By Erin Bird

Today we have the joy of completing our series in Psalm 23. We already looked at the first part of the final verse, so this week we finish things up with the last half of verse 6, which says…

“…and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

As I studied this week’s section of Psalm 23, I learned that the Hebrew word traditionally translated “dwell” could also be translated “return.”

When I learned this, it got me wondering: Was David creating a bookend to his poem? He began the psalm with “sheep” imagery, then in verse 5 switched to “house” language. I had always just assumed David was continuing with the “house” language as he completed his poem (“dwell in the house of the Lord forever”), but now I wonder if he is combining the two images as he concludes his work of art.

Because if  the “sheep” language is actually being recalled here in verse 6 (and this is a big IF), it brings the image of God the Shepherd guiding David back to the sheep pen, which would have been at the “house of the Lord.” And by returning back to the Lord’s house, the sheep would know he is safe at home, where he will dwell for the rest of his days.

Dwelling in Peace
Arms resting on railingIn these difficult days of dealing with a pandemic, we could really use the reminder that if our life is in Christ, we can “return” to the house of the Lord and truly dwell. Too often our minds dwell on the negative, worry about the “what if,” yet God is inviting our hearts to dwell in His presence like a content sheep with its shepherd.

So if…

  • …your mind is worrying about the COVID-19 virus…

  • …you are mentally preoccupied with stress about work…

  • …you are constantly checking your stock portfolio or bank account…

  • …you are fidgeting from being confined to your home…

return to the house of the Lord and dwell in peace, because your Shepherd is still in control, even when the world around you seems to be confused or in chaos.

So rest. Breathe. And dwell in the house of the Lord forever and ever.

Pursued by Love

Pursued by Love (Sheep running)

by Erin Bird

Let’s continue with our series in Psalm 23. This week we are going to look at the first part of verse 6:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,”

Chased by Nice Enemies?

Remember back in verse 5 that David was sitting at a table in the presence of his enemies? According to the NET Bible study note on verse 6, the word “follow” in Hebrew should actually be translated “pursue” or “chase,” and usually the word is used in Hebrew literature to reflect the actions of an enemy.

But it isn’t David’s evil table-mates that are chasing him, it is “goodness and mercy.” Interestingly, the word translated “mercy” can also be translated as “loyalty” or even “devotion.” In other words, David is saying that God loves him so much that God’s goodness and loyal-devoted love pursue him no matter what.

running sheepThis is good news! No matter what is happening around you (COVID-19, lost job, health crisis, etc.) or in you (anger, sadness, confusion, worry, etc.), God is right there pursuing you with His love. And we see that pursuit perfectly in Jesus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

At Riverwood, we talk about being a “Jesus-follower.” But maybe to follow Jesus is to realize He is following you. What a comforting thought to think that no matter where we go and no matter what is happening to us, God’s goodness and loyal love shown through the gospel is pursuing us each and every day we experience.

May you rest today in the knowledge that God is with you, and His goodness and mercy are chasing you all the days of your life.

Look for the Blessings

By Erin Bird

Last week in our blog series on Psalm 23, we made it to verse 5, which says:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Because we looked at the first half last week, let’s talk about the last two lines this week: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

God Gets Messy

In verse 5, David switched the language from pasture land (verses 1-4) to house language. Rather than talking about grass and still waters, David painted a mental picture of lounging at a table (while in the presence of enemies) as God prepared a meal.

David continues the imagery by talking about oil and cups.


In David’s day, it was customary to greet a guest to your home by putting oil on their head. Some biblical references give the idea of pouring the oil (such as Amos 6:6) while others give more of the imagery of a dab of oil (such as Luke 7:46) onto the person.

But why oil? Well, I think there were several reasons:

  • The people in David’s day enjoyed the scent of oil. Just like you might light a candle in your house before guests arrive, the anointing of oil upon someone’s head might have brought a pleasant scent to the room’s environment.
  • Oil was thought to have healthy medicinal qualities to it. To dab someone’s head with oil was to wish good health upon them.
  • Oil was somewhat expensive. To pour oil on someone’s head would be a sign of abundance, as if to say, “I have so much oil, I can lavish some upon you because you are important to me!”

