Psalm 23 Flipped!

by Lead Pastor Chad Allen

Last weekend I taught a message on Psalm 23. You can find that message here.  This may be the most well-known passage of the Bible.  It is often referred to by its first line, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  I wanted to provide this post as a little extra food for thought and interaction on this passage.  So just follow along!

Review Psalm 23

Psalm 23 – A Psalm of David

[1] The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. [2] He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. [3] He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. [4] 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. [5] You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. [6] Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (ESV)

What if we flipped this Psalm?  What if we turned it inside out or backwards to see what it would read like if the Lord wasn’t our shepherd, but instead, if we continued to try and lead/shepherd our own lives?  Sometimes to grasp the beauty and depth of a passage of Scripture, we need to look at it from the opposite perspective to see the rich truths that God has given us in His Word.  If we did that to Psalm 23, maybe it would look and sound like this…

Psalm 23 Flipped

I am my own shepherd, so I’m always in want. I seek out green pastures in the fields of the world, but I cannot find them.  And what I do discover is inadequate and unfulfilling.  The water I drink of is tainted and poisoned. I am led by this world to a well with the appearance of sustainment, but after drinking, I am left thirsty.  I am never truly satisfied.  I cannot say that I lack nothing, for I find myself wanting everything.  I’m trapped trying to feed my greed rather than just my need.  Therefore my soul suffers.  

I feel trapped on uncertain and unsafe paths of unrighteousness, doing what I shouldn’t do and trying to make my own name. I walk through the valley of the shadow of death and I am distraught, alone, and afraid.  I see evil all around me and in me, and there is no possession, ritual, argument, philosophy, or even person who provides me comfort at the core of my inner being. My enemies surround me – fear, death, temptation, condemnation – and I feel overwhelmed, anxious, restless, weak, vulnerable and tired. 

Will I ever flourish?  Will I ever be at peace?  Will I ever have a sense of belonging and purpose?  Will I ever feel secure? Will I ever find true rest for my soul? Is there anyone who can help me or rescue me, or am I doomed to feel this hopeless and restless forever?

I am my own shepherd, so I’m always in want.

Reflection

After reading what God said in Psalm 23, followed by my distorted version, reflect on these questions:

  • How have I seen God shepherd my life and how has it led me to trust Him more?
  • How have I resisted God’s shepherding of my life and what has it cost me?
  • What is one action step I can take to better surrender to God’s shepherding over my life?  When will I take that step and who will I tell about it?

A Gospel Prayer based on Ephesians 5:15-21

O Lord God, the Source of wisdom, truth, and goodness,

How deep are Your riches and wisdom and knowledge, God! How unsearchable are Your judgments and how inscrutable are Your ways (Romans 11:33). Your foolishness is wiser than men, and Your weakness is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:25). You are wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom (Isaiah 28:29).

I thank You, Lord, that You do not keep Your wisdom to Yourself. You have been gracious and generous in offering Your unfailing wisdom to me. From Your mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6).

Yet I have spurned Your wisdom. I have sinned against You and have lived foolishly. I have not looked carefully enough at how I’ve been living my life. I have not made the most of every opportunity that You have provided me. I’ve not used my head and watched my steps. Even though You have revealed Your ways in Your Word, I have not understood Your will.

As a result, my unwise choices have not only hurt me, but have hurt the people around me. I deserve to experience the painful consequences of my ill-advised attitudes and actions. 

But You, Lord, are a God of grace. You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ – Wisdom personified – to pay for all my foolish ways. He suffered on the cross in the place of a fool like me. He rose again and became my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). Thank You for this gospel of grace.

So, Lord, help me to be careful how I live. Since these are evil times, help me to make every minute count. Teach me what You want me to do. Save me from being drunk on anything that could distract me from You. Instead, help me to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that I am constantly being guided by Him.

