But the very hairs of your head are all numbered
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
I am upset.
I’ve been upset all day (Sunday), though I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it as to why. As I ran my errands and went through my normal weekend duties that didn’t get done because of an all-day Emmaus event Saturday, I realized that there were a number of things that were bothering me.
I am distraught about an episode of Queer Eye that I watched last night where a young woman was kicked out of her house at the age of 16 by her strict religious parents because she was outed as gay. She was left to fend for herself, y’all at 16. She is nearly irreparably damaged, save for the love of like friends who took her in and loved her, and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, One whom I don’t know she knows. I sobbed last night as I watched her episode, and I’m ugly crying right now, still, as I write this in between sobs.
I am dismayed at the judgment I have for her parents, knowing that I should not judge. I am also deeply bothered by the message that is being sent by those religious parents, and the impact that it has on the witness the rest of us have.
I am disheartened upon hearing about a friend who didn’t hear the normal three-letter words ever child should hear from their parent while growing up (“I love you”) but instead heard “Not good enough”, and the struggle she went through her entire life.
I am troubled about another friend whose teenage daughter was roofied and sexually assaulted and almost took her life because of it, and the agony her parents experienced.
I am bothered by my less-than-graceful reaction to a mess I had to clean up, and my frustration over that reaction, as it reveals my sin nature.
I’m grieved over at the deep division within our country over the concept of abortion.
I am distressed at the suffering I see people going through, and feel guilty that I have not offered to take their place.
I am deeply saddened at the thought of Pastor Ray and April leaving (no offense to you, Pastor Wayne, I swear).
I am disturbed by the abuse and neglect that children, animals, and adults experience at the hand of my fellow humans.
I am anguished at the thought that some will experience eternal damnation, and yet I sit here, not reaching out to them.
I am overwrought by the evil that befalls the most innocent among us (innocent by our standards, not by His, of course).
I am comforted by the fact that there are no surprises to God—that He is in our future, as well as our present as those challenging events happen to us. (Revelation 1:8)
I am reassured by the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ—not things present nor things to come. (Romans 8:38-39)
I am encouraged by the fact that Jesus has gone before us as our High Priest, and we are enabled to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16)
I am enlivened to understand that I don’t have to bear these burdens alone, that I can cast my cares upon Jesus because He cares for me. (1 Peter 5:7)
I can be hopeful, for the Lord has plans for us, and those plans are not to harm us but plans of a future and hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
I cannot convey the confidence of the Lord to my friends who need to hear it if I am too caught up in my own sorrows and perspectives. My actions and words might belie my true feeling, and that’s not something I can easily pull off, nor would I want to. If I am to declare to the one who poured his heart out at the realization of a life event change that “If the Lord is in all of this, He’s already got it figured out” but mope around and bemoan the fact that the future may not turn out like we thought it would, then I am a hypocrite and one of little faith. That’s not who He has called me to be. If I am too wrapped up in my feelings, however righteous that may seem to be, to be able to attest to the fact that the Lord is with us every minute of every day and in every step of the way, and that He is the Lord of the valleys as well as the mountaintops, then I have failed in my walk and in my witness. May the Holy Spirit help to ensure that that never happens.
Friends, thank you for letting me share my heart with you. It has been a bit cathartic to write this, and that comforts me deeply. To God be all the glory!
“For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.” C.S. Lewis
“Those who leave everything in God’s hands will eventually see God’s hand in everything.”
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
It was during an innocuous telephone conversation with a friend that I realized I had a problem: I tended to be too much like Sheldon Cooper, that silly character in the Big Bang Theory sitcom played by Jim Parsons, for my own liking. I had mentioned that some out-of-town visitors were staying at the Omni Hotel, to which my friend replied, “Oh, the one across from USAA”, to which I promptly corrected, stating that it was not directly across but across and down the street a little bit. Thank goodness for my friend’s tact, grace and foreknowledge of my need for accuracy and factualness, or the phone call could have dissolved into either a fit of laughter or hard eye rolling and heavy sighing on the part of my friend, and I might have continued to ignore the fact that my “Sheldon Cooperness” can get in the way of normal conversation and interaction. Now when I sense that my “condition” is manifesting a bit, I can consciously decide whether to allow it to run its course because the need for accuracy is important (work product leaps to mind) or whether to dial it down a bit and be okay with a less-than precise instance of something.
It was this Sheldon Cooperness that precluded me from truly getting the total message behind the Parable of the Lost Sheep. I mean, yes, I understood the overall message, but I kept getting hung up on the “ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance” that the proverbial shepherd leaves behind in search of the lost one. Such ninety-nine didn’t exist. Heck, not even one existed. There was not one soul who didn’t need repentance. So what did Jesus truly mean by this parable? Who were the ninety-nine?
