a life worth living

During my sophomore year at UT, a couple friends and I joined a community group at the church we went to. Unsure of what to expect and without a car, we accepted a ride from the leader of the group and met Ronnie Smith who would love us, challenge us, and help us grow in our love for Jesus. 

We bonded because we had both been raised in very similar church backgrounds, and over the course of the next few years, he would consistently meet with me and push me to love God with my head, heart, and hands. He influenced the Bible I bought, the books I read in my spare time and the preachers I listened to. Years before I ever heard the names of Matt Chandler or Mark Driscoll, Ronnie pointed me to Jonathan Edwards and John Piper to discover the beauty of the glory of God and the overwhelming joy and satisfaction that is found when God is glorified in us. When I fought against notion of God’s complete sovereignty, Ronnie would patiently show me passage after passage in the Bible that proved otherwise, and the word “predestined” went from being an uncomfortably ugly word to one of the most beautiful indicators of the grace of God. He encouraged my teaching gifts and when I wasn’t faithful in the little things, he lovingly rebuked me. In typical sarcastic wit, humor, and passionate zeal, he would remind me that Jesus was the center of God’s story, not me. He was a good friend and mentor.

He moved to Libya to teach Chemistry with his wife, Anita, and young son, Hosea. On Thursday, December 5, 2013 while taking an early morning jog, Ronnie was shot and killed in the city of Benghazi.

To read more about Anita’s story, and her response to the shooting, including her response to Ronnie’s death, you can watch here and here, and read her open letter here

Amid the sorrow and grief, a friend called me that afternoon and asked the following question: “Brice, what are we going to do? How are we going to respond to Ronnie pouring out his life in love of God and people?” It’s an excellent question for all of us.

Ronnie left behind a legacy, but it was born out of his recognition that God loves the whole world and uses us to make it better. It was born out of his recognition that his life was not his own. A life changed by the gospel compels you to live for Someone greater than yourself, and that Someone is the blazing center of everything: Jesus. That is a life worth living. Whether we eat or drink or study or work, we do it all for the glory of God. For Ronnie, this meant moving with his family to teach chemistry to the Libyan students at the International School Benghazi, risking safety and abandoning certain comforts. We follow the example of Jesus who left the comfort of heaven and poured out His life for us, even to the point of death. We do not back away from the prospect of death, but press forward with the promise of life eternal. As John Piper said, “Let the replacements flood the world.”

I’d like to leave you with one of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard, and it was one given by Ronnie at the Austin Stone Community Church. He compiled a list of Bible verses and passages, and organized them in such a way as to tell the story of the Bible. The entire sermon is composed strictly of Bible verses and is all preached from memory, sharing the story of creation, fall, salvation and restoration that is recorded within the pages of Scripture. This is the true story of Love that captivated Ronnie, and I pray that through it, we see that God has been working all things for His glory and our ultimate good.  This is the history of redemption.

Ronnie did not waste his life. I pray that we do not either.

If you would like to purchase a copy of  The History of Redemption as a beautifully illustrated hardback book, you can purchase it here. Proceeds from the sales will go to the Smith family.

If you would like to support Anita and Hosea with a gift, please click here.

miss america and the great kaleidoscope

I was born in New York, a jewel of a million different glints of color. Growing up, it didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t look a lot like my classmates, and English wasn’t the language my parents and grandparents spoke at home. However, many of the kids in my school looked different, from all sorts of different racial and cultural backgrounds, and I learned that although we looked different, we were all somehow in the same boat.

But as I grew older, racism would rear its ugly head here and there. During recess in the third grade, a student told me to “go back to Mexico!” After the September 11th attacks, “Bin” (short for bin-Laden) became my nickname by a certain group of people in my school. While walking through West Campus late one night at the University of Texas at Austin, a car full of white boys driving by slowed down, shouted, “go home, sand nigger!” and sped off. And although these weren’t devastating insults, they reminded me that I looked different. That I was a minority.

Nina DavuluriNina Davuluri from New York was just crowned Miss America 2014, the first winner from Indian descent. Amid the celebration, many took to social media to express their outrage that a “real American” didn’t win. Hateful comments about her skin color, her ethnic heritage, religious background, cultural “voodoo” dance, and Indian stereotypes in general spread through the Twitter-sphere. Other ignorant comments called her Arabic, Muslim, and a part of al-Qaeda. Because, you know, if you’re brown, it’s all the same thing.

