John 10:11-15 – The Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” – John 10:11-15ESV

If you live in the parts of America where wolves are being reintroduced after they were wiped out by humans, then you know wolves and ranchers are always in contention. On the one hand, you have a species we drove to extinction in parts of the world that we’re now trying to do right by. The loss of the animal in the ecosystem, particularly in places like Colorado, has led to elk overpopulation and disease and a strained ecosystem not designed to support so many large, grazing mammals. On the other hand, you have ranchers, worried about the threat to their livestock represented by the reintroduction of wolves. Their livelihood is balanced on the well-being of their animals. It’s hard to ignore the concerns of a man who represents a threatened way of life in a country dependent on farming and ranching to survive.

This same dynamic of wolf, and in this case shepherd, played out in the ancient world. But shepherds didn’t have rifles and shotguns and big barns to protect their sheep. There was just the shepherd, with his staff and maybe a sling, standing between an entire herd of sheep and the wolves. And wolves are not mindless killers. They’re crafty, they’re intelligent, they’ve honed hunting down to an art in order to survive. They wait for a moment of inattention or distraction to find the weaker animal: one injured or sick or very old or very young. And they harass it, frighten it to run, to isolate itself from the rest of the flock and the protection of the shepherd. Then…the whole pack descends to bring it down.

Is this not a picture of what it is like to experience hardship in our lives? Trouble seems to pile on trouble. Conflict upon conflict. Disaster upon disaster. Your spouse gets sick, then they lose their job because they can’t work, then they lose their insurance, then the bills start to pile up, you can’t make payments and the creditors start calling, then your son or daughter starts struggling in school, then your car breaks down, then the IRS comes calling for an audit, then you start to get in trouble with your boss at work… You’re a wreck, but you don’t want anyone to know. You can’t afford counseling, even if you wanted to go. You withdraw from your friends. You’re drowning… and in the middle of it all, a traitorous voice in your head whispers:

“Where is God?”

“Why won’t He help me?”

“Surely if He’s so loving, He would do something.”

“Is this my fault? Is God punishing me?”

“If God were really there, He wouldn’t let this happen…”

“How dare He leave me like this…”

Because the wolves we face aren’t wild animals just trying to survive. The wolves who hunt us aren’t providing for their pack…they’re out to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10ESV). The wolves who hunt us are Satan and his demons, and they will do whatever they have to to separate you from the very One who can save your life: the Good Shepherd.

But our Good Shepherd is not a mortal man with a stick peering desperately into the darkness. Our Good Shepherd is the “Light of the World” (John 8:12ESV), the “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6ESV), the “Strong Tower Against the Enemy” (Psalm 61:3ESV) and “God With Us” (Matthew 1:23ESV “Immanuel”). He does not become distracted, turning His eyes and attention to other things. We are the center of His focus. He lives within us, walks beside us, and carries us through every breath of our lives. He is the “Good Shepherd” whom the wolves themselves dragged down and murdered on the cross at Calvary…but they could not keep Him. Instead, He went into the den of the wolves (Hell) to announce His victory before raising from the dead so you, in all the brokenness you would know in your life, could know this one incredible truth: Jesus is ALIVE. The wolves of your life may harass you, but they cannot defeat the One who guards your eternity: Jesus.

Luke 24:36-49 – Hardship & Purpose

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.'” – Luke 24:36-49ESV

When you’ve grown up in the United States, it can be difficult to tell what you really need. In a culture where obesity is more a problem than starvation, when the first time you experience death is often saying goodbye to Grandma or Grandpa in the hospital, when it’s shocking a house or apartment doesn’t have central heat and air conditioning, when owning a car is more of an expectation than a luxury…our sense of what’s really needed in life tends to a get a little skewed.

Our list of needs tends to look more like a list of desires…things that are wonderful to have and certainly make life better, but not things we cannot live life without. It might look like a newer laptop or smartphone to make work easier, or almond milk for our speciality coffee because we found out we’re lactose intolerant. Whatever is on our “needs” list, they’re certainly only positive things.

But what if sometimes, what we really need is something that looks like a lot like disaster from the outside. What if sometimes…the worst thing we can imagine happening to us is actually what we need to become all we are capable of being? What if sometimes, our hardships are the key to the meaning-infused lives we long for?

 

When the Jesus comes to the disciples in Luke 24, they are hiding in fear for their lives from the Jewish authorities. They had just watched the man they loved and followed for over three years be brutally abused and murdered. They believe the one they thought was their savior is dead and lost forever. Though they have seen an empty tomb and heard the testimony of women that Jesus is alive, they haven’t seen Him with their own eyes and can’t dare to believe good can come from all the horror they’ve been witness to the last three days. They’ve thrown their lives away. Everything has come to disaster.

In the midst of their despair, Jesus appears, and He says something interesting, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:46-48). In other words, the disciples had been allowed to go through what they had in the last few days, in order to make them witnesses. In fact, it was critical for what came next: the call to bring the message of salvation to the rest of the world.

