The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd

Story heard and shared by Charlie Musser and retyped by Brittany Shears.

There once was a father who had a son he loved dearly and who he took great joy in. While the father had intended to give his son the world, unfortunately the family’s flock had fallen in disarray due to the lies of their greatest rival. The father had created and nurtured the flock and though he did not need the flock he treasured them and sought to restore them.

Seeing his father’s grief the son volunteered to go out and help make the way for the flock to return to the father. Though the way came at great cost, the son succeeded in his mission and the way was made. The entire household rejoiced at such a victory. The flock was finally able to be restored and the son became known as the good shepherd.

Overtime though the son found some of the flock refused to finish crossing the path he had set, for they feared the creek they would have to cross. Although the grass was clearly greener and plentiful on the other side they stayed along the bank. Though only feet away, they remained lost in the rival’s territory.

The good shepherd was desperate. He walked along the flock calling them by name and encouraging them to cross. Some looked at him with hope in their eyes that was slowly diminished by their own fears and decision to stay safely along the bank. Others ignored him as they continued to do what they felt was best, eating the mediocre grass and staying a safe distance from the bank in complacency. And then there were those who were farthest from the bank living wildly and hostile towards the good shepherd when he approached. Regardless, none answered him.

He continued to walk through the flock hoping to find one who would brave the creek and enter into his father’s kingdom before darkness fell. Eventually he came across a newborn lamb. It looked up at the good shepherd and bleated in excitement of being alive and seeing this new friendly face. The good shepherd knelt down and as he pat his head he had an idea.

“Would you cross the creek my friend?” He asked the little lamb. The lamb looked up at the good shepherd a moment longer then bowed his head. The good shepherd knew the lamb could not cross on her own, but he could carry her. So he gathered the lamb and gently carried her to the bank of the creek. Quickly the mother of the lamb took notice and began to loudly protest drawing the attention of the others.

The good shepherd turned and reassuringly called “Follow me,” and he continued his journey across the creek into the greener pasture of his father’s kingdom. As the good shepherd gently laid the lamb down he turned to the sound of the mother jumping into the creek and crossing over. He smiled as she reached him and her lamb and rejoiced that she had made it home. As the good shepherd looked up he saw the father quickly crossing as well and behind him several others began to wade in and make their way.

By nightfall the entire flock had safely made it home into his father’s kingdom.

As the flock ran and jumped with joy in excitement for their new home the good shepherd noticed the mother sheep beside her lamb. The good shepherd walked over and sat beside the mother who eyed him curiously as he pat her head. “I am sorry to have had to put you through that. But I know what it is to suffer a great cost for a greater good. I realized that I would have to take one to the other side so the entire flock would follow. I know your separation was painful but I assure you, your little lamb has won a great victory for the kingdom- for now you, your lamb and the entire flock have entered into my father’s glory where there is no more sorrow and no more separation”.

Moral of the Story: Sometimes God will take one to the other side so the entire flock will follow.

 

Indivisible

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

John 17:20-23

 

Abraham Lincoln pleaded for it, Helen Keller proposed it and J.K. Rowling wrote about it. Gandhi believed in it, Henry Ford franchised it and Martin Luther King Jr. fought for it.

And Jesus, Jesus prayed for it.

Unity.

It is not something that many of us generally take into consideration but is absolutely essential in every relationship we have. Let alone in our general heart-ittude towards humanity.

Think about it- take a moment- what would you pray for if you knew it’d be your last prayer? At least your last prayer before everything fell apart. Possibly your last prayer on this side of heaven.

What would you pray for?

What do you think Jesus would pray for?

I can honestly confess when this question was first posed to me, my initial guess was wrong. And the answer hit my heart hard. Because while I may have been striving to love and serve and lead a life I felt fit in the guidelines- I could not recall ever taking unity specifically into consideration. I suppose I always assumed it was a byproduct of all the other things. Surely it would follow when I acted on those other principles.

I had never connected the dots that it was literally Jesus’ last prayer before he was arrested. He had fallen on the ground distraught not hours earlier, pleading with his Father, begging for his life; but not my will – let yours be done.

