Dr. Jim Denison sits down with Dr. Mark Turman to discuss the brevity of life, the sudden deaths of loved ones, and human suffering and God’s sovereignty. He also pastorally unpacks Psalm 23.
Dr. Mark Turman and Dr. Jim Denison begin by discussing why the brevity of life is on their minds, both with personal stories of sudden deaths (1:29). They consider the tension between being frightened of the unexpected and trusting the purpose of God, we’re a “vapor” and yet have eternal value to God (6:33). Dr. Turman asks whether it was God’s plan for his church member’s six-year son old to die and the theology of death and God’s foreknowledge (14:31). They move thinking about practical advice for if you or someone you know loses a loved one (25:47). They discuss how Psalm 23 can speak into the darkest times of our lives and how we can intimately know the good shepherd (31:28).
Resources and further reading:
- “If God is sovereign, why does evil exist?” The Denison Forum Podcast
- “What does the Bible say about suffering?” Dr. Jim Denison
About the host
Mark Turman, DMin, is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.
About the guest
Jim Denison, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and the CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.
Transcribed by Otter.ai
Mark Turman 00:10
Welcome back to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of Denison forum, sitting down again with Dr. Jim Dennison, the founder and CEO of Denison forum and Denison ministries. Good morning, Jim. Good morning, Mark.
Jim Denison 00:22
Glad to be back with you today. Thanks for the privilege.
Mark Turman 00:24
You bet. Great, great to have the conversation with you. And we’re into a new year and new opportunities as well as getting over old habits in some way. So how’s your new year so far?
Jim Denison 00:37
Well, so far, so good. I used to have an elderly professor would have taught at Southwestern seminary that I would see him at the start of the day and say, Well, tell me how are you today? And he’d say, okay, so far, which I thought might be the voice of wisdom, on some level felt a little pessimistic to me, but maybe he just be more realistic than the rest of us.
Mark Turman 00:53
Well, I yeah, I grew up in a family that way. My My mother was a very practical, realistic woman, she, he might tell you that she was born a pessimist and worked all day not to become a cynic. And sometimes that’s the way we feel right? We wake up in the morning, and it’s, you know, I’ve heard that there are people that wake up and say, Good morning, Lord, where most of us just simply say, Lord, oh, Lord, it’s morning.
Jim Denison 01:17
That’s right. Something like that. Yeah, I had another elderly friend that I would see him and I’d say, well, Rusty, how were you? And he would say, Well, another day above ground? That’s right. What’s your thought? Well, that’s true, you know, and we should look at life that way, I think, yeah.
Mark Turman 01:29
Well, when that’s a good segue into what we want to talk about today, which is just the brevity of life. As to men that have had a good number of years, at least 60 plus years of pastoring people in different churches, we have experienced with people sudden loss. And you may have had that in your life I have, in just a few months, couple of months from now, we will recognize the 30th anniversary of my father’s passing at the age of 62. And was literally just out of the blue. He was doing well. He kept most of his health conditions private. But just a few weeks before he passed away, he had actually written a letter to all of us, he has eight children. And so he had written a letter to the family, explaining that he had had a cancer scare over the Christmas holidays and into the new year didn’t tell anybody about this, of course, except our mother. And he had come through that he had a minor surgery to remove a polyp. And everything was clear. And because he had some heart history, they had done all kinds of workups to prepare to deal with this minor cancer, what turned out to be minor cancer. So they had kind of given him a fresh bill of health that there were some things he needed to work on. But he was doing really well and so excited that this has not turned into any kind of a serious cancer. So that letter came out. And then two months later, he’s getting ready to watch the last game of the NCAA Final Four and 9093 looks at my mother gasp and the doctor who lives next door to them would later say he was probably gone before he got to the floor. And just our our family has been on a different trajectory for the last 30 years because of of that event, obviously. And then you go into other you know, you and I could tell a number of stories, I’m sure about families that have experienced this. We have seen this in our culture on a broad broad spectrum. In the context of NFL football, because of Damar Hamlin, and the the first time I think any of us can ever remember seeing something like an athlete having to be resuscitated on the field, and so very much in front of people in lots of ways in this early New Year. Tell us about why it’s on your mind so much these days.
