Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “shepherd

Whatever happens

2016-race-400pxBecause of favorable tail winds, the recent Sydney to Hobart yacht race was won in record time. The most disastrous race was in 1998, when a severe storm developed near Eden, with the loss of six lives and five yachts and 55 other sailors had to be airlifted from their yachts by rescue helicopter. Only 38% of the yachts finished the race in 1998. Meteorological observations showed that mean wind speeds reached 55 knots (100 km/hr; 63 mph), with frequent gusts to 75 knots (140 km/hr; 86 mph). And wave heights were 5-8 meters (16-26 ft), with individual waves up to 15 meters (49 ft). So the weather is a major factor influencing the progress of the fleet. Sometimes it helps and other times it hinders.

Our journey of life is like this yacht race – it’s made up of good times and difficult times. It’s always changing. And sometimes things can be out of our control. But it’s good to know that according to the Bible, whatever happens, God is always in control.

1998-race-book-3-400pxGod’s promise

The year 2017 begins today. What will this year bring in your journey of life? Like the life of Abraham in the Bible, there will be ups and downs. Good times and difficult times. But whatever happens is no surprise to God, because He has promised:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28NIV).

The context of this verse is “our present suffering” (Rom. 8:18). Because hope sustains believers when they suffer (v. 22-25), they can wait patiently for their ultimate redemption (v.25). Two reasons are given for waiting patiently. First, the Holy Spirit helps them when they pray (v.26-27). And, second they can be confident that God works in all the circumstances of their lives to accomplish His good purpose for them (v.28). Whatever God allows to come into our lives is designed to assist our growth into the image of Christ (v.29) and bring us to final glory (v.30). This means that in a coming day we will be free from sin and will have glorified bodies like Christ’s. So, our daily lives aren’t controlled by impersonal forces such as chance, luck or fate, but by our loving God. Instead, we know that God manages the circumstances and events of our lives toward a proper end. The “things” that happen to us might not be good in themselves, but God uses every event for our ultimate good. All hardships, misfortunes, suffering and setbacks contribute to the good. He brings good out of “all things”. So, God is at work on our behalf (v.28-30). He is sovereign over all the affairs of life.

This doesn’t mean that everything will turn out OK in our lives. The reason for this is that the object of this promise is God’s eternal purpose, not just our temporal affairs. For example, Joseph went through lots of suffering, but acknowledged that God allowed it (Gen. 45:5-8), and God used it for good within his lifetime (Gen. 50:19-20).

As well as bringing ultimate good out of every event in our lives, God controls the timing of our lives.

God’s timing

The Bible says that Jesus was born at a time that was set by God:
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son (Jesus), born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal. 4:4-5).
A father in the Roman Empire marked a specific time when his child became an adult. Likewise, God the Father marked a time when He sent His Son into the world. God had a precise time for Christ to be born (Daniel 9:24-27). He came precisely at the moment God designed from eternity. This is the time when God began to put to an end to the dispensation of the law by sending His Son to fulfill all the demands of the law.

Likewise, for us. We were born at a time set by God. David wrote: “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:16). David’s span of life and its events were sovereignly determined. Our span of life and its events are also sovereignly determined. This gives meaning to our life. Because we are living when God planned for us to live, it’s the right time for us.

But, as well as bringing ultimate good out of every event in our lives, and controlling the timing of our lives, God meets all our needs.

God’s provision

Because David was aware of God’s promises, timing and provision, he wrote Psalm 23 (NLT).

The Lord (God) is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
forever.

With the assurance of God’s provision (v.1), rest (v.2), strength (v.3), guidance (v.3), protection (v.4), comfort (v.4), honor (v.5), goodness (v.6 and love (v.6), what more could David want? If we trust in God through Christ, like David we can experience God’s shepherd care. After all, Jesus said He was “the good shepherd” (Jn. 10:11, 14-15).  He is “good” because He died in order to save His sheep (followers). In this way, God met the needs of true Christians.

Conclusion

We have seen that God uses every event in our lives for our ultimate good, controls the timing of our lives, and meets all our needs. So whatever happens in 2017, let’s remember that God is always in control. And He cares for us.

Written, January 2017


Who are we following?

Ducks 400pxHave you noticed how many media commentators ridicule God, Christians and the Bible? Their biased comments stir up controversy and attract attention. They promote atheism and ungodly lifestyles. But we can choose to either accept their views or reject them.

When Jesus was on earth people (the Jews) also had a choice between their religious leaders (who He called thieves) and Jesus. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10NIV). But what is life to the full? After looking at what this verse means we will see that following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one.

