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James Merritt - Restoration Project

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    James Merritt - Restoration Project
TOPICS: Pitch Perfect, Restoration

Somebody has well said that parenting is probably the hardest job that you'll ever love. And I want to just say a word to parents today, and I really want to sympathize with you and I mean it, parenting is hard. It's a hard job. I've never had a harder job. And I don't think it's ever been harder to be a parent than it is in the moment that you're parenting right now. And I can still remember the first time that I realized what a hard job it was gonna be to be a dad. James, my oldest son was just a toddler and he'd just began to learn to talk and to walk. And I don't remember what he did, he did something he shouldn't have done, and when he did, I looked at him and I said a word that every parent learns to say relatively very quickly. I looked at James and I said, "No".

Well, every parent with a toddler can predict exactly what happened next because what I intended to be the end of the conversation, my little boy saw as the beginning of a negotiation. And I knew it when he gave me this look. Yeah, "Like really"? And then quite frankly, I gave him this look, "Like yeah, I really, really mean it". Now I look back on those days and it is funny. If you have toddlers, you know you're gonna have that confrontational moment when they first hear that no word and they look at you like, "I don't think you really meant what you said".

But I'll tell you what happened at that moment, I can remember it like it was yesterday. It dawned on me at that moment what a tremendous responsibility I had as a father because one of the greatest responsibilities we all have as parents is to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong and to teach them how to make decisions that will put them on the right path. And it's a monumental moment in your life and it happens to all us when all of a sudden the light comes on and you realize, "I've gotta make decisions". Every day of your life you make decisions. You made a decision to tune in right now. You could have stayed in bed, you could have slept, you could be watching something else. But you made a decision to be listening to God's Word right now.

And I have learned that decisions can make you, they can break you. Decisions can put scars in your soul or they can put stars in your heart. One bad decision can ruin your life forever. One good decision can redeem your life forever. One bad decision can take you down for the count. One good decision can make you stand firm forever. And as you go through life, you come to realize that you're gonna frequently rejoice over the good decisions that you made and you're going to fervently regret the bad decisions that you made. And let me just tell you as a parent, I made a lot of bad decisions. I made a lot of parental missteps in my life that I've had to confess and that I've had to seek forgiveness for. And it's just not easy, it's a difficult, difficult job. But here's the problem. The problem is when it comes to these wrong decisions or right decisions, what you'll find is that wrong turns take you down wrong roads or wrong decisions take you down wrong roads and right decisions take you down right roads.

Now here's the great news, and we're gonna read this today. Our God has not left us on our own to try to make right decisions. We're not left to our own ingenuity or intelligence of trying to decide, "Should I go here or go there, do this or do that? Should I do the right thing or the wrong thing"? Here's what we're learning right now. We have a God who loves us so much, He says to us, "I want to be like a Father to you and You be my child and I want to be a Shepherd to you like you are one of My sheep". So from the time that we're born until the time that we die, we have a God who's not so busy running this universe that He doesn't want to take the time to guide us and to guard us and to grow us into becoming everything we were created to be.

And a shepherd by the name of David wrote a song about that very thing, it's called Psalm 23. And if you're just joining us here for the first time, we're in a series that we're calling "Pitch Perfect". We're taking the 23rd Psalm verse by verse by verse and what we're learning is that this is a song that literally can take you from the cradle to the grave. It can take you all the way from the time you're born to the time you die and make your journey of life have tremendous joy along the way because the truth of the matter is we all face decisions in life. In fact, if you wanna know what life really is, you think about it, life is simply one decision after another. For example, you're doing right now what you decided to do. You could decide right now to turn me off. You could decide right now to go do something else. Life is nothing but one series of decisions right after another.

And again, there are only two kinds you can make, wrong decisions and right decisions. Well, in the third stanza of this Psalm, David shares with us that we have a Shepherd that loves us so much. He will correct us when we make the wrong decisions and He'll direct us to make the right decisions. So here's who I want to talk to today. If you're on the wrong road right now because of a wrong decision that you made in the past, there's hope for you. If you're at a crossroads right now and you're struggling and you're trying to make a decision and you don't know which way to go, you don't know which path to take, you don't which decision to make, there's help for you. And in this one little single sentence we're gonna read today, this one stanza of this Psalm, you're gonna find out, "Hey, there's hope for my past, there is help for my present, and there's a wonderful, wonderful heart change for my future".

