Shepherd of the Sheep
The above image contains several motifs that I have considered important. The idea of a trail or pathway leading into the distance indicates to me our journey of life. The further idea that it leads into a mist in the distance indicates that our path is often unknown. In the foreground is the shepherd leading the sheep. This is an image of the Middle Eastern shepherd similar to the story Jesus related in John 10, the story of the Good Shepherd. Then in the immediate foreground are the sheep. They are trusting, undisturbed, feeding, and simply following. The rows of trees indicate limitations beyond which the sheep are kept for safety’s sake.
“`Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.’ Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
“Therefore Jesus said again, `Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’” (John 10: 1 – 10 NIV)
I am also encouraged by this image because of the peace evident in the flock. As the shepherd in this image goes before the sheep they follow without fear; trusting in the voice and the presence of the one leading them. Psalm 23 is another description of the Middle Eastern shepherd who cares for his flock. Beginning on the home farm the sheep are in luxurious pasture where there are abundant quiet waters. This is reckoned in the Psalm as a place of renewal and refreshment; a place to recover and prepare for the necessary journey ahead. The sheep are content and would be happy to always stay beside the still waters in luxurious pasture. They are unaware of the coming of the heat of summer when the water will dry and the grass will wither. For the flock to survive they must follow the shepherd to the mountain plateau.
The journey following the shepherd will go through a narrow mountain pass. For the sheep to remain safe they must listen to and keep their eyes upon the shepherd. Around them are the dangers of marauding men and dangerous beasts and the only safe way is the path that the shepherd walks. His staff of protection and his rod of correction keeps the sheep on the narrow path; safe from all danger. Those who stray are rescued by the gentle hands of the shepherd and set again on the narrow pathway.
The heads of the sheep are anointed with oil to keep pests and parasites from infecting the eyes and making the sheep blind. Finally, the sheep emerge from the narrow divide to a tableland of rich grass where they can feast again even though they may be surrounded by men and animals who would kill and scatter them.
And so it is with us. We are often likened to sheep. Sheep are safe when they listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd; keep their eyes focused on the Shepherd because they are kept clear by the Holy Spirit; yield gladly to teaching and correction; and follow trusting to the faithful and true Shepherd to the end of life’s journey.
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In seeking inspiration each day to write an article to publish as a blog on the Living Fully web site vmtc.ca I find that trust is of primary importance. The basis of that trust is belief that if God gives an assignment He will supply all that is needed to carry out that assignment. Today I spent some time early in the morning sorting through past articles to organize them into material for a book(s). After a time I decided to go back to bed and hope that God would give me a dream or vision that would direct me regarding what to write today. The thoughts that went through my mind regarded what God has assigned me to do related to Haiti and Africa and writing and building churches both physically and Biblically, etc. In other words, I was thinking and praying about all that is going on in my life and how God would accomplish it all. I did not actually go back to sleep; but in the middle of all this thinking I had a kind of vision:
I pictured an acrobatic act that involved balance. It consisted of taking two bottles like wine bottles and placing a narrow board balanced between them. The board was about 3 inches wide and about 2 or 3 feet long. Imagine the wine bottles being about 1 foot high with the board balanced on the openings of the empty bottles. Then, I envisioned what would be involved to place myself on the board without disturbing the balance on the bottles. I thought that it would probably be impossible to step onto the board one foot after the other and maintain the proper equilibrium. Any slight pressure sideways would upset the balance of the board on the bottles. Probably the only way to mount this delicately balanced board would be to leap into the air; descend gently onto the board; place one’s feet positioned properly; and distribute one’s weight evenly all in one completely coordinated effort.
Since the dream or vision that I have described above came while I was allowing my mind to be open; there is no doubt some significance to it beyond the vision itself. First, it is symbolic. This is not meant for me to learn how to balance on wine bottles and join the circus. Second, the major component of the vision is balance. Taking into consideration that my thoughts and prayers were centered on all of the work of God in my life the message of the vision most likely is a message from God related to what I was thinking and praying about. Without making the symbolism difficult I believe we can see that God is encouraging me or commanding me to seek balance in all that I am doing. In other words, I don’t have to consider the meanings of such things as the bottles or the board. The theme is balance and I believe God is telling me to maintain balance and trust.Write comment (0 Comments)
In the Footsteps of Moses
A very strange concept has come into focus this morning for me. I can’t say that the thought is new. I have considered my life as unfolding into my destiny along the lines of Moses for a long time. I have even considered that I may live to be 120, the stated life expectancy of man at the time of the Flood of Noah. But, really, the main consideration for me is that Moses’ life was divided into three distinct periods. The first, was a time of preparation for the task in the household of Pharaoh that also included learning of his ancestry at the knee of his own mother. The second period was a long time in the wilderness thinking he was abandoned by God and re-thinking what he knew to be his destiny. Finally, when he was 80 he experienced God in the burning bush and the correct way to fulfill his destiny.
