Guest speaker Alex Costanzo reminds us that God is still good and great, and worthy of our praise - no matter our personal circumstances.
Many of you are familiar with my story. I’ve had the chance to share several times over the last couple of years. I was born legally blind. I’ve lost my vision slowly over time. I’m completely blind today as pastor Terry mentioned. In 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, treated, and declared cured. It was great. But in 2015 it came back, stage four this time, having spread into my bones. The experts say that people like me should not make long-term plans, but by God’s grace and because of many of your prayers, I’ve been participating in experimental treatment. It’s obviously working because I’m still here. Praise God.
When I first received my prognosis two summers ago, I was a wreck. I was just a mess. I was so fearful about what the future would hold for me. Fear, as we all know it, is debilitating. I’ve learned that the best way to fight fear is with the truth in God’s Word. I spent a lot of time in the Word that summer, particularly in the book of Psalms. I think I read it, I don’t know, three or four times through. It’s like the author knew exactly how I was feeling. They brought me comfort and a deeper understanding of who God is. The book of Psalms was a lifeline for me. I’m super excited to have been invited to share in this series because it’s personal for me. Psalm 145 in particular speaks to me.
It focuses on two of God’s many attributes. I’ll give you the headline upfront, His greatness and His good, which reminds me of a mealtime prayer from my childhood. Maybe you remember this one too. God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for this food. You all remember that one. If I’m honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of this prayer because I’m a little type A. I’m sorry, but the words good and food don’t rhyme. They just don’t rhyme. I must have recited that little prayer thousands of times, but I never really pondered the meaning of the words until years later. God is great. God is good. Two such simple statements. When you truly consider them, especially together, the implications are profound. Let me give you an illustration. When I was in first or second grade, I used to walk home with a classmate named Bobby.
We always dreaded this one leg of the trip home. There was this big, scary dog. I think it might have been a German shepherd. It would bark at us from behind his fence. It would make us nervous every time we passed by. Let me pause here and remind you that I’m legally blind. This means I could see only one 10th as far as Bobby could see. Which turned out to be pretty operative because one day as we neared that dreaded house, Bobby out of the blue yells make a run for it. He just takes off down the street leaving me there. What he realized immediately took me a few seconds longer to realize was that the dog was loose. Terror struck my heart as it came into my field of vision. Those ferocious jaws and horrific barking; I’ll never forget it.
It began to chase me all around the street and I could hear Bobby’s voice faintly yelling things like over here or run this way, but I couldn’t figure out where he was. I was just trying to run for my life at this point. Just when I thought that the dog was going to catch up with me and eat me alive, a car pulled up and the passenger door opens, “quick, get in” a woman’s voice called. It was my neighbor, Mrs. Jones. I think I audibly heard a chorus of angels at that moment with light coming down. Oh my gosh. I scrambled into that car, slammed that door, and was safe. I was safe and we picked up Bobby who had been hiding behind a car, way farther down the street. She took us home. Let’s just say that I developed a fear of large dogs after that. It took me quite a while to get over it, especially the ones that bark a lot at you. How does this relate to Psalm 145? In this situation, the dog represents greatness. It was powerful, but it was not good because I’m pretty sure it wanted to eat me. Bobby, on the other hand, was good. He was my friend and didn’t want me to get hurt, but he was powerless to help me down the street. But Mrs. Jones was both great and good. She was kind-hearted and wanted to rescue me. She could rescue me because she had the power. She had that wonderful getaway car. That little prayer I chanted all those years encapsulates who God is at His very core. Great and good.
Not just great and powerful, but also good and loving. If God were great, but not good, He would not be trustworthy. But because He is both great and good, He is worthy of our trust and praise. Let’s put that idea up. There’s one thing I want you to take away from this message. You can fall asleep after this if you want because God is both great and good. He is worthy of our trust and praise. It is in this intersection of His greatness and goodness, His power and love where we can find peace, comfort, and joy, no matter what we’re going through. I think David, who wrote Psalm 145, understood this at a very deep level. I’m not going to talk much about David today, but I do want to give you a little bit of context.
