Prone to Wander
Joni and I recently enjoyed a brief and delightful getaway to Fredericksburg, Texas. But there was one sad moment that I keep thinking about.
We stayed away from the city and drove country roads into town. Each day we passed a sheep pasture. We chuckled about one adventurous sheep that found a way to get out of the fenced area and grazed happily in tall grass along the road. He seemed to know what he was doing and never got too close to the dangerous highway. The next day he was out again enjoying his freedom and a different grazing menu.
Then we spotted another sheep that had also tried to find greener grass on the other side. This poor creature had gotten stuck under the fence and it had not taken long for the searing Texas heat to take his life. It was obvious that this unforunate animal had everything he had needed on the safe side of the fence. He was clearly well fed. But the lure of something more enticing led him to danger. Given the free ranging exploits of the one sheep and the tragic death of another it was apparent that this flock had a rancher and not a shepherd. It was easier to build a fence than take the time to watch the sheep constantly.
Tragically that is what too many churches model for their flock. We are too often ranchers who build a fence of rules and performance expectations instead of taking on the messy role of shepherding. All of that roiled around in my brain as I pondered what our role as shepherds should be when we see friends and loved ones going astray. It is such a difficult thing to speak truth into the life of someone who is determined to go their own way. Perhaps a gigantic clue is embedded in a verse from the Gospel of John.
Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. (John 1:14, NET)
Jesus was full of grace and truth. Most of us are full of truth or we are full of some variation of that. I suspect in God’s wisdom, grace comes first because we have a far harder time communicating with grace. I am usually willing to be “honest” and tell you where you are wrong. Doing that with grace and truth requires me to love you and to be vulnerable. Jesus modeled a perfectly balanced blend of grace and truth.
That is my prayer as I engage those who have made mistakes and are suffering the consequences of those decisions. I pray that I will always present truth as a gift of grace from a loving God instead of performance demands in order to be acceptable to Him. Here is what I have learned over many years of failure and struggles.
Truth presented as law hardens hearts. Truth presented with grace changes hearts.
When we meditate on the grace given to us as a free gift by our gracious God we can can begin to model Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus.
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (Ephesians 4:15, NLT)
We need more shepherds in the body of Christ. I pray that you will be willing to love and restore those sheep that wander with grace and truth. Always together.