With the Covid and its many related problems, I find that it is easy to get depressed, dismayed, fearful and worried about my own situation. Too often, I disregard the priceless blessing of eternal salvation I have through Jesus that relegates my worldly problems to relative nothingness. I forget about how many people do not know Jesus and therefore confront the only problematic consequences that really matter. They too are eternal.
An all-important responsibility of being a Christian – that means us – is rescuing those who do not know or who have turned away from God. Jesus likened it to the task of seeking lost sheep. Then he extolled the joy of rescuing them. In Luke 15: 4-6 (NIV) he said, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.”
Tending sheep in a wilderness setting in the times of Jesus and the Old Testament was not an easy job. A shepherd had to be strong and brave. David describes his experience as a shepherd in I Samuel 17:34-35, “When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.”
Rescuing a lost sheep was an especially arduous and dangerous task. Normally, sheep blindly followed their leader along the path. But when a predator came, they could panic, scatter and become lost. Once lost, they had no sense of direction and could helplessly wander deep into the wilderness. They could penetrate into the depths of dense thickets and briars. Their rescuer had to brave the wild beasts and go into the thorny thickets after them. After finally grabbing it, the rescuer had to hoist the struggling animal (weighing 100 pounds or even much more) on his shoulders and head homeward.
In today’s spiritual world, the number and danger of predators are increasing rapidly as is the number of lost sheep. The thickets, thorns and spines of the natural wilderness have been replaced by the barbs, sharp insults, scorn and violent threats in the spiritual wilderness of urban slums, universities, entertainment centers, bars and even luxury resorts towards where the lost sheep now tend to flee. They are prevalent in the red zones not a dozen blocks from where we live, and the rescue can be very dangerous.
The need to save lost sheep is greater than ever and the task of saving them is increasingly formidable. They cannot be rescued by remaining hidden in the sheep pen of church walls. We must have strong faith and know that the Lord is with us. We must be brave, determined, persistent and prepared like David to go out to the midst of the wilderness, fend off the predators and save the sheep before they are devoured. When we seek to serve and achieve our goal, our problems dissipate. We can follow Jesus’ words, call our friends and neighbors together and say, “Rejoice with me; I have found a lost sheep.”
25 I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God; Job 19:25-26 NIV
If anyone ever had a list of legitimate complaints, it is the venerable Job of the Old Testament. When we first meet him, he has lived a charmed life – nice home, great income, good health, healthy kids. His future was secure. But that all changed in the blink of an eye. He lost it all. It was agony.
Reading through Job can be a chore at times, slogging through the conversations Job has with his “friends.” (“With friends like these, who needs enemies?” applies here.) But for those who persevere to the end of the book, we can gain insight about going through hard times.
When Job finds himself at an all-time low, he doesn’t curse God and die – a suggestion from his wife. He decides to deal with life the way it is. In Job 1:21 he has already declared, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Then his physical pain and suffering increase. His sores are legendary. He complains that he wishes he’d never been born, and more words of distress were recorded than words of praise.
Job clearly discerns the truth of his situation. He doesn’t deny that his life is beyond awful. A case of bad breath that makes his dear wife avoid him (19:17) is one of his many laments. Lamenting has its place in a balanced life. It gives us a chance to work through grief. It is not an indictment about our spirituality or lack thereof. To lament is to recognize what we have lost, and gives us a space for coming to grips with it. Job doesn’t cut short the grieving time by plastering on a fake smile and claiming victory over disaster.
In addition to the physical distress, Job has the emotional stress (6:14-15,16:1-4) from his friends’ accusations. They are nice to Job at the outset, by not saying anything for a week. However, on day eight, the gloves come off, and the friends start verbally punching away. The attacks are often cruel. In Job’s case, people – even friends – could not be counted on to be his source of encouragement at a time when he desperately wanted some.
Job lashes out in anger against God, but God doesn’t abandon Job to his boiling emotions. He assures Job that He is all-knowing and all-powerful (chapters 38–41). Job comes to realize that he was wrong to question God’s motives, that he should show humility, so he asks to take back all he said against God. Then the blessing comes.
While the biblical text points out the physical and material blessings Job received at God’s hand, I have to wonder if peace with God was not the greater reward. I’m glad to know that my redeemer-vindicater lives, and doesn’t abandon me when I take issue with Him for what he allows in my life.
