Careless Sheep and the Good Shepherd

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“His eyes never slumber, and His hands never rest; His heart never ceases to beat with love, and His shoulders are never weary of carrying His people’s burdens.”
Charles Spurgeon on Christ Jesus our Shepherd
My favorite “I Am” statement of Jesus is “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  It always reminds me of a painting depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd, that hung in the vestibule of a church I worked at years ago. He is reaching from the side of a cliff to rescue one of His little lambs.  Sheep are notoriously clueless and helpless.  They start grazing and fail to notice when they wander too far from the fold or too close to the edge of a cliff.  They love to graze at the edge of the water because the grass is abundant and lush.  But they step on the slippery rocks and tumble into the water. Their wool becomes so heavy they cannot right themselves or climb out.  If the shepherd doesn’t hear their bleating, they will soon drown.
Sound familiar?  It sure does to me.  I have often wandered from the safety of my shepherd’s side following the lush and tempting grass.  But Jesus never fails to rescue me when I cry out.
I love how, in this painting, Jesus has put Himself in a precarious position to bring His wandering one to safety.  What struck me the most about the painting though was the look on the little lamb’s face – absolute confidence in the Shepherd.  There is no worry or doubt that the Shepherd will rescue her.  She isn’t trying to pull herself up the rocky wall of the cliff, but waits for Him to reach her and bring her to safety.   There is no fear of anger from the Shepherd.  Just trust.   This little lamb knows the Shepherd, knows that He is able to rescue her ,and knows that He loves her.
I don’t know what danger you may have wandered into.  You may be trying to get yourself to safety, too ashamed to cry out for rescue. You wonder if Jesus will come and if He will be angry with you.  Beloved, stop trying to rescue yourself.  Cry out to Jesus – there’s no need to be ashamed. He will come and He is not angry.
The Lord is your Shepherd – whether you are safe in the fold or hanging on the side of a cliff. You are His beloved lamb.
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The Lord is my Shepherd

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One of my favorite images of God is as my Shepherd.  I remember a painting at a church I once worked at of a sheep caught in the brush on the side of a steep cliff, not a secure place to be.  What drew my focus was the look of absolute peace on the animal’s face because it was watching the shepherd who had climbed down the cliff and was reaching out to rescue his little lost sheep.  He trusted his shepherd and was sure that he would be saved.  The Bible often describes God’s people as sheep and Himself as their Shepherd.  I read a book by a Phillip Keller, who had spent several years as a shepherd and put these passages into perspective.  Where we look at sheep and see sweet faces and fluffy white wool, a shepherd sees an animal who is helpless on his own and utterly clueless – the truth is sheep are dumb animals.  How does that make you feel now 😮 ?  Sheep tend to put their head down to graze and never watch where they’re going, never notice danger nearby and can graze their way right off the edge of a cliff.  Hmm – that sounds like me sometimes.  Sheep who get to close to the water’s edge often fall in, soaking their wool making them too heavy to climb out and they often drown.  Sounds a bit like us and sin doesn’t it? We are sheep – clueless, helpless, defenseless – and desperately in need of a shepherd. 

David identified the Lord as his Shepherd in whom he placed all his confidence.  He knew the Shepherd would meet his every need, whether for protection, comfort, food or rest.  Jesus reaffirmed that Shepherd identity in John 10:11 saying, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  The Good Shepherd knows His sheep, He knows their name, their habits, their character and how they get into trouble.  In Luke 15 we learn that a Good Shepherd will search for His lost sheep.  That’s comfort to the heart of this little lamb with a tendency to wander and lose my way.  When I am in danger from my own foolish actions, my Good Shepherd promises to find and rescue me.  The beauty of it is that we are never really out of His sight.  Where a human shepherd has to search before he can rescue, the Good Shepherd knows exactly where we are; we can be assured He is on His way. 

Rest yourself in the care of the Good Shepherd my friend, He knows you and loves you – so much that He gave His life to rescue you.  The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I need to know.

