The following sermon with the text Psalm 34:11-22 was my message to the First Filipino-American United Methodist Fellowship in Las Vegas, Nevada last February 22, 2009.
If you are a member of the Filipino Methodist Forum at Yahoo Groups where I am the owner and moderator, you may know this story that I posted therein. There’s a Filipino Methodist couple in California who experienced the recession in America and also the challenges from the devil.
Last year these couple was living simply in Orange County. They were residing in one old couple’s residence for free. One time the wife accidentally hit by the garage door. She lost her consciousness in that accident, and her head was in pain. Since then she had been going to the doctor for consultation and medication.
Last October 2008 her father died in the Philippines and her husband’s mother died the next month. And of course, you know that when we have obligations we are sending money back home, and they did it. But suddenly the professor-husband got no job because the college that he is serving got limited enrollment. He just got one (1) load/ subject recently. The wife is not working due to health and legal reasons.
The couple experienced the scarcity of money to pay their bills including their rented room. Just recently they decided to pack their things and sleep in their dilapidated car to be parked anywhere in the dangerous city of Los Angeles. They shared their problems with some church members, but perhaps they spoke in metaphor or perhaps they spoke in highly spiritual sense, their listeners were touched by spiritual things, but they did not feel their needs. Or perhaps they just “hearing” but not “listening” or maybe they were indifferent with their dilemma. Only God knows.
The couple called me one night and they were asking for “prayers.” I was stirred because they have pastor in Los Angeles and I’m in Orange County why did they call me and why not call their pastor there? After explaining their predicament, I told them let’s pray and let me see what I can do. After our prayer over the phone, I called his pastor and narrated the problem of those Filipino Methodist couple. Immediately the pastor and his wife invited the couple to stay in their home for the meantime. Although the pastor and his wife have 6 children at home they do invite them and gave them a place to rest.
One day after their transfer to the pastor’s house, the husband underwent check up due to his eye problem. Again I received a call from the crying wife, and she told me that her husband might get blind in few days since he has severe Glaucoma! I brought them to a local hospital in Los Angeles and the husband treated with laser procedure. Now the husband is recuperating from that laser procedure, but they are expecting another storm when their bills from the hospital come.
These Filipino Methodist couple are indeed humans. They were crying in times of personal crises. They do worry, but they are still strong in their faith in God simply because they believe that in times of crises, in times that they cannot carry their burdens, they believe that the Lord is carrying them. It seems the following poem is true to them:
Footprints in the Sand
One night a man had a dream.
He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD.
Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand:
one belonging to him, and the other to the LORD.
When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints.
He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it: “LORD, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.” The LORD replied: “My son, my precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
I. THE LORD PROTECTS
The emphasis of this poem or song, and the second part of our text is all about the protection and care of the Lord to his faithful. Our passage assures us that:
(1) The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry.
This note may mean that the Lord is watching and listening to the faithful. The faithful may suffer and experience tribulations in this life but the passage is telling us that the lord is not sleeping and dumb, he is actually watching our movements and listening to our prayers. This was true in the life of the Israelites when they were in bondage in Egypt. As a chosen race they suffered for long years but at the end the Lord sent Moses and Aaron to save his people.
(2) The face of the Lord is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. In the Exodus story, God showed his might and his protection to the Israelites. He made a lot of miracles to advocate his people and to persecute the Egyptians.
(3) When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Israelites sing this phrase every time they remember how God listens and redeems them out of bondage and persecutions.
(4) The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
Could this be true to Israelites alone? I think this is also true to me and to you! In the poem the author discerns that during the most troublesome times of his life, there was only one set of footprints.
At the end of the poem we know that they were actually footprints of the Lord! Indeed, many a times we feel hopeless, brokenhearted, persecuted, down and sick. Sometime we feel that we are suffering alone. Sometimes we feel that even our friends and relatives left us alone. Thank God that even in times of crises, sickness, loneliness, brokenness, and crises, God still touches us, protects us, cares for us, and loves us!
(5) Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (6) He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. (7) Evil shall slay the wicked; and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
This is reality of life. Even the righteous could experience afflictions, and crises, but one thing is sure, the Lord will deliver us from them! However, sometimes the Lord is helping us, but we don’t listen to him, we still listen to our conscience, our understanding, our logic, and our reasoning. God’s help is hindered by our own understanding.
One day my friend was driving along the hilly part of the valley, he lose control of his car and the car ran through the slope of the valley. Fortunately, he jumped from the car and he grabbed a branch. He stayed there for few hours.
Suddenly he shouted, “Help!” “Help!” “Help me!” Silence. Then he shouted again, “Help me!” Silence again.
Somebody shouted back from somewhere. “Loose your grip from the branch!” “What?” “I’m your God telling you: loose your grip from the branch!” “What? No way!”
Overnight he was hanging there until finally it was morning and he could see the surrounding, and suddenly he found out that he was just one foot above the ground.
(8) The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
One of the greatest crises in our family life that I could not forget is when my wife suffered in her sickness for one month. For a month I did not go to my work as chaplain at Philippine Christian University. I was there in her bedside. I was there taking care of her, but unfortunately she expired in 2004.
I thought that God seemed to be hiding from me. It seemed that he didn’t love us anymore. He didn’t care for me. Why us? Our whole family had been serving the Lord, why were we experiencing that kind of trouble, sickness, scarcity of money, problems, death, and loneliness? The only consolation in my heart then was God is calling his children one by one, perhaps the Lord needs my wife and perhaps they need one more deaconess in heaven. Or perhaps God redeems my wife for further sickness on this earth. God did not want her to suffer in her sickness for longer time. One thing I know is that our faith was strengthened in those trials in our lives.
Omoro Kinte of Roots said, “Faith allows us to endure even the most bitter trials and tribulations. Through belief and faith, people are empowered to accomplish great things, if not for themselves, then for their children.”
II. THE FAITHFUL MUST POSITIVELY RESPOND
The Psalmist encourages the faithful to fear the Lord, by watching our tongues, depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Listen again:
Come, O sons, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there who desires life, and covets many days, that he may enjoy good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
The Lord does not waver in his duty as Father to His children but men refuses to be his children. We are hard headed and most of the time not faithful to God and his ministry.
The Psalmist encourages us to fear the Lord, which means to obey the Lord. Obeying the Lord must have a consequence of following his will to us, pursuing his ministry of peace and serving other people who are in need. I pray that all of us might follow God up to the end of our life or else we might experience like this poem:
Butt Prints in the Sand
One night I had a wondrous dream. One set of footprints there was seen.
The footprints of my precious Lord But mine were not along the shore.
But then some stranger prints appeared And I asked the Lord “What have we here?” Those prints large and round and neat.
But Lord, they are too big for feet. “My child,” he said in somber tones, “For miles I carried you alone. I challenged you to walk in faith But you refused and made me wait.
“You disobeyed, you would not grow. The walk of faith you would not know So I got tired, I got fed up
And there I dropped you on your butt. “Because in life, there comes a time, When one must fight, and one must climb, When one must rise, and take a stand. Or leave their butt prints in the sand.”