Tag Archive: Sheep

I can tell it’s time for a vacation.  The articles of the  last few weeks have been hard to write.  Usually, when the mind is not putting things together, it’s time to take a break.  I tell people all the time when I sense they are running on empty, “Even Jesus took a break, and you ain’t Jesus.”  My time away is still ,as of today, 16 days away.  I see light at the end of the tunnel.  In the mean time readers, you may have to put up with my ramblings that may seem to run all over the place.  It’s how my tired mind works.  Or doesn’t.  

I like to listen to Johnny Cash’s music.  His songs are so full of life.  People who have had struggles and I mean serious struggles seem to relate to his songs.  My personal favorite is “A Boy Named Sue.”  I remember the first time I heard that one.  I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.  Johnny came out with that one in 1969.  I was 10 years old.  I thought it was so funny that someone would name his boy, Sue.  

Just the other day my iPod shuffled the classic hit into play mode.  Again, a smile crossed my face as I ventured back to 1969.  Only this time, not only did I enjoy Johnny’s live rendition, I focused on the words of his dad.  He named him Sue because he knew he was not going to be along, and he wanted his boy to grow up tough.  A bit over the top, but the message comes through.  He loved his son enough to give him a girl’s name.  Let’s just say it was a different world in 1969.  

We could argue all day long that if that dad really loved his boy he would hot have wandered away.  I use the word “wander” on purpose.  Jesus describes us as wandering sheep in Luke 15.  Do you know why sheep wander? It’s easy.  They are natural wanderers!  Sometimes I think we forget the basics of Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus had no real issues with our nature.  Our fallen nature should not surprise anyone.  In that amazing chapter written by Dr. Luke, Jesus is addressing the group who thought they had their act together.  He describes us as lost sheep, lost coins, and rebellious kids.  In all of this, Jesus does not issue one single negative comment.  Instead, he talks about his love and grace.  His love to find us and welcome us home.  HIs grace to restore us in relationship with Him.  

I have way too many discussions with fellow “Christians” who want to talk about the reasons we are losing the next generation.  We want to blame technology.  We want to blame the education system.  We want to blame the youth group leaders.  We want to blame just about anything we can get our hands on.  That is, as long as you don’t blame me.  You can blame me, though.  I will admit I’m a natural wanderer.  I get lost at times and, yes, I too can shake my fist at my God and take off on my own path.  Any one of those three will impact my church, my family, and my community.  That is, if I don’t have a sound understanding of the nature of man and the nature of God and how they engage one another.

It is at this point we need to stop our debating and useless blame shifting.  The struggle to give the gospel to the next generation has been an issue since man sinned.  After Adam and Eve came Cain, and he killed his brother.   Noah had an issue with Ham.  David, yes, the great King David, a man after God’s own heart, had serious next generation problems.  In case you don’t know, his one son sexually abused his sister. David’s son Absalom killed the abuser-brother.  Eventually, Absalom rebelled against dad, but, was killed fighting against him.  Don’t forget Solomon, the one son left.  He had serious women issues.  What did David do in all this?  From what we see, not much at all.  

There are plenty of other next generation problems in Scripture as well as the entire history of the church.  It is a common problem.  We waste too much time trying to fix blame.  Fixing blame takes the heat off of those trying to find a solution.  

In the end of the day, each one of us needs to take personal responsibility as we address the next generations.  Instead of judgment, we need to express grace.  Instead of fixing blame on everyone and everything else, we extend mercy by taking responsibility for our failures and sin.  Instead of building walls expecting the next generation to leap tall buildings in a single bound, we express our love by walking with them as the Prodigal Father did in Luke 15 with our arms wide open looking to embrace our natural wanderers.

We as adult individuals either live our lives thinking we are the potter, or we live our lives understanding we are the clay, being honest with our human nature and responding with great love, grace, and mercy.  It’s truly the Jesus way.  

I can hear Johnny Cash now…”I hear the train a coming…”. I hear the vacation train coming around the bend.  

I was walking the dog the other day and things got quite crazy.  I’m serious when I tell people I’m learning more about me than anything with this crazy lab/hound mix.  God has a strange way of making the light come on in our lives.  If only we would pay attention.  

I was using a harness that buckled under his chest.  When he expanded his chest in an extreme situation (other dogs, birds, butterflies, etc.) he would from time to time literally pop the buckle.  The first time was over another dog that he wanted to meet.  

The good news is he did not run away from me.  Instead, with the other dog and owner standing idly by, probably quite amused as well, Vader ran circles around us over and over again.  I know not to chase him.  That is a total waste of time.  Instead I waited for him to run out of gas.  Do you know how long it takes an 11-month-old hound to run out of gas?  It took quite a bit.  Eventually, as he lay exhausted on the ground, I was able to grab his leg and gain control.

The second time was over a lady jogging down the street.  He didn’t want to bite her.  He wanted to meet her and make her his friend.  Again, once I got his attention, I sat on the ground trying to convince him to come to me with imaginary treats.  He is smart.  I looked stupid.  After a prolonged time of running like a wild dog in circles in some stranger’s front yard, I was able to get the upper hand on him.  

