Leaving the 99

In 2010, 33 Chilean miners were trapped underground for 69 days after the mine caved in on them. One young man, Jose Henriquez later deemed “the Pastor,” was not a pastor by trade, but his outward faith in God during this time led 22 of the 33 miners to make a commitment to Christ. He lived out his faith in the most dire circumstances: trapped underground, little food or water, and no idea when, or if, they would ever see daylight again. Did the Lord allow these men to be trapped to get their attention? To bring them back into the fold? And did he send Jose Henriquez out of his comfort zone, away from his “99” to go and get those 22 lost sheep? 

“‘If you had one hundred sheep, and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others and search for the lost one until you found it? And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders… In the same way, heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away.” (Luke 15:4-5, 7)

How much joy must there have been in heaven when the men in the mines turned away from despair and turned to God? And how much joy are we missing out on by not going deep into the mines to find the lost and guide them toward our savior? Obviously, Jose did not choose to go down into the mines for 69 days and convert his coworkers, but he decided against all odds to continue the work of the gospel. He could have chosen to hang out with his fellow Christians in the mine, and pray for rescue, and pray for the other miners, but he chose to act. I am challenged by this thought, in what ways am I intentionally seeking the lost for the Lord?

I attend church regularly, go to a weekly bible study, and help in the youth group. I hang out with my Christian friends, I read my bible, and I pray for my lost friends. I take care of my 99, and I remain with them. We rejoice in our daily victories, and we share our daily struggles, but we are the 99. We are the 99 who remain in the fold with the shepherd. We are safe, and loved, and whole. But what of those missing sheep out there? We’re missing them, the kingdom of heaven is missing them, and we are missing out. 

Jesus’ last words to his disciples on earth were this: “‘Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the son, and the Holy Spirit.’” (Matthew 28:19) He did not say “Therefore, go hang out with others who know me, pray together for the lost, and occasionally invite an unchurched friend to church…” He called us to go and make disciples. Go. Make Disciples. Baptize. Those were his directions. Not stay where you’re comfortable, continue to disciple each other, and just let others do the baptizing. These are all good things. I am not saying don’t fellowship with other Christians, and don’t disciple those who are already found, but Jesus called us to so much more than those things. He called us to go and find the lost sheep, and joyfully bring them home. 

And I also wonder how much rejoicing I am missing out on by simply keeping my eyes on my own walk. Gods work will be done with or without me, but do I want to miss out on the joy of bringing home a sheep to his fold? Do I want to miss out on the joy of a life changed for the better, a life saved? And do I want my friends, my family, who I know have gone astray, or don’t even know they’re lost, to miss out on a life with Christ? A full and abundant life that I know exists. How can I let that remain in my heart and not share it? And even more than that, do I want to miss out on the work in my own heart as I trust God, go out of my comfort zone, and reach out to the lost?

The Lord is calling us to leave our 99, and do the hard work of finding lost sheep and bringing them home. I think I reject this call on a daily basis, we reject this call. We’ll do the other things like not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, but go find a lost sheep and bring them home? Nah, that’s for Billy Graham and my pastor to do. It’s so hard to add more to our already overflowing plates, but we have to do more. We have to do the hard work to reap the great rewards. 

Billy Graham and the pastors of our churches do not take their children to my daughters elementary school. They don’t run with my friends at 5am, or go to the same gym classes that I do. They don’t go to my grocery store at 8am on Mondays. They don’t work at my job with my coworkers. They are not on the sidelines of my daughters t-ball games, or swim class. They are not in my family, with my cousins, my brothers, and my sisters. There are lost sheep everywhere, and we need to open our eyes and our hearts to find them. And then open our schedules and our mouths to invite them into our lives, and give them a glimpse of life with Christ. 

Jose Henriquez did not ask for the mines to cave in on him, but he did open his eyes and his heart to see the lost sheep in front of him. Without a choice, he left his 99 to find these ones. How is God calling you to do the same?

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This is Chico in Crisis

Have you ever seen an athlete being interviewed just seconds after they cross the finish line in a race? The athlete is huffing and puffing, and trying to digest what just happened out there. The interviewer is usually asking ridiculous questions like “How does it feel to win?” “Did you go into the race knowing this would be the outcome?” Or even better “What’s next for you?” The whole time I’m always thinking “Will you please give them a minute to compose themselves, catch their breath, soak it all in, recover maybe?”

Just over two months after the Camp Fire and I find myself thinking the same thing for Chico. Give us a second. We need time to catch our breath, take in what just happened, and look to our future. People keep asking us “What’s the plan?” Our best answer, as we stand with our hands on our knees, just trying to breathe, is “I don’t know,” and that’s because we don’t. Many people are calling Chico a city in crisis. I don’t disagree with this sentiment, but to them I say just give us a minute. There are hurting people every where, and these hurting people don’t always make the best decisions, but while we are recovering and taking a breath, so are they.

