#2148 – When Green Pastures are a Mirage       (22 May 2011)

The Message

Pastor Jim Penner

Special Guest

Ginny Dent Brant
Ginny’s father, Harry Dent, served as a liaison to several US Presidents. She has captured her father’s true life story in the book, “Finding True Freedom.”

The Message

Well you just heard the words sung; hear the word of the Lord from the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name sake. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You, God, are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” There’s a verse in this 23rd Psalm that I really struggled to understand my whole life. I struggled with this verse. I think that’s why God created the circumstances that had me give this message today on this part of the 23rd Psalm.

Now what is that verse that I struggled with? That verse that I struggled with, I’ll read it to you: “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” Now some of you are saying now why in the world would you struggle with that? He makes me lie down in green pastures. Doesn’t that sound like a great day at the spa? Wonderful, comfortable, lounging in a pool maybe, right? That’s the picture in your mind when you say He makes me lie down in green pastures.

But what about all those times where the green pasture looks like it’s filled with rocks and thorns and cactus? What about all those times when there doesn’t appear to be any green at all? It looks like a desert landscape. Picture for a moment the high desert of California. You’ve all been there or seen images of it. In the high desert of California, rocks and thorns and stones can be beautiful but it looks like it’s barren of life. There’s even a phenomenon that happens in the desert. It’s unique to the desert. It’s because of the hot and cold climate changes and atmospheric conditions that because of that, light rays actually bend and they create what’s called a mirage. And a mirage is when these light rays bend at some distant object like a large mountain can actually look like a castle or a rock formation can actually look like palm trees and water. It’s called a mirage.

So what happens when a green pasture and still waters that this 23rd Psalm talks about, what happens when it looks like a mirage to us? What happens when that green pasture looks like a mirage? God, how in the world am I supposed to lie down in the middle of all this mess? In the middle of this tragedy, in the middle of this pain, how am I supposed to lie down in the middle of this struggle? That is not a green pasture. Green pastures are a mirage in that circumstance.

Now growing up as a child, I was read this 23rd Psalm often. And I’ll never forget at the age of ten, divorce had visited my friend’s households. I’d seen the destruction it had caused. And I remember at the age of ten, I’ll never forget the image; I remember my bed, I remember the color of the bedspread, I remember the small window in the corner of the room of our one story house and I remember my father, natural father tucking me in bed that night. And I remember saying to him the words, ‘Daddy, don’t leave. Daddy, don’t leave.’ And for me, green pastures were a long, long way away because I’ll never forget his response; ‘we’ll see.’ And as he said it, I knew he was leaving. With the sadness that he spoke those words, ‘we’ll see,’ I knew he was gone and walking out the door. Green pastures that day were a mirage for me.

Many years later, my mom remarried a wonderful man, a man who taught me how to love again, taught me how to laugh, became my father. And shortly after I got married, I was a young husband and my mom calls me on the phone. I’ll never forget the color of the carpet, the chair I was sitting in in my house. Mom calls me and said, ‘Your dad went to be with Jesus last night.’ That day, green pastures were a mirage. See because I had this personality when I was a young boy and as a young adult, I had this personality that I had to fix things. If there was a way to fix something, I was going to fix it. If I worked hard enough, if I strove for the best, I could fix things. You have the same personality, a lot of you have the same personality, you can fix things. I couldn’t fix him walking out the door when I was ten and I couldn’t fix death when my stepfather died. I couldn’t fix that. Green pastures seemed like a mirage.

Now David, the author of this 23rd Psalm, understood that. David understood it because if you go back one chapter in Psalms, here’s what you will read in Psalm 22. David, mind you, is hiding out in a cave because the king is trying to kill him. The king is trying to kill David and David writes these words, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from helping me and so far from the words of my groaning?” The same David that wrote that 23rd Psalm, wrote the 22nd Psalm. He understands our pain. He understands when green pastures look like a mirage. In the 22nd Psalm, they look like a mirage to him.

Maybe you find yourself there today. When disaster strikes and a loved one dies tragically. When a layoff hits. When your relationships plunge. When you finances appear to be in ruin. When green pastures look like a mirage and you find yourself saying my God, my God why have You forsaken me? You know what, this morning God’s going to do something for you. God’s going to reveal to you that green pastures are never, ever a mirage. This morning, the Lord’s going to do that for you. Now how do I know that’s possible? How do I know that they’re never a mirage? I can say that because of how the 23rd Psalm starts. Sheila talked about it last week. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Verse number 1. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Because of that, because the Lord is your shepherd, because He can guide you, because He knows the best for you, I’ll go so far as to say green pastures and still waters are a promise, not a proposal. The Lord is my shepherd. Now take that to heart because if you realize God is all you need, and God is our good shepherd, and the good shepherd is the one who makes me lie down, don’t you think He knows what’s best for you?

