Back to series

All Your Works are Good

Good morning, everyone. Please go with me in your Bibles to Psalm 104. That’s the book of psalms, psalm 104. If you want to use one of our Bibles this morning, you can just raise your hand, and we’ll bring one to you.

This is going to be a theological sermon. I planned it for this week because Phil is out so I thought I could get away with it.

We’ve been in a series through the psalms since Easter began, and here at the close of that season, as Meg mentioned already, we celebrate Pentecost, and call to mind the Holy Spirit appearing like fire above the heads of the apostles. Peter preached in a language every nation gathered could understand, the Spirit moved, and thousands of people believed and found new life in Jesus.

Christians worship a single God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit: one God in Trinity. The oneness of God is unbreakable, irreducible. In everything God does, each person has a role. Meaning, it wasn’t just the Spirit moving and working at the feast of Pentecost. God the Father and Jesus, the Son, were at work as well. As the Spirit fell, the Son ascended. Jesus emptied himself to rescue us; in humility, Jesus limited himself to one time, one place, and work among a handful of people. Jesus ascended so the salvation and work of God could be unlimited, unveiled, in every people and nation.

The resurrection of Christ is the center of God’s victory over sin and death. Death is undone, the enemy’s weapon is broken. We’re free. Pentecost is at the center of God’s story of restoring humanity to what it was always meant to be. In the beginning of humanity, the Bible tells us, we all spoke one language and worked together as one. Sounds nice, right? But it wasn’t so much unity as it was complicity. Mutual interest, power begetting power; Babel. Imagine a single nation of men ruling everyone on earth—it’s the dream of every tyrant and dictator who’s ever lived; a twisted version of God’s kingdom come, with a fallen ruler in the place of the king of kings. That nation tried to build a tower and make a name for themselves, to show their power and work in the world. God confused the languages, then, so no one person or government would rule unchallenged.

In Pentecost we see the reversal of that, or rather the restoration of it. If that ancient nation was a mockery of God’s kingdom come, pentecost inaugurates the true kingdom come among men. Every nation united again, not to show their power and work to the world, but in praise of God’s power and work in the world. And instead of a tower rising up to heaven by the strength and industry of men, heaven came down to humanity, to the least of us, the least worthy, in order to raise us up and make us holy.

Before the Spirit appeared like fire, Pentecost was a harvest festival. Everyone would have gathered in Jerusalem; they would have all brought their first fruits to the feast to celebrate creation, the provision of God, and the goodness of his work. They had come to Jerusalem that day to taste and see that God is good, and our psalm this morning asks us to celebrate the same. Psalm 104 sings the praises of God the creator; but he’s not just the creator, but the restorer, the redeemer. If you will, please stand while we read it. Psalm 104, and I’m going to start reading in v.24. [] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly.

Joshua and I were talking last Sunday about God and evil. Honestly, it was one of the best conversations on that topic I’ve ever had. Most people when they bring up all of the evil of the world, they want to blame God for it. How could he let it all happen? Why wouldn’t he stop people from doing these atrocities? I get it emotionally, but ethically, asking how God can allow evil is the theological version of a comic book villain dropping two people off opposite sides of a bridge and making the hero choose which one to go after; what ethicists would call the trolley problem. Humans cause war, pain, and death, then God takes the blame for who and how he decides to save. I’m grateful he’s able and willing to save any of us, especially when I remember he had to sacrifice himself to do it.

Joshua didn’t want to blame God for anything in our conversation. He wanted to know if some people were destined to be evildoers. In theology class we call that double predestination, and some brilliant people have believed it, but I don’t. I find reason to hope all people can change, anyone can be redeemed—then we went down the rabbit hole of a time free God who lives and moves in time with us, for our sake. The thoughts of our God are like an ocean, and you can play in the sand, put your feet in the waters, or dive as deeply as you want into a depth. All of it’s beautiful and filled with life; every inch, every corner.

Our psalm praises God for creation. In the creation account in the book of Genesis, the world isn’t made all at once. After he creates the heavens and the earth, God begins, just like every day begins, with light. One of my favorite authors talks about how children don’t mind repetition—children, God, and anything abounding in life. As a dad, I’ll toss a child in the air, and they laugh, and they say, “again! Again!” until I can’t anymore. We always reduce nature down to cold necessity—we say the sun rose because the earth spun, the sun had to rise—but that’s a very adult, very tired way of thinking. We always think the sun rose like I rose this morning, not because I wanted to wake up, but because it was time, and I had to get up or I’d be late.

