Thursday, November 28, 2013

Who Knows What's Best? (Continuation of my journey in learning about sheep!)

On Sunday afternoon everyone on the little lane that our land is off of got together to look after our respective sheep in the local stockyard.  A guy who sheers sheep and lives up the road came with his sheepdog. It was a fun afternoon with lots of hard work and a great feeling of community as we all helped each other.

Our own flock has grown from about twenty-five that we got for next to nothing from various people who needed to cull their herds because of dryness and lack of grass earlier in the year, to fifty-four with the coming of lambs.  This is the first time we've brought them all in and have been able to properly count them.

Steve, Aaron and I worked/played hard all afternoon giving them injections, treating them for worms and lice and Aaron even 'got' to help the man who trimmed their backsides put rings on lambs' tails to shorten them for their health and, uhem, on other places making the little future rams into less aggressive creatures.  Aaron as a big, strong boy was also the second sheep dog running around and gathering sheep while Steve drove a quad and I was a deterrent by waving my arms in the air and blocking unwanted escape routes.

And since this was my first experience ever doing something like this, I learned a lot about sheep.

Sheep are really smart---and really dumb at the same time.  They definitely have their own community, their own assumed leaders and their own forms of discipline.  Once they have bonded with them, they are devoted to their young.  They called to each other incessantly when we separated the lambs from the ewes and sorted themselves out in an amazingly short period of time when we put them back together.  While we have a perimeter fence to keep them safe, our sheep usually roam free.  They are curious about and tolerate us when we are around, but they don't know us and don't trust us.

And they don't know what we know.  They don't know about dangers from dogs and traffic, sickness and brush that they can get trapped in when their wool grows too long.  Sheep need a shepherd.

One particularly wily ewe managed to escape capture all together.  She led a small group of six other sheep, including her own twin lambs, in evasive tactics up and down hills until we gave up and decided to leave them for the next round up.  But while we're letting them have their way for now, they are still on our land, under our care and will be looked after in the future.  In the meantime, they're not getting the attention and care that they need.  They're actually hurting themselves.

"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way..." 
(Is. 53:6)

I understand those words a bit better now!!!  

What do sheep long for?  They long for safety and green pastures, but they are also curious and like to roam----thinking that somewhere else might be greener and safer

Sarah Young says, "Much of this world's angst is actually a longing for the perfection of heaven."  We long for somewhere and something better.  It's the cry of our heart.  Deep within us is the knowledge that there is somewhere better.  Somewhere safer.  Somewhere full of joy and peace.

It's one of the Enemy's biggest tactics against us, this recognition that we have of something more. He likes us to think that that 'something' can be found not just in the obviously destructive and perverse, but in the distraction of the meaningless and mundane.  Things that actually steal, kill, and destroy and lead to pain.  Things that only temporarily give any sort of satisfaction and trap us in the thistles and mire.  In distraction and alienation from the One that is more, searching for "heaven in hellish ways." (Sarah Young) 

While all the while our Shepherd is there.  Perhaps He's letting us roam for now---but it's costly for us in the long run.  We won't get the care that we need.  We won't be led to the best, safe pastures available here and now.  We won't have the Something More filling our hearts without Him.  

This is what He says to His sheep:

"Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you.  He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you."  (Deut. 31:8)

He is our Good Shepherd.  He is trustworthy and knows what's best for us.  And He will never fail.

"God is not afraid to get his hands dirty.  Whatever kind of mess you're in, he's in it with you."  (Liz Curtis Higgs)  He's not afraid to reach down into the mire and He knows the journey that we need to take even before we do.  And we are sheep.  Every moment we live we are following SOMETHING.  And if we're not actively listening to and following our Shepherd, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we are following someone or something else.  Something that does not have our best interests at heart.  That unlike our Shepherd will not give his life for the sheep.

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." (John 10:27)

Let's not be dumb sheep!!!
**For a really cool example of the creativity of our Shepherd click here!**

Friday, November 22, 2013

When What 'Could' Happen Does.....

Two of my overseas friends serving in different parts of the world have had a child kidnapped in the last few months.  Fortunately they were both let go after about 24 hours, but that doesn't make the trauma any less significant for parent or child.  Bad things can happen to good people and someone you love being hurt, sickness or sudden death, anything that makes you realize that your personal space is actually less 'safe' than what you thought, these are the things that can rock the foundations of our worlds.

Faith in God's protective power had never been an issue for me.  One of my earliest memories is being in a doctor's office quietly chewing the piece of gum the doctor gave me while he explained to my mom that my from birth asthma appeared to be gone; my lungs were 'strangely clear.' My parents had just become Christians and prayed a simple prayer that God immediately answered and changed my life for the better.  And I knew from early childhood that God cared about ME.

