we’re just “sheep”

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

John 10:11

The Bible likens us humans to sheep. I don’t know much about sheep. I do know that their existence has actually been used as evidence for the existence of God, since they’re said to be essentially defenseless. And that they are easily misled or lost. We all like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53).  Scripture also calls God the shepherd of his people. Psalm 23. God identifies himself fully with us as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Bearing our sins and their consequences.

When it comes right down to it, we’re just sheep. Yes, humans made in God’s image, but in the mix and maelstrom of life, just sheep. We shouldn’t feel bad then that we feel bad. Or that it seems like everything is going crazy, and that our reactions aren’t necessarily the best. We’re always and forever in need of a shepherd, indeed the good shepherd himself, Jesus. That’s where we’ll find the help, comfort, and peace we need. In that relationship. Battered and broken though we are. Ongoing in this life. In and through Jesus.

God as our shepherd in Jesus

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
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 your 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

The Bible aptly uses sheep as a representation of people. We are so easily lost, and in Biblical terms that means lost from God’s good intentions, easily wandering off, and getting ourselves in trouble. And sheep often are hurting as a result.

Scripture’s answer is to point us to God as our shepherd in Jesus, who is called the good shepherd who protects the flock, having laid down his life for them. And gives them life to the full (John 10).

I know I need the good shepherd, who cares for each individual sheep along with the flock. We like sheep are meant to be together in this goodness. Even as we long for everyone else to join us under the Lord’s care. In and through Jesus.

 

the negative condition of humanity: lost

If there’s one word I would use to sum up the condition humanity is in, I might say lost. Like most things in life it’s more complicated than that. There’s something wonderfully good about humankind. Each person is indeed a gift. But not all is well. There’s something fundamentally wrong.

Lost is the condition humanity is in biblically speaking due to sin. Sin is that which is in violation of God’s will, contrary to God himself, and actually against humanity itself, since we humans are made in God’s image. Because of that, we’re lost from God’s good intention for us.

We remember the biblical account of Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden into a condition where life would be hard. The ground would be cursed because of sin, everything cursed actually, including humankind itself. Curse in Scripture is the opposite of bless. Its end result is condemnation and death, whereas blessing comes through redemption which brings life.

We are lost on our own. Being made in God’s image, we are left to thinking that there must be more, much more. But we’re at a loss to find it, indeed we can’t find it ourselves. That is why the Bible speaks of the Good Shepherd finding the lost sheep, the woman finding the lost coin, the father rejoicing over the return of his lost, wayward son. We are lost, pure and simple. No rocket science. That’s just the way it is, and the sooner we come to acknowledge that, the better off we’ll be.

God seeks us before we seek God. In fact it’s only because God seeks us in God’s grace in Christ that we would ever turn a glance his way, and hopefully surrender and come running into the arms of the Father. It’s because Jesus himself was willing to be cursed, and lost for us so to speak, feeling forsaken of God on the cross, that we can be found in him, through simple faith in him, and God’s word: that good news. In and through Jesus.

a kind of summation of Psalm 119

ת Taw

May my cry come before you, Lord;
give me understanding according to your word.
May my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your promise.
May my lips overflow with praise,
for you teach me your decrees.
May my tongue sing of your word,
for all your commands are righteous.
May your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, Lord,
and your law gives me delight.
Let me live that I may praise you,
and may your laws sustain me.
I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant,
for I have not forgotten your commands.

Psalm 119:169-176

One can see the last part of Psalm 119 as a kind of summation of this great psalm. There is a mix of faith, hope and love; a dependence on God in looking to God to do what only God can do. But an expectation along with that, that God surely will. And with that, an anticipation of what will come as a result: God’s goodness, and the response of praise to God for such. This is always the tension at play in our lives in God.

The end is appropriate. There is a sense of lostness, the psalmist’s fault and yet almost an inevitable part of our lives in this life now. We do stray along the way, but our response should be the same as the psalmist: a cry to God to find us, to come near to us, since in our heart we want to obey God’s commands. In and through Jesus.

 

 

is God my shepherd?

A psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
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 your 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

“Lord” in “the Lord is my shepherd” is an English translation capitalized in most English versions when it translates “Yahweh,” the personal Hebrew name for God. Of course in the New Testament Jesus is revealed as the human who not only enacts this, but does so because he in fact is the God-human. So what is meant in Psalm 23 is God, and later that is fulfilled in Jesus, certainly true of the Triune God.

We are called sheep in Scripture, and for good reason. We go astray, are easily lost, and are quite dependent. To understand sheep better would be a good study in itself, but we need to be careful not to press those analogies from Scripture too far. We need to consider them in their contexts in Scripture. No question that sheep in Scripture are said to go astray, to be vulnerable against attackers such as wolves, helpless and harassed in need of a shepherd. And interestingly, sheep know the voice of their shepherd, each of them having their own name so that they’re known individually by their shepherd.

I am glad that this psalm is attributed to David. David was a shepherd early on which prepared him to be king over God’s people. Kings in the best sense of what they were to fulfill were to be shepherds. David was certainly no perfect shepherd, especially evident from his horrific sin involving Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. He had other faults as well. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart, having a heart for the people.

As I recently picked up from Dallas Willard, Psalm 23 is a prime passage to memorize so that one can meditate, reflect and pray through it. I think one can do well to say it again and again, and talk to God about it. Asking God if God really is our shepherd.

Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” in the classic passage in John 10. He calls his sheep by name and leads them out to find good pasture, even life to the full. And he lays down his life for the sheep.

The psalm is quite personal. God is “my” shepherd. Oftentimes to push against the individualistic emphasis in our culture in which little else matters except for “me and mine,” we neglect the reality that our faith is personal and that God really does care about and for us individually. Each sheep he knows by name. Yes, each of us are dear to the Lord. He knows us through and through, and really does love and care for us.

I don’t like a lot of things about myself, and have struggled to like myself at all. I often just put up with myself. But that’s not what God wants. The Lord wants us to accept the truth that he made each one of us, and that redemption and reconciliation is for each one of us in and through Jesus. In Jesus the shepherd analogy of Scripture fits to a tee. Do we see Jesus and God in Jesus that way?

We must not let go of this. Everything in Psalm 23 is meant for us, yes each one of us, individually. And we need to see it for others as individuals, as well. Each and every line. Here it is again, to be read and pondered and prayed over until it becomes more and more our own in and through Jesus.

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
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 your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

 

the human condition: angst, lostness

What is perhaps the typical default position in which we humans live? And many things in this life can exacerbate that. I would say a sense of angst, as in anxiety and fear, oftentimes taking away all of a person’s inward sense of tranquility, of peace. And a lostness in which one is hanging on for dear life just to keep going, sometimes grasping after empty, harmful things to give meaning, and as pastimes.

I used to think that down the road my experience would get much better. What has happened is perhaps a bit complicated. Most of the time I live in the same experience I’ve lived in for years. It’s just that I’ve learned to manage it much better, through faith and prayer, through as much a singular focus on God’s word and the gospel as possible. Not that I’m concerned about measuring up to some kind of standard on that. Actually a little bit goes a long way, even as Jesus said, if we have a faith as small as a mustard seed. So that, yes, I do seem to experience more of the sense of God’s presence and peace.

As one gets older, it doesn’t seem like the trials either go away, or lessen, though in some respects they might, simply because in faith we learn more to rest in God, and in God’s promises found in scripture, in and through Jesus. Oftentimes we encounter even more difficult things which come with living longer and the experience that brings, along with all of the wear and tear of life in getting older.

I think a healthy, scriptural realism is key in all of this. I know of people who I think may have left the faith because they were told such and such would be the case if they had enough faith, but they found it not to be so. They might then be blamed for lack of faith, which wouldn’t help, either. Fact of the matter, life in some respects is hard in and of itself. All of the problems we encounter, sometimes in heaps will verify that. The key is how we handle those problems.

