Following this past Sunday morning’s worship gathering at MoSt Church, my bride and I ate lunch together at Pipeline Grill with my daughter (Amber Wheeler) and her family (I highly recommend their catfish). In mid-meal, and out of the blue, my daughter’s oldest, five year-old Ethan, posed a direct and very important question to me.
“Dah-Do, where is MaMa?”
Let the reader understand: I am “Dah-Do” and “MaMa” is my mother, now 20 years deceased.
I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts, for I wanted to answer his question as well as I possibly could. It had been asked with thoughtfulness; I wanted to reply with the same.
However, before I could make reply, another interjected an answer, direct, concise, and thoughtful:
“She’s in heaven.”
I like that answer. I like it a lot! And perhaps that is enough on the matter right now for a five year-old.
But, I also know that my mother was not a Christian, not so, at least, in anything like the conventional sense of the term. Now was she a believer in God? Certainly. Did she believe the Bible was God’s communication with people? Absolutely. Was she a virtuous woman? Far excelling the vast majority of Christians I know (for the record, through the years I’ve had a number of Christian women who knew her well describe her to me as “a saint” in their eyes; their words).
And yet, it all comes full stop right there.
And so, the question, and its true depth, remains:
“Where is MaMa?”
Now while my answer is anything but as concise as the one shared, allow me to share the answer here and now that I was forming as we broke bread (and catfish) together. I like to think of me answering that question after having scooped him up, having set him in my lap, and with my arms wrapped around him in a gentle hug, while I whispered this in his ear.
“Ethan, my man, listen to me very carefully: MaMa is in God’s good hands. That’s where she is: in God’s good hands. Much like this hug I’m giving you right now.
“God does nothing but good; in fact, that’s the only thing he does do – good! And with his own hands, he made MaMa; he gave her her life. And that was good! With his own hands, he gave her life here on earth for many, many years. And that was good! He took good care of her all that time. And that was good! And she used her own hands to do many good things in her life for other people. And that was good, for God’s good hands were involved in all of those good things she did! In fact, he remembers every one of those things and can’t forget them. And that’s really good!
“And so, when MaMa died, God scooped up her spirit and now holds her close to him with his good hands of love and tenderness. Again, sort of like this hug of love I’m giving you right now. That is where she is today – in God’s good hands, his good hands of great love.”
“Now you might wonder about death. All things eventually die. But I will tell you this: you need not fear death or worry about it at all, for God has that stuff whipped! God has the last say in everything and whatever he says, and then does with his good hands, is good for her, is the right thing to do with us, and for all. In life, in death, in all things, God always does the good, right thing.
“So, what you and I, what everyone really, needs to do is to live to please God. To live our life here and now like we are walking with God, holding his good, strong hand of love. And then, someday when we are gone, we too will be in God’s good hands. And God will do what is good for us forever and ever.
“You keep loving God and loving people. God’s good hands takes care of everything else.”
And then I’d tighten the squeeze of my hug, “scob his knob” a bit, set him back on his chair, swipe one of his french fries, give him a big grin, and just let him take it from there.
Thank you, Father God, for my young theologian of a grandson, Ethan. May he seek you with all of his heart, all of his days, with all of his ways. May he find you, again and again and again, until the day you scoop him up, too, and take him in your strong arms forever. I ask this in your Son’s name. Amen.
“In terms of qualifications and rights, we are all like Jonah. Who can claim to be qualified for participation in the divine work? Who has not disobeyed in the past and forfeited any rights that might pertain to serving God? The service of God is thus … always a second chance, always an undeserved privilege. And if vocation comes to us, we can never say that it is on the grounds of our gifts and qualities, or our capacities for the job at hand. The call of God is … a sign of mercy, in that he is willing to employ the unworthy …” (Peter C. Craigie)
“God is holy and just. In all his deeds, God is true to himself and faithful to his promises. In contrast, we act in opposition to our true selves and break our covenant promises. Rather than acknowledging God’s gifts with grateful hearts, we take our lives for granted; or, even worse, we use them as if we had created ourselves. When we ought to honor God by conforming to his holiness and justice, we follow our own foolish inclinations and reject the divine wisdom embodied in God’s law.
“Even if we admit that God has bridged the gaps between being and nothingness, between meaning and meaninglessness, why should the righteous and holy God reach out to an arrogant and ungrateful sinner? That which is nothing might at least arouse pity, since its pitiful state is not its own doing. But the ungrateful lawbreaker who considers himself wiser than God clearly deserves the consequences of his actions. Divine righteousness on one side and human unrighteousness on the other, God’s holiness above and our unholiness beneath – how can God bridge such chasms? And why would he do so if he could?
