Revised and reworked sermon - A Shepherd in the Storm

This is the final sermon. There might be some changes in presentation, but I added a lot. Also, part of the sermon is an internet exclusive. Who ever said stopping by PWOOP wasn't worth the time? We give internet exclusives. Time won't allow me to preach it.


Two Fridays ago, I went to the library with Isaac, Megan, Kendra, and Scott. While there I tried to find things to read. One magazine stood out - Last week’s Newsweek with a headline “Spirituality in America.” They had a survey in the article. One of the questions was “In which one of the following situations do you personally feel most connected with God or the divine?” Here are the options. What would you answer? Praying alone or meditation, in nature, in a house of worship, praying with others, reading a sacred text, and other. Here is what America answered. 40 % answered “When they are praying alone or meditating.” 21% answered “When they are in nature.” Another 21% answered “When they are in a house of worship.” 6% answered “When they are praying with others.” 2% answered “When they are reading a sacred text.” Nobody answered with what today’s message is going to be on. It wasn’t even an option. But before I get there, let’s read a passage from John 10. Jesus is talking right after addressing the issue of spiritual blindness.

John 10:1-6
1 "Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he's up to no good - a sheep rustler! 2 The shepherd walks right up to the gate. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. 5 They won't follow a stranger's voice but will scatter because they aren't used to the sound of it."
Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 7:23-24
23 But this command I gave them, "Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you." 24 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward.
In these two passages we have a contrast. In Jeremiah, we have a passage where the people of God stopped listening to Him and stopped being the people he intended for them to be.

On the other side, we have sheep who know their master so well that they recognize his voice. They follow him wherever he leads.

We seem to constantly forget that God is always at work on us. We oftentimes live as if we are sheep that enter or were born in our shepherd’s fenced in farm and aren’t taken out to the pasture any more. We narrow down the areas of our life that we encounter our shepherd to times that we are praying, in worship, in nature, or reading the Bible. We deceive ourselves into thinking that conversion matters more than daily following. I think it is interesting to note that the story of the shepherd isn’t about us going into a safe fenced in area –about the conversion-, but the story is about sheep who know their shepherd so well that they follow his voice wherever he leads across the countryside.

Jesus is that shepherd. If not in your life, He wants to be. He is continually at work in our lives and around us. No matter what we believe. No matter where we are in life, Jesus is at work drawing us near to Him. We need to become more attuned to hearing his voice and seeing Him, not just when doing spiritual things but by turning everything we do into spiritual things.

Ken Gire wrote in Windows of the Soul:
“We reach for God in many ways. Through our sculptures and our scriptures. Through our pictures and our prayers. Through our writing and our worship. And through them He reaches for us.

His search begins with something said. Ours begins with something heard. His begins with something shown. Ours, with something seen. Our search for God and His search for us meet at windows in our everyday experience.

These are the windows of the soul.

In a sense, it’s something like spiritual disciplines for the spiritually undisciplined. In another sense, it is the most rigorous of disciplines-the discipline of awareness. For we must always be looking and listening if we are to see the windows and hear what is being spoken to us through them.

But we must learn to look with more than just our eyes and listen with more than just our ears, for the sounds are sometimes faint and the sights sometimes far away. We must be aware, at all times and in all places, because windows are everywhere, and at any time we may find one.

Or one may find us. Though we will hardly know it…unless we are searching for Him who for so long has been searching for us.”
And this is one of the greatest principles of Christianity – God is seeking us. He is our loving shepherd. He longs for us to follow him. Even during catastrophic events like the hurricane that hit the Gulf coast last week and the terrible aftermath in New Orleans, God is still at work seeking us. Even during the catastrophic events we encounter in our personal lives like the death of loved ones and illnesses, God is still at work seeking us. He is a loving shepherd always at work in our lives, whether through the tranquil sunsets or the raging storm. He tries to help us grow closer to Him.