Jim Denison 04:04
Well, you bet. Yeah, it’s really on two levels. One is my story with my father who passed away at the age of 55, back in 1979 10 days before Christmas. And so every year, the Christmas season and into the new year, I think about that and the brevity of life in that context. I remember some years ago, when I realized I was the same age my father was when he passed away, which was an eerie, shocking kind of realization. But really what makes us even more I think a burden for me is what happened to me just recently, just this past Sunday, I was in the chapel where I speak on Sundays. We had had a worship time, I had let us kind of in a prayer and I was getting ready to start sharing God’s word when the person who runs the service popped up and said, Well, we have a special prayer request. And so I stopped and handed him the microphone. A man in the service Sunday morning had just gotten word that his 36 year old son had died. Oh my goodness, he was in the oil field in Odessa dropped dead that Sunday morning, just this past Sunday morning, leaving three small children. And this man was leaving our service to go be with his family. So of course, we stopped the service, and gathered around him and prayed for him and for his wife and just grieved together. For him a 36 year old son with three small children, as I said, well, that changed everything about the service, I didn’t preach the sermon I was planning to preach. Instead, we just kind of stopped after he left. And we just talked about brevity, we talked about God’s presence in the hardest places of life, and how to trust him in those hardest places of life, because we’re all there. You know, I had an elderly professor who once said to me, Son, be kind to everybody, because everybody’s having a hard time. You may not know that I may not know that. I may not know. I mean, this man had no idea what I saw him at the beginning of the service, that 30 minutes into the service, this was going to be our experience, he had no way to know that I have no way to know what’s going to come to me in 30 minutes. We don’t know that. And then others of us are dealing with grief and pain and shock and suffering. We’re just not sharing. Somebody asks us how we are and we say we’re fine. And we lie and ask them how they are. And they say they’re fine. And they lie, and we just kind of go off. But so all that to say, even if it’s about to happen to us, we don’t know. Or there’s really tough stuff going on in our lives right now. And others don’t know what that really I think kind of covers the gamut. I think all of us are in one of those two places. And so the thing together with you about brevity and trusting God’s presence and strength in hard places, seems like a perennial conversation we ought to occasionally to come back to and discuss as we can today.
Mark Turman 06:33
Yeah, let’s, let’s see if we can do that and help our audience to not live in either denial or depression, you might say, right. Because in in some sense, it would, I know, I would tend in the direction to be anxious, to not only be anxious for myself, but even to be anxious, more so about losing someone that I deeply, deeply care about. And having walked with families through this, it’s just it is so, so devastating. And just think about the couple that you mentioned, from your chapel experience, and just how they must be just walking around in a fog right now. And trying to just think through this, obviously, it brings up big questions about why God would let something like this happen. But help us help us with an initial framework from the standpoint of life is very fragile, and very brief. Nothing guarantees us even one more minute. Even though, you know, we often hear, you know, life expectancy numbers. And while they have gone down a little bit in our country for the first time in decades, we still kind of have we live with this reasonable expectation. Well, maybe I can kind of count on 7080 years. You know, Moses said, threescore and 10, which a score is 20 years. So he said, you know, maybe you’re gonna get 70 or 80, which is really kind of a big statement for somebody in his era, I think in some ways to think about that. But what’s the framework of living, living in a Biblical faith framed between this very kind of random, unexpected, you never know what could come around the corner, including the end of your life, versus having some I some confidence that that? Well, God has put me here and I don’t have to live in, I don’t have to live on the edge of terror. How to how do we walk toward that?
Jim Denison 08:36
