James Merritt - Now and Forever
Life, if you think about it's kind of like reading a book there's a beginning and then there is an ending. And then there is a, what you've got in between. And it's the same way really when you start out with a book, when you start out reading a book, you start at the beginning and you're trying to figure out, what the book is about and where the book is going. And then you start getting into the middle of the book and you start flipping through the chapters and you're following the plot, you're engaging in the storyline, but there comes that point where you start wondering how's this thing going to end? How's the story going to wind up? Is it gonna be one of those, and they live happily ever after kind of endings or maybe not so much. And then you even wonder was the book even worth reading at all? Life in a way is just like that.
All of us are like that. We have a beginning, we have an ending, we've got a storyline in between, but this is what's kind of interesting, when you're younger, you kinda really, all you think about is his life. You think about kind of the beginning and how life is lived but then as you grow older you begin to think more about death. And then as you get closer from the beginning to the ending you start thinking about all that was in between and you really start wondering did my life really mattered in my life really count. And then you even turn your focus to but how am I going to end up? That's exactly what a King named David was thinking about and doing, as he wrote the last stanza of a song in what we call the 23rd Psalm. It is the most famous of all the songs. This song has topped the charts for more than 2,500 years.
There are 150 Psalms in the book of Psalms. And yet there is no question about it. This song, the 23rd song is the best known, the best loved, the most quoted Psalm of all of them. If you're just joining us for the first time we have been in a series that we've been calling pitch perfect. Because when you read this Psalm it is so incredible to see how rich, so deep how powerful it is and how it address his life from the beginning through the storyline all the way to the end. Now, when David this last stanza verse six in Psalm 23, he didn't know how many days, how many weeks, how many months, how many years he had left in his life. But he definitely closes on a high note. He's describing what his life will be like until it ends. And then he's anticipating what his life will be like after it ends.
So in other words, what David does in the last stanza of the song is he's looking at the now and he's looking at the forever. He's looking at the beginning, the storyline and the end. And then what comes after that storyline. I generally fly quite a bit, haven't lately, obviously but I generally fly quite a bit. And I remember one time, years ago, I was at the airport. I was having to check my luggage. And so the lady said, "Sir, what is your final destination"? I thought I'd kind of be funny. And I said, "Well, heaven is my final destination". She kind of looked up and she smiled. She said, "Well, I can't check your bags to heaven". And I looked at her and I said, "Well, that's okay, based on my experience they probably wouldn't make it there anyway".
Now, if you're like 80% of the people in this country, you either believe there's more to life than this life or you hope there's more to life than this life. You hope that life has a comma at the end of the sentence, not a period. One of the last stanza in this beautiful Psalm, David shares with us that there is more to life than this life, if one thing is true, if the Lord is our shepherd, if the Lord is our shepherd there is more to life than this life. So let's listen to this last stanza now. David said, "Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life". That's the now. And after the ending, "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever". David is talking about now, and he's talking about forever.
And David tells us two things about life. One about life after death. One about life before death. If the Lord is our shepherd, is that absolutely true so just two quick things today. He said, now we live in God's hands on earth. If the Lord is your shepherd right now, wherever you are, whatever your circumstance is you are in God's hands on earth. Now, David is convinced that no matter how many chapters of life are left in the book of his life, it doesn't matter. Here's what he believes. "Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life". David's absolutely convinced no matter where I am, what I'm doing, no matter what situation I'm in, every morning when I get up two things are gonna come behind me, all of my life. God's goodness and God's love. They're gonna follow me every day, in every way I can't shake them. I can't hide from them. I can't lose them. I can't get away from them. He says, every time he looks behind him he knows two things are right there. God's goodness and God's love.
Now, the first one is God's goodness, listen to it again. He says, "Surely your goodness and your love will follow me". He says, God's goodness will follow behind me all the time. Now let me say this. I am not saying David was not saying and this verse does not mean that everything that happens to us all the time is always going to be good. What it does mean is this no matter what happens to us, when it happens, where it happens, how it happens, some way, somehow this magnificent God, this shepherd of ours is gonna take everything that comes our way and he's gonna work it out for our good. Now you may find this hard to believe but God's goodness is always right behind you. It is always right around you. It is always right above you.
As a matter of fact every good thing that ever happens to you. Every good thing that ever comes to you comes from God. Don't take my word for it. James, the brother of Jesus, who by the way, was eventually beheaded. James, the brother of Jesus said this. He said, "Every good and perfect gift is from above". Think about every good thing that's ever come into your life. No matter what kind of good thing it may be. Material, immaterial, spiritual, natural, doesn't matter. Think of every good thing, things you would consider good, that's come into your life. He said, they have come down from the father. Every good thing we have comes from God.
