Thursday, April 22, 2010

Scattering the Flock

We all love the image of God as a tender and compassionate shepherd, defending His beloved flock against all threats. He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters. The only problem with this scenario is that we're the sheep—and sheep are stupid. Satan knows better than to come out openly and try to take us from the Shepherd by force. Instead, he tempts us into wandering off ourselves. Although Satan is powerless to actually harm us, he can scatter the flock because we are stupid enough to actually listen to him.

Satan has a few tricks up his sleeve, and I am sorry to say that I have found myself vulnerable to nearly all of them on occasion. Here are a few that I've recognized:
  • Fear. There is probably nothing quite as stupid as a panicked sheep. It will run off in any direction, helter-skelter, in a blind and unthinking attempt to get away. Satan can make us behave that way. Perhaps he threatens us with the fear of pain or death. Maybe he makes us fear our own futures or destinies. He may even make us afraid of the very Shepherd who loves and cares for us. But the moment we give into fear, our brains turn off. By the time we've finished running, we have no idea where we are or how to get back.
  • Restlessness. Satan convinces us that lying down in green pastures and being led beside still waters is boring. We come dissatisfied with our lot as one of the Shepherd's sheep. We begin to find this life confining, and we feel desperate to make a decision all on our own—even if it's a reckless one. We want to be independent and free. Isn't it better to do what we want, even if we end up living on a rocky crevice as a result instead of in the lush pasture? "Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven," Satan whispers, and we listen.
  • Despair. So many terrible things happen in this world. It's easy to feel sad, maybe even disillusioned about it all. Satan latches onto our despair and goads us into believing that suffering is all there is. What kind of God would allow such things to happen? Therefore there must not be a God—or He's too weak and indifferent to intervene. We listen to this lie and seems easier to believe than the truth of grace. We see the suffering before us now, so how can we believe that none of it is permanent? We see the power of death today, so how can we trust that Jesus has overcome us? Satan tries to reduce us to people who believe only the basest things that are right in front of us. We lose our faith and our hope, and one by one we wander off in dejection.
  • Anger. Sometimes life in the flock doesn't seem quite fair. Some sheep get to graze closer to the stream than others. We don't always get to go where we want to do or do what we want to do. Sometimes we even get into disagreements with the other sheep. Satan likes to encourage this discord. Whenever we feel dissatisfied or disenfranchised, he lends a falsely sympathetic ear. He encourages us to be indignant and convinces us that we need to look out for number 1. We get jaded and bitter, and we stop trusting the other sheep. Eventually we reject even the shepherd and we leave just so we can get away from the disappointment and annoyance of being with such disappointing companions. 
In all honesty, these ploys only work because we are stupid. Satan preys on the emotions of the weak, and that, my friends, means you and me. All of us, like sheep, will go astray. It's inevitable.

But there's good news. God will leave all the other sheep to come and find us. After we've made asses of ourselves by giving into our ugliest urges, God will search us out and tenderly carry us back home. Satan can scatter us, but he cannot destroy us. God will keep rounding us back up again until the wonderful day when we no longer have any desire to stray. We won't always be stupid sheep. Someday we will be heirs of God in Heaven. Someday we will be like Jesus and Satan will have no power over us.

Until then, I suggest that we do two things:
1. Be on the lookout for Satan and his craftiness. Defy him as often as we can and avoid his snares by submitting to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2. When we do go astray, allow ourselves to be rescued. Let us cry out shamelessly for God like a lost sheep bleats when it's in trouble. When God comes to collect us, let us not struggle. Instead let us allow the Shepherd to gather us up in His arms and carry us back to the flock.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Importance of Rules

I just heard about a new parenting fad called "Unschooling". These parents sign their kids up for homeschooling, but then they let the kids do whatever they want during the day. Several of these families let the kids make all their own decisions about every aspect of their lives and have no household chores or rules. There's no discipline and no punishment because there are no rules to break. (I wondered what they would do if one of their kids started hitting another one, but no one brought that up in the interview.) The alleged point is for the kids to identify and pursue their own interests. Instead of being provided with a curriculum and textbooks, they are expected to find information about topics of interest themselves. It's a do-it-yourself education with complete and total independence.

I would like to take this moment to reflect on how lucky I was to grow up in a home with rules and to attend a school with at least a basic curriculum. My school wasn't the very best, and I had to learn many things on my own. Still, at least I had someone to show me the basics of a wide variety of topics. I didn't enjoy everything I learned, and some of the rules and chores at school and at home were tedious. Back then I probably would have loved the freedom not to have to do those things, but today I see the value in learning to do things that weren't necessarily fun. Unschool parents say their kids will do necessary tasks because they will see the value in doing them. I disagree. I think that I learned certain things were important only after I was first forced to do them. When I was ignorant and immature, I needed someone to tell me what to do so that I could learn enough to eventually make intelligent decisions for myself.

This might sound like a social/educational rant up until now, so let's introduce a religious element: the law. Some Christians would have you believe that we don't need the law for any reason and that like unschool kids, we should have the freedom to do whatever we think best. I say that freedom should come with maturity. Adults have more freedom than children, and once we learn the basics we don't have to worry about rules quite so much. Paul compares the law to a child's tutor—it teaches us about God and keeps us in line when we are still too spiritually immature to really understand what God wants from us. Once we become mature in our faith, we don't necessarily need the law to tell us what to do anymore because we know God well enough to figure that out without being explicitly told. We become sons and heirs, as Paul puts it.