Well, it’s a great balance. And it’s a great question to ask, I think because we’re caught between two cultures, in this conversation. And the Western culture, you’ve got this idea. This goes back to Socrates, know thyself, this sense of personal existentialism, it’s all about me, right? I’m in charge of my world post modernism especially says that truth is what you believe it to be, goes all the way from abortion, to euthanasia, to gender issues, and definitions of marriage and all of that, and you have your own right to your own life, and you’re in charge of yourself, you know, kind of this I’m the captain of my faith and my soul, and it’s all about me. Well, if that’s true, as our western culture wants to believe, as our secularists culture wants to play, well, then life and life eternalists on YouTube. I mean, it’s, it’s about you to try to do what you can do with your life today. Because Tomorrow is not promised to anybody. And all of us know that. And so there’s this one piece of us that creates a sense of urgency and franticness. about all of this, I think you see the health crisis going on in January every year with diet stuff. And that’s a good thing on some levels, but just as franticness about health and concern about health. And although that is one piece of what’s in our culture, on the other piece of what’s in our culture. On the other hand, we have this expectation that the history is aligned with the past, present, and future and we can get five year plans and we can kind of be in charge of planning out things for us. And we really like to believe that that’s true until something like this happens and we discover that it’s not the one the ones that we do live in this tear. Look, this is all on me and I can’t, I can’t control today I can’t control tomorrow, I could get hit by the truck tomorrow, I could drop dead today, apparently. So on the one side, we live in this kind of care on the other, we live in this kind of self reliant, self kind of controlling, sort of planning out our future five year plan. If I just go to enough doctors, if I just take care of my health enough, if I just watch what I eat enough, if I just exercise enough, I can put this off, you know, almost a denialism don’t even want to think about it or talk about it. We don’t even say people died, we say they passed away or they moved on or they went on or somesuch. We use these euphemisms. So in our culture, we’ve got these two things, on the one side kind of a terror that says I can’t fix this on the other a desire to fix this. Well, you line that up, I think against a biblical worldview, which says, first of all, you’re right. I mean, James says, What is your life, you’re only a mist, right? You’re here today and God abrupt. This is the day the Lord has made. It’s not yours. You didn’t make your life you didn’t make this day, you didn’t make the next breath. And so in one sense, you’re exactly right, you can’t control your life. On the other side. If you think of time as a line on a page, like CS Lewis said, God is the page. God is sovereign over all of that God sees tomorrow better than we can see today. My times are in his hands, as the psalmist says, and so what I think gets us out of both of those things on the one side, terror and on the other side, kind of a managing, in an almost a naive way, is the sense, Lord, my life is in your hands. I’m going to trust you with today and tomorrow with tomorrow comes. My pastor under who’s a minister, I became a Christian said every Christian is a mortal until their work is done. I don’t want to push that too far, theologically, but the sentiment, I think of it is exactly right. So yes, watch your diet, exercise your need to be a steward of your body. You want to partner with God, don’t be presumptuous about this, don’t jump off the temple and expect the angels to catch you so to speak, do what you can to partner with God to work as God works and to use your body and your time as effectively as you can. Jesus warned us about the man that didn’t count the cost when he built and so do what you can, to redeem the time to redeem the days for the days are evil, as scripture says. But on the other side, once you’ve done all you can do to make this day all that can be and be as healthy as you can be trusted to God, and know that your last experience will lead to your best experience. When you take your last breath here, you take your first breath there, when you close your eyes here, you open up there. When you when you die, you don’t, you know, you step from death to life and time into eternity in this fallen world and the God’s perfect paradise. And so we don’t live as those that have no hope that scripture says. So if that makes sense. On the one side, embrace the day, seize the day, as we think of make the best of what you can, but also hold it loosely, and trust everyday to the God who holds time and eternity in his hands. I think that’s the balance scripture would have us maintain.