Let me put it this way. It doesn’t matter what the landscape looks like to you if God says the pasture is green, the pasture is green. Now some of you didn’t catch that. We’ll try it again. If God says the pasture is green, the pasture is green. It’s called trust. Wow. This is where trust comes in big and comes in heavy, and stay with me because if you miss this, you missed everything in this message. If you miss this one, you’ve missed it all. Because when you are at your wits end, and your life appears to be in ruin, and you have no where to turn, that’s when God is going to say to you, lie down. The pasture is green. And you’re saying what? Lord, that’s a mirage. There’s rocks there and thorns there. I’m in the middle of this mess. In the middle of your mess, not when you’re comfortable, not when life’s easy, in the middle of your mess God’s going to say lie down, trust Me, trust Me, I’m in control. Now how can I say that?

There’s a great.. I love the image in Matthew 8. Picture the image of Jesus asleep on a boat. Jesus is asleep and the bible says the disciples are with Him on the boat and Jesus is asleep. And Matthew 8:23 says, “A great tempest arose on the sea so that the boat was covered with waves,” but Jesus was asleep. Now I’ve never been on the ocean when the waves are literally coming over the boat. I have been in plenty of relationship storms and financial storms and family storms when the waves were clearly coming over the boat, and so have you. You know what that storm looks like when the waves are coming over the boat. You know what that storm looks like. And the bible says Jesus was asleep.

Now what do the disciples do? Jesus! Don’t You care that we’re perishing? That’s their reaction. Now mind you, this is the same disciples.. these disciples knew the Old Testament. They knew the 23rd Psalm. They’ve heard it growing up; He leads me beside still waters. He makes me lie down in green pastures. The disciples knew that verse but when the storm waters are coming over the boat: Jesus! Don’t You care that we’re perishing? Don’t we do the same thing? We know the 23rd Psalm and in the middle of our storm; our financial storm, our layoff, our relationship struggles, Jesus don’t You care that I’m perishing? Right? We do the same thing.

Now what’s interesting is Jesus’ reaction. They wake Jesus up and what does Jesus do? He said to them, “’Why are you so fearful, O you of little faith.’ Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea and there was a great calm.” Now I guarantee a lot of you here have just missed what I just said. Jesus woke up and He said, why are you so fearful, O you of little faith? You’re not quite getting it yet. We’re getting there. The storm waters are coming over the boat, the waves are coming over the bow, they’re scared to death, the disciples, and Jesus wakes up and the first thing that He does is He says, “Why are you so afraid, O you of little faith?” Ah the lights are coming on. Jesus didn’t calm the storm first. The waves are still coming over the bow and as the waves are coming over the bow, Jesus says, “Why are you so fearful, O you of little faith?” And the waves are still coming over the bow. In your relationships at home, and you’re scared to death and Jesus says, why are you so fearful, O you of little faith. And the waves are still coming over the bow in your home, right? He hasn’t calmed anything yet. He does that next. He asks you why you’re so fearful. It’s called trust. Do you trust Him or you don’t trust Him.

Now it appears when Jesus says why are you so fearful that the circumstances haven’t changed and that’s actually where you would be wrong. The circumstances have completely changed. You know why? Jesus is there. Jesus is right there. The circumstances already changed. Just Him being there changes the circumstances and He’s saying why are you so fearful.

Jesus, your good shepherd, is saying trust Me, O you of little faith. As the storm clouds gather, trust Me. As the waves come over the bow, trust Me! And when you trust, oh that’s when the calm comes. You see it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. When Jesus says trust, you trust. You trust. And everything, everything changes in that instant when you trust.

I thank God; I told you a little bit of my story, I thank God for every struggle, every pain, every heartache, every one. Every single one because they brought me closer to Jesus. I have more faith today, I have more love for Jesus today than yesterday. What about you? Every struggle you face. Can you say I love Jesus more today, I trust Him more today than yesterday? Can you say that? Say that! You know Bill and Gloria Gaither, they wrote a song, “Because He lives I can face tomorrow.” Some of you remember that song. They wrote that song after coming through a horrific circumstance in their life. When they thought many things were lost they wrote those words: because He lives I can face tomorrow. I can say that in my life. Because He lives I can face tomorrow. Because Jesus lives, you can face tomorrow, too. It’s called trust.

Let’s stand and pray together. Oh Lord Jesus, so often, so often we look at the waves and not at You. We look at the thorns and not the green pastures that You’re actually asking us to lie down in. The green pasture called trust. Today that ends. Today we start anew and if you’re ready to go beyond just accepting Jesus as your Savior, if you’re ready to just trust Him with everything, just repeat this line: Jesus, I trust You. Jesus, I trust You.

Thank You, Jesus, we give praise to You in Jesus’ name. Let’s give the Lord an applause. That’s not just an amen.

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