Sunday Night Live Sermons
STRENGTH FOR YOUR FUTURE
My Favourite Scripture Passages
Recently, my wife and I flew to Queensland to be a guest of honour at the Annual Prime Minister’s Dinner for Community Business Partnerships. About 800 corporate and community leaders were in attendance. As we were leaving the banquet, an attractive blonde waved to me from among the crowd and started coming in our direction. I said to my wife, “I noticed her when we came in. She smiled as if she knew me.” My wife said to me, “You smile at every one as if you know them.”
The woman came up to us and said, “Dr Moyes, I feel I know you. I watch you on television every week, and I have read all your books. When I was in the valley of despair you have no idea how much you helped me. You pointed me to God who was beside me and said He would see me through.” We were both taken by her sincerity and genuineness. We had met with someone who had been in despair but found God help in time of trouble. There are people about us every day that are going through the valley of despair. Like Stephen Rooney. He spoke last Friday when I opened three large blocks of 48 units which has become a new centre of care for homeless people in the Hunter. He explained to the crowd assembled, he had spent forty years as an alcoholic and drug addict. He had been in prison many times. He was covered in tattoos and shrugged his shoulders and said he did not know who he was any more, only that he was now different. Pointing at the senior Police officers present, he said that normally, when he saw them coming, he would be off over the back fence. Now Stephen welcomed them to his home. He was different. In the Salvation Army Bridge Program, he met God. Now he was living with us.
Stephen had found new self-esteem and a sense of self-worth. He said, “I had no money, no bond, but Wesley Mission gave me my own unit, furniture and hope for the future.” Every one there echoed that sentiment. These are the real life issues of the city streets. Those issues are the gut issues for so many: loss of personal identity, uncertainty of how they will manage or where they are going; living without direction; anxious, fearful, lonely, alienated, guilty and certain only of death. We live in a world in which many people are engulfed with fear and anxiety. Some fear the future; they’re anxious about what’s going to happen. Others fear the past, anxious about what has happened. Others fear even the present, anxiety has gripped their souls and they cannot imagine how they can cope with the present circumstances in their lives. Thousands of people each day wake with untold burdens to bear and anxiety with which they must deal. Are you one of these? Bearing a heavy burden?
Is there any word from the Lord to these people of our city? If I ask a random selection of people to name their favourite passage of scripture one would be named over and over again. Psalm 23, possibly because it is the only one they know, or possibly because it is the one that has meant the most to them in their experience, but almost certainly because it is the one that speaks to their deepest needs. For 3000 years this song of David has been the world’s favourite, sung and recited in hundreds of languages by Jews in Roman slavery to Nazi holocaust and Christians in Siberian slave camps, repeated by Eastern Orthodox priests and Catholic monks, Protestant evangelists and wistful agnostics. With the Lord’s Prayer it is the most repeated passage of scripture.
Why? Because it serves and satisfies our deepest needs. It is the one poem that is recited, sung and read by little children learning to read and aged saints as they lie dying. It is meaningful when sung at a christening, a wedding or a funeral. It has been recited by soldiers going into a valley of machinegun fire and by the sick on trolleys going into an operating theatre. It has the capacity to reach into our deepest need and strengthen us with confidence because God cares for us, He is with us, and He will see our journey through. This Psalm gives us strength for the future, no matter what may come. Think how it ministers to our deepest needs:
“THE LORD is my shepherd” That was David, the author’s, greatest assertion. He was a shepherd and he knew how to care for sheep, and he realised that was how the Lord God cared for Him. God was his shepherd. God personally cared for him. “I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:” Far from being uncertain about provision for tomorrow, the sheep trust the shepherd. So the believer knows for sure that God will provide and lead us to adequate provisions for our every need. “He leadeth me besides the still waters.” What a magnificent picture of God’s rest and peace. In our hot and fevered life, He has for us a place beside still waters. Adequate provisions, rest and peace are some of our most needed requirements. These are provided for us early in the journey so that when the time of dryness and darkness comes, we will have our reserves of spiritual energy ready. “He restoreth my soul.” Those who follow the Good Shepherd find peace for their minds in the provision he makes for them. In quietness and confidence they now can be restored spiritually.