Mark Turman 12:52
Let’s see if we can chase that out a little bit more from this context is it’s interesting in Scripture, how we are often called to live kind of in in the midst of tension, about our beliefs. You know, as you said, James says, on one case, you’re like a mist or a vapor that’s here for a moment and gone. I think it was Isaiah who may have said, You’re like the flowers of the field, that that fade very quickly. And yet, there’s so many other scriptures that talk about the eternal value that God places on each of us, and that our lives are critically important and that they are sacred in every way. And so you’re living in this tension between how God highly, highly, highly values, every individual, because they’re all made in His image. And yet, these other verses that say, We Be careful that you don’t think too much of yourself, and your life is is very brief and and moves on. And then I want to come back also to another thing you said a moment ago about this idea that we’re all immortal until our work is done. I, I I’m on that same track with you. I think many people would be on that same track with you. But then this is where it caught me. I had a family in my church a number of years ago who lost their six year old son in an accident. And in the midst of trying to work through that they were drawing from scripture, and they read in Scripture, I believe, might have been Psalm 119. Part of that part of that verse passage said to them, all my days are ordained
Jim Denison 14:27
for me, as if one of them has written in your book. Yeah, before one
Mark Turman 14:31
of them was written. And the idea was so so was it always the case that their six year old was going to only have a little more than six years that God had already written that down and it was always going to be that way no matter what else had happened. And that it, I think they were taking it perhaps too far. In that sense, because this accident was clearly it was really Literally a no fault accident, and just a terrible intersection of random events. And and yet they were trying to figure out well, this was this always God’s plan that we would go through this and that his life would be so short. So talk a little bit about value of life in the context of brevity, life. And then this idea of your Are you really a mortal until your purpose is done?
Jim Denison 15:29
Yeah, massive, as you know, are massive theological issues inside all of that, on the first piece, the idea how to value ourselves as God does. A youth minister when I was in high school gave me the best single piece of advice I’ve ever received, which is always remember the source of your personal worth. God loves you not because you’re lovable. That because He is love, God is love. And you could kind of crudely see it, he can’t help it. But his character requires him to. And so we have this high view of ourselves as being made in the image of God as being people that God loves, but not because of our own intrinsic worth. But because he loves us that much, our value is found in his love for us not in our lovable Ness. If that were the case, you could lose it, you could lose it right, you could have a good day to day and a bad day tomorrow. And so you don’t want it to be the case, that God loves you because you’re lovable, that God cares about you, because you’ve earned his care that you had a really good day to day. And so therefore, God liked you better than he would have liked you. Otherwise, you don’t want to go there, because you’re gonna have a bad day tomorrow. And so if we can understand that our value our estimable value, is because God is love. God chose for his son to die for us not because we were worthy of his son’s death. That because He is love, because he’s a father who loves us that much. On my good days, as a father, I love my kids and my grandkids, just because I love them. Not because they’ve earned that love, who would grieve me, if my kids or especially my perfect, perfect grandchildren, thought that my care for them was somewhat dependent on what they did that I love them more if they made an A than a B, or I love them less if they score two points in 10 points in a basketball game. And so if we can keep that in mind on the one piece that our value is because God loves us now, because we’re lovable than that, I think, is the biblical context of that, as regards this massive question of sovereignty and freedom, and God knowing the future and us having freedom to choose, and are there things that happen outside of God’s perfect will it has everything happened according to God’s plan. And there’s only a plan A and no Plan B and all the stuff inside that. I think the reason we all struggle with that, and always will, I think to the end of time, is because we’re trying to reconcile two things that Scripture doesn’t try to reconcile. On the one side, Scripture makes it clear that God knows the future better than we know the precedent that he sees the sparrow that falls from the tree of life. Like Jesus said that he sees our days that in that sense, they’re numbered before one comes to be like CS Lewis explains, it’s not that God’s looking into the future. For God, there’s no such thing as future. God is the great I Am Not the I was not the I will be time is a construct that does not constrain God. He created the space time continuum, he stands above them, which is to say God sees tomorrow like we see today. Well, if I was watching, you sit down in your chair to have this conversation with us. That would mean I chose for you to sit naturally. Just because I watched you do it doesn’t mean I chose for you to do it. Well, the fact that God can watch what I’m eating for breakfast tomorrow, today, doesn’t mean he chose my breakfast for me tomorrow. So that’s the one piece of it is that God’s sovereignty. And the sense of His omniscience doesn’t always mean that he chose everything that happens just because he’s aware of it. But on the other side, in Scripture, we do have this very clear strain in Scripture, of God’s absolute sovereignty over every affair of life. And again, my my days were ordained before one of them was written. And so how do you balance these two things? To me, I think what we do is we too, we handle this, just like we handle the fact that God has three in one, that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, that the Bible is divinely inspired and humanly written, I think we handle sovereignty and freedom by holding both. And just saying, my finite brain is too small, to understand God’s perfect infinite nature, rather than reconciling them in a way that gets us where Scripture doesn’t want us to go. We just choose to live in the balance of these two things. And so specifically, I’ll just say this very quickly, as regards this tragedy that you’re describing with your family. I don’t know, sitting here today. I can’t say, yes, the death of this six year old child, this horrible tragedy was part of God’s perfect well, they’re part of his permissive. Well, he had to at least allow it because he is sovereign. And I don’t know why he would even allow it. I can’t begin to say that why he would even allow it. I could I could create a construct in which it was God’s perfect will for him. You hear people say things like this, he would have gotten some horrible cancer the next year if he hadn’t died at the age of six, or there would have been something we can’t we won’t know till we’re in heaven that will explain why God, in a sense caused this. I could make that construct. I just can’t know that. If he didn’t cause it, he allowed it. Why would God have allowed it? I don’t know that. I can’t say that. But if I give up the fact that God had to cause it or allow it, I’m no longer being biblical about this. Now, this is open theism. Now this is the idea that God sees today better than anybody we can see tomorrow, any better than we can. It’s almost a process theology that God’s kind of going along with us. RABBI Kushner some years ago, and when bad things happen to good people, so there’s some things God can’t do. God doesn’t do miracles. God doesn’t intervene. Well, that’s a rational explanation. God was grieving when the six year old died, but he couldn’t do anything about it. It’s a limited God as Milla limited God kind of an idea, you can go there and solve your problem. God doesn’t intervene in the world, God doesn’t do miracles, God couldn’t have stopped this. So it’s not even as perfect or permissive will. It’s just the fact that God is limited as or even as limited himself and doesn’t do that. But you have to give up so much of Scripture to do that. You have solved one problem to create a greater problem. You can go the other extreme, and solve your problem by saying everything that happens, God does. God causes. So now we’re at a place where God is punishing you for choices you didn’t make. God is punishing Judas for, for the for betraying Jesus, when Judas had no choice. God is sending you to help or rejecting the gospel, when you have no choice to accept the gospel. You’ve solved your rational problem, but I think you’ve created a greater problem. I would prefer to live in the tension, the balance that says that God is sovereign, and we are free, and trust him with what we don’t understand. That makes sense. To me.
