Psalm 23                                           April 2017

THE TRUSTWORTHINESS OF GOD.

Every year the commerce commission receives complaints from customers who believe they have been ripped off by various companies. In 2015 the greatest number of complaints were from customers who had been overcharged by Spark and Vodafone. It’s difficult in a culture that is moving further and further away from Christian values to know who you can trust.

There was a time when we didn’t need written quotes or guarantees. A tradesman’s word was good enough, but those days are long gone. Incidentally in those days we didn’t need to lock our houses or cars either.

Every second Monday we put on lunch for people in the community and have a nominal charge of $3, but if people can’t afford it we don’t worry about it. Last Monday someone had a free lunch and then stole all lunch the money as well. It’s so sad when you can’t trust people anymore.

Ill. When we were in Rotorua I wanted to invest my savings for retirement and my father in law advised me not to put all my eggs into one basket. So I invested our savings with 4 different finance companies and every one of them collapsed along with our investments.

Then we have the politicians who make promises as they come up to elections and once they are in power they backtrack on them.

Then there are the friends and family members who disappoint and let you down because they are human and fallible.

This morning I stand with David and affirm that the Lord is the only One who is 100% trustworthy. I look back over my life as David did and can honestly say that the Lord never failed, disappointed or let me down and I want to encourage you to look to Him, depend on Him and faithfully follow Him because He is utterly trustworthy. And this is what this Psalm is about.

Psalm 23 is probably the best known Psalm because it is a testimony to God’s personal involvement in the life of a believer. It speaks of God’s provision, restoration, direction, protection, affirmation and exaltation.

PROVISION v1-2

Before I was a Christian the first words of this Psalm sounded contradictory because the King James Version says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Why did they call the Lord their shepherd and then say they don’t want Him.”

When I became a Christian I realised it was the old English way of saying, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want for anything I need.”

In the Middle East the main task of a shepherd was to care for the sheep and that involved feeding them and protecting them. And as long as the sheep stayed with the shepherd he would ensure that there was always enough grass for them to eat.

Looking back over the last 50 years I have been a Christian I can truly say that God has provided all my needs and more. There were times I took my eyes off God and worried that I might not have enough, but that was wasted energy because He has faithfully provided for me and my family without fail. In fact 90% of the things I worried about never happened.

I may not have got everything I wished for, but I am glad now that God in His wisdom didn’t give me those things because in hindsight, I didn’t really need them and I have done very well without them.

Ill. Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, a well-known preacher many years ago, said that once, when he was a high school student, he had to sit a very difficult examination. But he had discovered that verse, “And whatever you shall ask in my name, that will I do for you.” He believed that verse meant that all he had to do was ask God and he would pass the exam. So he did and he failed the exam. He was disillusioned.  He rebelled and almost lost his faith.  He came to the conclusion that you can’t take the promises of the literally- all because God had not granted his wish to pass the exam. The next year he had to re-sit the exam and this time he studied hard and he passed. So he decided that he didn’t need God because he could do it himself. Later Dr Weatherhead came to understand that God had given him the ability to pass the exam, but he hadn’t used that ability the first time round.

PROTECTION v2

Have you ever seen animals in the wild grazing on the open plains or drinking at the water holes. They are constantly lifting their heads and looking around for predators. They can never relax or let their guard down. They are nervous and fearful.

On the other hand when sheep are close to the shepherd they could lie down in the green fields and drink freely from the from the streams without feeling nervous and afraid, knowing that their shepherd was watching over them to protect them from any predators.

Like the sheep I can also say that I have been able to rest peacefully and not to be anxious or fearful because my shepherd is close by. He is a able to handle whatever situation arises.

Ill. During the boxer rebellion in China one of the CIM workers burst into Hudson Taylor’s office to tell him that the rebels had attacked churches and missionary stations and many of the missionaries’ lives were in real danger. After giving the news to Hudson Taylor the young man turned to leave and heard Hudson Taylor whistling a tune. He turned to Hudson Taylor and said, “How can you whistle at a time like this when our brothers and sisters are facing persecution and possible death.” Hudson said to him, “This burden is too great for me to carry, so I have just handed it over to the Lord and I am trusting Him with the situation, that is why I can whistle. The song he was whistling was, “Jesus I am resting, resting in the joy of who You are.”

