To My Brothers & Sisters Behind the Razor-wire,

Hello! My name ‘used’ to be, 97793 and 108-270 and 299-080. My name now and for the last 2 years is Shannon Payne. You get my meaning…

Today I am the Senior Pastor of Christian Life Fellowship in Gahanna, OH and also the Chaplain for the Loved Ones of Prisoners Ministry (LOOP). I was blessed to join the LOOP Team just a few short months ago.

I have always had a heart and calling to Prison Ministry, as it was in prison that the Lord Jesus Christ met me and changed my life. I spent a total of 22.5 years in jails and prisons and was finally released from a 13.5-year bit back in January of 2000. God has blessed my life greatly even before I was released.

Having spent so many years behind the wire, I have a unique perspective on what you all go through each and every day; I lived it too!

I would love to hear from you and pray for you and your families, and if possible, in the Ohio Region, come and visit you. My email is: [email protected].

I want to encourage you all, even in a place where hope seems lost or not even existent, there IS Hope in Christ.

In His Majesty’s Service,

Pastor Shannon Payne

Psalm 23 (God Never Leaves Me) pt.4

All Scripture is taken from the New Living Translation

We are still in our series on the goodness of God based off Psalm 23, and today we are looking at the first half of verse 4, and how God never leaves us…

Life is full of good times and bad times, ups and downs, mountains and valleys… I think you know where I’m going with this…

Psalm 23:4 – “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me.”

NKJV reads – Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me…”

Next Sunday Kim is going to teach on the rod and staff, the second half of verse 4.

This verse is talking about going through difficult times. And how God is always with us. Especially in our darkest hour, when we don’t feel His presence at all!!

Think about it, when life is good and we are in a mountaintop experience, the view is great, life it good! But let’s face it, mountaintop experiences never seem to last that long. Valleys are the lower-level experiences when it’s hard to see beyond the next day.

Darkness, defeat, discouragement surround us when we are in the valleys of life. It seems to me that the Psalmist is painting a very dark picture with this verse, “When I walk through the darkest valley. The valley of the shadow of death.”

I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me.

The valleys in life could be things like. The loss of a job, financial valley. Relational valley (Relationships). Sickness. Depression. Fear. Failure. Life just took a bad turn.

There are several passages in the Bible that refer to troubled times and how we are to press into God’s goodness when going through a valley. And these passages carry hope with them as well.

In Psalm 23 we are told not to be afraid in the valley for God is right there beside us.

Psalm 34:17,18“The Lord hears His people when they call to Him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 34 tells us God hears us when we cry out to Him for help. He rescues us. He is close to the brokenhearted! If I’m going through a valley in life, this is a passage to hold onto, because my Shepherd, Jesus, hears me and rescues me! This is a message of hope and deliverance we are given!

John 16:33“… Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world.”

Now look at this; Jesus tells us that it’s going to happen. Don’t be surprised. Valleys, trials, sorrows, they are a part of life here on earth.  But take heart, for I have overcome anything you’ll go through, Jesus says! Again, the Scriptures are full of hope we can hold onto during hard times.

Especially in verse 4 of Psalm 23…

Psalm 23:4“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me.”

We are to hold on to the hope that we will get through it… It’s temporary!! And while we’re walking through the valley, Jesus, our Shepherd, is right there walking through it with us.

The Psalmist isn’t hoping his Shepherd is close by, he knows it!! “You are close beside me.”

The minute we ask the question, “Why me?” during a valley, think of the passages we are looking at today. Because at some point in life we will need them. While we are here on this earth, we are going to have things that cause us heartache.

Here’s the analogy I’ll use… When going through a tunnel, a long tunnel… It’s dark and it can get a little scary.

But what do we do? We keep our eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel. We might not see any light at first, but we know if we keep walking sooner or later, we will see it as we come out the other end.

During a dark situation, keeping our eyes focused on the light at the end of the tunnel is equivalent to keeping our eyes focused on our Shepherd in the deepest of valleys.

Look what happens in the midst of our dark situation.

Job 12:22“He uncovers mysteries hidden in the darkness; He brings light to the deepest gloom.”

This right here tells us there are things we can learn in the valleys of life that we would never learn anywhere else.

