Rubbing shoulders with people who are spiritually and emotionally broken comes quite naturally to me. In fact, over the years of pastoral ministry, that’s what has gotten me out of bed most mornings. I am in this business labelled the ‘pastoral ministry’ simply and wholly because I have a deep desire to lead a team/a local church who are devoted to leading people toward a state of wholeness.
Furthermore, I believe the ‘wholeness’ people seek is to be discovered in the context of a dynamic personal relationship with Jesus Christ and with their fellow human in the context of a dynamic Christian community, a conviction that has evolved out of my own journey toward wholeness.
At the tender age of fifteen, it began to dawn upon me that I did not ‘fit in’. My years of reading books and studying the Bible while my peers honed their athletic skills, spent hundreds of hours watching TV and playing board games presented me with a significant disadvantage. I was awkward on skates, uncomfortable with a ‘ball’ of any sort and unskilled in card games—an afterschool activity that many of my friends engaged in.
I had no idea who John Travolta, Stevie Wonder or Led Zeppelin were. The first time I saw a jacket from Meatloaf’s 1977 album Bat Out of Hell at one of my friends’ homes, featuring a guy who looked like Tarzan, bursting out of Hell on a motorcycle and shooting up a graveyard, I was terrified (and, as I still contend, rightly so!).
However, at that point in my social evolution, I was sensory enough to know that those things mattered to most of my classmates, and if I was to gain their favour, I needed to get up to speed quickly. I began to use my spending money to discretely purchase rock albums and conceal them in the basement of our home. I knew quite well that if my parents discovered them, I would be doing some explaining and possibly some hard knee-drill time.
Adding to this dilemma was the uneasiness I felt with many of the ‘requirements’ my faith community had attached to salvation. While I was at ease with a relational God, I was set on edge by all the ‘protocols’ I must adhere too as a teenager to gain His approval. Many of my friends smoked tobacco, used phrases I was not comfortable with, drank a few beers, and engaged in a few other practices that were branded as ‘tickets’ to Hell every other week at church.
In spite of all the warnings, one day during school lunch break I ventured onto the ‘smoking grounds’—an unholy reserve adjacent to our Christian School where the ‘pagans’ met—and I took a step that would gain the approval of my newly discovered friends, while at the same time, threatening my soul’s welfare: I smoked my first cigarette. From that moment, I had a new fraternity. They all declared I was no longer a ‘Christian’. I had crossed over!
Sadly, they were simply echoing the diktats of our collective Christian culture. A culture constructed on an understanding of ‘holiness’ that, at certain points, was as thin as September ice. Subconsciously, I knew the difference; however, years of indoctrination informed me that God was no longer on speaking terms with me. The pack of ‘Export A’ I now carried in my
pocket had created a shroud of corruption that prevented any two-way communication between God and me.
From that day, I started down a dark spiritual labyrinth. My life quickly became consumed with earning a few dollars to support my growing dependency on tobacco, alcohol, street drugs and any sort of secular entertainment that was available. Once a natural achiever and model student, almost overnight, I morphed into a carefree villain who pushed every hot button in sight. I became known as the ‘ring-leader’ of the rowdies; I had achieved my intended goal—I was accepted.
Sadly, that ‘acceptance’ came with a tremendous price tag—a dark emptiness settled in my soul. I soon discovered that ‘my sin’–not the cigarettes I smoked or the beer I drank–but my decision to displace God in favour of peer acceptance, had landed me in a desolate place. Previously, I had been pursuing God in response to his pursuing me; that mutual exchange had been a fulfilling and life-giving interchange.
"I was immediately reminded of the metaphor Jesus employed to describe himself - The Good Shepherd."
Fast-forward a few years. While pastoring in Springdale, NL, I began visiting an elderly gentleman, affectionally known as Uncle Doug Bartlett. His wife had recently gone to be with the Lord and his grief was very obvious. During one particular visit, I saw the ‘picture’ featured below hanging on his wall. I was immediately reminded of the metaphor Jesus employed to describe himself –The Good Shepherd in John chapter 10.