This is a man who experienced extreme highs and lows in his life. He slew the giant Goliath. We’ve all heard the stories. He was a celebrated king of Israel, but he also had very dark seasons. He had to run for his life from people who were supposed to love him like his own son. He even suffered enemy capture. We don’t know if he was experiencing a high or a low when he wrote this Psalm but listen to how jubilant he sounds, so certain and confident about God’s character. I’m going to read the first half. “I will exalt you my God, the king. I will praise your name forever and ever, every day I will praise you and extol your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise, His greatness, no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another. They tell of your mighty act. They speak at the glorious slender of your majesty. I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell the power of your awesome works and I will proclaim your great deeds.” David is praising God’s greatness and how from generation to generation, his people have praised God as well. But I wonder if David would say the same of us today. We live in such a secular society where the focus is on man. We’ve got all these technological innovations, pervasive social media, and a lot of it is good. But in the throes of our very busy 21st-century lives, we can easily forget who God is, let alone how great He is. This summer I had the opportunity to visit Scotland for the first time. We toured six or seven castles there.
Every single one was located on some breathtakingly beautiful site, like the banks of Loch Ness. Or a perch on a stunning mountain in the highlands. What struck me was that many of these castles are now ruined, a pile of bricks, but the lakes and mountains are still there. These powerful royal families and mighty kings who built armies and castles have gone. The landscape that God created still remains. I thought how fleeting a human life is compared to the vastness of God. Look at this verse in James. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are amiss that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” It reminds me of winter. Not a San Francisco winter, but real winter. I grew up in the Midwest. If it’s below freezing, you can see your breath in the air just for a second.
It just disappears, poof, it’s gone. In contrast, God is eternal and infinite. The king of kings, the Lord of Lords. In verse three, David declares, “great is the Lord and most worthy of praise, His greatness no one can fathom.” We can’t even fathom it. Someone once told me you can’t over-exaggerate how amazing seeing God is. I think that’s so cool. I want to take a few minutes to touch on some aspects of God’s greatness. First, He is all-knowing or omniscient. Only God knows what will happen tomorrow. Think about that for a minute. He knows what will happen to not just you and me, but to every single person on this earth. In fact, He knows every little thing about every soul that ever lived and will live; He knows our thoughts, desires, hopes, dreams, and sorrows. David says He knew us in our mother’s womb and the number of hairs on each of our heads. It’s amazing.
Second, He is all-powerful or omnipotent. We see His power in the creation of heaven and earth. Remember that solar eclipse last month that everybody went nuts over. As humans, we can only observe these types of events. Maybe we could discover them and have them named after us. God is the one who sets the stars and the planets in motion. Look what Jesus said in the book of Matthew. “But Jesus looked at them and said, with man, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.” All things, there is no limit to God’s power.
Third, He is all present or omnipresent. God is not confined by space and time like we are, therefore He is uncontainable; he’s everywhere at all times. I tell my boys, you can run from me, especially since I can’t see you, but you can’t run from God. We don’t want to because His presence is the one thing that He promises. He promises to always be with us no matter what we’re going through. What kind of a God is with all of us all the time and knows each of us personally, all the time? It’s a mind-blowing notion, which is why I had to include number four. He is incomprehensible. As I was preparing this message. I came across a fun fact. I love fun facts. From time to time throughout the Bible, God and Jesus are described with the word wonderful. Wonderful, which is a nice enough word, is overused in the English language. Everything is wonderful, a piece of toast, or your husband. In the original Hebrew, the word wonderful means incomprehensible.
