Just the rubber band

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Each day looks very different for me. Take a few weeks ago as an example.

I (just) finished 3 assignments and sat an exam for university. That took up most of my week. But I also worked in a fruit stall at my local markets. I helped lead at youth group. I caught up with my church. I worked as a dishy in a restaurant. I went for a few bike rides. I went hiking with one mate, had coffee with another friend, and saw another mate in hospital.

But it’s so easy to forget God in the chaos. With so much going on, I regularly need to be reminded and encouraged of my purpose here on earth. Each day looks vastly different, but I need the same reminder each day to keep me on track.

And I use a rubber band on my wrist as this reminder.

Why?

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Rubber bands hold and contain things. Often I find rubber bands lying at the foot of letterboxes. They are most often used to hold a bunch of letters, pamphlets or magazines together until they reach the destination (letterbox).

Breaking news, I know.

However, the rubber band has almost no value. Heck, a whole bag of these rubber bands only costs a couple of dollars. Once used, they’re discarded onto the ground. Most people walk past or on them without noticing. They’re pretty insignificant.

What makes the band significant is the message it helped deliver.

We as Christians are the rubber band. Like the rubber band, we hold and contain an awesome message to tell the world. We are called to share the awesome message of complete and utter forgiveness, unfailing love and ridiculous joy through Jesus. Eternity and perfect community with him and his people.

But like the rubber band, we aren’t very valuable in ourselves. Sure, you and I are OK at some things. But we aren’t hugely significant in the global context of things. In the history of the world, our lives aren’t exactly bookmarked.

However, we take on tremendous value because of the message we carry.

‘God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them…’ – 1 Corinthians 1:28

So when others point out our flaws and failings, we can confidently agree with them. In fact we can boast in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The creator of the universe chose us, insignificant and flawed, to contain and proclaim to the world his message of hope. His strength where we are weak – now that’s something to boast about.

All glory to him.

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“I did not come with eloquence or wisdom… I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” – Paul [1 Corinthians 2:1-3]

Paul understood being a rubber band well. He told everyone he wasn’t a crash-hot speaker. He let everyone know that he didn’t have amazing wisdom. In fact, he told the crowds that he was weak and scared.

Paul realised he wasn’t significant to the message he was giving.

All he really understood was that he had to deliver the message he possessed. Nothing would stop him. He understood the significance of what he contained, and despite knowing all his weaknesses and failings, put pride aside for its delivery. God worked through the flawed, weak, not particularly intelligent man that was Paul – and did amazing things through his life.

What a testimony.

Maybe we should take a leaf out of his booklet. Our identity with Christ and his message of hope is what gives our lives meaning beyond the grave. Nothing else. May we never lose sight of the significance to this message we contain.

I leave one challenge to all the rubber bands reading this:

In humility, stretch yourself

The Race Ahead

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I love cycling.

And I don’t use the word love lightly either. At times I wonder how I’d have gone on if not for cycling. It was my release – huge to me in my high school years, and I still love to get out when I can.

There are tons of things I love about cycling.

Summiting a mountain solo. Alone, but not lonely. Guided by my bike light; a hum in the darkness. Morning fog thickening as I rise higher. Sounds of my raspy breathing. The occasional dog bark or cow’s moo. The chain cranking as it propels the wheels around. Life’s problems fading on each pedal stroke. The sun rising over Adelaide – a whole city wakes from sleep. Wind in face as I’m propelled down the mountain. Sweat in hair, eyes wide open. Feeling of aching, tired legs. I’m stuffed, but I’ve never felt more alive. Back home for coffee before school.

I love it.

And some thought I was a bit mental. The amount of time I put into it each day was somewhat unbelievable to them. But to me, it wasn’t crazy at all.

There was something about cycling that made dedication to it easy.

Getting up at 5:30 every morning – rain, hail or shine. Making training programs. Spending hours on the bike. Rarely eating bad food or having soft drink. Shaving my legs (don’t hold it against me). Following other dedicated cyclists on social media. I would admire the professionals, talk about them, watch their races.

I was committed, but I was loving it. The sacrifices I was making were nothing in comparison to the perceived rewards of joy, temporary release of problems, and the increase in fitness.

So where am I going with this.

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Paul uses the analogy of running a race to explain how the Christian life should look. It goes like this:

‘…let us lay aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race set before us.’ – Hebrews 12:1

And my past dedication to cycling should look like my dedication to Christ.

Just like I would lay aside bad eating and drinking, and the minimal weight that was my leg hair – this passage says we are to lay aside every weight that slows us in our pursuit of God. Anything that gets in the way. What a statement.

I was regularly setting aside time early in the morning, 5:30 – to dedicate myself to cycling before the day. In the same way, there is a need for me to dedicate myself to God and his will before every day. To seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

All this cycling took endurance, perseverance. I wasn’t going to get much better at the sport after a week of cycling. It took a long time. But as I’ve stated, I found huge joy in the dedication to it.