Context

The book of John is a selective biography of Jesus Christ. In the previous chapter Jesus heals a man who was born blind. As this miracle was done on the Sabbath day, the Pharisees used it to criticize Jesus saying that He was “not from God” and was a sinner (Jn. 9:16, 31). Jesus replied with a figure of speech saying that they were spiritually blind (Jn. 9:39-41). Chapter 10 is a continuation of this conversation as Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees …” (Jn. 10:1).

In John 10:1-18 Jesus uses metaphors (v.6). He is the Good Shepherd and the gate. The Pharisees are thieves, robbers and hired hands. The Jewish people are sheep. In the Old Testament kings and leaders were often called shepherds (Ezek. 34:1-10) and God is said to be like a shepherd (Ps. 23:1; Is. 40:10-11; Ezek. 34:11-16). As shepherds lead sheep, leaders lead people. So this imagery should have been familiar to the Jews.

The main point is the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees. They are selfish and damaging like thieves and robbers and like hired hands they don’t care about the sheep (people) (v.12-13); whereas He sacrificially lays down His life for people (v.11, 15, 17-18) and saves and sustains them (v.9).

The Jews who heard this conversation were divided (Jn. 10:19-39). Some opposed Jesus saying He was demon-passed, raving mad, guilty of blasphemy and tried to seize Him and to kill Him by stoning (v. 20, 31-33, 39). They didn’t believe His words (v.25-26). Others disagreed (v.21).

Contrast

John 10:10 is an example of contrastive parallelism where the second line contrasts with the first line:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The contrast is between the purpose of the thief and of the Shepherd. One destroys life and the other gives an abundant life. But what does “life” mean, is it physical or spiritual?

The Greek word “zoe” (Strongs #2222) means life, both physical (present) and spiritual (particularly future). It occurs 36 times in the book of John and each time seems to refer to eternal spiritual life. For example:
• Later in the same chapter, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28), where “life” means God’s gift of spiritual life.
• Other examples of spiritual life in John are, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
• And, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (Jn. 14:6).
This life is given by God upon trust in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5:39-40; 1 Jn. 5:11-12).

So the contrast in John 10:10 is between the presence and absence of spiritual life.

Steal, kill and destroy

John 10:10 says the thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. These words graphically describe the impact of the lack of spiritual life in the Pharisees. The Greek word “apollumi” (Strongs #622) means permanent destruction or loss. It is translated “perish” in John 10:28 (in the same chapter) and John 3:16. It is eternal death, which is the opposite of eternal life.

If we ignore Jesus, we:
• Are following the thieves, robbers and hired hands of this world that don’t care about people.
• Have an empty spiritual life that leads to eternal punishment.
• Miss out on a bountiful spiritual life that leads to eternal joy.

However, Jesus said with regard to those who follow Him, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn. 10:28). Note the contrast, they get eternal life and miss perishing.

Life to the full

John 10:10 says that Jesus gives life to the full. The Greek word “perissos” (Strongs #4053) is an adjective that means over and above, more than is necessary, abundant, and greater. This is the only instance of this word in John’s writings, but he uses the verb, “perisseuo” (Strongs #4052) to describe leftover food after people had eaten (Jn. 6:12-13).

If we follow Jesus, we:
• Are following the One who sacrificially laid down His life for people and saves and sustains them.
• Have a bountiful spiritual life that leads to eternal joy. As we are spiritual-physical beings, spiritual well-being should promote physical well-being.
• Avoid an empty spiritual life that leads to eternal punishment.

So the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees in John 10:10 is:
• They are spiritually dead and influence others to remain in this state.
• Jesus offers people spiritual life that is so abundant that it is more than people need.
The people had a choice to follow either Jesus or the Pharisees.

Lessons for us

In view of humanity’s sinfulness, John 10:10 teaches us that God is gracious, loving and merciful. From the context, we see that there is conflict when some people believe this and some don’t. As Jesus was opposed strongly, we shouldn’t be surprised when there is opposition to God, Christians and the Bible.

Some use John 10:10 to teach that Christians will be blessed abundantly in their physical lives. But we know from Scripture that this is not the case. For example, Stephen was a godly man who witnessed faithfully to the Jewish Sanhedrin, but he was martyred (Acts 6:8 – 7:60).

Jesus is not on earth today, but the Bible contains a record of His teachings. The Pharisees are not opposing Christ today, but others are, including atheistic commentators who don’t believe the words of Scripture. As there was a contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees, so there is a contrast between Christ’s teachings and those who reject Christianity. Who will you follow?

