Remembering a father's lesson

As the family was finishing breakfast, the tired father reached over to a bookshelf beside the table and retrieved his well-worn Bible. Before his five rambunctious boys dashed out to play, he wanted to implant some endearing ideas in their young minds. He glanced down the table at his wife, who was struggling with negative issues from her background, and with a silent prayer of intercession for the future of his sons, the father opened his Bible to John 10 and asked for silence while he read.

He read about a good shepherd who drove his sheep into a rock enclosure where they would be protected throughout the gathering night. Because the enclosure had public access, the shepherd (and any other shepherds who drove their sheep into the same fold) laid his bedroll in the opening and became "the door" for the sheep. Predators, like wolves, coyotes and lions, could not harm the sheep because the shepherd always stayed between the sheep and their enemies. And so, the sheep could lay down in safety, even though there were frightening noises penetrating the silence, and golden eyes piercing the darkness, because their shepherd always placed himself between them and their greatest fear.

The father then looked at his little boys and read those resounding words of Jesus in verse 11: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep." Always fascinated by adventuresome stories, the boys would listen as their father explained that if they would put their trust in Jesus as their Savior, they would be as safe, regardless of the hostility and threats about them.

This was no Norman Rockwell family, but the struggling home in which I was raised. Dad and Mom had known deep sorrow in losing two of their young children, one at six-months of age, and our sister at 13 years. They had placed one of their oldest children in the Nampa State School for the severely retarded because of a premature birth. So I knew as I watched my father hold his Bible with calloused hands that he had already walked where he was inviting his children to follow. As if it were yesterday, I can vividly recall listening to my father read and visualizing myself as being one of those little sheep snuggled safely among the flock while Jesus, my Shepherd, kept watch over me.

Many years have passed since those Saturday mornings around the old chrome breakfast table. Only three of us boys remain from that large family. All three of us have had years of pastoral ministry behind us, and the signs of aging are always present. I have been privileged to earn a master's degree in ministry from a wonderful, reputable seminary and been honored to sing and speak in a lot of venues. But regardless of the attempts at sophistication, periodically I have retreated down memory's lane and sat as a small boy around the old breakfast table to listen to my father read again.

Although the world continues to rapidly change around us, the true needs of our hearts remain the same. I am still the little boy in need of love, hope, and a sense of security. When, as a child, I heard the story of Christ's death on the cross to pay for my sins, I bowed and asked for forgiveness. My consciousness for grace and pardon remains vital to my well-being. In spite of a long career in ministry, I remain the little sheep in need of a Shepherd who lies across the door to protect me from all fear.

So, Dad, I was listening as you read. In fact, as the sixth of your eight children, I continue to feel my need of the protection of the Good Shepherd. As Thanksgiving approaches, I can readily go to my knees because of one little story you read to me as a child. The seed you planted has borne fruit!