***The beginning of the internet exclusive section***

Matthew 24
1 Jesus then left the Temple. As he walked away, his disciples pointed out how very impressive the Temple architecture was. 2 Jesus said, "You're not impressed by all this sheer size, are you? The truth of the matter is that there's not a stone in that building that is not going to end up in a pile of rubble." 3 Later as he was sitting on Mount Olives, his disciples approached and asked him, "Tell us, when are these things going to happen? What will be the sign of your coming, that the time's up?"
4 Jesus said, "Watch out for doomsday deceivers. 5 Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities, claiming, 'I am Christ, the Messiah.' They will deceive a lot of people. 6 When reports come in of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don't panic. This is routine history; this is no sign of the end. 7 Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Famines and earthquakes will occur in various places. 8 This is nothing compared to what is coming. 9 "They are going to throw you to the wolves and kill you, everyone hating you because you carry my name. 10 And then, going from bad to worse, it will be dog-eat-dog, everyone at each other's throat, everyone hating each other. 11 "In the confusion, lying preachers will come forward and deceive a lot of people. 12 For many others, the overwhelming spread of evil will do them in - nothing left of their love but a mound of ashes. 13 "Staying with it - that's what God requires. Stay with it to the end. You won't be sorry, and you'll be saved. 14 All during this time, the good news - the Message of the kingdom - will be preached all over the world, a witness staked out in every country. And then the end will come.
Many like to focus on the end times, but most of us will more than likely face an end time separate from one another. The main concern of Jesus doesn’t seem to be what will we do at the end times as believers, but it is what will we do during the rough times of our lives as followers of Him.

I found most of the following story on

A woman named Susan Torres was 15 weeks’ pregnant when she was hospitalized May 6 for a stroke caused by a melanoma that had spread to her brain. She was brain dead for the next three months, but her family kept Torres on life support in a race to save her baby even as cancer ravaged the young woman’s body.

By Tuesday, doctors said Torres’ health was deteriorating and that the risk of harm to the fetus finally outweighed the benefits of extending the pregnancy.

Later that day, doctors delivered the baby by Cesarean section.

Her husband, Jason Torres, had quit his job to be by his wife’s side during the ordeal, spending each night sleeping in a reclining chair next to her bed. The couple have one other child — 2-year-old Peter, who has been staying with his grandparents.

The family kept Susan alive long enough for the baby to grow old enough to be born. After the baby had been born and the mother had died, Jason, the widow and father, was on Good Morning, America where I saw him say, “There’s no atheists in foxholes and there are no atheists in the ICU.”

In a different sort of story, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who was awarded a Purple Heart in World War II, yet is more known as a writer of such books as Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions, wrote in Hocus Pocus a conversation between the main character and a guy named Jack after going to a church service. The story goes:
“The sermon was based on what he (the preacher) claimed was a well-known fact, that there were no Atheists in foxholes. I asked Jack what he thought of the sermon afterwards, and he said, "There's a Chaplain who never visited the front."
If an atheist who served in foxholes believes that there are people in foxholes who still don’t believe in God and Jason Torres believes in his deepest foxhole that there are no atheist in foxholes, I am left with the impression, beside the fact that Jason Torres is sadly wrong, that when in the foxhole your true beliefs spring forth. There is no holding it back. It’s like a jack-in-box. We wind and wind and wind. We know that something is going to pop out at any time. We just don’t know when. Like a jack that was placed in the box prior to the winding springs out of the box at any time, our true beliefs that we place in our souls prior to the struggles of life spring forth when confronted with unplanned catastrophe.

And it’s at these times of great catastrophe that God is still at work in our lives. I don’t know if God prompted me to share this today because someone sitting here is going through a great catastrophe right now and he wants to tell you something. Or maybe we are just being prepared to keep our eyes focused on Him during an upcoming catastrophe. Or maybe I was just so struck by the catastrophe in New Orleans that I wanted to revisit what it means to focus on God during catastrophe. Whatever the case, I know that God is at work in catastrophes. During them, He wants us to keep focused on him.

That is the theme of all the end times passages in Scripture. They aren’t about us discerning when the end times will come because Jesus said that he didn’t even know the day or the hour. The main theme of the book of Revelation and the previous passage from Matthew 24 isn’t when will the end times come, but that during the rough trials that we will face as Christians, we need to persevere, to remain faithful. We can do that by keeping our eyes on God through every situation life throws at us.

Jesus says the end times will be marked by wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes. One of my favorite preachers has this to say on the subject. It’s a little lengthy, but I thought it’s appropriate to share here. And if you can guess who the speaker is before the end, I’ll give you a donut (as long as some are left in foyer) after church.