That simple faith in a caring Father carried me into motherhood with sick little ones and strange-to-me illnesses in a foreign land.  (I recently made an impressive comprehensive list of unusual conditions that our family has had over the years!) I would trust Him during days of sickness and ask Him to wake me if needed at night and would sleep like a baby.  Childlike faith is a beautiful thing.  

But things happen in this fallen world that 'shouldn't,' faith becomes more complicated, and trust can become a struggle with fear.  It can be easy to trust Him when nothing's gone 'wrong.' But once it has for whatever reason, even if He clearly walks through it with you; when what COULD happen becomes what HAS happened, regaining that child-like trust is a whole different dimension.  New territory.  I'm not sure 'child-like' is even the right word anymore.  

I thought I trusted Him before, but I've been on a journey in more recent years to regain my child-like faith from the perspective of knowing that bad things can happen to me, to those that fill my heart, and am learning to trust again anyway in a way that's measurably deeper than before.  (But it doesn't happen overnight!)

I recently read:

"So be truly glad.  There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while.  These trials wills show that your faith is genuine.  It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold--though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.  So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world."  (I Peter 1:6-9)

To be honest, sometimes I'm just thinking about survival in the present, not about 'praise, glory, and honor' later!  But the principle is the same;  trials deepen faith.

"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." (James 1:2-4)

But why does our faith need to grow?  It's painful and hard and unpleasant.  Wasn't our simple childlike faith good enough?  It is if that's what it truly is; faith in God alone, but James goes on to give a clue into what our untested psyche may actually be:

"But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.  Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do." (James 1:6-8)

Is that us?  How often is part of our faith in other things?  Ourselves, for example. Or another person. Our perceived 'right' to a good life because of OUR 'faithfulness' to God, etc.  There's an excellent word used in Texas to describe thoughts like these---hogwash!  (Basically rotted things fed to pigs; nonsense.)  Because deep down we know what we deserve.  And it ain't (another Texas goodie!) good stuff.  And we sure can't do it on our own.  Yet honestly, deep down in our deepest, darkest heart of hearts we often find that our faith isn't actually just in God alone----but in God and ___________ (fill in the blank).

We need to be tested.  We need to have our hearts laid bare and see what's really there.  We need to KNOW that He is faithful, not just because life is good but even when it isn't.  We need to grow in trust that He has it under control beyond a shadow of a doubt----even when we didn't realize that we doubted to start with.

We need to be able to have faith in Him even when what 'could' happen does.......

I worry, I'm afraid, and often have more questions than answers.  I read of those who have gone before and assume that I could never be like them. But then I remember that we are not defined by our doubts----but by we do with them after that.  How do we respond when troubles come and where do we turn?  Sometimes just showing up and taking that first step of faith towards God is all that it takes to lead us on to the next step, and the next step, and the next. Sometimes just turning to Him in itself is an act of genuine trust.  

And we need to know in Whom we put our trust:

"My soul clings to you;  your right hand upholds me."  (Ps. 63:8)

"The Lord knows those who are his."  (2 Tim. 2:19)

My God will certainly hear me."  (Micah 7:7)

"Keep me safe, O God, for I have come to you for refuge......You guard all that is mine." 
(Ps. 16:1, 5)

"I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don't be afraid or troubled."  (John 14:27)

"So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.......There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most."   (Heb. 4:14, 16)

"My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip--he who watches over you will not slumber."  (Ps. 121:2-3)

"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted."  (Job 42:2)

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)

This is Who He is. The Essence of Love.  The Risen One who tells us not to be afraid because he holds the keys of death and the grave. (Rev. 1: 18)

Micca Campbell said, "God cannot, shall not and will not lie.  Therefore, if God makes you a promise to help you, empower you, to never leave you, then it's your job to recognize and rely on and trust God to make good on that promise."  

Do we believe that God is bigger than ____________ (this today)?  Even this?  

Real faith develops when life doesn't turn out how we expected. Faith and trust CAN be regained.  It takes a focus on His Person, not the problem.  Faith will eventually be infinitely deeper than before.  And hope reigns.

Photo by Adam

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Other Half of Everyone's Story

November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day in New Zealand.  It has something to do with a failed plot to blow up the House of Lords in England in the 1600's.  Now I think it's just pretty much an excuse to have bonfires and fireworks!  Diwali, our kids' favorite holiday in our other home happened recently and the boys were mourning the lack of fireworks in their lives this year, so this season when bonfires and fireworks are allowed in NZ was a perfect opportunity to set that right!  (Or is that alight?)