Help me to surround myself with Your wise children. Help me to be in a gospel-saturated community with people who address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, who sing and make melody to You, Lord, with our hearts. I want to live in close proximity with people who always give thanks for everything to You, Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And teach us all how to submit to – to yield to, to honor, to prefer – each other because of our common reverence for Christ. This truly is the way of wisdom.

My Father in heaven, only You can teach me to walk in wisdom. That’s why I give praise to You, the only wise God! To You be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ (Romans 16:27)!

Amen.

***

This prayer has been inspired by Ephesians 5:15-21. Some of the words and phrases in this prayer have been taken directly from the English Standard Version, the Amplified Bible, the Contemporary English Version, the J.B. Phillips New Testament, The Message, and the New Living Translation.

A Gospel Prayer based on Ephesians 4:25-32

Dear Lord God almighty, my heavenly Father,

You have called us to love – freely, fully, unconditionally. You gave us Your word to teach us what loves does. You have sent Your Son to show us Who love is.

Yet I have chosen to live selfishly. No matter how hard I try, I cannot love like You. My failure to love has created for me a twin burden that I carry, namely guilt and shame. But in spite of all my selfishness, You have not turned away from me. Jesus came from heaven to die on the cross to pay for my self-centered failure to love. He rose again, ascended to heaven, and sent His Spirit to live in me. Now I have the divine ability to love like You. 

Thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to live in me and through me. Thank You that the gift of Your Spirit identifies me as Your own, guaranteeing that I will be saved on the day of Your redemption. Help me never take the gift of Your Spirit for granted. Help me never to bring sorrow to the Holy Spirit by the way I live. I don’t want to break His heart.

Help me to embrace Your truth and to tell Your truth to others. Remind me that in Christ’s body – the church- we are all connected to each other. Show me that when I don’t tell the whole truth I end up not only hurting myself but also everyone else. So, help me put away all falsehood.

Lord, help me to be angry only with what makes You angry. Save me from any sinful, selfish kinds of anger that linger on and on – that I take to bed with me. May I never use anger as fuel for revenge. Save me from self-seeking anger that can give the devil a foothold in my life.

Help me not be a taker, but a giver. Guide me into my career calling so that I will use these hands You’ve given me for good hard work so that I might give generously to with anyone in need.

Help me to watch the way I talk. I don’t want to corrupt anyone with my speech. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of my mouth. Instead, help me be intentional to build others up – to say only what helps. May everything I say be good and helpful, so that my words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. May my words be gifts to bless others’ lives.

Teach me how to make a clean break with bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander along with all malice. Help me to be gentle with and sensitive to others. Thank You for forgiving me though the gospel of Christ. How could I not forgive others as quickly and as thoroughly as You have forgiven me? May more and more of Your kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness flow from my life to others.

Thank You for enabling me, by Your Spirit’s power, to love like You in Jesus’ name,

Amen

***

This prayer has been inspired by Ephesians 4:25-32. Some of the words and phrases in this prayer have been taken directly from the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and The Message.

A Gospel Prayer based on Ephesians 4:17-24

Dear Giver of life,

You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them. And the heavenly host bows down before You (Nehemiah 9:6). With You is the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9). You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11).

But I chose the path of death rather than the path of life. My understanding was once full of darkness. I was alienated from Your life, God, because of my ignorance and the hardness of my heart. My mind was closed. I had lost touch not only with You but with reality itself. I could not think straight. I became callous. I lost my sense of shame. I lived for lustful pleasures and eagerly practiced what was impure.

But You helped me see that this was no life for me! You brought me to Christ – the One who is the way, the truth, and the life. He died on the cross to forgive me, rose again to justify me, and sent His Spirit to enliven me. As I heard about Jesus, I came to know Him. I learned Christ! You helped me pay careful attention to Him. Because He is the truth, He has become my Source of truth. Thank You for instructing me in the life-giving word, will, and ways of Jesus.

Now, help me no longer walk as those who are unsaved do, for they are hopelessly confused, like I used to be. May I no longer go along with the ungodly, the empty-headed, the mindless crowd.