But the overwhelming sentiment among these racist tweets  is that she’s not really American. Her skin doesn’t look American. Her name doesn’t sound American. Her dance certainly wasn’t American. This is America, and colored people aren’t supposed to win American contests. In case you missed it, “American” is a race and ethnicity. Never mind the fact that this country was occupied long before the first Europeans ever sailed across the pond and “discovered” it. Look over the fact that my parents (and nearly every other colored immigrant to the United States) were looking for many of the same opportunities that every other immigrant from the last 300 years were looking for.

My initial reaction to seeing all this wasn’t anger, but sadness. When I began perusing through the Twitter profiles of some of the people who expressed their bigoted remarks, I couldn’t help but notice how normal they seemed. They looked like many of the people I went to school with, that I work with, that I’m neighbors with. Some of them even touted Bible verses or “Christian” labels. I don’t think most white Americans are racist, my experience has shown me otherwise, but I was reminded that bigotry and wickedness still remain in the land of the free and home of the brave. I was reminded that racism is common even among minority cultures like my own, where we would freeze and stiffen whenever a black person walked into our South Indian church. It’s a tragedy and distortion of the gospel of Jesus Christ when racism exists in the church.

I was reminded that even though some of these xenophobic tweeters may have been exposed, my own heart is capable of overwhelming wickedness and prejudice. Sin is a universal curse.

But wickedness and prejudice and sin do not have to define us. The Bible reminds us that we’re all created in God’s image and that in Christ, we are part of a great, multi-cultural family where the thing that defines  us is the righteous, saving work of Jesus Christ. There is no place for prejudice in the Kingdom of God.

America certainly isn’t the Kingdom of God, but it is the country God has placed me in. I’m saddened at the ignorance and prejudice of a few people, but as an American, I dream of a better tomorrow. We are more than the Melting Pot of the West, we are the Great American Kaleidoscope. We are a mosaic made beautiful by the diversity of color and culture that make us up.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

-Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream”

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

-Revelation 7:9-10

Let’s not lash back in vitriolic hatred, but pray for our brothers and sisters and show grace in the face of hate. The gospel of reconciliation requires no less.

hope and the death of death

Nothing causes us to pause and consider our own mortality more than the death of someone we know. I wasn’t thinking about the brevity of life, the brevity of my life, a few days ago. And then I heard the news that a friend had passed away. All the concerns, worries, anxieties of life suddenly were suspended in air as the world began moving slower and time slowed down to a crawl with it.

Patrick Maruthmmottil was a friend. I don’t have the honor or privilege of calling him “best” friend or a very “close” friend. But with Patrick, I don’t think I need an adjective added to “friend” mostly because I think most people that crossed paths with him became friends with him. He wore a genuine smile that was warm and had a servant heart that was pure and humble, and reflected the heart of His Savior. He was a talented musician, thoughtful thinker, caring friend and passionate follower of Jesus Christ. I’m honored and privileged just to be able to have known him and call him “friend.”

On June 4, 2013, Patrick was involved in a car accident that ended up taking his life.

Death is a crummy thing.

I could go on and on about the ways death affect us, but at the end of the day, we all know that death is a crummy thing. We can feel it in our mourning and sense of loss, as well as our valiant efforts to ward death off with health and medicine. We know that in a very real sense, death is our enemy. But we also know that a sovereign God sits on His throne and rules over everything. Nothing catches Him off guard or causes Him to go back to the heavenly drawing board. A loving and just God who is sovereign over everything means that He is in charge. This means there are no early deaths. We may scratch our heads and we may push back against the idea, but the fact is that God rules over everything, death included.

But why? we may ask. Why would God take someone so young, someone who was so passionate about pointing people to Jesus? And I don’t know the definite answer to that question. What I do know is that we’re given life and placed on this earth in our specific eras in time and specific geographic locations for a specific purpose. What I do know is that Christians are given a specific message and mission to be salt and light in their contexts, through their lives. When Jesus transforms us, our lives aren’t about us anymore. They’re about Jesus and making Him known. Our jobs, our friends, our families are ultimately about the Kingdom of God, not just about making us happy. I can only assume that when we’re taken, it’s because our work for His Kingdom is done.