Here's what we read. "He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake". Healing for the past, hope for the present, help for the present, and hope for the future. See, we're all God's restoration projects at times in our lives. And this stanza, this sentence tells us how God carries out that project perfectly. I want you just to think about that, just let that run through your mind. "He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake". Now, I'm just gonna share two quick things with you this morning. Here's what our Shepherd promises to do for us every day of our life. Number one, God lifts us up from the wrong path. He lifts us up from the wrong path. Here's the first thing David writes, "He restores my soul". He says, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I won't lack anything". And then the very first thing he said, this is what the Shepherd will do, "He restores my soul".

Now that verse literally says, "He brings me back," that's what it means. He brings me back. Now the question is, what does that mean? Now, you've gotta remember to understand this song. This is a song about a shepherd and his relationship to the sheep, keep that in mind. He's the Shepherd, we're the sheep, that's what the song is all about. And so what we're reading here is about two dangers that a sheep faces that a shepherd always knows about. The first danger that a sheep faces is when he becomes what they call a cast sheep. This is an old English term for a sheep that has kind of turned over on his back and it can't get up by itself. Here's a picture. This is a cast sheep. You don't realize this, this sheep is in big trouble. If that sheep is left alone, that sheep will die, that sheep won't make it. It's a cast sheep.

One of the saddest sights you'll ever see is when a sheep is lying on his its back, feet straight up in the air, struggling frantically to get up, but it can't do it. You say, "Well, why not"? Well, it's interesting, sheep are built in such a way that if they ever fall on their side and then roll over on their back with their legs sticking straight up, they literally do not know how to get back on their feet. And when that happens, they become very frightened, they begin to kick, they begin to flail, they begin to bleat. They begin to cry out because they know they're now in the most vulnerable position they could possibly be in. They're open to attack from buzzards, from vultures, dogs, coyotes. They all know that a cast sheep is easy prey just waiting to be killed, but it gets worse than that. Whenever sheep is flat on its back, gases begin to collect in the stomach. And as those gases collect and expand, it hardens the stomach, it cuts off the air passage, and if it's hot, sheep will literally suffocate in a matter of hours, but the problem gets worse. Because they're flat on their back, the blood circulation in their legs is cut off and their legs go numb.

Now here's the problem, there is not one thing that a cast sheet can do about their predicament. They need one thing, you know what they need. They need a shepherd. They need a shepherd that can get them back on their feet. In other words, they need a shepherd that can restore them to the right position, that can restore them to standing on their own feet, that can bring them back to where they need to be. And here's what they do. When a shepherd restores a cast sheep, here's the first thing he does. When he sees that sheep lying on its back, he will massage their legs to get that circulation back so that when they roll back over, they're able to stand. Then he rolls that sheep over to relieve the pressure of gases in the stomach. Then he will gently put his hand under the sheep's belly and he'll lift it up because it's not quite ready to stand on its own.

And that shepherd will stand there with his hands under the belly of that sheep, holding that sheep, talking to that sheep, caressing that sheep, loving that sheep until the sheep has calmed down and he can stand on his own four feet. That's one problem is when a sheep becomes a cast sheep. But a sheep has another problem. Jesus talked about it in a story. That's when they become a lost sheep. Now it's interesting to read how sheep get lost. As sheep are eating, they never look up. When sheep are eating and hungry, the only thing they care about is the next blade of grass right in front of them, that's all they're focusing on. So as sheep are eating, they never look up. They just walk and eat, walk and eat, walk and eat, walk and eat. And what can happen is, they'll just, while they're eating that grass, they'll just walk off, they'll just wander off. And here's the problem, a lost sheep can't find its way back.

Now dogs, pigeons, horses, they all have homing instincts, they can find their way home. But see, sheep, they have problems. A sheep is not strong like a lion, it's not swift like an antelope, it's not smart like a dog. And once the sheep has gotten lost, once a sheep has gone astray, it will never find its way back home. The only way that sheep will survive, Jesus told this, the shepherd has to leave all the other sheep and he's got to go find that one lost sheep, get him off the wrong path, put him back on the right path. It's what David is referring to as "restoring his soul". Now what's David, why does David bring all this up? This is a beautiful picture of what our Shepherd is willing to do for us.

