My Life as a Sheep

I’ve had a few up-close experiences with sheep in my life. The most recent was Christmas Eve just a few weeks ago. Our church secured a 4 month old lamb to participate in our Eve services, the theme of which centered around God’s choice to announce Christ’s birth first to shepherds, of all people.

IMG_4207My friend and colleague Steve was set to do a “Shepherd’s monologue,” and then bring in the lamb while I continued the message. Besides bringing home the realism of shepherds as part of the Christmas story, there was admittedly an element of sheer practicality as we wanted to grab and keep the attention of the many young children in the audience with their parents.

When Steve and I went to meet the lamb a few days before Christmas Eve, I was immediately reminded of some of the characteristics of sheep that make me a little sheepish (no pun intended) that God compares His people to sheep in passages like

Know that the Lord , he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. -Psalms 100:3

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way… -Isaiah 53:6

To be compared to sheep is not really a compliment, given that sheep tend to be:

  • Timid
  • Easily startled
  • Defenseless
  • Seemingly clueless about which way to go without guidance
  • And, in general, not the sharpest knives in the drawer

Quite honestly, I don’t like being any of those things. I want to be competent, confident, and be more like a shepherd who cares for others, than a sheep that needs someone to care for me. Continue reading “My Life as a Sheep”

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Good Grief

I missed my father yesterday. I had a dream about him, and in my dream he was near me, living his life like normal, but somehow he was out of reach. I couldn’t relate to him or communicate in any way.

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I guess in some way that’s true – his life goes on in heaven, but to me he is out of reach. I cannot call him or go visit or expect a letter in the mail from him.

It’s been about five and a half years since he passed. Eight months since my mother passed. Four months since my father-in-law passed. I wonder if those three have connected in heaven yet as a trio, maybe playing Chinese checkers or having some ice cream together – because I KNOW there’s got to be ice cream in heaven, and it’s not even sugar free because there’s no diabetes there.

There’s something about losing your parents that makes you feel alone in the world. It’s not like I was really close to them and suddenly they were gone. Because of their age and my mother’s memory loss, there was a long slow goodbye over many years. But even though in their waning years they may not have been able to protect or provide for me or give me advice, they were still there. Still sitting in their chairs each day, eating meals, smiling and laughing, and I could go to see them if I wanted to.

Now they are no longer accessible. At moments when this reality sinks in, I feel alone in the world.

There’s a sadness when you lose someone that can’t be covered over. I guess all grief is like that, really. When we lose something, whether a parent or a spouse or a job or an opportunity, there’s a hole left behind that nothing else can really fill.

And so what can we do? Entertainment won’t fill the hole. Neither will shopping or exercise or even chocolate.

All I know to do is to bring my sadness to Jesus.

Jesus always seemed to know what to do when He was around grieving people on earth. He would heal them, or forgive them, or raise their loved one from the dead.

And so I bring my aching heart to Him. I don’t have to pretend it doesn’t hurt. I don’t have to worry that He won’t have time for me. I don’t have to worry that He won’t understand.

He is always near, because He said He would never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5).

He always cares, because He told me to cast my anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7).

He always knows how to comfort, because He heals the brokenhearted and binds up our wounds (Psalm 147:3).

I know that one day, a day of His choosing, He will raise my loved ones from the dead. We will be reunited. The grieving will be over. One day every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).

Until then, I know there will be days where the loneliness weighs heavy. On those days I will acknowledge the hurt, but remember that hurt is not all there is to life. I will let the tears come. And I will run to Jesus.

 

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Heroes Without Medals

There are often heroes right in our homes who go unrecognized. Lately my thoughts have turned to the unsung heroes in my life.

The past few days I have received many words of affirmation, pats on the back, and enthusiastic welcomes from our new friends. Meanwhile, my family continues to do the hard work of packing, saying goodbye, and closing the latest chapter of our lives.

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Father, I ask you to bless my family members who right now have to make sacrifices because of me. It doesn’t seem fair that my wife and children should have to pull up stakes and follow when I’m the one called to a new ministry position, but that is what is required of them.

 

Please bless my wife, who has chosen to follow me here, far from her extended family, so that she may stand alongside me and support me through the challenges and victories of ministry. May you open doors of genuine friendship for her in this new setting, and may you provide opportunities to utilize her own gifts to serve others – not because anyone else expects her to, but because she simply wants to honor You.

Please bless my daughter who is relocating in the middle of her senior year. It’s a difficult time of life in the best of circumstances, and she has lived with the knowledge of an impending move for 18 months. Please strengthen her spirit and make her path straight before her as she finishes her high school career and transitions to the next phase of education. Please appoint a best friend for her with whom she can laugh and share her dreams.

Please bless my daughter who finishes middle school this year. She is perhaps the most deeply rooted in the community we are leaving. She probably finds it hardest to say goodbye to her friends, her school, her activities, yet she is called to leave these things because of her attachment to me. Please help her to grieve well in the transition, comfort her heart, and prepare new roads of adventure for her in the days ahead. Guide her steps to friendships that will strengthen her faith and personal spirit.

Please bless my son who is making the fourth move of his young life, and leaving behind his favorite neighborhood, where he could walk in minutes to any number of young friends’ houses for an afternoon of carefree play. May his birthday transition to teen-hood not get lost in the chaos of cardboard boxes and moving vans. Please calm his mind, prepare fun-loving and God-honoring friends, and plant him in classrooms, activities, and conversations that encourage him to press on in developing his strengths.

Father, You have blessed me with a ministry position that is a great fit. Now please bless my family whose lives are radically changed by their association with me. May they know that they are heroes in Your sight – and in mine.

 

Question: Who are the heroes without medals in your life, and how can you honor them today?

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