God does nothing out of necessity, he does everything out of delight. (I want to be more and more like him.) There is nothing weighing on God’s freedom and creativity. If there really was nothing when God created the earth, then think: the sun didn’t have to rise every morning. God created the earth that way. He said “Let there be light, and there was light,” and it was so good, he made it so that every day from that first dawn until this one would begin with light. Every morning begins with light on the horizon, and a pastel painting of sky. If God is the creator, he didn’t do that out of necessity. He saw the light was good, and he said, “I wish every beginning would begin this way,” and it did from that moment forward, because it was so good.

Then, in the Bible’s account of creation, God makes sea, and sky, and land, the heavens in their turn. Breakers, waterfalls, oceans, and then he fills each area with life. The creation account says the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters in creation, in and through everything God made. When at last God made a man and a woman it says he breathed his own spirit into them (spirit and breath are the same word in Hebrew), and that Spirit filled them with life. When God created humanity, just like the light, he called it good, and he said he wanted every corner of the creation to be filled with these people who carried his life and Spirit.

Our psalm talks about the greatness of the sea. It imagines a leviathan, meaning a very large sea creature—unlike our psalm last week, this psalm is talking about the greatness of the sea to talk about the greatness of its creator. Then our psalm moves into talking about the provision God brings. How every creature on the face of the earth is given food to eat from the creation itself.

Life has a way of taking your breath away, sapping you of life. We even use the word dispirited to talk about the things that discourage us. I know this week left me gasping. But God is able to give you everything you need. His Spirit is able to fill us with life just like his spirit filled the earth with life in the beginning. And he still provides for all of his children.

At first glance, it may seem like this psalm praising God for creation is a strange psalm to choose to celebrate pentecost, the spirit falling like fire from heaven but in blessing, not judgement. And I know on that day it seemed strange to the people gathered in Jerusalem that a harvest festival was the moment God chose to alter the trajectory of humanity as a whole. But to our creator, his spirit filling his people at pentecost was exactly what he intended for the creation being celebrated at that festival. This is a restoration of humanity back to our original state. Pentecost is how we’re meant to be: filled with the Spirit of God, glorying his creation as God glories in us.

What fills you, and what drives you? I want to get to a place in my life where I do things out of delight, not necessity. And not the kind of delight the leaves me hung over and empty, but delight in things which restore me, things which make me more human, not less. I want to glory in the creation, to be filled with the Spirit, in touch with the world and everything in it, connected to the earth and the people in it, led with purpose instead of wandering aimless. What do you want for you life?

When I first started in ministry I was pretty skeptical of most of the talk about the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of believers. I knew, intellectually, that the spirit was the third person of the Trinity, but my faith largely ignored anything having to do with the Holy Spirit. I could teach, talk about everything the Bible says the Spirit did in the world. I could have talked all day about the character of God the Father and relationship with Jesus, but I was raised to believe most of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world had ceased.
And early on in ministry I knew a handful of people who claimed to be led by the spirit. One person I knew, a friend, claimed to be able to speak in tongues and to heal people. He even started a ministry here in New Orleans where he would go out onto the street, led by the Spirit he said, evangelizing people and praying for them to be healed. I was in church with him for over a year, and I thought it was strange that none of the people the Spirit miraculously healed through him ever actually joined our church, but I tried to be openminded. He told me if he prayed for me, I would also receive the Spirit and be able to speak in tongues and heal people. I asked him to pray for me, but nothing unusual happened. When he spoke in tongues, he sounded passionate about it, but it didn’t really mean anything to me. When I didn’t speak in tongues with him, he got angry at me, he said I was disrespecting his beliefs, and that I only didn’t receive the Spirit because I didn’t have enough faith. Always, if things didn’t go like he wanted, I was to blame. My faith wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough for the spirit in him; which, when when I stopped to think about it, meant the Spirit in him was not the Holy Spirit I find in the Bible. The truth is, you are enough this morning, to be a part of God’s work in the world.