There's some of you watching this ministry right now and you've been docked flat on your back spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, and you don't think you'll ever get back up. Let me make a promise to you. God will restore your soul. God will bring you back. God will give back your peace. He'll give back your joy. He'll give back your strength. He'll give back your confidence. Maybe you feel like a cast sheep today. Maybe your problem is guilt. Maybe you're flat on your back because you made some bad decisions morally and ethically and spiritually, and you're flat on your back with guilt. The beautiful thing is all you have to do when you're flat on your back with guilt, when you've blown it, you know you've blown it, you know God knows you've blown it, you know He knows you've blown it, the beautiful thing is all you've gotta do is just go to your Shepherd and just simply say, "I'm flat on my back, I can't get up. I'm at my last... I'm on my last leg literally. I don't know what else to do".

And if you'll just simply confess to your Shepherd your guilt, confess your sin, He will restore your soul. You know what Shepherd will do for you? I don't care how bad you've messed up. He will pick you up. He will clean you up. He will set you up. He will forgive and He will forget. The very week I was working on this message, just a few weeks ago, I got a call from a young man who just recently started attending our church. And I got a call and I've known his family for a long time and he was struggling. And he'd sent me an email said, "Could I talk to you"? So I gave him a call and I said, "What's the problem"? Here's what he said. He said, "Pastor, I'm just not really sure I'm a believer". I said, "Really"? He said, "I'm really just not sure of my relationship to God".

Well, I began to explore, I said, "Well tell me why you're feeling that way"? You know what I found out? He was flat on his back because of guilt. He was literally living in a wrong situation and he knew it. He had made some wrong decisions that had put him in this wrong situation. And he was absolutely eaten up with guilt and he wanted to get out of it. But he said, "You know, I just don't even know if I'm really saved or not. I don't even really know if I have a true relationship with God or not". And I said to him, "This is a great phone call". He said, "What do you mean"? I said, "Well, not only should you not doubt your salvation, not only should you not doubt your relationship to God, you oughta to be sure of it". He said, "Why are you saying that"?

I said, "Because why do you think you're calling me? Why do you think this is bothering you? Why do you think you're eaten up with guilt? Because you've got a Shepherd that has seen you on the wrong path, watched you walk on the wrong path, and He is hounding you, He is after you, He's talking to you, He's convicting you. That's why you even made this call. You ought to be sure of your relationship," I said. "Because you know what God's wanting to do right now"? He said, "What"? I said, "You won't believe this, I'm working on this message right now. God wants to restore your soul. God wants to pick you up, turn you over, put you back on your feet, and get you going in the direction that you ought to go into".

So I said to him, I said, "Let me just ask you a question". I said, "What do you think God wants you to do in this situation"? He just lined it out perfectly. "I need to get out of this, I need to quit doing that. I need to do this, I need to do that". And he laid out exactly what he needed to do. And I said, "Okay, you know what to do, now what are you gonna do"? He said, "Pastor, I'm gonna do it". I said, "When are you gonna do it"? He said, "I'm gonna do it today". I said, "But when today"? He said, "I'm gonna do it right now". I said, "Give me your word". He said, "I give you my word". I said, "Okay, you email me, you call me, either one, if you don't do what you tell me you're going to do". You know what he said to me next? It was so precious to me. He said, "Pastor, I got my peace back. I got my joy back. I'm so grateful that you've talked to me. I'm so grateful that the Lord is my Shepherd".

See, that's what the Shepherd does, "He restores your soul". By the way, that word restore is one of the most beautiful, important, and frequently used verses in the Old Testament. It literally means to return. It literally means to turn back. There's a New Testament word for that, we don't hear it a lot anymore, oughta hear it more, it's called repent. Let me tell you what the Bible says about repentance 'cause we've made it a dirty word, it's actually a great word. When you're flat on your back because of guilt, because of sin, because you know you've made the wrong decision, you know you've taken the wrong path, you know you've not got gotten closer to God, you've gotten farther away from God. The only remedy for it is repentance. You turn away, you allow God to turn you back. And you know what, here's the wonderful news. It's happened in my life many times.

Repentance always leads to restoration and restoration always leads to rejoicing. You wanna know what a happy sheep is? A happy sheep is a sheep that was flat on his back, knew it was doomed, knew it was dying, knew death was at its door only to be restored by the shepherd. That's what repentance does. Now, maybe your soul's not cast down because of guilt, maybe it's cast down because of grief. And here's the good news for you, God can take the sting of grief and turn it into the song of joy. It doesn't matter whether you're broken by guilt or your burdened with grief, here's what God promised, "I will restore your soul".

