by Susan Samson
Have you ever had a piece of dark colored food stuck between your front teeth for all the world to see? Typically you find out about it in one of two ways. Either, you look in the mirror at some point and see it or another person points it out. And, for me, both are painful discoveries. If I find it myself, I am immediately embarrassed that I walked around all day with food in my teeth for all to see. On the other hand, if somebody points it out, I’m still embarrassed. So would I rather walk around all day without somebody pointing it out or do I want to be told? The truth is, in my flesh, and in my pride, I don’t want to be told. I don’t want to be told there is something wrong with me. I want to be perfect. I don’t want to be told I need to change. And sadly in addition, I’m quick to tell my husband when there’s food in his teeth! But if he tells me, OUCH!
So I’m sitting here looking at the cover of our Orientation booklet. It says “Thistlebend Discipleship Study Orientation.” I am reminded of the questions Laurie asked us to ask ourselves: “What does it mean to be a disciple?” and “What does discipleship mean to Jesus?”
Luke 9:23 records Jesus’ words, “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” As I struggled and cried this morning over my utter inability to love another, the Lord sweetly brought to mind about picking up my cross and following Him, and I remembered in that moment that Jesus gladly carried His cross for me. Some of the lyrics to “How Great Thou Art” speak so beautifully of this truth:
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin
Then sings my soul
My Saviour, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art
The word pictures from the lecture this week were so very helpful – Master and servant and Potter and clay. But this morning as I think about discipleship and all that has been going on in my life this week, another comes to mind. Shepherd and sheep. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6).
Some time ago, Laurie recommended a book to us called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. I was drawn to the book this morning in my heartache. Mr. Keller is a modern day shepherd and the book is filled with his observations of his sheep and his role and the comparison to Jesus as our Great Shepherd and who we are as His people.
Turning to “my own way” simply means doing what I want. It implies that I feel free to assert my own wishes and carry out my own ideas. And this I do in spite of every warning. We read in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” In contrast to which Christ the Good Shepherd comes and gently says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The difficult point is that most of us don’t want to come. We don’t want to follow. We don’t want to be led in paths of righteousness…Amid all this chaos and confusion Christ the Good Shepherd comes and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). But most of us, even as Christians, simply don’t want to do this. We don’t want to deny ourselves, give up our right to make our own decisions–we don’t want to follow; we don’t want to be led.
We don’t want to be told we have food in our teeth. We need each other. We are sheep prone to wander. The Lord designed us to be dependent on Him and on one another. We are each a part of the body of Christ. We are meant to live in community and to help one another. What we do and the choices we make and even the thoughts we think affect others.
It is hard. It’s painful. Putting our flesh to death, confessing our pride and arrogance and need is hard. Turning from our old, independent, and self-ruling ways is impossible — apart from the grace of God! And He knows this. He gives us the gifts of His Word, His Spirit, and His body of believers to provide for His sheep.
He is the potter and we are the clay. And we are all still a beautiful work in progress. He is both the Author of our faith and the Finisher! “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Thanking the Lord for His love, goodness and grace this morning!