Mark Turman 21:35
That’s an issue. Yeah, it’s it’s mind bending in many ways. But But like you said, if we were, if we were pursuing a god, or trusting in a God that we could fully understand or explain, then that’s not much of a God if we if we can capture everything about him,
Jim Denison 21:51
right? Yeah, either he’s not God, or we are, you know, right. Yeah. And it and it,
Mark Turman 21:55
like you said, it raises if you go one direction, it can raise so many questions about well, I guess, it’s all just fatalism. And our choices don’t matter, they may appear to matter in, but God is just really playing a game in which he already knows all the moves that are going to be made. He’s ordained all the moves that are going to be made. And it’s it’s all predetermined. And like you said, nobody could really legitimately be held responsible, quote, unquote, because well, he ordained all of them in a very defined, defined kind of way. I had a leader in my church who talked about this. And he definitely was trying to work out in his mind some of that understanding of God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will, and how those two things might work together. And he was doing a pretty good job and simply saying that God does say that our choices are important, they do matter. And they matter both in an in an earthly and an eternal sense. But that, but within God’s sovereign will, he has an enormous adaptability to ultimately accomplish His perfect will, even with what you might call the flexibility of his permissive will, I believe that that’s a good way of talking about that’s
Jim Denison 23:11
one way of saying how God redeems all the allows. I think the God allows us absolute perfect freedom, when we wish us our freedom, the consequences that are not our fault, not gods, but then God even even redeems those consequences. Now doesn’t always redeem them for us if we’re not willing to be redeemed. He didn’t redeem Judas as consequences for Judas against you to set free will. But he obviously used Judas misuse, freedom to bring about our atonement through the death of Christ. He used Pharaoh’s heart and heart to bring about the Exodus. And so God won’t be trumped. God won’t be defeated as I think your friends point by our misused human freedom. He then comes along and makes of it something even greater than we could have imagined. And you knew that even before the beginning of it all, yeah, really, at the end of the day, and I did want to say this, I wouldn’t jump immediately, in a theological discussion or issue to the I just can’t understand, because I’m not God, although I know you know that. But I just want to go and say this real quickly. I wouldn’t go there first. Because if you do, then at that point, you’re not trying to even be biblical about all of this, right? You’re not trying to use your mind. You’re not loving God with all your mind. The Lord says, Come let us reason together. The Hebrew says, Come let us argue it out. So I think there’s a massive place for thinking theologically and biblically. But when you get to the place where you have to commit a heresy to solve your problem, that’s where you want to stop. If you get to a place where in your theological wrestling, you can solve it, but you’re creating a greater problem by so doing, that’s where you want to stop not until then I think. But if you get to that place where my solution for sovereignty and freedom, either makes a God who sends people to hell eternally, for rejecting the message they had no ability to accept. Now, what have you said about a God who loves love? Or on the other side, you’ve created a God who has no ability to intervene in creation and Again, completely contrary to Scripture, once you’ve gotten to that place, then you want to step back and say, Okay, if that’s the best my mind can do. Now I have to have a kind of reverence agnosticism, that says, obviously, I’m at one of those places where my finite brain can’t understand where I’m a first grader, that’s maybe learning to add, subtract, but I can’t do calculus yet, you know, but don’t do that unless you have to as my point. Otherwise, your committee kind of an intellectual sort of a suicide, you’re being agnostic, or you shouldn’t be reason is this is kind of what Thomas Aquinas said, I will, I will seek to observe until my observation reaches its limits. And then I will believe it’s not a God of the gaps. I’m not trying to say that, but it’s use your mind as best you can, but stop short of coming to a solution that creates a greater problem than it solves. And that’s where we’re going to trust God in a whole new way.
Mark Turman 25:47
Right, which is like, a lot to think about, and a lot to take in and so much an urgent call to use our minds as well as our spirit as well as our heart and soul. But but to try to engage that talk a little bit about some steps that we can take, either if we find ourselves in the midst of random tragedy, or we are with someone, as you were, who had just experienced a tragedy, let me kind of frame it this way. So I am, I have just gone to serve in a new community and a new church. I’ve been there about three months, when my father passed away, I was actually, at one of my new staff members homes, we were trying to get together and get acquainted, we were playing board games, that type of thing. When the knock at the door comes and I get this message. One things I saw and experienced the grace of God in is that I was not alone. My wife was with me, we were with new friends. They immediately stopped and did what your folks did at the at the Chapel you were at, and they prayed for me. I remember very distinctly, I started calling some of the mentors and spiritual leaders in my life, called one man, and I never forget he he said, I’m, I’m so deeply sorry for you. But I also want you to know God is on His throne. And God is in control, and God will take care of you and your family. And it was just a, it was really kind of took me aback in that moment. But it also served as something as of a reset of trying to calm me. So give us some guidance as to if you find yourself in one of these moments where something very unexpected, very tragic has happened. Or if you’re with someone, and that’s happened to them, what are some things that we can do that the that the Spirit of God, and the Word of God would help us with that?
Jim Denison 27:54