God uncovers mysteries in our darkest hour. He shines the light as we walk though it with Jesus by our side!

Again, we never go through the valleys by ourselves…

Isaiah 43:2 – “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God…”

Remember, this sermon series is based on the goodness of God. And something we must understand is that when we struggle in the valley there is a purpose that will be revealed. This doesn’t mean that God causes the valleys. God is not a god of chaos. He does not cause bad things to happen to us. He does not bring sickness upon us.

When someone is going through a tough time or dealing with an illness and they say something like, “God has given me this burden to bear. Or God has laid this sickness upon me.” This is not true! Because this would mean that God delights in seeing His creation struggle! God only wants the best for us and the plans He has for us are plans for good and not for disaster. They are plans that give us a future and a hope!

Psalm 34:19 – “The righteous person faces many troubles; but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.”

We will be faced with troubles in life, but even in the darkest of valleys… Whether it be a valley of conflict, or fear, failure, whatever it is. God has a purpose to be revealed when we come out of that valley. When we come through it! And He will come to our rescue every time. Every time!

Romans 5:3-5: 3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

This is rich because what this tells us is that God will build our character when we’re going through a valley…

When we cling to Him during a valley, He’s building our strength and character…

He will bring good out of a bad situation… And the strength of character we gain from this will outlast anything we deal with in the valley!!

For we know how dearly God loves us because He has given us the Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit is the power of God we receive when we sense His presence with us in our darkest hour… The Holy Spirit provides the love and comfort we need!!

We are never alone… Our Shepherd is right there beside us… Going through it all with us!

This hope of salvation we have during the valley is what we hold on to, because one day we will no longer deal with troubles… None!

I’ll end it with this…

2 Corinthians 4:16-18: 16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are[a] being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Never give up… Never, never, ever give up… The troubles we face today will seem like nothing when we are in eternity with Jesus!

Here it is again… The purpose God reveals to us on the other side of the valleys will produce for us a glory that will outweigh them all…

And the glory revealed from the purpose of that valley will last forever!!

Focus on Jesus when the days are dark!! If you feel you cannot go on any longer reach out to someone (Life group leader, pastor, someone you trust) …

Put on some worship music… Read God’s Word… Focus on Him and the light of our Shepherd will shine brighter than the darkness in the valley.

Psalm 23:1-4

1. The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.

2. He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams.

3. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.

4. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me.

The Goodness of God

Part 5–Psalm 23

When you think of things that are comforting, things that bring you comfort, what comes to mind?  For me it’s my fuzzy slippers, a steaming cup of hot tea, a warm blanket.

Maybe for some of us it’s a hug or the voice of a loved one, or a particular song.  Maybe it’s your dog.  It could be anything, something different for all of us.  Chocolate?  We all have something or maybe a few things that when we need it, we find comfort in it–it calms our spirits, gives us peace.  In fact the definition of comfort is to give strength and hope to, to ease the grief or trouble of, to console, to alleviate distress or constraint.  

Americans are big on “comfort foods”–foods that just make us feel better–warm and cozy–so for fun I looked up the top ten comfort foods in the U.S.  Here is what I discovered–from 2020–I’ll start with #1 and go down:

  1. Pizza
  2. Burger
  3. Fried Chicken
  4. French Fries
  5. Pasta
  6. Macaroni and Cheese
  7. Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
  8. Mashed Potatoes
  9. Chili
  10. Tuna Noodle Casserole

They got me with #10, anything with the name casserole–I’m pretty much a no!

But we like these foods because they’re warm, satisfying, familiar.You have a big bowl of mac and cheese in front of you, and for ten minutes everything seems right with the world.  From the time we are babies we crave comfort.

For the past several weeks Pastor Chip has spoken about Psalm 23, and broken that down for us.  Last week he spoke about the first part of verse 4, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.”

And today we are looking at the 2nd half of verse 4– ”Your rod and Your staff protect and comfort me.”

A rod and a staff.  Two kinds of sticks.  Think about that compared to the other things we mentioned–fuzzy slippers, cozy blankets, mac n cheese.  How do two kinds of sticks bring us comfort?  

Maybe we have seen these in the movies.  I have some visual aids to give us a better idea of what a rod and a staff are.  Something we will look at today is just what is a rod and what is a staff, and what do they symbolize, what benefits do they represent?  How in the world do these two sticks that a shepherd uses, a sheep herder, how do these two sticks bring comfort?

