12 November, 2013

Lost or Walking In Disobedience?

You know, sometimes as a pastor you just sick back in utter shock at just how dumb people can act. Yeah, I know some will probably find that statement to be offensive, but if the shoe fits, wear it with pride. I sat a lunch with a friend and colleague a couple of days ago and we were discussing how that when we were younger ministers we used to absolutely wear ourselves out chasing after people who were constantly in crisis after crisis. I've learned over the years to not do this. I've had people accuse me of being a poor shepherd because the Bible says that the good shepherd will leave the 99 to go find the 1 that is lost. What people fail to understand is that there is a vast difference in one who is "lost" and one who knows exactly where they are and they are their by choice. I've stopped chasing those folks. Notice, I did not say I've stopped caring. I did not say I've stopped praying for them. But I have stopped chasing them, and I believe this is what God would have me to do. (Yes, I seriously said that!)

Probably all of us have seen the image before of the shepherd caring the sheep on his shoulders like I've posted above. Most have totally misunderstood this image, just as they have misunderstood the scripture passages which I just referred to. To understand this in context, it requires our western mindset to be transformed to that of a middle eastern shepherd, especially one of the time of Christ and also to understand the temperament and nature of sheep. Let's start with the sheep. Sheep are, shall we say, not the smartest of God's created beings. OK... they are dumb. They simply cannot survive without a shepherd. I could write for hours here, but let me hone in on the one topic at hand. Sheep tend to roam... to wander off and get lost. Even worse, when one sheep wanders off, others will follow them. Shepherds would often have a "wandering sheep" who liked to wander frequently. If left to his own desires, this sheep would wander over and over and take others with him (or her). A wise shepherd would deal with this. Psalm 23 mentions "thy rod and staff they comfort me." These were tools of correction and salvation. The staff could be used to pull a sheep back in by using the crook at the end of the staff. It could also be used to poke or prod a sheep to get him to turn in a certain direction as he strayed. But the rod also served to discipline a sheep with a tap or spanking. But there is a deeper use that is not known to most. If a shepherd had a sheep that continued to wander and get lost, taking others with it, as a last resort, the shepherd would take his rod and break the leg of a sheep so that it could not run away. Mean, you say? Not really. See, when he broke the sheep's leg, he then would carry that sheep and care for it in a more intimate manner as it healed. The hope was that this sheep would learn to stay close to the shepherd. If after a time of healing that sheep continued to wander off, thus risking the flock, the shepherd then took the final drastic step... he had lamb for dinner. Sometimes one sheep has to go for the sake of the flock. Can I tell you, that is a painful, but needful step for the pastor to take. But a good one does what needs to be done.

Back to my topic at hand and what prompted me to write this today. Recently I had a conversation with one of my "flock" who has "struggled" with addictions. I am extremely hesitant to use the word "struggle" because the simple reality is that this person KNOWS that she needs to stop. This person has done it before and stayed clean for years. They knows that the only way to stay clean is to stay close to the shepherd (here I not only reference myself as pastor, but even more so to Jesus... the good shepherd.) As we were talking a couple of weeks ago this person said to me, "I know that my only hope of staying clean is complete surrender." They said that they were surrendering all and that they were done with that life.  I knew better. When you've been an addict and been around AA or NA you learn quickly who has learned the "recovery lingo" and is just paying lip service. When you are serious, you don't talk about it, you just do it. That same week this person moved another known addict into their home and they are in a relationship with this person. They have not come around or called because they know full well that I can see right through the lies and deception, and of course they are not coming to church. There is always an excuse, but that's all they are. The fact of the matter is they choose to stay where they are.  This is what I meant in the first paragraph. When Jesus spoke about leaving the 99 and 9 to look for the one that was lost, he meant lost... not one who had of their own free will and accord made a decision to leave the flock and go out and live in sin. Many people just don't get this, but a lost person is LOST and needs and wants help... but one who chooses to go out and sow their wild oats is not lost. They know exactly where they are and they are there because they want to be.  I don't believe for a moment Jesus was talking about one like this in his parable of leaving the 99 and 9.  Before you get all huffy and judgmental with me, consider this... I believe these folks fall under the category that Jesus mentions when he says "if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust of your feet."  These are the very ones he was referring to when he warned us to not cast our pearls before swine.  Again, most folks don't really get what is meant here. If you throw pearls before pigs, they will not recognize the value of the "pearl" and they will gobble it up, only to pass it out the other end having never recognized the value of what you have given them. Graphic... but true.

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