Now, admittedly, there are some things that are good things that God gives us, but we don't realize it. And we don't recognize it. Let me just give you an example. Take lightning just think about that bolt of lightning, that occasionally you see that flashes across the sky. Did that the goodness of God is even in a flash of lightning? For example, we've got to have nitrogen in our body are we can't live. That's one of the chemicals, that's one of the compounds that we've got to have in our body. If we're even going to survive. The problem is although the atmosphere is full of it we can't breathe it into our lungs. It's impossible. We can't absorb it in our lungs because it would kill us. So here's what God does. God sends this electrical charge called lightning flashing through the air. And here's what it does. It separates the nitrate in the atmosphere from the nitride. It separates actually the nitrogen from the atmosphere and the rain. And it brings that nitrogen down to earth.
Now, when that rain hits there's this there's this little bacteria that transforms that nitrate into a nitrite in the form where a plant can absorb it. And then here's what happens when we eat the plant that absorbs that nitrite. Or we eat the animal that ate the plant that absorbs that nitrite. We get the nitrogen into our body that we need to survive. So the next time you just simply see a bolt of lightening flash through the sky. You can say, God, you are so good. Your goodness follows me everywhere I go. See the problem is we take God's goodness for granted so often that we just forget how good God is that there was a dad. He had three little children and he doted on those kids. Kind of like how I do my grandkids. He spoiled them, gave them everything that they wanted. They were all the apple of his eyes. He loved those kids. But at times they would complain about things that they didn't get or things that they got that they got tired of or things that they did like or they didn't get what they wanted.
And it just irritated him one time. And they were having one of those griping moments, complaining moments. And so he decided as a good dad, hey this is a great time to teach something to my kids. They were complaining about something they didn't like. And so he said, I want you to kids to sit down. So they all sat down to the floor. He said, let me tell you how things were when I was a kid. It was one of those, when I was a kid talks that kids love to hear, they really don't but you know that. He said the kids, he said, you just don't realize how good you've got it. He said, let me tell you about me. He said, when I was a boy, he said, I had to get up before daylight to deliver newspapers. He said, I had to walk to school every day. It didn't matter if it was raining, snowing, hot, cold. I had to walk to school every single day.
When I got out of school and I got older, I had to work in a grocery store to make even more money because mom and dad didn't make a lot of money. And sometimes we didn't have a lot to eat. And so I had to work at a grocery store just to help out. And I didn't get to do a lot of the things that you got to do. Well, man, his kids eyes were as big as saucers. And they were just in awe of what their dad had told them. And he was kind of feeling pretty good and patting himself on the back and thought he'd gotten the message across until his little four year old boy looked at him and with his big eyes and he said, wow, dad, he said, I bet you really are glad you live with us right now. Now God's goodness always follows us. It goes with us everywhere we go. But watch this, David said, not only does God's goodness follow us all the days of our life. God's love follows us all the days of our life. He says, "Surely your goodness and love will follow me".
Now that word for follow literally means to pursue or to run after. In other words, here's what David was saying. If the Lord is your shepherd every day of your life right on your heels, right behind you never leaving you. You've got God's goodness. And you've got God's love. They are right on your heels. They are always at your back. Let me tell you something. There's one thing you'll never hear God say, never. You will never hear God say these words. I don't love you anymore. You may hear that from a girlfriend or a boyfriend you might hear that from a former wife or a former husband. You may hear that from someone you thought was your best buddy but you will never hear God say, I don't love you anymore. There is never, there's one thing that nobody in this world has ever without. Whether they realize it now or not. Nobody is ever without the love of God.
There's one thing you can never leave behind. There's one thing you can never shut the door on. And that is the love of God. And listen to me carefully. God's love runs hot all the time. It doesn't run hot one day, cold the next. His love runs hot all the time. He will love you just the same when you do bad, he'll love you just the same when you do good, he won't love you more when you do what's good. And he won't love you less when you do what is bad. I read, this is a great story. There was a man, who was a big James Bond fan which by the way I am too but he was a big James Bond fan and since he was a kid. And from the time he was just a little boy he dreamed one day of owning an Aston Martin which is the same car that James Bond drove.