"TRUST GOD," THEY SAY
(A Missionary Wife Thinks It Over)
By Ralph and Helen Porter
Helen wrote this when we lived in Guatemala, in the heat of the guerrilla movement.
We have recently updated it in the light of current conditions.
"Trust God," they say.
"I trust," I answer. For I am young and strong.
I can go alone, far from friends and home,
and eat the beans and rice and goat,
and sleep on a narrow church bench.
"I trust Him," I say. For I am young and strong.
And if I get sick (or a stray bullet comes my way), it's only me.
Yes, I trust Him.
"Trust God," they say.
"We trust," we answer. For two are one – and young and strong.
Together we can go,
and eat the beans and rice and goat,
and sleep wherever.
"We trust Him," we say. For we are young and strong.
And if we get sick (or a stray bullet comes our way), we are together.
Yes, we trust Him.
"Trust God," they say.
"We are learning," we answer. For now we are four and
two are very young – and not so strong.
And the beans and rice are tiresome and there isn't any goat,
and the youngest cries out at night so no one sleeps.
"We are learning to trust Him," we say. But we sometimes wonder!
what if the younger ones get sick (or a stray bullet . . . .)?
Yes, we are learning to trust Him.
"Trust God," they say.
"We are still learning," we answer. For now we are five!
and two no longer feel so young nor strong.
And the younger ones love rice and beans,
and we wake at night, wondering about some not-so-distant sounds.
"We are still learning," we say. But that fear returns
when young ones run to play (and we think about stray bullets).
Yes, we are still learning to trust Him.
"Trust God," they say.
"Are we still learning?" we wonder.
For now our five are concerned about their own families!
And two in their "third-third" are neither young nor strong.
And the whole crew loves rice and beans,
And we wonder about pandemics
and what the future may bring.
"We are still learning," we say.
But that fear returns
when we consider our grandchildren
(and we think about the world they will face).
Yes, we are still learning to trust Him.
"Trust God," they say.
Sometimes we wonder if they know what they are saying.
And even more, we wonder if they know what we mean when we say
"YES, LORD, WE TRUST YOU!"
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.”
Prov. 3:5-6 (NLT)
© 1983, 2020, Helen L. Porter. Used by permission.
Psalm 137: 1-4
1By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
2There on the poplars we hung our harps,
3for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
Psalm 137 has always brought me a unique sense of comfort and hope. It is a captivity psalm, a psalm rooted in despair, in longing, and in unfulfilled desires. The Israelites find themselves in captivity, and their captors are requiring them to sing the songs of Zion. They can't. How could they sing the songs of Zion, the songs of home, while in a foreign land? Instead, they weep, they hang their harps, and later in the psalm, they even express desire for vengeance against their captors.
The Israelites, the people who knew God and his promises, who knew they were his chosen people, who were led out of Egypt by Moses, found themselves sinking into despair while in captivity.
I can identify with the feeling of captivity and with the despair that accompanies it. Five years ago in September, at the height of the rainy season, we lost a dear friend, Rudy. He was a guajero working in the city garbage dump when the rains provoked a trash slide. Rudy was buried in the trash, and we were left devastated. We were lost in captivity to grief, devastated both because of the loss of a friend, and because of the systems that allowed for that tragic loss.
We found it difficult to sing songs of joy. For a while, we hung up our harps.
I found myself turning to this psalm for comfort and hope. At times it’s hard for humans to be honest and raw with their emotions, especially Christians. There is an internalized fear that if we express this level of grief, then people will question our trust in the Lord.
Yet this passage, along with passages like Ecclesiastes 3 (there is a time for everything), the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 (blessed are those who mourn), and John 11 (Jesus wept), affirms that there is a place for our complex range of emotions. In both the Old and New Testament, that place is at God’s feet.
Psalm 55:22 “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.”
1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on the Lord for he cares for you.”
I find it both comforting and hopeful that God welcomes my grief, despair, and tears and that he cares for me and sustains me in them.
*All Biblical references are taken from the NIV.
