Between His Shoulders

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Atop my bookshelf stands a small wood carving of Jesus as a shepherd, with a staff in his hand and a lamb across his shoulders. It is primitive and roughly carved, yet I contemplate it often because I sometimes see myself as that lamb in need of care.

It is a reminder of the countless times Jesus has carried me when I’ve been too weak and wayward to take my next step, when He lifted me up and draped me across His shoulders, rescuing me from outer circumstances or inner failures I could not escape myself. More than that, it is a vivid picture of His love being a place of protection and rest.

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Deut. 33:12 NIV)
Before the patriarch Moses died, he pronounced this blessing over the tribe of Benjamin, along with blessings for the other tribes of Israel. The temple, God’s dwelling place on earth, would be located in Benjamin’s territory, surrounded by the protection of shouldering hills. Benjamin is spoken of as a beloved tribe, enjoying intimate communion with the Lord.

This verse also reminds me of the shepherd, Jesus, portrayed often in the New Testament. In Luke 15 Jesus uses a parable about a lost sheep to convey the lengths He will go to seek a lost sinner. In the parable, when the shepherd finds his lost sheep, “he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” A lamb carried on the shoulders of a strong shepherd or God’s temple secure in the folds of shouldering hills; quite different perspectives, yet vividly depicting the protective, caring heart of the Good Shepherd of my soul.

Not only do I see myself, a child of God, secure and shielded on His shoulders, I also draw comfort from being “the beloved of the Lord” and “the one the Lord loves.” Like a warm blanket, these words wrap around my heart with the everlasting, perfect love only God can provide. What more selfless act of love is there than that of Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf?  “I came to give life with joy and abundance. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep in His care.” (John 10:10-11 The Voice)

There is a rest like no other found in the care of the Good Shepherd. The image of resting between His shoulders gives me such a sense of peace and safety. I can rest calmly there, even in the midst of trials and chaos, because I know what it is to experience that peace which passes all understanding, coming from His indwelling Holy Spirit. In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller writes, “Our Shepherd knows best when He leads us through the dark valleys with Himself. He knows where we can find strength, and sustenance and gentle grazing despite every threat of disaster about us.”

My rough little carving represents the safest, most loving place I can be, resting between the shoulders of the Shepherd of my soul.

Anticipation

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The Advent season begins today, as does my gift to you, dear readers, using the word “Advent” as an acrostic for a series of posts for each week it is celebrated. Enjoy this blessed season!

 

 

Remember waiting by the window, looking for that special someone to come up the walk? Recall the wide-eyed wonder of a child waiting for daddy to come home? The expectancy of a hope to be fulfilled carries with it a sweet impatience, a tingling of nerves and slowing of time which hold their own pleasure.

There is an expectancy of hope resonating throughout time. Can you hear it? A whisper, a murmur, a hum of anticipation beginning in a garden, rippling in a flood, rustling across a desert, then gaining volume in the voices of prophets.

Someone is coming!

Someone promised by God, a Messiah, anointed for a specific purpose, to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)

Waiting for the Messiah was a centuries-long occupation for the Israelites. Their anticipation of who he would be and what he would do for them was grounded in the temporal. The New Testament Israelites particularly looked for his coming with desperate expectation, as they groaned under oppressive Roman rule.

So even with well-known prophecies of a virgin giving birth to Emmanuel, God with us, in the nondescript town of Bethlehem, they still looked for a Messiah who would arrive on the scene with great fanfare, ready to throw off the yoke of Roman domination.

If only their horizons could have stretched to what He really came to do — enrich the spiritually bankrupt, free those locked into sin, open the eyes of hearts blinded by lies; and bring liberation to souls tied up in guilty knots. His is a kingdom of the spirit, and in coming to earth for a time as a man, He taught us to anticipate the much vaster reality of eternity in heaven with Him.

Quite often what we anticipate with eagerness ends up disappointing, leaving us with unmet expectations. But with the arrival of Jesus Christ the Messiah, realization far outdistances expectation. There have been many men who have led oppressed countries to freedom, or brought enlightenment to their people trapped in ignorance, but only One in history who could liberate souls.

Could any finite human mind anticipate God coming to earth? — the great I AM growing inside a virgin‘s womb? — the Creator of the universe wrapped in the flesh of a helpless infant? The concept is beyond our scope to understand, but not beyond God’s ability.

Advent is a season of anticipation, looking forward to celebrating the wonder of God arriving on earth, a gift for all mankind. It is also a time to contemplate what you are anticipating spiritually in your growth towards the Messiah. I encourage you to share some of your contemplations with me.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him, but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9-10