“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” His way is a straight and correct way. It is the right way. In this age, the ethical values of everything are grubby and relative to our human desires. So many people are on the take. So many have their snouts in the trough. Police are corrupt. Politicians lie. Television evangelists commit immorality. But in a grubby world of selfish hedonism, the Good Shepherd leads his followers in the paths of righteousness. They follow His way, His truth, His life. His ethics are theirs. He who walked a straight, high, hard, holy road, expects His followers to walk in the paths of righteousness also.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:” The greatness of this psalm is its reality. It knows that our days are not all sunny, and that dark valleys menace us. It is not for any of us to spend all of our time in green pastures and beside still waters. Those times of restoration are to enable us to cope with the difficult times. The restored and rested soul who follows the straight path of righteousness is strengthened for whatever dark valleys lie ahead. There is an inevitability about walking through dark valleys, but the Christian can walk in confidence because he is not alone: the Lord is with him to guide and to protect. “For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” This is the Good News. God is with us. Christ is with us. The Spirit abides with us. God is with us to comfort and protect. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:” God is also our host who warmly and generously places before us all the provisions we need, even while we are surrounded by those who would do us harm.
They have been frustrated because God has stood beside us and said: “This one is my friend.” So today persecuted Christians break a crust of bread and drink in remembrance of Him, knowing that God has prepared that table in the presence of their enemies. They rise from it spiritually strengthened. “Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” God’s goodness is at saturation point. His every blessing overflows. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;” The believer can look back upon the way he has come and see the goodness of the Lord. “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That truth has lifted the hearts of generations of heroes and martyrs who testify to its truth.
The Good Shepherd of this psalm is replaced by the Good Host who welcomes us into His home, provides for us now and in the future. These two images are interwoven throughout the Psalm. The Shepherd is the good host who provides green pastures, still waters and peaceful rest, and the Good Host shepherds us before our enemies, protecting us and providing us with His security, goodness and mercy. It is important to follow the Shepherd, to browse in green pastures and rest beside still waters, walking in the paths of righteousness. That way you find your spiritual reserves for the dark valleys that lie ahead. Many cry out in the valley of the shadow of death for spiritual survival and strength when it is almost too late. Every day there are people entering the valley of despair: knowing loss of personal identity, uncertainty of how they will manage or where they are going; living without direction; anxious, fearful, lonely, alienated, guilty and certain only of death.
They need to know the Shepherd! So many know the Psalm but do you know the Shepherd? Jesus Christ claimed to be the Good Shepherd, who loved His sheep and laid down His life for them. His sheep know His voice and follow Him in confidence. He is the way to the Father, and He has prepared for us a dwelling place God. Will you claim the Shepherd as your Lord and follow His voice from now on? In a world of deep stress and personal difficulty, you need to have those inner reserves of spiritual strength to enable you to cope. Only Jesus Christ can be your Good Shepherd who cares for you.
Last Monday, on my television program, I interviewed Brad Mackay, Rugby League legend. Brad played first grade Rugby League for 14 years with St George Dragons and spent one year at Bradford Bulls in England and where they won the Challenge Cup. Brad made 3 Rugby League Grand Final appearances and won the Clive Churchill Medal for best on ground in 1993. Brad played 17 State of Origin matches, and 12 International Test Matches for Australia against England and France. Brad said, “I grew up with an understanding of God but was never a church attender at all. At 21 I’d been dating a girl for a couple of years off and on and when it started to get very serious she challenged me about God and Jesus and it was then I realised I had no knowledge of God. I was challenged to read the Bible. I met with our club chaplain and had bible studies with him once a week. I learnt about Jesus, sin and forgiveness. All this was very new to me; I heard it before but not like this. All these stories I heard as a kid in the bible were actually true. I decided to believe in Jesus as my Saviour.
But there was no way I could be a Church member and play Rugby League. This game was physical and tough and there was no place for forgiveness and cheek turning only blood and guts. I told my chaplain that I would become a Christian after my career was over. I was still going to church because it made me feel clean. One night a speaker bypassed all of my defenses and spoke straight to my soul and I begged Jesus to be my Lord. That’s it in a nutshell Gordon.”
Unfortunately that wasn’t the end. Brad was 32. He had been married to Joanne for ten years and they had two children, Angus and Bria. While Joanne was breast-feeding their new baby, Tully, she felt some unusual lumps. Within weeks Joanne was dead of breast cancer. Brad entered the dark valley of the shadow of death. All the sporting success meant nothing. But Brad knew the Shepherd was with him. That made all the difference. When we find the Shepherd, we find strength for the future whatever may come to us in the Valley of the shadow.
- Kevin Gilbert, “Because a White Man Will Never Do It” . p35
- Arthur Bayldon, “Collected Poems” p25