Levi Lusko - The Good Life
If you're just joining us now, welcome to the Happy Trails series we're taking some time to explore parts Oregon, and Utah, Wyoming. And this week, we're in the heart of the Jewel Basin, just outside of Big Fork, Montana at Camp Misery - what a name. And as we explore some of the parts of the country that we live in, we're also anchoring our hearts in the Psalms of ascent. These 15 Psalms that occur, (120 through 134 in the book of Psalms), are basically, old school equivalence of the road trip playlists that all of us would make. That we would have to sing and pass the time with as we would travel.
Only back in the day, the traveling that would take place in Israel would be going up to Jerusalem. So the city of Jerusalem was 2,500 feet above sea level and that meant that no matter where you came from, you would have to ascend to go up that plateau that Jerusalem sat upon. North, south, east, or west, you're going up to get there. But the lowest part of the Earth is actually in Israel, the Dead Sea, which sits some 14,000, 15,000 feet below sea level. And that means that potentially, where you're coming from... if you lived in that Dead Sea area, you could actually have to be going as much as 3,900 feet to get all the way to Jerusalem. From way deep down low to way up super high. And while you were traveling, imagine that, pilgrims streaming in.
The closest equivalent in our culture would probably be traveling to your aunt's house in Ohio for Thanksgiving. But three times a year, Jews from all over Israel would come streaming in on the trails, over the hills, up the mountains they would climb as they would make their way to Jerusalem. But not only were they ascending physically because of these 15 songs that they would sing together as a family, they also were ascending spiritually.
Now, it's really touching to me about this is thinking that Jesus, our Savior, He sang these songs. As a kid, He and Mary and Joseph, we know for a fact, at least on one occasion, probably many, many, many times throughout his life, they made this trek to Jerusalem. So imagine Jesus and Mary and Joseph and all the friends from Nazareth, all traveling on these trails and these songs being sung. And of course, deep in Jesus' heart, a real ultra significance He placed upon them as He knew the very reason He was on this Earth was to connect people all around Him, His family and His friends and by extension, you and me, to the peace that these songs have at their heart.
Well, if you have your Bible with you or your app, join me in Psalm 128, for our second Psalm of ascent that we're going to be studying. And let's anchor our hearts together as we look at these words that are going to appear on the screen. A song of ascents. "Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord. Who walks in his ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house. Your children, like all of plants, all around your table. Behold, thus, shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. The Lord bless you out of Zion. And may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Yes, may you see your children's children. Peace be upon Israel".
The title of my message as we go into this second Psalm of ascent sense that we're going to study is the good life. That's what we all want. All of us want to live that good life. What do we mean by that? Well, I think in our culture, it means (hopefully) that our life will basically, have in its essence, the beauty and happiness of a beer commercial.
Drama-free, worry-free. The Clydesdales horse brought the dog home or the dog brought the Clydesdales horse home. And everything around us is happy. And we're looking to each other, we're saying, this is as good as it gets. This is the good life. Well, what this song actually holds up for us is a picture of what the good life really looks like. Because when we talk about that, when we use that expression, what we mean is happiness. And that's really at the heart what the Psalmist is talking about here. He uses, verse 2, the phrase, "you shall be happy". Then three times, he uses the word blessed, or blessings, or bless. And that word in the Hebrew, if you translate it into English, it actually means happy, happy.
So it's not just happy one time. It's happy, happy. It's like happy inside, happy outside. Not some superficial, just for a moment happiness, but total well-being. Happy, happy. The question, of course, is how do we get there? And the answer is in verse 1. Blessed (look at it again), or happy, happy is everyone who fears the Lord (notice this next part) who walks in His ways. That's the key and that's what we want to talk about. If we want to live the good life, we need to learn how to walk in God's ways. And we're going to talk about this a little bit more as we head up to Mount Aeneas. Let's go.
So the key to this good life that God wants us to have, this happy, happy life, this life of blessing, which, by the way, is so much not what is generally on people's mind when they think about God. I think, deep down, there's this fear that God is out to get us. Against us. It's almost like we knock on wood when we're saying something goes good because if God hears, surely He's going to come down and mess us up. I almost hate to say it's going good because, man, God sure is going to ruin our plans. And if we get religious, God's going to send us off into the deep bushes of Africa and make us do things we don't want to do. And I don't know where we got this idea because God is for us.
