Monday, January 19, 2015

Parable of the Bell Sheep

A mentor introduced me to the following idea almost two decades ago. W. Phillip Keller's classic book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 provided her source material. The image has reemerged in my thinking in multiple circumstances recently, so the time seemed right to share my storification of it with you.

Once upon a time, a good, wise, loving Shepherd bought a foolish and bedraggled little sheep to save her from the slaughterhouse her wicked former owner intended for her. Finding her in dangerous woods, He drew her to Himself, quickly winning her love and obedience by His tender care.

After a while, though, she grew tired of simply following the Shepherd and enjoying His presence and began to wander about in search of opportunities to help and serve her Master. Eagerly, she would trot off in search of imperiled sheep who had gotten lost or hurt. Unfortunately, she often ended up lost, too, in the attempt to bring them back. She never minded her trials, since through them He found other lost sheep, as well. More than once, she herself was wounded by wolves or bears (or her own foolhardiness) attempting to rescue other wounded woolies. Never complaining, she wore her war-wounds proudly as emblems of her dedicated service.

Without fail, the Shepherd rescued her and brought her back, but the wayward, well-intentioned little lamb grieved Him. His desire was for her more than her wearing herself out in effort to please Him, and His greatest delight was in having her follow close by His side. Since she had never taken the time truly to know Him, she remained ignorant of His sorrow, until He finally stopped her wandering by breaking one of her legs.

Bleating in pain and astonishment, she kicked and bit and refused His kind overtures of comfort. Eventually, however, she grew too exhausted from the struggle to fight anymore. In her silent, helpless weariness, He bound up her wounds and cradled her tenderly, carrying her in His arms until her leg healed and she could walk again.

As she recovered, she learned to know the Shepherd’s heartbeat. She grew to love the mere pleasure of His nearness. Far greater than the superficial adrenaline rush of her former labors, her greatest joy became simply that of belonging to Him.

When her leg healed, and the Shepherd set her down to walk again, she no longer desired to wander from His side. In recognition of the change and as a reminder of her own brokenness, her Shepherd placed a bell around her neck. This way as she followed close by Him, the bell continually testified to the presence of her Good Shepherd. Wandering sheep often heard the bell and followed its ring back to His side. Wounded or cast sheep heard His approach and bleated for help, and the bell sheep would trot along beside Him, ringing the good news that help was on its way, as He went to their rescue.

This “service” proved far more satisfying, as the glory all went to the goodness of her Shepherd. Moreover, He used her to accomplish His work without her ever leaving His side. While she never wanted to repeat the brokenness, she would never have traded the lessons learned through it. She finally discovered her Shepherd was all she needed when He was all she had, and the pain of the process paled beside the beauty of His preciousness.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hang on Until You See His Glory

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—
Jesus the Son of God—
let us hold fast to the confession.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but One who has been tested in every way as we are,
yet without sin.
Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness,
so that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help us
at the proper time
(Hebrews 4:14-16, HCSB).

"I don't know what you are suffering right now, but he does. He is not capricious, picking petals off a daisy: 'I think I'll help them, I think I won't.' He's bearing your suffering and has entered into every bit of it, but he is waiting. Perhaps your deliverance will come before you take your next breath; perhaps it will come as you take your last. I don't know. But I do know that he has made a promise to you: if you believe you will see the glory of God (John 11:40). Just imagine that. Hang on to him in faith and imagine that you will see the glory of God! Your eyes will be opened to see how truly wise, powerful, and good he is. Somehow, in some way hidden to your weak eyes, your suffering is making a way for that to happen. I don't know when your 'Lazarus' will rise, but when he does, you will see him as he is, and then you will understand....

"Lord, help me believe that your glory is worth this suffering, just as you knew that my seeing it was worth yours. AMEN."
~Elyse Fitzpatrick, Comforts from the Cross

Monday, January 5, 2015

Hope for the First Monday of a New Year

The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV

Full moon, 5 January 2015

Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
~Thomas Chisholm, "Great Is Thy Faithfulness"

Our hope today lies not in our circumstances,
Not in our emotions,
Not in the faithfulness of our discipleship,
But in the unceasing lovingkindness of Yahweh our covenant-keeping God;
In His unending mercies;
In the greatness of His faithfulness;
In His sufficiency as our portion.
He will not fail you, dear crumble.
Therefore may you hope in Him.