Sunday, February 26, 2012

Feeling Sheep(ish)

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16, I Peter 2:21-25, John 10:11-16

I'm a sheep, you're a sheep, we're all sheep...and that's no insult by a long shot. It's actually a joyful recognition. All of today's readings are the reassurances that only a very loving God and Savior would give His beloved children. We are the figurative sheep; God and Jesus are the ever-faithful good shepherds. Comfort words that aren't just words, but actions.

It's not an easy job to be a shepherd. It's life-threatening day after day. If you're the shepherd of the flock, you're solely responsible for their care, feeding, and well-being--day after day, night after night. No time off. You can hire help, but that hired hand certainly isn't expected to risk life and limb if the wolf or some other predator shows up suddenly; they are permitted to leave the flock and seek help--if they follow through which is solely connected to the faithfulness of the hired hand. "The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is the hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep" (John 12:12-13). But if you're the shepherd, it's a different story. Your flock, your responsibility--100%. Hard work indeed.

Why such a difficult job?'s sheep. Sheep have a tendency to stray and get into all kinds of trouble. There's an animated series we watch on Netflix called "Shaun the Sheep"--if you've ever seen it, you too have laughed along with all the messes that sheep can get into in a short span of time. Of course, this is entertainment and exaggerated for that purpose, but think about it...anyone who has ever dealt with sheep can probably agree that they're not exactly a breed that you just leave to fend for themselves for any length of time. 

WE are the sheep in which Christ is the shepherd. Figuratively, of course, but our habits tend to make us appear pretty sheep(ish) much of the time. We constantly find ourselves straying into unknown or unnecessary territory. A misspoken word here, a bad choice there; sometimes we just flat our mess up and get in over our heads. We need rescuing and pretty quickly. "For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (I Peter 2:25). How thankful we are that we have a shepherd to watch over us and look out for us.

Do we always come through unscathed from our wanderings? I think any of us who have lived very long on this Earth know the answer to that. But even when we feel like we've been a bit mauled by the "wolves", there is still rescue. Ezekiel 34:16 assures us that "I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak." However, we are also reminded in that same verse that we are to follow the gentle shepherd's teachings and guidance in being "gentle as a lamb" with our brothers and sisters in this life; if not, "..but the sleek and strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice." 

A beautiful verse also found in Ezekiel gives us comfort and shows just how much we are loved: "I will tend them in good pasture...and there they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture" (34:14). We are always, first and foremost, in the thoughts and cares of our Shepherds. All we have to do is remember to be a bit more sheep(ish) and less bull(y). We possess gentle natures; our souls feel right when we love our neighbors as ourselves, when we see needs and offer help or comfort. In these acts we follow the example of our Shepherds.

Our faithful Shepherds know us...really know us. Better than anyone else in our lives. "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me--just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:14). We are loved and being watched over...what more proof do we need to feel secure and live our lives to the fullest?

Peace be with you.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

There All Along

Readings: Exodus 15:1-18, Acts 10:34-43, Luke 24:13-35 

Ever been lost? Really, truly lost? Sitting with a map in hand, staring at it and nevertheless remaining lost? I think we've all been there. What a relief when, as we fumble along, we see something that looks familiar or finally matches up on the map we've been staring a hole through for naught. Everything falls back into place, and we once again feel that the world makes a little more sense. We relax a little knowing things are going to be okay. We smile in the fact that our destination was there all along.

Moses and Miriam did lots of relaxing to the point of singing, in Exodus 15:1-18. After being on the receiving end of the growing wickedness of Pharaoh's hardening heart, they took time to truly rejoice in the miracle of God's work in leading them in the first step of successfully escaping Egypt. They witnessed, with their own eyes, the parting of the Red Sea, allowing them to flee the oncoming forces of the warriors, horses, and chariots of the pursuing army. To their awe and amazement they also watched the Sea then return to its bed, thus swallowing up and drowning all their pursuers. Quite definitely something to celebrate! Did Moses casually go about his business leading up to this incredible event? Nope. Not even close. Like the rest of us, he doubted, he worried, he bargained. What he perhaps didn't truly realize until that very moment was that God was with him and the people of Israel...there all along.

In Acts, Peter extends the message that God is truly with us...all of us. "'I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right'" (10:34). We don't need to feel left out from the knowledge that God is hearing our prayers and needs through his son, our Savior...all are served. Peter shares this good news that Christ, although viciously crucified, has arisen and is there with us all...always. All we need do is ask and know that through faith we will receive.