“To our amazement, God wills to have fellowship with the unrighteous: he chooses to save sinners from the consequences of their actions. … Why does God forgive sinners and reconcile them to himself by taking on their sin? Because he loves us with a love that ‘surpasses knowledge’ (Eph. 3.19), and that provokes our wonder and amazement.”
(Ron Highfield, Great Is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God; pp. 175-176)
NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (Feb. 22) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of this morning’s worship gathering. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.
Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s service.
To help us focus on the character of our Lord as the tireless, benevolent servant-leader of his people.
These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this morning’s service.
“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
“‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
“‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.
I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.
“‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations.
Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” (Ezekiel 34.11-31)
Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump for group conversation.
1. What does “peace” look like to you? Tell us of a place of unusual tranquility & harmony for you.
2. The pic here is of God/his people as shepherd /sheep. What would be a modern, urban metaphor?
These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this service.
1. Underline each occurrence of the phrase “I will.” Circle every use of the words “Lord” & “shepherd.”
2. Make two columns; one for all the good God will give and one for all the bad things God defeats.
These questions help us discern and share what we sense God’s Spirit is doing as we encounter his word.
1. Given what’s said about how “sheep” act & what they experience, what are people really like?
2. Who are we that the Lord should care for us this way? Why would he expend himself so for us?
3. The God who depicts himself as he does here is clearly a ____________ God.
4. What can you do to make life better for the other sheep in the flock? What habits can you develop?
These ideas/suggestions are for use beyond the group meeting; to aid your living out today’s gathering.
1. Develop a servant spirit & helpful habits for the sake of God’s under-shepherds. Answer their calls.
2. Pray daily for God’s under-shepherds & your openness to their direction for your maturity.
Here are links to five articles that I have found to be interesting and helpful reading.
American history, corruption, fear, hate, hysteria, intimidation, lynchings, racism, revenge, rumors, social memory, suspicion, terrorism & violence: Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror [essential reading]
“Between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. These lynchings were terrorism.”
Bible study, humility & reading: How to Make the Most of Your Bible Study [essential reading]
“We are pulled in many directions: work, family, ministry, fitness and many other activities tug at our schedules. The more we are tugged, the more we have to work to guard the time we give to personal study of our Bibles. When we are at last able to sit down to read, we want every precious minute to count. Whether we have 15 minutes or two hours, we want our efforts to yield the most benefit possible. But how can we make the most of the time we have to read and study?”
Community & forgiveness: The Act of Rigorous Forgiving
“There’s something sad in Brian Williams’s need to puff up his Iraq adventures and something barbaric in the public response. … the larger question is how we build community in the face of scandal. Do we exile the offender or heal the relationship? Would you rather become the sort of person who excludes, or one who offers tough but healing love?”
God, non-violence, violence & witness: Why NO Violence in Jesus’ Name is Justified
“The character of God is manifested when instead of employing violence against enemies to crush them, Jesus loves his enemies in order to redeem them. The kingdom is revealed when instead of protecting himself, Jesus allows himself to be murdered. God’s love is marvelously put on display when instead of clinging to his perfect holiness, Jesus puts himself in the place of sinners. And the nature of the rule of God shines radiantly in Jesus’ final prayer for the forgiveness of those who moments earlier mocked him, spit on him, whipped him, and crucified him (Luke 23:34).
“This is simply who God is and what God is up to in the world, and so living consistent with God’s character, reflected by the cross and the teachings of Jesus, is simply what it means to submit to God’s reign. In sharp contrast to the kingdom-of-the-world thinking, therefore, disciples of Jesus aren’t to act first and foremost on the basis of what seems practical or effective at securing a good outcome. We are to act on the basis of what is faithful to the character and reign of God, trusting that, however things may appear in the short term, in the long run God will redeem the world with such acts of faithfulness.”
Judging, judgment & love: Judgment: Isn’t Judging Others Healthy?
“Isn’t it time to for us to ruthlessly cut out judgment of one another from our sermons, conversations and mindsets? Isn’t it time for us to address personal and social change with long suffering love and when that doesn’t work—doesn’t transform ourselves and those we ought to care for—shouldn’t we try long-suffering love again?”
I was young and now I’m old, but I have never seen the righteous left all alone, have never seen their children begging for bread. (Psalm 37.25 CEB)