Devotional: a Rod and a Staff

“His rod and staff comfort me.”

Spare the rod and spoil the child. My dad believed in corporal punishment. His words still ring in my ears: “If you ‘get it’ at school, expect to ‘get it’ twice as hard at home.” I believed that he meant it.

That is why I found little comfort in the rod image of Psalm 23. My experience did not lead me to experience any comfort in a rod.

A good shepherd in biblical times and even today cannot be defenseless. The flock is vulnerable, and the flock is pretty defenseless. The good shepherd lovingly cares for the sheep and does so with tools. Those tools include a rod, a staff, and stones.

I have seen few large predators in Israel. That said, the eastern area of the land is the Rift Valley. The Rift Valley corridor runs from Syria to Africa. The Bible mentions predatory animals such as lions and bears. It is quite possible that African predators ventured north at times in history. It is also possible that biblical lions were a smaller cousin of the king of beasts. Those things are unclear.

What we do know is that the shepherd protected the flock from predators. There is a Syrian bear that lives today in the mountains of Syria. Large predatory cats have been seen in the far back country of the En Gedi nature preserve. Hyenas have been observed in the wilderness Makhtesh in the south. I have startled a fox in the Negev (or actually it startled me).

One of our friends was leading a trip not long ago. They were on the bus and observed a man driving a flock down a Bethlehem street and striking the reluctant sheep with a rod. Having learned that a good shepherd used the rod on predators but would never strike a sheep in the flock, they were perplexed. “Is he a bad shepherd?” they asked. The guide replied, “No, that man is the butcher.”

The flock is comforted to know that their shepherd will protect them. They need not fear predators, because their trust is in the shepherd. That is their comfort and our comfort.

Shepherds have a third tool. It is found in abundance in the land. It is the stone.

Good shepherds become skilled stone throwers. The flock is filled with individuals, too, especially the goats! The goats always think they have a better idea. They seek their own paths and wander from the way that the shepherd knows best.

Lovingly, carefully, compassionately the shepherd sharpens his or her stone-throwing skills to fling stones to the left and right of the flock to guide them back onto the straight paths of his choosing.

The Lord is our shepherd. His rod and his staff comfort me. His stone-throwing skills are the best and will guide me to the paths I should go. I am called to lead. I am not only a sheep in his flock, but a shepherd to the flock in my care. I am called to sharpen my skills and use them for his purpose.

Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services

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Devotional: Creating God in Our Image

“After the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).

The past few months have been filled with devastating events in nature. As much as our round-the-clock newscasts in North America cause us to think we are global citizens, in reality the decision-makers in the media overemphasize events that spike their ratings and ignore events that decrease their ratings. Continue reading

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Devotional: On Right Paths

“He guides me along straight paths”

It was June 2004. It was my second trip to Israel with an outstanding teacher. God gave him the gift of teaching and insight. Because of the passion that I developed on those trips with him and a third trip to Asia, my biblical sight became clearer, and I have been given the gift of leading others to the land to experience the story in its context. Continue reading

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Devotional: Quiet Water

“He leads me to quiet water”

The prophet Jeremiah wrote words from God, “My people have committed two sins. They have forsaken me the spring of living water. They have built for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that do not hold water.”

Shepherds bring their flocks to the hillsides to eat. They bring water to the flock to drink. They either find a safe spring or pool, or they draw water and pour it into a manger (water trough) for the flock. Sheep must drink in the morning and evening, or they will die. Continue reading

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Effective Leaders Deliver

In a Harvard Business Review Article, May 2017 authors Botelho, Powell, Kincaid, and Wang name four characteristics of highly effective leaders including:effective leaders decide with speed and conviction reliably on their commitments.

Effective leaders deliver. They set realistic goals and align expectations to those goals. They surround themselves with strong colleagues. They hone their own skills. They use accurate metrics to measure accomplishments. They have clear accountability standards. They are willing to reset the course when it becomes necessary.

And faith-based leaders have other crucial characteristics – a humble spirit, a servant’s heart, and a clear sense of their calling.

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Devotionals: I Lie Down

“He makes me lie down in green pasture.”

Oh, to be a sheep in the flock of God! Psalm 23:2 could be the theme verse for the prosperity gospel preachers. Just picture the veggie-loving sheep lying down in a lush alfalfa field. Surrounded by more food than the creature could possibly consume in its lifetime, the sheep’s only work is turning its head for the next savory bite. Continue reading

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Effective Leaders Engage and Adapt

In a Harvard Business Review Article, May 2017 authors Botelho, Powell, Kincaid, and Wang name four characteristics of highly effective leaders including: effective leaders engage for impact and effective leaders adapt proactively.

In is the role of the leader to set the course. Once the course is set, the effective leader must have the buy-in and support of colleagues to implement the decisions and stakeholders to accept and to be on board. Communication is the key to manage resistance, to insure clarity, and to instill confidence.

It would be usual if the implementation of a decision requiring significant change goes smoothly. Expect bumps and setbacks. Effective leaders are prepared to act and adapt.

Faith-based leaders understand that life’s road is rocky and a desert-like journey. They know that the Good Shepherd has called them both to lead his flock and to also be a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd.

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Devotional: I Want Nothing Else

“The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1).

I prefer an older translation. Lacking seems too passive. “The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing else that I want.” Continue reading

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Effective leaders are decisive

In a Harvard Business Review Article, May 2017 authors Botelho, Powell, Kincaid, and Wang name four characteristics of highly effective leaders including:

Their first characteristic is “effective leaders decide with speed and conviction”. The authors found in their research that leaders tend to overthink. They tend to get bogged down, because they are seeking perfect solutions. While it is sometimes better to withhold action until the leader is fully informed, avoidance is a trap that can lead to unnecessary delays and inaction that restrains the organization from needed change or advancement.

Effective leaders gather information, seek the wisdom of trusted confidents, act in a timely manner, and are empowered by their convictions.

Faith-based leaders add a crucial component that was not part of this research – they understand their calling and they seek God’s guidance.

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Devotional: The Lord Is My Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23:1a).

So begins the most well-known psalm. The words are a powerful declaration. I often wonder if we fully grasp the statement that we are making when we recite them.

Shepherd: God chose to describe himself to his people in picture language. I often comment that God preferred the concrete approach of a childrens sermon. The Creator knows full well that his children, whether adult or youth, learn better when the metaphors are concrete.

Of course, God is spirit, and not a human shepherd. But the characteristics of the good shepherd describe well a relationship. The shepherd loving tends the flock, provides them with the necessities of life, protects them from predators, and gives them the assurance that they can rest in his care.

My: The Lord is not just any shepherd on a Judean hillside. The Lord is MY shepherd. That’s declarative. The psalmist, and those of us who claim the passage, are stating our commitment to join the flock of God and, like a sheep, follow the shepherd obediently and without wavering.

Sheep trust. Sheep obey. Sheep declare their total dependence on their shepherd. And in the flock of God, it is the Lord himself who shepherds.

Can you say it? Do you declare it?

Those who are called to lead follow the shepherd. The Lord is mine! The Lord is ours!

Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services

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