Let me just tell you something. God loves you. There's no one in this universe that is as for you as God is. He wants you to live life to the full. A life that you would literally say, this is the good life. And really, all of creation is this movement back to the garden, this movement back to what was lost that sin stole. And so God says, follow me if you want to get to goodness. Follow me, if you want that good life. That's why the text says, it's walking in God's ways that's key to this happiness.
But that begs a question, and it's the first of four questions we're going to consider today as we journey through this Psalm of ascent. And this question is, what does it mean to walk in God's ways? What does that even look like? I know if I'm following you on the trail, I just follow your footsteps. But what does it mean to follow God's ways? How do we walk in His footsteps? And the key is, thinking how He thinks. It's looking at life as He looks at life. And it's making decisions through the grid that He does. How do we do that, exactly? Well, it's so simple. God sent His son so that we could see what God looks like with skin on. And we have a tangible example in Jesus of what that means.
I'm wearing a bracelet on my wrist that was pretty popular a number of years ago and it says, WWJD? And you know what? The fad may have come and gone, but that's still the question of questions: what would Jesus do? Better yet, what did Jesus do? And then, we get to follow in His example. Spoiler alert (the answer is L-O-V-E) love. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 22, He said, "love the Lord, your God, with all your passion and with all your prayer and all your intelligence".
This is the most, I got bit by a fly, yikes, now you know we're not on a green screen here, ladies and gentlemen. "Love God with all your passion, all your prayer, all your intelligence this is the most important on any list. But there is a second set alongside it and it's love others, as well as you love yourself. These two commandments are pegs, everything in God's law and all the prophets hangs from them". So if we're going to walk in this life that's the good life, the key is walking in God's ways and those are ways of love.
We must first, love God. We must then love others as we love ourself. Now, what that verse isn't saying is as important as what it is. It's not saying, don't love yourself. It's saying, love others as you love yourself. And those two things summarize everything that God has ever wanted from us. And everything that God has ever wanted for us. And it's what we saw modeled by Jesus when He was walking on this Earth. So the answer to the question: what does it mean to walk in God's ways? What does that look like, is to live a life of love.
So we're talking about what it means to walk in God's ways, which is what Psalm 128 says is the key to seeing this good life become a reality. The second question we want to answer is this, what are the benefits of walking in God's ways? Or put another way, what's going to happen if we choose to live this life loving God and loving people as we love ourselves? If we think how God thinks and follow in His footsteps and live out a will and a vision for our life that's not based on how we feel, but on what He says, if we do that, what's going to be the result of it? I see four things from the text. The first is, we're going to see God's blessings on our feelings. Now, what are some different ways we can feel? What are different feelings that we could have, girls?
- Anger. What else?
- Sad. What about when you're at night and you wake up and you had a bad dream, how do you feel?
- Scared. Then there's crazy feelings, like Lennox, which is why he's not in the video shoot anymore.
There's all different kinds of feelings. And the text tells us that we can expect God's blessings on our feelings when we choose to walk in His ways. It's in verse 2, look at it on the screen. "You shall be happy", or that's blessing, "and it shall be well with you". When you're walking in God's ways, no matter what you're facing, you can confidently declare it is well with my soul. Say that with me. It is well with my soul. Everybody. It is well with my soul. Why? Because when we're walking in God's ways, we can choose to be content. We can say no matter what's going on, it is well with my soul. And there really is that wellness that kicks in, an internal wellness.
A wellness on the inside that gives you a strength no matter what you're facing. It allows you to really say, things are good. I'm happy, but I'm also happy. I'm happy on the inside and there's a confidence that God's going to work everything else on the outside. Say it with me: happy, happy. Happy, happy. Happy, happy. It's a double happy that's the seal of God's blessing, a blessing on your feelings. A blessing on the inner wellness. And that's really the idea of peace throughout the Bible, this idea of Shalom or this idea of wellness. That God has got it under control.