Finding My Way Back

“In their distress they turned to the Lord and sought Him and He was found by them” 2 Chronicles 15:4.

Wrong wayI am notorious for getting lost on the road. Well, the truth is, I can get lost in the mall too and I’ve wandered the halls of many of hospital in bewilderment. So, I’m not very good at finding my way around. I was so thankful when my husband got me a GPS. Even if I don’t exactly know where I’m at, I just tell it where I want to go and my little friend sets a route right from where I am and leads me by the hand all the way.

I remember getting lost as I was coming home from a meeting at a church in a part of town I rarely go to. I had been to this same church when a friend drove who knew the area well and she had taken a backroad that bypassed all the heavy traffic. So I thought I would give it a try. Big mistake. I got out of the parking lot okay and onto the exit road, but from there – did she turn left or right? I decided she went left and so I did the same.   I knew there was a turn ahead, but I thought it was sooner than this. Still I kept on driving, looking for the turn and beginning to question myself. Ah, this must be it – blinker on and I turned and drove for a few blocks to find a dead end. Well that couldn’t be the right road so I turned back and kept driving. Eventually, I realized I was lost. I had no clue where I was or what to do – and now it was dark. Mind you, this was before I had a cell phone so I couldn’t call my husband who always knew his way around. Tears started falling as I drove and prayed. “God I’m scared. I made a wrong turn and now I’m lost and it’s dark and I don’t know where I am or how to get home. Please help me.” And as I continued to drive, I followed this sense of “Turn here” and I began to see familiar things – I remember that house, I remember seeing that big oak tree and there’s the church again! Relief and thankfulness flooded my heart as the lights of the main road came into view and I knew I was safely on my way home.

Getting lost doesn’t just happen on the road – or in the mall. We can get lost spiritually too. We set off on our way and everything seems fine. Then we decide to turn left when we should have turned right. We think we know which way to go, but the truth is we’re headed in the wrong direction and we don’t even realize it. We keep getting farther and farther away from where we need to be, taking more wrong turns and going deeper into unknown territory. We hit one dead end after another, trying to turn ourselves around and get back where we belong, but nothing looks familiar, in fact it looks more and more foreboding as the light begins to wane and the night sets in around us. Darkness distorts everything, and fear begins to grip our hearts. We realize we have gone too far and have no idea how to get back to the safety of home.

At this point we have one of two choices – we can either keep going in our stubbornness and pride heading deeper and deeper into darkness, or we can cry out to God from wherever we are and He will come to us and lead us back home. Our God is the rescuer of the lost. His heart is attuned to His children as He strains His ears to hear even the faintest cry and searches us out with tenderness and love. That is the beautiful image we have as Jesus declared Himself “the good shepherd” (John 10:11) – He is the one who “leaves the ninety-nine [sheep] in the open country and goes after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:4). And He doesn’t stop looking until “he finds it and joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (Luke 15:5-6). That is His mission, “The Son of Man came to seek and save [the] lost” (Luke 19:10).

Do you find yourself today far from the safety of home?

You may be a believer in Christ who has wandered away from your Shepherd and far from His good pasture. You may not be able to even see the Shepherd, but be assured, His eye has never left you. Stop where you are and call out to Him – “God, I am sorry, I made a wrong turn and now I’m lost and it’s dark and I don’t know where I am or how to get home. Please help me.” Jesus will come to you and lead you back to safety.

Perhaps you have never placed yourself under the Shepherd’s care, but you realize that where you are is dark and lonely and foreboding. You want to be in the warmth and joy of God’s light and under the loving care of Jesus. Stop going the wrong way and tell Jesus, “I know that I am lost without You. I cannot find my way. You are the only one who can help me. I am turning to You Jesus, please come and save me.” He will seek you and find you. Luke 15: 6-7 says that He will rejoice over you and all of heaven will celebrate your coming to Jesus.