However that moment before it all began, before that hellacious day took place in order to achieve a heavenly victory Jesus didn’t pray for further strength. Although his eyes were probably still red from his earlier desperation, he didn’t call down the legion of angels on stand by. No concern on his own behalf passed his lips.

Unity.

Thanks to John we know the who, what and why in Jesus last prayer with his disciples.

Jesus prayed for believers then and believers to come.

          “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one”

He prayed for their unity.

“-so that they may be brought to complete unity”

So that all would know they are loved.

                “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

His greatest concern, his final plea to heaven – was for you and for me and for every believer to live in unity. To never feel alone. To know that they were loved. To know that they had a family always by their side and continuously on call. Highs and lows. Thick and thin.

And you want to know what made my heart practically stop?

What was it about this prayer that could be anymore astounding than it already was?

The revelation- that Jesus prayed this prayer, that he pleaded in full faith to the Father, that we would never feel alone….

Moments before he would experience the greatest depth of loneliness and desertion ever to be felt.

His friends would flee.

Every advocate would hide.

And His Father would turn away.

Wrecked.

As we celebrate Memorial Day and remember those who have given it all for all that we enjoy in the United States of America. As we remember those who believed in the good in this world and believed it was worth fighting for, even if the cost was their life- I hope we can all lean in a little closer.

Every year the division in our nation seems to be escalating. And as Lincoln stated, a house divided cannot stand. Aside from arguing, hurt feelings and high emotions not much is accomplished. Apart from the name calling and finger pointing we’ve spent more time in congressional “time outs” than in investing and supporting one another.

The point of this post is not to say who is right and who is wrong. I am not calling one out over the other. I am calling us together. My prayer is that of Jesus all those years ago.

Because those men and women didn’t fight for one over the other, they fought and fight for all. Basic human rights endowed by our creator.

Indivisible under God.

This Memorial Day lets redirect and realign, remembering those things which truly matter.

 

To Christ Alone

“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I am helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It does not change God- it changes me.”

C.S. Lewis

Prayer born of a rocky road;

Heavenly Father,

I thank you continuously for all you have done, do and are doing. I thank you for every day, even the hard and darker ones.

God I rejoice that even when I feel inadequate, worthless, broken, damaged- lost in my own sin and weakness and defeat- You still love me as much as ever. For your love is not dependent on how I feel or what I have done or left undone. Your love is steadfast and unchanging.

God should every other blessing you have bestowed fade away, your love alone is more than I could ever truly need, want and still infinitely more than I deserve.

Lord Jesus fill my heart with your Holy Spirit. Lord Jesus I pray for your strength for the day and wisdom for words. I pray for your healing and forgiveness. Lord Jesus mold me and create in me a heart after your own, help me to love people and this world as you do. Help me to love and follow you without fear and when afraid- still in spite of it.

God I pray continuously for my family and friends and all those who surround me and who are afar, known to me and unknown. God be with us, all of those who may be in the middle of a time which feels like this disastrous and empty end. Remind us- but You. In You we have eternal hope.

God You surpass every modern and worldly ability. You have called us to eternity and we live in that hope. Remind and convict our hearts of not only all you are but also a holy defiance against the enemy and all his schemes. Bring us through the difficult and dark times. As much as it hurts and as dark as it looks- You are the small light continuously ahead and at our side.

Carry us Lord Jesus and deliver us.

I place my whole heart in Your hands and entrust all I am and all I have to You.

In your Holy and Almighty and Loving and Wonderful name,

I love You and Amen.

Forever I Am Thankful: Scars Part III

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

 God, I had gotten it all wrong.

As I sat in that chair in that doctor’s office as he explained to me what answers they had found and the new questions they had raised – the image of all I had dreamed crumbling and crashing to the ground shot through my head.

9 months into my Masters of Ministry program.

2 months as the Junior High Youth Pastor Intern.

Applications and interviews in preparation for applying for a military chaplaincy position.

All of it, possibly no longer possible.

As the doctor left to give me a moment and gather some paperwork, I let the tears run as I cried out to God.

Had I been so wrong?

However life had prepared me for this moment. Because as I turned to run straight to him, I found I was already in his arms.

