I Shall Not Want

November 12, 2017

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Rachel Billups

It's easy to recite, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil..." - easy,that is, until the shots are fired, the disease wins or the life is snuffed out. That's when our faith can find its best footing, however. Join us this weekend for a second message from Psalm 23... trusting in the middle of pain.


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Today's Focus


Psalm 23:4 



Swallowing Flies and Facing Death 





God Moves Towards the Valley 

  • Matthew 18:15-20 





Preventative Trust 

  • John 12:24
  • Matthew 28:20





See this week’s REFOCUS questions for deeper reflection.

Sermon Questions

I Shall Not Want



It’s easy to recite, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil...” – easy, that is, until the shots are fired, the disease wins or the life is snuffed out. That’s when our faith can find its best footing, however. 


MONDAY: Isaiah 41:10
The prophet Isaiah gave us a promise from God telling us not to fear. What are you afraid of? How does fear affect your decisions? 

TUESDAY: Psalm 23:4
There will be valleys in life. Are you in one right now? Do you fear a valley you see coming? 

WEDNESDAY: Matthew 18:15-20
God is with us even in the pain and conflict. When has God seen you through a valley? How can you begin to rely on God? 

THURSDAY: Psalm 23:4, Judges 7
God protects us just like God protected Gideon. What would you have done if you were Gideon? Whom do you feel the need to protect? 

FRIDAY: Romans 5:3-5
How has God prepared you for the valleys? What lessons has God taught you? 

SATURDAY: John 12:24
Trusting God can sometimes mean dying to self. How are you like this seed? What good has come from some of your life valleys? 

SUNDAY: Matthew 28:20
How can you move forward in life by putting your trust in God? What changes can you make when you are living without fear?

Sermon Transcript


Psalm 23:4 

Swallowing Flies and Facing Death

A couple of months ago, my four-year-old David and I were reading a book before nap time, one of his favorites, There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. Perhaps you’ve read it. If you think about it, it’s a really odd book: the lady swallows a fly, then a spider to catch the fly, a bird, a cat, a dog, a cow and finally a horse and when she swallows the horse, “she’s dead of course.” You know, swallowing a cow wouldn’t kill you; it’s the horse that put you over the edge. No sooner had I muttered that last line, “she’s dead of course,” then David looked at me with this puzzled look and said, “She’s dead?” “We’ll yes David,” I said. She did swallow a horse.” But “why, mommy.” Come on kid, we’ve read this book 1,000 times and you are just now asking the question. “David, you can’t eat an entire horse and expect to live. Besides David, everybody dies.” You could just see his little wheels spinning. “Everybody dies, Mommy?”  “Yes, little buddy, everybody dies.” “Mommy YOOOU, will Yooou die someday?”  At this point my 4-year-old is no longer digging the book and is at the point of tears. “But Mommy,” he said, “if you die who will be my mommy?”

Stinking kids’ book; this time I was the one holding back the tears, “David I will always be your mommy,” I said. Although I was strong on the outside, on the inside I was bargaining with God—please God let me see all of my kids graduate high school. Please God, I want to see David, grow up. Please God, I know I am going to die, but don’t let it be anytime soon. So, I looked at David and said, “Some day both of us will die, but not until we are really good and really old.”

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly—who knew a children’s book could cause you to start playing worst case scenarios in your mind—what if, what if I die, what if one of my kids die, what if they are left without a mom to grow up with, what if the worst happens—and the what ifs nearly had me for lunch!

What if…last weekend—a real-life “what if” experience happened that none of us could have imagined, as we were worshipping here in this room. A group of Jesus-loving folk were worshipping at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs; the church was no larger than the small country church I grew up in and during worship a very troubled young man drove over to the church and started shooting into the building. When he was finished nearly all of the 50 folk attending church were either dead or wounded, among them a pregnant woman and her small children. This is the kind of stuff that makes me say, what if, and what ifs can lead to fear for all of us from time to time.

But God, that’s not what you promised—no pain, no death, no discomfort, just smooth sailing—is that what I signed up for when I said yes to following Jesus?  Isn’t it what you promised God?  I want the green pastures and the still waters—give me that. I don’t want the valley, let alone the shadow of death. It may be what I want, but if life teaches me, teaches you anything—we know we don’t always get what we want. The shadow of death threatens us all—even Jesus faced that truth as a young adult.