Today can be the day you go from wandering in the wilderness to the safety of home. Today can be the day you go from lost to found. Today can be a new beginning with a new life and a glorious new future. Please don’t wait another day, another moment. Come to Jesus. Come home.

Jesus, Savior, Good Shepherd, Finder of the lost and weary, we have wandered far from you and the way is hidden in darkness. We are helpless to find our way home without You. Please do what You came to do: seek us and find us and bring us safely home. Amen.

In the Hard Places

“There you will be rescued. There the Lord will redeem you.” Micah 4:11

“How did I get here Lord? This is not where I’m supposed to be!”

Sometime we find ourselves where we don’t want to be. It may be in a physical place or a season of life, but it is unexpected, uncomfortable and, at times, even unbearable.   I have been in physical places that were so discouraging and depressing that I felt hopeless. I have been in seasons of my life that were hard, frightening, and lonely; I felt like Paul who said, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor.. 1:8b). I am sure that you have too. These places and seasons come to all of us.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve wondered, “Lord, how did I get here?” The Word of God gives us the answers. The Old Testament prophet Micah preached to the people of Israel and Judah some seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus. He proclaimed the judgment of God against the sinfulness of the people, and told them of coming disaster from the hand of the Lord. He identified some key issues that brought them to this place.

He rebukes them for their sin, proclaiming “All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sin of the house of Israel” (Micah 1:5). Sin separates man from God, and also separates us from God’s best for our lives. It has been rightly said that sin will take you farther than you meant to go, keep you longer than you meant to stay, and cost you more than you meant to pay.

Another reason for the places we find ourselves is deception. The people in the ancient world were dependent on the religious leaders, who often distorted the words and laws of God, leading many astray.   But we have Truth written for us in the Bible, and the Holy Spirit helps us to understand and apply those truths to our lives. If we are not studying the Word of God, if we let others define truth for us, we will always be led astray.

Micah also recognizes the problems we face when we forget who God is and what He has done. In Micah 6, God asks through the prophet, “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you?”(6:3), and then reminds them of His redemption, faithfulness and love. God is full of grace, mercy, compassion, tenderness and love so vast that we cannot fully comprehend it. When we forget that, when we doubt His love and care, we wander off in search of the things He longs to give us. We find ourselves in difficult places and seasons.

Stepping out of the book of Micah, we find another reason for the places and seasons of our lives Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers into a life of slavery, but God was always with him, and He used Joseph to save countless lives, including the lives of those same brothers, from a seven-year famine. Joseph recognized God’s hand, telling his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to…[save] many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Sometimes God allows difficult season and places to accomplish a much greater purpose that we can’t see in the moment.

But God is faithful to His children, and when we are lost, He seeks us out and brings us back home. That is the heart of our key verse. And that is the heart of our Heavenly Father, as Jesus demonstrated in a parable He told in Luke 15: 3-7. He tells of a shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine safe sheep to go after the one sheep who has wandered away. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (15:6). The shepherd had ninety-nine other sheep, but his heart would not let him abandon the one who was lost.

Your Heavenly Father has the same heart for you. Whether you are in a place you never expected nor wanted to be, or you are in a season of life that is hard, painful and seemingly unending, God has promised He will find you there and bring you safely home. In truth, He doesn’t have to look very hard, for He never left you, even when you wandered away. His promise is and always has been: “I will never leave you nor forsake you. Your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5, 9). Wherever you and I go, if we are God’s children, He is with us. Even if we are lost because of rebellion. Even if we are so far away from His fold that it seems impossible to get back. No matter where we roam, in physical places or seasons of life, God’s heart never leaves us. He never forgets about His children.

Are you in a difficult place? Are you in a hard season? Whether it was your own wandering or the providential hand of God, trust in His faithful love for you. Turn to Him and call His Name, then watch for His rescue. There is no place that His love will not reach.