Instead of seeing the housing crisis, and lamenting the unsightly trailers on some of our previously unlittered streets, think of the hundreds of people who had big enough hearts and homes to house a hurting person with nowhere to go. I know a group of women in Chico who took it upon themselves to connect the elderly folks in the shelters with willing Chico residents who had room in their homes to spare. This is Chico in crisis.

Instead of thinking about students invading our schools and buildings to get an education, think of the churches, teachers, and students who are offering their valuable time and resources to help some students in need continue their educations. I think of a local high school opening its doors to students and teachers to reunite a week after the fire providing basic necessities, school supplies, and dinner to these people in their greatest time of need. This is Chico in crisis.

Instead of seeing the full relief shelters as a burden, remember that Chico had so many donations for these locations that we had to ask our people to stop giving. I think of local businesses who created new items to sell and gave all of the proceeds to the Camp Fire Relief Fund, or restaurants downtown giving portions of Tuesday night sales to Camp Fire Relief. This is Chico in crisis.

Instead of seeing a rise in crime, and a strain on our medical community, think of what our first responders endured, and how their heroic measures saved lives on that day. I think of the doctors and nurses who hauled patients into their cars from Feather River Hospital and made the harrowing journey down the hill. Or the firefighters, policemen, and other law enforcement, who spent the entire day, and days following, driving up and down the hill to bring people to safety. This is Chico in crisis.  

And lastly instead of thinking of traffic and population rising think of the great opportunity we have to genuinely and literally “love our neighbor.” We have a daily opportunity to love, forgive, and give grace to someone who is driving slow because they are lost in a new city, or who is making our grocery shopping trip 30 minutes instead of 20. Let’s show the world that we are caring, loving, strong, compassionate, and resilient. Let’s show them that we are Butte Strong. Let’s show them that this is Chico in crisis. 

My Shepherd

When I had my first (of three) kids, I knew babies were difficult, they cry a lot, and they don’t sleep. I had been babysitting since I was a teenager, and I worked in children’s ministry at my church. I knew how to change diapers, how to feed a kid, how to keep them entertained. I took a baby class at the hospital, so I knew how to swaddle, how to soothe, and how to nurse. They told me to be prepared for being extra emotional, and tired from the baby waking every few hours to eat.

I could never have been prepared for feeling completely out of my element for the first three months of her life. They did not tell me that my daughter would cry unless I was nursing her, or bouncing her, or unless she was asleep (which was not often). I did not know that the crying would feel excruciating to me, like I was a failure, like I was doing everything wrong, and like it would never end. If my daughter was crying, then I usually was, too. It all felt so out of control, and like it would never end. 

I had friends telling me it was okay, and it would get better. And I knew that, due to the laws of time, this was probably true. In the middle of the night, bouncing on an exercise ball with my daughter staring up at me nowhere near sleep, I could not believe it was true. When my daughter was up every two hours to eat, and took one hour to get back to sleep, and my anxiety kept me up most of in between, I knew it would never end. I didn’t think I’d ever sleep again, and I thought I was the worst mother in the world because she would not stop crying. Years later, when a friend was having a rough go of it, I stumbled across this verse, and it literally had me in tears. 

“He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” Isaiah 40:11 

Some versions even said “nursing mother.” I was floored. The Lord, years ago, knew that we’d be drowning in motherhood, and knew that we would need to hear that he’s got it; he’s got it all. Nestled in verses in Isaiah about the Lords power, about the Lords providence for his people, his guidance and direction for them, he did not forget about me. He did not forget about you.

“He will feed his flock like a shepherd.” My basic needs will be met. When we choose to follow the Lord, we are his. “The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1 Literally everything is taken care of, we will want nothing. We don’t need to worry about sleep, about sustenance, about safety: we are a part of his flock, and we will want nothing.

“He will carry the lamb in his arms, holding them close to his heart.” I could hear this every day and never grow tired of the comfort it brings. I am not wholly in charge of carrying my three children through life. The Lord has given them to me, he has chosen me to take care of them, but the buck doesn’t stop with me. When I make mistakes, when my exhaustion clouds my judgment, when I yell at my kids, or when I can’t make them happy. When I just can’t carry them any longer, he will carry them. And even better, he will hold them close to his heart. His perfect, loving, caring, all-knowing heart. 

When a mother sheep has a lamb, the flock still goes on. The shepherd still must lead his flock to greener pastures for sustenance, and keep them from predators. The mother sheep is torn between keeping up with the flock, and also taking care of her baby. The shepherd knows his mother sheep, and feels the turmoil within her. He can either leave the lamb behind, or he can pick up the lamb to lighten the load of the mother, and keep her with her flock.