Brothers and sisters, my hope is that we can understand this troubling truth about life—and death in a deeper, more hope-filled way today. Will you join me as has we open our hearts to God—let’s pray together.

Lord Jesus, last weekend a small community in Texas was changed forever. In that sacred space heaven mourned, you wept, you grieved—not just because it was sacred space—but because these were your beloved sons and daughters. And, God, today though some of us in the face of these shootings may fight apathy—you are not apathetic—you weep with us, you grieve for us. We are not alone, in our suffering. No Jesus you were nailed to the cross as a reminder that our God is the God who walks through the valley with us. Amen, and Amen.

Last Sunday night, I mentioned to my husband Jon that I needed to finish working on this week’s message and Jon asked, “Now what are you going to do?  Will you change what you are preaching about in light of the shooting in Texas?”  As I opened up my notes and said, ‘I don’t have to—this week is about trust in the face of death.”

Turn with me to Psalm 23. The book of Psalms is in the middle of your Bible; it’s part of what we call the Old Testament. It is the longest book of the Bible and next to John 3:16, Psalm 23 is the most frequently quoted scripture in the whole book. Even if you are new to church you may have noticed you’re quasi familiar with these words. It’s popular in music, some may remember Coolio’s “Gansta’s Paradise,” and most have heard it at a funeral. But these words weren’t meant for the dead; these words are words of life. So, let’s focus in on Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NIV).

Even though I walk through the darkest valley…. Think about it—even though I walk—the psalmist doesn’t say I might walk, I could walk, maybe someday, I should walk. No, the assumption is suffering is a coming!  This is written in the present tense—it is going to happen. You and I will suffer!  We will be in the valley! But Psalm 23 tell us A FEW THINGS about the valley.

God Moves Toward the Valley

Have you ever noticed that when something tragic happens people just instinctually move to help?  If someone collapses on the sidewalk, when a person is choking at a restaurant, when you drive up to the scene of an accident, our first and primary move is to get out and help. When I was about 17, my family and I were driving to one of my little sister’s choir concerts when my mom, dad and I drove up to the scene of an accident that had just occurred. A pickup truck had t-boned a car and we didn’t even think twice. We pulled over, jumped out of our car and ran in to help. There were 3 people in the car that had been hit: dad, mom and a little girl—the mom and dad were rushed to the hospital. After the ambulance came, I remember my teenage self holding this little girl for hours in an ambulance until one of her family members could come get her. We saw pain and darkness, and we instinctively ran in to join this family in their pain. That’s what God does. God moves to the valley, to the place of pain and darkness. Our God, the God of the universe, is a co-sufferer. God is by our side. God is with us, in the car wreck, during the cancer treatment, through the divorce, when work is a total mess, when the friends have left, after the money runs out, while we are dealing with disappointment—God, You are with me. Did you notice the YOU!  This is a declaration of faith. You ARE—God is with us!  Our God isn’t some clockmaker who set the world in motion and left us alone. God’s not some man on the moon who looks down at us in judgment, OUR CREATOR isn’t some cosmic demigod playing games with human beings and their emotions. No, God—the God of Rebecca, Rachel and Sarah—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the GREAT I AM is with us—God is with YOU!

Psalm 23 reminds me of Matthew 18. You may be familiar with the scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (NIV). When two or three are gathered—sounds so good, right? But there’s a twist. This scripture isn’t about a church celebration or even prayer gathering. No, this scripture comes at the end of Jesus teaching about conflict. Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses….. Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:15-20 NIV)  This is no kumbaya moment. This is the dirt just hit the fan–ain’t nobody got time for this–KNOCK-DOWN, DRAG-OUT middle of conflict, when things are hard, when church is tough, when life hands us lemons—Jesus says, “I am with you.” God is with us. Turn to your neighbor and say, “God is with you!” 

Preventative Trust

Brothers and sisters, chances are there are two types of people listening today. There are the folk who are in the thick of it, you are tracking with this sermon. It’s like I’m reading your email; you have been and are going through the valley. And it’s tough. And you are hanging on every word because it literally feels like life and death to you right now…you may be hanging on by a thread.