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)
Cancer is something that scares us out of our minds, especially if our families have a history with it. In the last year I experienced a great deal of loss. My dad, brother, and grandmother died from cancer. I walked with the three of them in different ways as their bodies corroded from the inside out. I saw the frailty of their humanity as it dissolved into dust, “for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
In the same way, unforgiveness is something that can corrode our souls and kill our relationships.
In this week’s reading, Jesus and Peter have a conversation that addresses this issue. It begins with Peter asking how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him. Jesus basically responds by saying he should forgive them an endless amount of times.
He then tells a story to flesh out his point. Jesus shares about a king who is in the process of settling his accounts with all of his servants. One of them owed an astronomical amount and couldn’t pay his debt. Contrary to the common practice of the day, the king decides to forgive the entirety of his servant’s debt. This forgiveness mirrors new creation; it generates a new reality with new possibilities for this forgiven servant. He has literally been saved and given new life.
Shortly after, the forgiven servant encounters a peer who owes him a small amount of money. Instead of keeping the chain of forgiveness going, he grabs him by the neck and throws him in jail until he services his debt. This is where the cancer begins. Instead of spreading goodness and a new way of believing in God’s abundance, he breaks the chain of forgiveness and falls into a mindset of scarcity.
It’s easy to judge this servant because Jesus’ story is so exaggerated. The servant clearly comes across as a “bad guy.” But I wonder, if we all took a really good look in the mirror, might we discover that deep down, in our own unique ways, we have more in common with this servant than we realize?
One of my most beautiful experiences of forgiveness came from my dad. As he was lying on his deathbed, he said to me, “I hold nothing against you.” These words meant the world to me.
You see, when my parents separated, I gave my dad a ride to the bus stop and told him I never wanted to hear from him again. I still have a vivid memory of the moment, and even the night sky that surrounded us. Fast forward ten years later, I held my dad’s hand, and experienced a new creation. I had been forgiven for something that was not even my fault, but for which I blamed myself, my parents' separation.
My personal experience with forgiveness helps me to explore the passage, and how humans experience forgiveness. If we cannot find the beginning of the chain of forgiveness, we will end up grabbing each other’s throats with no time to think about being the first link of the chain that forgives. However, if we stop, and think of what being forgiven is, the cancer of violence, and lack of forgiveness can be cured. In my case, I still have a long way to go in forgiving others. However, when I see the forgiveness I experienced when holding my dad’s hand, I can dream, and reimagine new ways of relating to others.
We are continually surrounded by bad news. When we turn on the TV, we are confronted with images of angry protests, rioting, looting and destruction. We are systematically provoked to feel bitter, resentful, pessimistic, despondent and discouraged. We face possible imminent death from COVID 19 and there is no end in sight. Immersed in all this, it is a natural human reaction to develop a negative attitude that drives us to further despair.
It does not have to be that way. We can maintain positive mindsets despite highly-negative external events. We should not let them unduly burden us internally. Viktor Frankl confronted torture and odds of survival of less than 5% in Nazi death camps at Auschwitz y Dachau. He wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” His positive attitude helped him survive.
Most importantly, God does not want us to fall into devilish entrapment in negative attitude. He wants us to live a quality life whatever the happenings around us. When we put ourselves in his hands and trust fully in him, it is always possible. The Bible has examples and counseling.
Paul was in chains in a cold dungeon waiting to be executed. Yet he tells us in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” In 4:8 he says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”. He concludes with verse 9, “And the God of peace will be with you.”
David went through brutal hardships and trials. He was pursued into the mountains by a jealous Saul. He was captured by the Philistines and had to feign craziness as a ploy to get them to release him. He lived in caves in the desert and hungered and thirsted, yet he wrote beautiful psalms that give us hope and comfort. David was remarkable for the way he maintained a positive attitude and praised God in so many circumstances.
Verses may be found throughout the Bible about confronting great hardships with joy. Psalm 47: 1 tells us, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” Romans 15: 13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” James 1:2 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
Do not burden yourself with bad thoughts and bad attitudes no matter what the circumstances. Try to let your attitude be continuously positive and hopeful. Hearken to the Word of God. How much more rewarding life can be when you do. And never forget that the God of peace is always with you.
The Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan.... These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:3,7b (NIV)
It was in the middle of the Jordan River. God had stopped the flow of the water from upstream. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord could then stand firm in the middle of the river while the Israelites completed their crossing on the dry riverbed over into the promised land. When the whole nation had finished crossing, God gave instructions to bring stones from the middle of the river and make a memorial as a reminder of what he had done for them. So in the middle of this pandemic what is God revealing to each of us that we may want to make a marker/reminder of? Maybe it’s his faithfulness, maybe it’s a mighty work, or maybe, like for me, it’s something in my heart that he is revealing to me that may need a “heart check.”
During these months of having most of my face hidden behind a mask and sunglasses, I noticed how often I was rolling my eyes and smirking. Could my fault-finding thoughts be coming to the surface more frequently? Proverbs 27:19 says, “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” Too quickly I was becoming what my heart was revealing, really sparing of any grace.
As I have begun to pray more for my inner and outer responses to be more gracious and forgiving, my thoughts have become more invaded by God’s thoughts. My desires to do disapproving looks are being ambushed. And a blessing (which a wise person once shared with me) of praying, “Bless them Lord, heal me” infiltrates my mind much more often. As this change in my heart is happening, I know it is the Holy Spirit backing me up and with that comes a supernatural joy and contentment and peace. As Romans 8:6 states, the mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 12:2 is another great reminder of letting God transform us by the way we think.
Will there be a word for a rock of remembrance to describe a faithful act of God’s love for you during this time? I know how easy it is to keep going on in life and forget what God has done for me or to go back to an old pattern of thinking. I want to remember this time where God exposed me to the truth about an area of my heart. His unfailing love has surrounded me once again. He has invaded some ungracious thoughts and ambushed some unbecoming actions.
I think my word may be besieged -- captured by the power of God’s transforming love. He is not leaving me alone in the middle. As He promised in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will not leave you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep you away.”
Luke 15: 3-5a Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” (NIV)
At the height of our young daughter’s pandemic loneliness, we decided to ride the wave of pandemic dog adoptions. We received a placement last Wednesday, but because, well, Guatemala, the dog got stuck in traffic and didn’t arrive home until evening. When it arrived, it was so afraid, it bolted from the Doggy Uber and RAN. Without thinking, so did I. I chased her through Vista Hermosa, and, assisted by said Doggy Uber and a really fast stranger, we caught her.
I arrived home, winded, and said to Joel, “I think my devotion this week will be about the parable of the lost sheep.” Now, in no way am I comparing myself to the shepherd in this passage. My dog hunt was motivated by fear and guilt -- I couldn’t let this dog I just met get run over or lost; whereas, the shepherd’s sheep hunt was motivated by love and a desire for all his sheep to be safe at home.
In the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15: 1-7), the shepherd willingly seeks out his one lost sheep and delights in its homecoming. Similarly, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, willingly and joyfully seeks out the lost in order to welcome them -- us -- home with a heavenly party. Regarding a different “lost” parable, the parable of the prodigal son, Henri Nouwen reminds us that the heavenly party does not negate the deep sorrow that God feels over having lost one of his children. Sorrow over separation inspires God’s mission: send my Son to find my sheep and bring them home.
At times, I find myself as part of the 99 -- wondering why we have to keep waiting for that lost sheep. It’s not hard to follow the shepherd! Keep your eyes up and keep walking! Other times, I find myself as one of the neighbors invited to the party, rejoicing that a friend or family member was found and welcomed home. Still other times, I am that one sheep. I’m lost, whether I know it or not, and Jesus willingly and joyfully seeks me, finds me, and welcomes me home.
Read Luke 15:1-7 this week, and, if time allows, the entire “lost progression” (the sheep, the coin, the son) in Luke 15. Ask yourself the following questions:
● At this point in my life, where am I in this story?
● When have I been that one lost sheep?
● What did it feel like to be willingly and joyfully found and welcomed home by Jesus?
● Do I genuinely rejoice when other lost sheep are found? Why or why not?
● How is Jesus seeking me today, this week, in the midst of a global pandemic?