We need to understand that Jesus told this parable, and the other two that followed (the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son) in response to the Pharisees and scribes complaining about Jesus hanging out and eating with tax collectors and other sinners. We read in Luke 15: “And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” While the learned men and rabbis scoffed at this and judged Him harshly for the company He kept, the message Jesus proclaimed was about the rejoicing at the recovered lost sheep/coin/son, whom the main character of each parable represented, and the act of seeking the shepherd and woman do, as well as the acceptance and love of the father in the Prodigal son parable.
I’ve likened Jesus and His leaving heaven to come this broken world to actively seek out sinners like you and me to the shepherd in the first parable. One could even equate the ninety-nine other sheep to the saints in heaven that Jesus left. It doesn’t change the fact that God, in the form of Jesus then or the Holy Spirit now, actively seeks His lost sheep or like the woman, lights the lamp, sweeps the house, and searches carefully until finding the lost coin.
And the rejoicing! O, friends, the rejoicing that occurs! The shepherd calls together his friends and neighbors to rejoice of the newly found sheep. Likewise, the woman calls her friends and neighbors to celebrate the found coin. Jesus shares in both instances that “there will be more joy in heaven” and that “there is joy in the presence of angels of God” over one sinner who repents. Brothers and sisters—they rejoiced over us! All of heaven celebrated when we were saved! What an indescribable feeling!
Friends, I’m confident that I will delve more into the Prodigal Son parable in a future devotional, but let me remind you of the last words of the father to the older brother, about the younger: “It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” We are that younger brother, and we are alive and found in Him.
“Remember whenever you’re in a position to help someone, be glad and always do it because that’s God answering someone else’s prayers through you.”
“Sometimes God will put a Goliath in your life for you to find the David within you.”
This is a reprint of one of the first devotionals/SUPVs I wrote years ago. I’ve brought it back (and modified it slightly) at the behest of the Thursday night prayer group, as it seems timely even now.
Sometimes during the church service I look at the empty pews and wonder when people will come to fill them. I wonder if there is something that I can do to bring people, short of standing on the corner with a sandwich sign and handing out coupons for “Buy one get on free” for food from Men’s Breakfast the first Saturday of every month. As a member of this church, I feel a little stressed out at times about my part to do something, anything, to bring folks in (I want to emphasize that it is self-induced – no one on Session or on any of the committees is pinning the responsibility of growing our church on me). You see, as an introvert who inherently does not do small talk well and has difficulty approaching people whom I know to even ask them to volunteer for a task from the Worship committee because I don’t want to impose, it seems that much more overwhelming and unnatural to invite people, strangers even, to my church, even though I am called to share my faith with God’s children. So, the seemingly insurmountable task sits in my heart and I pray about it, asking God when the folks are going to come, and to reveal to me how I am to bring them in and grow our church.
Until recently. I’m reminded of one of my favorite movies, The Hunt for Red October. (If you’re not familiar with the movie, I’ll outline the plot: set during the Cold War, Russian submarine captain Ramius (played by Sean Connery) and his officer crew have decided to defect to the United States and take their nuclear submarine with them. To make it realistic, they have to fake a leak in the nuclear reactor to get the rest of the crew off the boat. Alec Baldwin plays Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who has figured out that Captain Ramius wants to defect but meets with a lot of distrust and resistance from U.S. government agencies and the military.) The scene that jumps out at me is one in which Jack is shaving and talking to himself in the mirror, thinking out loud how he is going to get the crew off the Russian submarine. After some thought, he says: “Wait a minute. We don’t have to figure out how to get the crew off the sub. He’s [Ramius] already done that—he would have had to. All we gotta do is figure out what he’s gonna do.”
You see, I don’t need to figure out how to get people in here. He has already done that! All we have to do is to be ready to listen to His will and take action accordingly. God has a plan for our church – Jeremiah 29:11 tells us “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Our church has a hope and a future. We just need to invite the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and help us be open to do God’s will in our church. The working of the Holy Spirit in us, coupled with us having a servant’s heart ready to glorify God, will do great things, and our church will expand in ways we never thought possible.
Guys, His plan for Stone Oak Church was created before the foundation of the earth. We must simply seek it, believe it, and obey.
“God found Gideon in a hole. He found Joseph in a prison. He found Daniel in a lions’ den. He has a curious habit of showing up in the midst of trouble, not the absence. Where the world sees failure, God sees future. Next time you feel unqualified to be used by God, remember this: He tends to recruit from the pit, not the pedestal.” --Jon Acuff
“Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hear it and not in the one who says it, our prayers to make a difference.”