, bow the knee to the Shepherd-Savior, you shadow Him and walk with His flock, you accept His protection, allow Him to prepare the way. Oh, yes, no doubt about it.
Let’s get back to the sheep who are now grazing on the tablelands. They are amazing grazing. But there is one dilemma. There is not a lot of water up there. There are no streams up there. Yet, there are some wells. The good shepherd would locate the wells. Sometimes they would be 100 feet deep. The shepherd would love his sheep to such a degree that he would take a leather rope and a leather bucket and lower it as far as necessary. He would haul it back up and the water would be overflowing. It would be spilling out of the bucket. Sometimes it would take him three hours to water all of his flock. Isn’t that great about God? Our amazing God will pour His presence into your life and mine. And we will think that we are the only ones being filled. But the problem is, a lot of us are filled with other things. We are filled with self, with ego, with pride, with materialism. Our Shepherd-Savior wants to pour His presence totally in our lives but there is so much junk and trash in there, He can’t do it. We have to empty ourselves of that junk and trash. We have got to name them and turn from them. When we empty ourselves then we can ask God to pour in His presence.
One of my favorite verses is John10:10, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I have come, that they might have life and have it to the full.” The word full means overflowing. It doesn’t just mean better than most lives or a decent life, or some religious-limiting life, it means a life that is overflowing with abundance. God has wired you up and gifted you in many incredible and special ways. And when you empty everything out of your life and allow Him to pour His presence into your life, then it will flow and go.
The children of Israel loved to whine and moan to God. And they never, ever got the ultimate because they kept in this state. And one day the Psalmist recorded in Psalm 78:19. “Hey, God can you prepare a table for us in our wilderness?” (my translation). Are you believing they said that? Here God had fed them manna burgers out of heaven. He gave them water out of a rock. Yet they were whining and moaning about the food. God has prepared table after table for me among my enemies. And He has done it for many of you here. Many of you could share your personal stories.
So, I will say it one more time. The table has been set. The Shepherd-Savior has painstakingly prepared everything. He can lead us to the table. He will. He can show us the table. He will. He can give us directions to eat. He will. But it is our choice. And what amazes me is that some here will just leave and return to wandering and roaming.
But here is what I want to challenge you to do. Based on the Bible, I want to challenge you to call ahead for reservations, to allow the maitre’d to lead you to the table, to pick up the fork, knife and spoon and begin to dine so you can get in on what we have been calling amazing grazing. Amazing grazing.