God, it doesn’t matter if I got it wrong, because I know you can make it right. God, Your will… in between sobs… Your will.

Just tell me what to do next… drop out of school, step down from the church…

Proceed as planned.

God?

I could feel the path taking a slight turn (though in the moment it had felt like a 90 degree knock the wind out of you sharp right angle) however I could also feel him telling me to stay the current course.

Proceed as planned, and when the plan changes, trust me and don’t hesitate- look at me and keep going.

I have you and I will not let you go. Daughter, keep going.

And when my doctor returned he found an uncertain and struggling patient turned into a battle ready and confident warrior. Practically giddy with excitement, having witnessed the victory before the fight even began.

Three words. You have MS.

Three words. Proceed as planned.

There have been ups and downs, highs and lows, obstacles and challenges. Life style changes and just life changes.

I didn’t choose this journey. But I wouldn’t trade it.

Without the hurdles and struggle and pain I’d never have fully known God’s grace and peace and faithfulness. I’ve personally witnessed the impossible become possible. I can account for the fact that he still does what he once did and will always do.

This is not to say I haven’t witnessed those times in which for some divine reason he didn’t intervene or he let it take a different course or be prolonged a bit later.

In my conclusions I have found that is when faith is made or broken. He can only grow your faith through the fire- it is easy to believe in the goodness of a God who fits into our worldly definition of provision and intervention, but can you believe in the goodness of a God who withholds his hand for a higher reason we cannot fathom?

Do you have faith, can you really believe and trust that he knows best?

No matter what.

That’s a heavy order. But while I don’t claim to do it perfectly I can honestly claim that I do.

It may come out between sobs and anger and confusion and frustration… but I really do believe in a God that good, no matter what.

And he has made all the difference.

The doctors have said I have Multiple Sclerosis, a spine so riddled in scars… they’re not sure how it has held itself together.

My answer- I’ve got a God you not only has my back but literally has my back.

I have a God whose will I trust completely and to whom my only prayer is to do what he wants. He loves that I dream and make plans, so as long as I remember when he changes those dreams and plans I need to trust his are better- no matter what or how it feels.

And there is something absolutely so powerful, undefeatable and unshakable in that.

This fallen world can take everything from you, except him, and in him we remember this is only a journey towards our forever home.

I’ve learned when tempted to look and focus on the outside to turn my eyes and heart to the inside. Because when I refocus on God and look through his perspective, everything outside of him becomes incredibly small.

The Lokai bracelet’s have a black bead and a white bead. The black bead contains dirt from the Dead Sea while the white bead contains water from Mt. Everest. When you’re in the valley stay hopeful; when you’re on the mountaintop stay humble. The blue bracelet pictured is the one designed for MS awareness and fundraising. Regardless of what battles you may be facing, these bracelets carry a powerful reminder.

Additionally, I encourage you to remember that no matter how dark, grey or cloudy it may appear – the sun is always behind the clouds, right where it’s always been.

Look to the inside. You’ll find more light and hope and resilience built on more love and grace and faithfulness than you could ever have dreamed and still more than you can fully comprehend.

Today marks my second Walk for MS event, later this summer 2 years will have passed since my diagnosis. Some days come easier than others. Some dreams have been waylaid while others picked up.

Regardless the future is still brimming with the unknown.

Also regardless, we will declare hope anyway.

Because that’s what you do when you walk, run, bike or fundraise for a cause. You come alongside others not with cure all’s and answers but with hope and love. Encouragement and friendship. Personally, I do not believe there’ll ever be a better medicine, or a cure complete without the two. Friendship offers hope, and where there is hope there is life.

So my friends please know how needed you are, inside of you lies the power of life and death itself. And no matter how it feels or looks on the outside- we are battle ready.

As hard as it may be and whatever lies ahead, I am thankful for the scars. And look forward to the day when God’s mighty and glorious purpose falls into place before our eyes.

*Title inspired by the song Scars performed by artists I Am They.

There and Back Again

Having had the opportunity to see the pre-advance screening of Tolkien this past Tuesday I felt the need to share a quick Public Service Announcement:

GO. WATCH. TOLKIEN.