So maybe you're spiritually on your back today because of a divorce that you didn't want and you didn't ask for. Maybe you're on your back today because of a pink slip that you didn't deserve. Maybe you're on your back today because of a bad report that you got from the doctor you didn't expect. And you may believe, and you may have convinced yourself, "My condition is hopeless, my cause..". Or "My condition is helpless, my cause is hopeless". But it is not because there is a Shepherd that can always lift you from the wrong path. He can restore your soul. You know, there's a lot of things we can restore. We can restore antiques. We can restore clocks. We can restore cars. We can restore furniture. We can restore paintings. But only God can restore the soul. Doctors and scientists, they can discover a lot of remedies for sick bodies, but only God can restore a sick soul. Because the only remedy for guilt or grief is the grace of a Shepherd who's always available to us, always has a hand down to us ready to pick us up and lift us from the wrong path.

So we have a Shepherd, we have a God who says, "Hey, when you make that wrong decision and you're going down that wrong path, yes, it is a dead end, but no matter how far you've been down that path, I'm ready to pick you up, put you back on your feet and lift you from that wrong path". But our Shepherd doesn't stop there, God doesn't stop there. Because not only will God lift us from the wrong path, David says that God leads us to the right path. He leads us to the right path. See God, doesn't just lift us up from the wrong path, set us down and say, "Okay, you're on your own. I hope everything works out for you. Don't do that again".

You know why He doesn't do that? 'Cause He knows if that's what He does, if He just picks you up, sets you down and walks away, you're gonna do the same thing again, you're gonna make the wrong decision again, you're gonna go down the wrong path again. He knows that, so He says, "You know what? I'm not just going to restore your soul, here's what I'm going to do. I'm gonna lead you in paths of righteousness for My name's sake". See, we have a Shepherd who not only feeds the flock, He leads the flock. He not only provides for the flock, He guides the flock. He not only protects the flock, He directs the flock. He leads us in paths of righteousness. He shows us the right path. See, there's another problem with sheep, sheep have a lot of problems. But they've got extremely poor vision. I didn't know this. Most sheep can only see about 10 yards away, that's their field of vision.

Think about it, about 30 feet. They can only see about 10 yards away. That's why they tend to wander off. That's why they can get off the wrong path. That's why they tend to just walk into a ditch and they'll fall flat on their back. Because one thing that's always true about a sheep is this, when that sheep is following the shepherd, they'll always stay on the right path. But if that sheep ever loses sight of the shepherd, they'll get off on the wrong path. I was reading the other day, shepherds fascinate me, and when I was studying for this, I didn't know this, but a Palestinian shepherd is one of the greatest trackers in the world, they're a master at reading tracks.

See in the desert, there are a lot of marks and there are a lot of paths, a lot of tracks, and they criss-cross the land. And some are made by wild beasts and others are made by animals lying in wait, but see to a sheep, every path looks the same. One path is just as good as the other path. Sheep don't realize that this path could lead to a wild animal, this path could lead to a cliff, this path could lead you to walk into deep water, this path could lead you to danger, this path could lead to a place where there's no grass and there's no water. That's why the shepherd always takes the lead. That's why the shepherd says to the sheep, "Hey, if you'll follow me, I promise you, you'll always wind up beside still waters. You'll always wind up in green grass. You'll always be on the path of righteousness".

Keep that in mind. When the Shepherd leads the sheep to the right path, this is important, at the same time He leads us to the right path, what else is He doing? He's leading you away from the wrong path. That leads me to say something so important. And I hope if you've got kids in your living room right now or teenagers right now, please listen to this from your pastor. I'm talking to you kids right now. I'm talking to you who are younger. I'm talking to those of you, you've got your whole life ahead of you. Listen to me carefully. Why has God given us commands in the Bible? Why has God given us 10 commandments? Why did God give all these Israelites all these dos and all these don'ts? Well, please hear me, there's a two-fold purpose. Whenever you come to a place in the Bible that's relatable to us today, whenever you come to a place where God says, "You shall not do this," you know what God's trying to do? He's trying to keep you off a path that will lead you to hurt, to harm, to headache, and to heartache.

But then you come to one of these positive commands. God says, "You shall do this. You are to do this". When God does that, you know what He's trying to do? He's trying to take you down a path that will lead you to health and to holiness and to happiness. And here's the great thing about our Shepherd, listen, He never gets it wrong. He never misreads the instrumentation on the panel. He never has a faulty compass. He always bats a thousand. He never makes a mistake. He always guides you to the path that is just right for you. He always puts you on the path that is just best for you. I want you to put two verses together. Let me just pull them up on the screen. Listen to these two verses. "The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day". "In the way of righteousness, there's life; along that path is immortality".

