Friday, March 28, 2014

Sheep Herder

Promises, promises, promises...

Last week's message ended on a promise.
We were talking about temptation and how God promised that he would not allow us to be tempted beyond what we could bear. He would also provide a way out so that we could stand up under the pressure. This week we look at another promise and a situation & subject that has sparked debate for centuries. Eternal Security.

Knowing that we are secure is a feeling that human have been seeking since the earth was formed. Our enemy knows how to get to us, poke us, prod us, make us feel like there is something missing that needs to be fulfilled. Jesus works out the story of being a "sheep Christian" in the 10th chapter of John.

John 10:27-29

New International Version (NIV)
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[a]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

I know absolutely nothing about being a sheep herder.
I did not grow up on a farm. The piece of land where I spent most of my years growing up in Richland County, OH was a farm at one time. But, we tore the old farmhouse down and my dad had the barn and chicken coop removed. There were farms around us, but I never actually got to know anyone. I grew up going to the County Fair (my favorite time of the year). Now, as we have lived in Fairfield and Perry Counties I have seen more closely the rural settings of raising and showing animals. But, I still have no idea what it must be like. The whole life of caring for and raising animals is completely foreign to me. And, so, I needed to do some research.

Since early last year I have been following the Twitter account of the Herdwick Shepherd.
@herdyshepherd1 is where you can follow him. Located in rural Northwest England, this shepherd took to Twitter some time back to share with the world what life was like raising sheep. His name is unknown. The only things that are shared are pictures of his sheep and the 140 character tweet that tells what is going on in the field today.

At this point in late March, the sheep have begun "lambing".
There is no surer sign that Spring has sprung that to see new lambs coming into the fold.
This process of lambing is arduous and stressful. Life in the field raising sheep is not as peaceful as some might think. We imagine the scenery. The trees and the lush fields rolling out before one as the picture Northwest England unfolds. The process of raising sheep, however, is one that demands constant attention. There is not much time to enjoy the scenery.

The gestation period for an ewe can be 144 to 151 days.
At this time the ewe is uneasy, getting up and down, switching her tail and bleating frequently. There may be some straining. This stage can take 3 - 4 hours. Comfort and presence are of the utmost importance. Jesus would state in the taking care of His sheep that, "they know my voice" and "they follow". How is it with actual sheep and how does that translate to what Jesus has to say?

Patricia Steane from the Thornville congregation used to raise sheep as a child.
She had several sheep around during those early years in her life. I wondered about the intelligence of sheep. Are sheep intelligent creatures or is it proper to think of them as 'stupid' animals as some might suggest. Do they wander aimlessly? Will they come when called? Pat stated that they are "fairly intelligent" animals. "More so than cows, less than pigs, verdict is still out on goats..." Sheep tend to be social to humans. Sheep will follow a shepherd's commands and like all animals, they respond to food training. They are not going to come to a human when "called by name", like a dog would respond. You can train them to respond to food, get them to come to the barn or in the moving from pasture to pasture, they will follow.

AH, I knew there was something I could relate to in here. Food.
What person doesn't respond to the dinner bell calling them? "The way to a man's heart is through his belly." Yes, I know what it means to be a sheep, then. My wife has been herding me along for years now. And, while I don't pack it away like I used to, she knows how to satisfy my longings for some good food. There is security in knowing that someone is always going to put a good meal on the table.

Security. There's a word worth taking a look at for a moment.

Definition of SECURITY

1:  the quality or state of being  cure: as
   a :  freedom from danger :  safety
   b :  freedom from fear or anxiety
   c :  freedom from the prospect of being laid off <job security>
2 a :  something given, deposited, or pledged to make certain the fulfillment of an obligation
   b :  surety
3:  an instrument of investment in the form of a document (as a stock certificate or bond) providing evidence of its ownership
4 a :  something that secures :  protection
  b (1) :  measures taken to guard against espionage or sabotage, crime, attack, or escape  
     (2) :  an organization or department whose task is security

Jesus has stated that his sheep are given to him by the Father, and that no one can snatch them out of his hands. Sheep herders have noted that a sheep can die just because of the stress induced from being chased. For us "human sheep", it is important to know that someone has us secured. Jesus wants his followers to know that he has them in his care and "no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand".

is something that Jesus specializes in. Security is used a noun. It's a thing you can make possessive. Your security. He is able to take us into His hands and care for us as no one else can. The problem that sheep can have in their raising is to run when trouble ensues. Predators can sense when a sheep is fearful and frightened and take flight after it. Jesus wants his followers to know that there is no need to run. He has the coverage we need to feel secure. We should stay put and know that He is always there.

Last week we talked about temptation. Is there a temptation for us "human sheep" to run, to flee? Oh yes, there is. Is there a temptation to push the hand of God away because we think we know better? We can handle ourselves and make out own decisions. Part of the discipleship we take in as Christians is understanding that what security in Christ means. We have covered some scripture from 1 John earlier this year in our discipleship. Here's a verse you might not be as familiar with...

1 John 1:7

New International Version (NIV)
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[a] sin.
Notice where security lies. In the light.
Jesus would tell his hearers that he has them in his hands, in the Father's hands. As long as the sheep stay where they need to be they are secure. When the shepherd leads in this direction, they need to follow. Leaving the path and direction of the shepherd can have dire consequences. John would follow that thought in his epistle. We need to walk in the light in order to be secure. Jesus is the light and is in the light. "The light" designates the will of God for us. As long as we are where we need to be in our relationship with Him, we can count ourselves secure. Venture off that path and try to do our own thing, our own way, and we can expect the sharp teeth of the wolf or lion to find us soon.

It's a promise Jesus makes to his followers. Promises are something you can keep.
It might help us to take a look at that word too.

Definition of PROMISE

1 a :  a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified
   b :  a legally binding declaration that gives the person to whom it is made a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of a specified act
2 :  reason to expect something <little promise of relief>; especially :  ground for expectation of success, improvement, or excellence <shows considerable promise>
3 :  something that is promised

I like to make light of words that are verbs or adjectives because there is action or description involved. When there is something we are clearly supposed to be doing as Christians then it makes sense to point that out. We should always be doing or putting something into action. In this study of sheep and security it really helps us to know what we possess. "Promise" is a noun just like "security" is also. It can be made possessive. God's promises to you. He will take care of you. He will look out for you. He will make sure the wolf and the lion do not prey upon you.

Security and promises go hand in hand when dealing with God.
A promise is thought of as "a legally binding declaration".
What kinds of promises does God make throughout the course of the scriptures?

To Abraham, he promises his offspring would be a many as the stars in the sky; new lambs to fill the family tree and follow the Lord for years to come.
To David, he promises forgiveness and fulfillment of the promises, even though David had fallen in grace and brought hardship upon himself and his family.
To Solomon, he builds the greatest of kingdoms, making Israel one of the richest and wealthiest kingdoms in the land.
To Jeremiah, he promises to fulfill his plans, to prosper and not to harm. God makes his plan for Israel clear that he plans to restore them and make things right.

Jesus says he knows his sheep. He knows what they are experiencing. In times of sadness and in joy. He can keep us secure and full of his promises. Do you know what that feel like? Do you know security today? Do you know, in your heart, that he will take care of you?

It is in the following, and there's our "action word" in the midst of these nouns, that we find our security. We need to follow. Just as the sheep follow their shepherd and listen to his voice, so must we follow our Lord and Savior in order to find the security and promises we long for in our lives.

Won't you follow the Shepherd with me.

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