Shepherds False and True

A shepherd tended a flock of sheep on the hills  At night, they were herded into a sturdy sheep pen made of field stone. The pen was solid and protected them all from predators. The shepherd made perfunctory checks on the sheep each night and went through the motions of his job each day. No one could fault him  for not carrying out the basic tasks that he went through like clockwork. Every day, the same routines without fail. That was the job he got paid for.

At dawn one morning, an injured sheep showed up at the door of the pen, waking him with pitiful bleating. It was not his. He had no way to know where the sheep had come from. It was limping and blood was coming out of a wound.

The shepherd was annoyed.  He didn’t have time to deal with it. The animal looked like it was dying anyway and probably would wander off shortly into the trees. What was the point? The shepherd left the sheep lying against the stone wall and herded the rest of the flock briskly out of the pen to the water and grass on the hillsides. He realized he was already behind schedule.

Hours later when he got back to the pen with the sheep for the night, the injured sheep was still there, barely. The animal weakly lifted its head.  Its eyes implored the shepherd to help.

In disgust, the shepherd turned away.  He’d have to get rid of that mess soon or the carcass would draw wolves and vultures, not to mention flies.

Some of the other sheep looked curiously at the sick one as they filed into their safe, clean pen for the night. A couple stopped with sheeply concern, but the shepherd impatiently flicked them with his rod to get moving.

The shepherd was tired and decided to leave the bloody sheep to die outside the wall of the pen. He would deal with it in the morning. He completely forgot about the animal and dozed off immediately.

In the morning, the injured sheep was gone. Surprised, the shepherd looked around. He hadn’t thought the sheep could move enough to get away.  There was a trail of blood behind that led to a grove of trees down the road. What relief. He hadn’t had to deal with the mess. The sun was rising in the eastern sky. It looked like a beautiful day ahead.

He was leaning against a leafy tree while his flock was grazing later that day when he spotted a dark cloud in the sky some distance away. It moved a bit closer, and he could see they were vultures. One by one they dropped down into a grove of trees. Probably the dead sheep, he thought. Good riddance. He looked with complacent eyes on the sheep from his fold, grazing on the hills. Time for a little nap, he thought, as the gentle breeze caressed his face.


Over the years of working in Christian radio, the various types of churches in America became evident. For many years, the seeker, church-growth, Peter Drucker-influenced model changed the landscape. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, years ago, developed associations that smaller churches could join to help them imitate the supposedly successful Willow Creek and Saddleback models. Seminars by satellite are still beamed all over the country, as bright-eyed young pastors dream about church greatness and big crowds. That’s one type of American church.

I also addressed the dying mainline churches, churches that long ago abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints and replaced it with a form of baptized anthropology. They exchanged the truth for a lie. The stench of embalming fluid fills these places.  That’s another kind of church.

But there is yet another type of church that I didn’t address much on the program. I should have. These churches have highly biblical doctrinal statements, maintain their commitment to orthodoxy and root out even the slightest growth of false teaching. They are known for not compromising. They outwardly have  a look of health. Their parking lots are full on Sunday with committed parishioners. But there is a problem, and that problem flows from shepherds on down.

If I had to characterize the issue with this kind of problem church, I could do so easily.  No love. The shepherds of these churches can be seen above in the small illustration. They are utterly committed to their churches in the sense that no church service, program, no church sponsored event will be neglected or done in a half-baked fashion. The sheep are herded in, and herded out, like clockwork. The floors are polished. These pastors and churches are not given to change, ridiculous fads or innovation. They are always on time.

But there is a problem. Shepherds in these churches can be so committed to the sustaining of a schedule, to programs, to upcoming this and upcoming that, they can miss the trail of blood in their foyers where “sheep”, deeply wounded and desperately asking for help, have come in and gone out, without it.

Complacent eyes take on a type of blindness. It’s not that they can’t see anything. It’s that they cannot see those who matter most.  These “shepherds” cannot see the hemorrhaging sheep in front of them, asking for help, as their responsibility before God who is the owner of the flock.

They see programs, conferences, schedules, administrative things, opportunities, but the desperation in the face of a hurting person who does not fit the plan? No. That disrupts order. That requires something beyond what they are willing to give.  They have places to go and things to do.