Angst and lostness can be replaced with a sense of God’s presence and peace, if we don’t let the former get us down. It may be best and most healthy to think of them as commingling. Ordinarily one will displace the other, but we can’t let our experience of angst and lostness impact our faith. Such experience is not either faith, or lack of it, but rather just the normal default postion of us humans. But an experience which ironically can help us to faith as we look to the one who is Savior and Lord, and seek to live in and according to God’s word fulfilled in him. Such an exercise, every bit as ongoing as the sense of lostness which in this life naturally accompanies our humanity.

when all seems lost

There are times when one feels like they no longer matter. Even though that thought can’t really be sustained by reason, the feeling leaves one with no uncertainty.

When I consider the psalms, let alone the rest of scripture, I’m not one who tells people just to buck up and get over it, or simply to think positive, not negative. Life is real and some of what we experience indeed does seem larger than life itself. But we have to go on, in spite of and in the midst of our experience. But we simply can’t, nor should we (with some possible exceptions) set experience aside. It is a part of who we are as human beings. The Bible from cover to cover certainly does not deny that, indeed it does give that fair play and some people might say, “And then some.”

We in and through Jesus have to go on by faith knowing it is God in Jesus who is the Savior. What is not redeemable? We may be crying over the wasted years, over the failure in our lives, over whatever it might be. But in and through Jesus we are part of God’s good work in the world through the gospel. The gospel is that it is Jesus who is in the center, that God is working out his purposes through him by the Spirit, that Jesus as Messiah is king. God’s reign in and through Jesus is indeed quite redemptive taking in all of creation in its brokenness. And that includes all of us in ours.

And so by faith I hold on and go on. Believing in spite of as well as because of. It is God’s work I’m somehow taken up into and included in. In and through Jesus.

when all seems lost

Sometimes no matter which way one turns it seems like all is lost, or that much has been lost. Life can seem to be caving in. And one can seem to be largely alone.

That is when in necessity we need to turn to God. Not that we should have turned away from him in the first place. But we need to look to God, seeking his face with the goal in part of keeping our eyes fixed on him.

And we need to carry on in our work, in what we believe God has given us to do. Of course it should go without saying that we continue to love our families as well as seek to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Perhaps God is sifting out the worthless straw from the wheat in our lives. Even if the devil is in the details of that.

When all seems lost we turn anew and afresh to God. We look to him by getting into the word, by prayer, and continuing in what fellowship we have in Jesus in his church. We do so as those on mission. Part of our mission may indeed be especially difficult. But we do well to look to God in and through Jesus. Believing that even now God is at work in all things for good to his glory.

joy over what is found

This morning I was at a loss to find a sweatshirt which I thought would be good for the job I want to do today. I finally found it, in an odd place to be sure, though I remembered putting it in there vaguely, in the drawer with my t-shirts.

Scripture tells us in Jesus’ words that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance. Why? Because the lost is found!

We all belong to God because of creation. We are made in God’s image. And yet we are indeed lost in our sins and alienated from God.

God doesn’t let us go; God in a true sense seeks us. In a number of ways, but essentially by the Spirit and through the word, especially the message of the gospel.

How does God do this to those in far off places (maybe even near), perhaps isolated, who have either never heard the gospel, or may have heard a distorted view of it? I don’t know, but I believe God does seek them. I believe it because of God’s mercy. God is a merciful God. Do people need to hear the message of the gospel to have saving faith? According to scripture, yes, so I say unequivocally, of course. I go by scripture, by the word, by what God has revealed, and leave what he has not revealed to others to speculate over. I might do some speculation myself, but never would I press any of my speculations into teaching.

We need to pursue something of this sense of people’s lostness to God along with something of the sense of longing that they might be found by God. Notice I did not say, found by us, as if it’s we who are pursuing them. We should pray that they might be found by God.

The message of the gospel of King Jesus is indeed a message of reconciliation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Sinners are reconciled to God, to themselves, to each other, and to creation. The reconciliation of all things awaits Jesus’ coming, when all is made new in him. But the beginning of that reconciliation is happening now. As God pursues the lost even through us. Some proclaiming, all being witnesses and all in prayer- that by the power and working of the Spirit, the lost may be found, the sinner may come home to joy and celebration in the love and care of God. Together in Jesus in this for the world.