This is what the Lord does for us. Life goes on. We have to go on, but sometimes it’s too much and we see everyone moving forward without us. We can’t carry our children on our own, so he picks up our precious babies, holding them close to his heart, and carries them when we cannot. We get to stay with our people, keep up with our lives, and also have the most loving, caring God take care of our babies.

“He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” I have always known that God can guide us in our decision-making, but parenting is so daily, tedious, and monotonous. It’s deciding what my kids eat for breakfast, whether to fight with them about wearing sandals in winter, if I should go to the park or the library, if my kid should do swim lessons, or gymnastics. It seems trivial, and at the same time so, so important to the future of my children. And how can the Bible possibly inform me on whether or not my three-year old is eating enough vegetables? But he cares, and he is gently leading us all day, every day. He cares what my kids do, where my kids go, and what they’re eating, and he will gently lead me in all of these decisions. If we listen, if we dig in, if we follow the Lords prompting in our hearts, our kids will be fine. 

Our children will be fine because the Lord is carrying them close to his heart, and gently leading us in our parenting. 

Now Go!

There aren’t many times in my life where I can say I was genuinely afraid. As a kid, I was afraid of the dark, the beast in Beauty and the Beast, Santa Claus coming down my chimney, fire, and public speaking. As I grew up my fears became rooted in reality, and were a little harder to face. Afraid of not making the team, afraid of not making friends, afraid I wasn’t good enough, afraid of someone breaking into my house, afraid of running alone, even in daylight. These fears were all tangible: there was legitimate loss, pain, ramifications for my future if any of these things occurred. These fears were grounded in what could happen and how badly it would hurt me.

As an adult, married, with three kids, my fears are about trust. Do I trust that the Lord will provide? Do I trust that He will protect my children? Do I trust that he will give grace where I lack? Do I trust that he will give me a hope and a future? And most basically, do I trust that he is who I know he is for everyone else, for me?

I know he redeems, I know he makes beauty from ashes, I know he blesses those who trust in Him. I know he makes our dreams come true when we glorify Him. I know he speaks to us, and we should listen. And I know the sound of His voice, and I know his persistence.

I also know the sound of doubt, the sound of shame, the sound of fear, and that is where I have been for the past six months. There has been a stirring in my heart, followed by several peoples’ words calling this stirring out, followed by His word telling me to go and do, yet I sit here. All of the things have fallen into place, all of the doors have opened. I just don’t want to walk through them. 

What if his promises are not true for me? What if I made up all of the things that I heard him saying through people, through His word, through the doors? What if its all a ruse to get the burning in my chest onto pages and then have it amount to nothing? 

He has called me to write, yet I remain on my couch staring at my phone, avoiding the keys of my computer, so I can’t find out what is out there for me. He has given me thoughts, and commands, and a gift of writing, and the gift of a desire to put words onto paper, yet I remain afraid. 

There is real fear here, but it has been put in place to block my words that might glorify him. My words that might save a mom and rise her up, and take back the kingdom of her heart. My words that might give insight to unnamed feelings in a girls mind that she can’t defeat. My words that might bring glory and honor to the one who is all mighty and promises to be with us to the end of the age. My words that might redeem someone who feels unredeemable. 

The Lord called Moses and he begged for someone else to take his place. He spoke audible words to the God of our world, and the Lord spoke back. And yet, Moses’ fear blocked his ability to believe that he was the chosen one, he would redeem a people, and he would be someone we’d read about today and know not to be afraid. 

“But Moses protested again, ‘What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, The Lord never appeared to you?’” Exodus 4:1

It was like I was reading my own story in print, like the Lord had written it just for me, like Moses and I were kindred spirits, begging not me, not me. I don’t want to be the one who’s called to something I may not be capable of doing. Not me, Lord, not me. 

“Then the Lord asked Moses, ‘Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go! I will be with you as you speak and I will instruct you in what to say.’” Exodus 4:11.

The Lord is so frustrated with Moses’ continual denial of his power to work in Him. The Lord has shown him three miracles to show the people, so they can believe in Him and follow Moses. But I think he is also showing Moses that he is almighty, he is powerful, even the physical world obeys his commands. And if the physical world obeys his commands, then why can’t Moses believe that he will be taken care of? Why can’t Moses believe that he will not fail, that he will bring his people to redemption, that he will do what the Lord called him to do? Why can’t I believe that after all I’ve seen him do that he will be with me, and he will provide me with the words to say?

As I read this passage, I heard the Lord saying to me “Now go!” The Lord has to be greater than my fear. I have told so many people that, I’ve proclaimed it to be true, for everyone else. And, in this venture, I will proclaim its truth for myself, for my life, for my calling to write. The Lord has made me a writer and I will no longer beg him to call someone else. I will go, and he will “be with me as I speak, and will instruct me in what to say.”