You can't treat children like adults and expect good results. Children need rules to help them build a foundation that will allow them to make good decisions as adults. First we must learn before we can be turned loose to act according to our own judgment. The same is true for my Christian life. When I don't know God well enough to know how He wants me to act in a certain situation, I still fall back on the law. I look for a guideline in Scripture that will help me figure out what to do. Because I am not subject to any human religious tutor, I must enforce self-discipline and subject myself to the rules when I think I need them. I do that because I recognize that it is wise—good rules exist because they help us learn, not to make us needlessly jump through hoops. I'm OK with being told what to do when I don't know any better myself. I like rules if they lead me in a good direction. I would hate to think what would happen if I had to figure out everything about life, God, and love all on my own with no rules to guide me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Skip Ahead to the Good Stuff

I am not a terribly patient person. Sometimes I get bored with my life, and I start to feel like a child waiting for Christmas to come when it's only October. When is something fun and exciting going to happen? I wish my life were a movie so I could fast-forward to the best scenes. I want my life to be a collage of Hollywood moments, not a pedestrian drudgery only rarely interrupted by excitement. Can't I just skip ahead to the good stuff?

When I'm being reasonable, I realize that the highlights of my life aren't necessarily limited to the exciting events or the fun times. Sure, the vacations and weddings and holidays are great, but some of the most important moments in my life happened on the normal days. I had a casual conversation with someone and learned something important about our relationship. I saw a beautiful rainbow,  had a creative breakthrough, or shared a special moment with someone I love. I felt inexplicably and incandescently happy in an otherwise ordinary moment. I gained some jewel of wisdom or shared an important piece of my own knowledge with someone else. I inspired someone to love God. I renewed my own commitment to Christ. I loved and was loved.

The special moments of my life don't always wait for special occasions. They don't necessarily announce themselves either, so I need to be sure I'm paying attention. I don't want to impatiently rush through my life trying to get to the good stuff and miss the wonderful things that are happening all around me every day. "Stop and smell the roses," the old saying goes. Pay attention. Appreciate. Experience. Enjoy. I don't need a special date to enjoy my husband's company or a vacation to notice the natural beauty around me. I don't need a party to have a good time or an earth shattering experience to gain valuable wisdom. I am growing and learning and having fun every day, and because of that each day is valuable. There's good stuff sprinkled through every day of my life, so if I tried to skip ahead, I might miss some of it.

Monday, April 19, 2010


I realized last night that some of the most popular shows on television over the past few years focus on teams. Sure, each team has one or two stars and the rest are kind of the back-up, but the fans all have their favorite characters, and each character has a role to play. Consider the legal/crime fighting shows like Law and Order, CSI, or Castle (one of my favorites). Everyone on the team has a part to play in solving the mystery. There are also hospital dramas like Grey's Anatomy, House, or the long-running E.R. where teams of doctors have to diagnose strange illnesses and save lives in crazy situations. Even sitcoms like the hugely popular Friends, The Office, or Seinfeld follow the interactions and misadventures of a group of people whose lives are intertwined. As fans, we like to root for teams. We cheer for each person in the group as he or she makes unique contributions that lead to the team's success. Even the stars couldn't do as well on their own without a team. Every person, even the supporting cast, matters.

God designed us to work in teams. He endowed each of us with specific gifts that are maximized when they are combined with the gifts of others. Paul described the church as one body with many members—in essence a vast team in which every person is important. It can be hard to feel important when most of us feel like supporting cast members instead of the stars. But consider this—Jesus was divine and therefore fully capable of enacting his ministry on Earth without any help from anyone. Yet even he knew that his efforts would be better with a team, so he shared his ministry with his disciples. Later, he commissioned this motley group to lead his church after he had ascended to Heaven. Some of Jesus' followers have stood out more than others throughout history, but he entrusted his church to the entire group, not just the superstars. Every person is important, and that's why it's essential that we learn to work together.

I am personally a member of several different teams. I belong to several overlapping groups of family, friends, and loved ones. Together we help each other through the challenges of life and we inspire each other to grow and flourish. I am a member of a professional team that works to promote interest in a fine institution of higher learning. Together we attract first-rate students and faculty members to our school and inspire people to donate money to keep it going strong. I belong to a vocal choir and a hand bell choir where every voice and every pair of hands is needed to create a balanced blend of beautiful music. I am part of a thriving church community and a member of the larger body of Christ. None of these teams would be the same if I was not a part of them. Sure, they can all get by without me, but my contributions will be missed, especially until someone else is found to do some of the things I once did.

Even if the team can go on existing without us, that doesn't mean that we aren't important. We are all part of the team for a reason. Consider Bartholomew. I don't remember many stories about him, but Jesus must have chosen him to be one of the 12 for a reason. He was part of Jesus's ministry and a valued member of the team. Likewise, Paul got most of the glory during his many missionary journeys, but the contributions of Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy (among others) were invaluable. I think we all have our moments (few though they may be) when we get to be the star, but most of the time we're supporting members of the team. But that's OK, because we're still important.
Christian Love Lessons - Free Blogger Templates - by Templates para novo blogger