Most of the speakers at the annual New Year’s Luncheon at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center commented on how 2015 is the “Year of the Sheep.” Even the vice consul of Japan commented on how sheep travel in flocks, and therefore this coming year should focus on happy family life.
At the 2015 New Year’s Party at the Valley Japanese Community Center, the master of ceremonies commented that sheep are very peaceful animals, known to be gentle and calm. Therefore, we shouldn’t be entering any wars in the coming year.
Now, personally, I’ve never really paid too much attention to the signs of the Chinese zodiac. Partly because I’m not Chinese. But mostly because I am a Christian. The Bible expressly forbids divination, sorcery, and hidden arts (Deuteronomy 18:10-14). Why? Because astrology, horoscopes and the like advocate faith in something other than God.
The Bible says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) A Christian’s trust, including source for guidance, is in God alone. Faith in anything besides God is misplaced.
However, it is interesting to me that the Bible refers to us as “sheep” and/or God as the “shepherd” over and over (no less than 220 times). Some of the more well-known verses are, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want (I lack nothing).” (Psalm 23:1); and “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6)
Have you ever wondered, “Why sheep? Why not something more powerful like a lion, or even a horse?” I have. And I was humbled by what I found out. For starters, sheep are extremely smelly. Sheep are like huge, walking Velcro strips. Sheepskin is full of an oil called lanolin.
Lanolin comes through the skin and coats the wool so that the animal will stay warm in cold weather. But the oily wool is one of the most effective dirt-catching devices known to man. Every time a sheep lies down, grass, dirt, burrs, dust, and everything imaginable clings to its coat, making sheep one of the smelliest (if not most smelliest) animals around.
“But Judd, aren’t we created in the ‘image of God?’” (Genesis 1:27) You bet! The analogy to sheep is so man will not be foolish enough to believe that he is good enough, kind enough, generous enough, or smart enough to stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God based on his own deeds.
One pastor friend told me about a vision he had — Jesus was walking through the church, and as He was walking, he was holding His nose. To a holy and righteous God, even the best of us reek of a foul odor. But like the bumper sticker says, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
Another reason God refers to His people as sheep is that sheep are rather stupid. If left to themselves they will graze in the same place until all the grass is gone. In dry spells they will not go and find water. They will mob round a tree in a dry paddock or an empty water trough until they die of thirst.
Sheep must be led to grass to feed. Sheep must also be led to water to drink. The Bible says, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” (Psalm 23:2) As children of God, we can find rest, protection, and physical and spiritual nourishment if we allow ourselves to be led by the “Good Shepherd.”
Sheep also get lost easily. Individual sheep will often wander away from the flock while they graze. If a sheep wanders off from the rest of the herd, it will have a hard, if not impossible, time finding its way back. They have no sense of direction. So it is with those who turn away from God, there is simply no sense of spiritual direction in their lives.
Finally, sheep must be sheared for their own good. Whenever a shepherd finds that a sheep was cast down because it had too long and heavy a fleece, he soon took swift steps to remedy the situation. In short order he would shear it clean and so forestall the danger of having the ewe lose her life.
This was not always a pleasant process. Sheep do not really enjoy being sheared and it represents some hard work for the shepherd, but it must be done. Actually, when it is all over both sheep and owner are relieved. There is no longer the threat of being cast down, while for the sheep there is the pleasure of being set free from a hot, heavy coat.
We don’t like it when “bad” things happen to us. But we must trust that it is for our own good. The Bible says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Things will happen to you that you will not be able to understand or figure out.
And when it happens, it is important that you have certain foundations that you do understand and you fall back on those foundations. What do I understand? I understand that God loves me. How do I know? The Bible tells me so. I understand that God is wiser than I am. I understand that God is in control of all of the circumstances that surround my life.
Thus, anything that happens to me only happens to me because God has allowed it to happen to me. It could not happen to me unless God did allow it to happen to me, and God loves me and is working out what is best for me. Thus, I can rest in the most uncomfortable places. I rest in faith that God is even going to use bad or unpleasant things for my good and His glory.
Some of you may have read the book or seen the movie “Unbroken.” The film revolves around the life of USA Olympic athlete Louis “Louie” Zamperini, who survived in a raft for 47 days in the shark-infested waters of the Pacific Ocean after his bomber was downed in World War II, and was sent to a series of prisoner of war camps.
Can you imagine? You’ve survived a plane crash, but now you’re dying of hunger and thirst. You hope and wait to be rescued. You even shoot flares at passing planes, but they can’t see you in the vast Pacific Ocean. Finally a passing plane sees you, it banks around towards you, but comes with guns firing — it’s the enemy. Now you’ve got to jump into shark-infested waters to avoid being shot. Can things get any worse???
In a moment of weakness, Louis turns to his faith to give him the strength to put up with the adversity he is facing: “If you get me through this, I swear, I’ll dedicate my whole life to you.” That promise was kept at a 1949 Billy Graham Crusade in Los Angeles. Zamperini overcame alcoholism, night terrors and a failing marriage to live a full and joyous Christ-centered life until his passing at age 97, inspiring millions along the way.
The Bible says, “The eternal God is your refuge, and His everlasting arms are under you.” (Deuteronomy 33:27) Perhaps, of late, you have had some bad things happen to you, e.g., a broken hip, a car accident, a death of a close friend or family member. “Be strong and of good courage” (Deuteronomy 31:6), for the everlasting arms of God are under you.
If, however, like Louis Zamperini, things are so bad that they just couldn’t get any worse, e.g., you can’t drive, can’t walk and now you’ve been diagnosed with dementia, know this: not only are God’s everlasting arms under you, you are resting directly on the everlasting arms of God.
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.