Thank You for giving me the ability to put off my old self, which belongs to my former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires. Everything – and I do mean everything – connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. O Lord, help me to get rid of it! Instead, let the Spirit renew my thoughts and attitudes. 

Thank You for not only giving me the ability to put off the old self, but for giving me the power to put on my new self, created after Your likeness, God. Make me truly righteous and holy. I want a life fashioned by You, a life renewed by You from the inside out. Please reproduce Your character in me.

May Your life work itself into my day-to-day conduct. As I experience new life in Christ, help me to invite others to experience that new life, too – a life offered, purchased, and secured by the death and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus. Lord, I believe and I receive all of who He is for all of who I am.

Amen

***

This prayer has been inspired by Ephesians 4:17-24. Some of the words and phrases in this prayer have been taken directly from the English Standard Version, the New Living Translation, and The Message.

A Gospel Prayer based on Ephesians 4:7-16

O great and generous God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

I praise You, Lord, for Your overflowing heart. You richly provide all things for us to enjoy – family, friends, food, stories, sports, sunshine, masterpieces, music, mountains, books, beaches, ballfields, laughter, love, and life itself… all things that I have ever enjoyed are gifts from You (1 Timothy 6:17). You, my Father in heaven, delight to give good things to those who ask You (Matthew 7:11). You, Lord, bestow favor and honor. No good thing will You withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11). Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from You, the Father of lights (James 1:17). You love to give gifts to men.

And You have called me to be like You, overflowing with generosity to others. You have given me gifts to share. Yet I have failed to use my gifts to serve You and to bless the lives of my family, my friends, my neighbors, my co-workers.

Instead, I have acted selfishly. Sometimes, I ignore my gifts. Other times, I hoard my gifts. Therefore, the lives of the people You have put in my path are impoverished because I have failed to build up, encourage, and serve them.

My selfish lack of love is not a small sin. My sins of omission are heinous in Your sight. When I don’t bless others the way You’ve gifted me to bless them, then I am actually harming them. I am not fulfilling Your plan to love them through me. My failure to love, to serve, to give, to bless is deserving of Your judgment. 

I praise You, Lord God, that You have provided a way of escape from that judgment. You have made forgiveness available through Christ’s descent and ascent. He descended from His home in heaven to this lowly world. He lived the life I could never live and died the death I should have died so I could be forgiven for all my selfish ways. You raised Jesus from the dead. Afterwards, He victoriously ascended on high and out of His generosity, through His Spirit He gave gifts to undeserving sinners like me.

Your grace was given to me through Jesus – not so I would look and speak and act the same as everyone else but so I could bless the lives of others according to my own unique gifts. As I join with others in using our gifts, the presence of Christ will one day fill all things; that is, the whole universe!

So, Lord, let me be fully equipped by the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers that You have given to train people in Your church. And guide me to embrace the role I am to play in Your church – whether it be apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding, or teaching. Help our leaders and me equip other saints to do their work in the ministry so that the whole body of Christ might be built up.

Give to me and to all Your church a greater desire to be one in our faith. Help us grow to know Jesus better so that we can become fully mature, fully developed, fully imitating Jesus Christ.

Since I am a gifted part of Your body, the church, may I no longer be spiritually immature like a child, an easy prey for spiritual predators. Help me never to be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. May I not be influenced when false teachers try to trick me with their crafty lies and deceitful schemes.

Thank You for the spiritual gifts You have given to me. Thank You for the role that I have been called to play in Your church. I want to learn to speak the truth in love. I long to be more and more like Christ, the head of Your church, in every way. Help me to take my lead from Him, who is the Source of everything I do.

And as each gifted person in Your church serves uniquely, may the whole body of Christ become increasingly harmonious, joined and held together in love. Keep us in step with each other. May each individual part of the body of Christ function properly. Cause us to grow, to mature, and to build one another up in unselfish love.