Yeah, that’s a great question, Mark. It really is, I think, a couple of thoughts if I could, first of all the Holy Spirit knew today from yesterday, right? He’s been preparing us for this moment, and we wouldn’t be in this moment. We can trust him with that. Even when the knock came that the door even when you found this horrible, tragic news, when you discover this, God had been preparing you for that moment. He had mentors in your life, you could call you were at there wasn’t a coincidence that you were at that moment with those friends that you were there with, Judy, that you were in a place where he could help you through this moment. I said yesterday, in chapel, I was so grateful that when this man received this news, he was at Chapel, he was with us. And it happened an hour early or an hour later than before it had happened when we could stop and pray for him and pray with him in that moment. And so we can know that that if we couldn’t be in this moment, we wouldn’t be in this moment. And we can trust that God has prepared us for where we are right now. Now that can be taken again to an extreme, you know, Mother Teresa used to say, I know that God won’t give me more than I can handle. I just wish he didn’t think so highly of me to say that, I do know that, that your friend is right, God is on His throne. And because he has nothing changes his character circumstances don’t change his character. And so it’s a good thing to remember that and to share that with other people as well. A second thought and you know, this, obviously, after all the years of pastoring in the moment of grief, people don’t need answers nearly as much as they need presence. They don’t need us to explain this nearly so much as they need us to feel this, to feel this with them and to grieve with them and separate with them. Isn’t it interesting that at the grave of Lazarus, Jesus didn’t launch into an explanation of the Odyssey. Jesus didn’t say well, you’ve got the Augustinian freewill model over here and the Iranian soil building model over here and lead let’s discuss the various ways in which the Odyssey kind of reconcile sovereignty and freedom he wept, went to the grave and wept with the sisters and with his family. He’s weeping. I think with this man I’ve been describing today who lost his son yesterday, as I said in the prayer for this family, that our Father knows what it is to lose a son. He knows what it is to feel this grief and nothing comes to us without going through it. And so not to push so much to what explanation says toward presents. So I think that helps us when we’re trying to help a hurting person because we’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing. I’m afraid to go over there. Because what would I say, I don’t know what to say, I’m not a trained minister. I’m not a trained counselor, I’m afraid I’ll do that, or say the wrong thing. As long as you’re just with them. That can never be the wrong thing. Just to be in their presence, that after my father died, a friend of mine from college, drove across Houston to spend the day with me. I don’t remember that he said anything. He was just with me. Well, that was in 1979. And I will never forget it. It’s been noted that Job’s friends did really well, too, they started talking, you know. And so just don’t think you have to solve this, it’s really not the explanation so much as your presence that I think is the key. So first, let’s know that God loves you, he’s with you. Jesus said that you’re in my hand, nothing can take you out of my hand. Well, for something to get to what’s in my hand, it has to go through my hand, which means I have to feel what it’s about to feel. I’m going to go through what it’s about to go through. And so know that your father grieve with you walks with you. And if you’re going to be the one to share his presence, then know that, that he will speak through you he will be the presence in that room that’s needed, you’re the body of Christ, you’re his hands and feet And eyes and ears are the salt of the earth, the light of the world. And so just ask the Lord, Lord, show me what to say, show me what to do. And if it’s just simply to be there, that helped me just to be present. In this moment, like your friends were present in that moment, and know that God will redeem your presence in their life, even in that crisis.
Mark Turman 31:28
So in the midst of this tragedy, and sudden reality that you were faced with, you mentioned to me a while ago that you took the folks to Psalm 23. To talk about that, a very familiar, certainly what might be in the top three to five most familiar passages in the Bible, I would suspect, and a word that speaks to us so deeply. But it’s not simply about tragedy or loss. But what what came to mind when you were trying to minister not only to this couple, but to the other people that were there. And we became witnesses, and as well as experienced this, this very sudden reality and, and reminder of the of the brevity of life. What did y’all talk about when you came to Psalm 23?
Jim Denison 32:21
Thank you. I’ve quoted my pastor a lot under whose ministry I came to faith in Christ back in the 70s. Back in Houston, I’ll do that again. He had an outlet for Psalm 23, that I’ve never forgotten that I’ve credited to him and shared many, many times over the years. And so we walk through it very briefly. And I’ll do that very briefly right now and answered your question. He pictures of God who goes before us who goes beside us, and who goes behind us. So on Psalm 23, of begins, as you know, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want and here’s why. He leads me in the path of righteousness for his namesake, He leads me beside the still waters, He restores myself, there’s this image of a shepherd going in front of the sheep, and leading them to the green grass and the still waters in the right paths. In as you know, having been to Israel a number of times yourself, in the Judean hills, where David is picturing all of this, there’s grass that grows, it’s poisonous, well, the sheep don’t know that. So the Shepherd has to lead them to the green grass show, the sheep are terrified of running water, they’re eight times heavier wet than dry, they won’t drink from running water. And yet the still water can often be poisonous, so the Shepherd has to lead them to the still water, there are paths that lead off of cliffs, and sheep are not smart animals. It’s not a compliment that the Bible likens us to sheep. So often, when have you ever been in a circus and seen a trick sheep? You know, let me show you all my all that my feet can do, my pet sheep can do. And sheep a walk off of these paths off these cliffs to their deaths. And if one does, another will follow. So the Shepherd has to lead them the right path. So there’s this picture of the shepherd going before the sheep to lead them to the green grass and the still waters in the right paths. But then it shifts. He says, yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for that weren’t with me. And now you’ve got a shepherd who’s not just before you but beside you. In that part of the world, there are these deep canyons