But there are also folk who are thinking to themselves, I am good. Pastor Rachel, I love what you are saying, but right now I am good—my family is good, my job is good, my kids are good, my dog is good, and I am good. And, thank God for that, but I want to say even if you are good—I promise, pain is coming. Because this is life. Pain and promise, valleys and green pastures are all part of life. It’s what it means to be human.  We are all in a world of possibilities. Somedays we will experience the fullness of good, but somedays it’s nothing but pain. Stuff happens. So, what do we do? 

We’ve got to grow our trust muscles! Trust as both protection and preparation. What did the Psalmist say, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NIV).  When we dig into the Hebrew we realize that the rod and staff symbolize authority, protection, the shepherd’s strength. In other words, our God is a fighting God. God fought for God’s people. God will protect us. We don’t have to fight for ourselves. God will fight for us. So many stories in the Old Testament remind us that God fought for and protected God’s people: like the story of Gideon. Gideon has like 300 men in his army, and he faces the Midianites who number in the thousands. Gideon and his men don’t even have to pick up a sword. God tells them to blow trumpets and carry torches, and God outsmarts and defeats the entire Midianite army—God is their defender. It’s God who protects. We’ve got to trust God for protection. Your rod and your staff they comfort and protect me.

But, sometimes we become obsessed with protection as the ultimate goal. I’m not just talking about our helicopter tendencies to bubble wrap our kids throughout their childhood; I’m talking about the fear-filled responses that we have to tragedies like this week’s shooting where we want to get our conceal carry permit to protect our kids and the people we love from anything or anyone that may harm them. It’s not bad to want to protect!  We have a world class security team here at Ginghamsburg Church. I want to protect my kids, I want them to be safe, but too often we fail to prepare them and those around us for the pain that lies ahead. And by neglecting our call to prepare, we settle for protect. Our kids and grandkids will experience pain. Are they prepared? Don’t just protect your kids from pain—prepare your kids for pain!

Do you talk to them about the hard stuff of life in an age-appropriate way? Do you help build their trust muscles?  Or do you overprotect to the neglect of preparation.

We also have to look at our own fear. These issues of life and death must first be settled in our own adult hearts—before we can share truth with our little ones.  

When David said to me, “Mommy, if you die who will be my mommy,” I didn’t want to just make the pain in his heart go away; I wanted to build into David’s life. “David,” I said, “do you remember when you asked Jesus into your heart?”  “Yes, Mommy.” That means that God is with you all the time, in this life and in the life ahead in heaven. David, even if mommy dies someday, God will always be with you, and God and mommy will always love you. You do not have to be afraid!”  I am working hard to prepare this little guy for life—look I don’t want him to grow up without me as his mom—but even if he experiences the pain of losing me, I want him to know that there is a rock he can trust. I am preparing him to trust. I want to help him grow his trust muscles and by growing his—I’m growing mine even stronger.  This stuff isn’t easy, but God didn’t promise easy. God promised—I will be with you.  

I want David and everyone here today to know that we can trust God when things are good in order to be prepared for tomorrow when things are not so good. This is a new form of trust – preventative trust—trusting forward for whatever may come our way.

Sisters and brothers, there is a holy mystery in pain—a mystery that Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Without death there is no resurrection, and without resurrection there is no hope!  Pain—Death—Resurrection—New Life.

Jesus illustrated this rhythm using the metaphor of a seed. “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24 NIV). Pain—Death—Resurrection—New Life.

I am here today to tell you that purpose can rise out of pain. It’s not that God causes pain—no—that’s contrary to the very nature of God. Humans experience pain; mysteriously, we have a broader, bigger, more hope-filled vision for life. What is our part—TRUST?  Trust in a God who deeply cares, loves and hangs with us. Trust in the here and now and for all that could happen—not to keep us down and depressed but actually to raise our capacity for joy, knowing that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.  He promised that in Matthew 28: 20), “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV). This is preventative trust.   

Even though I walk through the dark valley I will fear no evil—I will not be afraid. We don’t have to fear evil. God delivers us from all our fears (Psalm 34:4); we are no longer slaves to fear. You and I are sons and daughters of the living God. If God is for us, then who can be against us!  We can place our trust in God.  

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