It was time to retire the harness.  Enough was enough.  He is very strong in the upper body, and it was going to take a much stronger harness to handle this one.  The third time was a totally different situation.  With the new harness firmly around him, I bent over to tie my shoe and, for a moment, let go of the lead.  He figured it out quickly and again ran wild circles around me.  It didn’t take as long this time.  I was able to jump on the lead to corral the wild beast.  

I’m glad the third time was at 5:00 a.m.  There are not too many people awake that time of the morning.  I’m glad also, because it had rained the night before, and, when I jumped on his lead ,I came up completely soaked.  I was wondering what possessed me to get a puppy.  Those thoughts quickly left when he looked up and gave me a big old lick on the cheek.  He knows how to sucker his owner.  

As we finished our walk that morning, I remembered his rampage interrupted my prayer time.  Walking the dog for about 2 miles has given me time to pray, and, boy, do I need it.  It’s actually been great.  Being outside in nature gives me a real sense of presence with my God.  All I have to do is remember to hold on to the leash.  Anyway, I went back to prayer as my heart started to beat at a reasonable rate.

I asked the Lord, “What do you want of me today?”  At that moment, I looked down at the mutt.  The light went on.  I could almost hear God say, “What makes you think you are any different when you walk away from My lead?”  I looked up at the moon and uttered a humble, “Touche.”

I was then contemplating how many times I ran circles around Jesus without following his lead.  I never really run away, but I don’t follow Him.  I want to have my life walk my way.  I don’t really want to be on God’s lead.  Best yet, I want to be close enough to him to enjoy the life he has given me.  Just let me lead!

It doesn’t work that way.  Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd.  The shepherd is out in the lead.  The sheep follow.  Why?  Sheep are no different than my dog.  Let something of interest fly by, walk by, stand by and any other “by” you can find.  Off we go.  It’s our nature.  Every one of us in the human form have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) to some extent.  It really doesn’t take much for us to bust out and run circles around God.

Now, here’s the incredible point.  He doesn’t leave us to our own way.  His love is so great we really can’t fathom it.  Jesus said he was the shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep.  In those days the corrals did not have gates.  The shepherd would lay down and sleep in the entrance way.  The sheep couldn’t get out, and the wild beasts and thieves could not get them.  What a love!  If one happens to slip away, he will go and get the wandering lamb.  It’s His nature.  

Let’s take things a step further.  The love of Jesus is all he needs.  Jesus doesn’t run out and get a better harness.  He doesn’t double down on the leash.  He doesn’t get so mad he is ready to give us away.  Not at all.  His love is what brings the wayward sheep home.  It’s his love that draws us to his caressing hands.  And those hands have the nail marks in them.  

As we draw closer and closer to celebrating the resurrection, consider his love.  After we have run circles around the idols of our hearts, he simply says, “Come unto me you who are tired, and I will give you rest.”  No beatings.  No displays of dismay.  Nothing but the caress of his great love.  Let’s walk again.  And again.  And again.  The soothing message of the cross.  

Got to go…it’s time for Vader’s evening walk.  It should be interesting.  I wonder what God has in store tonight.  

There is an interesting “Bible Study” that meets on Friday mornings at Bible Missionary Baptist Church. I’m not sure it is a Bible study. After a fifteen minute devotional the discussion could go. In any direction and on any topic at any minute. I’m not sure it is a “men’s” group even though it is attended by only men. The men are from all different churches, colors, and socio-economic backgrounds. We never solve the world’s problems, and, from time to time we probably make a few.
Over the years, many have come and many have gone. Some come trying to gain support for their cause, organization or church. That is not going to happen. Others can’t handle the non-structured meeting. Believe me, it has very little structure. Some think it is too conservative. One thing we always do, regardless of the opinion or topic, we go back to the Scriptures to set our bearing straight. Those who tend to leave think their opinion trumps God’s. Personally, I have never known that to work well.
I have developed some true friends in this group. We hold hands when we pray. We hug when we leave. We don’t see color. We don’t see styles of clothing. We don’t see our differences. We see our similarities. Nobody’s words trump anybody else’s. There are Friday mornings I don’t want to get up at 5 to make the meeting. The strange thing is. I can’t miss it. It is a beautiful expression of the gospel.
One day we were talking about something and one of the members said something that caught my attention. He said, “Mist in the pulpit is fog in the pew.” From time to time ,my brother has some good ones. This one made me think.
The prophets of the Old Testament often spoke against the “shepherds” of the time. The prophet Jeremiah was beaten by the priests. He was dumped in a hole to die. It wasn’t the people. It was the religious leaders. It was also the religious leaders that worked together to have Jesus crucified. Jesus displayed immense grace to the sinner. To the self-righteous leaders he issued seven woes, which in that day, was the ultimate condemnation.
The more I look at this one I laugh. I laugh a lot. It is the shepherd who gets up and instructs the people every Sunday. If the sheep challenge the shepherd, they may end up like the prophet Jeremiah, “beaten up” with words and loss of reputations. How many people have left the church when they met with leadership because they were rejected and often ignored?
Several years ago, I was struggling with my senior pastor. He wasn’t going off the wall or anything, but he was drifting. I was in a class at seminary, and we were asked to talk about something that was bothering us. I mentioned very lightly about my struggle with the pastor. A lady in the class ripped me up one side and down the other. She said things like, “How dare you doubt God’s servant.” It got worse from there. This would not be the last time I’ve been ostracized for being critical of leadership.
However, if we apply my fellow Friday brother’s statement to anything else that is important to us we, would not remain still and silent. When our government leadership wavers, we have an opinion. When education is failing, we don’t blame the students. We address the leadership. My son was a regional manager for a restaurant company for a short time. He told me straight up, if a restaurant is struggling, it’s due to poor management.
If Jesus calls us sheep (we are), then at some level, when the sheep are wandering, the shepherds should be challenged from the Word of God. I was looking at some statistics about the declining church attendance in America. It was put together by a non-religious entity. What was interesting is the fact that the churches that have abandoned critical issues such as the divinity of Christ, inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures, and other long-time Christian fundamentals are declining much faster then the “conservative” ones. Giving the sheep what they want is not Christianity. Leading them to the cross with the Scriptures as our guide is.
Brothers and sisters…instead of abandoning the bride of Christ, it’s well-time we find shepherds who not only preach the Word but live it as well. We live in an age of compromise. Jesus didn’t compromise. It cost Him. That cost was our salvation. What is required of us? The same.