where the sun’s rays never penetrate to the floor of the canyon, those are valleys of deep shadows as they could be called. And those are dangerous places. That’s where thieves and wolves and predators hide and that’s where their crevice of the sheep can fall into that sort of thing. So when you’re in that valley, as my friend was Sunday, when you’re in that valley, you don’t want to shepherd down in front of you. You want to shepherd beside you. He’s got a rod in his staff to comfort you. The rods are kind of a club, a short clubs that the shepherd attached to his belt, he could use it to beat away wolves or thieves, he could throw with a short distance and protect the sheet. The staff as you’ve seen the shepherd’s crooks, they could be as much as eight feet long, have a crook at the end. And he could use the straight into guy the sheep, he could use the crook to catch the sheep. If they’re about to fall into a crevasse. Well, none of that does you any good. Unless you’re next to the shepherd. You have to be within distance for that staff to reach you or for that rod to protect you. If you’re going through the valley of the shadow of death if you’re in a weevil for you For your Shepherd is beside you, He is with you. And by the way, it’s a valley, it’s not a cave, you go through it. As he says yet though I walk through the valley. But then the song closes by saying, goodness of mercy shall follow me. All the days of my life, you have a shepherd that goes behind you. My father fought in World War Two in the jungles of South Pacific. And he said, The most dangerous place when you’re in single fall through the jungle isn’t the person at the front of the line, like we would think it’s the person at the back of the line, because he can’t see the enemy behind him. The enemy loves to hide in the jungle and pick off the last guy, because he can’t see them can’t shoot at them can’t fire them. So when you’re in that place, where you can’t see what’s behind you, God can’t, I can’t see what’s behind me right now. You can’t see what’s behind you right now. But God can’t, all that to say, you have a shepherd that’s going before you, to lead you, beside you, to sustain you, and behind you, to surround you with His grace and His care. Well, we’re all in one of those places. Right? Now, it may be that your fears for the future. Maybe you’re facing difficult decisions and circumstances and things in the future that are bothering you follow your Shepherd, maybe you’re going through a valley of the shadow of death, and you don’t need him in front of you. But beside you, trust your Shepherd, stay close to your Shepherd, pray to Him and worship him and get in his word and get close to him. Maybe you’re at a place of uncertainty, and you just don’t feel that your life’s in control, and you don’t know where you’re headed. You’ve got a shepherd who sees what you can’t see, and is surrounding you with his care. But then I closed with this. Martin Luther said, the most important word of the 23rd Psalm is a little word my The Lord is my shepherd, not just the shepherd or our shepherd, but my shepherd. If we’ll say that the Lord is my shepherd, than wherever we need him to be our shepherd, we will find that he is in fact as Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep.
Mark Turman 36:48
Such a such a good word and always so clarifying. It’s not, it’s not hard to see why out of 150 Psalms, the 23rd Psalm is probably the ultimate favorite and the most familiar and talking about our grandkids, as we like to do my granddaughter four years old is starting to learn parts of that psalm already, and it will serve her well as it’s served so many of us well, and that that comforting idea that we have a shepherd and not a not a rancher, not not someone who’s driving us but someone who’s leading us. And we, we all need to decide who are we going to let lead us who are we going to follow and trust in them confidently. And obviously, we would recommend that no one is greater than the Lord Jesus Christ as the one in one of the things I want to talk about Psalm 23, it’s always troubled me a little bit, you did a great job explaining it that goodness and mercy shall follow me. I heard another Bible teacher say recently that that word actually has the idea of pursuing me or stalking me, that God, that God is always trying to bring his best into our lives. And to the degree that we will stop humble ourselves and ask, seek and knock as Jesus told us to, to, to allow him to do that. He’s just eager to flood our lives with good things. And eternity being at the top of that list.
Jim Denison 38:21
Mark, that’s a great picture. We often picture God kind of like the Greeks did was Zeus at the top of Mount Olympus, and we have this transactional religion, you place a sacrifice at the altar. So the God will bless your crops or so he’ll give you whatever it is that you need, but it’s his passive, he’s waiting on you to come and meet his, his expectations and cross whatever bar he set there and, you know, figure it out the right way, and do all that kind of stuff and earn that sort of relationship with all through Scripture. Starting in Genesis three, God’s pursuing us. God comes to Adam and Eve in the garden, they wouldn’t come to him. So we came to them, right? That’s what makes Christianity unique among the world’s religions. Religion is our attempt to climb up to God, Christianity is God climbing down to us. I think I may have mentioned my favorite Christmas card on the front of pictures, all these dictators, Napoleon, Lenin, Hitler, a Pol Pot, it’s got the caption that says, history is filled with men who would be God, you open it, and there’s a picture of Christ in the in the, in the manger, and it says, but only one God who would be mad. So the picture this incarnational kind of initiative of God, that’s, I think, true not only in the 23rd, Psalm, but all through Scripture. Your father is pursuing you right now. Your God wants you to know Him more than you want to know him. He wants to lead you more than you want to be led. It’s not a health and wealth gospel. I’m not saying that, that God always wants to bless you in the way you want to be blessed. But he knows what’s best for you, as a father does his child and he wants to give you his very best to if you’re not experiencing that the fault isn’t his but yours. If we’ll be pursued, if we’ll spend time if we’ll just stop. We’ll turn if we’ll listen if we’ll pray if we’ll open our hands Which means you have to get rid of what’s in your hands to open your hands to him. I think we’ll experience a God who loves us that much a shepherd who loves his sheep so much that he chases the sheep doesn’t wait for the sheep to find him, he goes to find the sheep, if we’re only willing to be found.
