Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13: 20, 21

 

There are a remarkable number of really cute videos available on-line that feature animals that have been trained to do amazing and remarkable things. We have skating cats and dancing dogs, horses that lay in a lap like a puppy, and even a pig that plays soccer and spells words with block letters. Yet, in this entire wide and wild array of video, I cannot think of a single instance where the animal involved is a sheep. I would guess that they are not very easy to train to do anything that is not by nature sheep-like. Sheep are sheep, and they behave like that regardless of the input given or the effort and talent of their human handlers. The nature of sheep is probably an important part of the reason behind their use by the various writers of the Bible as examples of the way that people act and behave. We are stubborn and set in our lost ways.

 

However, there is something critically different in the nature and the character of the shepherd who God has sent to engage with us human sheep from the earthly pictures of that sheep to shepherd relationship. Jesus, our shepherd, has the ability to bring about profound change in the sheep that He tends. This change is extraordinary and unique in all of the world. Christ does not train us to be doers of simple or of even complex tricks, as do the people who train the cute animals. The presence of Christ in our lives brings about transformative change in our nature that leads to a new way of viewing and engaging with our world. Christ is the source of all of the good that is granted to us as a gift from God, and He brings about the ability to use that goodness for the benefit of others and for the redemption of this world from its sin-induced death spiral.

 

Christ is the shepherd who does not attempt to control His sheep. The success of His day is not defined by how many of us stay close to home and do nothing that could place us in harms way or cause the world around us to take notice of our presence. Our Lord and Shepherd places within our hearts and minds a desire to follow Him into the work of sharing the truth of the Gospel message of radical love and transformative grace in every corner of the world. His Spirit grants to us the strength and the courage to place ourselves and even our lives on the line for the sake of justice and in the cause of love and care that is poured out from God upon those around us who have no place and no voice in our society. We bring glory to Christ when we live openly and boldly in our world as His chosen sheep who, unlike the natural sheep of our world, are transformed and reformed by our Shepherd Jesus Christ into a new type of creature who does amazing and even miraculous things in our world and for our culture in the power of Christ and for the sake of eternity come to dwell among us.

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And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1: 4

 

The character quality that James is discussing, steadfastness, is often one that is used to describe God. In those instances it refers to the way that God does not waiver and is unfailingly consistent in His love, truth, justice, and grace. Situations and circumstances do not change His desire for relationship with all people. Even our negative responses to Him do not deter God from loving us. This deeply rooted love is an essential part of God’s nature. It is also something that He seeks to impart to us so that we can, in turn, be people who are lovers of God and of others and so that this love comes from deep within our character.

 

Living with our feet firmly planted on the character of God is not something that comes naturally for people. We may adopt various aspects of God’s nature as our own, but most of us are still prone to being influenced by what is happening in our lives. We are subject to forces that are outside of ourselves and that seem to be beyond our control. We engage with God and with others based upon what we believe to be best for ourselves or with personal safety and power as our primary objectives. Changing this core aspect of who we are is something that Christ does within us. This change is often worked out through the hard times and trials that come naturally in this world.

 

This is the process that James is discussing. The fact that anyone who lives more than a short time on this earth will encounter difficulties and trials of various kinds is a given. Although this world is a wonder of God’s creative hand, it is also seriously and fatally broken by sin. Each of us with our own brokenness will collide full on with that of this world. Yet, in those points of collision, Christ is with us, and He works to redeem the pain and the loss by taking us deeper into the center of God’s love, grace, and mercy. As we surrender our grief and pain to Christ’s healing embrace, we are made more complete in Him. The Spirit works in our hearts to bring about a new found capacity to live through the hardest of times with our feet firmly planted on that platform of God’s character and with praises of our Lord on our lips.