But he could have been so much more effective if he was still alive! we may say. So many more people would have come to know Jesus and trust Him if our friend was still alive because of his life! Maybe that’s true, but we don’t know that, do we? All we have is the time that is given to us right now.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

When our work for the Kingdom is done, God calls us home, and we can celebrate Patrick’s life that is a continuing testimony to the grace, mercy and love of Jesus. The wonderful irony is that even in his death, my friend proclaims even more boldly than ever the power of the gospel. And so even in death, the Kingdom of God is growing.

Nonetheless, we still mourn with grief, and it is not a shameful response. In fact, in the gospel of John, Jesus wept before the tomb of His dear friend Lazarus, even though He knew that in a few minutes He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Grief is not weakness or sinful, but our response to the fact that death isn’t natural. God didn’t create us to be beings that died — but through sin and the fall of humanity, it is our unfortunate inheritance. We mourn and lament, yes. But we don’t mourn as those who don’t have hope! We don’t mourn in wretched hopelessness that death is the end of everything. Rather, we mourn as those who know that death does not have the final word. We grieve and lament with the knowledge that Jesus has overcome death in His resurrection, and that means that one day we too will be resurrected to life in a new heaven and a new earth where everything will be restored. We mourn with the hope that one day, we will see our loved ones and friends again.

And we mourn, knowing that one day, there will be no more death. We will all be raised, God will sit on His throne, and death will be defeated.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. — 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

“For thy mortal self shall die, but from the grave we will arise… And death will be described as a paper ghost.” — Courrier, “Paper Ghost”

So until we see Patrick, and all our loved ones, again, we celebrate their lives and live our lives on mission and in determination as Patrick did: for the sake and advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

oh my God

Where were you? I was at work when I heard the heartbreaking story that has given us all heavy and somber hearts. On Friday, a man walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and opened fire, killing 20 students and 6 adults.

In a culture and time where violence and tragedies of this sort are becoming alarmingly more frequent, this event struck especially home. Maybe it’s because I remember being in elementary school and the warm nostalgia that I get from memories on the playground and the ways my teachers strove to make learning exciting. Maybe it’s because I saw my younger brother and sister go through those years, excited about birthday parties and first crushes, a classroom full of friends and toy pigs. Maybe it’s because I have many friends who are parents to young children, and I know how deeply my own parents love me. Maybe it’s because many of my friends are under-appreciated teachers who pour their lives out for the young lives we entrust to them. Perhaps it was the fact that the helpless members of our society that look to us for protection were betrayed, and futures were snuffed out before potentials were reached. Anger, sadness, shock, frustration, confusion, helplessness, worry. All of these thoughts and emotions washed over me as my grief lead me to tears and to silently pray, “come, Lord Jesus!”

These are trying times. The world we live in still lays in the fall out of sin, and we daily feel the effects of it, maybe more so tonight. It leads us to cry out in anguish, “where are you, God? Why did this happen? Why didn’t you stop this?”

There’s a song that tugs at my hearts in moments like this, a haunting song that recognizes the brokenness we all feel and experience. I encourage you to listen to it all the way through:

If the world was how it should be, maybe I could get some sleep.

What we need now are not cute answers with bows on them. In the next few weeks, we will have many discussions about gun control and the level of safety at our schools and public places, and those discussions certainly need to occur. But what we need tonight is to lament. It is a very biblical response to times such as this. Lament that evil is a reality and we still experience injustice and brokenness and pain. Lament that tonight there will be empty seats at dinner tables and drenched pillows. Lament that sadly, this may not the be last time we hear of tragedy like this.

We lament knowing that our cries reach out to a God who hears his people, who loves them, and is willing and able to act in incredible ways. Indeed, God the Father experienced his own anguish as he sent his Son to a culture that unjustly murdered him. The Father looked down as Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” before he died. This same Father of the now-risen King Jesus now sends the Comforter through Jesus to us who are now his children. Our God upholds the needy, embraces the destitute and comforts those who mourn. Friends, he does care. He most certainly loves us. And this breaks his heart as much as it does ours.

