This devotional was prepared by OSWM, a Watchman for the Lord serving behind the walls at a west coast State prison.
A FEW DECADES AGO: Her punishment was to sit on the dusty asphalt, alone and in shame. To her surprise, she looked up and through tears, saw a friendly face. Somehow she knew everything was going to be okay.
THE PRESENT: Covid shut down many “non-essential” Dept. Of Corrections services, including family visits. I miss my family. My wife and I have two grown children. They both know the Lord and have served Him notably over the years. We are blessed. A memory of their childhood came to mind this week, and it reminded me of an important spiritual truth, which I would like to share with you.
THE STORY: My children were 8 and 10 and attended the same elementary school when it happened. My son, the eldest child, was in 5th grade and, as is true for most older and wiser 5th graders, spent most of his time at school with his peers, rather than fraternizing with the less sophisticated and much younger 3rd grade group that shared the large recess area.
On most days during recess, the boys played with the boys, girls played with the girls, and older and younger groups were separated by invisible lines few dared cross. My daughter, part of the younger group, has always been a pleaser. That is, she is quick to please, gentle in spirit, giving, kind, and compliant. Her mother nurtured these admirable qualities, but in truth, she was born with an exceptional heart. Her older brother is equally gifted but distinctly talented in other areas. A California boy, athletically and musically inclined, he exuded the “cool” factor. In 5th grade, he was the quintessential skater boy, mostly unaware of his following.
One day at school, with lofty plans of recess fun and games in mind, my daughter found herself in trouble. She had completed but forgotten her homework. As her punishment, she was sentenced to sit in the dreaded Red Zone during recess.
The Red Zone was a time-out area, painted prominently in the center of the playground. My daughter was banished there until the recess period was over, forced to sit in shame, mortified, while the other children played around her.
My son was playing soccer as this tragedy unfolded. Somehow, he caught a glimpse of the sad, solitary figure in the Red Zone. He could have ignored her—he could have laughed at her, as some older brothers have been known to do. He could have joined those who crossly thought or suggested she was receiving her due for her homework offense.
My son chose another option. He crossed the yard, strode proudly up to his sister, and sat beside her in the Red Zone. He stayed with her for the duration of her sentence.
I was a proud and teary parent when I heard that story years ago. At the time, I did not realize how much the events of that day parallel our spiritual walk. In retrospect, I can see now how they provide motivation and inspiration for Watchmen as we move through our current difficult days.
For example, in some ways, my cell is my Red Zone. My being sent to prison was a great culture shock. I have no criminal history and, like my daughter, have a rather gentle spirit. Especially in those early days, I felt ashamed, mortified, and alone as I sat in my cell. But though God could have chosen to ignore me, or heap condemnation on me, He chose to sit with me and comfort me.
God has not released me, but He stands with me and encourages me. I have discovered that He lifts and He loves. He forgives, and He forgets. He helps, and He heals. He comforts, and He carries. Though our world, and even some churches, may shoot their wounded, our great Savior does not “forget or forsake His people” (Heb.13:5).
This has always been the way of our merciful God. 2 Timothy 2:13a notes that “even when we are faithless, He remains faithful.”
God runs to us, not from us. When we’re in trouble, when we’re in the Red Zone, He is there with us. Psalm 46:1 notes that God is “an everpresent help in times of trouble.”
In the days of Moses, the wandering Hebrews were put in the Red Zone because of their disobedience and lack of faith. They wandered for decades, and rightly because of their willful disobedience and rebellion, but God walked with them.
He appeared as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21). He provided for them. He ensured their clothing and shoes did not wear thin, and each morning, manna miraculously appeared for their food. God did not take them out of the wilderness; instead, He stayed with them in the wilderness. He spoke to them there, loved them there, protected them there, and provided for them there. God joined them in their worst trouble.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, because of their strong faith and witness, found themselves in a Red Zone. The three were thrown into a fiery furnace, and when the king looked into the flames, he saw not three but four in the fire (Daniel 3). God does not always take us from the fire. He could and often does spare us from our worst disasters, many we will never even know we missed. But in those times when we face the worst, He is always present with us in the fire.
Watchmen see that oppression is increasing. Prophecy notes that in the last days, “love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12b). The influence of the church in society will wane, and evil will rise. That prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes.
More and more, believers will find themselves in some form of Red Zone. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, some believers will experience trouble standing up for good and God. Like the wandering Hebrews, some will find themselves in a Red Zone because of their own disobedience or lack of faith.
Like my daughter, the innocent and gentle are not immune to trials or injustice. However, just as many years ago, my teary daughter looked up from her Red Zone and saw a friendly face—we can too. And as she was comforted by one who loved her enough to cross the playground to be with her, we can find comfort too.
If we view life through the eyes of faith, we can look up and see compassion in the eyes of our Savior in times of trouble. We can rejoice that Jesus crossed over to this world to save us from the power of sin and death, and to “empathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15).
Have hope when you’re in the Red Zone because Jesus cares. He stands with us, renews us, and loves us. That’s why Paul wrote, “[since] God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
Watchmen, Jesus promised a Red Zone: “in the world, there WILL be tribulation.” There will be times you feel ashamed and alone. In those moments, don’t cower; position yourself to defeat the enemy. Remember, Jesus is with you, and in Him, we are promised victory (1 Cor. 15:57).
When you are brought low, look up, see His face, receive His grace, and know everything will be okay.
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