When I was on the football team at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, our coach asked if any members of the team could help a friend. The coach’s friend was a doctor who lived in the northern panhandle of Idaho. He was a sheep rancher. In the winter of 1969, a deadly snow storm was killing his unprotected sheep. The early storm caught the doctor off-guard. He was halfway through the construction of sheep sheds. The roof had not been installed in time. The doctor needed a few football players to help his Basque sheepherders finish the roof to get the sheep out of the weather. I had a free weekend and the pay was good, so I volunteered.
We finished the job, and the sheep were brought in from the storm. The rest of the animals survived. On the final evening, we sat down to dinner with the doctor and his wife and the Basque sheepherders we had worked alongside. The dinner was a victory celebration of sorts. A Basque feast filled the table. It was amazing. On the drive back to Spokane, my belly was full and so was my wallet. It felt good to have helped create something that allowed life, not death, to prevail.
When I recalled that memory from long ago, I thought of the Church and how important it is to create a safe place for people to survive the deadly storms that blow into our lives from time-to-time – storms of betrayal, division in an unsettled culture and the subversive works of demonic powers. Real sheep, like the ones in northern Idaho, need shelter from natural storms and so do the followers of Jesus Christ who are defined in Scripture as sheep and will encounter deadly storms in the spiritual realm.
Our place of shelter in these storms is not found in the structure of our ministry or in fearful places of isolation. Our shelter is found in a person – Jesus Christ. He is our only sure shelter when the winds of darkness and division begin to pierce our soul. Any other protective enclosure will not have the insulating properties needed to keep the cold of a loveless faith away from our hearts. Shelters built around preferred theologies, political ideologies or unrestrained human emotions will always put sheep in jeopardy of dying a premature spiritual death.
Examine where you and your sheep are grazing. When the personal and cultural storms come, where can the sheep under your care run for shelter? When the storms arrive, you have been called to give people a place free from the bone-chilling winds of deception that can easily hide behind a mask of religion. Entry into this place of safety does not require agreement on anything but the person of Jesus Christ. All other shelters will put people in a position of unnecessary vulnerability.
If you help to build a place of shelter, you will someday sit around a table of fellowship when a storm has finally passed, and the sheep are safe and warm. At that moment, you will know you did something right and good.