And so, as he began to work he began to save money at an Aston Martin fund. And he started saving money for this Aston Martin because he wanted to drive the same car that James Bond drove. Well, through the years, he finally saved up enough money and he found this used Aston Martin. And he went and he loved it and he bought it and he paid for it. That car was the apple of his eye. Every Saturday without fail, he would get up and he would wash that car inside and out. He would spit shine, he would polish the rims. He would polish the car. He knew every bolt, every piece of Chrome on that car. He loved that car. Well, his wife never ever, ever asked to drive it because she knew that was kind of his pet car. And she didn't really care to drive to anyway.
But one day she was going to the grocery store and he just wanted to be a loving husband. He said, you know what, you have never driven this car. He said, I'm gonna stay home. I'm going to watch the kids. You take the car to the grocery store. She didn't really wanna, he said, no, listen, you will love it. He said, here's the keys. You go take it and you go enjoy it. So she gets in the car and sure enough, it was a convertible and she let the cover down over and she could feel the power of that car. And it handled like a dream, the feel, the ride. She said, I know now why he loves this car and everything was going just great. Until out of the corner of her eye, she saw a kid, a little boy on a bicycle who was about to ride right in front of her car. When she swerved to miss that boy she T-bones a pickup truck.
The front of that Aston just crumpled like a piece of paper, glass broke, the car went dead and she was in total shock. She wasn't hurt the guy in the truck wasn't hurt but the car was just totaled. Well a man came running over to her and he said, ma'am, he said, lady, are you okay? And she said, well, yes I'm okay. So let me get you out of the car. So helped her get out of the car. And he took her to the curb and he said, listen, just sit here, so I'll call the police. There'll be here in a moment. You just sit here and we'll make sure everybody's okay. She said, as she was sitting on that curb, she said all she could think about was, I'm fine, I'm okay. But Jim's gonna kill me. I don't even know what he's gonna do. Our marriage won't be the same. I can't believe this has happened to me.
Now, her husband was a good husband and she knew he was and eventually get over it but she just knew how much he loved that car. And she was just crushed. The first time she drives the car, the car is totally wrecked and she just couldn't to see the look on his face, when he got the call to let him know that his precious car had been totaled, she was just sick. And she's sitting on that curve. And she's thinking about it. And she was just deep in thoughts. She was just getting more depressed by the moment. And then the police officer shows up and he walks over and he says, ma'am, are you all right? She said, yes. He said, I need to see your driver's license and your insurance card. So she walked to the car and she grabbed her purse. And she reached into her purse and she gave the officer her driver's license. And then she reached into the packet in the glove compartment. There were all the insurance papers there.
And so she opened it up to give the husband, give the police officer, the insurance card. And to her surprise on top of the car there was an envelope and it had her name on it and she opened it up. And here's what the note said, Dear Beth if you're reading this, you probably been in an accident. Don't worry, I pray that you are all right. And just remember it is you that I love, Jim. Remember it is you that I love, Jim. Do you know what the cross of Jesus is? The cross of Jesus Christ is God saying to you and to me and the entire world every day, no matter how you've wrecked your life, no matter how you have totaled your life, no matter how you have messed up and fouled up your life, it is you that I love.
Now, here's the question. Why David talk about these last two things. Goodness and love, well remember, this is a shepherd song. It's a shepherd about, talking about sheep. Now shepherds don't drive sheep, they lead sheep Shepherds are always out front. Well, now wait a minute. Who would bring up the rear? We've been talking about a shepherd but the shepherd's always out front. He may have 100, 200, 300 sheep. He can't see all the way back. So who brings up the front? Well, every shepherd that has a lot of large flock always have trained sheep dogs. And normally there would be two dogs and they knew exactly what their job was. Their job was to follow behind the sheep. And if a sheep started, wandering off or a sheep got hurt or started falling behind, they would bark. And they would alert the shepherd to come and take care of that sheep. That was their job.
And what David was saying was, this is so cool. David was saying, I'm not only gonna lead you. God's not only gonna lead you as your shepherd. He'll be out front, but he's also got your back covered too. He's got this sheep dog called goodness and he's got the sheep dog called love. And he said, they're always right behind you. They're always watching over you. They're always helping you when you have a need. And by the way I am so glad that David tells us this goodness and this love doesn't just follow some of the days of our life or most of the days of our life. He says they are following me all the days of my life. Think about that. God never flips the switch. He never turns his goodness off. He never turns his love off. He's not good one day and bad the next. He's not loving one day and unloving the next. David said all the days of my life until I draw my very last breath. God's goodness and God's love follow me, right on my heels right behind me.
