The Good Shepherd

I went out looking for the cows at exactly noon on Good Friday, the time that Jesus was nailed to the cross. I had let them all onto the back pasture the day before because the grass was greener and longer on that side of the gate and we had run out of hay. Being content with the lush and tender spring grasses, none of them made their way to the barn this morning, except the horse, when I called them in for feed. I wasn’t worried about it, knowing they had their fill of grass. But at noon I was concerned that they might find the low part of the fence and hop over onto our neighbor’s property. So I went looking for them.

This is our sixth spring out here on the land and every time, the season dazzles me. In winter I forget what lies dormant and forgotten in the earth. Then the land awakens with a newness that always catches my breath and still leaves me dumbfounded that resurrection is possible following the cold and death of the prior season. The vibrant colors of the flowers, the welcome warmth of the sun, and the bright green everywhere awakens the coldest of hearts. Hope is possible. It is tangible.

As I’d see them in the woods, I’d name the cows one by one. Mocha, Jingle, Shalom. Bobby Sue, Jack, Little Rascal. Around the corner was King, the horse. In the top part of the pasture I found Sam and Charlie, then Sweet Baby Rae, then Squanto. There was Milk Dud. But where was Annabelle? I made my way across the creek a different way than I had come and saw a pitiful sight. Annabelle was lying in the creek. Her head was back and her body was sprawled out. She had a long vine of mesquite thorns wrapped around her body. Having three-inch long, vicious spikes, the kids call them the Jesus thorns. Eery does not begin to describe what I came upon.

I raced to her, knelt in the mud and water, and lifted her head up by the halter that was still on her. Here we go again, I thought. She is the same cow we have struggled with all year. I prayed a brief prayer for wisdom and, knowing I couldn’t lift her on my own, ran back to the house to get some help. I returned with my boys and my in-laws and I instructed them to get behind her and push her to a sitting position. With all of us heaving and pushing, we managed to get her to sit up and begin to get the air out of her system. I had no idea how long she had been down. Whenever she had gone down in the past, we have had to place straps around her and lift her with the tractor. But there was no way we were getting that tractor down the steep bank of the creek and lifting her safely. I Face-timed Jason from work and there wasn’t anything he could do . But, to our utter astonishment, right after hanging up the phone, Annabelle stood up! She got up with her back legs, pushed herself to her front knees, waited a while, and then stood completely up. It was another small miracle. Another resurrection of sorts. Another answered prayer for these animals that I have been entrusted with.

This is the creek where Annabelle was lying.
Standing next to Annabelle after she miraculously stood up on her own. Her right eye is terribly swollen from lying in the creek.
A new perspective of the shepherd’s staff. The boys used it to drive away the other cows from Annabelle’s feed so she could eat.

Leading up to this day, the Lord has been doing a deep work in my heart. I found myself dealing with deep grief from the past that I hadn’t completely worked through. It seemed to come from nowhere and hit with such a tremendous force that it startled me, really. I began to seek out close friends and ask them to pray for me as I worked through whatever this was. It turned out that what I was dealing with were lies that I believed about God. Lies that affected my relationship with Him. Lies that He was malevolent and uncaring. But as I repented of these lies and asked the Holy Spirit to give me the truth about who He really is, He gave me so many scripture passages that speak of His tender love and concern for me. My favorite one He gave to me was Psalm 103:14: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”

My care for these animals grossly pales in comparison to my Good Shepherd’s love for me. His eyes are laughing as he watches over his flock. Over me. He loves me and I know it. He holds my hand and gently leads me along the way I am to go. He protects me and stands in my defense. I am his and he is mine. He went to great lengths to redeem me, laying down his life. The Shepherd becoming the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. My sins. And the sins of those who sin against me and against those whom I love. My Good Shepherd is the one who came to seek and to save that which was lost. He is the one who leaves the 99 sheep in search of the one that was lost. He came and he found me.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23

Deliver Us From Evil Within

Unsettled.

That’s the word that has described my spirit recently. Like a swift wind before the start of a torrential downpour whips at the trees and does mayhem to the stray hair about my face, so have the current events facing our world right now blown through my heart and my mind.

