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I Just Wanna Be A Sheep…

October 30, 2013

Over the last few weeks, we have been working through a sermon series called “The chURch” here at Glenn Park. Notice how UR is larger than everything else? That’s because you don’t go to church, YOU ARE THE CHURCH! With that in mind, our Lead Minister, Chris Solwecki, has been working through several different examples of what that looks like in Scripture. We’ve discussed Christ as the Head and we the body, Christ as the Cornerstone and we the building, and Christ as the Vine and we the branches. This week, I had the honor of preaching for both services as Chris and his wife took a day to be together. My topic? Christ the Good Shepherd. Of course, this invariably leads to a short discourse on sheep. With that in mind, here’s a few tidbits of interest on our fluffy friends.

Fun Facts about sheep

There are over 1 billion sheep in the world

5.5 million of them are in America

210,000 of those are in Montana

Yearly, the average American eats 86.5 lbs of chicken, 65 lbs of beef, 50.5 lbs of pork, 17.3 lbs of turkey, but only 1.1 lbs of lamb

Sheep products can be found in many normal items such as tennis rackets, candles, soap, cosmetics & skincare products.

In the 17th Century, King George III banned export of sheep to American colonies and outlawed wool trading in the colonies. This, was one of the acts which eventually led to the American Revolution.

Spain valued its Merino sheep so much because of their prized wool that until the 18th Century, exporting sheep was an offense punishable by death.

During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson had a flock of sheep trim the White House lawn.

Sheep have excellent peripheral vision. Their large rectangular pupils allow them to see almost 360 degrees. They can actually see behind themselves without turning their heads!

Sheep can recognize up to 50 faces of other sheep and remember them for up to 2 years. I’m not sure how they do this, because if you’ve seen one sheep, you’ve seen ‘em all by my standards!

They can also recognize human faces, which allows them to know their shepherd.

These things are pretty darn cool!  I mean… punishable by death to export a sheep?  Seriously?!  Being able to see all the way behind yourself without turning your head? That sounds like something out of a superhero comic book!  How come S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn’t discovered an 804 that can do that?  Maybe they have… C’mon Rising Tide, find out! At any rate, I digress… Even as cool as sheep seem to be, they are still kinda stupid.

Stupid Facts about sheep

Sheep are the only animal that cannot go wild. Turn a dog, cat, horse, pig, or even a cow loose in the wild and they’ll find a way to survive on their own. Turn a sheep loose, and it will only get eaten.

Sheep have no offensive or defensive weapons. No fangs, claws, shell, spray. In fact, their wool acts like roughly 8 pounds of Velcro which makes it easy to grab on and pull them to the ground. I’d call that the opposite of defense. Dogs bare their teeth, cats arch their backs, and snakes coil & raise their heads to appear larger. What’s a sheep to do? How do you puff yourself up when you’re already fluffy?

Sheep know one trick and one trick only. They run and flock. Scientists used to think this was complex behavior, as they’d look at the precision of a flock of birds and imagine how hard it would be to fly planes that close together. Everyone knows how hard it is to get a hundred people moving in the same direction, but computer science has taught us that flocking is very simple. All you need is a hundred tiny brains, each big enough to hold three simple rules. 1. If you see a predator, run. 2. If you see a sheep, get closer. 3. Don’t bump into anyone. Here’s how it works:

Here’s the herd. Over here is Little Joe Sheep. Joe sees a wolf. Startle reflex kicks in and he starts to run. The other sheep see Joe running, so they begin to run. No one wants to get bumped, so they all run in formation. No one wants to be alone, so they all run together. Notice that the entire flock is running, and the only one who knows why is Joe, and Joe is probably already dead. They keep running until they get tired, the wolf has already stopped to eat Joe, and they live to baa another day.

That’s it. That’s their entire survival strategy. Please don’t eat me. Eat Joe. He’s tasty. Run awaaaay!

As if the above mentioned “fun facts” don’t show you just how stupid sheep can be, take a look at this video of a man “chatting” with a flock.

 

 

I know that’s a silly example, but doesn’t it prove how obviously inept and, well, stupid sheep are?  Even when in a flock, they still get lost, drown in moving water because they can’t swim, get trapped, get eaten, and get stolen by thieves and robbers.

What does this prove?  It proves they need a SHEPHERD. It also proves WE need a shepherd as well…

Why do we need a shepherd?

Because we are sheep!!

When I was really young, we’d go to Vacation Bible School every summer and sing a song called “I Just Wanna Be a Sheep”. It went something like this:

“I don’t wanna be a Pharisee, I don’t wanna be a Pharisee, ‘cause they’re not fair you see, I just wanna be a sheep baa baa baa”

Now, when I was a kid, this was a really fun song to sing.  However, as I recalled the words in preparation for this message, I had an entirely different thought… Are we CRAZY?!  Do we know what we’re saying?!?! Let me be a New York sewer rat instead!  At least then I know I’d be able to survive and live even if I were on my own!! Pick something other than a sheep!!!

But no… we are sheep…. Sheep in need of a shepherd. Look at what God’s Word says in the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah 53:6 [NIV] We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all

For sheep not to go astray, they need to follow a shepherd. Since we know we are sheep in need of a shepherd, it is vitally important to understand the type of shepherds available to follow.