Likewise, growing as a Christian and forming a strong relationship with God is a life-long pursuit. We need endurance. I need endurance – I sure don’t claim to have this covered. But we find immense joy in the reward ahead of us – eternity with Jesus and perfect community with his people.

How much greater is that reward than temporary gains in fitness!

cadel

‘Looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Who for the joy set before him, endured the cross…’ – Hebrews 12:2

As part of my cycling addiction – I would follow professional bike riders and watch some of their races. I particularly admired the likes of Cadel Evans, Lance Armstrong and Chris Froome.

Whilst Lance Armstrong might not the best example nowadays, the fact remains. I admired each of these men’s grittiness and strength of character. The way they shone above the rest through sheer determination.

Particularly in Cadel, who had this way of making suffering his friend.

Cadel was characterised by his ability to endure. Pain and suffering written all over his face, yet this uncanny ability to power through it – even in the late stages of a grand tour (see picture above). These men embraced pain, adversity – but found a weird sense of joy and success through it.

In a similar way, Paul says (in Hebrews 12:2, highlighted above) we should look to Jesus as our example in this race of life.

We are encouraged not just because Jesus endured suffering, but that suffering was central to Jesus’ victory.

Cadel pales in comparison to what Jesus went through, and I wouldn’t ever wish to put Jesus on the same level as Cadel. But for the sake of this cycling analogy stuff – understand the context of the comparison I’m making.

Jesus is the picture of suffering if there ever was one.

In a prophecy made 680 odd years before Jesus was born, Jesus was described as becoming The Lord’s suffering servant. A man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief, oppressed and treated harshly (Isaiah 53). The prophecy was spot on.

Jesus, the Son of God was whipped, skin tore off his body. Blood poured freely. Thorns were shoved into his skull. He was tortured, spat on, crucified, killed. Unrecognisable. God turned his face away.

So, all this pain and suffering – how did Jesus endure it all?

Because the joy set before him was so great. His love for us is so much greater than the (literally) excruciating pain he endured. He was making a way for us, his people, to be in full relationship with him.

And we are called to live with the same goal in mind. We cannot fully mature in faith without trials. Therefore, we should be careful not to betray God’s invitation to maturity. But in the same breath, we can find strength in knowing all suffering, all pain on earth, is just temporary in our pursuit of his kingdom.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Jesus

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Sometimes the wind will be at our backs as we gun it downhill. Life is just a cruise along the esplanade at sunset. Everything is going great.

But then we will turn a corner. The wind is suddenly all in our face. Rain is spitting into our eyes. Ahead of us is a big-uphill. The chain comes off, a wheel is punctured. It’s remarkable how often these things seem to happen all at once – in cycling and in life.

What was once an easy cruise has become a battle against the elements. A battle against our will to push through. Others whizz past on the other side of the road as they head downhill, wind at their backs. The other way looks so much easier as we trudge uphill. We begin to envy other’s lives and the lack of suffering they have. Turning around to join them becomes an appealing prospect.

But we do not turn around. We keep moving in the right direction, slow as it is may be. For we know the strong winds and the hill climbs build up perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:4). Keeping our eyes set on the goal ahead of us, looking to he who completely shattered the elements of death itself.

The Everest we face today just an ant mound in comparison to the joy ahead of us.

Eyes set.

The Good Shepherd

good-shepherd

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me.” – Jesus

One of Jesus’ most famous sayings.

If you’ve had a Christian upbringing of sorts, it is likely you have heard this story in some form before. In truth, this story encompasses many ideas, much of which has been analysed and picked-apart by people heaps smarter than myself.

Even so, in my experience of people attempting to explain this story, often they look into the ‘dumbness’ of a sheep, and apply it to our need to be guided in life. I don’t disagree with this, don’t get me wrong. Sheep are pretty dumb animals in the eyes of humans. They’re out and out stupid. And similarly, us humans are pretty small when in comparison to an all knowing and loving creator. I agree – we don’t stack up well.

However, I do believe this passage really emphasises that Jesus is the good shepherd. It doesn’t talk about the bad qualities of sheep, rather the good qualities of the shepherd. So that is where our focus will be coming from.

In keeping to this focus, it is important we ask a few questions:

  • What did Jesus mean when he called himself the good shepherd?
  • What were the implications of it, and how can we apply it to our own lives?

Time to unpack this a little.

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In the book Step by Step (Keeys), it says ‘shepherds 2000 years ago were near the bottom of the social ladder’…’they [shepherds] were rarely religious Jews as they could not keep all the laws whilst shepherding sheep.’ [1]

“shepherds…were near the bottom of the social ladder”

So for Jesus to come out and make this statement that he is our shepherd was massive. The people at the time didn’t take (or understand) this analogy very well, as the Bible records some in the crowd saying “he’s demon possessed and out of his mind. Why listen to a man like that?” (John 10:20).

I mean, you can’t blame them in a sense. Here’s a man claiming to be the son of God. He’s claiming creation of everything and everyone in existence. And now he’s also claiming to be..yep, you guessed it. A shepherd.

Jesus was obviously trying to make a point – he was putting himself out there.