RESTORATION v3

Ill. An Eagle can stay out all night in the rain and not get pneumonia because each day its body exudes a fresh supply of oil to cover its feathers. But there comes a time when the oil dries out. The feathers break, eyes dim, strength diminishes and coat looks threadbare. Disease is setting in and death will follow if it doesn’t do something. It flies to an isolated place and finds a cleft in the rock. It plucks out every diseased feather and a new one grows in its place. It takes time but when the process is complete it comes forth renewed and re-strengthened, spreads its wings and soars into the heavens.

And that is what Isaiah 40:28ff is talking about –

“Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who wait on the in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

This is why we need to spend time with the Lord regularly, both on our own and with God’s people. Like the eagle we need to be spiritually renewed and restored otherwise our faith and zeal for Christ can fade and wither. Watch this one because it’s when you slacken off and can’t be bothered spending time with the Lord or coming to church the you are placing yourself in great danger. Make the effort and go against that urge to slacken off and I believe Jesus will meet you and refresh you.

DIRECTION v3

“He guides me along the right paths.” How true this is. If you really want to follow and obey the Lord, you will sense Him prompting you to do what is right, loving and good and restraining you from doing what is wrong. You will have a real peace about doing what God wants and a lack of peace when you go to do what He doesn’t want you to do.

Col 3: 15 “Let the peace of God be the deciding factor in all your decisions.”

Ill. Years ago Jim Dawson use to live in Aldersgate Rd in Hillsborough which runs down a steep hill to the Manukau harbour. One night Jim was in the lounge and he sensed God was telling him to sell the house. He didn’t want to sell the house because it was in a lovely location with a great view but this conviction persisted and finally he agreed and had such a sense of peace that he believed it was God. He and Joy sold the house and 6 months later there was a torrential storm and the house and the bank on which it was built slid down the hill onto the road.

ATTENTION v4

  1. The valley of the shadow of death. It’s doesn’t say the valley of death, but the valley of the shadow of death.

In John 11:25  “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will have life even if they die. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

If you are a true believer in Jesus when you leave this world you will not enter the valley of death with all its fear and torment, but the you will pass through the valley of the shadow of death. A shadow is not the real thing it is a projection of the real thing.

Ill. Donald Barnhouse was driving home from his wife’s funeral with his children thinking of how to comfort them. A huge truck passed by the car and its shadow covered the car for a few moments. Barnhouse said to his children, “Would you rather be run over by a big truck or by its shadow?” They said, “Its shadow because the shadow can’t hurt us.” “2000 years ago the truck of death ran over Jesus at the cross, now only its shadow can run over us.” Thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Believer, because Jesus has tasted real death for you, death will only cast its shadow upon you but it will never ever get hold of you.

The other wonderful thing is that when you pass through that valley you will not be alone. When people die they leave all their friends and family at the bedside. They enter death completely alone.

But when we believers step out of this world, the Lord will be with us. He has promised never to leave or abandon us and never means never.

Ill. When my friend Bill Wallace was dying, his Christian doctor urged him to imagine Jesus standing there waiting for him. Bill said to the doctor I don’t have to image I can see Him now reaching out to me. 

“Your rod and staff comfort me.” The Middle Eastern shepherd always carried two instruments when he was with the sheep. The rod was a bit like a baseball bat with a slim handle and a fat head on it. This was never used on the sheep, it was to beat any predator that came near the sheep. The staff was a long pole with a hook on the end and it was used to grab a sheep by the leg if it was caught in a thorn bush or fell down a hole.

And this is a picture of what God does for us. When Satan tries to attack us, we cry out to the Lord and He will drives off the enemy.

Ill. Like the little girl who was asked, “What do you do when Satan knocks on the door of your heart, “I send Jesus to answer the door,”

And when we fall and fail, and cry out to the Lord for help and mercy he will always lift us up and bring us back into line. That is what the rod and staff are all about.

AFFIRMATION v5

In Ancient Israel when God told the priest or the prophet to anoint someone with oil, it was a sign that they had God’s approval.

If you had parents who didn’t give you a lot of encouragement and praise. If your parents kept finding fault in what you did and somehow made you feel that you never measured up to their expectations, you may have found that you were constantly trying to please them and gain their approval.

In fact a lot of driven people are motivated by he need for approval and the feeling of guilt that they are somehow not making the grade. They wear themselves out doing the right things and telling others about all the good things they are doing. They are wanting the approval they never got as children. Perhaps they even hear echoes from their childhood telling them that they are not measuring up.