Mark Turman 40:14
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, just listening, as you talked about this, and like I said, just trying to think through what this family is enduring at this point in the midst of such sudden loss. And, and such the irony of them being in a worship environment when they received the word if you were ever going to receive the word that you absolutely as a parent would never want to hear as a parent and a grandparent that just kind of the grace and the mercy that they were in that context, right,
Jim Denison 40:47
whenever was that chapel meets one hour, a week, one hour a week, and they were there just that one
Mark Turman 40:52
hour, just just reminds me of how God’s unexpected provisions shows up in so many ways. You know, you you talked about your pastor, and how we both had great pastors that really just imprinted so many things upon us. I don’t remember all of my pastor sermons, but I do remember some of them with great clarity. I remember the first time I ever heard him talk about Psalm 23, he had a slightly different outline, he basically said, this, the 23rd Psalm teaches us that God, God takes care of us in our everyday needs, he leads us along the path of righteousness, He takes it, he takes care of us, and our emergency needs, when we’re in those valleys, like you said, He’s beside us when these unexpected emergencies and things that we would never want, and, and often pray never come our way, that God’s still there in the midst of those emergencies, and that he’s also planned for our eternal needs. And that we can have confidence in that, and that we all know, you know, as, as I move this year, I will turn 60 In a few months, and you’re very young, you know, you start you start thinking, 60s, the new 40, right, right, and we’ll go with it, I’m going to, I’m going to be here and, you know, I’m going to outlive my father and all of that we, we all play those kinds of mental games, and there is, you know, kind of bring this around to where we started. God has given us the ability to anticipate, he has given us the ability to plan and we should, in some ways, plan and attract, but there always has to be a lot of flexibility. Let’s bring it back around to James who said, you know, you who say I’m going to go to this or that city, and I’m going to plan and do this and build such a business and make a profit, right? That’s the first part of where he says, Who do you think you are? You’re just a vapor. It’s, it’s a call to the humility, and the flexibility that we need to have before God as both our shepherd and our King, right? One of my new pastor friends like to say that so many people in our world want the kingdom, but they want it without the king. Or they want to be the dog, you know, yeah. Where they want to be the king. They love to, you know, yeah, they love that. They love the images of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of peace. But they don’t want Jesus to be the king, they want to be the king. Or they sometimes think that we can all just get by without any king. And maybe that’s a conversation we can take up at another time. But, but just some really great thoughts, all of us, all of us experience unexpected things, and sadly, unexpected tragedy and pain, all of us have some of that it’s very much a part of our culture. And God has made provision, right. God has made provision, right. So and we’re grateful. Thanks. Thank you for sharing with us today. I hope our conversation is helpful to many people on many levels. And if if you are going through some difficulty right now, we do pray for you and God’s best for you that you will know the shepherd beside you. And we pray for everyone that listens to this conversation that that Jesus would be both their King and their shepherd, today and every day. Jim, any closing thoughts as we think about God is our shepherd in all kinds of experiences?
Jim Denison 44:18
Yeah, thank you. I just, in fact, just had this thought just remembered the story. So as the story goes, there’s a specific event and there are two individuals who have been asked to come and speak and both of them. I don’t know the context, but we’re asked to recite the 23rd song. So the first who did so it was a well known actor who had grown up in that community. And so when it came time for him to do that, he strode confidently up to the platform and stood behind the lectern. And with this marvelous performance as great bass voice, this incredible presence, he recited the 23rd Psalm with oratorical brilliance. And when he was done, the people applauded at this incredible performance that they had just heard. And then the other orator, the other speaker, and l retired pastor from the community made his way carefully slowly up the steps. And with his frail body, his advanced age, made his way to the same lectern. And with a barely audible weak voice recited the 23rd song. When he was done, there was a hushed many even had tears in their eyes. The actor came back to the microphone, and said, I’d like to explain what just happened. When I recited the psalm you applauded. When my pastor friend recited the Psalm You removed to the depth of your souls. And here’s the difference. I know the psalm, but he knows the shepherd. Well, at the end of the day, the 23rd Psalm and we know this, but I’ll just say it isn’t there’s so much to be admired as literature, is there is an invitation to be accepted. You know, the 23rd Psalm, we’ve discussed it today. How well do you know the shepherd? If you knew Jesus better today than yesterday? What would that look like? What would that mean? What steps would you take even right now, to know the good shepherd even better than you do already? That I think is the invitation to know the shepherd. And that invitation is open to all of us today?
Mark Turman 46:16
Wow, thank you for that good word. And that’s ultimately the goal of everything that we do at Denison forum is to help people to know Jesus as their shepherd personally and deeply and more intimately every day. So thank you for that if, if someone listening to this podcast, if you have questions about that, how do I start that relationship? Please, we would love to hear from you just info at Dennison forum.org. That will get to us. And we would be glad to follow up with you and answer any questions we can about how to start or strengthen your relationship with Christ. That’s ultimately what we want for every person. Jim, thank you for the conversation today. Thank you for all that you do both with just your various ministries and with your your keyboard. Thank you for the way that you bless us in so many ways.
Jim Denison 47:05
It’s my privilege to do this with you as important tomorrow. God bless.
Mark Turman 47:08
Thank you for listening today. If this podcast has been helpful to you, please share it with others. And we would ask that you would rate us as well on your podcast platform that helps other people to find us and to follow us as well. God bless you. We’ll see you next time.