Shepherding our flock

Portions of Acts 20…Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesian Elders

17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 18 When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God,[a] which he bought with his own blood.[b] 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

32 “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

36 When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.”

The other morning, my oldest son had an early appointment out-of-town, so my husband, Baby, and I headed there with him the night before (after the supper at school for our new pastor, and we used a free hotel stay).  Since it was late by then, we had sleeping little boys and plenty of time to talk.  Somehow we got on the subject of the book, “Heidi”…which I have read so many times I can’t count!

When I was little, I spent many of my minutes lost in “pretend”.  If I was biking to school, I wasn’t biking to school, but perhaps I was an orphan running away, for example.  Another frequent scenario in my imagining was that I was Heidi, living in the mountains with my grandfather, spending my days climbing about the mountain with friend Peter and his goats.  It was the sweet simplicity that suited me—homemade bread and goat cheese to eat, fresh, warm goat milk to drink, fresh air in abundance, and a soft hay bed awaiting my sleepy head at night time.  Heidi made a difference in the lives of everyone she met, and I loved that, too.

Take the goatherd Peter, for instance.  Eventually, Heidi changed his life when she helped him learn to read after years of struggling.

Peter’s job was no doubt similar to a shepherd’s, of which we hear several different accounts in the Bible (I ran a biblegateway.com search for “shepherd” and couldn’t even read all the entries).  The goatherd or shepherd, be that it may, must risk his (or her) own life to protect the flock…a flock which ignorantly puts itself in harm’s way when any individual part of it begins to wander.

It certainly is an accurate depiction of our human race!  We would not be able to count the number of times that we have strayed from the place God wants us to be in favor of our own stubborn (selfish) desires.  Neither could we count the number of times that God graciously reaches out to us in danger and plucks us back.

I had these thoughts on my mind being that it was Good Shepherd Sunday this past weekend.

As moms, we often have to act like shepherds.  We gather together our flock and do our best to keep their little hands and feet from straying as we shop for groceries, they play with toys, and sit in church.  When they wander, we are quick to come for them.  We recognize their sinful stubbornness, but we lovingly repeat our actions.  After all, we’ve learned from the best!

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, proved to us what selfless love looks like.  As it is assaulted by the anger, frustrations, selfishness, and pettiness of others, it is forgiving, gracious, kind, gentle, and so much more.  That is how we are to be to our children when they “stray”, and it is safe to say that none of us manages that 100% of the time.

It is so easy, after all, to be distracted!  We have to keep our eyes on the road while our children distract us with an argument over what channel to put the satellite TV on, and then our cell phone rings, and then we have to turn down the volume, and then our baby starts crying and they can’t hear and the volume has to go back up…and all that was just a 10-minute car trip.  At home there’s the laundry to switch to the dryer, but on the way there someone didn’t quite make it to the bathroom on time at the exact same moment that someone else drops the laptop on the opposite end of the house…yes, we are constantly pulled in different directions!  Society tells us to make sure to do the toughest workouts, keep the house clean AND updated, wear the latest fashions, speak more than one language, keep in touch with everyone we ever knew, follow the latest parenting advice, be consistent, remember that people will treat us based on how we present ourselves appearance-wise, be frugal and comparison-shop, sleep for 7-8 hours, and make sure to put ourselves first.  Society forgets that there are only 24 hours in a day!!!

The saying goes that moms wear many different hats.  That is certainly true, and I often feel like Bartholomew Cubbins from the Dr. Suess story where he keeps pulling off hats and there is always a different one underneath.  I desperately want to scale back and keep life as sweetly simple as possible, but often life seems to race away at full-speed and I’m being dragged along, scraping by and trying frantically to get rid of the dust I’ve accumulated.  In this day and age, it truly is difficult to simplify.  Research “simple living” and you’ll get overwhelmed by the multitude of resources published on this topic to supposedly help you pare down your life!

After all, simplicity in this life is an allusion.  Things weren’t simpler in Heidi’s day—they were just different–complicated in other ways (will we die from this illness because the dr. can’t get to our house with this snowfall?  Will a bobcat jump us in the woods on our way home from Grandma’s in the wagon?).

One thing alone is simple.  Heaven is OURS!  It’s a simple statement that came at a huge cost to our perfect, loving shepherd and savior, Jesus.  He met God’s criteria to a T, but he set aside all his accomplishments to become yet another lamb when he allowed himself to be sacrificed as an offering to God on our behalf—the offering that, once and for all, took care of our greatest problem—our sinfulness and the eternal consequence awaiting.

As we wake up to a new day tomorrow (by God’s grace) and pull our figurative shepherd’s staff from the bedside, may we use it with utmost gentleness to keep our little flock in line.  As the busyness of life swirls around us (and our heads start to roll), may we affix our eyes towards heaven, receiving with gratitude the knowledge that complete happiness and peace await us there!  May our thoughts and actions flow from appreciation.

When the vicious lions, wolves, and bears of life prowl about, watching for their chance to pluck us out and inflict their harm, our good shepherd diligently, vigilantly stands guard.  He may protect us from all injury, but we might suffer a wound.  If the damage is such that our time on earth comes to a close, we can be assured that we will go enfolded in the Shepherd’s loving arms.

Similarly, we constantly stand guard around our children.  We can’t always shield them from the hurts of this life, but as we represent the true shepherd, our Savior, they are safe.  They learn why it is important to stay “near the flock” and respond to our gentle prodding.  Because we all fall short as sinful humans, so will they.  So will we as we care for them.  There are, after all, plenty of Biblical references to cruel shepherds.  Jeremiah 23:1[ The Righteous Branch ] “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.”  Admittedly, we do this to our children at times when we respond hastily, in annoyance, and impatience.

That is why it is all the more amazing that God wants us.  It is for nothing that we have done or will do, but SIMPLY because of Him and all that He is—our endlessly good, giving, gracious God.

Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”

Isaiah 40:11He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

So may we, Lord…may we vigilantly keep our children close to us, lovingly and gently leading our little ones.  Thank you for the great comfort it gives us knowing that you do the same for us!  Hebrews 13:20-21 20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

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