If you are not a fan…

Why not?

But in all sincerity I would still encourage you to go;

1) because it is a beautifully well done film

2) because it tells a story about a life beautifully lived.

… It is just a good story, go enjoy the story. Your Tolkien friends will thank you.

If you are a fan… like myself… and have read a few books on Tolkien and his life, his work and maybe even listened to an interview or two… still go.

There is so much more to learn, trust me.

My first lesson was I shamefully and accidentally have pronounced his name wrong my entire life. (I know, I was surprised too).

Secondly, this covers the pre-World War one years. These years are not as heavily discussed. These are the years, and the First World War, which lead to the creation of The Hobbit. After World War Two Tolkien wrote his most well known works- The Lord of the Ring Trilogy.

It was also after WWII he met Lewis (this too should one day be a movie, but I will settle for this one for now). However, as much as I love Tolkien and Lewis’s infamous friendship, I learned more about and now love the story of the friendships which built him up and carried him through those earlier years.

Finally, fan or no fan, watch the movie or don’t watch the movie, the greatest lesson is the impact we can have on this world when we allow our experiences to give us insight and share the stories and words which live in us. Use your experiences to create that which you feel called to create. God has given you talents and gifts- tell your story, which tells God’s story- and use those talents!! Write, draw, sew, quilt, crochet, build, construct, photograph… do what it is and prepare to stand back and marvel at what it is God has crafted in you.

Tolkien was probably not aware of the impact he would have on his generation, let alone the generations to follow. Just like he probably didn’t suspect that converting his stout atheist friend Lewis to Christianity would build the platform for one of the greatest Christian authors of the twenty-first century.

Only God knows the impact you will have on this earth. The lives you will change. Or maybe just the one life… that creates a domino effect… and changes the world.

Meanwhile, just know I highly recommend Tolkien (always) and personally cannot wait to see this adventure God has begun continue to play out.

Also honorable mention to the best sister cousin ever- Jaime- who though uncertain she’d enjoy this movie (a Tolkien fan but not a biography genre fan) selflessly stepped into the theater with me for not only the film – but live Q&A to follow. She also establishes that it was completely and totally worth it and highly recommends much to her own surprise and my excitement. In summary-

GO. WATCH. TOLKIEN.

At All Times

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Proverbs 17:17

It is a strange thing, trying to live a life I had never imagined without you.

My dreams, path and plans have changed so many times- and often drastically- (And I now have six degrees and counting to prove it 🤷🏻‍♀️😂)

But there was always consistencies sewn into the possibilities.

And you were one of them. No matter where I went, what I did or who I became in my mind’s eye- you were right beside me at all times.

Up until 8 years ago I never foresaw this. This was never an option.

8 years later. Has it really been that long?

Everywhere and everything. You can be found in the small and mundane to the unexpected and extraordinary. 

Missing you has become a constant. You were always pretty missable.

Unfortunately there is no distance we can physically travel to get to where you are on our own. Lord knows, if there was, I (and several others who love you) would be on my way if I wasn’t already there.

Random song lyrics or just some old favorites. Movies I know you would love. Stories I hear of and think you would enjoy. Every moment spent in our once favorite store. 

And yes, there are still moments when the missing you attempts to cast a shadow. Moments when thoughts attempt to form and whisper doubt and fear and confusion.

And yet… I did say that those moments attempted to cast a shadow because when the missing you reaches the brink of unbearable, I am reminded to look up, and to take in the view.

Yes, bud, we miss you more than words can express. Lord knows, I have made every effort to get it down on paper. 8 years of efforts. Not possible thus far, but I’ll keep trying.

But don’t worry. Because the missing you instead of leaving me hopeless and beaten and broken- leaves me in a state of wonder. Because in the past 8 years God has enabled you to do some remarkable and marvel worthy things. And while I have been privileged to witness or participate in some, I realize there are so many which I cannot see or have not been revealed.

Where the world told us there was a period, God put a coma. Your story is far from over and your legacy is still in the establishing. And in those moments of remembrance, I hear God whispering

At all times.