When God is leading you, here's what you can always know. You may not see the light at the end of the tunnel. You may be in complete darkness right now. You may not know which way to go. All you know is "I'm gonna follow my Shepherd". All you know is "I'm gonna let God guide me and God lead me". Then hear what you can know, you can always know He will lead you down a path that will never lead to darkness, never lead to disappointment, it'll never even really, truly lead to death. But there's one little caveat to all this. It doesn't do any good to have a Shepherd who wants to lead you in the right path if you're not willing to follow that Shepherd.

If you're determined to take the wrong path, there's not a lot that can be done because see there's only one way that the sheep can follow the shepherd. And I'm sure you've got this figured out. They gotta be able to see the shepherd. But even if they're able to see the shepherd, they gotta keep their eyes on the shepherd, they gotta focus on the shepherd because shepherds can only lead sheep if they're looking at him and they're listening to him. You can't follow a leader you can't see. You can't follow a leader you can't hear. So the question arises, well now, wait a minute, how does the Shepherd primarily lead us away from what is wrong and to what is right? How do I find, where are these right paths? He speaks most loudly and most clearly, here's how He does it.

You know how to discover what paths are wrong and what paths are right? You know the best way to find out when to make the right decision, when to make the wrong, and how to do it? God speaks most loudly and most clearly right here. This is where God says, "If you wanna know the paths to avoid, they're right in this book. If you wanna know the path to take, they're right here in this book. You wanna know the paths that are wrong and the paths that are right? Right here in this book".

There's an old saying, I've said it many times, I'm gonna say it again because it is so true. Sin will keep you from the Bible or the Bible will keep you from sin. It's true. Sin will keep you from the Bible or the Bible will keep you from sin. See reading your Bible, hearing your Bible, listening to your Bible, living your Bible, obeying your Bible, listen, it'll save you a lot of trouble. I am absolutely convinced if we spent more time following our Shepherd on the right path, we'd spend a lot less time asking for forgiveness for getting on the wrong path. It's worked all my life. If you will get into God's Word, if you'll ask God to do three things as you study His instructions, as you read His Word, He will do these three things for you and I promise you, you will always stay on the right path. You might want to write these down.

So I'm gonna take just a moment to go over them. When you open God's Word, if you'll ask God to do these three things, I promise you, He not only will do it, you'll always be on the right path. Ask God to do this. Number one, "God, give me wisdom". Not knowledge, you get knowledge at a college. You get knowledge at a university. "Give me wisdom". Number two, "Guide my walk. Lord, wherever my feet take me today, I'm always gonna have the chance to go the wrong path or the right path, God guide me to the right path". And then thirdly, "Guard my ways, Lord, guard my ways. Set a guard, put a sentry, give me a security guard around me. If I even think about going the wrong way, don't let me do it".

Because I want to tell you something, it's far better to ask God to bless your actions than it is to correct your mistakes. It may seem strange, but UPS trains their drivers not to necessarily take the shortest route between stops. In fact, they give every driver a specific route to follow and that includes this policy. The driver should never ever turn, make a turn through ongoing traffic. Even if they're going in the opposite direction to their final destination, doesn't matter. They're to keep going. They are never ever to make a turn into traffic. Why? Because they've learned it reduces the chances of an accident and it cuts delays caused by waiting for a gap in the traffic, and that also wastes fuel.

So they have designed their vehicle routing software to eliminate as many left-hand turns as possible. Now here's what's fascinating. Typically only 10% of turns are left-hand turns, but as a result of absolutely almost eliminating ever turning left, because of that one policy of always turning right, never turning left, listen to this. They use 10 million gallons less of fuel every year. They emit 20,000 less tons of carbon dioxide every year. They deliver 350,000 more packages than they would have otherwise every year.

And because of that, they cut the number of trucks they use by 1,100, bringing the company's total distance traveled down by, listen to this now, by 28 and a half million miles a year even though they're taking routes that are longer! All because they prefer right turns, not left turns. Here's the point. If you'll let the good Shepherd, who died for your sins, who came back from the grave, if you'll let that Shepherd every day give you wisdom, guide your walk, and guard your ways, He'll make sure you always turn right, you never turn wrong. And not only will you fully live life the way it was meant to be lived, you will live it more abundantly.
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