LEADING QUESTIONS SERMON SERIES
JUNE 21, 1998
What if I could go back and interview every single person you have come in contact with over the past year, every client, co-worker, family member, teacher, coach and neighbor. What would they say about you? What kind of influence or impact did you have on their lives? One of kindness, compassion and concern or maybe self-centerdness, bitterness and negativism? People these days are exclaiming in record numbers, “I want to leave a legacy. I want to make a mark. I want to have sway on people with whom I come in contact.” Dads, especially, are saying such statements on this Father’s Day. That is why today’s topic is so timely. I call it Sheep Impact. I didn’t say deep impact, I said sheep impact. The moment the reality registers of our sheep-like qualities, and God’s shepherd-like qualities, then and only then can we have true and lasting impact on other people’s lives.
This weekend I am wrapping up a series on the Twenty-third Psalm. It is important for us to understand that it was penned from the viewpoint of a sheep. It was written to those of us who are a part of God’s flock. In a crowd this size, I intuitively know that there are a multitudes of Shepherdless sheep. There are a lot of you out there that are just checking out the Christian faith. You are looking through the fences of life at those of us who are integrated in God’s flock. You want to see the benefits of belonging. You want to see the differences, if any, that Christ makes.
Listen very carefully because from this moment on everything I am going to talk about will tip you off to the life that is available to you once you are integrated into the flock of God. And I want to talk to you about lasting impact and influence in the lives of people you meet and greet and interview and deal with on a day to day basis. Psalm 23:6 is the last verse in this classic section of the Bible. David, who penned this text give us the GM principle. David pens this statement with great confidence, with a kind of swagger. “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Remember, this is a sheep talking. David did not say, in most cases. He said, surely, you can count on it. You can take it to the bank. Surely, goodness and mercy, GM, shall follow me all the days of my life.
Have you read recently that the workers at General Motors have gone on strike? Well, the great news is, this GM principle, G and M never go on strike. Now this text is easy to believe when everything is going well. I can say that when my health is good, when the children are obedient, when the market is bullish and my golf game is in sync. But when my body breaks down, when my kids misbehave, when the bullish market turns into a bear and the slice comes back, I have a tough time articulating this phrase.
Goodness means the provision of God, the blessing of God, the things that we don’t deserve. As we saw in the drama, God is a good God. Mercy represents the forgiveness and the grace of God and the fact that we serve a God who gives us a third, fourth and fifth chance. I love Romans 8:28. “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and to those who are called according to His purpose.” God didn’t say all things are good. He said that He uses things, good things and bad things, difficult and average things to work together for good to those who love and to those who are called according to His purpose. He promises this to those of us are integrated into his flock.
How many of your ladies watch Martha Stewart? Raise your hands. You know Martha, she is incredible. I have watched her with my wife when she baked a cake. She would have many things arranged before her. Have you ever noticed how expensive her ingredients are? You have to take out a loan to pay for one of her cakes. And some of her ingredients, if you taste them by themselves are bitter. Some of the ingredients are sweet. But she mixes all of these things together, bakes the cake and when she takes it out of the oven, it is unbelievable. No one can cook like Martha Stewart. At least that is what she says.
God is a master chef. He will take my life and your life and take bitter ingredients and sweet ingredients and mold them and stir them and when they come out of the oven, they are good. They are good. When He sees us shadowing Him, and when He sees us pursuing His path and His purpose, He knows that we understand He is a Good Shepherd.
Goodness and mercy, the old GM principle. David says that goodness and mercy follows us. To me that seems weird. Follows us. How does goodness and mercy follow us? This Psalm, you know if you have been here the past several Sundays, talks about leadering. In the first five verses, the Good Shepherd is leading. He is leading us beside still waters, through the dark valleys, is preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemies. He is leading, He is leading, He is leading. Then all of a sudden, the last verse talks about the Shepherd following us. How, I ask, can He lead and also follow. I will tell you what happens. The Good Shepherd unleashes two sheepdogs, goodness and mercy. I didn’t say rottweilers. I said sheepdogs. And as the Good Shepherd leads, goodness and mercy, these two sheepdogs nip at our heels. Sheepdogs have herding instincts which keep you and me in the flock. If we kind of go to the left or the right, they will herd us back. Goodness and mercy follow us. God is a God who pursues. God is a God who subdues. We serve an initiative-taking Shepherd.