We don’t know why this happened. But it’s not right. Evil is real. So is our God, and he is strong. As we pray for the children, parents, teachers and school officials, and those who are ministering to the wounded, broken and hurting, we also mourn and lament as we look forward to the day when our King returns to restore everything. When tears and sorrow will be no more.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

a tale of two Fridays

I’ve never made a big deal of Black Friday. This is mostly because I don’t have it in me to wait in line for hours in the cold to get a TV. Look, I understand the appeal, I really do. But I understand more deeply the appeal of my mattress and warmth, and I’ve always had an aversion to engaging in a scuffle at Best Buy. We’ve all heard the stories of death and injury from over-eager, crazed shoppers fighting and clawing to get the best door buster deal,  and I don’t want to appear on the evening news because some middle school kid got to the latest Super Mario Bros game before I did. (Mario is still a legitimate gaming character, right?) I decided I’d go the safe route and go to a bookstore for their crazy Black Friday deals. They’re wild.

I figured not a lot of people would stand outside Half Price Books on Friday morning, so I grudgingly got out of bed and rolled into the parking lot at 6:45 AM. There were already over 120 people in line. For a $5 gift card. Seriously. I didn’t get the gift card, but I went home with some consolation in knowing there are bigger nerds out there than me.

At our annual family Thanksgiving dinner, my uncle quipped that Black Friday is when we trample over each other to get cheap stuff exactly one day after being thankful for everything we already have. It’s a cute line, but I think it points to a deeper issue: consumerism and materialism are the altars at which we worship. The United States has never been a “Christian nation,” but we’ve always flirted with the goddess of “stuff.” Thanksgiving isn’t even over before retail employees have to report to their workplaces to prepare for the madness of Black Friday, some even opening Thanksgiving night. It’s been said that the day after Thanksgiving has been called “Black Friday” because, as the first official shopping day for the Christmas holiday, it is typically the day that most retailers begin turning a profit on their merchandise, going from being “in the red” to “black” in their ledgers. But this definition is more recent than the original, darker implications of the name. Black Friday. It isn’t just a happen-chance, economic term.

There isn’t anything wrong with Black Friday shopping at all! If you have the strength and energy, and more importantly, if you have the funds, to wait and get a great deal on electronics or clothes or other goods, go for it. I’m slightly envious of the massive TV you got for the amount of money I spend on coffee in a year. I like new stuff. I love my new iPhone 5 (sorry Fandroids, I jumped ship). But Black Friday, the day that kick starts the festivities for Christmas, when we celebrate our Savior’s birth, is an indictment on how materialistic, consumerist-ic, and selfish we are every day. We’ll spend money we barely have for stuff we hardly need. Stuff that becomes more obsolete, more worn, and less valuable the moment we get it. E-readers make a joke out of my library of physical books. Technology evolves and improves at an exponential rate every second. Fashion trends change every season. And credit card debt is more of a problem now for Americans than ever before. We build treasuries of  stuff that are on their way to the garbage dump. We gather treasures that are destroyed by moth and rust and stolen by thieves.

Black Friday.

But there’s another Friday that also has a special designation on our calendars. Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday, the day most Christians set apart to remember the day Jesus of Nazareth was crucified upon a Roman cross. That Friday, a truly black Friday, was the day when the Son of God willingly submitted to injury and death, absorbing the wrath of God meant for rebellious sinners. Sinners who disobey the authority of the trinitarian God of the universe, who have affections that are prone to wander, who worship the created things instead of the One who created everything. Sinners who deserved the punishment of a holy God. On that black Friday, God showed the extent of His love for fallen people whose counterfeit gods are money, image, sex and self, by allowing sinless Jesus to die — but not letting death have the final victory. Three days later, Jesus showed His power and authority over even death by His resurrection, proving Himself as the Savior of a needy world, saving them from their sin and death. And that is why we call that black Friday “Good Friday,” because on that day, the “red” in our ledger of righteousness and right standing before God the Father has been wiped clean by the red of the blood of Jesus Christ. That Friday signaled our crossing from being “in the red” to moving into “the black” and into the everlasting Kingdom of God. We don’t have to be enslaved to consumerism and materialism and selfishness and idolatry. We don’t have to hoard treasures that will either rot or get stolen. We’ve been saved to amass treasures in heaven that can’t be destroyed by moth or rust, or stolen.

