Readings for July 22, 2018
Noun; a person who tends and rears sheep
Verb; to guide or direct in a particular direction
Being a shepherd (in noun form) is a profession with a long history. Biblical references are found in Genesis (49:24)–by some accounts, almost 3,000 years prior to Jeremiah’s prophecy about the coming of the Good Shepherd. To shepherd (in verb form) is an intentional act of leadership. Not all shepherds are good, however, and it is important to distinguish between those who lead us down a righteous path, and those who do not. I believe there are two ways to distinguish bad shepherding. First, the shepherd’s plan may not have been fully thought out. Next, and more aligned with the verses in Jeremiah, their plan may be deceptive in that what is promised is not the true destination.
Shepherding without a well thought out plan is really nothing more than haphazard wandering. While it may feel like our time on this earth is often little more than that, following a leader that doesn’t have a planned destination is unfulfilling and, eventually, frustrating to the point of giving up. I think there is a distinction between wandering and journeying. We can lead or be led through things that help us grow, all with a planned destination in mind. God led the Israelites through the desert, for example. Yet He had a planned destination—He was preparing and testing them for the Promised Land. For us, an off-highway adventure through small towns and beautiful landscape may not be the fastest route but it can, nonetheless, be the best route if we are not encumbered by time.
Deception is a form of false shepherding. The devil is adept at deception. He puts forth promises of exhilaration, entertainment, and riches. Seemingly more than ever before, Satan downplays sin with the allure of instant gratification. He cheapens the meaning of love by defining it on a scale of self-centered pleasure so to pull God’s children away from true and lasting love. He preaches things like life without (God’s) rules and complete independence (from God’s will) as a means to scatter and divide.
Sadly, the devil’s tactics appear to be working in alarming ways. More and more, it seems people are walking away from their true shepherd and living for the false promises of the enemy. And our world is paying the price. Loneliness, dramatically increased suicide rates, and online, unchecked rage are some of the heart-wrenching problems stemming from an incessant search for that which the world cannot provide. And just as it was when he stepped off the boat and saw the crowds waiting for his preaching, Jesus’ heart is moved with pity.
In contrast to Satan’s hollow appeal, God’s promises are meant to gather rather than scatter. They are made in love and articulated honestly. But honesty means that there are no empty promises of life without pain. There are no false hopes of instant riches and unending pleasures. God points to the cross, not to the Internet. The worldly indulgences of Satan’s empty promises makes the choice to follow God on this journey even more arduous.
Yet this is a journey that we, as believers, must undertake together, making sure that “none shall be missing.” When Jesus said to Peter, three times, “feed my sheep,” (John 21:15-17) he not only re-anoints Peter as the “rock,” but also anoints us as disciples, called to serve one another. God changes hearts but we are His messengers, we are His shepherds, in line for His inheritance and filled with His power through the Holy Spirit. As disciples, we must intentionally lead people toward the salvific promises of Christ, made manifest in his life, death, and resurrection as atonement for our sins. As disciples, we must trump the unfulfilling happiness of the world’s pleasures by telling the good news. As disciples, we must live our lives in love for others as we point to the unending love of our Creator God. And as disciples, we must persevere in shepherding others to the final destination of everlasting life with Jesus in his heavenly kingdom.
Shepherd me O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life!
-Marty Haugen, “Shepherd me O God”