God, Our Shepherd

God sustains us

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 ESV)

You know, when you think about Psalm 23 and this pandemic that we’re in today, I wonder if perhaps these are the most comforting words that Psalm 23 has for us. David imagines the worst moments we can have and describes them vividly as the valley of the shadow of death. Now, there aren’t a lot of valleys in Indiana. The terrain here is very flat. But in Israel, to shepherd in Israel is to lead sheep up and down hills. I have personally walked some of this terrain, and you can’t go far without going through ravines, gorges, and valleys; those deep places where the sun doesn’t break through.

Does that sound like the life you’re living right now? You’re walking through a kind of valley where you don’t see any light of truth or light of hope? Is your life a valley today?

While I’m sure this applies to those dark moments at the end of life, the language is more applicable to those dark nights of the soul during life. Valleys like we’re in now. The valleys of life where everything seems dark, mysterious, uncertain, and fearful. This is such a vivid description of human emotional pain. Anybody in that valley today?

Need a little light? See that it says I walk through the valley. When we are hurting we can give in to despair and think the valley is a canyon; a pit. I’ll never get out. It’ll always be this way! I’ll always feel this way. I’ll always have this pain. I’ll never get over this experience! I’m stuck and I can’t get out.

Not if God is your shepherd.

If God is my shepherd, then I’m walking through this valley of darkness. We are walking, as a church, through this valley of this coronavirus. We are walking through this valley of not being able to gather together. We’re walking through this valley of fear in our community. We are walking through this valley of uncertainty. This is not a canyon. This is not the end of the road. This is a valley that God, our Shepherd, is walking through with us. Please don’t forget that.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

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Washing our Hearts of Worry

The Prayer that Kills Worry

“…but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 ESV)

Anxious for nothing. Prayer in everything. Never worry. Always pray. There are three words used for prayer here: prayers, petitions, and requests.

  • Prayers – general word for talking to God.
  • Petitions (supplication) – this word is more specific and means entreaty. This is a word of urgency and need. It’s the difference between conversation and a cry for help.
  • Requests – asking for things. When are we do this? In everything!

Paul also adds that these prayers are to be done in a spirit of thanksgiving. This is critical as thanksgiving acknowledges God’s right to do what he wants. When I am thankful to God, I am submissive to his will. When I am thankful in prayer, I am acknowledging his goodness.

Disinfecting Fear

Disinfecting Fear

These are probably the two most common activities in our world today. Everybody’s disinfecting. And most people are afraid. Where has that got us? To a Sunday like a today. What a crazy week! Just this week all travel from Europe was cancelled. The stock market lost trillions of dollars in value. The President declared a national emergency on COVID-19. The governor of Indiana mandated no gatherings of 250 or more. Bethel Church is forgoing our normal eight worship services for a morning of livestream. And tomorrow, who knows? There is a lot of disinfecting and there is a lot of fear. It’s much easier to wash your hands than to wash your heart, wash your fear. Let’s talk about how to disinfect fear.

Be Constant in Prayer

“Be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12 ESV).

In

When you bring up prayer or suggest prayer, there’s lots of talk about prayer. People will talk about prayer, perhaps brag about their prayers, but not actually be IN prayer. An observation about many prayer gatherings is that there is way more sharing of prayer requests than there is praying about prayer requests. Oh, look at the time, we’d better pray….

Every Day is Sunday

Living Sacrifice

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” (Romans 12:1 ESV, emphasis added)

“Living” is what stands out here. Why? Because there were hundreds of thousands of Old Testament sacrifices. What was true of all of them? They were all dead. To be a sacrifice required that you die. This is why in the history of sacrifices—all the lambs and all the goats and all the cattle—there was only one sacrifice that was made willingly: Jesus.

Life in Harmony

“And the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?’” (Jonah 4:10–11 ESV)

Two Difficult Truths as Seen in the Book of Jonah

God often delights to save people we dislike and disagree with

Apparently, Jonah was a pretty good theologian. What can we say about the Assyrians? Their religion was pure paganism. We would expect a revival like this to happen in Jerusalem, where the Torah was taught and known. Theologically, there could be no more different people on the planet from Jonah than the Assyrians. Yet God delighted to bring revival to Nineveh.

If you are a Republican, how would you feel about a massive revival at the Democratic National Convention this summer? Or if you are a Democrat, what if God chose to work in a powerful revival at the Republican National Convention? If you are a Bears fan, what if revival broke out at Lambeau field? Now pastor, we draw the line there! Here’s what’s true:

God often delights to save people different from us

The Beauty of God’s Design for Human Gender

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 ESV)

Love the hurting

We have a saying around Bethel, if we have to err on any side let’s err on the side of love. I personally think this has great application with people struggling not just with gender but same-sex attraction or the brokenness of past gender/sexual sin.

Should we refer to a transgendered individual by their preferred gender pronoun? Personally, I think we should. There is the air war here and the ground war. The air war is the big ideological/theological/cultural/political battle for which Christians must be courageous and stand for truth. We will increasingly be the minority saying, there are two genders. Someday that may get you jailed.

But the person you work with or live next to or meet in church is not a global ideologue. They are simply a person living their life. Not all struggle, but many do. One study says that after a sex change operation an individual is 20 times more likely to commit suicide. Real people are really hurting.

Your relationship with them is not a battleground, it’s a relationship. I would recommend calling them by whatever they would like to be called. Refusing to do so will tell them you reject them at the personal place of their self-identity. Take a deep breath. It will be OK.