Dirty Job: Shepherding

Vin Scully2.jpg

The 89 year old Dodger’s baseball broadcaster Vin Scully has a way with words. He is a gifted story teller and a baseball legend. During a recent Dodger-Giants baseball game, in between calling the play by play, describing the game as it unfolded, he found the time to tell a story of the Giants rival ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner’s life outside of baseball. One day during spring training this year in Scottsdale, Bumgarner and his wife were roping cattle when Madison was startled by a large snake he figured was a rattler. He quickly grabbed an ax and hacked it to pieces. When Ali, an expert field dresser, examined what was left of the snake, she found two baby jackrabbits inside pieces of it and extracted them. A short while later the Bumgarners noticed that one of the rabbits had moved slightly. It was alive. Ali brought the rabbit back to their apartment and for the next few days kept it warm and bottle-nursed it. The rabbit soon was healthy enough for them to release into the wild. “Think about how tough that rabbit was,” Bumgarner says. “First it gets eaten by a snake, then the snake gets chopped to pieces, then it gets picked up by people and it lives. It’s all true.”

As wild a journey as the poor jack-rabbits endured, it parallels the wild-road that we’ve been on following the life of Joseph. Joseph went from the favored son to the despised brother, the house-hold administrator to the target of Potiphar’s spurned wife, to the innards of prison life again put in a place of authority, faithfully interpreting the dreams of the cupbearer and the chief baker to the summary sentence of Gen. 40:23—“The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”

Our sermon series Dirty Jobs showed the tough, gritty, and on-going areas of life Joseph had to confront to maintain his closeness to God, and today, he makes his final transition: from the pit to Potiphars house to prison to finally the palace. What’s worth noting before we move forward is how God uses each area to test Joseph, expand his abilities, and prepare him for what is coming next. First he was in charge of a house, then a prison, and now he takes on the needs of a nation. After two years of being forgotten, Joseph is finally called into service of the Pharaoh after he had a dream—seeing along the river Nile 7 sleek and fat cows followed by 7 skinny cows. While Skinny Cow may sell low calorie treats promising to make us skinny, the Pharaoh was disturbed because a hungry nation meant a dying nation. Then he had another dream 7 healthy heads of grain on a single stock, followed by 7 other heads of grain that were scorched and sickly.

Joseph tells the Pharaoh of God’s plan: 7 years of abundance followed by 7 years of scarcity. With the dream interpreted, comes a new mission. Joseph is put into a new dirty and demanding job: Shepherding: (v.39-40) “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” We get a chance today to learn from the leadership of Joseph on how to faithfully watch over those that God has placed in our life. Maybe it is formal eldership, team or council, or maybe it is informally those people that you have a natural sphere of influence, that when you talk they listen. After the stunning promotion, Genesis 41 reveals…

Joseph went out among the people! (Gen. 41:46) Joseph was thirty years old, when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout the Egypt.

Joseph had just been promoted to his most prominent position—second only to Pharaoh, new clothes, fresh shave, and huge status increase. He had just been through one gut-wrenching ordeal after another and yet he realizes that in order to help the people of Egypt, he has to be among the people of Egypt. Why didn’t Joseph just bask in his new authority? Why not just sent delegates out to get reports on the people, the land, and the conditions? Mark Twain once quipped, “I knew a man who grabbed a cat by the tail and learned forty percent more about cats than the man who didn’t.” Joseph comprehends that his success as a leader is directly tied to the level of connectivity to the people and their problems.

Even the bible’s use of the word shepherding implies closeness. A shepherd would sleep outside with his sheep, caring intimately for them sheep, making sure they have fresh water, good pasture, checking the sheep over for flies, disease and sores, and yet the same principle can change everything whether we are flying through the sky or just riding the subway. Stephen Covey author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People told the story of riding the subway home from a meeting: “People were sitting quietly–some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

crazy kids
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something  about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted.

All of a sudden he was brought into a situation and could feel along with the person suffering. Peter in his first letter gave this type of practical leadership advice to the church: (MSG) have a special concern for you church leaders. I know what it’s like to be a leader, (joining) in on Christ’s sufferings as well as the coming glory. Here’s my concern: that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way. Love expressed through leading others–maybe through a Bible study, through the loss of a loved one, alongside in the joy of a new addition, from the heartbreak of addiction to the adulation of a baptism. Every time you wonder why you should keep walking among the people as Joseph did, think to what Christ did…

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in,” he said, “is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?”

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