Friends in Jesus…
Ezekiel has never really been my first choice as a “go-to” book for devotional thoughts. But there is a chapter (Ezekiel 34) that has been a deep mine of rich devotional gold. The text itself is an indictment against the leaders (Shepherds) of Israel for using their positions of influence and power for personal profit. The charge against those leaders is more than just that they are getting rich; the accusation is that they are selfish, self-centered and abusive. In that chapter, we read the accusation, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.” Then comes a list of things that they have not done, “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.” Then a list of things they have done, “you have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd.” The author even gives the result of this neglect, “They (the sheep) became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and over every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.”
The devotional gold has come in the form of how I have been inspired by this Word of God to think about two things. 1) How am I leading (How do I make sure we don’t do what those bad leaders of Israel did and do the things that they did not do?)? 2) Who are the lost, injured, wounded and those wandering strays in my context?
It is the second question that I want us to look at first. Who are the lost, injured, wounded and those wandering strays? What do those people look like? Of course, there are the obvious answers to that question. Those lost would include the poor and lonely…those who don’t know Jesus. But in an age of Covid-19, I would suggest the lost and wandering is a much bigger group. Though Ezekiel might be thinking about those who have becoming disconnected from Yahweh or those who have wandered from the nation of Israel and because of that they have lost their connection from the temple, our context includes a much different set of people who are wandering and who are lost. I am talking about those who don’t know how to navigate in a world that has been turned upside down by a pandemic. The wandering and the lost include:
- Parents who must teach, give spiritual nurture, give daily structure for their children, who must feed them, clothe them and who must do this without schools (read teachers) to teach, playgrounds to take their children to play, churches (I am speaking about the building and the ministries that are hosted by the people of the church) and all the other societal supports that help “share the load.”
- Students who are trying to finish their school year and who are learning without the support of teachers and their peers.
- Young children who lack the awareness that something really significant is happening and who are being “forced by those ‘terrible’ parents of theirs to stay inside.”
- Older people who managed all the stages of their life with incredible skill and competence but who lack a skill that makes them particularly disadvantaged when the only tool to meet with others is a computer that they look at out of the corner of their eye (read “with disdain”). Of course, there are some older people who are technologically literate enough to navigate what they need to and others who have great technical skills. I am only speaking about those who are actually lost and wandering in the midst of this new reality.
- Cultural shapers who don’t have a “play-book” for all the changes they have had to make to help the communities that they have been called to steward. The leaders are also needing to be led.
How do we navigate and lead in such a world? How can we shepherd (lead) in times of crisis? Here are just a few of my devotional thoughts:
- We are being told that what we can do in the face of a pandemic is to socially isolate. In other words, what you can do is do nothing. I would suggest (and this is an actual command from our political leaders) that you physically isolate but please…please…please don’t socially isolate. We need each other….now more than ever! I would encourage you to explore platforms like “zoom.” We, and those within our church who are already familiar with this tool, are using zoom to:
- connect people-to-people,
- do small group Bible study,
- host virtual gatherings like the regular Wednesday morning Men’s Coffee that met this past week
- meet socially – I have used this tool to host a virtual dinner. Sheryl, Emily and I sat at our table with our computers in front of us and invited a friend to dinner. I have used this tool to gather all my siblings and our parents where we talked, shared life and heard one another’s stories. My mother cried because she was so thankful to “see us all” and, even though she could only see us through her computer screen, she was comforted. I am using this tool personally and professionally to stay connected to “my people.”
- teach classes -This one is still in the works but I am working towards this.
- We can think of people who are especially vulnerable or who are trying to navigate the challenges of this new world. Ask yourselves how you can use your skills to minister to those in need during this time. If your limited imagination or your limited availability causes anxiety… don’t despair. Pray!
May the Lord bless you and keep you in His care,