God doesn’t wait for us to live up to his standards—opposite. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The Holy Spirit is able to give you faith as a gift. The Holy Spirit in the Bible doesn’t wait for us to live up to his standards, he comes down to us. The Spirit of God, like fire, resting upon a fisherman at a harvest festival, and everyone assumed he was drunk. You don’t have to be enough for the Holy Spirit to work in your life, you just have to be willing. The same Spirit who hovered over the chaos of the waters and filled it with light, and life is able to do the same in us. God can take our chaos and restore us into spirit-filled people, thriving, abounding in life.

I had another friend who claimed to be led by the Spirit in most things she did. She would go to stores, parks, because she said the Spirit led her there. She would ask people leading questions about their lives, almost like a psychic, and she always seemed to drive towards some kind of emotional moment. Eventually she said the Spirit led her to leave our church because we weren’t as Spirit-led as she was. I wanted to be spiritual like her. I wanted the Spirit to lead me, but it had to be real. I wasn’t willing to confuse the leading of the spirit with the leadings of my heart. The Holy Spirit’s work in the world is not a vague whim. At pentecost we celebrate a Holy Spirit who was able to make people gathered from multiple nations all understand the same words. A spirit able to make that blind see and transport people from one place to another to share with people from nations across the known world.

I wanted to believe in miracles. I wanted to believe in a God who would lead me in his way, a God who wasn’t waiting for me to be enough like some withholding father. I wanted to believe God could heal, and speak in a way we can understand, that we could worship him passionately, loudly, but I’ve never wanted to pretend. If believing in miracles today is charismatic, I want to be charismatic. If living life filled with the Spirit of God who does everything out of delight is strange, then I want to be strange. Don’t you? If the other option is constantly striving to live up to ever-changing standards, wouldn’t you choose to be free of that?

Again, I grew up with the belief that the Spirit’s work in the world had ceased. I wanted to believe otherwise, but merely wanting to believe it wasn’t enough for me to change my mind. The person who really began to change my mind was my friend Landon. Landon had cystic fibrosis, which is a lung disease where your lungs have a hard time expelling things that get into them. There are cures today, but not when I knew him. When Landon and I knew each other, he was mid-twenties, and he knew he only had a few years left to live.

We got close. He was a very good friend, and his faith inspired me. He knew he only had a few years left to live, and he determined he was going to use every moment he had to serve and worship the Lord. Just that alone, I look back on this man so close to death and see how filled with life he was and I see the Spirit of God who filled all of creation with life. I’ve talked about this before, but every week in small group we prayed for him to be healed. And once he was, for a single day, not through our prayer, but he was at the park, and someone walked up to him, randomly talking about the power of the Holy Spirit, and when they prayed together he was healed. He said he knew, somehow, it was temporary, but he took off running in the park, and he ran until his legs got tired without once being short of breath. In all of his life, he had never experienced anything like that.

But it wasn’t just that story that changed my mind. It was the way he lived. Again, for a man who was condemned to die, he was so full of hope and life. And the experience of praying for him every week, knowing he had been healed once, really brought me to understand the wild-ness, the wilderness of our God. I learned from him to pray for the miraculous, but to know healing was entirely out of my hands. If he was going to be healed, it was going to be completely a work of the Lord.

I also came to understand in those moments that the Lord’s answer to prayers for healing is always yes, he just has his own time. In the Lord’s day there is no sickness, no pain, no loss. But when and how a person is healed and restored back to life belongs entirely to the Lord. When the Lord made us he filled us with his Spirit and he called us very good. In Christ’s resurrection we get a glimpse of life rising up from death. In pentecost, we get a glimpse of what that life is like.

One day humanity will be healed. The nations will no longer be divided, we will speak to each other and understand. And all of the earth will be united, not under a tyrant, but side by side with the Lord of all creation who considers us friends and brothers.

One of my favorite musical albums about the psalms has a song about psalm 104, and the title of it is simply, “All your works are good.” That’s what pentecost teaches us. All of God’s works are good, and you are one of his works.

What kind of life do you want to lead? When the Spirit of God fell on his people almost 2000 years ago, it gave us a glimpse of humanity restored. Humanity united, not in complicity but true unity, loving one another. Their work was miraculous, but more than that, it was filled with life, and wonder, and meaning in worship of the Lord. I want to live life like that, our of delight in God and creation, in pursuit of restoration. I hope you do, too.

Print your tickets