Do I think that I must wait until I am 80 for God to reveal himself to me and I will begin to fulfill my destiny? Maybe that will be true. Maybe I am still in a time of contemplation and preparation. That is OK if it fits into God’s plans and purposes. I certainly have long since set aside my own plans and am learning to yield to Gods ways. That may be part of the wilderness experience. As I get older I continue to eat right, exercise, and listen to the voice of God in preparation for what He has in mind. I remember that Caleb was prepared to take his portion of the Promised Land when he was 80 or 85. I remember that when Joshua was 80 he was told by God that wherever he placed his foot, just like Abraham, the territory would become his. He was strong and courageous and took the territory of 31 kings in his lifetime. The Israelites were faithful to God’s plan during the lifetime of Joshua and the elders of his generation. After Joshua the Israelites fell into a long time of chaos depicted in the book of Judges because they assimilated the ways of the people of the land instead of remaining true to God’s ways.
One of the tasks before me is to establish a Bible School in Kissi, Kenya, Africa, for the purpose of continuing the preparation of those who will lead the next generation in Africa in the ways of Christ. The vision is to actually build a physical facility but, much more important, build the people up in the knowledge and the spiritual maturity of the ways of Christ. In other words, to equip the saints to equip the saints. This will involve basic Bible knowledge, the ways of the Holy Spirit, maturity in Christ, becoming like Jesus in character and power, trust in the sovereignty of God, the establishment of the kingdom of God, and the vision of God’s interaction in the world. There is actually no limit to what God can do. With God all things are possible.
This is neither an ambitious project nor a vision beyond accomplishment. This is simply following after the foundation that has already been laid through past apostles and prophets. This is building on the foundation and measuring according to the Cornerstone, Christ Jesus. As we continue to measure our lives and our actions according to the Cornerstone, what we accomplish for God will have lasting value.Write comment (0 Comments)
Sometimes I need a reminder of the process of life. I need to look at what is important in the midst of my daily living. I want to be like Jesus. There is a pattern in the life of Jesus that can be discerned from the stories in the gospels. One pattern in the life of Jesus was that of prayer. Jesus sought places to be alone with His heavenly Father. We have records of Jesus praying early in the morning. In fact, it would seem that as pressure and tension became greater Jesus prayed more. When there seemed to be less time to pray Jesus would seek solitude and pray all night when necessary.
So we need to pray. Maybe we need to pray more than we need to do anything else. We are in a unique and very favorable position compared to the saints of the past. We have the blessing of having the Holy Spirit with us. The Holy Spirit guides our prayers and our ability to hear from God. If we are to become like Jesus we need to recognize the relationship Jesus had with the Father and how His relationship impacts the life we live. Jesus prayed because He loved Father and because Father loved Him. Jesus prayed so that He could have fellowship with God. We have been authorized and empowered to become daughters and sons of God. There is only one way to relate to God as a son or daughter. We must relate to our heavenly Father by love.
Prayer for Jesus was constant. Prayer for us is to develop into constant prayer. Our hearts open more and more into the realization that the Holy Spirit is always with us and always desiring to give us what we need. In order to receive encouragement, faith, strength, guidance, assurance, and whatever else we need we must turn to God in prayer. Why is it necessary to pray in order to hear the Holy Spirit when He is within us? Simply put, we are the ones who have the privilege of inviting the Holy Spirit to speak to us. I do not mean that the Holy Spirit cannot or does not speak to us without our initiation. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit will often quietly prompt us to open our hearts and minds in order to listen to what He has to say. For us to allow the Holy Spirit to speak into our lives we must place ourselves in a position to actually listen. We must become quiet.
Becoming quiet has two aspects, the physical and the spiritual. To put it another way, the aspect of outer quiet and the aspect of inner quiet. Jesus sought and lived both. Jesus found places of solitude and quiet to be alone with Father so that He could hear uninterrupted. Jesus also was at peace within Himself. He lived in a constant connection with Father. He lived in a constant state of peace. That is our goal. We are developing into mature daughters and sons of God. We begin daily with prayer so that we renew our love connection with Father through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Then we live and walk in the peace He provides.
We carry peace with us like we would carry our lunch and books in a backpack going to school or like we might carry necessary items in a purse. We carry peace like a commodity, like an item. No, it is not a physical item; but we are not physical beings. We are spiritual beings who have souls (mind, will, and emotion) and who happen to live in physical bodies. Love, joy, peace and other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit are actual spiritual realities that we carry with us. I like to think of the test for whether or not the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit are developed in us or whether they need more development is when our fruit is squeezed. The cares and concerns of life put pressure on our fruit. When our fruit is squeezed and bruised it will leak. That is when we will know if love, joy, and peace drip out or something else not quite so pleasant leaks.
The correction of unpleasant leaks is simply turning to the Holy Spirit in humility and confessing the unpleasant result of our fruit being bruised. The Holy Spirit will accept our confession, repentance, and request for forgiveness and supply us with the aspect of the fruit of the Spirit we have been lacking. Our failure will then become an opportunity for us to become more like Jesus. We than will find that our prayer life will increase into the constant love connection God desires.
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