God invites us to know Him. We can know Him in an intimate way, but there is a limit to our human knowledge of Him. I’ll tell you right now, if your goal is to understand God completely, you will be disappointed because we can’t understand Him fully, but we can experience Him fully. It’s so easy to lose sight of our great and able God. We get caught up in our own agendas. We get so busy and have this need to control everything. We put God in a box and draw the boundaries for what He can’t and can do. Maybe you’re just checking Him out this morning for the first time. We’re really glad you’re here. Maybe you’ve been walking with Him for years and He has become a part of your weekly routine. Maybe not even that. Jesus performed miracles all throughout His ministries like healing the sick and the blind and feeding thousands of people with one basket of food, but not in his own hometown. He didn’t do any miracles there. Why?
Because they could only see Him as the carpenter’s son that used to live down the street. They just didn’t see Him as the true son of God and man. They were missing out. I would suggest that we can’t limit God, but we can limit how we experience Him. Do we regard Him as the all-powerful, holy God, He really is. Do we seek His purpose and wisdom in our daily lives? Do we consider Him irrelevant? Or maybe what He asks us to do is too inconvenient. Maybe it’s more subtle than that. We’re open to His input, but we get to make the final call because we want to be in control, but maybe we are missing out. Maybe some of us need a fresh revelation of God’s greatness and power today. Maybe we’ve got something we’re holding onto a little too tightly and it hasn’t occurred to us that God is able to show us the way. I recently heard the story of a woman named Immaculee Ilibagiza.
She is the New York Times bestselling author of a book called, Left to Tell, Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. She was separated from her family when the genocide broke out. She hid in a tiny bathroom with seven other women for three months. The day that the house was searched, she prayed with all her might for God to save her. The house was thoroughly searched. But when the soldiers came to the bathroom door where they were hiding, they simply turned and left. That was a day that Immaculee experienced God’s greatness in a powerful way. All things are possible with our God, all things. I’m not saying that if we come to God, we’ll get everything we want because we won’t. I can certainly speak from personal experience about that. I’ve learned that it’s not about getting what we want, but it’s about who He is.
It’s about humbling ourselves before an all-knowing, all-powerful God who wants a relationship with us and knows what’s best for us. A God who, if we let Him, is able to change our hearts and transform us through His son, Jesus. This brings me to God’s goodness. I’m going to pick back up in verse seven of our Psalm. We’ll read seven through nine. David has been talking about how his people have been praising God. “They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.” Look how David further delineates God’s goodness. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich and love. The Lord is good to all. He has compassion for all He has made.” Let’s pause here for a little while. At God’s very core is goodness. God is inherently and absolutely good. God shares what David calls His abundant goodness with us.
James 1:17 says, “every good and perfect gift is from above, from God coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change, like shifting shadows.” In other words, all good things come from God whose goodness is unchanging. That’s the truth. I know this world isn’t perfect, but look around, there are so many good things that God gives us. There’s a name for all these good things. They’re called blessings. These good things are called blessings. Blessings are one way that we see God’s goodness in action. He blesses us in addition to daily provisions and the loved ones in our lives. These blessings come in all shapes and sizes. It could be the kind act of a stranger or a promotion at work that you weren’t expecting. Of course, in San Francisco, the best blessing is a parking spot. The danger we need to be careful of is not to correlate God’s goodness only with the blessings, only with the stuff that feels good to us. We say things like I got a parking spot today. God is so good. But we didn’t say, I couldn’t find a parking spot. God is so good. God is good whether or not you found a parking spot today.
My husband and I lived in New Jersey during the 9/11 attacks, we’re on the eve of remembering 9/11. You could see the towers burning from our house. We lived 20 miles west of lower Manhattan. It was a horrific scene. Several of our friends who worked at the world trade center were miraculously spared. Their train was late, or they happened to have a doctor’s appointment that day. I remember thinking, God is so good for saving my friends, but thousands of people perished. I’m sure their loved ones uttered the complete opposite sentiment. So how does this work? Is God like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, good to some and bad to others? David just told us that God is good to all. The verse we read in James and countless others in scripture maintains that God is good all the time. Can you see that when we define good from a human perspective, we can easily slip into this expectation that a good God should only allow good things?
