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Are we really Sheep after all…

My husband and I recently hosted a family dinner with friends of ours. We hadn’t seen either of the couples in about 20 years, and it was the first time we’d met their children, but it felt like no time had passed at all. The color of our hair, the reading glasses, and the wrinkles on our faces say otherwise. But it was spectacular! We used to meet with four other couples, including these two, when we first were married every month and it was fantastic! Sharing meals, playing board games, celebrating holidays and special occasions. Then life took us all in different directions ~ but thank goodness for Christmas cards and social media!  Am I right??

At any rate, one of our friends have now been sheep farmers in Wyoming for the past 9 years and they love it! We heard all kinds of new terms like, “Oh yeah, we like to lamb in the summer.  It’s way too cold for us and for the lambs to be born in 10-degree weather.” Jesse and Michelle have over 400 sheep at any given time, but lambing season is definitely a highlight. By the way…I’m totally planning some time in my schedule to go next summer and experience Fowler Farms for myself!

When I asked what the best/hardest part of being a modern-day shepherd was, they said that both aspects kinda went hand in hand. Taking care of hundreds of sheep is a major full time 24/7 job!

Then my friends’ husband said, “The hardest part is where the romance ends, and the work really begins.” Isn’t it always so enticing to think about having pets or adding animals into your home equation…until they actually arrive! And with a slight chuckle, they said that after all the years they have been raising sheep, they totally understand why the Lord compares us to sheep in the Bible! LOL!

My friend Michelle recalled a particularly difficult birthing experience. It was on Mother’s Day and she had to unexpectedly go out to help her husband help a struggling mama ewe. At first it made her so mad because after all, we momma’s look forward to Mother’s Day. But then, she and Jesse were able to save the babies and the mama. “The experience of that incredible birthing moment was in fact quite spiritual. And then you step back and thank God for letting you be a part of His great work!”

I did a little research via the old world-wide web too and found a great site that gave the basics about sheep and it was amazing to me to see the correlations between us and sheep and how the Lord shepherds both.

There are four areas where the shepherd must pay attention:

  • Flock Welfare
  • Protecting from Predators
  • Protecting Health
  • Shearing the Flock

Just as Christ came to be our salvation, the first thing a shepherd must be aware of is the safety of his flock. “The shepherd will graze the animals, herding them to areas of good forage, and keeping a watchful eye out for poisonous plants. Shepherds often live in trailers or other mobile quarters. As the sheep eat all the forage in an area, the shepherd will move both the sheep and his living quarters to fresh range. In most cases, the shepherd and his dogs will move the sheep out to fresh grazing each day and bring them back to bed down in the same area each night.” *

This is what Christ does for us every day. But the difference between us and the sheep, is that we activate more of a conscious choice about how and when we will listen to the voice of the shepherd. Each day, as we read God’s word, we are grazing in fresh areas of truth. Even if it’s a passage that we’ve read multiple times, when we are attuned to the voice of the Lord, we can experience the verse anew. When our focus in on the Lord and are following Him, we do a better job of avoiding sinful temptations in our life.

In terms of protection, “…a shepherd may use guard dogs or other guard animals.” * The Lord gave us the Holy Spirit for this same purpose. Read here in John 14 and 16,

John 14:26 “But the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you.”

John 16:7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him (the Holy Spirit) to you [to be in close fellowship with you].”

When my daughters were younger and new in their faith, I used to explain the ministry of the Holy Spirit to them very simply. I would tell them, “When you have that ‘uh oh’ feeling in your tummy, that was the Holy Spirit giving them a warning that maybe what they were about to do or so was not something honoring to the Lord.” Hey, I still think that’s a good way to recognize the direction the Holy Spirit gives us. It’s not about emotionalism…it’s about learning to discern the warnings and guidance the Lord intends to give us through His Holy Spirit every day.

The same way that spending time in scripture helps us to learn more about who God is and what His plans for us are, it is always how we stay healthy: spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Modern day shepherds must be vigilant in protecting the health of their flock and monitor their animals at all times and especially during the lambing season. The sheep, “…may also be bothered by insects, some of which carry disease. During lambing season, the shepherd will make frequent checks on the ewes at all hours of the day and night and may assist the ewe if birthing problems occur. Shepherds may also dock, or cut off, the tails of young lambs.” *

Hebrews 12:11 says it perfectly, “For the time being no discipline brings joy, but seems sad and painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness [right standing with God and a lifestyle and attitude that seeks conformity to God’s will and purpose].”

As believers in Christ, we belong to the Lord. He is with us always, so He is keenly aware when we need help going through trials, when there is disease {sin} creeping in to take over our heart and mind, or when we simply need to know that He sees us. Just as a ewe cries out alerting her shepherd that she needs help, we can cry out to the Lord and He hears us. We may not always get the answer we want, but He will always answer us.

