Integrity: Pastoral Care
Caring for Sparrows
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.
… you are worth more than many sparrows.
Luke 12:6-7 NIV
Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
1 Chronicles16:34 NKJV
Little brown birds.
Numberless and insignificant. Worthless. Yet the Master of the Universe cares for them all, cares for them each. Why? Because God is good and His mercy endures forever.
This ancient text is the subtext of all true worship. This was the song of the choir and orchestra at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple and the song of Ezra’s band at the dedication of its replacement. The song of enduring mercy was the only tune in the folder for Jehoshaphat’s choir/army as they marched at the head of the battle to see an unprecedented victory. This is the unspoken refrain of every great hymn and contemporary worship song, “The Lord is good and His mercy is still in effect today! The One who cares for sparrows is on your side. His power is available to you and HE IS GOOD!”
The Character of God
True worship celebrates the character of God: He is good. Conversely, all heresy, like all blasphemy, calls the character of God into question. This satanic strategy began in the garden, “Surely you will not die, if you eat of the forbidden,” Satan said, slithering there in Eden, casting doubt in the mind of Eve about God’s truthfulness. But God’s inherent goodness means that He cannot lie. His Word is true, without variance. Eve bit and we all are fallen in to the valley of the shadow.
The snake is still out there hissing his attack on the character of God—“He did not really mean what He said. Sin is not so bad. Who will know? You deserve this pleasure. Take and eat.” This message is delivered to the people we lead in worship through their TV’s and music players and radios and computers, their classrooms and books, their bosses and co-workers. This is the age of lawlessness, of brazen iniquity running wild as if God did not see, did not take note, and would not respond. The hope of the worldly mind is that God is uninvolved and unconcerned, or He is weak and unable to do anything about the human condition, or worst of all, He is Himself, evil, capricious, unloving, random and cruel. These lies of Satan, spawned in hell, assault us relentlessly.
But the truth is, “God is good and His love endures forever.” There is another voice softly calling “Take and eat, this is my body broken for you. I have overcome the world, the wicked one. You do not have to live in sin. I took your sin and nailed to a cross. In me you will find life abundant. Because I am alive and I am good, not evil, I am purposeful not random. I am concerned not unloving. I am fair and will do what is best for you, not capricious. I will judge but the Father cast your sins upon me so that you will not have to pay an eternal price for them. Take and eat.”
The Enigmas of Life
The enigmas of life, the unexplainable events and circumstances wherein we cannot see a pattern of life that affirms God’s goodness, cause us to doubt the character of God. The untimely death, the random violence, the betrayal of a friend, the wasting disease, the disaster of nature that takes unnumbered lives, the delayed or unanswered prayers, the gnawing insatiable hunger of addiction and other such inexplicable occurrences conspire together to make life seem like a series of drive-by shootings at best. Is there an intellect behind these mysteries? Can he/she/or it be “good?”
Theologians and philosophers call this “the problem of evil.” How can a good God who created everything be responsible for the evil in the world? For centuries thinkers have attempted to resolve this question. Perhaps it is explained in the concept of absence. In the physical world, there is no such matter as “cold”; it is merely the absence of heat (molecules in motion). Likewise there is no such force as “darkness;” it is the absence of light (waves of energy). Perhaps in the spiritual world a parallel is this: evil is not a created thing from the mind and hand of the Creator, but simply the absence of the goodness of God, a black hole of the heart where wicked intentions lurk and cruelty curdles. Cold is real. Darkness is real. And evil is real. But perhaps each is really the antithesis of something created—heat, light, or something inherent in the Creator— goodness.
The fact that the universe runs in patterns that we cannot fully see, does not mean that they are not there. Isaiah makes it clear to us that God’s ways are not our ways and that they are “past finding out”. We have no capacity to understand all of them. So the dilemmas remain unresolved. The question of evil looms just beyond the reach of another generation of thinkers and the enigmas of life linger to perplex us until we remember the sparrows. Each of us is worth more than many of them, and if God cares for all of them, how much more does He care for each of us. Why? Because He is good and His mercy endures forever.
His enduring mercy is the connector between the goodness of God and hurts of man. This connector is unaffected by passing years, decades or even centuries. The merciful God who opened the sea for Moses will open a door for us. The fourth man who walked with the three young men in the fire will climb down into our furnace and protect us from the blast. The lion tamer who joined Daniel will crack his whip for us and we will see our attackers growl and snarl and sneak away, still hungry. The God who answered the prophet with fire from heaven will answer our prayers as well when we confront the evils of our generation. The Healer pressing through the crowds of first century Israel will respond to our touch, even if it is only the hem of His robe, and heal us today. The One who commanded the forces of evil, gives us His name and His blood as powerful weapons against spiritual evil so that we can overcome. The Master of sea and circumstance is resting in our boat and will calm the winds and the seas of our storms. How do I know? Because the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever.
Remember the sparrows, worthless little brown birds. Their cheerful songs greet us. Like our hymns and songs, they sing of God’s unfailing love. Their quick little flights between hedges catch our eye as we scurry from task to task. Their routines, little sparrow errands, are monitored by the King of kings. And so are ours. How do I know?
For the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever.
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
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