God’s goodness cannot and should not be defined by our circumstances. This brings me to my next idea. God shows His goodness by growing us. He grows us. One of my favorite sayings. Have you heard this one? You can’t stay young forever, but you can always be immature. I recently had a birthday. I’m now a San Francisco 49ers. I’m not going to be playing football anytime soon though, I don’t think. I am 49 years old and I still love being immature, ask my husband. But God doesn’t want us to be immature. Like a good parent, He wants us to grow up and to grow in the likeness of His Son. Sometimes He gives us tough love by allowing difficult circumstances. We learn about things like patience, perseverance, and how to love the unlovable. In other words, good things can be disguised as adversity and hardship.
Every year, my family gets flu shots. Every year my youngest knows it’s coming. Every year he tries to be very brave. He gives himself a pep talk and all that. Every year, right before the nurse sticks the needle in his arm, he freaks out. I always have to hold him down so the nurse can finish the job. He’s getting kind of big for that. But nobody loves getting a flu shot. They don’t feel good, but we know that they’re good for us. I know, some of you are going through stuff way more painful than a flu shot. I’m not trying to minimize it by using this example. I think we can all agree that adversity and hardship don’t feel good. My point is sometimes they are good for us. They are good for us because we can emerge on the other side, more mature, wiser, and closer to God. We can offer compassion to those with similar experiences. Even when we make poor choices and suffer the consequences, God can use them for good.
He doesn’t promise only good things. He does promise that all things work out for our good. Let’s look at Romans 8:28. “We know that in all things, all things, God works with the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” This is a good one to memorize. This is a good one to cling to when you’re going through something that doesn’t make sense. It might even take years before you can appreciate that it had a purpose before you can call it good. I can definitely attest to this. I used to think that my blindness was the one hardship I’d have to endure in my life. I was hoping that it would make me exempt from anything more. But then cancer came twice. Cancer the second time around has tested my faith. It really has. I can honestly say that it’s been good for me. It’s been good for me because who knew that dying really helps you figure out how to live.
I don’t take anything for granted anymore. I feel like I’ve got this clarity about life because God has been teaching me that Jesus is enough. He’s more than enough. You have heard me say this before. “It’s going to be okay. But if it’s not okay, it’s still okay, because Jesus is enough. It’s going to be okay because we have a great and good God. But if it doesn’t turn out the way I want it to turn out, it’s still okay. Because Jesus is enough.” This leads me to the last way we see God’s goodness in action. He saves us through His son. Michael and I celebrated our 25th anniversary this year. We made it. Yes. Thank you.
When cancer came back in 2015, I approached him with the idea of renewing our vows on our 25th. “You mean like another wedding?” He said. “Yeah, why not?” He said, “sure if you really want to, but you know, I already married you. I kind of meant the vows the first time.” I thought a lot about what he said. Having another ceremony with a big party would’ve been fun. It would’ve been awesome. We couldn’t do it because it was too difficult to schedule with all of our family’s busy lives and everything. If we had done it, it would’ve just been gravy because another ceremony or any other grand sweeping gesture is not required or necessary to prove Michael’s love for me. He already proved it when he married me 25 years ago.
What I’m getting at is we go through tough times. We’ve all been there. We get frustrated with God. We may cry out to Him, “show me your love, I can’t feel it.” We wish that He could make a grand sweeping gesture to show us that He’s still there, to show us that He still cares. We want something tangible, like changing our circumstances or taking away the pain. In these moments, may we remember the truth that God has already shown us His love. He showed us His faithful, steadfast, and unconditional sacrificial love when He gave us His son. May the joy of that glorious fact sustain us, giving us the hope or the courage we need to endure, even if it’s just for a little longer. Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Some translations say, “God demonstrated His love for us.”