It is the cause to which the disciples gave the rest of their lives. It was the cause they felt so strongly for that of the eleven disciples remaining at the resurrection, ten would die as martyrs and the eleventh (John) would die in exile on the island of Patmos (a prison island). The hardship they endured made them capable of enduring the journey ahead, a journey they were willing to die for.

In other words, the horror and hardship they experienced at Jesus’ death was the very thing they needed to become brave, courageous, determined voices for the truth no matter the consequences.

In our lives as believers, we will experience hardship. Sometimes hardship that is hard to imagine anyone enduring through. As long as sin and death are in the world, as long as Satan attempts to war against God, we will suffer. But our very hardships, endured through the love and presence of Jesus, can make us into the very people we long to be: courageous, determined voices of truth and love to a broken world.

  1. Think of a hardship you experienced when you were younger. What was that experience?
  2. Looking back at that experience now, can you see any good that came out of that experience that you’re not sure would have happened otherwise?
  3. Think of a current hardship you are experiencing. How would it help you endure this situation if you could see how God might use it for good in your life?
  4. Challenge for the week: Write down a current hardship you are going through. Really analyze it and try to look at it with “outside” perspective. Ask God to show you how to grow positively from this experience and pay attention for His guidance in the days ahead.

 

Isaiah 9:6 – Christ Goes With You

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6ESV

The day started out like any other; the alarm went off at 6AM, followed by my morning devotions, and all the self-preparation a morning requires before beginning the inevitable struggle through Denver commuter traffic. I was a little more alert than usual for a night owl caught in an early bird’s lifestyle, so I was pulling together the ingredients for a slightly more ambitious breakfast than my usual coffee and meal bar when the text message came in. It was a text message that ended up defining 2017 for me.

My husband had collapsed at work and was headed to the ER. What followed was a tense hour-and-a-half drive to the ER, a transfer to a hospital, IV fluids and blood transfusions, and test after test. We had this delusion the week would end with a discharge and prescriptions. Instead, it ended with a diagnosis and transfer to yet another hospital because my healthy, vital, young husband had leukemia.

It didn’t take us long to realize he should have died at work and nearly did in the ER; to understand he’d been dying all summer and we didn’t know. Like the cancer cells tainting his blood, the knowledge poisoned every good memory of that summer with the revelation of what had been going on, hidden and unseen beneath the surface the whole time. Like a thief, this diagnosis in those closing months of 2017, often stole our energy, our happiness, our plans, and our time.

Yet 750 years before Jesus would be born, Isaiah prophesied in this passage that Jesus, the God we follow, would be known as the “Prince of Peace.” What peace? There has been nothing but war and strife all the way up to Jesus’ birth and long after His ascension back to Heaven. My husband and I have given our lives to Him, yet my husband has cancer in the prime of his life. It’s easy to say that very little around us, and even IN us, looks like the Prince of Peace reigns.

Yet Jesus is still the Prince of Peace. In these last six month, I have watched my husband’s strength melt away. The man who could leg press 1000lbs. can now barely climb a flight of stairs. A former record-holding sprinter, now he gets tired going for a walk. I’ve watched his full beard and hair grow patchy and fall out in hours. I’ve sat through the darkness of night with him through agonizing bone pain and throwing up from chemo. We are tired and sorrowful…and yet in some way, despite our circumstances…joyful.

The joy flows from a deep well of peace. Peace knowing God has not abandoned us but is actively thwarting Satan’s intentions of evil through it to accomplish beauty in our lives. Peace knowing the hardship of this disease is peeling away the influence of our fallen world to set us free to become even more than we would be capable of otherwise. Peace knowing the absolute Truth of the promise of Jesus in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

He is with us, and His Peace does not come because of our circumstances but in spite of them. This same Peace allowed the Apostle Paul to fiercely proclaim the gospel before Emperor Nero, the Caesar of Rome, who would bring about some of the most brutal, sadistic persecution of Christians history has ever seen. This Peace allowed the Apostle Peter to walk the road to Jerusalem, knowing he walked to his death, to proclaim the life of Jesus to the lost. This same Peace has allowed the millions of Christians throughout history to proclaim Jesus’ name in the face of certain death, social censure, and even “simple” fear of rejection.

We may not see perfect peace around us, but the Prince of Peace is with us. With YOU! He has drawn near. He has revealed His true self to you in the Bible, in the loving hearts and hands of His people, and in every “good and perfect gift”(James 1:17ESV) you experience in this life. In 2018, go into storms or fair skies, go into the great unknown of what will be, and go boldly! For Christ and His Peace go with you.

  1. Describe the most peaceful you’ve ever felt. Really try to dig into what that felt like.
  2. Have you ever felt peace in a situation that was anything but peaceful? Describe the situation and where your peace came from.
  3. Where do you wish you were experiencing more peace in your life?
  4. Challenge for the week: look up the word “peace” in the bible. Pick one passage that stands out to you and write it on a sticky note. Put it where you’ll see it every morning and spend some time focusing on it periodically throughout every day.