So if putting oil on someone’s head was a sign of abundance, David keeps the idea going when he talked about his overflowing cup.


The standard drink at a meal like the one David is describing in verse 5 was wine. Like oil, wine was slightly more expensive than everyday items, so it, too, was given to guests as a sign of abundance and letting your guests know how much they matter to you.

Yet David doesn’t just have a full goblet of wine– his cup overflows! In the presence of enemies who wish harm upon him, David watches God continue to bless him, not just with a greeting of oil, but by pouring out so much wine that David’s cup overflows. That’s how much God loved David.

So as David sits in the presence of his enemies waiting upon God, He sees the blessings. He’s been touched with oil. He has an overflowing cup. He can see that even in the presence of evil, God’s blessing is still upon him.

Blessings & Viruses

Right now throughout the entire world, there are people panicked. Some healthcare workers are pulling double (and even triple) shifts. Hourly waged workers are wondering how they are going to pay their mortgage as their places of employment close temporarily. Parents are trying to figure out what to do with their kids who have had school put on hold. And the news about governmental responses to the virus seems to keep changing every hour.

But what if we stopped looking at the presence of our enemy (the COVID-19 virus), and pulled a David by looking for the blessings? What if we shifted our attention away from that which wishes us harm to what God has already abundantly provided? What if we…

  • stopped to realize the forced seclusion might allow us to finally spend time in the Scriptures?
  • saw the time at home with our children as an opportunity rather than a burden?
  • realized this was the perfect opportunity to serve an elderly neighbor?
  • picked up the phone and called someone we haven’t connected with in a while?
  • realized that no matter what happens with this virus, Jesus is still the King who died on the cross for our sins, and nothing can take that away?

So may you actually find rest this week in the abundance God has given you in the midst of these uncertain days. May you have a change of perspective because of God’s goodness shown to us through Jesus. And may you look for God’s blessings in these crazy times.

Infectious Disease Policy

from the entire Elder Team, written by Erin

On Wednesday evening, March 11, my Twitter feed was blowing up with news about the Coronavirus:

  • Many colleges (including several in Iowa) are switching to online-only classes after their Spring Breaks next week.
  • The NBA just suspended all games until further notice.
  • President Trump has banned all international travel (except to the UK) for 30 days.
  • The NCAA has announced that only coaches, players, some family, and essential staff will be allowed at upcoming championship games (men’s & women’s basketball, as well as wrestling). (3/12/2020 Update: all NCAA tournaments were completely canceled.)

And that was all in one evening. Why so many cancellations all at once? Because on March 11…

  • …the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
  • …over 126,000 people in 114 countries had contracted the disease (half of whom had already recovered).
  • …more than 4,600 people had died globally.
  • …Italy had seen over 2,300 new cases and over 200 deaths in a 24-hour period.
  • …Germany expected 70% of their population to eventually be infected.
  • …the U.S. had over 1,300 cases and had seen almost 40 deaths.

(If you want to see up-to-date statistics, head here.)

Closer to Home

When I have been out in the community and this topic inevitably comes up, I have heard strong opinions.

  • I’ve heard some say this issue is being blown completely out of proportion and “it’s really no big deal.” They’ll quote statistics about how many people have died of the flu, or pneumonia, or even diarrhea – and it’s always more than the number of people who have died from COVID-19.*
  • At the same time, others have admitted they’re scared (usually scared for an elderly loved one). The lack of toilet paper at Walmart this past Monday would confirm the fear many people have.

So should we be scared? Or is this really no big deal? Here is where we, the Elder Team, are at concerning this issue:

1. We don’t need to be scared.

Why not be scared in the face of such daunting statistics? Scripture teaches us to not fear, but rather trust God.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe (or Trust) in God; believe (or trust) also in me.” (Jesus in John 14:1)

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

2. We do need to be wise.

While we are not to be ruled by fear, we have been given minds by God, and we believe He expects us to use them. It does not seem wise to to ignore what multiple governments and scientists are reporting or to sneeze into our hands and then shake hands with everyone we possibly can to try to prove some point.

