I Want to Be a Sheep

14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep.

– John 10:14-15 CEB

(Heads up: this blog has always been a place for me to be vulnerable in a public and controlled way.  This is one of those posts where I’m a bit more vulnerable [read: whiny] than is probably healthy, but as far as I know there is a point in there, somewhere…)

I’ve kind of missed a couple of #pictureLent days, which is really sad for me because it was my way of trying to get back into a routine of devotion – and to stop making excuses of why I couldn’t.  Then I got sick and busy – which is an awesome combination – and I missed a couple of days.  But I’m trying, and I am sticking to my blogging plan (which I’m not saying out loud for fear that just saying it will be enough to make me feel better), so here we are.

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(The program is BibleWorks, which is important for what is going on.  And I should have cleaned up the clutter, but it also just kind of makes sense given the state of my mind and schedule right now.)

Being a pastor means you are called to be a shepherd.  It’s literally the call you sign up for.  I don’t find myself using the crook a lot to fend off wolves, but I do find myself guiding and directing as much as I can, given the boundaries of my position.  And I love it.  Nora’s asked me a few times if I made the right decision for my life’s work and I know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

But sometimes you don’t want to be the shepherd that day.  I woke up yesterday and the cough that started destroying me Saturday settled further into my chest and added sneezing.  It was cold outside, making breathing (insert sarcasm), and Nora started her new job.  It was Monday, it’s supposed to be my time for Sabbath, and instead I did about 6 hours worth of work.  Any other Monday I would have just said, “well, I’ll make up for it some other time this week,” but yesterday it just didn’t set well with me.  The laundry and dishes that actually belong on a Monday didn’t get done, the table is clearly still a mess (as is my desk, which is why I’m at the table), and this morning I’ve got some energy back but the cough is still hanging on strong.

I wanted nothing more than to go back to being a sheep in the flock.

My biggest guilt right now is that I haven’t really used scripture as a devotional tool; it’s been my job, and not a whole lot more.  And yesterday I stared at BibleWorks for probably 2 hours and my soul read none of it.  I forgot that I’m still a sheep despite my role as a shepherd.

God is my shepherd.  Scripture is His guidance, His staff, and His love expressed.

Yesterday morning I tweeted about penance and hope, but I also think that any study of scripture – be it professional or devotional – that doesn’t end up leading the person studying to hope is flawed.  I got nothing of hope out of my studies yesterday; I got tasks done, but no devotion.

If I want to be a sheep, if I want God as my shepherd, I have to let him be the shepherd.  Even if I am a shepherd of a small flock, I know that ultimately I am just another sheep that (weakly and slowly and often badly) fights the wolves and guides my fellow sheep.  Ultimately I will not be successful if I rely on my own abilities and not the guidance and protection and love of the ultimate shepherd.

I can’t do this alone, and I am admitting that even if I love my role as minor shepherd in the grand scheme, I am not desiring to be in charge.  I want to be a sheep in God’s flock.  To do that, I need to start relying on scripture again, fully, and not just as a professional tool.  That’s my goal.

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing. 2 He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; 3 he keeps me alive. He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name.

– Psalm 23:1-3 CEB

Peace,

– Robby

 

Ash Wednesday is Dark Hope

I love Ash Wednesday.  It’s not something I realized that I loved until I started planning the worship service for tonight, but it is something that I love.

All throughout seminary there was this hesitation to admit that we were incapable – on our own – to contribute anything to God’s mission, that we brought nothing to the table that wasn’t given to us by God and directed by the Holy Spirit, and that we are hopelessly broken without God and Christ’s salvific* act on the cross.  In the ordination process, too, there is a weird push-back if you place any emphasis on your unworthiness of the call of professional ministry.

I find this weird because I am a Presbyterian, and a strong Reform Presbyterian at that, and I went to a Presbyterian seminary and currently in the process of being ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I’m not quite a TULIP but Total Depravity has always been one of my theological pillars.  I have always known that I’m pretty screwed up, and that I can’t stop sinning, and I never see anyone else living without sin.  Total Depravity just seems like the logical theological position, given my reading of scripture and anecdotal observation of the world.

I think the push-back is because no one – myself included – really describes the absolutely joyous truth behind Total Depravity.  We get to caught up on the sinful part of the Total Depravity – and the correct discomfort that comes from it – that we forget that the whole point of that is the relationship with Christ that our brokenness necessitates.  The theology of Total Depravity is really a theology of hope that despite our brokenness, despite the sins that we commit every hour, we are saved and in a loving and caring relationship with our God, a God whom came to Earth and suffered our condition to save us.

364** days a year we try to ignore and/or downplay depravity and focus on forgiveness.  1 day a year we focus on our penance.  Never do the penance focus and forgiveness focus meet.  Forgiveness is light and bright, penance dark and heavy and oppressive.

I guess it just always melted together for me because I find comfort in melancholy and darkness.  It never made sense that it wouldn’t just feel comfortable to know you’re a sinner because I always knew the punchline of salvation.  It just made sense to me, and I couldn’t rationalize why there would be so much push-back when it came down to talking about it.

364 we ignore it, 1 day a year it’s all that we see.  We mark ourselves (or at least some do; I don’t, but that’s another story), we sit in ashes, and we confess.  And because we have a single-focus, we forget the hope that it is.

“Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.” – Joel 2:13 CEB

This is a day to return to God – prostrate, but knowing that you are saved – and return to the calls and talents that God has placed in your life.

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This blog is my major spiritual discipline, and you can see how much I have neglected that part of my life, citing being too busy and too tired and you name it.  I know that I’m saved, but I know that my soul needs healing, my spiritual life needs discipline, and I know that need to return to it.  My desk is a mess, my sermon for…5 hours from now isn’t finalized, and I haven’t eaten lunch yet, but I’m returning to a discipline of spiritual life.

Reflect on the darkness of your soul and of your sin, but know that the disciplines and penance are to show us hope and strengthen our relationship with God, not to create more darkness in our lives.  Focus not specifically on the sins of your soul, but on the necessity of the love that you are freely given.

Return to God, the God of love.

Peace,

– Robby

*Totally a word.

**365 this year.