They use a rod and a staff. These two tools are ancient tools that have been used by sheep herders for thousands of years.  Today we will look at what they were actually used for, and how this symbolizes the ways that God wants to work in your life.

The rod is kind of like a club, and it’s a defensive tool, and they are usually about 1 ½ to 2 feet long.  It is used for guarding and protecting the sheep against predators.  Shepherds use it to shoo away enemies of the sheep–wolves, mountain lions, other predators.  The shepherd (hopefully) scares off the predators with the rod.  

The staff is used for guiding and directing the flock. In order to get the full picture, it’s important to know something about sheep.  Here are a few characteristics of sheep that will give us a better picture of the purpose of these tools and the parallels that the Bible makes between us (people) and sheep.

–Sheep have a tendency to wander.

–Sheep are timid, fearful, and easily panicked

–They are not overly smart

–They have little or no means of self-defense.  They can only run.  They have no sharp claws, their teeth are

  fairly dull from chewing on grass.

–They are easily overtaken by enemies, even though they can run, they’re not overly fast

–They easily “cast” which means, they flip over on their back, sometimes from having too much wool.  When

  this happens they are unable to right themselves again and will die of starvation if the shepherd does turn

  them back over.

–Of all livestock, they require the most care.

–They have an ability to graze on extremely difficult terrain.  They can stand on a hillside at almost a 60 or 70

  degree angle and graze.  Cows can’t do that.  Sheep can be on mountains and cliffs, and near edges.  But

  they can get out of balance and fall off.  

So the shepherd’s staff has this crook, or hook on the end, and they would use this either around the sheep’s neck or foot to pull them away from the edge, and you wouldn’t have to get close to the edge yourself and put yourself in danger.  

Or if a sheep goes into a bramble bush full of thorns, the shepherd doesn’t want to pull the sheep out with his bare hands and get cut up, so they can reach in with the staff and grab the sheep by the leg and pull them out.  So the staff is a recovery tool, it’s a tool of protection.  

The rod is used for guarding and protecting, and the staff is used for guiding and directing.  Guarding and guiding, protecting and directing.  

So what is the meaning for us in this passage?  Why did God choose to use the rod and staff to symbolize what He does for us?  

Throughout the Bible, people are frequently referred to as sheep, and Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  If we go back to that list one more time of the characteristics of sheep, do you see any parallels to people in general?  Maybe not all of these apply to each of us, but in general can we relate?  Let’s look one more time–

Do we have a tendency to wander?  Yes!  We are often easily distracted and enticed by things of the world, sometimes not even intentionally but we live in a society that is so driven by and controlled bytechnology and consumerism–something is constantly at war for our attention, our time, our finances.  I have to share this story because it parallels the point–when I was in my 20’s I spent a couple summers working at barns at summer camps.  They were horse barns but there were other animals too–pigs, chickens, goats.  Farm animals have it fairly easy–in general they don’t have many cares in the world–they spend most of their time napping and eating, and that’s it.  They aren’t overly worried about predators–the farmer takes care of that.  Farm animals by and large are living the good life!  Animals out in the wild are constantly on the lookout for predators and have to have an awareness at all times.  Farm animals–nope!  They just eat and nap.  So why is it that nearly every single one of them, the first chance they get, will try to wander off?  Try to escape!  

At one of the barns I worked at, once a week we would clean the pig pen.  There were two pigs, regular sized pigs, probably about 200-300 pounds each.  We would clean the pen by moving them into the empty pen next to theirs, and hose out their pen.  They would hang out in the empty pen while we cleaned theirs, then we would hose them off and lead them back into their original pen.  Once a week we would do this, usually about 2 or 3 of us.  It was a good system!  Except for one day–we washed the pen, hosed off the pigs, we were getting ready to move them back into their own pen, I guess we weren’t quick enough, and one of them thought it would be funny I guess to take off running!  This pig started running, squealing, as fast as he could down the gravel road.  One would not think a 300 pig with little legs would be very fast, but this guy–he was fast!  And three grown adults tried to chase him, and we couldn’t catch up!  Every so often we would get close enough to try to grab him, but something interesting about pigs that have just been hosed off with water–they are really slippery!  It had to be like watching a cartoon–we chased this pig, and he eventually ran out of the camp and across the road, and stopped in someone’s backyard about a quarter mile down the road.  We finally caught up to him, and then realized our best plan to get him back to the camp was a dog leash that the homeowner had, so we used it.  And walked that pig back down the road and across, back down the gravel road into the barn.  It was easily a half mile walk with the pig.  

