Archive for April, 2012

Wild Iris

Wild Iris

I like these almost as much daffodils. 🙂

The Straying of Sheep

Picture, if you will, a green field. It is well furnished with clover and pasture grass. It has two shade trees, a placid water supply, and sheep. Your sheep can look however you like, but, just so you know, mine have white bodies and black faces. The sheep are busily doing what sheep do – eating, pooping, and getting themselves into trouble. Sheep like to wander. They’ll check out the neighbor’s garden or try to drink out of his pool, likely falling into it instead. They’ll chase figurative butterflies until they’re completely lost. They’ll freak out over their own shadows and start a brainless stampede for “safety.” Poor sheep!

Fortunately for them, there’s a fellow nearby watching over the sheep. He’s the shepherd, and it’s his job to, as the Psalmist put it, lead and keep the sheep in green pastures and beside still waters. He watches the sheep and keeps them safe and relatively content. If he does his job well, the flock prospers. They want for nothing.

Hang onto that picture of fat, happy sheep while I change directions and talk about II Corinthians 10:5. It says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” I’ve heard more than one sermon or lesson on this idea. On the online Bible Church site, a group “dedicated to the expository teaching of God’s Word,” I found a study on Taking Thoughts Captive. It seems to be a pretty good representation of what I’ve heard before, as it emphasizes King James, the insidious pervasiveness of sin, spiritual warfare, and Philippians 4:8. The author even managed to tack on an argument against evolution. What I learned from this was that people are evil stinkers, God expects constant vigilance, and that Christianity is an unrelenting exercise of intellect in the pursuit of righteousness. It seemed like a lot of work and had a militant feel. That may not have been what they were trying to teach me, but I did learn that.

What I didn’t hear so much about was Proverbs 4:23. It advises a person to “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Of course this particular verse popped up a lot in Ransomed Heart Ministries offerings, and I saw the idea of guarding one’s heart frequently referenced on their now vanished forum. From all that I learned hearts were supposed to be good, emotion was more important than I’d previously supposed, and that God expects constant vigilance. It sometimes seemed terribly permissive to me. I was none too sure how to mesh the concept of demolished arguments and captive thoughts with guarding my heart. They seemed at odds with each other, even though they also seem like they should fit together. For that matter, I wouldn’t say now that I’ve a good idea how they mesh now!

However, I do have is this funny picture in my head about sheep. Isaiah 53:6a tells us that “we all, like sheep, have gone astray, [and] each of us has turned to our own way.” Sometimes a sheep will meander off on its own, idly snatching tempting mouthfuls of grass until it has managed to become thoroughly lost. Lambs are especially good at this. Then we hear panicked bleating from both lamb and mother until they find each other. Sometimes a sheep will find a hole in the fence, and it will go through just because there’s a way. Can it find its way back? Goodness me, no! It wanders around the outside of the fence until it can see the other sheep and then stands there bawling. Sometimes something startles one sheep, and it takes off. Does the rest of the flock have a clue about why the first is running? Haha, no, probably not, but, eyes rolling, they scatter themselves every which way trying to escape! Look out, look out, it’s sheep astray, running each their very own way! These sorts of behaviors don’t make for a prosperous or content flock. A shepherd’s job is one of constant care and – you guessed it! – vigilance.

The silliness of sheep does make me giggle, when, of course, I’m not exasperated and trying to chase the silly things back where they belong. Watching them also makes me think that the behavior of sheep and the behavior of my emotions aren’t so different. In fact, if I let go of the idea that people are constantly just horribly and deliberately wicked (sheep usually aren’t malicious, which most certainly does not prevent them from getting into trouble!), I can see a resemblance to the behavior of sheep to my thoughts as well. Haven’t you ever followed a tempting train of thought only to stop and realize that you managed to get a little lost, or that maybe you’re on the wrong side of the fence? What about panic? Have you ever had something just scare you, and all of the sudden, your heart is racing while your thoughts and emotions are surging wildly, “each. . .turned to [its] own way.” I hate feeling like that.

I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I think the human soul has much in common with a flock of sheep. I wonder if perhaps I took my cue more from the Shepherd and less from the militant or permissive extremes, maybe my “flock” would also be more prosperous and content. It’s something to think over, anyway!

A Stormy Triumph

When I think of Easter, I think of spring. Easter usually falls in early spring. This year, spring is late enough that the daffodils are massed in full bloom, there are crocus about, and the cherry trees are covered with pink froth. Sometimes, it’s the azaleas and rhodies and tulips we see, but not yet – those are still waiting for warmer weather! Even in warmer years, though, Easter is usually chilly. It often rains, and not just down, but sideways. There’s plenty of mud. Where I live, Easter takes place in a season of storms. That’s what early spring is here.

It’s a curious thing to me, then, that significant parts of the Easter traditions are celebrated outside. Easter egg hunts? Sunrise services? I have vivid memories of being outside in the rain before the sun rose in my Easter getup listening to a sermon… freezing. Easter dresses aren’t usually warm. Hey, they don’t even come in warm colors! The colors are usually drawn from a pastel palette, and the dresses are designed for sunshine and warmer climes.

That expectation, the one of sunshine and gentle life, is another thing that I find curious. Easter is a celebration of life, yes, but in some ways, it is a holiday of horrors and extreme emotion. As Christians tell the story, it’s preceded by a horrible death of a very good man. Jesus was also God and therefore perfect and innocent, and his death, completely undeserved, is considered an atonement for the sins that all the rest of us busily commit. There was great anguish and pain – not only His, but also for His disciples and others who loved Him – present for days. From the cross, an instrument of tortuous, suffocating death, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Pain, abandonment, disappointment, probably fear, maybe betrayal – Christ must have experienced, with dreadful immediacy, the whole, crushing range of dark human emotion until death relieved him of that burden. I imagine his disciples, family, friends, and other followers experienced similar, albeit somewhat less intense, feelings. They loved Him. They’d banked on His promises. Can you imagine how it must have felt to watch Him die? To live with the knowledge that He was gone, dead, and far beyond human reach? That Sabbath must have been a very dark and hopeless day for them.

And then, Sunday morning, something too good to be true happened. The stone in front of Christ’s tomb was moved, an angel was sitting on it, and Christ was walking around talking to the women who came to visit His grave. The man who was dead was again alive. This was stupendous, incredible, fantastic news, and not fantastic in the merely excellent or superlative sense (as in, wonderful news!) but also fantastic as in “so extreme as to challenge belief.” That happened. The disciples did not believe the women who reported Jesus as now living, and two of them had to run see for themselves, to see if this ridiculous story could actually be true. I would guess that, when they saw Him alive, they felt such joy that it hurt. He’s alive! He’s alive.

Easter, to me, seems far too dramatic for pastel shading. I could buy into sunshine, particularly the blaze of glory kind, but not gentle life. I have to admit that, little though I like it, when I think about the process of the holiday, even the yucky weather I’ve often experienced seems appropriate. The menacing clouds, the scoffing wind, the pervasive chill, the weeping of the rain – they all serve well to represent the trial and trying of Christ and His people. When the sun comes out, when it’s brilliant and full and so beautiful it hurts, when it bursts out to bless the flowers and green that are already present, it’s a great symbol of the vibrant, flourishing triumph that is Easter and Christ’s resurrection. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Happy Easter!