The Great Shepherd is among us


By Betty Slade | PREVIEW columnist

Another year ends; another year begins. In 2022, we gained new friends and lost old ones. Today, many are in a state of perplexity while we’re leaving behind a fear-driven crazy year and moving into an unpredictable future.

Life is getting harder. The price of eggs, $8 a dozen, with none left on the shelf, tells us what might lie ahead. We have possibly looked to the wrong shepherds — the ones who promised what we wanted to hear. We are worn out listening to the news, disappointed in government and wondering about the price of heat, while record-low freezing temperatures are setting in across our country.

Jesus offers himself. “Come to me who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” — Matthew 11:28 (NASB). It’s hard to compute what we see and feel, and what Jesus is offering.

Before writing these articles, I spend time in prayer. What do the readers need? Usually, it’s what I need to hear: more faith. The word that came to me for 2023 is “Emanuel,” God with us. It’s a little odd to start a new year with a word that sounds like Christmas. It’s as if we store that “word” back in the box along with Christmas decorations and the nativity scene until next December.

I’ve witnessed strong-faith friends who have been attacked by the dark world, those with depression, who have gone to bed and covered their heads. Have they forgotten God is with them and God is real? Have they forgotten God is still in charge? I’m not sure. But, they need a true perspective and a genuine touch from God.

Have we taken our eyes off the True Shepherd? The shepherds of old went looking for the baby in the manger and found the True Shepherd who would take care of them. He is “Emanuel,” God with us. We are not forgotten or forsaken.

Have we missed the mark? Are we going to church because its Sunday and they have a great goodies table? Is it to meet best friends or because we want to meet with God? Playing church isn’t an option. People are in serious condition, mentally, emotionally, physically and financially.

A book caught my eye, “The Rest of God” by Mark Buchanan. Every word, line and phrase is full of pondering, reflecting and designed to change attitudes toward how we perceive and meet with God. It’s not about a Sabbath day of rest, but a Sabbath heart of rest.

Buchanan writes how he attended the low church traditions, with stark walls and simple music, and where clumsy prayers were made up as they prayed. He attended services of the high church traditions, where he approached God through an elaborate system of symbols, rituals and everything scripted.

He writes, “At its best, liturgy comprises the gestures by which we honor transcendent reality. It helps give concrete expression to deepest convictions. It gives us choreography for things unseen and allows us to brush heaven among the shades of earth.”

We need more than gestures of formality conducted in worship services to fight the shades of earth. We need a relationship with Jesus. He is as close as our breath. We surrender in faith to what God has promised us. We need to worship in spirit and truth.

Jesus’ teachings are so simple that we have overlooked them. Human nature wants a higher spiritual experience, a weapon to fight the evil on its own. Darkness is destroying our very family and freedom, enslaving us to fear.

The name of Jesus is our weapon. The blood of Jesus takes away our sins. The resurrection of Jesus gives us life. The person of Jesus is our shepherd. If we will let him, he will make us lie down in green pastures. He will lead us beside the still waters. He will restore our souls and lead us in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil — Psalm 23.

Final brushstroke: God says he is searching for his sheep and will take care of them. He will bring them from the places where they have been driven and will bring them to their own land. My friends, some of you feel lost and in total despair. To God, you’re not lost. He says he will find you. Trust the Good Shepherd. He is with us. He will cause you to rest and give you peace in this new year.

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