Just last week I was having a terrible attitude going into church. I had allowed myself to fall prey to the temptation of irritation with others and self-doubt and spiraled from there. We got to church late, had to walk through to the middle of the row, and usually I love singing but I could barely get the words out, so I just stood there. But I was fighting a battle…a big spiritual one and I needed help. I asked the Lord to help me get out of this ridiculous funk because I wanted to sing, and I wanted to hear what our pastor had to share in his sermon.

I began to feel the sadness leave my mind as we sat down in our seats. In that moment, a sweet older lady that was sitting behind me, reached forward to hug me and give me a kiss on the cheek. Then she whispered in my ear, “Hello sweetheart! I’m so glad you here.” WHAT IN THE WORLD!!!!  I knew in that moment; Jesus was whispering those same words to my heavy heart. My sinful attitude didn’t deserve such a kindness, but in my quiet plea to the Lord, I knew He had heard me and wanted to gift to me tangible proof to show me so.

He is a good good Shepherd!

The last piece of being a good Shepherd is to know when and how to shear the sheep. The article* I read says this, “Unlike other animals that shed their hair in the spring, many breeds of sheep must be shorn – have their fleece cut off with shears or clippers. This task may be assigned to sheepshearers, whose primary occupation is shearing, or it may be the responsibility of the shepherd. Sheep may be sheared in the open or in holding pens. ”

If I’d not seen it myself, I’m not sure I could’ve truly understood the complete trust a sheep has in the shepherd. A few years ago, I was able to go with my husband on a business trip to New Zealand. One of the producers he was working with, asked if I’d be up for his wife to take me on a few adventures while we were there ~ you betcha!! Almost apologetically she said, “It’s kind of touristy, but would you want to go to Sheep World?” Um…yeah, I want to go to sheep world!  And it was absolutely amazing!! {here’s the website if you’re ever in NZ ~ http://www.sheepworldfarm.co.nz/}

Part of the show was to educate people on the nature of sheep and to raise them. It was fascinating to watch the sheep being called in by the shepherd…partly using his sheep dog to corral the sheep up on the hill and partly his own set of voice commands that the sheep recognized. Then he brought in a few sheep who needed shearing. He showed our small audience how to do it properly ~ how to hold these massive animals in such a way as to cause them to be calm while being sheared. It was remarkable. The sheep made no sound and didn’t struggle to get away. It was clear though, when the shearing was over they wanted to get back to the flock as quickly as possible.

And guess what…this shepherd gave folks an opportunity to do some shearing…and my new friend started pointing at me. I almost turned down the chance but figured I probably wouldn’t get that opportunity again! So, I sheared a bit of wool off this lovely creature and then a bit later I was able to hold a sweet newborn lamb and feed it with a bottle! I was in heaven!!

{Side note: there are many stories out there perpetuated by well-meaning pastors and speakers that state the idea that shepherds will break a leg of a lamb when they stray too many times, in order to teach it to stay with the flock. Not being able to interview someone who lived during the days of Jesus, and seeing a few articles about ancient shepherding, this possibly was done but not as an everyday measure. I’ve spent hours researching this concept on the website and asked my friends who’ve been running a sheep farm ~ all point to the fact that this hasn’t been a reality for a very very very long time! A good shepherd would not intentionally cause harm to a member of his flock. In the same way, Jesus our Good Shepherd, does not intentionally “break” us when we have strayed. He stays nearby, calling our name until we are able to recognize His voice again and in a spiritual sense (and maybe even a physical sense) rejoin the flock and follow the path He has for us.

If you have ever heard this other version and thus made the decision to leave Christ out of your life for fear that He will cause harm to come to you, please know that I’m praying for you to understand who Jesus really is. He is the One who came to save us from our sinful life that, without Him, leads to eternal separation from Him. He will give us lessons in order to have the opportunity to turn away from sin and follow Him. When we ask for forgiveness it is immediate and it is not brought up again. Jesus does not need to “break our leg” in order for us to follow Him. The Lord will always have His arms outstretched to gather us to Himself; when we are wounded by this world, He is there to carry us. He does not do the wounding.}

So, are we sheep after all? Yeah…I think we are.

  • We don’t always see well and tend to wander around with the rest of the flock.
  • We must learn to hear the true voice of our Shepherd to keep us from falling over a cliff or to know when danger is present and to run the other way.,
  • We need someone to watch over us; to pick off the diseased parts in our soul and to shear off the weight of coverings that we no longer need.

And most of all, we need a gentle Shepherd to lead us home to Himself.

Blessings,

René

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Photo by Tanner Yould on Unsplash

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