A few years ago I had the privilege of spending two weeks in Australia. We flew into Sydney on Christmas Day. It was a remarkable trip. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was fantastic. God’s creation is incredible below the water. We had our shoes melt in the Outback, stayed right outside the Sydney Opera House, visited Darwin and Melbourne and saw what was left of the Twelve Apostles (limestone stacks along the southern shores). I would love to go back one day.
We saw the Twelve Apostles on a bus tour of the Great Ocean Road. After we traveled as far west as time allowed we cut across the fertile area of Australia heading to Melbourne. This area is farmland and cattle country. It is the opposite of the famous Outback.
As we traveled suddenly someone gasped and asked the bus driver if he could stop for a picture. It didn’t take long to understand the request. In the field to our right stood hundreds of sheep. They were not your ordinary sheep. They wore yellow raincoats. Yes, you read that right. Yellow raincoats that covered not only their body but their heads including their ears. It was a sight to see. The only problem was the bus driver would not stop. Company rules did not allow a roadside stop.
The yellow raincoated sheep quickly became the talk of the bus. Eventually the driver turned on his microphone and gave the Americans and a few Europeans a quick lesson. It seems that virgin wool (the expensive kind) is wool that is unblemished. How do you keep wool from being damaged by weather and the environment? You protect it while it is still on the sheep. Thus, we have yellow raincoat clad sheep.
The lesson did not stop there. It seems that virgin wool has been around before yellow rain coats. The bus driver told of shepherds who would wrap the newborn lambs with a long cloth often covering the young lamb in multiple layers of cloth. As the lamb grew the shepherds would rewrap it. This process went on over and over until shearing day.
What does this have to do with Christmas?
I was watching a video by Rabbi Son Sobel, a Messianic Rabbi. He spoke concerning the significance of the baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes as recorded in Luke. It seems that the angels appeared to Levitical shepherds not the ordinary low life shepherds often spoken of this time of the year. The Levitical shepherds were raising the sheep in their care to be the unblemished Temple sacrifices. The lambs would be born in a cave directly in the care of the priests. They were not your run of the mill sheep born in the field exposed to the elements.
The lambs as soon as they were born would be swaddled. In other words, they would be wrapped in “swaddling cloths” since they had to be unblemished to qualify as a sacrificial lamb. Their wool was “virgin wool.”
It was these shepherds that got a message that there was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. They would find him in a manger. That manger was a cave. These Levitical shepherds were given more then a message of a sweet baby in a manger that they had to go see. They were given a message and a visual proclamation of the coming of the Messiah who would fulfill the Scriptures coming to be the unblemished sacrifice taking away the sins of those who believe in him..
Lately I have been amazed to see and understand the depth of the Bible that extends Jesus and truth beyond nice stories. We have cleaned up these stories way too much. They go much deep. They are immersed in the proclamation and revelation of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. People have asked me why I believe. I can’t help but believe. Who would have imagined that swaddling clothes had any significance. I have heard all sorts of explanations about swaddling cloths. Some say it foretold of the burial cloth of Jesus. Some point to the custom of the day among poor families. Others say it showed the proper care for a baby. But, it was only the shepherds who were called to go and find the “baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Of course. It was the Levitical shepherds who would understand the significance. It is this type of detail that confirms my belief in the one they named Jesus.
Tonight we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Even his birth clothes details his destiny…to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. We do not come to celebrate the birth of a baby. We celebrate the birth of the Redeemer, the Messiah, the Christ. He is worthy of more than a token appearance.

Merry Christmas!