Good Friday.

I hope you got good deals on Black Friday. I hope they still hold your attention. But more so, I hope you’re not looking to satisfy yourself with stuff, because trinkets and clothes and goods won’t satisfy the deepest desires of your heart. You can’t purchase your way into the Kingdom of God. Satisfy your soul with the One who has purchased you.

trickers and treats

I never went trick-or-treating as a kid. My parents were convinced that it was the Devil’s own day and the sure-fire sign that Jesus was coming back soon. When I was young, my mom would tell me there were demons running around the neighborhood, going door to door. I would nervously peek out the blinds because I wanted to see these demons who were terrorizing my neighborhood. I saw Elmo from Sesame Street.

My folks would turn off the front light when the kids came out in their costumes so that hopefully they wouldn’t ring our doorbell. And even if they did, we wouldn’t open, even though the trick-or-treaters (and their parents) could probably hear our TV and smell the scents of curry as my mom cooked. We may or may not have been egged once. Or several times.

This year, I decided I would buy the candy myself and hand it out to all the costumed kids that came by. I bought 6 jumbo bags of chocolate candy, turned our porch light on, and sat by with a book, waiting to happily dish the candy out. After 45 minutes, I had my first trick-or-treater!

It was a 17 year old in a hoodie.

I complimented her… costume, and let her have 2 pieces of candy. The next visitor came 20 minutes later. Two hours and 1 trick-or-treater later, I realized I had a lot of candy to get rid of. By the fourth child, a 3-year old in an astronaut costume, I was eagerly urging him to take all he wanted, coaxing him to take more and more. His mother stepped forward, grabbed his hand, curtly said “Thank you,” and walked off. I heard her hiss to him, “Don’t you touch any of that candy!” I guess something about an overly-eager, frantic-eyed, bearded brown man urging her toddler to take more of his candy unsettled her.

I literally had 6 people come by the entire night. And I still have enough candy to give Venezuela a cavity.

Halloween has always struck me as a bit peculiar. We teach kids their entire childhood to be themselves and no one else, witches are bad, and don’t ever take candy from strangers. And in one night, all those rules go out the window.

For one night, we can be someone else. We spend our lives creating the character we want people to perceive when they see us — we create an identity — and then we play the role, mask and all. We project an image and strive to ensure that the image is maintained because it wouldn’t do for people to know who we truly are. I’ve often pondered that life sometimes feels like a show you’re putting on, and every day you choose the mask you want to wear. But on Halloween, we have the opportunity to ditch the everyday mask and be someone totally different and unconventional. We can break societal expectations and appear sinister, holy, provocative, silly, ambitious, sensual, sacrilegious and everything else we can’t be the other 364 days of the year. The sorority president on the Dean’s List can be a scantily-clad Playboy bunny, the nerdy Electrical Engineer can be a very un-Twilight-esque vampire, and the  worship leader who is a Biology/Religious Studies major  can be a compelling Jack Sparrow pirate. We take off our everyday costume and slip on the thrilling costume of the temporary escape.

For one night, we can be someone else. And for one night, we can get away with it.

“which mask will you wear today
how about the one with the pretty smile
to you it’s just another day
in a life you haven’t lived in quite awhile”   – Lifehouse, “Just Another Name”

Few people see us as we really are: broken, messy, and maybe slightly crazy.We call it vulnerability, taking off the surface mask and letting your truer, weaker self be known. It’s not something that our culture or society applaud because we’re taught to not show weaknesses or flaws. Survival of the strongest, right? We can hide behind the mask and no one has to see how ugly, scarred or scared we are.

But maybe we were made to be known. Maybe that’s where true community happens and friendships are forged. Maybe being vulnerable and honest about our brokenness, our struggles, and our fears can lead to healing, strength, and victory. Maybe we don’t have to be perfect. Maybe we don’t have to be alone.

It’s something I’ve learned over the years. I’ve been blessed to have friends who have seen me at my best and very worst, who have encouraged me, rebuked me, laughed with me, laughed at me, and prayed with me. People who point me back to Christ. People who remind me that in my weakness, Jesus Christ is shown to be strong.