Contrast this with the picture of the caring shepherd that our LORD gives in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ ”

I have heard from so many through the years whose experiences are not primarily in circus churches with three rings and a trapeze in their ceilings, or mainline spiritual mortuaries. They are limping away, terribly wounded, from the third type of church—the ones that value doctrinal correctness and will not tolerate compromise, but they lack the one needful thing – the thing that is supposed to set them apart in the eyes of the world, the thing that heals and gives life to those who need extra care, because they have suffered terrible injuries. What’s missing is real love.

Shepherds in these places not only won’t leave the fold and  to locate a wandering “sheep”, they can’t be bothered with the bleeding “sheep”  right in front of them. The bleeding and wounded bring nothing but work. Their care is tedious. These sheep don’t nicely fit into a program, an activity, an orderly slot. So the shepherd looks away, progressively blind and deaf to the terrible need in front of him. Not only does he not care for them, he will not so much as call on an assistant to do so.

These shepherds may not even notice the dark cloud of vultures off in the distance, descending on the spiritual carcasses of  the sheep that slowly walked away.  They are busy with an itinerary their secretaries just ran off on the printer. Another opportunity awaits. There is no time for the wounded. No time.

My heart goes out to every single one who has come to what they thought was help, only to be ignored, neglected and passed by. Even a cursory reading of the Scriptures show that this model of “shepherd” is false in every respect.

Jesus Christ is the GOOD Shepherd. Again and again, we see the compassion and care of our Savior who heard the call of the blind, the beggar, the oppressed, the sick and the cripple. He touched the “untouchables” and healed them. The touch of love.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” cried the man by the side of the road. Unwashed, alone and in darkness, Jesus was his only hope. People told him to shut up, but he only cried louder, hoping against all hope that Jesus would hear.

What did the Good Shepherd do when he heard this man? Listen to the urging of his handlers to move on, as he had a scheduled appointment for teaching in Galilee? Did He head to an august council of great theologians and scholars to discuss fine points of the Law?

Here is what happened.

“When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.” (Gospel of Luke, chapter 18)

The Lord heard the cry first, and then he responded. That cry was heard and acted upon. This is the example of a true shepherd.

I am sorry if any reading this have been injured by false shepherds. False shepherds are far more than those teaching erroneous doctrine or self-help, feel good messages. Any shepherd who does not have compassion that acts in the face of pain and injury is false.

All we can do, and we all need reminding of this in these brutal times of coldness and callous disregard in churches, is look to the Good Shepherd above by faith—the One who never fails, who hears our cries in mercy, and who tends to our wounds in love.

The Good Shepherd shows his love to us by sending other concerned “sheep” in our direction, people, those who encourage and who walk with us on the rough terrain on the winding path to the Celestial City.  We can urge each other on and help untangle things when some get caught in the brambles and minister to those who are sick.

May the Good Shepherd tend to your heart today if you are hurting. The LORD Jesus Christ is His name. Call on Him, the One who always hears.

 

 

All the Precious Little Things

Thunder woke Emily and me up in the wee hours. Knowing how scared Emily gets of storms, I went in to lie by her for a little while. It was one of those sweet Mama and daughter times, when you remember how quickly time flies and how dear these passing moments are.  One of those times when you can just be in silence together and understand. I felt her small arm creep around me when there was another crash of thunder, and I remembered how very comforting it is to have someone you love nearby in a storm.

With Mother’s Day recently passed, I wanted to elaborate on a comment I made today on Facebook about mothers. There is a terrible assumption in Western culture that you must, necessarily, pass through a phase where you despise your mother as a teen daughter. If you don’t have screaming matches, constant battles and open warfare, you probably aren’t normal.

Our culture plays up generational differences in entertainment and advertising, repeating the lie that our mothers always have to embarrass us, always have to be viewed as stupid,  that mothers are the enemy of fun and coolness, and that teen girls must revolt against the oppression and over-protection. What a tragic and false line of thinking.

As a teenager, I remember being in a restroom with other girls in front of the mirror, applying their make-up and chatting. One of the girls called her mother a “bitch.” It stunned me, and the reason it stunned me was that I loved my mom. It wasn’t that there were never any misunderstandings. It wasn’t that I was some perfect daughter. (I regret not getting my head out of the clouds and helping her more with housework and things I could have done to lift her load. As a mother of grown children, I think of Mom’s labors and sacrifices more every day.)   But the thought of hating her as a teenager? Not within the realm of possibility. It made me sick hearing it.

