Several years ago we led a mission team to Belarus (Russia). The wonderful people at the First Baptist Church of Minsk hosted us, and very graciously facilitated our ministry in the areas around Minsk. We ministered to them, with them, and were truly ministered to by them. They invited me to preach in their midweek service. It was a memorable sermon, but not because I was such a great motivational speaker. A funny thing happened on the way to translation!
These wonderful people experienced very difficult lives under communist rule. Their history of oppression was often reflected in the melancholy strains of their music. In contrast, their observation of our music (and why they liked it so much) was it sounded so happy. When they asked me to preach, I wasn’t looking to be an inspirational speaker or motivational speaker. I wanted to be an encouraging speaker. The Lord brought Psalm 23 to my thoughts. It was a perfect place from which to draw a message of encouragement.
A local pastor’s daughter translated for me during our time in Minsk. She was a great encouragement to our team. Before speaking to our host church, we had worked through several sermons and developed a good sense of anticipation for one another. My first point was, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Two little letters make an incredible statement. God will not say He was our Shepherd. We don’t have to wait for Him to be our Shepherd. All who have ever named Him as Lord and Savior may call upon Him and He is! He is eternal and from before the foundation of the world, He knew you and He knew me! That’s encouragement!
It’s simple to make that point, but as I began to speak on the subject, I could tell the translator was having difficulty. Based on previous experience , I said it again but slowed my speech a bit to make sure she got what she needed in order to translate. She still had trouble. Now, in true blockhead fashion, I restated the first sentence slowly and LOUDER! She still didn’t get it. As I was very likely about to try something even worse, a man to my right rose from his seat and came to the pulpit. He was a U.S. missionary stationed in that area. He walked right up to me and whispered in my ear, “They don’t have a word for is!” He knew the translator and said something to her in Russian. People near the front must have heard what he said. When he and the translator smiled at the mistake, it was obvious those folks were also amused. There was a way to make that point, I just didn’t know what it was. The rest of the sermon went very well and God blessed it. That was His doing and that fact was an encouragement to me.
In The Great House of God, Max Lucado makes this same point from another passage of Scripture. His great discourse on the Model Prayer begins, “Our Father Who is in heaven…” Our Father Who is… Moses knew Him as I AM. From the burning bush, the Lord said, “I Am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Eternal life is in that statement. If those men were not living with God as a result of their faith, God would have said, “I was the God…” No. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob preceded Moses in life’s panorama, but God says, “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He lives in the present. The Great I AM is and will ever be!
Look at it: Is. The little word has two characters. Let the I represent God. He is perfect in all His ways, deeds, and thoughts. He created all that is, was, or will be. He created Man in His own image, the pinnacle of creation. You know the story. The evil one entered the scene of innocence and Man yielded to temptation. God’s Word says after Adam and Eve sinned they brought forth children in their image. That is our sin nature. That is why we need a Savior. God loves us enough to provide His Son as our Savior. You already see it. We are the s. Compared to another s, one may look better or worse. Compared to the I (I AM), any s will always be small and crooked. The little word, Is, pictures Perfection standing by Imperfection. Provision stands by Need. Forgiveness stands by Sin. And God (I) has said to you and me (s), “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Christian, the Lord is your shepherd, and He is the Lover of your soul. That Is encouragement!