That's the first thing: God's blessings on your feelings. It is well with you, the Bible promises. The second thing is there's a promised blessing on your finances. Now, what's finances? Money. Cash, money. What can you buy with money? Food. Food. How about coffee beans? We'll, get that going in a minute. Clothes. Clothes, there's all sorts of things you can buy. And look, the text promises there's going to be a blessing from God as you walk in His ways on your finances. This is in verse 2. This idea of laboring with your hands or I like how another translation puts it when it says, "your work will give you what you need. Blessings and good things will come to you".
What kind of things are going to come to you? Good things. Blessings and good things. Why is it that walking in God's ways will trigger financial blessing in your life? Here's why. Because when you're following God's plan and you're loving Him and loving people, it's impossible to be lazy. You can't say I'm loving God and loving people if I'm showing up at work and phoning it in. Or being late. Or not doing a great job. Or not being a good example. No, listen, when you're following God, you're going to be creative. When you're following God, you're going to work hard. When you're following God, you're going to go above and beyond. Doing more than is asked of you. You're going to go the extra mile. You're going to surprise and delight. You're going to innovate and serve. You're not going to be a suck up, or a gossip, or a nag, or bitter, or easily offended.
There's a triumphant strength to your spirit where you're saying, it is well with me. And even though that caused you to not need to seek after promotion, it's going to come and find you. It almost makes you magnetic to blessing and doors are just going to open up for you. And let me tell you, as an employer, when I see someone who's going above and beyond and always has that I can do that attitude, it just makes me want to give more opportunities to them. To give more projects to them. To trust them with more. And every boss in the world is looking for that kind of person. Who is trustworthy and works hard. Is creative. Is multiplying people, multiplying resources. And making more of opportunities, even when they have less to do with it.
I think of it this way. Daniel (in the Old Testament), Daniel was a secular worker. He was a government employee. He wasn't a priest or a pastor. He worked for a king, the King of Babylon. And the Bible says of Daniel (this is Daniel 6:3), Daniel was distinguished above all the other governors and satraps because an excellent spirit was found in him. So the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm. Did you catch that? There was a different spirit in Daniel. There was almost like a blessing on his feelings and the way he lived his life and the choices that he made. A different spirit within him. And the response was, the king just wanted to give him more control. Give him more power. Give him more authority.
And even when people tried to tear him down, it was almost like Daniel was magnetic to blessing. And when you have really, an influence like that working inside of you, it;s going to cause there to be a blessing on your resources. There is a second thing that's going to happen and it's this, or it's the third, rather, there's going to be blessing on your family. The text says, this is looking back at verse 3, it says, your wife will be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your home, I love that so much. Your children will be like little olive plants, ding, ding, ding.
Now, here's something I read about olive plants, girls. Did you know that olive plants can take seven years before they give their fruit, their olives? Can you imagine if you're taking care of a little plant and you didn't get fruit for seven years? We've got fruit on our apple tree on the second year and we were excited. But what if we had to wait seven years? That would be hard because patience is hard. But olive plants can take time to put their fruit, but you have to keep cultivating. Keep protecting. Keep nourishing. And keep taking care of them, even when you're not seeing that investment. Let me just encourage you, mom and dad. Maybe it just feels like, man, is there an end in sight to this? This thankless season of parenting?
I'm going to tell you, there is an end in sight. It's going to come quicker than you think. But what you're doing right now in this diligent phase is going to be responsible for that fruit that comes in those later days. So it is with the vine, you've got to tend to your husband, tend to your wife so that they can flourish because you're willing to nourish. And it's going to cause there to be a vibrancy. When you're walking in God's ways.... I know when I'm loving Jennie, and loving the girls, and loving Lennox, and causing that love for God to lead into my loving them, I get blessed as a result. God's blessings on the family.
And we sit there at the table and Clover was just saying the other day, when none of us are fighting and when everyone's happy, how do you feel? Joyful. You feel joyful. You just feels so good and everything is as it should be. And that's what God intends, for there be that blessing on your family and blessings on what you're facing. And you might say, man, I'm a long ways from that. And I'm going to just encourage you to take a step in that right direction. And maybe you don't have kids or maybe your kids won't talk to you, there's kids within the church. There's people in your life that God wants to put a front of you. For you to bless and for you to encourage.