“I do not wish to force any one to believe as I do; neither will I permit anyone to deny me the right to believe that the last day is near at hand. These words and signs of Christ compel me to believe that such is the case. For the history of the centuries that have passed since the birth of Christ nowhere reveals conditions like those of the present. There has never been such building and planting in the world. There has never been such gluttonous and varied eating and drinking as now. Wearing apparel has reached its limit in costliness. Who has ever heard of such commerce as now encircles the earth? There have arisen all kinds of art and sculpture, embroidery and engraving, the like of which has not been seen during the whole Christian era.

In addition men are so delving into the mysteries of things that today a boy of twenty knows more than twenty doctors formerly knew. There is such a knowledge of languages and all manner of wisdom that it must be confessed, the world has reached such great heights in the things that pertain to the body, or as Christ calls them, ‘cares of life’, eating, drinking, building, planting, buying, selling, marrying and giving in marriage, that every one must see and say either ruin or a change must come. It is hard to see how a change can come. Day after day dawns and the same conditions remain. There was never such keenness, understanding, and judgment among Christians in bodily and temporal things as now-I forbear to speak of the new inventions, printing, firearms, and other implements of war.”
He goes on to talk about the spiritual depravity of the world he lived in. If it wasn’t for the “new inventions of the printing press and firearms, I would think that Martin Luther, who preached that in 1522, was talking about today. We sometimes get hung up on the end times, rather than focusing on God during events that appear like those that lead to the end times. However, the signs have filled the ages since Christ, and in every age people thought their age to be the last. That doesn’t mean that ours won’t be, but it does seem to point out that we need to not focus on the end times but upon the God who brings about the signs. The signs are just that – signs. They are pointing to God, not the end. God is always at work in us, trying to mold us into who he intends us to be. The earthquakes, the wars, all of the great catastrophes of mankind should be seen as God prompting us to focus more on him.

***End Internet Exclusive Section***

Whatever your catastrophe is, God is trying to speak to you in that moment. We will all face our end time. Whether that end time is going to come from an accidental death, some disease, or a death from old age isn’t that much a concern for me. What is a concern for me is whether I am prepared for my end time, whether that end time is the same as all of yours as in the grand End Times or whether it is something I will face lying in a hospital bed when I’m ninety doesn’t change a bit about how I need to be prepared for it. God is working on us day in and day out. He works when we’re sleeping. He works when we’re awake. He works during catastrophes. Sometimes it is hard to remain focused on him and to learn what we can through the tragedies around us. But we do have a promise: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” It doesn’t say that God causes all things to happen, but we can be assured that no matter how tragic events are, God will use them for the good of those who love Him.

I’ve seen this struggle this week with people in New Orleans. An article in the Crescent News read:

“Why did you do this to us?"

“Set down on dry land for the first time in three days, 83-year-old Camille Fletcher stumbled a few feet to a brick wall and collapsed. She and two of her children had made it through Hurricane Katrina alive, but her Glendalyn with the long, beautiful black hair was gone.”

“‘My precious daughter,’ she sobbed Wednesday. ‘I prayed to God to keep us safe in his loving care.’”

“Then, looking into an incongruously blue sky, she whimpered: ‘You’re supposed to be a loving God. You’re supposed to love us. And what have you done to us? Why did you do this to us?’”
I wish I could comfort all of us by saying that God didn’t cause Hurricane Katrina, but he might have. It isn’t outside of His track record. But I do know that whether He caused it or not really isn’t the issue. The issue is what does God want us to learn from this experience. How is God going to use us to work this tragedy or any tragedy for the good of those who love him? Paul didn’t say in Romans that God causes all things, but that God will use all things. We need to make sure we keep our eyes seeking God during all times, so that we don’t miss what we are to see.

Many of you have probably seen the movie Signs starring Mel Gibson.

On the surface the movie was about an alien invasion. But on a deeper level the movie was about how the catastrophes that happen in life actually happen to prepare us for the future. They are signs that we need to figure out how to discern.

I'm not the king of suffering, and I don’t mean to come across that way in the following story. It’s just that I think it is really relevant to the topic of today’s sermon, suffering yet continuing to seek God.

I'm going to do some healing today and share the story of my greatest catastrophe. It was the worst days of my life. Nothing so far compares, and I have a tough time figuring out what would.

I was at work. The phone rang. "Clem's Collectibles. This is Regan. How can I help you?" It was Dewitt Women's Health. Lindsay had an appointment with them that morning for her pregnancy. They told me to meet her at the hospital. That was all the information I received. My mind figured that one of our babies had died. She was pregnant with twins at the time. I walked out to the car and started to cry as I put my key in the ignition. I asked God, "Why? Why does this have to happen?" That was the first of many times that I repeated that question.