We had a barbecue, slash bonfire, slash fireworks party Sunday night on our little farm with the family and friends who are 'family.'  It's such a nice place to hang out!  Not good enough land for a real farm, but perfect for some sheep, a couple of steers (Two just weaned 'throw away' calves that don't fit in with desired breeding were left there for us on Monday by farmer friends!) and maybe eventually a house with the restful feeling of being in the country while actually only being ten minutes from town.  

As the bonfire burned and the fireworks flared (the friend who brought the fireworks brought a little blowtorch to light them with, how smart is that!), I thought a lot about fire and flame. 

 "But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire.  And the tongue is a flame of fire.

 It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body.  It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue.  It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.  Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.  (Notice this is not just in reference to Believers!  But all souls who have been "made in the image of God.") And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth."   (James 3:5-10)

Our bonfire was huge.  It was a windy night and while we knew that the grass around was wet enough to not spread flames farther than what we wanted, it was easy to imagine what COULD happen if the fire got out of control.  

The fire flamed.  Sparks flew and left scorch marks all around.  And while my hair has been washed since, it still smells like smoke, the remnant reminder of fire.

Sometimes the fires in our lives publicly blaze, and sometimes they're quietly raging inside where none can see; the result of hurt, pain, circumstance.  We've heard a lot about 'taking off the mask' and being real with those around us.  That's excellent but sometimes impossible advice.  Sometimes our 'fires' involve things that are really someone else's story and shouldn't yet be told.  Sometimes the telling would incite the flaming tongue of gossip.  Sometimes the experience is too raw or too new for public consumption.

The truth is that we never really know the other half of the story in the lives of those around us.

We were originally designed to uplift, support and love.  Yet far too often we criticize and condemn.  We make excuses saying that, "We didn't know!" of the pain that others were suffering.  We didn't understand what made them act like they did, so instead of love we appointed ourselves judge and jury.  And we fanned the flame of our tongues instead.

Perhaps we need to actively look for the other half of the story in people's lives.  Perhaps we need to stop being so easily offended.  Perhaps that's actually our job; to assume there's pain in things that we don't understand and become part of the healing instead.

We're all broken after all.  And, "Maybe if the broken would just love the broken we'd all be closer to the whole?"  (Ann Voskamp) 

Compassion just isn't in our natural, sinful state and it's often not easy. Sometimes it needs to be grown.  But what would happen if we made THAT our 'flame of fire' instead?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Just Give Me Jesus

They come to my door every few weeks, these smiling ladies full of good intentions. They represent a different belief system but I respect what they're trying to do.  They usually come when it's not actually a good time for me, but I smile and try to be kind because I know what it's like to be rejected for your faith.  They're eternal souls after all so doesn't that make them worth a bit of my time and respect?  We talk a bit and sometimes even agree and I realize that I really do like them as sisters on planet earth.  I take what they give me and glance over it a bit later, not because I'm unsure of what I believe but because I'm always curious about what makes others tick, what puts passion in their hearts.  And if what I know to be true is true, what they're peddling doesn't threaten me at all.

This week they gave me a booklet that answers more earnest questions about their faith.  After they left I flipped to the part about who they believe that Jesus is, because isn't that the crux of the matter?  What defines the religions of the world?  The biggest question of all.

And I felt sad.

I knew this already but to read it in their own words felt harsh.  They know of the Father but don't see the Son as divine.  Not see Jesus as Divine?  Not know Him as the Advocate between Righteousness and mankind?  Not understanding the depth of the sacrifice, and therefore the incomprehensible love------for us?  For them?

I know the Trinity is hard to grasp, God-sized thoughts in man-sized brains usually are, but Jesus is the Door.  My Door.  My Lord, yet my best friend.  My Savior because He understands everything about me first hand.  He knows the depths of my heart, but gave of Himself anyway.........

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.....

.....It was my sin that left Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
                                                     -Stuart Townend

My sin------taken.
My debt-------cancelled.
My goodness------restored.
My hope------ALIVE.

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
                                             -C. S. Lewis

Life in the loving arms of Jesus is my point of reference, my outlook on life.  And I've found it a pretty sweet place to be through all that life has to throw at me.  

"You can have all this world just give me Jesus"
                                         -Jeremy Camp

Life in Jesus gives us hope.  It also gives us peace.

"All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.  We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.......perfect love expels all fear."  
(John 4:15-18)

Fearless.  Full of hope.  Abounding in love.  That's what recognition of and faith in Jesus brings.

How can we endure life without Him?  And in the immortal words of Switchfoot, "I wanna thrive not just survive."

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
                          -Robert Lowry