Paul with Timothy. Ruth with Naomi. Mordecai with Esther. There are so many examples that really just show us the power of God being the father to the fatherless and using His church to do it. And this is critical. What we're doing here with the family is critical, as we sit down about to have breakfast. This is so important because this is how you change the world. One author put it this way, the welfare of the state, or he's talking about the nation, depends on the welfare of the home. And the welfare of the home depends on the spiritual condition of those in the home.
So Jennie and I loving Jesus and showing that to our girls and our home thriving, our home being a safe place, a place of Shalom, a place of sayla, of Sabbath, of rest, that is how you change the world. Because the nation is made up of families and the family is made up of the souls of those in it. So if we want to change the world, we have to experience God's blessings on our house life, on our home life. And that's really, the good life. There's a fourth thing and the fourth thing is our futures. Not just our kids, but notice the text says, in verse 6, may you see your children's children. And then it says, peace be upon Israel.
And really the, idea isn't for this to be taken so literally as just, may I see Livvy's kids, my grandkids? It's speaking more like hyperbolic. May you see are kids' kids and then, peace be on Israel after that. So if you think about it like skipping a stone. And here's Jennie and I and our kids, and then their kids, and then their kids, and really wringing out concentric circles of your kids' kids, and your kids' kids' kids. And what he's saying is if you love God, you're setting out successive generations of legacy and impact. Think about this, King David... do you, guys, remember King David? Who did he kill in the Valley of Elah? He was really tall. He killed Goliath. What was David's son's name?
- Solomon, that's right.
Now, Solomon built the temple, but what you might not know is that David actually paid for it. The Bible says that when God told David he wasn't supposed to build the temple, but Solomon was, he began putting up resources, putting up resources, saving up resources, not for him but for his son to have. And the text says, this is 1 Chronicles, chapter 29, it says, "now for the house of my God, I have prepared with all my might". Prepared with all my might. He began getting ready so much so when Solomon went to build the temple, he had everything he needed right there to build it.
And I want you, Fresh Life, to think about this. As we're loving our kids, as we're loving and building the house of God... because listen, if you build God's house, He's promised to build yours. You walk with God and you watch it ripple out into blessings on your life. But that's not even the end of it. Because what we're building as we build these churches, as we think about successive generations, we're working with a mind to secure God's blessings spiritually upon those who aren't even born yet. Because yeah, our kids know Jesus. Our kids have heard the gospel. The kids of our church are learning all about God. But what about all those around this part of the country that we live in? What about our nation with so many kids who don't know Jesus? Who haven't heard about God? We must build so that they have an easier time knowing who He is.
And what breaks my heart is thinking about the hopelessness that is so prevailing. These four states that we have church in: Montana, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, they are above average when it comes to suicide rates in our country. Matter of fact, I just read this new report that says the number one per capita state for suicide rate is Montana. The number three is Wyoming. Number five is Utah. And number 16 is Oregon. So in these 50 states, the places where we minister every day, the places where we work and we live and people we run into, there are so many people who are despairing of life. Who don't understand that life, that Shalom, that wellness, that peace, that happy, happy (happy in, happy out) that Jesus died for us to have.
So that's why it matters for us to build these buildings that are going to be filled with opportunities for people to come to know Jesus. We're not just doing it for us. We're doing it for our kids' kids and our kids' kids' kids so may peace be upon Israel. And I just challenge you, as you think about resources that God's blessing you with, think about estate planning. Think about naming Fresh Life in your will so that even as you go to heaven, there's a kingdom impact that happens. We should all be not just waiting till year end to think about our giving, but actually planning and saving towards those moments when we can really take intentional steps to expand, to go above and beyond. Why? Because of all these people who need to know how much they matter. How much God loves them. And what it would look like to see God's blessings open them up to the good life.
The next question we have to ask, that is, if it's so good, all the great things that come as a result of walking in God's ways, why don't we walk in God's ways? Why so often, as Jesus' followers, as His people, do we zig when we should zag? Do we do things other than what God would have us to do? Why do we value and make decisions and prioritize and think in a way that's not how God processes life? Why do we choose our own path? I think the honest truth is because to our perception, oftentimes, God's trails don't make sense to us. We look at the trails that He has us on, that He's going on. He says follow me and we start following Him. And that's pretty good, but then all of a sudden, we're going straight up a mountain.
