Sheep and the most Important Word

My family says I’m sheep-obsessed.

I’ve always been a sheep girl.  I love the image of God as our shepherd in the Bible – patiently, gently taking care of us clumsy, clueless, grace-dependent, but usually well-meaning lumpy messes.

My family gives me a hard time because I’ve been known to chase sheep on several continents trying to get a good picture of, say “British sheep” as opposed to “Guatemalan sheep”.  Last week outside Bethlehem I got this picture of what I called “Christmas sheep”.

Although the land is all built up with Israeli settlements, as I looked over the hills surrounding Bethlehem, it was easy to picture THE real shepherds two thousand years ago on Christmas eve in the quiet night, looking up at the same stars that blanket us today.

It made me think of a sermon I heard years ago on the Twenty-third Psalm.  It really stuck with me, which is the mark of a good sermon, isn’t it?

Actually it was only on the first 5 words of the Psalm.  The speaker, Max Lucado challenged listeners to choose which one of these words was their favorite…which was most important to them.

The (not “Some”, not “A”, not “one of many” )

Lord (The word used here is a verb – ACTIVE!  The same word for Lord used with Moses – I AM)

is (present tense, not just “was” or “will be”)

my (personal!! not just “David’s” or “Paul’s” or “Billy Graham’s”)

shepherd (present, caring, and responsible for sheep 24/7.  Sheep are totally dependent)

So, this morning, jet-lagged and just home from a long, intense trip, I’m thankful for a Shepherd-God who gently carries me.

What’s the most important word for you?

Which word would you choose as your favorite today?

Waiting at the Door

I think that Halloween is my husband’s favorite day of the year.  Odd, I know for a pastor.  The pc answer should be Easter,right?  But honestly, I think he likes Halloween best because there’s not much that brings him as much joy as handing out candy and oohing and ahhing over every single kid’s costume.  He looks forward all year to parking his chair by the front door and waiting for kids to come.  Even though he’s terrible at figuring out what the costumes are, he greets each kid as if they were THE most amazing, creative, delightful goblin of the night.

Last night he took it to a new level.  He carried his rocking chair outside and our firepit along with a jack-o-lantern and a big basket of candy.  As I was watching him it struck me how much his posture towards the kids is like God’s towards us, only we usually miss it.  How many times do we approach God as if the lights were out and the door locked tight?  Like we have to convince Him to care…to show up…to answer us?  Instead, the Bible says He stands at the door, He’s the father out watching for His son to show up, He’s the party-giver inviting us to a banquet, He delights in us, sings over us.

One day years ago when I was angry and defeated and God seemed like a mean God I told Him I felt like I was a cat and He kept dangling a mouse in front of me in the form of an answer or a way out of the pain, but then snatching it away repeatedly. Dangle, snatch, dangle, snatch.

At the time I was anguishing over this mean God image it was summer and we were staying with some close friends who live in a lovely home on a lake. Very early one morning I got up and was sitting on the dock praying.  The water was still, the sun and the loons barely awake.  In my journal I wrote, “I can’t stand it.” Cat and mouse.  Dangle, snatch, dangle, snatch.

As I wrote this, God brought to mind a passage of scripture…I remembered something about a father and a stone…  It was a clear impression I couldn’t ignore…a passage I hadn’t thought of for years.  I looked in my concordance to discover where it was.  Matthew 7.  It says, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread will give him a stone…If you who are evil know how to give good gifts, how much more will your Father in heaven.”

I thought, “Well, that’s nice.  Thanks for that reminder, but it sure still feels like a cruel game you’re playing.”  Then I looked up the same passage in the Message paraphrase.  Here’s what it said:  “This isn’t a cat and mouse game we’re in.” I’m not kidding.  Exactly those words.  Exactly addressing my feelings.  I was floored.  I looked around, stunned by this personal, loving response from my “mean God”.

The door isn’t locked.  The lights aren’t off. He is an incredibly personal God who delights in His kids who show up.

Seeing and Being Seen

I was sitting in church on the aisle on a Sunday awhile ago, feeling alone and out of place.  Have you ever felt that way? (I figure if I have, I’m not the only one!).  The sanctuary was darkened for a video when I felt a strong hand squeeze my shoulder from behind.  I turned to see a dear friend who I love and hadn’t seen in a long time.  I jumped up to give him a quick hug.  I whispered, “I’ve missed you so much.” But no words were necessary.  In that small moment, that small gesture, it was like Jesus was reminding me, “I see you.  I care, and I’m glad you’re here.”

Isn’t this part of what it means to be brothers and sisters in the body of Christ?  Showing up and being the visible reminder of God’s invisible presence?  Although there are times when all of us want to be anonymous, what struck me was the power of being noticed.  How many people do I walk by each day who are feeling left out and need to be reminded that they matter?  That God sees them and cares?

A mentor of ours said once that a leader is someone who walks more slowly through a room, noticing God and others rather than hurrying to the next task. 

Have you been in a situation when a hug from someone felt like a hug from Jesus?