So, what was he trying to say to us? Why does Jesus – who claims to be our creator and saviour – also claim to be our good shepherd?

Let’s break it down further.

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A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A SHEPHERD

A shepherd’s life 2000 years ago  was not easy. It was more than an occupation, rather, a lifestyle.

A shepherd’s name, literally translated, is a combination of the words ‘sheep’ and ‘herd’. And that is exactly what they did – herd and protect their sheep.

Many shepherds lived on their own (nomads), away from other people and society. There was never a set beginning/end to a shepherds work. Safety of the flock was at risk through the day and night. Because of this, some shepherds had (small) huts which they shared with sheep. But most often the shepherds would just sleep in the same fields that the sheep were in each night.

A shepherd was responsible for the daily needs of the sheep, and would regularly lead the flock to places with water supply and adequate grass.

As mentioned earlier, shepherds were often languishing low on the ‘social ladder’. They were the outcasts, somewhat disregarded by the higher authorities and people of status, or power.

If other animals came to attack the flock, it was the shepherds’ responsibility to protect them. A shepherd from before Jesus’ time on earth, David, said that ‘when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, [David] went out after him and attacked him.’ (1 Samuel 17:34-35).

It’s important to note that, when a predator such as a wolf came, sheep were completely useless. Without a shepherd, they’d just be torn apart. In extreme cases, a shepherd would die trying to protect the sheep. However, often the shepherd would run away, as they were usually not the owners of the sheep – just the ‘hired hands’ (John 10:12-13).

A genuine care for the flock was developed by shepherds, many said to have named each of their sheep [2]. The sheep would grow fond of the shepherd too.

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THE MAIN IDEA

Jesus is the good shepherd.

Jesus, translated as ‘Yehoshua’ in Hebrew, is a combination of the words ‘God’ and ‘save’ [3]. And that is exactly what Jesus set out to do – save his people..his sheep.

Jesus pulled himself from heaven’s ‘society’ and placed himself amongst us, his own flock. He didn’t stay far from us, out of love he came right down into our mess. Jesus took up residence with us, in order to save us. Not only that, Jesus claims he has prepared a place for us in heaven (John 14:2).

Jesus provides for us. Just like a shepherd leads their flock to grasslands and water, so too Jesus promises to give to us our daily needs. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus explains how he provides even to the daily needs of birds. And we are far more valuable to him than the birds! We don’t have to worry, for our shepherd knows all our needs (Matthew 6:31-32).

Jesus came to us in ultimate humility. His own people despised and rejected him – turned backs on him and looked the other way (Isaiah 53:3).

Jesus protects us from the enemy, Satan. When all forms of attacks came, Jesus – out of intense, passionate love – willingly sacrificed himself for our sake. He gave up his own life for us – his flock (John 10:15). But it didn’t end there. He overcame death and was brought back to life, giving us a hope and reason for eternity (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:5-6).

So that whenever the enemy come again, we have intense confidence our shepherd will protect us – for even death didn’t stop him. We are not scared of the enemy, for our God is far more powerful.

And if our God is for us, who can ever be against us? (Romans 8:31)

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SOMETHING TO GRAZE ON

“Feed my sheep” – Jesus

In 1 Peter 5:2, it says we are to ‘be shepherds of God’s flock that is under [our] care, serving as overseers’.

For the Christians out there: we have a responsibility to build each other up and encourage one another in our faith. We have a responsibility to look after the church (‘the flock’). We have a responsibility to look out for the lost sheep, and bring them back to the good shepherd. If we truly love Jesus, we will continue the work on earth which he started.

And in this, we are to display humility as Jesus did to us. To consider others more important than ourselves – and willingly go low in service to our God.

What a tall order.

But through it all we can know and understand this – that Jesus’ passionate love and genuine care for us brought him into our stuffed up, complicated mess. And he provided the solution – himself in our place.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For you are with me…” – Psalm 23

Jesus sends us out as sheep among wolves in this life (Matthew 10:16). We aren’t guaranteed a free-pass in life, void of all pain and suffering. Quite the opposite.

But we find strength in our shepherd – who put even death to shame.

Safe in his flock.

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REFERENCES

[1] Keeys, C 2011, Step by Step, Walk Through The Bible, Australia, accessed 12 March 2016, <http://www.amazon.com.au/Step-Cliff-Keeys-ebook/dp/B004RJ8MR8&gt;.

[2] Farfaglia, J 2014, What It Means that Jesus Is the Good Shepherd, Aleteia, accessed 12 March 2016, <http://aleteia.org/2014/05/10/what-it-means-that-jesus-is-the-good-shepherd/2/&gt;.

[3]Hebrew Meaning of “Jesus” n.d., Hebrew-streams.org, accessed 12 March 2016, <http://www.hebrew-streams.org/frontstuff/jesus-yeshua.html&gt;.

[4] Christian Leadership: The Good Shepherd 2015, Illustration, Christian Leadership, accessed 23 March 2016, <http://hebrews4.com/2015/10/10/goodshepherd/&gt;.[5] tons of Bible verses

[5] tons of Bible verses