And we look at this broad trail over here that seems to go straight to where we want to go. And we see His winding. Jesus put it this way. My trails are narrow trails, winding trails. But there are other trails that human understanding would have you go down that are broad and easy. So a lot of times, I think we look at what God is calling us to do and it seems just like, that's not a trail I want to be on. Maybe even if we were honest, we'd say, if I follow God, it's going to take me away from my dream. It's going to take me away from the good life. So we make those kind of decisions. Here's what you need to know, though. The fact is, God's trails... that, no, they don't often make sense. And they oftentimes, are going to be uncomfortable if we go down them. But some of the best blessings that God wants to give you lie on the other side of discomfort.
Let me say that, again. Some of the best blessings that God wants to give you lie on the other side of discomfort. Yeah, there's pain in pushing through that hike. There's pain in the horsefly bites, and the sunburn, and the ache in your calves. But, man, when you get to that vista, is beautiful. Plus, don't forget this: God knows things that you don't know. So even though the broad road that you look at that goes to exactly where you think you need to be, that might take you to middle of nowhere. With no way out. It only looks good for a while. God knows maybe we have to go up here and go over here and it's going to be hard for a while, but eventually, ultimately, He's going to bring you to where He wants you to be. I think about what Jesus said in the Beatitudes, you know that very famous section of Matthew 5, blessed are you, blessed are you, blessed are you? I like how a fresh translation puts it and gives us a different insight into it when it says, starting in verse 3:
"What wealth is offered to you when you feel your spiritual poverty, for there is no charge to enter the realm of heaven's kingdom. What delight comes to you when you wait upon the Lord, for you will find what you long for. What blessing comes to you when gentleness lives in you, for you will inherit the Earth. How enriched you are when you crave righteousness, for you will be surrounded with fruitfulness. How satisfied you are when you demonstrate tender mercy, for tender mercy will be demonstrated to you. What bliss you experience when your heart is pure, for then your eyes will be opened to see more and more of God. How blessed you are when you make peace, for then you will be recognized as a true child of God. How enriched you are when you bear the wounds of being persecuted for doing what is right, for that is when you experience the realm of heaven's kingdom. How ecstatic you can be when people insult and persecute you and speak all kinds of cruel lies about you because of your love for me. So leap for joy since your Heavenly reward is great. For you are being rejected the same way the prophets were before you".
So why don't we choose the trails that God wants for us often? Why don't we follow in God's ways? I think it's honestly, because oftentimes, we know better. But this forest behind me illustrates that good things can come out of bad situations. A lot of these forests down in the Jewel are made out of lodgepole pines. Lodgepole pines cannot reproduce without fire because there is a pitch coating that their seeds are wrapped in. So fire is bad and fire is harmful in many ways, but in other ways, only the heat of fire can cause that reproduction. So instead of turning away from God's ways when there's discomfort, instead, follow close after Him. Trust that He's a good guide. And believe that even in hard situations, He's going to bring the good life to you, even if it comes in a strangely wrapped package.
A final question we need to ask is, what is the secret to walking in God's ways? If it's so difficult, but there's blessings and we've defined it, then what's the trick? And I realize that sounds a little gimmicky, but I assure you, the right word. And I'll show it to you in a moment, but first, let me show you the secret to walking in God's ways. Back in verse 1, we find this: "blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways".
I believe that the secret to walking in God's ways is actually the first part, to fear God. The fear of the Lord is how you are propelled forward into the ways that He walks in that you want to follow after. And why would I say it's the right word to call it the secret? I know that sounds a little gimmicky to say, here's the secret, like some undiscovered thing. But it actually is the right word because in Psalm 25:14, we're told, "the secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him".
So it really is no way to be propelled forward into this lifestyle of walking in His ways. Then the million dollar question becomes, what does it mean to fear God? I think what it really means is to be in awe of Him. To stand in awe of God. To have your hair blown back and to almost be just driven to your knees with a sense of worship and wonder. And that's actually, an accurate way to talk about it. Because we use the word awesome like, oh, that was an awesome burger. Man, that car, that's awesome. That movie, how was the movie? Awesome. But really, in a lot of ways, we over use and abuse a word that should be reserved for things that are truly describing God. Did you know that the Hebrew word for awesome actually just means to fear?