A couple of days ago I gave one of my dogs a bath. Let me back up quickly and tell you about our dogs. Lisa and I have two bullmastiffs. The person we bought them from told us that they are sweet dogs, but that they protect appropriately. I love that. Our oldest male, Apollo, a little over a year old weighs about 140 pounds. His younger friend, appropriately named Brute, is seven months old and is already about 100 pounds. Apollo likes the water and Brute is not into it. Brute doesn’t like water. He will drink it but that is about it. So I take this little kiddy pool and fill it up with water. I called him over, he looked at me and then trotted off. So I pursued him. I took him by the collar and coaxed him toward the bath. Then I decided to pick him up. Now every time you pick up Brute, it is a hernia risk. I picked him up, took him to the kiddy pool, put him down in the water. I began to bathe him but he eluded me. I had to pursue him again. I tracked him down, picked him up, another hernia risk, walked all they way back to the kiddy pool and began to bathe him. He eluded me again, I pursued him again, picked him up, another hernia risk and at this point I felt like the crocodile hunter. Have you seen that guy on television who wears the very short shorts from Australia? So when I put Brute in for the third or fourth time, here is what I did. With my clothes on I just got on top of him and held him down. The twins couldn’t believe what I was doing. So I pursued Brute, subdued him and then I gave him a bath. And now he loves the water. Yesterday when I left for work he was actually sitting in the kiddy pool, kind of relaxing.
God pursues and He subdues. Genesis 3:9, God said, “Adam, where are you?” God pursued a stuttering, stumbling man named Moses. He told Moses that He wanted him to lead His people out of Egyptian bondage into the Promised Land. God pursued, pursued and then subdued him. And Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt in a miraculous way. The author of this text, David, was a man that God pursued. God pursued David as he was tending his father’s sheep on the Judean hillside and God subdued him to turn in his shepherd’s staff for the royal robe of the presidency of one of the most powerful nations on the earth.
God pursued Jonah, the quintessential running man. He pursued him and He used a whale to subdue him, to cough him up on land. And Jonah went to the wicked city of Ninivah and preached and many, many people turned to follow God. We serve a God who pursues and subdues. And here lies the basic distinction between philosophy and Christianity. Philosophy is man pursuing God. Conversely, Christianity is God pursuing man.
As many of you know, my father has been a pastor for many, many years. A while back a single man walked up to him after a service. He was all choked up. He said, “Dr. Young, I can’t find God.” And Dad took him off to the side for a couple of moments and said, “Friend, what is wrong? What happened? What is the chain of events that led to this statement?” He answered that he had met a girl at a bar and had taken her to a hotel. He anticipated a night of ecstasy and fulfillment but ever since that night he said he couldn’t find God.” Dad told me that he responded, “Sir, who do you think you met that night in that hotel room?” “Dr. Young, do you mean the girl?” He said, “No.” He took out his Bible and turned to Psalm 139 and said, “Friend, would you read this text.” Dad told me that the man was kind of shaky when he read the words. “Wither shall I go from thy spirit, or wither shall I flee from thy presence. If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there, if I make my bed in…” But the man couldn’t go on. Dad took the Bible from him and read, “…if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there.” Then Dad looked at him and said, “Your problem is not that you can’t find God. Your problem is that you can’t get away from God.” Then he led him in a prayer of forgiveness and repentance.
We serve a God who follows. We serve a God who pursues and subdues. Also, this GM principle flows in our lives. It follows us but it also flows. You see, goodness and mercy flows to and should flow through my life, my spirit, my personality, my vocabulary, my life style to others. And I ask you this question. Is your life a reservoir of restraint that stops and stagnates goodness and mercy? Or is it a river, just flowing? Are you leaving that in your trail? Are you marking others with it?
Think about your relationships. Think about your conversations. Think about the people you come in contact with on a weekly basis. Can you say with confidence, goodness and mercy is left behind. That is me. That is my life. That is my legacy. That is my mark. That is my sheep impact.
As I have been studying sheep over the past six weeks, I found out something really interesting. Sheep have the potential to be the worst livestock imaginable. If you study pastureland across the planet, much of it has been ruined beyond repair because of mismanaged, misguided sheep. If you have got a clueless shepherd trying to take care of sheep, sheep can pollute the land. They can eat up everything to the root and turn it into barren wasteland. They can leave the land ravaged and devastated beyond repair if they are mismanaged. But, if you have a flock that is managed properly, the sheep can be the best livestock imaginable. Their manure can replenish and help the growth. Because of the sheep’s natural tendency to sleep in the highlands, it will rest the pastures. If a shepherd is moving them strategically from one grazing ground to another, they can leave the land better off than how they found it.
Question. Do you leave your land better off than you found it? That phone call, that meeting, that meal, that conversation. Do you leave your land better off than you found it? One of the best ways to study the Bible is to personalize scripture. I want to give you a little exercise that I came up with a while back. Put your name in the blank of the verse that you see on the screen like I am going to do. “Do goodness and mercy follow Ed all the days of Ed’s life?” Is that true about me? That is a tough question. It that true about you? Ask yourself that question.