I drove across town and twenty minutes later I arrived at the hospital. My wife wasn't there. At this point I still had no idea what was going on. The hospital called Dewitt Women's Health. They had mistakenly told me the wrong instructions. I was supposed to have gone and picked Lindsay up and drive her to the hospital. I went back down to my car. Turned on the ignition and continued to cry. I headed towards the other side of the city of Lansing.

Twenty minutes later, I went in to Dewitt Women’s Health and gave Lindsay a big hug. I don't remember what was said. We proceeded to get in the car. We probably prayed together. We arrived at the hospital over an hour after I received that initial call.

All I remember from the hospital that night is the ultrasouond. That was the saddest moment of my life. All of the dreams we had of the future came crashing down. The death of a baby that isn't born isn't just a death of a life that hasn't taken its first breath of air; it's the death of every dream you have of the future. Each dream had to be thrown away and rebuilt. I was still clinging to hope at this point.

I sat in the corner of the semi-lit room. The floor was cold. The metal on my chair was cold. Everything seemed cold. Lindsay laid on her back. The ultrasound was out of her view, so she looked at me for confirmation that they might still be alive. At times I would just weep, more inside than out because I felt that I had to be strong. For about an hour the ultrasound technician took photos of the babies. She measured their heads, their hearts, everything. I kept praying in my dark, cold corner that God would heal them. I wanted to see them start moving. I wanted to see the heartbeats on the monitor. I wanted them to live so badly. I told God, "I will tell the whole world of this miracle if you would just give life back to them." They didn't move. Lindsay and I left that room broken and filled with more sadness than either of us have ever encountered in our lives.

They moved us to a room in the Women & Children’s section of the building. In that room, while we waited, we could hear the cry of newborns. The cry of newborns became a background noise that was bittersweet, way more bitter than sweet. We continued to hear them for the next few days. Those cries were a constant reminder of what we were losing.

I remember one conversation I had with a new father by the refrigerator that we were allowed to get snacks and drinks out of. He had no idea that I was going through hell while he was having one of the best moments of his life. "Isn't this great?” he said. I replied, "Sure is." I was short with him, but I also didn't want to ruin his day. I had no idea that someone in the next room could be giving birth to a still-born when we gave birth to Isaac. How close happiness and sorrow can be baffled me.

The hospital gave my wife a prescription for sleep medicine and we headed home. Our insurance didn't cover it. It was a long ordeal at Meijer. I remember running across a professor and his wife from college while we were waiting. He was comforting. We sat and waited in misery. We could've spent $3 for one pill, which is all we needed, but we had to spend $30 because the prescription was for 10.

Then we went home. We went to bed. I'm sure we held each other in bed and wept. The sleeping pill didn't work on Lindsay. I can't imagine what it is like to lay there in bed knowing that two lifeless babies rest inside of you, two babies you had dreams for and already loved. At some point during the night I awoke and joined Lindsay who couldn't sleep. We decided, out of desperation, to go get some oil and anoint Lindsay with it. We wanted a healing so desperately. We read Scriptures of healing and Jesus bringing back the dead. We prayed. It gave us hope that when we would go to the hospital the next day, the babies would be alive.

Some times I wonder if we should've had the church over to do that. Would things have been different? I've seen God do great things through the prayer of churches. I'll never know whether that would’ve changed anything, and I can't beat myself up for it. I think it is a good suggestion in the future for anyone dealing with something like this to include their church in prayer at the earliest possible moment. Maybe a miracle will happen. It’s a humbling experience, but it does seem to be one of the main reasons in Scripture for our gathering together. We would be more than willing to pray for anyone today, for any need.

The next day came. I think the sun barely rose. We asked for another ultrasound when we arrived at the hospital. They thought it was ridiculous since they confirmed the death of our babies the day before. However, the hospital staff will do anything for parents going through what we were going through to comfort them. They took us back up to the same cold ultrasound room.

After many tears and prayers, the screens confirmed the same findings as the night before. No heartbeat. No movement. They were dead.

We proceeded to a delivery room. We were placed in the same room that we were in after the birth of Isaac. It all seemed so ironic, so dreamy, so nightmary. They gave Lindsay pills to induce labor.