Jesus cares for our eternal welfare and has provided an abundant spiritual life for those who follow Him. Following Jesus turns an empty spiritual life into a bountiful one.

Written, May 2014


The Good Shepherd Is Always Near

This New Year, remember …

Sheep were important animals for the ancient peoples. They provided food to eat, milk to drink, wool for making cloth, and hides and bones for many other uses. Adam’s son Abel kept flocks of sheep for these purposes, and also used them in sacrifices as well (Gen. 4:2-4).

Ancient Shepherds
Shepherds were employed to take care of the flock by leading them to grass and water, and by protecting them from wild animals. They also cared for weak, sick and injured animals and made sure that all the sheep had sufficient rest. We can learn much about the role of the shepherd by reading Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34 and John 10.

A good shepherd enjoyed a close relationship with his flock. The sheep recognized his voice and he knew each of them by name. Because of this, they willingly followed the shepherd as he moved about. There was no need to force the sheep or have dogs muster them as modern graziers often do. Also, flocks would have been smaller in Bible times than they are in many countries today. In those days, a flock of 100 sheep would have been considered large (Mt. 18:12).

To protect the flock at night against predators, the shepherd either provided a safe enclosure, or stayed out in the fields to guard them (Lk. 2:8). He was required to defend the sheep against attacks from wild animals. Remember, David had to kill a lion and a bear when he was a shepherd (1 Sam. 17:34-37).

Sheep tend to follow one another, and, therefore are easily lead astray. That is why sheep without a shepherd eventually become scattered around the countryside and are seen as being helpless (Mt. 9:36; 26:31). Shepherds counted their sheep regularly and searched for any that were lost or had strayed away. When they found them, they brought them back to the flock. So, in Bible times there was a caring relationship between a shepherd and his small flock.

David, The Shepherd
David, who was born in 1040 BC and eventually became king of Israel, was such a shepherd (1 Sam. 17:15). The experience of caring for his father’s sheep enabled him to develop an appreciation for an important attribute of God.

David became popular after he killed Goliath, the Philistine giant. As David’s military victories and his popularity increased, King Saul became jealous. This jealousy developed into hatred, and Saul pursued David to kill him. During this period David lived as a fugitive, seeking refuge in various places and moving around constantly to avoid Saul and his men (1 Sam. 18-30). He feared for his life.

David’s feelings at this time are recorded in many of the Psalms (Ps.18, 54, 56, 57, 59, 142). He cried out to God for help in times of danger, distress and desperate need. He described God as his shield, refuge, stronghold, fortress, rock and his salvation. He found that God gave help, deliverance, victory, safety, security, protection, sustenance, strength, guidance, direction, peace, hope and love. He claimed this about God: “You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God … You will go before me” (Ps. 59:9-10).

David’s Shepherd
The roles that David saw in God are similar to those of a shepherd, which David knew from his youth. This thought is expanded in Psalm 23, which begins with this metaphor: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

David realized that God provided all his needs (Ps. 23:1), including rest, refreshment and restoration (vv. 2-3). He should not be afraid or worried because God guided and guarded his life (vv. 3-4). In fact, God was always available to help in all circumstances. He wrote, “You are with me.” Similarly, his ancestor Jacob, who had also been a shepherd, acknowledged “the God who has been my shepherd all my life” (Gen. 48:15).

Our Shepherd
This illustration is repeated in the New Testament where Christ said, “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:11). Here Christians are likened to being Christ’s sheep. This means that the Lord knows all about us (vv. 3, 14, 27), guides us (v. 4), feeds us (v. 9), protects and preserves us (v. 28), lays down His life for us (vv. 11, 15), gives us life in all its fullness (v. 10), and gives us eternal life that cannot be taken away (vv. 28-29).

Like David, believers can say “the Lord is my Shepherd.” We should know that He is always present to help us no matter what the circumstances are, because “we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care” (Ps. 95:7).

Jesus told His followers “I am with you always” (Mt. 28:20). He told Paul, who was facing much opposition in Corinth, “Do not be afraid … For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you” (Acts 18:9-10). Then, in turn, Paul reminded the believers in Corinth, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5).

The Lord has promised that He will never leave us nor desert us: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (Jn. 14:18). We become more aware of His nearness as we surrender to God and resist Satan (Jas. 4:7-8). In fact, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35-39). Like the Good Shepherd that He is, He promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

In times of turmoil and trouble it is good to know that our Lord is near and that He cares for us. We do not need to ask Him to be with us, He already is. He is our Shepherd.

Published: January 2003

Also see:
New Testament Shepherds
Old Testament shepherds
The Good Shepherd