The thing is, so many have very different and very strong perspectives on this virus. The opposing arguing has become heated and ugly. I have my own opinions about things. Sometimes I share them, sometimes I refrain. But what I have seen grow within me as of late is something that has threatened to rob me of my firm footing and my peace and my joy. It’s been this unsettling. People are divided. But what is even worse is that Christians are devouring one another for sake of being right and sharing the truth. This should not be.

My question was and remains: As Christians, what should our response be to the madness surrounding us? 

I have been meeting with several ladies from my church on Zoom every Sunday afternoon to study the book of 1 Thessalonians together. It has been so timely, as a good amount of this letter that Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church 2000 years ago deals with the second coming of our Lord Jesus and how the church is to respond and live in light of His coming. In 1 Thessalonians 3, Paul is writing this fledgling church to tell them that because of their trials and persecution, he sent his dear friend, Timothy, to them to encourage them in their faith.

“so that no one would be ‘unsettled’ by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted.” 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4

There was that word, “unsettled”. Didn’t Jesus Himself prophesy that we would have trials and tribulations? But then, He also said, “Take heart! For I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33) He has overcome the world.

Sometimes it really doesn’t look like it. There is still sickness. There are still evil men in high positions. There are still broken lives. There is still sin without and within. It’s the sin within me that I must confront before I confront the evil outside of me. I must continually choose to humble myself and repent of my pride and my self-righteousness and cling to the truth of the gospel.

And here is the good news that we must remind ourselves daily and tell the world as long as we have breath: Jesus has already triumphed on the cross! He has judged the devil and this world by His death, burial and resurrection. And though evil still remains, Jesus is biding His time in order to give the opportunity to the world to repent from sin and to turn to Him and be saved. To be saved from the evil within us!

One day, maybe very soon, the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised, and Jesus will come back to this earth to take His proper role as King. True and final judgment will be issued upon evil and upon death once and for all.

As a believer in Jesus and as a citizen of His Kingdom, my response during these days must be settled conviction that He is with me and He will one day make everything right! I can rest in His sovereignty and His goodness and His justice. That doesn’t mean that we can’t vote or invest in causes that are near to our hearts or even disagree with others. But it does mean that our ultimate hope is in a King and a Kingdom that is coming to this earth.

Awake! Be sober and be watchful for we are children of the Day!

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A song I wrote entitled Children of the Day.

 

 

Why Integrity?

 

As I waited in line at Target yesterday, a lady with platinum blond hair motioned for me to come into another line to get checked out. She had one of those quick-scan card readers and we chatted mindlessly about their novelty and then she asked the inevitable question: were my boys twins, since I was buying two pairs of white shirts, khakis and shoes in the same size? They’re not, but two years apart. She opened up to me about her siblings, all eight of them, being two years apart and how several of them had already passed away. I offered my hurried condolences and took my bags. I then looked down at the receipt and realized that she had failed to ring up both pairs of shoes. The decision wasn’t a difficult one to make, as integrity is the culture of my family. I went back and showed her the mistake. She apologized and then referenced my honesty as being something very rare. It was then that I had a perfect opportunity to explain why I would take more time out of my day to go back and pay for something I hadn’t paid for, but my mind went blank. I had the perfect opportunity to share the gospel. But instead I stood there trying to grab hold of why I did what I did. Why honesty? Why integrity? I finally said that I try to live according to the Word of God and that I follow Jesus. She immediately asked if I was LDS (Mormon) as she had become one later in life, after all the tattoos. I told her I was not. And that was the end of the interaction.

But I am haunted by that interaction. The Lord actually woke me up at 2:00 AM and brought me to my knees this early morning. He brought me to repentance for not living my life with a sense of the urgency of the gospel. He brought me to the place of desperation for His Spirit to fill me so that I can then boldly proclaim the message of the gospel, which is that Jesus has come into this dark, dark world to bring hope and light and rescue from sin and ourselves and death. I am far too easily lulled into sleep, while people around me wander in the dark. Why Integrity? Because God has made Himself known to the world. He has stepped into the darkness and has given His very precious Word, which includes laws about honesty and not stealing, because of His love for the humanity that He created. We are to live lives of honesty and integrity because they reveal to a watching world that God is. That He has spoken. That He has come. That He is Truth.

Oh precious Holy Spirit, quicken us! Awaken your church from the deadly sleep of apathy! Bring us to repentance and let us depend again on your filling so that we may be used to bring hope to a dying world.