Nothing like a pandemic to let you find out just how much you love “the world.” I would have said that I didn’t. One might think that a longtime Christian missionary should have mastered that by now, but as the State of Calamity has dragged on in Guatemala with its curfew and other restrictions, I have found myself wanting things to go back to the way they were. I want to be free to not wear a face mask, to meet someone for coffee in a bustling restaurant, to gather with others for worship or meetings at church and greet them in person rather than on a screen, to sing in a choir, to travel out of the country and know that I could return. (Our son just got married in Boston. We watched it on Zoom.) So, one day at the height of the lockdown, this verse in I John brought me up short: “Do not love the world, or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (I Jn. 2:15).”
The activities I mention are not what one would normally consider worldly. They don’t really fit into John’s definition of “the world” in verse 16: “…the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does…” There’s nothing inherently wrong with restaurants, church meetings, and travel, but do I think more about resuming these and other activities than I do about being with the Lord himself forever? Which do I desire most? Another scripture comes to mind, and with it a song I learned while at missionary jungle training camp in Chiapas, Mexico. It is taken from John 21:15 where Jesus asks Peter, “…lovest thou me more than these?” (KJV) There is debate about what he meant by “these,” but for the present topic it would be helpful to take the verse to mean, “Do you love me more than you love all these things and people and activities and generally, life in this world?” As the song says, “The master still asks this question, ‘Lovest thou me, lovest thou me more than these?’”
The familiar is more comfortable than the unfamiliar, at least for some of us. While we can read and sing, expectantly and fully believing, about the wonders of heaven and being face to face with the Lord, we’ve never been there, never seen him. Sometimes, during worship, fellowship, or private devotion, we may have caught a glimpse of what heaven would be like, when it actually feels like this world fades away and seems unimportant, when we truly desire that world more than this one. Perhaps we should be encouraged to seek such times more often, set aside times to think about the Lord’s love for us, and our love for him. Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Mt. 22:37,38)”. Surely the more that we love him, the more we will want to be with him, and the less we will “love the world.”
(Unless otherwise noted, all Bible references are from the NIV.)
"O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth." (Psalm 54:2, ESV)
There is a back story to the psalmist’s plea of Psalm 54:2, alluded to in the psalm’s introduction. The inhabitants of Ziph told King Saul where David could be found. This was the time when David had been fleeing from Saul because Saul was actively trying to kill David. Why would the Ziphites of the tribe of Judah support Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, but not support David, from the tribe of Judah? The Ziphites may have simply made a political calculation to side with the more powerful army of King Saul, perhaps leaving David feeling betrayed.
While David had a small army of 600 men, it was a large number considering the logistics of feeding and hiding them all. Reading the account, I sense that God was providing “just in time” help. A little earlier David had received some prophetic guidance saying that he and his men were unsafe in their current location, so they left and kept moving around. Then Jonathan showed up with some encouragement for David. But a short time later, Saul was chasing David on one side of the mountain and David was fleeing on the other. Abruptly, Saul received a message that the Philistines were attacking the land, so he left off chasing David and went to face the Philistines. Whew! Answered prayer.
We could compare our current situation to David’s plight in this account. Today, we live in an age when our world has shrunk. Something like Covid-19 (our King Saul equivalent) comes along and hops over oceans and infects our people. It is invisible, powerful, kills the compromised and may be damaging those who recover. Covid is no respecter of persons. We have a real crisis. What do we do?
Let’s follow the example of David: he prayed. In verse 1 of our Psalm, David related salvation to God’s “name.” It was like saying, “O Yahweh, save me.” God save me. Today, we say, “Jesus, save me.” It is to Him we turn in our time of trouble. We might thoughtfully read, “O Jesus, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth.” I find it interesting that David called on God to “hear” his prayer and in subsequent verses speaks with the assumption that God was listening and God would help. When we call on the Lord, we can assume the same, that he is listening, and he will help.
Another Covid-era lesson we could learn from David’s attitude in Psalm 54 has to do with something our Lord taught the disciples about forgiveness in Matthew 6:5-15. David offered a sacrifice in God’s name for his deliverance in 54:6-7. Today we might consider taking action against our “enemy” in God’s name by sacrificially forgiving those who sin against us, like when people are hoarding, defying health laws, and taking advantage of others. I was offended, for example, when I was told I was “gringo” so I must be spreading Covid! I find this to be one of the most challenging spiritual warfare weapons to master. I’m still working on forgiving my enemies. How about you? We can ask God to hear our plea for help in the area of forgiveness. He will give ear to that as well.