Shepherds & Thieves, Life & Death

13 05 2011


How is it that those in the entertainment media (movies, TV, internet, and print) continue to make money even though they keep re-telling the same stories over and over, again. In movies, we’re getting to the point of having re-makes of re-makes. It can surely seem that there is nothing new under the sun. But there is obviously something deeper going one here when the masses continue to pay money to experience plots and themes they’ve already heard and seen a thousand times over: good guys verses bad guys in the midst of a romance set in a perilous and dangerous environment. Critics scoff at such things while the cheese and wine crowd congratulate themselves for having more grown-up sensibilities. Still, why do we keep telling ourselves the same stories over and over again?

Simply put, these basic themes are written into the very DNA or our hearts, minds, souls, (and yes!) bodies. We all long to know love, to be rescued (and to rescue others), to see evil go down in defeat. AND, we all long to have a key role in the events taking place around us. That is why we continue to read and watch the same old stories, over and over again– they touch a deep and essential aspect of our being.

Now here is where I get frustrated: Why do so many Bible-believing Christians (especially scholars!) neglect to read Scripture with the eyes of their hearts? Hearts, by the way, that long for the themes of rescue, love and the defeat of evil to be true. For it is in God’s holy word we have the tremendous joy of finding out that these themes are actually, truly real. We have been putting them in stories that we have put forth as fiction, but in Jesus of Nazareth fiction becomes truth. Or as C.S. Lewis has it, in Christ myth becomes fact.

(In much of the preceding I owe a great debt to the ideas and writings of John Eldredge. See for example, his books: Epic, Waking the Dead, Wild at Heart.)

Let me take you to two passages, the famous 23rd Psalm and John 10, where we must be very careful to read with the eyes of our story-filled hearts.

The Lord is our shepherd– Jesus is the good shepherd. Beautiful isn’t it?! Quiet green meadows, babbling streams and glassy pools– a warm sun and puffy white clouds, and a loving, caring shepherd who makes sure we’re well fed. Wonderfully idyllic isn’t it? It is unfortunate that sometimes the Christian reader’s focus ends there and misses some important stuff. It’s almost like the reader has skipped to the last chapter in order to be comforted by the words, “And they lived happily ever after.” There are some extremely important things that must happen before one can arrive at the happy ending. And, there are certain elements we need to know if we’re going to truly appreciate the goodness being described in the happily ever after.

In the 23rd Psalm, in addition to soft grass and refreshing water, there is a mention of a dark valley, an unnamed evil and some enemies. Hmm. . .that changes the kind of story God is telling. Or, how about Jesus in John 10? Yes, he talks about a full and abundant life, but He also mentions thieves, wolves and something about stealing, killing and destroying!

My fellow Christian brethren and sistren, let’s cut to the chase: the land surrounding our pasture is not entirely safe, AND we have an enemy Hell-bent (yes, pun intended!) on our destruction! And yet . . .yet so many of us don’t live as if those things are true! I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit that in the midst of a particularly bad day I act surprised! Or worse, I blame my Shepherd! One of the great treasures of the Bible is that we get the inside scoop on our life in this world and we SHOULD be completely un-surprised when bad things happen to good people. Not that we need to become indifferent and callous to suffering, but we can rejoice in its midst because we know how the story ends– the Shepherd totally thumps all the thieves and wolves and provides for our safety and all our nourishment.

Now we must ask how this future hope helps us every day, here and now, where our environment is not quite safe and there are enemies prowling about. The answer? Scripture is trying to tell us that the future is also now. What king David understood about his Lord is that the story began with Him and it will end with Him. That makes the middle part of the story where the going gets tough not only bearable but joy and life filled. See, that Great Shepherd is with us now, providing a good measure of that future victory, peace, love and joy now! Jesus tells us in John 10:10, He has come for the express purpose of bringing us this life, fully. And let me be clear that his not just talking about the sweet by-and-by of eternity in heaven. Our Good Shepherd didn’t come just to lead us up to heaven, but to bring heaven into us here and now.

Let’s look at the famous 23rd Psalm with the eyes of our hearts:

The Lord (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is my Shepherd, therefore, I have all I need! I’m stubborn, so He makes me rest, eat and drink so that my life can be restored. Because my Shepherd is good (and holy) He only ever takes me on good and right paths. I believe this even though some trails take us into valleys that are terrifyingly dark and foreboding. But, there is no reason for me to succumb to the fear of evil as long as I keep my focus on my Shepherd who is never far and who carries the tools that can rescue me and crush my enemies. Speaking of my enemies, sometimes I see them and sometimes they cause me pain. Nonetheless, I laugh heartily with true joy because my Shepherd is preparing a Table of Victory in front of their very noses– they see that their days are numbered! My enemies also see how at that Table my Shepherd-King anoints my head with His oil of blessing and favor. Imagine! Me, a lowly, smelly sheep being treated like the King’s own son! My enemies also see that not only does my King give me the wine-cup of His joy, but He also makes sure that it is never empty– what glorious, extravagant waste (like bringing out the best wine after everyone is already drunk– it is either utter foolishness or the trumpet blasts of joy unleashed!). Therefore, despite my worst days, I have no doubt that I am being chased every day by goodness, mercy and love; and that my home is not this broken world, but is the unending palace and green fields of my Shepherd-King!

Oh, Jesus our Good Shepherd, may You plant Your Kingdom reality deep in our hearts, minds, spirits and bodies that we might not be overcome by the wolves and dark valleys of this life; but rather advance the Realm of Joy within us and without us– all to Your glory and the glory of the Father and Holy Spirit, who live and reign with You Lord Christ, One God, now and forever, Amen!


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