God proved His love for us. There’s nothing else that God could do to prove His love for us more, nothing. He gave it to us all, all upfront. Maybe some of us need a fresh revelation of God’s greatness and love today. Goodness and love today. May I assure you that He sees you and He does love you. He already proved it to you. If you were the only one on earth, He would still give His son just for you. For those of us who have heard the gospel, hundreds of times, may we never be desensitized to it. May we never take it too casually because our holy, righteous, powerful God gave up His precious, perfect, sinless son to step out of the majesty of the heavens to suffer unspeakable things on a cross so that we may have a relationship with Him forever.
The cross is the ultimate expression of God’s greatness and goodness. It is God’s love that led Jesus to hang on that cross. It was God’s power that resurrected Jesus from the grave. We didn’t deserve it. There’s nothing we can do to earn it, but we can receive it. God invites us to live at this intersection every day. This intersection of His greatness and goodness, where we can find not only the promise of eternal life, which is amazing, and it should be sufficient for us, but daily confidence we can still find. A daily solace, no matter what we are going through. In the time I have left, I want to make a few suggestions on how we can respond to the truth that our God is both great and good.
First, we can rest despite the turmoil. Is your life in turmoil today? Maybe it’s your health, finances, relationships, kids, or maybe you’re just tired of hearing the news. It’s a lot going on in our world, in our country, the political climate, the hurricanes. Know that a great and good God is still in control. God is bigger than any problem or situation, Trust him. Or maybe you’re just running yourself ragged, too busy, too distracted, and have too many responsibilities. Reorient yourself to the Lord. He wants to share His greatness and goodness with you. Take a deep breath. Rest and know that He is God.
We can also respond with worship. Worship Him because of who He is, regardless of circumstances. This is what David is talking about at the beginning of the Psalm. “I will praise you forever and ever,” he says. “I will praise you every day.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a good day or a bad day. The thing is God doesn’t need our worship and praise. He’s God no matter what we do or what we say. He delights in worship because it puts us in the proper position, the right posture to engage with Him. To talk to Him. To obey Him. To receive from Him. Whether it’s His comfort, wisdom, or strength, whatever it is that we need. Spend time with Him; be in awe of Him. As you get to know Him more, the worship will come more easily. Even on the bad days. Finally, tell your story.
One of my sons asked my husband, “why did God make mom blind?” That’s a good question. Without skipping a beat, Michael replied, “so she could tell people about God.” Then my son asked him, “Why did God make you bald?” He didn’t have an answer for that one. He’s still trying to figure that one out, I think. Then it hit me, we can all ask ourselves the same question. Each of us will fill in the blank with different wounds, trials, and hardships. But the answer to each of these questions is the same. So you can tell people about God, you don’t have to be me. We all tell people about God like a witness in a courtroom. I love that analogy. You don’t have to argue, defend, or judge, simply tell your story. Simply tell your story of what God has done in your life. Tell it to your children, neighbors, coworkers, and your Uber driver. Tell your story.
Let’s finish reading our Psalm. We’re going to start in verse 10. “All your works, praise you, Lord, your faithful people extol you. They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your mic so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious slender of your kingdom.” Tell your story so that all people may know the greatness and goodness of God. As I close, I want to mention the Psalm card in your seat slot. I think there are some on the wall back by the Psalm wall. If you feel like it, jot down a few lines of praise or a little prayer. Maybe something about God’s greatness and goodness that struck you today. Maybe something that you heard Him say to you, and you can hang it on the wall there on your way out.
It’s yet another way that we can respond to His greatness and goodness. Let me close in prayer for us this morning. Deep breath. Dear Father, God, you are truly great, good, and worthy of our trust and praise. Forgive us, Lord if we’ve been too casual about our faith because we want to love you the way you love us, so faithfully and passionately Lord. Thank you for proving your love for us through your son on that cross. May we never take it too lightly. Help us to live at the intersection of your greatness and goodness forever. In your son’s precious name we pray. Amen.