Amen.

***

This prayer has been inspired by Ephesians 4:7-16. Some of the words and phrases in this prayer have been taken directly from the English Standard Version, the Amplified Bible, the Phillips New Testament in Modern English, the New Living Translation, and The Message.

Not Again!

With disbelief and a heavy heart, we add the name Ravi Zacharias to the list of names of Christian leaders who have fallen morally.  How tragic to have a man so well known for his intellect and persuasive handling of God’s truth in the arena of apologetics, to now be stained with sexual scandal.  It is heart-wrenching to think a man we so admired could be capable of what he did, and it is anguishing to think of what fear and torment his victims had to experience and now live with.

We are again reminded that Christ is the cornerstone of our faith, not any one Christian man or woman we admire or look up to.

What do we do during times like this?  What does our mind and heart need to engage in when navigating the pain of these situations?  Sometimes passing on a good resource is better than creating new content.  That is what I will do here.  I commend this article from The Gospel Coalition for you to read and reflect on.  The author of the post gives us 10 good ways to navigate grievous moments like these when Christian leaders hurt others and fall from their influential status. 

As you read through these, which one is the easiest for you to do and which one is the most difficult?  I encourage you to have a conversation with another Christian friend around the answer to those questions.

As a Christian leader, I plead with you to keep your pastors and ministry leaders in regular prayer.  There are a lot of ways to pray for us, but if I had to summarize how you could pray in one word, I would say “Integrity.”  Integrity will cover most of the areas we need prayed for most – our personal relationships with God, our families, our choices, and our ministries.  Will you pause for a minute now and pray for your pastors and ministry leaders to have integrity?  Will you commit to do so on a regular basis so that the name of Christ will be glorified, and that we will be leaders who help others and not hurt them.

Live new,

Chad Allen

A Gospel Prayer based on Ephesians 1:11-14

Dear Lord God, 

You are worthy of all my praise. You have a purpose and a plan for everything, including me. You are always at work to accomplish Your perfect will. I have always been part of the overall purpose You are working out in everything and in everyone. It is Your purpose that will stand. You have always known the plans that You have had for me, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give me a future and a hope. 

You long to lavish me with an undeserved inheritance! You have united me with Christ when I heard the word of truth and believed that Jesus died to pay for my sins and rose for my justification. You have enabled and empowered me to place my hope in Christ alone. In Christ, I have died to sin and I now live to righteousness so that I might bring praise and glory to Your name. 

You have put Your stamp of ownership on me by giving to me the Holy Spirit You promised to all who trust Jesus. The Holy Spirit is a down payment from You – the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that I’ll get everything else You have planned for me. He gave me Your Spirit so I could praise and glorify You.

Now, help me not quench or grieve Your Spirit. It’s not by my might or by my power that I seek to live this day, but by Your Spirit. Teach me to walk in the Spirit so that I will not carry out the desires of my flesh. Fill me with Your Spirit so I can bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in all my relationships. 

And as I live this way, in submission and obedience to Your indwelling Spirit, allow me to bring praise and glory to Your name. 

Amen.

***

This prayer is based on the truths found in Ephesians 1:11-14. Some of the words and phrases are taken directly from the English Standard Version, The Message, the New Life Version, and the New Living Translation.

A Gospel Prayer based on Ephesians 1:3-14

All praise, blessing, and honor belong to You, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. You are prepared to bless all who come to You through Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. 

But rather than come to You, like a sheep that has gone astray, I have often chosen to go my own way. I have not been holy as You are holy. I am not blameless in Your sight. All of my righteousness is filthy rags.

Yet long before You laid down earth’s foundations, You had me in mind, had settled on me as the focus of Your love, to be made holy and to be seen as without fault through Christ.

In love You predestined me to be adopted to be Your child through Jesus Christ. You took pleasure in doing this, fulfilling Your plan for me, to the praise of Your glorious grace. You have blessed me immeasurably through Your Beloved Son. 