Faithful Lord, my Good Shepherd, You have promised to always be with me. Even when I am in hard places and seasons, You are there. Father, help me trust in Your love and know that wherever I am, I am never far from Your heart. Amen.

What Are You Searching For?

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.” Isaiah 55:6

 I was studying at my desk when my husband began searching for something.  He looked through cabinets and drawers.  He even cleaned out his van trying to find an important tool. As he came back into the house I asked “Did you find it?” “Nope.” He said, followed quickly by “Yep.”  The tool he was looking for was sitting on his dresser all along.

It occurred to me that we live in a world that is searching.  People are searching for meaning, searching for hope, searching for peace, searching for truth, and searching for love.  Just as my husband spent more than an hour looking for a tool that was in plain sight – all the world’s frantic searching can be resolved by looking to God.

God has been speaking to me lately about what I am looking for-and where I am looking.

In Psalm 27:8 we read, “You have said to my heart, ‘Seek My face.’  Your face Lord I will seek.”  The prophet Jeremiah records my life-verse, “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)  While we are running here and there searching for all that makes life worthwhile, God has issued us a beautiful invitation.  “Seek Me.  I will make Myself available to you.”   He promises in Isaiah 45:19 that He is not calling us to seek Him in vain-Jeremiah 29:14 says: “I will be found by you.”

Psalm 34:10 promises, “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”  God honors those who seek Him.  This is not a casual glance in God’s direction, nor is it only done on Sunday mornings.  Seeking God is a life-long, daily, determined pursuit.  It is making time every day for Bible study, prayer and meditating on Him, His character and His Word.  It is allowing nothing to distract us or disrupt our heart’s mission – to know God.

What will we gain when we seek God?  So much more than you could ever image.

In our society, the pursuit of “success” consumes so many people.  2 Chronicles 26 tells of Uzziah, king of Judah.  Under the ministry of Zechariah, verse 5 says, “As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.”  Seek God and look for Him to bless your efforts.

Are you searching for release from fear?  David said in Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.”   The one who seeks God is delivered from fear and anxiety.

Psalm 70:4 says, “May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You.”  Those who seek the Lord will find joy and gladness. Even in the most trying circumstances, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Perhaps today, you are searching for rest – you are weary and worn out.  The struggles of life have taken their toll on you.  2 Chronicles 14:7 is your promise today – “We have sought the Lord our God; and He has given us rest.”  Rest comes in the presence of God.  Psalm 23:1 & 2 tell us “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.”  The weary are refreshed with His  living water (John 4:14).

Here is one more beautiful truth about this subject of seeking and I hope it blesses your heart like it blessed mine.  God sought you out.  God pursued you.  Jesus declared in John 19:10 – “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”  Imagine that with me – God; the God of heaven, the Creator of all things, the great and holy I AM, sought you and me to be His own.  Before He called you to seek Him, He had been on a search for you.

Maybe you have wandered from God, and are lost in a wilderness of your own choices.  I’ve been there, and it is a scary place to be.  Jesus promises that, as the Good Shepherd, He will go on a “search and rescue” mission to find you and bring you back.  John 15:4-7 tells the parable of the lost sheep.  Jesus said, “Does [the shepherd] not…go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (vs. 4,5).  My friend, Jesus is not angry with you for wandering off – in His great love, he is seeking you to restore you and bring you back to Himself.  See how he promises to joyfully carry you home on His shoulders?  Don’t try to run and hide from Him any longer.  Seek Him.  Pursue Him.  He will find you, and He will rejoice with you all the way home.

What are you looking for today?  Peace? Joy? Rest? Where are you searching? In busyness, in addiction, a computer screen, or money?  It’s not there.  Your search is only fulfilled when you find Jesus Christ.  He has made Himself available to you – seek Him and know what life can be when your frantic search is over.

 

Holy Father, You have promised that I will find You when I seek You with all my heart.  And You have promised to search for me when I lose my way, and bring me back home.  Lord, I will seek You – and You will find me.  Amen