See if Jesus is your Lord, if he is your shepherd, in the now, right now, we live in God's hands on earth. But now wait a minute. What about when the book is closed? What about when the last word is read? What about when life is over? What after the now, what about the forever? Now, I live in God's hands on earth but if the Lord is our shepherd we will live in God's house for eternity in God's hands on earth, in God's house for eternity. Now there's a seemingly insignificant word in this Psalm you might miss normally, but it's that little word, but it's a big word it's called and. Now I want you to listen to this verse with that word in mind. "Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever".
That word connects our today with our yesterday, it connects our present with our future. It connects our life with our death. It connects our beginning and our ending but what comes after the end? Here's what he says. "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever". David had one final goal in his life. There's one more thing he wanted to do. It was his major goal. It was his greatest goal. It was his one goal. He said, I want to live in God's house forever. I don't mind telling you that's my last goal. That's my major goal. That's my one goal. I want to live in God's house forever. He doesn't just say like some people say, I'll just die. I'll just cease to exist. I'm just gonna dissolve into nothingness. He says, no, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
By the way, that would really speak to a shepherd. You know why, shepherds really didn't have a home. Shepherds were always on the move. Shepherds live in tents. And as soon as sheep clean off one spot and eat all the grass in one spot, what did they have to do? They gotta move to another spot. They've gotta move on. So a shepherd never got to settle down in one place. A shepherd never gotten to call any one place his home, but David says, one day, I'm going to make my final move. And by the way it's interesting, the Bible talks about your body being like a tent and death takes the tent down. That's exactly what happens. David says, one day my tent is going to come down and I'm not gonna have a tent anymore. I'm going to a home that will never move and I'll never have to move again. I'm going to my final destination. I'm going to live in the house of the Lord forever.
But now watch this. What makes this house so special is not the size of it. It's not the shape of it. What makes this house so special is who lives in it and who it belongs to. It is the house of the Lord. By the way, if you notice something, do you notice that this Psalm, this song begins with the Lord and it ends with the Lord. The Lord is my shepherd. It starts with the Lord. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. It ends with the Lord. Let me tell you why that's such a big deal. People ask a lot of times about heaven, what's heaven like and what's it gonna be like when I don't think even the angels language to describe it.
And I think, God goes out of his way with the limitations of human language to make it as beautiful as it can be. But I want you to get something in your mind today. What makes heaven, heaven is not pearly gates. What makes heaven, heaven is not golden streets. What makes heaven, heaven is not a river of life. What makes heaven, heaven is not there be it light and no darkness. What makes heaven, heaven is God. What makes heaven, heaven is God. See heaven's not just a place. It's a person. If the Lord is your shepherd, your final place is not a box in the ground. Your final place, not ashes in a jar. Your final place is God's house and God himself. Look, I don't know all the facts about the future. I'm just like you. I don't know how I'm going to die. I don't know when I'm going to die. I don't know where I'm going to die. I don't know the facts about the future, but I'll tell you what I do know.
I know the finality of my future. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And see what blesses me about this song we've been studying. And I hope you've been blessed, like I've been But you know what really blesses me about this song is God saved the best for last. So let's go back. From the beginning, God says, when it comes to your need, you'll never lack anything. He says, when you're hungry, I'll lead you to green pastures. When you're thirsty, I'll lead you to still waters. If you get off on the wrong path, I'll lead you to the path of righteousness. When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death I'll be right there beside you protecting you with my rod and with my staff. In this life, when you're surrounded by enemies and tough times, you're gonna be eating grace and peace and love and joy right off my table.
And then he tells us that our earthly life is going to be full of goodness and love no matter what happens to us because God's gonna work everything out for our good. And he says, no matter what we do, he will always love us. And you say, man, it just can't get can't get any better, but it does because then he tells us, then he tells us if the Lord is your shepherd, the best is yet to be. Listen, even the very best this life has to offer you. You haven't seen anything yet because I don't want you to miss the very last word of this Psalm, what is it, forever. I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. So I want you to draw real close and listen. Everybody is going to live somewhere forever. I'm gonna live somewhere forever. You're going to live somewhere forever. I'm gonna be somewhere forever. You're gonna be somewhere forever.
Now, I don't know what you're going to put before your forever. I don't know what your address is going to be but you are going to be somewhere forever. And here's what God says. God wants your final destination to be heaven. When you come out of the valley of the shadow of death he wants you to walk right into his house. And this is what life's all about. Life is a journey, that's just getting you ready for your final destination. So I wanna close with this fantastic, exciting story. I wanna recommend the book to you that, it's one of those, you can't put it down books. And I just finished it just a short time ago. It's by James Donovan and it's called "Shoot For The Moon". It's all about Apollo 11, the voyager that took man to the moon and landed there for the first time.