In Scripture, we are reminded of the reality of a new identity in Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. (Gal. 2:20) Indeed, Paul tells us that if we are in Christ, we have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27) so that we who are broken, sinful and shameful now wear the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Sure we were broken, but now the Holy Spirit of God lives in us! We who are new creations don’t have to live behind the masks we create, but can live as children of the Most High God, citizens of an eternal Kingdom, co-heirs with Christ. Now that’s a provocative identity!

We’ve ditched this year’s Halloween costumes. Now Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are on the horizon, and family get-togethers, friendship reunions, and holiday meals claim spots in our calendars. Maybe it’s time to ditch the costumes we wear the other days of the year. Maybe we can be honest about who we really are to those we care about. Maybe we can live in our identity in Christ.

sheepish faith

Social media has become a place to forge your identity and have your own soapbox to shout from. Opinions on sports, culture, religion, society, Beyonce, dogs, technology, music, and belly button lint, they all litter my Facebook and Twitter timelines. I’ve learned to develop a filter for most of the content I see. But being a person deeply interested in religion, and especially Christianity, my eyes readily focus on those statuses and tweets pertaining to religious thoughts. For many of my friends (myself included), posting Christian quotes, thoughts, and Bible verses is part of the daily social media output. Twitter makes everyone a theologian in 140 characters or less.

And then there are the ones that aren’t so friendly or supportive of religion (or faith, if you prefer that term). Some people like to quote statistics or history or philosophy, and make the claim that belief in the supernatural is just plain silly and archaic.

Recently, I was perusing through the profiles of some old college friends (stalking is such a harsh word) and stumbled upon a guy I hadn’t talked to since my freshman year at UT. Every one of his statuses bashed Christianity and the implausibility of God. And then I saw his “Religious Views” section on his profile: “People are sheep.”

At first read, I was offended and judging him in all sorts of ways (in a Christ-like manner, of course). I mean, the guy was calling those who hold onto faith as mindless, dumb animals! Blindly following the crowd, mindlessly believing anything. As someone deeply rooted in faith and Jesus, this didn’t rub me the right way.

But the more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me the truth of this statement; we are sheep! Even the Bible testifies to this fact in that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one– to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)

So my old friend is right, we are sheep! But it isn’t just those of us who are “religious” because even the irreligious and the atheists have been proven to be such. We’re self-absorbed and silly and prone to wander. We blindly set off on our own, breaking from the fold, and search for our own patches of green grass, our own streams of cool water, and whatever paths suit our fancy. We are willing to follow and be led astray by any wind of thought and any person of influence. I’m not an expert on sheep or daily pasture life, but it seems that when sheep wander too far, they usually encounter some kind of trouble, be it wolf, pit, or thief.

The tremendous irony of it all is that in the search of freedom and independence and greener pastures, the sheep is met with loneliness and death.

But all is not bleak, because we’re told there is a Shepherd to guide the sheep: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:1-3) How fitting that David the shepherd would write this psalm, understanding his own sheep-ways and need for guidance and leading and comfort. But not only does this Shepherd keep watch over His sheep, He also loves His sheep so much as to go after them when they stray away or are lost (Matthew 18:12-14). In the dry wilderness and in the lush pastures, the Shepherd protects and saves His sheep.

When we get to the Gospels, Jesus identifies Himself as this Shepherd when He says,  “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep… My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:14-15, 27-28) The Shepherd knows His sheep, and they (we) know Him as well because He is their (our) Shepherd. Our guide, the One we run to, who protects us, who lays His life down for us. And because we are His, despite our wanderings or our sheep-ish ways, we who are His will always be in His hand, in the protection of His rod, under His love. And if we are His sheep, He is the one we follow, giving up our need for independence and trusting in His goodness and provision.

But even more striking, this same Shepherd is also identified as a Lamb throughout Scripture. An innocent, perfect, spotless lamb that was sacrificed in the stead of guilty, spotted, imperfect sheep. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Lamb that was slain, but is risen and reigns!

I am indeed a sheep. But I’m a sheep who follows his Shepherd. A Shepherd that is Himself the Lamb of God.

Who are you following?

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” –  Jesus (John 10:27-28)

“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness.”  (Psalm 95:7-8)