Even though we didn’t have the most well thought out plan to get the pig back, we went after him, and we got him.  We were not going to let him get away.  And the pig didn’t have a plan either.  What was he going to do, start a new life on the neighbor’s patio?  He had no plan; he just wanted to see what he could get away with, he wanted to see what was out there.  But what was out there wasn’t a safe life for him.  

But the point is–even when we have it good–when things are provided for us, food, shelter, safety…we are prone to wander!  Farm animals are prone to wander, sheep are prone to wander, people are prone to wander.  Something calls us from the other side of the gate and makes us wonder what’s on the other side.  Often, the first chance we get, even if we don’t have a real plan, no matter how good it might be where we are, we find ourselves wandering off somewhere else.  

Other characteristics–can we relate to the list?

–Sheep are timid, fearful, and easily panicked.  People are timid, fearful, and easily panicked.  Not all of us, but at some point in our lives that is true of most of us.

–Sheep are not overly smart.  I’ll leave that one alone!

–Easily overtaken by enemies, little means of self-defense, sounds like people sometimes, doesn’t it?

But I think these last two descriptions are the most closely relatable to people–when we are carrying too much “wool,”  too much baggage, we might fall over, and we can’t right ourselves without the help of the shepherd.  We try and try on our own, but we can’t get back up.

And then this one–we get ourselves close to the edge, to the edge of a cliff, we take chances and risks, maybe not paying attention to the fact that we are a little too close to danger or destruction, and we need the shepherd to pull us back to safety.  Symbolically can you relate to any of this?  

So we are going to break this into three ways that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, guards and protects, guides and directs.

1. If I choose to follow Him, Jesus leads me in the right direction.  

In John chapter 10, verses 2-4 it says this: 2But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize His voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.

Verse 4–The Good Shepherd walks ahead of the sheep; and they follow Him because they know His voice.

In shepherding, the shepherd always goes first. Why? He’s the model. He is showing the way, he’s leading by example. This is very different from being a cowboy. A cowboy and a shepherd are two very different things. You drive cattle, but you lead sheep. You drive cattle from the back, you push them forward. If you’ve ever watched a TV western, you know on a cattle drive, they’re pushing the cattle from the back. You drive cattle from the back but you lead sheep. You get out front and they follow you.

Why is this important?  Jesus isn’t pushing you through life.  He isn’t pushing you into things you don’t want to do.  He’s not forcing you into anything.  He isn’t forcing you to follow Him and He isn’t forcing you to even love Him. He wants that for each of us, but He isn’t forcing it.  He is gently leading.  I heard it put this way—it’s not love if there’s no choice to not love.  That would be control.  He’s not pushing or forcing or controlling.  But as a shepherd He is going to lead the way.  He’s going to say, “Watch how I do it, look where I go.”  And as Pastor Chip has said before, God will never lead you into the weeds.  If He is leading you, why would He lead you into the weeds?  The Word says that He walks ahead of them (us) and He leads us out–out of danger, out of destruction, out of uncertainty, out of fear, out of the path of predators.

And He leads us with love, not laws, not judgement, not condemnation.  He leads us with His love.  How do we know this?  

Psalm 25:8-10 says this: 8The Lord is good and does what is right; He shows the proper path to those who go astray. 9He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way. 10The Lord leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all who keep his covenant and obey his demands.”

He leads with unfailing love and faithfulness.  I think some people have a fear of God, they have the thought that He is just going to give them a set of rules–don’t do this, don’t do that, and you must do this, this, and this.  But the Bible says that God says, “I will lead you with My love.”  Not laws, love.  That is how the Good Shepherd leads us.  He isn’t waiting for us to veer off course so He can reprimand us back into line.  That is not the heart of God.  He is gently leading us to safety and security, blessing, hope–all the best things of life.  He is leading us to a place of comfort!  He’s not forcing, He is leading and simply bids us to follow.  