Well, the chapter where they talk about when Neil Armstrong actually landed on the moon. It's a heart pumping heart racing chapter and it keeps you on the edge of your seats. Let me tell you the story. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, they're in this module and they're gonna land on the moon. Now they're flying by computer but it was about to land on the side of a crater, that what was about the size of a football stadium. And he said the boulder surrounding this thing were literally as big as automobiles. And Armstrong realized not only would that land he'd be extremely dangerous but he said they were moving too fast to land there. So he did something he'd prepared for he got it off the computer. He took manual control. He began to fly the module himself.
Well, alarms started going off telling them that they were going too fast and were getting too close to the ground, but they just had to ignore those alarms 'cause this is what they came for. So all the time now the ground is getting closer and closer and closer. And Armstrong's looking for a place to land and he speaking to ground control calmly. But back in America they measured his heart rate at 150 beats a minute. In other words, his adrenaline is overflowing. He is full bore, his life is hanging in the balance. And then he sees this relatively smooth area between some large craters and a field full of rocks. It wasn't perfect, but it would just, have to do. So he said, how's the fuel? Well, the engine didn't carry more than about 12 minutes worth of fuel. And Aldrin said, well, we've got about 8% left.
Now, here's the thing. By this time in every simulation they had done back on earth, getting ready for this landing. The lunar module had either already touched down, or it had crashed or had been aborted. So this new landing site wasn't even in complete view yet, the fuel's getting low. And now this red light comes on. Well, back in Houston, they're counting down the seconds before the Eagle ran out of fuel, it had about 60 seconds left. You could cut the tension with a knife. There were even some that were about to tell Armstrong to a abort but now they realized it had entered in what's called the dead man zone. If you know anything about flying helicopters, you know that it's an old helicopter term meaning when you get into a dead man zone, it is too late to abort.
Your downward velocity is gonna crash you into the ground. There's nothing else you can do. No need to ignite the ascent engine to try to get back to the mothership. In other words, it was literally a do or die moment. They were moving left when a blue light flashed on the control panel. And it said two words that were the most beautiful words they'd heard in a long time lunar contact. In other words, one of the probes had touched the surface Armstrong shut down the engine. Neither one of them had even felt the touchdown but they had stopped moving. And at 2:17 Houston time these two astronauts shook hands checked to make sure that everything was off and all was well. And after a few seconds, but with excitement in his voice Neil Armstrong said those famous words "Tranquility base here, the eagle has landed". Without telling anyone those two astronauts had decided before they even took off wherever they land they were going to call it tranquility base.
When I read that story, I thought to myself one of these days, we're going to take off from this planet. We're going to leave it at warp speed. We aren't going to be traveling, from earth to the moon, we're gonna be traveling from earth to eternity. But on this trip, we don't have to worry about fuel, crashing or even getting back home. Because if the Lord is your shepherd, you will be home. It will be a home custom built by Jesus who died on the cross and came back from the grave. So we can live in his house forever and ever. And that's exactly what we will do if the Lord is our shepherd and our lives will be pitch perfect.
Would you pray with me right now? I just wanna ask you one simple question. It's real easy. You die right now. Your heart quit beating, your lungs quit breathing, your eyes quit seeing, your ears quit hearing, you are dead. Where will you be? Will you be in the house of the Lord? Will you take that one step from earth and eternity and immediately be in the presence of the God whose goodness and love followed you all the days of your life? And they only did that if he was your shepherd. Some of you, if you were honest you'd have to say either A, no, I wouldn't be there or you'd say, I don't know. Well, simple question. Would you like to? Would you like to be able to say no matter when my life ends, one thing I know when my life is over, I'm gonna live in the house of the Lord forever. That can only be true of you if he is your Lord.
So if today you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior. If you've depended on anything else to get you to God's house but Jesus. If you know today you need this shepherd to be your shepherd and you would like to make him your shepherd today. Would you just pray this prayer with me right now? Just simply say, we're gonna say it the Bible way:
Jesus, today, I confess that you are my Lord. I don't just say it. I am surrendering my life to you as my Lord. I repent of my sins today and I surrender my life to you today. I believe in my heart that God raised you from the dead. I believe that you are alive right now. I believe you died on a cross for me. I believe you're the savior. And I accept you as my savior. Thank you for hearing my prayer.
If you prayed that prayer, not said it, but prayed it. If you prayed that prayer and you meant it, God saved you. Your sins have been forgiven. You've been given eternal life. Jesus has become your shepherd and you have a reservation in God's hands.