All I remember is waiting. Both sets of our parents arrived. It was hard on everyone. At times when we were alone, I remember climbing in bed and hugging her, weeping uncontrollably. We spent periods weeping. Sometimes it was only one of us. Sometimes it was both of us. Other times it was one of our parents. All the time we could hear the cries of newborns in the background.

The delivery doesn't stand out much in my head. It wasn't until the 2nd full day in the hospital that they arrived into this world. They were so small and they came out so easy. However, seeing them was sort of a blessing and a curse.

This might be disturbing to those who have never given birth to still-borns. I don't mean to disturb, but I'm sure if you have given birth to still-borns you can relate. We held them. We kissed them. We longed for them to be alive, to see their lungs move up and down with life. The hospital gave us a cute little basket to place them in. They sat there at the foot of the bed for a while.

The basket seemed like the basket Moses was placed in. Although our children were really taken, we had to reach the point where we were comfortable with giving them to God. At the risk of being a heretic, we baptized them. It wasn't for their salvation. It was just a crazy idea that I came up with that would be an outward sign to God that we were okay with him taking our babies. Our parents and Isaac joined us in the room as we sprinkled the babies and shared a prayer together. I wept while leading prayer. Everyone understood.

That followed with times of uncontrollable weeping. Life was dreary. We went home. The sadness didn't stay at the hospital, but we were covered with love. A local funeral home provided free cremation for our babies.

Isaac was a blessing throughout the whole experience. Without him, it would've been much tougher. Although, with him, we knew what we were missing by losing the twins.
I remember going back to work. I would just weep when nobody was in the store. I went back too soon. Life seemed like it would never get back to normal. Every dream we had was ripped apart. Our future needed to be reconstructed.

Some friends had given us flowers. Some sent us money. Others sent gift certificates to restaurants because they lived too far away to give us meals. Our church provided us with meals. Two guys from church drove all the way to the other side of town to pick up my car. It was a time of being loved. Something we desperately needed. We were blessed and so thankful, and still are, of the support that was shown us during that time. The saddest days of our lives sort of shine because of the love showered on us by friends and family.

We named our next boy, as many of you know, Elisha Zane. Elisha means "God is generous." Zane means "God's gracious gift." He is a blessing we wouldn't have if we hadn't lost the babies.

So what does this have to do with the movie Signs? Everything. In it, Mel Gibson's character wasn't over losing his wife and had to relearn how to have faith as a result of the catastrophic car wreck that took her from him. The boy had to live with asthma and didn't realize how that ailment would actually be his salvation. It's about reading the signs that God gives us, even when they are signs that are shown to us through suffering.

And what does this have to do with this sermon topic? Everything. It is in these times of catastrophe, whether they are personal like ours, or community-wide like a hurricane, we need to stay strong. God is working on us through the tragedy. We need to focus on learning what he wants us to. We need to be so used to hearing our shepherds voice that we can even hear it during storms.

A great Christian writer, Frederic Buechner, wrote:
“Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”
I don’t know if you watch Lost, but in one of the final episodes last year, Clare, who was really pregnant, was asked by John, the oldest guy of the people stranded on the island, to come help him work on something. She tried to get out if because she was pregnant, but John wouldn’t hear it. She eventually went and helped. John just had her hold pieces of wood as he sawed them. At the end of the show John shows Clare what they had been working on the whole time, a cradle that she had, unknowingly, helped him make.

God is an awful lot like John in Lost. He guides us just one step at a time, through peace and catastrophes. Sometimes we don’t even know where we are headed. Clare was pregnant and stranded on an island in the Pacific, yet she was still being taken care of. We sometimes feel we are in similar dire straits, stranded on the lonely island of our soul, and many times we don’t know what God is guiding us to, what good can come out of the terrible situation we are in. But we need to learn to always see God and follow him through our sufferings.

So, let us, whether in joy or sorrow, whether in the quiet of a prayer room, enjoying nature, in a gathering of believers, in a deep personal valley, or with a hurricane swirling around us, let us continue to listen to our shepherd guide us. Our job is to always remain faithful - to live out a life of faithfulness, and in the end, we will receive the blessing God has intended for us, and along the way we will receive many extra blessings. Let us all learn to be good sheep that are adept at hearing our shepherd’s voice even during the worst that the world throws at us. If we are willing, it is during those tragic times that we often grow the most.

Watch out for the potholes.