He never left. There was never a moment he didn’t love me. Or didn’t love you. Or didn’t love all who we loved. His love is not negated by circumstance. It does not rise or fall depending on our actions or situation.

He loves at all times. And since we love because he first loved us, our love doesn’t end either- at least not without our permission.

We can get angry or disappointed and decide to cast our love aside, but it can never be taken from us without us first conceding it. And even then, I do not believe it would ever be fully gone.

A friend loves at all times. 

Bud, I hope you know how much I love you. You are still my back up. You are still the one pushing me forward. You are the still the one telling me to go, fearlessly, and if not able to go fearlessly- to go with the confidence of your full backing.

As I look back I can remember how distance had never been a problem. Friendship is not defined by distance nor can it be overthrown by distance. And if it didn’t matter states away or 5 minutes away, why would it matter heavens away? Space and time- Love spans both and I have grown to believe grows larger in proportion.

Your words from then give me hope. The laughter I can recall gives me courage. The faces and stories I share with our family and friends kindle my resilience. God has called us to a holy defiance- against every bit of darkness, dismay and despair. In the words of Samwise Gamgee – I am reminded there is still good in this world and it is worth fighting for. And you my friend continuously lead the way, your light and legacy shining ever the brighter.

Growing up without you here remains difficult. But after 8 years I can no longer claim to have lived these 8 years without you. I’ve made mistakes and I’ll probably make more. I still am not entirely sure on where I am headed though I am confident in the direction… I believe. And you have been with me every step of the way. In every prayer, thought and hope.

Amid the emotions that come along with today there is a foundational sense of triumph because my friend eight years ago I never thought I’d make it to today. I couldn’t imagine finding joy and God and you in this world again. Defeated. But God, God had other plans. God has proclaimed victory over a battle I never dreamed could be fought. 8 years ago the enemy thought he’d won. He didn’t anticipate the uprising God had in store. In the middle of the pain and sorrow I cannot help but feel a laugh emerging (you know one of those possibly inappropriately timed ones) because while the battle is not over the war has already been won. Meanwhile I am going to wake every morning with two missions:

1. Praise God and be continuously awestruck at His awesomeness.

2. Ruin Satan’s day all the time.

If I had been asked 8 years ago I would have guessed I was Jonathan and you were David, assuming David was the stronger of the two. As I study and write I find my assumption would have been wrong my friend. Most of us know of David’s victories and his God anointed destiny. But God did so much, he gave David more than we ever thought to imagine. David had a best friend. And just like you in my life, that made all the difference.

And that will be my life’s work. Founded on God and his goodness. On the love he imparts to his children. And on a friendship crafted into the heart and soul. I will tell the story. I will say (and mostly write) the words. At all times.

We celebrate your life today, a life that continues to leave a light and is as vibrant today as it was 8 years ago. Cheers my friend, this adventure is far from over and from what I hear- the view is worth every valley.

♥️ Jean Bean

 

 

Standing In Confidence: Scars Part II

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:23

I am a people pleaser.

I attempt to avoid conflict at all costs and have an innate need or desire to “fix” it, whatever that may entail.

And this is not necessarily a bad thing. Most of us would agree that it falls very nicely and neatly into those concepts of “love your neighbor as yourself” and “the greatest shall be the least” and even “laying our lives down for our friends”.

People pleasing. Bible Study 101.

Except, no.

At first glance, the life of Jesus may seem like a “people pleasing” one. Give all the things away, take the detour, love unconditionally…

But when you dig deeper, when you stop for a second and actually take a really good look- you find that he was anything but a people pleaser.

The number of times he single-handedly in a matter of sentences defrauded everything the higher religious powers were preaching at the time is astounding. And while he was continuously compassionate to men and women from every walk of life, he never hesitated to bring up the hard issues and deliver absolute truth in love. And don’t forget the time he literally began to flip tables in the temple out of heartbreak for his father’s home.

No, upon further inspection- Jesus was far from a people pleaser. He was a God-the-Father pleaser. Everything he did, he did as the Father asked him to, no matter where it took him or what it looked like.

Plus- ironically the people around you often fare better when you strive to serve and love them God’s way verses their way.