So in our desire to be wise, yet not cower in fear, we have put together the following “plan”:

Infectious Disease Policy

1. Stay home if you are sick.

Some people feel like God will love them a little less if they don’t show up on Sunday, or that the church body will judge them as bad Christians for not coming on a Sunday morning. Rest assured, we will not judge your spiritual health if you stay home due to a lack of physical health! We try to have our sermons uploaded on Sunday afternoons, so if you don’t feel well, stay home and catch up online.

This suggestion aligns with what already exists in our Kids Creek policies. In Section 2A of the Parents section of the Kids Creek manual, we say:

If a child is sick or has been sick within the past 24-hour period before church services or events, we ask that you NOT bring your child to church. Please adhere to the 24-hour fever rule, where a child needs to be fever free without medication for a 24-hour period before attending church. Children with the following symptoms may be contagious:

  1. Fever of 100 degrees or higher
  2. Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
  3. Yellow or green nasal mucous
  4. Severe coughing, strep throat
  5. Any untreated rash, skin infection or open lesion
  6. Head lice or nits in the hair

Thank you for helping keep other children healthy!

In case you didn’t know, symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. But we encourage you to “love your neighbor” by staying home on Sunday if you have a bad cold or any type of flu symptom, not just the symptoms of COVID-19.

2. Wash 20 seconds and/or use hand sanitizer

In case you haven’t noticed, we have hand sanitizer in strategic locations at Droste Hall. We hope to get more (especially a dispenser on a stand to place by the main door) but panic over COVID-19 has made this resource incredibly scarce.

Far more effective than hand sanitizer is plain old soap. The CDC is recommending people wash their hands for a full 20 seconds. For churches, it is being recommended that people recite the Lord’s Prayer or sing the first verse of Jesus Loves Me as both of those take about 20 seconds to complete.

This coming Sunday, you will notice signs at all sinks reminding you to wash your hands for the full 20 seconds.

3. Communion Changes

We plan to continue serving communion every week. For now, we will not be passing the elements (which I (Erin) will personally miss as I enjoy taking communion together as one church family), but rather have the elements at “stations” like we do most Sundays. We will also be doing our best to spread out the elements so it is easier to pick up a cup or piece of bread without touching other cups or bread pieces.

4. Giving Changes

We will also put a pause on passing the Giving Bags at the end of the Worship Gathering. Rather, we will set up the Giving Box (normally found on the Give & Grow table) on the high round table, and ask you to put your Connection Cards and financial giving in the box.

With that said, we highly recommend setting up recurring giving online so that even on the Sundays you can’t make it (or so you don’t have to worry about stopping by the Giving Box), you can still support the mission of Riverwood and worship God through giving of your finances.

5. Handshakes

One of the biggest compliments I hear about Riverwood from first-time guests is just how welcoming all of you are. Please keep it up! But when you greet people, don’t be offended if someone chooses to not shake your hand. Or if you would prefer not to shake hands, acknowledge the awkwardness of breaking cultural norms, but verbally let them know you are still glad to meet them.

6. Pray

Lastly, pray for:

  • protection
  • those who have been infected
  • grieving families
  • those living in fear
  • wisdom for our nation’s leaders
  • the Church to love well during these times
  • God to draw people to Jesus through these events

7. We won’t stop meeting on Sundays, unless…

…the State of Iowa or the federal government bans public meetings. God calls for us to submit to the government, so if they tell us to stop meeting, we will. If that day comes, we’ll figure out a way to still gather online (through something like Zoom) and do what we can to encourage you to continue to follow Jesus. Until then, we will happily keep gathering to worship the Triune God each and every Sunday.


If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to one of the elders. Our contact info is always on the back of the Sunday Handouts, or send an email to and it can be forwarded on to the appropriate elder.

We love you all. We are praying for you weekly. And we trust that the Riverwood family will continue to grow spiritually and numerically during these uncertain days of coronaviruses, new buildings, and election years because God’s gospel won’t change a bit!

*In the last full flu season, the flu infected 35.5 million Americans, killing over 34,000 of them. This equates to a 0.9% death rate. As of March 11, COVID-19 has only infected 1000 Americans, but globally it has a 3.4% death rate (but that is expected to fall as more and more countries get ahead of the disease).

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