The sad thing is that when many of these people become Christian, they feel that somehow they have got to work and pray and do the right things to earn God’s approval and they wear themselves out doing this and yet never feeling that they have got His approval. They are hard on themselves.

If that is you, I want to tell you something very important this morning. You don’t have to earn God’s approval. You have got it already. Jesus gained God’s approval for you when He perfectly carried out God’s will at the cross. And believing in Jesus is the key to receiving God’s approval. When you believe in Jesus you have God’s approval. Hebrews 11:6 ”Without faith it’s impossible to please God.”

God loves, accepts and approves of you not because of anything you have done or will do, but because of what Jesus has already done for you. You may never gain the approval of others but you have God’s approval and that is what really counts.

Your enemies and unkind people may put you down, criticise you and tell you, you are not good enough, but God will affirm you, honour you, and bless you because you have put your faith and trust in Jesus and He has made you acceptable and pleasing to God.

When unbelievers put you down, God lifts you up and honours you and blesses you. And when God blesses us, He gives abundantly. My cup overflows.

Remember the words of Jesus, “give and it shall be given to you, in full measure, pressed down and over flowing.”

In 2 Cor 9: Paul tells us that when we give generously and cheerfully, “and God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” 

Ill. The Brethren preacher Robert Chapman was asked by a friend one morning, “How are you feeling?”  Robert answered with a broad smile, “I’m burdened this morning!” His friend was puzzled because he looked so happy. “Are you really burdened, Robert?” “Yes, but it’s a wonderful burden—I have received so much blessing from the Lord that I can’t contain it all. And I can’t find enough time or words to express my gratitude!

Psalm 68:19 describes my condition . “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with blessings,”  

Here are some of those overflowing blessings –

An acceptance that can never be questioned. (Eph. 1:6).

An inheritance that can never be lost (I Peter 1:3-5).

A deliverance that can never be excelled (2 Cor. l:10).

A grace that can never be limited (2 Cor. 12:9).

A hope that can never be disappointed. (Heb. 6:18, 19).

A bounty that can never be withdrawn. (I Col. 3:21-23).

A joy that need never be diminished (John 15:11).

A nearness to God that can never be reversed (Eph. 2:13).

A peace that can never be disturbed (John 14:27).

A righteousness that can never be tarnished (2 Cor. 5:21).

A salvation that can never be cancelled (Heb. 5:9). 

These days when Lois and I pray together we often find ourselves just so filled with gratitude for all the blessings God has heaped upon us. Even when I was going through all this cancer stuff I couldn’t stop thanking God for all His blessings. In spite of everything God has been so good to me and blessed me beyond anything I deserve. And do you know what? The best is yet to come.

EXALTATION v6

“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for evermore”

Do you know what the Salvation Army call a funeral for a Christian? A promotion service.

Ill. Just before D. L. Moody passed away he sat up in his death bed and with arms outstretched he cried, “I see earth receding and heaven opening – it’s my coronation day. It is glorious!

Ill. A widely respected man known as “Uncle Johnson” died in Michigan at the incredible age of 120. Towards the end of his life he was working in his garden singing songs of praise to God. His pastor, was passing by and looked over the fence and called, “Uncle Johnson, you seem very happy today.” “Yes, I was just thinking that if the crumbs of joy that fall from my Master’s table in this world are so good, what will the great feast in heaven be like!”  

Ill. In 1989, a journalist asked Donald Trump what was his goal in life. “Right now, I’m enjoying myself,” Trump replied. “I work and I don’t worry.” “What about death?” the writer asked. “Don’t you worry about dying?”  “No,” he said. “I’m fatalistic and I protect myself as well as anybody can. I prepare for things.” This time, however, as Trump started walking up the stairs to have dinner with his family, he hesitated for a moment. “No,” he said finally, “I don’t believe in reincarnation, heaven or hell—but we go someplace.” Again a pause. “Do you know,” he added, “I cannot, for the life of me, figure out where.”

Ill. Matthew Henry wrote a famous Bible Commentary. As a poor and unknown young man he wished to marry a girl whose father was wealthy and who did not approve of the marriage. The father argued that, although he was a good scholar and an excellent preacher, “they did not even know where he came from.” The daughter had a ready answer. “But father,” she said, “we know where he is going, and I want to go with him.” The father agreed to the marriage.

Do you know where you are going when you leave this world? Can you say confidently with David, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for evermore.”