1099) Sheep Without a Shepherd (b)

     (…continued)  Jesus was here in person for only a short time, and then he passed on that task of teaching to his followers.  Right after Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit was given and the ministry of the church began, the very first thing the people did was devote themselves to the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42).  Ever since then the church has been teaching the ways of God to lost and wandering people.  We don’t ever get it completely right, and most of us do not come even close.  But Christians do, in obedience to God’s command, gather each week to keep listening for another bit of God’s word.  We don’t trust the inner voice.  We go to church to hear the voice of Jesus to help us keep things clear.

     We can so easily become like lost sheep.  Jesus teaches us some things about life that we might otherwise forget.  He would have us remember that we are not as in control as we might like to think.  He would have us remember that our life comes from God and will one day return to God, and all the while, every day and every breath is in God’s hands.  And, he would have us remember to be grateful to God.  This is one of the most important keys to a life well lived– to realize that all of life is a gift, and to therefore approach life with gratitude for what you have received, and not resentment about you do not have.  Jesus would also have seek ways to serve others, not be jealous of them.  He would want us to forgive others, and not attempt get revenge or bear a grudge.  All of this puts the voice of Jesus at odds with most of the many other voices around us and within us.   We go to church to hear these words of Jesus to help us be a little clearer in our thinking about life.  Learning from Jesus gives us an entirely different perspective on all of life, putting us on a firm foundation and a solid path, both now and forever.

     Consider one example.  In the book Radical Gratitude author Ellen Vaughn described a study that measured the day to day happiness of several hundred people.  The people were divided into two groups, and everyone was given a simple assignment.  They were told to keep a journal every day of things that happened to them.  Those in Group One were told to list only good things that happened to them that day.  Those in Group Two were told to list only bad things.  Therefore, in order to fulfill the assignment, they had to be aware of, remember, and then every evening list all the GOOD, or all the BAD, that they faced each day.  The attention of one group was therefore constantly focused on the positive, and the attention of the other group was constantly focused on the negative.  Along with that, the researchers had developed ways to measure in each person their level of contentment, the quality of their relationships, and their overall feeling of well-being and happiness.  You can guess which group was the happiest.  Striving to focus on the good things in their lives made the members of Group One much happier.

     The Bible tells us how to do that when it teaches us to be grateful.  Our life and every good thing in it is an undeserved gift from God, says the Bible.  Not only that, but even the bad things that happen to us can be used by God to make us stronger and more faithful people.  And, if things aren’t going well for you now, just hang on, God’s Word also promises that a whole eternity of blessings await you.  This, says Paul, is a hope that will not disappoint you.  Certainly, one can have a positive outlook on life without believing in God.  But the most solid and long-lasting foundation for such an attitude is gratitude to the Giver of every good gift.  There is great wisdom in the old hymn, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings see what God has done.”

     This is just one example of how our hearts and minds and lives can be shaped by God’s word.  Our own inner voice may tell us something very different as we look around at what we have and don’t have.  Our inner voice is more likely to tell us to be jealous or resentful, always asking, “Why is this happening to me and why do they get all the breaks?”  You know very well how that inner voice works.  But God’s word opens up to us a much fuller understanding of His blessings for us, both now and forever.

     So look to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to teach and guide and save you.

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John 14:6  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

Acts 2:42  —  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Psalm 103:2  —  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Romans 5:3b-5  —  …Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

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Pardon, O gracious Jesus, what we have been; and with your holy discipline, correct what we are; and by your providence order what we shall be.  Amen.

–John Wesley

O God our Father, who invites us to pray, and grants what we ask; hear me struggling in this darkness, and hold out to me your hand.  Send me your light, and recall me from my wanderings.  Amen.

–St. Augustine

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