2. When we wander, Jesus always comes after us and brings us back.

What about when we are prone to wander?  When despite His leading, we dart out of the gate and go the other way?  Sometimes it doesn’t take much, does it?  Sometimes it’s not intentional, but our decisions lead us the wrong direction.  Sometimes our sin leads us in the wrong direction.  Sometimes other people lead us the wrong direction.  Sometimes we just lose our focus.   Well here is what the Bible has to say about when we wander off.

Luke 15:3-6: 3So Jesus told them this story: 4“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’

When we stray, when we lose our way, He comes after us!  The Bible says He will leave the 99 sheep to come after us and He will carry us back to the flock.  

Just like we chased after that restless, slippery pig, we weren’t going to let it get away.  We cared about the well-being of the pig.  We left the other pig in a place of safety and went after the one that was running off.  It mattered to us.  How much more does Jesus chase after us!  Why?  Because every sheep matters.  Each one of us matters to God.  He’s not going to stop chasing after you.  He’s not going to let you get away.  He knows what’s out there, what we are headed for on our own, He says no, that’s not safe for you, that’s not where you belong, I’m coming after you.   He wants the very best for us!  

Here Is more proof–

Ezekiel 34:11-16: 11“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. 13I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. 14Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. 15I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. 16I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak.  

This sounds pretty good to me!  Who doesn’t want that?  When we wander, when we stumble, when we fail, when we fall, when we are too close to the edge of the cliff, God says I’m pulling you back to safety.  I have better things for you.  

Verse 16 again.  16I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak.  

Jesus rescues and recovers.  All of us, all the time.  Like all sheep, we not only wander, we also stumble. We also fall down many, many times in life.  We’ve all stumbled, we’ve all fallen flat on our face, sometimes we do it with great regularity. Every time we wander, we get into trouble, don’t we? The further I get away from God, the more problems I’m going to have in my life. The closer I get to the Shepherd, the fewer problems I’m going to have because He’s going to be guiding me, guarding me, protecting me, directing me.  When we wander Jesus always comes after us and brings us back.  Always.

3. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.  

The very reason that Jesus came was to lay down His life for us.  The very reason that Jesus came was to bring us into a relationship with Him so that He could spend eternity with us in Heaven.  So that He could walk out our days on earth with us, and then spend eternity with us in Heaven.  When Jesus went to the cross, He paid for every wrong thing we have ever done–past, present, and future.  He said–I’ll pay this price so that you don’t have to.  I’ll pay for this so you can receive forgiveness.  I’ll pay this on your behalf so that your eternity is secure–you don’t have to wonder, you don’t have to guess.  It’s done, it’s finished, you’re forgiven, you belong to Me.  Just believe.  Believe and receive.  Receive the sacrifice that the Good Shepherd made on our behalf when He gave up His life.  What is more comforting than knowing our salvation is secure, our eternity is secure?  We can have peace knowing that we will spend eternity with Jesus, there’s no guessing, no wondering.  The Bible says believe and receive, it’s that simple.  I cannot think of anything more comforting than knowing our eternal salvation is secure because Jesus, the Good Shepherd, went to the cross on our behalf.  

Back to John 10 one more time–John 10 says: 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.

27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else.  No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.

I’m going to bring this home with this–the tools of the shepherd–the rod and staff–even though they look like 2 sticks, they symbolize the very reason that Jesus came–to guard and protect, guide and direct.  We can find comfort in knowing that Jesus Himself is the Good Shepherd, and that He goes before us, leading us in the right direction if we are willing to follow.  And when we start to stray the wrong way He gently leads us back.  As the good shepherd He fights off any predator that tries to come near–He protects us.  He will not let anything take us from His care.  With the rod, the shepherd guards and protects, and with the staff the shepherd guides and directs.  And we can have comfort in knowing that He would drop everything to come after us if we wander off or lose our way.  

And the very crux of the Bible–the message of salvation–is that the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep (us!) by taking the penalty for our sin on our behalf.  

Your rod and Your staff protect and comfort me.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd of the sheep–you, me, us, all of us–will stop at nothing to keep us in His care, under His watchful protection, and will never let us get away