In Christ, I have been redeemed through His shed blood. I have been forgiven of my trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He has lavished upon me. 

Your plan to save me is a display of Your wisdom and understanding. You have made known to me the mystery You took such delight in unfolding. You revealed Your long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in Christ, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

Because I am united with Christ, I have received an inheritance from You, for You chose me in advance, and You made everything work out according to Your plan so that I might live to the praise of Your glory.

And now that I have heard the truth, the Good News, You saved me and enabled me to believe in Christ. You have identified me as Your own by giving me the Holy Spirit, whom You promised long ago. Your Spirit is Your guarantee, the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that I will inherit everything You have planned for me. 

So, today, help me to live a life to the praise of Your glorious grace. Give the a passion to show and share Your gracious gospel to a world so desperately in need of You.

Amen

***

This prayer is based on the truths found in Ephesians 1:3-14. Some of the words and phrases are taken directly from the English Standard Version, The Message, and the New Living Translation.

Be a Daniel 

by Chad Allen, Lead Pastor

Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;  – Daniel 2:20-21

These words were written, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, by a young man who was forcefully removed from his homeland, taken by his captors to a foreign land and then stripped of everything that would tie him to his home, his country, his faith, and his identity as a Jew.  

It was the prophet Daniel who spoke these words around 600 BC as an exile in Babylon,  a powerful, beautiful, pagan, arrogant, polytheistic and wicked city under the reign of an evil king named  Nebuchadnezzar, who just sentenced Daniel and his friends to die (read Daniel 1-2 for more insight).

Daniel was in a culture that was hostile to his faith, under the reign of a cruel and ungodly king. And in this environment, when his very life was threatened, what was his response?  Prayer and trust in God. He did not place his hope in the nation’s leaders, he did not lead an uprise, he didn’t gloat when things went his way, he wasn’t divisive or combative, and he definitely did not attack those who shared his faith in God.  Instead we see him trusting God, leading others to pray and trust God, living faithfully and peaceably in a place he didn’t want to be, ruled by a leader he did not choose to be under.  Daniel is a great example for us, especially in the era we find ourselves in nowadays.

The above verses speak to God’s sovereignty and power. He is in charge of all seasons, and He installs and uninstalls leaders. If the people of God truly believe God and His Word, then our behavior, words and attitudes will demonstrate that belief.

What should be true of believers in Christ is that we are not shaken when things don’t go the way we want. Our world is not turned upside down, our joy is not stolen, our hope and trust in God is not diminished , and our mission to live for Christ, share the Gospel and love others well, is not aborted when we find ourselves in a season of hardship or disappointment.

Simply said, if you find yourself living in a Babylon, then be a Daniel.   If you think you are under the reign of a  Nebuchadnezzar, then be a Daniel. 

Our hope and trust are in the Lord not in a person, policies, or a political party. As I have said before, our hope and trust are not in the one sitting in the oval office, but in the One who sits upon the throne of heaven.

So let’s live like it. 

Chad Allen

Lead Pastor Cuyahoga Valley Church

Vaccines and the Christian Worldview

by Chad Allen, Lead Pastor

With the COVID vaccines beginning to roll out, there are both questions and concerns that have been emerging among the body of Christ. Like masks, there are a variety of different views that people are expressing.  Ultimately our stance as a church is that people will make decisions based on personal convictions since the Bible is silent on vaccines.

The way we interact with others on this topic is another opportunity for us to show Christian maturity and charity in how we express our personal opinions, especially when we disagree.  We have a range of people in our church from those who can’t wait to get the vaccine to those who are convinced it may be the mark of the beast written of in Revelation.

I recommend this article and podcast from Albert Mohler. As a historian, analyst, and theologian, he masterfully lays out thoughtful points from a Christian worldview on the the topic of vaccines.  

I hope this helps as you navigate your personal choices and interact with others on the topic.  Feel free to pass on as well!