Over the past few weeks with my graduation coming faster and along with it a new chapter full of first steps, a hundred different comments have filled my head.

Typically they go one of two ways- A “Congratulations” or a “Why?”.

Why…. and fill in the blanks. The way I have chosen to spend my time, my life choices and my future direction along with probably any other miscellanous topic you can think of has come into question.

Followed by a ‘but can you really’ remark.

And of course my answer is, well I really don’t know.

I don’t know how this will all play out. I have a plan, I’m on a path, but the truth is I am not quite sure I have pinpointed the destination. I have taken a few guesses.

Something I do know is that I have completely surrendered my life to His design, and He directs my steps. No matter where it takes me or what it looks like.

Another thing I know, is that I am far from the only one who faces these questions and the inner doubts which knock on the door trying to follow in after them. As I have spoken to others, I have become increasingly aware of the fact you will never make everyone happy.

I realize this is a lesson that has been around for a while. But its as if for the first time I am seeing it in color. Because the truth is, according to some of my friends who were directed to take a different road and made the choices I did not, they get the same questions. Slightly altered. But the same.

And all this, breaks my heart. We all in our own and unique God-given way bear his likeness. We are all created in his image. Yet not one of us is the same. We have been uniquely, lovingly and purposely created and crafted with specific gifts and talents and treasures.

Our mission?

Overcome the fear and the doubt and bravely utilize those gifts and talents to grow and prosper our Father’s kingdom. To use them in a way that invests and inspires the world around us.

No it is not easy. And the enemy will continuously try to tell you that you are doing it wrong.

“That’s not what everyone else does.”

“You are stupid to think you could possibly do this. Why would you even try?”

“Is this really where you thought you’d be in 10 years? Everyone else is so much farther ahead.”

Yup. Fear, doubt, shame.

But if you don’t take the risk, you deny yourself any chance at the ultimate prize. The joy of entering into your Father’s happiness, knowing you took what he gave you and did all you could with it. Even though there was no promise of return. Even though it was risky. Even though it may not have been perfect.

You jumped in full heartedly. Or at least let God push you in. While the enemy is shouting his lies on one side, God is whispering on the other.

I am with you. 

I believe in you.

I am proud of you.

The reality is Jesus is calling you to step out onto the water while others are telling you to not rock the boat.

Another reality is that we have a God who looks at us and sees every weak and hurting part. And He believes in us.

He believes in you.

And that revelation has given me a strength and a hope I had not known. He believes in me, and if my God believes in me, what can I not do? What can I not overcome?

Let’s be a people that celebrates the different unique and glorious callings God has initiated and created in all of us. Let’s be a people who stand by one another- holding each other up when it’s hard and cheering when another has reached a milestone towards their destination.

How beautiful and awe-inspiring it is when we look at our own unexpected road and see the twisting road of other’s journeys and realize it was never needless wandering but purposeful molding. How much love and care was put into His plans for every one of us? He rejoices to see the work begin. Let’s rejoice too- in a God capable of creating and compiling so many beautiful stories.

Don’t bury your treasure- be it gifts, talents, time- from a place of fear but invest it in a way so big it will leave the whole world marveling at such a risk- knowing that victory or failure is not defined by worldly standards but Godly standards. And knowing that regardless of victory or failure according to worldly standards God will meet you with a

“Well done, good and faithful child of mine, I knew you could and I am so proud. Welcome home.”

You may be wondering, “Okay, so what does people pleasing have to do with your graduation cap?” And I am so glad you asked. Let me explain.

Nothing really.

I was just really excited about it. Besides it perfectly summarizes this post:

  1. Let the Lord direct your steps.
  2. Be sure to thank and keep close those who believe in you.
  3. Do not hesitate to seek the Great Perhaps God has in store for you
  4. As followers of Jesus Christ our chapters will ALWAYS end with “To Be Continued…

The song I posted last week Scars by I Am They has a second verse which I felt fit and included below:

“Now I’m standing in confidence
With the strength of Your faithfulness
And I’m not who I was before
No, I don’t have to fear anymore

I am thankful for the Scars”