A couple of weeks ago I was out of town and I found myself shopping in a little store for some trinkets for our children. I was looking around and talking to a sales clerk. I was very impatient with her. And when I walked off, I felt goodness and mercy begin to nip at my heels saying, “Ed, nice example. Ed, there was no sheep impact there. That was pathetic what you did. You shouldn’t have said those words to her.” Then I rationalized and said that I would never see her again. She didn’t know the answers to the questions that I was asking her. But more and more I felt goodness and mercy saying, “Ed, are you going to be a reservoir of restraint or a river.” So I walked back to the counter and did some goodness and mercy work. I said, “Miss, what I said was wrong. I was impatient and my words were hurtful and I am sorry.” She said I didn’t need to apologize, but I responded that I did. When I walked out of that establishment I knew with confidence that I had left with her goodness and mercy. But, if I had not been responsive to the spirit of God, and I have not always been, I would have missed an opportunity to leave a legacy of goodness and mercy.
Could there be an area where you need to do some goodness and mercy work? Maybe around the office? Maybe in your marriage? Maybe with a child or two? Maybe with a team? Maybe with a classroom? Maybe with a business partner that you had a long time ago? You see, the problem is that many of us have so abused and ravaged our relational land, we can’t even go near it any more. We are afraid to retrace our steps because we have burned so many bridges, torn up so much acreage that we are embarrassed. Do some goodness and mercy work. It follows you and it should flow to and through you.
After David says, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” he gives us the last little phrase. And he says this last one with a swagger, with a confidence. He is almost bragging, in fact, I would say he is. He says, “…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Remember, this is the sheep talking. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The sheep have been led. They have been guided. They have been saved and made safe. Now fall has come and fall is fueled with it all the storms that drive the sheep down into the valley. The sheep know instinctively that they are coming home. They are going to their shepherd’s house to hang out in his pasture and they are so, so excited. In retrospect they are looking back over the last year saying, look how we have been cared for. What a shepherd we have. And on the shepherd’s side of the fence, he is so proud to see his strong and muscular and well-fed sheep. He is so happy to have them in his flock. He wouldn’t even think or entertain the thought of losing one of them. And the sheep would not entertain the thought of leaving the flock.
Can’t you see all the other sheep in the other pastures? Many are malnourished. Many are barely standing. And they are looking longingly and quizzically at those who integrated into the ultimate flock with the Ultimate Shepherd. Hey, we rub shoulders daily with people who are malnourished, with people who are disconnected, and disoriented because they are not integrated into the ultimate flock. What kind of impact are you having on their lives? Are you living and walking and talking in an authentic and real way? Is goodness and mercy following and flowing to and through you so that they are kind of reeling and saying look at the difference in that person’s life? Are they saying, look at the change in that area of behavior? Are you living that way?
Are you proudly boasting about your Shepherd? It is fine to live an example. It is fine to walk, but also we have got to talk about it. We should never force the Good Shepherd on others but when God gives us the windows to speak and to boast about His care and concern and power, we should say something about Him. God has put you where you are strategically and intentionally in His flock for a reason. He has given you this platform for just a short amount of time. And one day we are all going to see the Shepherd face to face. And He is going to ask you and ask me what kind of sheep impact we have had. “I put you in that office to talk about Me. I put you in that neighborhood to talk about me. I blessed you financially and put you on that level to reach those people who have never heard about me.” Sheep impact. Sheep impact. Sheep impact.
Many of us will say, “God, I was faithful. I didn’t walk through every window. I didn’t take advantage of every situation but for the most part, God, I did it right.” Yet, for some here, you will have to hang your heads in shame because you blew it. You never boasted about the care and concern of God.
I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This Psalm is talking about heaven, about sheep living forever together with the Ultimate Shepherd. But it is also talking about something else. It is also talking about living and walking with God inside our hearts, inside our lives. The Bible says that the moment we are integrated into the flock, God places the person of the Holy Spirit into our lives. The Holy Spirit will prompt us and nudge us regarding our behavioral patterns. He will say, “Hey, is goodness and mercy following and flowing through your life? Hey, you had better change that behavioral pattern at the office because you are damaging your example. Hey, you better not say that because they are really checking you out. Hey, what you are doing with your finances is not honoring God.” He is always nudging, always prompting. And when this is occurring in our lives, we have the choice. God is a God who respects our personal and private decisions. We can either gloss over that nudge, explain it away and ignore it or we can do something about it. We can take the step, articulate the phrase, live the life and turn away from those damaging, sinful habits. It is our choice.
What area in your life right now is God nudging you about? What is God telling you to do right now that you are struggling with? Maybe you are glossing over it right now. Maybe you are trying to explain it away. What area is that? If you want to make today a defining moment day, I want to challenge you to pray this prayer. Now if you pray it, watch out. The Good Shepherd will act and move and prompt in your life like never before. If you don’t want it, you don’t have to pray it. Here is the prayer. I call this the high octane prayer.
God, You do whatever You wish to make me responsive to Your promptings.
If you pray this prayer, watch out. The GM principle will become operative in your life and the net effect will be sheep impact. Sheep impact.