Dear Members and Friends of St. John,
Perhaps you know the important Old Testament prophecy about the promised Savior and Messiah. Maybe you know the verse in Isaiah about the Suffering Servant who will save us all by His sacrificial suffering and death. In Isaiah 53:6, written between 700-600 years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah wrote, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The people of Isaiah’s time and the people of Jesus’ time understood this metaphor about sheep. Israel was still primarily an agricultural society and sheep were a common farm animal for the people of this time. The point is that sheep often wander away. They put themselves in danger from predators and dangers of the environment. Sheep are not very smart animals. So, they need a shepherd with a watchful eye. The people of this time understood the mindless wayward nature of sheep.
The picture which God gives to His people is that we are like sheep who wander away from our loving shepherd into sin that endangers our lives, now and eternally. But, God tells us in Isaiah that He lays the guilt of our sin on the Suffering Servant, on the Promised Messiah, on Jesus. Because Jesus suffered and died for us, God lays our iniquities, our guilt, on Him. God deals with our sin as Jesus pays the price we deserve for our waywardness.
However, not many of us herd sheep today. But, my recent experience with my dog has led me to an understanding of waywardness that perhaps we can understand, and that perhaps helps us understand the love of God for us in Jesus. What if in Isaiah 53:6 we substituted for the word “sheep,” in the following way? 6 We all, like LABRADOR RETRIEVERS, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Last summer, even though Kathy is not an animal person, she agreed for me to get another dog to replace my yellow lab, Susitna. Su had been my fishing companion, and friend. However, Sue grew older and less healthy and died a few years ago. After discussing this matter in depth, last July we bought a 5 year old male yellow Labrador retriever, whom we call Matanuska, or “Mat.” We put a dog door in the garage and paid a significant sum of money to install a chain link fence around our back yard. Mat went fishing with me last summer, ice fishing with me this winter, and has been in the boat this spring. However, Mat likes to run, or wander, or, as Isaiah says, “go astray.” We have a tag on Mat’s collar with his name written on it along with my phone number. So, we have received calls from a neighbor to our north, where Mat found some attention. Our neighbor to the south called and had Mat safe in an outside kennel. Last week one of our neighbors to the east called and Mat had found her 2 female labs. Our neighbors across the street are St. John members, Mark and Nicole Ford. When we visited them Mat found out they also own a friendly dog. So, when Mat escapes, he now often crawls under their fence to play with their dog, Chase. Sigh!!
Last fall I was in Florida for my dad’s 90th birthday and my phone rang. Mat seems to have seen the girls’ cross country track team from Colony High School and followed them to the parking lot at Colony High. I was able to call Kathy who was still in Alaska and she went to retrieve our dog. (She often reminds me that Mat is my dog, but she gets to care for him.) Around Thanksgiving I had Mat in my truck and tried to get him out. He didn’t want to come so I opened the door on the other side of the truck to get him out. Mat saw another dog, jumped out, and they ran up the road and the hill near our house together, seemingly faster than the speed limit! A couple of hours later I got a call from a man who lived near Sherrod Elementary, 4 miles away, to tell me he had my dog.
We finally thought we had this running taken care of this Spring. We had figured out how to keep doors closed and Mat at home, until Mat learned how to crawl under our $5000.00 fence! So, I pounded 35 rebar stakes through the fence into the ground in order to prevent our dog from crawling under the fence and wandering. But somehow, even though he doesn’t seem to be digging, Mat still escapes! On Thursday Kathy and I were driving to Anchorage for an appointment. As we drove across the Palmer Hay Flats we got a call from a lady in Palmer saying that she had our dog. We couldn’t do anything about it so we told her to let Mat go. However, then we got another call from a man in Palmer. We phoned our daughter, Mary, who left what she was doing and went to get Mat for us. Thank you, Mary!
Mat’s wandering and running is a real aggravation for Kathy and for me. But, Mat also puts himself in danger when he runs, danger from traffic, or other accidents. Usually Mat comes back. But lately we have had to retrieve him.
So, I was wondering about how much we wander from God like my dog, Mat. Our Lord loves us and provides for us. God has given us the “fence” of His law which keeps us safe from ourselves and safe from others. But, how often do we go running? How often do we go astray? We have no one to blame but ourselves for the trouble our waywardness causes us. Yet, Kathy and I continue to retrieve our dog. He’s a member of the family, as she says. Our Lord reaches out to us with the love and forgiveness of Jesus, and “the Lord lays on Him the iniquity of us all.”
What my experience with my dog has done is to help me to understand just how great God’s love for me is. There are times I don’t want to be merciful to Mat, but I am. Yet, God reaches out in Jesus and is faithful in His forgiving and saving love. As I consider the love of God, His faithful mercy calls me even more to follow Him. Following my Lord is not only safe for me. Following Jesus in faith and obedience acknowledges my undeserved love from my Heavenly Father. I pray you realize the depth of God’s merciful, forgiving love, for you!
A Child of God, Thankful My Shepherd Jesus Forgives and Welcomes Home,
P.S. Here are some pictures from “Garden Planting Day 2018 with grandchildren. https://photos.app.goo.gl/TxTuP5zcseeFEOX03
ABOUT ‘THOUGHTS FROM THE PASTOR’ - I am sending these e-mail messages, hopefully weekly, to all St. John members and friends whose e-mails I have. (I am regularly adding new names of friends and members – in case you are just receiving this e-mail for the first time.) However, if you do not want to receive this e-mail, please let me know, and I’ll gladly leave your name off my list for this message.