There are 3 types of shepherds: Hirelings, Bad shepherds, and Good shepherds.

Hirelings don’t own the sheep, but are hired by the owner to maintain the flock. Because they don’t own the sheep, their investment is generally the bare minimum. They’ll feed ‘em, water ‘em, and when the wolf comes, abandon them. If one were to give this type of shepherd a modern moniker, I would call them “the world”. That is, after all, what the world does, right? The world gives you it’s version of what you should consume, and when trouble comes (as it always does), the world leaves you high and dry with no one to protect you.

Bad shepherds own the sheep, but rule over them with harsh treatment and anger. They will drive and push them from behind, smacking them to keep them in line and yelling angrily to get them to go where he desires. As a result, the sheep become even more stupid and skittish, never learning to exercise whatever intelligence God gave them. They never thrive. Instead, they merely survive. This sounds like the evil one to me. Always pushing, always smacking us around to get us to do things his way, always making us more stupid and skittish, never able to do more than survive in his flock…

Good shepherds own their flocks, but care for them with compassion and love. The good shepherd knows his flock, and they know him. He doesn’t have to drive them from behind. He leads them from the front, so an attacker has to go through him first. He calls them by name and they come to him. The good shepherd is their guide through danger, their gate to safety, their rescue when lost, and their healing when hurt. The good shepherd is their life.  In fact, sheep know the good shepherd so well, if two flocks get combined, the shepherds can walk to opposite ends of the same field, call out to their sheep, and the sheep will automatically separate themselves and rejoin their shepherd without getting lost. This sounds like a shepherd one would love to follow! Sure, there are rules, places you can’t go, things you can’t do… BUT, you have so much more freedom within those boundaries!

Psalm 100:3 [NIV] says, “Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”

What a comforting thought! Even more so, take a look at this passage from Psalm 23. Many will recognize it as a passage from any number of funerals we’ve been to, but take a fresh look at what it says in the context of being one of God’s sheep.

Psalm 23: 1-6 [NIV] The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

The good shepherd will lead his sheep out to eat in the cool of the morning, and then make them lie down until evening when they are allowed to get up and eat again. This is so the sheep don’t burn off all they’ve eaten just to eat something else when the sun is beating down. The good shepherd will find quiet or still water for this flock to drink from, because sheep are scared of moving water, and if they fall in they can’t swim and will drown. The good shepherd carries a rod and a staff. The staff is used to guide the sheep, stop them from going certain places, and the crook in it can be used to lift trapped sheep out of dangerous places. The rod is used to defend the sheep from attackers.

Additionally, most sheep pens in the fields were circles of large rocks or high thickets with one entrance point. An actual gate of some sort wasn’t available, and one couldn’t just run down to the local Home Depot and build one. That being the case, the shepherd ended up laying across the entrance, literally making his body “the gate” which kept the sheep in and attackers out.

Because of these things, the flock trusted the good shepherd to lead them through pretty much anywhere

Jesus, when speaking to the Pharisees, calls Himself the Good Shepherd. Take a look:

John 10:1-15 [NIV] “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

What does this mean for us? It means we have a loving, caring, compassionate being who loves us so much they gave their very lives for us. It means Jesus desires to be our Savior and our Good Shepherd. It means He knows us intimately, and desires for us to know Him in the same way. It means we need to not only act like sheep, but we need to actually BE sheep in the way Scripture implies.

We must stop acting like sheep in wolves’ clothing. No, I didn’t miss-type that entire sentence.

The wolf in sheep’s clothing tries to infiltrate the flock from the outside. The sheep in wolves’ clothing is trying to get out from the inside by pretending to be something they are most assuredly not. Trying to be cool. Trying to be in charge and independent. Who are we trying to impress? Other sheep? Hanging out on the fringes doesn’t make us cool. It makes us dinner.

We must embrace the truth that we desperately need a shepherd. The question is, what kind of shepherd will we choose? A Hireling, A Bad Shepherd, or the Good Shepherd?

We must flock together. The world is a dangerous place, and the evil one lurks like a hungry predator. Our only defense is to come together and allow the shepherd to defend us. Sheep that wander from the flock are easy pickings for a ravenous culture.

Please understand: Not saying we should stay in a “bubble”, but rather, we should remember the “in, not of” mentality when engaging our culture. Sheep engage their culture, but only under the direction/protection of the shepherd and the relative safety of the flock if they want to survive.

Finally, we must live at peace with each other in the flock. Sheep don’t eat themselves!!! Have you ever seen a carnivorous sheep? It sounds like the makings of a really low budget horror flick to me… However, the scene plays itself out over and over again in faith communities all over the world. Infighting, backbiting, gossip, slander, etc… All go against Holy Scripture, and yet it still comes out of the mouths of the most pious looking and acting members of church bodies when it would serve them better just to shut up. Again, sheep don’t eat themselves.

Rather than wasting energy on bringing others down, why not work together, serve together, encourage one another, share life together, pray for each other, pray for each other, pray for each other, and did I mention: PRAY FOR EACH OTHER!!!

Christ is the Good Shepherd, and we are to be His sheep. Let’s join together as His flock and follow His lead.

My Lead Minister, Chris Solwecki, has a blog as well! Check it out here.

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