Aching hearts

This week, when it seemed the situation in Afghanistan couldn’t get any worse, it did. Our hearts ache and our prayers go up.

I was a Cold War warrior, a member of a bomber crew, part of the nation’s nuclear deterrent. We were prepared to respond with overwhelming force in the event of a nuclear attack. This “balance of power” strategy kept the peace through many administrations for 40 years.

The strategy worked, in part, because the other side wanted to live as much as we did.

I was never in a shooting war, thank goodness.

I never had to do what our Soldiers and Marines are asked to do today: stand guard at checkpoints with a mass of humanity in front of you. You don’t know if the person coming toward you is a pregnant mother or a suicide bomber. If you choose wrong, you and your friends could be killed, you could start an international incident, or you could be put up on charges. 

Where do we find men and women of character willing to do such things?

I frequently pray that our leaders would be worthy of them.

Jesus was no stranger to situations like this. He often faced angry crowds who had picked up stones to stone him.

Where did Jesus get his character?

John 10:34 says that Jesus responded to an angry crowd by quoting scripture, a verse from Psalm 82. He was so steeped in scripture that even obscure (to us) passages came to mind in a crisis.

He was steeped in prayer that connected him to the heart and mind of the Father.

And in all of that he knew the divine plan that one day the crowd would get its way.

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, we pray for the men and women of our Armed Forces, and for the people of Afghanistan. Protect and save them. And we pray for ourselves. Through prayer and scripture, lead us deeper and deeper into your heart, so that when the crisis comes, we might be people of character. Amen.


The scenes unfolding in Afghanistan this past week are heartbreaking on so many levels. And it’s just as sad to think that, in our fractured world, we may never understand, much less agree on, what went wrong and how to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

And so we’re all hurting.


Or should I say, hurting still? Wasn’t 2020 supposed to be over?

But there is a spiritual lesson that each of us should internalize:

It’s hard to surrender.

Giving up control can be a lot harder than taking it.

This week we’re studying John 10, which is right in the middle of the Gospel of John. Hebrew writers often used “ring composition,” so the main point was in the middle, instead of up front or at the end.

And in the middle of the Gospel of John is the central claim of the Christian faith:

Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.”

“I lay down my life for my sheep.”

“I and the Father are one.”

The central claim of the Christian faith is that Jesus Christ is Lord, and in the greatest, once-and-for-all act of surrender, gave up his life for his fallen creatures. The eternal one who spoke all of creation into being and keeps it all running, surrendered and died.

But then he rose again.

Chaos and surrender didn’t have the last word.

In God’s economy, Jesus “laying down” his life turned out to be the greatest “lifting up” in history.

And so he promised, “I give them eternal life.”

“No one will snatch them out of my hand.”

But surrender doesn’t come easily to us. We like being in control. We’d prefer if he sent us on a great spiritual quest. But he doesn’t do that. We don’t have to be the best and the brightest. We don’t even have to be better than most.

All we have to do is understand that we’re his sheep, loved sheep at that, and that we’re helpless to save ourselves.

And surrender to him.

The Good Shepherd

My favorite stained-glass window in our church shows Jesus cradling a little lamb in his arms.

But if you focus on the figure of Jesus in the window, it’s possible to miss the background: a narrow path through a steep mountain pass. It’s possible to miss the point that rescuing a lost sheep is hard and dangerous work. In Luke 15, Jesus said it meant leaving the rest of the flock in the wilderness, and bringing back the lost one by slinging it over his shoulders. It was too big to be carried in his arms. 

And why do sheep need to be rescued in the first place?

It’s because sheep follow their appetites. They get lost because they think only of themselves and their next meal. A lost sheep becomes helpless, frozen with fear, completely unable to save itself. 

It’s no wonder that one of the most famous things Jesus said about himself is, “I am the Good Shepherd.” By far, the most beloved psalm is Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

In this crazy time, with a pandemic that seems to hang on forever, what if you really believed that Jesus is The Good Shepherd? What if you really believed that God came to rescue you, not just at great risk, but at infinite cost to himself?

What if we all believed it?