Good Shepherds

I got pulled over by a Sheriff’s deputy last week. Yep, it happens. It was an unexpected encounter in many ways. First, when he put his flashy blue lights in my rear view mirror, I seriously thought he was trying to get around me to go bust a heroin ring or chase down a gunman. We were on a narrow, twisty, curvy two-lane road on the island where I live where passing is nigh impossible. So when this good citizen saw the lights go on, I assumed I was being asked to do my duty in cooperating with whatever chase he was about to start and get out of his way.

Turns out he was chasing me.

I pulled into a convenient side road and was startled when he pulled in behind me. I had checked my speedometer when the lights went on by reflex, and I had been driving 34 in a 35 MPH zone. What the heck!?!

We exchanged pleasantries through the open window and I still wasn’t sure why we were having such a lovely chat. Turns out that I had been doing 34 in a 25 MPH speed zone. This is what happens when you aren’t paying attention to which part of the curves you are traveling on. Most of the road is 35, except that small portion of extreme curviness where he caught me.

I deserved a ticket.

Our passage is a very familiar one from John which talks about the Jesus being the Good Shepherd. I want you to read this differently today and focus on the function of the sheep pen:

John 10 ( The Message)

11-13 “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.

14-18 “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary. You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them, too.

The sheep pen is a place of safety, just like speed limits. When we stay inside them, we are kept from harm. Just like playgrounds have fences, things that are designed to “contain” us are meant to be places where ravaging wolves and traffic accidents can’t threaten us. Jesus not only wants to keep us safe in his “pen” of commandments, he wants those who live outside the pen to come in.

They’ll also recognize my voice. Then it will be one flock, one Shepherd. This is why the Father loves me: because I freely lay down my life. And so I am free to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down; I also have the right to take it up again. I received this authority personally from my Father.”

Our Good Shepherd acts completely for the good of the one flock. He is willing to freely lay down his life for the sheep…which in fact he did.

My encounter with the deputy reminded me that this man is also willing to lay down his life for my safety. All first responders do. They race into places where harm is happening, without any thought to their own safety. I am grateful for that.

I am also grateful that Officer Long did not give me a ticket or even a written warning that day. I deserved it, but he showed me some grace. He was my Good Shepherd on the road, and I am humbled to know that he is out there keeping my community safe.

Remember to pray for the first responders in your community. They need the protection of their Good Shepherd, too.

Slow Curves

Safety Nets

“Mommy, look!” “Daddy, watch me!” “Nana, why does your elbow look like that?” “Papa, play Hungry Hippos with me!” Children need and demand constant attention and interaction from the adults in their presence. As much as we love it, all of the energy that they require can take a toll. A young mother recently posted that she had an amazing day at the beach. Her husband and her two older children sufficiently entertained themselves and the two little ones to the extent that she ACTUALLY READ A FULL CHAPTER in her book! It was like a Christmas miracle! Raise your hand if you’ve been there.

When I read the first line of Psalm 4, it occurred to me that we pretty much sound just like that to God. Read the first verse:

Psalm 4 (New Revised Standard Version)

1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right!

This made me laugh out loud. ANSWER ME WHEN I CALL!! Our children demand that of us when they are younger and then there is a reversal. As they age and become more independent, we make that demand of them. When your teenager leaves the house for the evening with car keys in her hand, this is what you say to her. Answer your cell when I call! I want to keep track of you. I want to know you’re safe. I need reassurance.

Our demand that God answer us when we call comes from a place of faith, not fear. When we make this request, we are counting on God to help us as he did in the past. David expresses both his need for God to hear him and his frustration with his people’s inability to remain steadfast in their walk. Wicked men have slandered David, and he is weary of waiting for retribution.

You gave me room when I was in distress.
    Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
    How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?

But the word of assurance comes…God hears the faithful.

But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices,
    and put your trust in the Lord.

So David encourages us to trust that God will come with the answer. We only need to wait in silence for our deliverance.

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
    Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart
    more than when their grain and wine abound.

Just as we crave knowing that our children are safe from harm, God needs to provide that safety for us. He is our loving parent who waits up by the phone until we are safely home. Only in him can we sleep in peace, for it is only in him that we can be truly safe.

I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

Are there places in your life where you feel unsafe? Are there relationships, situations, activities, or behaviors that you, or people around you, engage in that make you feel in danger? It is not God’s will for you to live that way. If this is your situation, get help. There is some person or agency that is capable of being a safety net for you.

David promises us that God makes us lie down and sleep in peace. If you don’t experience this, please talk to someone.

God Hears by Michelle Robertson