I realize girls and moms can have opposite personalities, situations differ, and our culture has changed. But it is a moral sickness to assume that daughters have to hate their moms in the teen years to be normal.  Instilling respect, compassion, empathy in our daughters is something we have to work at. It will not come passively, because the culture disciples and indoctrinates in a very systematic way.

One way that I work to achieve empathy and compassion is to remind our youngest, the only one still at home, that I do need help. Children who are waited on and not asked to do their part within the home become the entitled brats we see who fail to launch. I want her to see people with lenses that show the burdens others carry in this life, and to adjust her own demands in light of those things.  That is a check to selfishness, and a call to usefulness and kindness. Our children need this desperately in our age of entitlement.

There are no guarantees that our children will not go through a stage of selfishness and dislike for mothers (or fathers.) But don’t assume it’is necessary, and working on a strong relationship of trust and love will help mitigate the toxic assumptions this world promotes.

As a P.S., one of my favorite memories is of my mom french braiding my long hair in high school. I never did manage to do it myself. She would get up early sometimes, even when tired, to do it for me.  Bless you, Mom, for all those precious, little things.  ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Thank You from the Schlueters

compassionThere are a precious few in this world who are capable of understanding how to respond in times of loss. This thank you is to those who get it.

Thank you to those who are able to look beyond public image and big works and see hurting people in crisis and reach out.

Thank you to those who refuse to pile on with  judgments based on ignorance and hate at a time already fraught with complexity and anxiety.

Thank you to those who came to this small blog this last week, because you see our family and the Russ Turner family as people worthy of kindness and respect, and with an intent to pray for us or offer to help, rather than satisfy your idle curiosity for purposes of gossip. Your decency is worth more than gold. And just as rare.

My father, Vic Eliason, died last Saturday in the hospital. We were there, as we had been earlier in the week. Life is not a Hallmark movie. It would be nice if we could write the endings, wouldn’t it? But on this broken planet, life doesn’t always work out the way we hope and pray. All of us can only do what we can do. We are not in control. We are not in charge.

One thing my sister’s family and mine have seen often in the past years, is that every piece of the shattered glass of our lives can be part of a new mosaic. But it only happens if we give the pieces to God for arranging. What seems like unbelievable destruction really can be beautiful. Those in the middle of their own struggle can look up at God’s lovely design, see the light of His presence through the glass and say, “You can do that for me, too, God. Give me faith and courage.”

A blessed and Christ-filled Christmas to all who have stopped by.

 

A Woman of Influence

She was a powerful woman, that poorly paid caretaker of children in a small village in Bulgaria. She didn’t know it, but she was. Day in and day out she turned up for work in the poorly-heated, ramshackle building built by the communist government to house orphans. So many children, so many needs.

A 3-year-old boy came to stay at the orphanage, and he was very frail. He had brittle bones and suffered fractures constantly. He had to stay in bed when he would fracture, sometimes for weeks and weeks.

This woman would tie the tiny boy to her back with a shawl and carry him on her sturdy back while she made the rounds. He looked so alone just lying there, and he was so happy when she’d let him hitch a ride with her.

Her name was Maria, and I said she was powerful, because she was. She changed a human life. Over time, nine years in all, that kindness she showed enabled the little boy to trust, to feel affection, and to feel that he was a worthy of love.  She didn’t realize that she was giving that child something utterly essential – an emotional foundation for the rest of his life.

That young boy is now a man who works in a hospital here in America, putting medication in IV bags and preparing chemo treatments for patients who are counting on him to do the job right. He is meticulous in his work, conscious of the responsibility he has. He has finished all the certifications he can for his job and is preparing to move on with his training in pharmacy. Despite physical challenges and setbacks, he enjoys helping others and has set goals for himself that with God’s help, he will meet. That’s just who Jonathan is.

Most importantly, he is deeply loved as our son. He is able to give and receive love as a direct result of the compassionate woman in the photograph who loved him before we ever got to meet him at age 12. We are indebted to this very influential woman named Maria whose loving arms changed our son’s life.

It must have seemed like a small thing to show extra love to the little boy, all in a day’s work. But it really wasn’t a small thing at all in the end. Nothing ever is when done in love.

(Tom snapped this photo of Maria and Jon together at the orphanage.)

MariaJon