Through the photo, I was introduced to a friend of Uncle Doug’s, affectionately known as Uncle Lem Knight. Uncle Lem was the first to admit that he was anything but religious. “I didn’t believe God existed and, even if He did exist, I had no respect for Him.” To understand his stance, one needs to realize that his bitterness toward God was connected to the untimely death of his eldest son. He had been killed in a traffic accident many years earlier. “I hated God and cursed His name. I went on like this, hating God more every day for 60-years.”
Like many from his generation, he had eked his living from the land by farming and raising animals. Now in his late 80s, the years had hardened him physically, emotionally and spiritually. Meanwhile, his wife had recently accepted Jesus as her personal Saviour, and this had some considerable impact on this tough old soul.
"I asked forgiveness for my sins. I asked Him to take away my blasphemy and help me. Ever since that point, i have experienced a peace that I had long forgotten."
One fateful Sunday afternoon, a group of men from the Church I pastored decided to conduct a worship service in the little church at Jackson’s Cove. Out of respect for some of the men, Uncle Lem decided to attend. Max Burton shared his testimony; he then extended an invitation to those who had not made a definite commitment to following Christ to come forward and make a public profession of faith.
Uncle Lem soon left the building, determined not to return. It was evident that he had been deeply moved, and he was not about to bend under pressure. Uncle Lem’s cousin, Reg Wellman, was also in attendance. He too had been moved by Max’s testimony. Observing Uncle Lem leaving, Reg joined him outside. They discussed the matter, and together, Lem agreed that he needed to make a commitment to follow Christ. “My wife Nina also wants to make a commitment,” Reg said, “and she wants you to walk to the altar with her.”
They both headed back into the church. Uncle Lem then accompanied Nina to the altar. “As she knelt at the rail to pray,” Uncle Lem later recalled, “I looked at her and wondered what I should do and if there really was a God. So, I knelt too and asked God to reveal Himself to me; and if He did, I would serve Him the remainder of my life. I asked forgiveness for my sins. I asked Him to take away my blasphemy and help me. Ever since that point, I have experienced a peace that I had long forgotten.”
In the same service, Reg Wellman and Uncle Lem’s sister-in-law Winnifred Strong, also of Jackson’s Cove, made their way to the altar to meet the Good Shepherd. It was a memorable afternoon. Sometime later, at the ripe age of eighty-nine, Uncle Lem shared publicly at a worship service, “Now, every night and morning, we sing, ‘Thank you, Lord, for saving our souls.”
On December 2, 1984, I made my way down to an old fashion altar in response to an invitation by Rev. Garfield Pinksen. That night, I committed to following the Good Shepherd. I did not go looking for religion, nor did I commit to following particular church traditions (although, I must confess that has been a matter of ongoing tension); Instead, I committed to a vibrant life-giving relationship.
Just like Uncle Lem Knight, “Ever since that point, I have experienced peace.” The Good Shepherd–Jesus–said, “Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.” Matthew 11:28–30
Our Heavenly Father has dealt with the ‘sin’ matter; His Son, Jesus Christ—The Good Shepherd—took upon himself the sin load that threatens our present and future welfare. All we have to do is open our hearts to a life-giving relationship with him. It begins with us ADMITTING we need help. It is stimulated by BELIEVING in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is authenticated by an act of CONFESSION.
This is what the Scripture says: “The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” That is the teaching of faith that we are telling. If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and if you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved. We believe with our hearts, and so, we are made right with God. And we declare with our mouths that we believe, and so, we are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in Him will never be disappointed”, “Anyone who calls on the Lord will be saved.”
The Good Shepherd changed my life, as He did the lives of others I reflected upon in this article; He is quite capable of transforming your life! To God be ALL the Glory, Honour and Praise!
"The Good Shepherd changed my life... He is quite capable of transforming your life."