In Luke 24, we read of the memorable walk that two of the disciples took after Christ's crucifixion. The two were deep in discussion when a third joined them. Little did they realize as they told this stranger all the events of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection that they were actually speaking to the risen Christ. "'He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did you not then enter his glory?'" (v.25-26). He was there all along.

When our lives seem like the road map is not working, when we can't read the directions clearly, and we just can't find our way, we need to remember that God and his son, our Savior is with us...always. They are there all along.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Our Time in the Furnace

Readings: Daniel 3:8-25, I Corinthians 5:7-8, Mark 16:1-7

I think we've all had times in our lives that, at least on a figurative level, we feel we've been dropped in the furnace.  In Daniel, we read the account of the three believers being literally thrown into the furnace after it had been make so hot that it killed the soldiers who tossed the three in. Yet, as the King and his followers viewed from a safe distance, the three men (actually a fourth appeared) walked around the furnace area, unharmed. Complete protection from the heat.

There are times throughout life that we get, simply put, burnt. Well, singed at the very least. We go about our lives, day after day, humming along to our routines and knowing that things are generally okay. Then we smell the acrid smoke creeping in...the heat starts rising. How do these things just come out of nowhere? In retrospect, they were always there...the flames just hadn't spread to encompass us yet. But now it has; what do we do?

As difficult as it is...we have the faith of the three in the furnace. We keep our cool and start leaning very heavily on the infinite power of God. We pray and we are thankful for the blessing of we begin the process of cooling the unbearable heat with God's guidance.

I Corinthians speaks of us becoming the "bread of sincerity and truth" (v.8). These days we seem to be inundated with "expanded" ways of thinking. We're not a nice person unless we're accepting of everything that our friends, family, and acquaintances favor. Rather than accepting our truths in their simplest forms, we tend to want them to be softened to make us more comfortable. Unfortunately, the most sincere truths are many times more like the unleavened bread--simple and direct. Not as tasty; not as pleasing. And sometimes, those truths make us feel that we've been once again thrown into  that furnace. We remind ourselves to reach out to God. The situation won't likely get immediately less frustrating or miserable, but we now have hope for that essential guidance that will being things to resolution. 

Mark 16: 1-7 is a translation of the resurrection. What a relief to us that the tomb is empty. Christ is back in control. When the furnace gets too hot, when the bread of sincerity and truth is too difficult to swallow, we lean heavily on our Savior and he cools our brows and makes our paths smoother. 

We don't get do-overs in real life, but if we only ask we do get guidance through the hot spots. There's a great deal of relief in that knowledge.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Inheritance Laws Anyone Can Understand

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9; John 20:1-18; I Peter 1:3-9

I think anyone would agree that our world has become a mess of laws when it comes to almost any aspect of life. Want to get married? Here's the paperwork. Want to start a business? Here's the paperwork. Want to leave something to future generations? Here's the paperwork. 

Inheritance laws seem to have become a special pet project of our lawmakers. Page after page, volume after volume of instructions on what can be done, can't be done, shouldn't be done...little guidance and littler understanding. It's all so complicated and frustrating.

In I Peter, inheritance is also discussed; however, that's where the similarities with the laws of man end in its regard. We are told that "In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time"  (v.3-5). 

An inheritance that can never perish...never spoil...never safe keeping for us. An inheritance that is given to us through an act of infinite mercy and love. No signing on the bottom line, no legal jargon, no doubts if things were done correctly. An inheritance of perfection.

How can such a wonderful grace be given to us so freely? We are loved--eternally and unconditionally. Isaiah 25:6-9 tells us, "On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet...on this mount he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples...he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces...In that day they will say, 'Surely this is our God; we trusted in him and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.'" No matter how far we look, we will never find such assurances that will result in truth, not just words. We are loved beyond our greatest dreams.

All this is given to us by our loving Father, as Christ shared with Mary Magdalene in John 18:17, " Father and your Father, my God and your God."

Material inheritance can be a wonderful gift to leave future generations, helping assure that they will have an easier time throughout life; perhaps they can, in turn, leave a similar inheritance to the next generation. Eternal inheritance, given through the mercy of our loving God will give us eternal life in His presence...priceless.