So what we're doing here at the top of Mount Aeneas, where we get to look down at all these lakes, there's like 27 lakes in the Jewel Basin, you can see a couple of them. And the vistas in the background. And even though it's a little bit smoky that makes a little bit hazy, it's still pretty staggering. There's still some snow left down in the valley. And to think about this being created from the imagination and the mouth of God. That He spoke these canyons. That he spoke these mountains into existence. And that they are at this moment, muted as they are somewhat by the fall, still praising God day unto day, night unto night, crying out about God's glory.
Let me tell you something, this is awesome. And this inspires fear. When you look at this and when you think about what God's done, it causes there to be in your heart, this truly sense of being in awe of who He is that causes you to fear Him. You see, when God's that big, that powerful, but He's also good and we can know that He's good because He isn't just huge and powerful and mighty, but He's also loving. And when we went astray, like the Bible says all of us have, when we had that good life in the Garden of Eden, but we chose to disobey, we chose to sin, and every one of us has violated God's principles. We've done things we know we shouldn't do. How did He choose to respond? In His bigness, He could've just squashed us like a bug. The cockroach that you are, Mr. Wonderful would say on Shark Tank. But God didn't do that, did He? He chose to come to this world, this fallen world sick with sin as a baby.
You see, when God wants to right or wrong, He sends a baby into the world. That's why He's given you the kids He has. That's why you were born. God wants to right something that's wrong this world through you, I truly believe that. But when God wanted to right the ultimate wrong of sin, He sent His son, Jesus Christ, into this world to be one of us. To walk this world. But then, to be spit upon. To be lied about. To be slapped, and beaten, and mocked, but to take it all. Even though at any moment, He could have thrown off His humanity and decimated us all with lightening from His eyes. But instead, He chose to hang on a cross and to bear our sins. And to suffer as though He were us and to die. But to not stay dead. But because He's God and never sinned, to take His life back from the jaws of death itself. And to rise from the grave and to stand alive forever. Able to offer Resurrection power to anybody.
And when this canyon, when this basin springs to life in the Resurrection of all things and all of us, once again, are living forever, immortal in bodies that can never die, that can never get sick, maybe they can fly, maybe they can run at mach two, maybe we'll be able to explore the edges of our universe, in that day, we'll still be praising God just like those who know how great He is do today. We'll be bowing our knee before Him. Living at... and let me tell you something. When you start to live out of that, when you that awe, that fear of God fill your heart, it unleashes a power to walk in His ways greater than anything you can ever imagine. And that's why the gospel is at the heart of walking in God's ways. And it's the gospel that causes your heart to sing.
It's the gospel: Jesus dying for you, rising from the dead, filling with you with His spirit - that's what propels you forward into walking in His ways. What I've really been blown away by is this idea that the power to do our duty, and that's your duty to walk in God's ways, the power that's going to unleash the good life, it comes from being overcome by God's beauty. When you are overcome by the goodness, and the grandeur, and the grace, and the love of God in Jesus Christ, your heart is filled with this fear. Not that you would ever do anything that would make Him mad so he'd be mad at you. But that you could never do anything that could make Him stop loving you.
When you unleash that, that you realize no matter what you do, you curse Him to His face. You sin 1,000 times, He's still going to hold His arms open. At the cross, He still extended His grace towards you. And when, as His child, you know you can never do anything to displease Him, it actually, causes you to be so swooned, to be so overwhelmed and intoxicated by the beauty that you have a power to do your duty.
You see, the religion that says well, earn this and earn God's favor, that puts you in Camp Misery. But to get to Acts 9, where there was a man named Aeneas, that we're on a mountain named after him. That he was paralyzed for eight years. That Jesus Christ in the power of His gospel, the power of His life through the apostles was called to rise, and to stand, and to walk, and to pick up his bed, and to go forth free: that's what the gospel can do inside your heart. We're left at Camp Misery through religion and sin trying to chase after the good life, but forgetting, the good life is not an objective. It's an outcome. You don't get it by chasing it directly. You get it by chasing Jesus. And when you follow Him, He makes the good life follow you. And you look around, powered by grace, supercharged by the Holy Spirit, and you realize, I have life and liberty in Jesus Christ. That is the crown jewel in the Jewel Basin of theology, y'all.