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Good Shepherd

Stressors in life lead us to the wrong comforts, false providers, broken relationships, failed guidance and all sorts of other failures. Our culture has a lot of things upside down, backwards, inside out…

When love is elusive, we tend to search for it in all the wrong  
places – we fill natural longings with conditional, empty and short-lived relationships

When we have financial and physical want we try to repair that supply line failure, even to the extent of theft and a failure of integrity

When we’re stressed the thing we probably need the most is rest, but instead we tend to get amped up, to spin out of control, to stretch ourselves further searching after the brass ring. 

For refreshment we turn to alcohol and things that don’t fulfill our need, but numb our pain and poison our systems

When we are sick in body or soul we chase all sorts of authorities that will throw prescriptions at our symptoms and miss the deeper diagnosis altogether.

We look to Dr. Phil or Dear Abby or Tony Robbins or self-help gurus and their books for guidance to solve our problems with too little input and simplified output – garbage in-garbage out

We hope the National Guard or the police, or neighborhood watch will protect our borders, restore the law, and keep us safe, when they might just be as stressed as the rest of us

In a culture where divorce is so prevalent that many of our young people simply live together, thinking they won’t be affected by a broken relationship, faithfulness doesn’t even seem to be a part of the equation. It’s no longer “till death do us part” but “until something better comes along.”

And where is hope when there is, internationally, nationally, locally, and even within families themselves, so much division

As the number of the homeless poor continues to climb, and the 1% widens the gap with the 99%, is abundance becoming more and more out of reach?

As we sing “God Bless America,” do we fail to acknowledge that those blessings are intended for all people, and not meant to fail to reach beyond our physical borders? When, where, how, will we ever feel secure? If you weren’t stressed before, perhaps you are now!

“I just want to be a sheep, baa” So you want to be a sheep… Let’s talk about that.

In reality, it’s not a great compliment to be called a sheep; and yet 500 times in the Bible God’s people are metaphorically compared to or called sheep. 
Think about it though. Nobody ever gets a tattoo of a sheep – they get a lion or a dragon or a wolf, but not a sheep! Nobody goes down to the tat shop and says – “Put a sheep on there… because it just reminds me of just how helpless I am!” Nobody does that

Sheep are stressed and they should be! Because they’re nature’s victim. They’re finely tuned to be eaten by anything! They are! I mean, their predators are lions and bears, hyenas and small dogs, large birds, even insects! Sheep have been known to be so bothered by flies that they’ll beat their head against a tree until they die.  And you do realize when the stress comes, sheep can’t protect themselves. They have no claws, they have no teeth that bite, they can’t even run fast. It’s just aa-aa-aa (falling over), and then it’s over. They can’t protect themselves.

And they can’t provide for themselves. Sheep will dehydrate and die feet from water because they can’t see it. Or they will drink polluted, contaminated water that other animals have defecated in, and they’ll keep drinking it until it kills them. I mean you’d think that they’d taste it and go “This taste funny to you, Bob?” And they’ll just keep going to polluted streams for their provision until it kills them. Do you see any comparison here? Do you see us? 

So much anxiety in the world today, so much stress in the world today, so many attempts to control all these environmental factors that are stressing us out beyond imagination, ripping us apart, and so we go to places that don’t nourish and restore the soul. We seek it out in so many different ways. Maybe if I can get enough approval from the crowd, I’ll be okay. Fame, money, security, relationship…

Madonna has sold over 300 million albums. She’s the highest grossing solo touring artist of all time. She’s earned 1.3 billion dollars from her concerts. She’s still touring at almost 60 years old. Why? She said this: I have an iron will, and all of my will has been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I push past one spell of it, and discover myself a special human being, and then I get to another stage and I think I’m mediocre and uninteresting, again and again and again. My drive in life is a horrible fear of being mediocre, and it’s always pushing me, pushing me, because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove I am somebody. My struggle’s never ended, and it probably never will. The terror of being mediocre sends Madonna fleeing to fame as a shepherd, and it doesn’t lead her to places that restore the soul and yet how many check their followers every day and drink from the same well?

Money. Some say finances will give you security, let me rest easy for today and the future. But we all know anything can happen in the marketplace.  I heard a guy who earned his MBA in a place where a lot of the best went on to the great companies of the day. He said you could tell when somebody hit it big. They’d kind of strut into the cafeteria to let it be known, “Yep, got the call today. I’m in with Enron.”  The guy who was talking got his MBA and took a job as a youth director at a church. His office was a broom closet – no not metaphorically. They actually took out all the brooms and cleaning supplies to give him office space. They took him down to a place with furniture donated by companies that no longer needed them. He looked at a huge stack of desks and asked “Where’d you get all these?” “Enron.” Psalm 49 speaks of those who trust in money, those who turn to be shepherded by pomp and finances, saying they are being shepherded by death.

So many have been led by the stress they have experienced to follow after so many false shepherds: Financial advisors, spiritual gurus, intellectuals and philosophers, online matchmakers, get-rich-quick schemes, watch-that-chicken-fat-go diets, shallow answers to deep questions. In our world too often we tend to take all these things that are good gifts, but they’re bad gods. And we’re looking to be shepherded by things that cannot save.

In the midst of the chaos, mighty King David looked up and said, I may be a sheep, but God is my shepherd; I have the Lord caring for me, so I am okay.

The fourth Sunday after Easter always features texts about the Good Shepherd, It’s come to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday, and it conjures up images of a smiling and gentle Jesus under a tree, with a beautiful, clean little lamb on his lap, or of Jesus walking with children with a lamb over his shoulders. Those are beautiful and safe images, but incomplete and out of context. The truth Jesus tells (John 10:1) is in response to the blindness of the Pharisees (9:40-41). John 10 is set within the immediate context of conflict with the Pharisees over Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath of a man born blind.  Jesus compares the Pharisees’ shepherding of the Jews to the wolves that come only to steal, kill, and destroy and the hired hands that will bolt at the first sign of trouble. In contrast, Jesus, the good shepherd, came that all may have life and have it abundantly.

 Psalm 23 This is a day of contrasts. We live in the valley of the shadow of death, yet we fear no evil (Ps. 23). We live in a time of chaos and confusion, yet our texts speak of confidence and conviction. And, of course, the Good Shepherd stands in direct contrast to the wolf and the hired hand.

The Lord is my shepherd,
that's relationship
I shall not want.
that’s supply
He makes me lie down in green pastures
that’s rest
he leads me beside still waters
that’s refreshment
he restores my soul
that’s healing
He leads me in right paths
that’s guidance
I will fear no evil
that’s protection
for you are with me
that’s faithfulness
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies
that’s hope 
my cup overflows
that’s abundance
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
that’s blessing
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever
that’s security
And that’s all I need. The Lord is my shepherd.