This is the first of three Sunday Messages on the FAITH5, a faith@home spiritual practice promoted by Dr. Rich Melheim and Faith Inkubators. My preaching text was John 10:11-18. This Message draws upon Dr. Melheim’s book Holding Your Family Together.
Australia has a lot of sheep. We have more sheep than we have people. The average farm flock is over 2000 in size, but the largest sheep station in the country has about 60,000 sheep. Managing sheep on Australian farms is about fences, quad bikes and sometimes even helicopters. At best, sheep are known by barcode, certainly not by name. That’s a far cry from what it meant to take care of sheep in the time of Jesus. Sheep were cared for day and night by shepherds, who lived with them in the open countryside. A good shepherd knew his sheep by name. He had a relationship with them. He protected them and looked after them as if they were his children.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus says “I am the good shepherd”. He gives us a wonderful image of God’s love and God’s care. We aren’t just numbers to God. He knows us each personally. He provides for us and wants us to bring our needs to him. He protects us, often in ways we aren’t even aware of. And above all, Jesus, the best of all shepherds, has laid down his life for us in an enormous act of divine love and mercy.
The image of shepherding has also been used by the church across the ages to talk about caring for people. The English word “pastor” comes from the Latin word for “shepherd”. As God’s people – pastors and lay people – we are called to care for one another as a shepherd cared for his sheep. We are called to follow the example of the Jesus, the Good Shepherd, by getting to know one another, by journeying together through life’s valleys and mountains, by protecting and serving one another, by looking out for one another’s needs.
If you are a Christian you are so because someone set out to shepherd you in the name of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Now, if I asked you, “Who have been those spiritual shepherds in your life?” I suspect that almost all of you would name people in your family – mothers, fathers, grandparents, husbands, wives. That’s how it usually works. In God’s design, households are meant to be “little flocks” where children and parents and spouses and grandparents share faith together and live faith together and grow in faith together. Bible passages such as Deuteronomy chapter 6 and piles of modern research tell us that it is parents, grandparents, godparents and other caring adults who nurture the Christian faith in children and young people through everyday conversations and routines and trusted relationships. Faith is nurtured and disciples are “called” by Jesus the Good Shepherd through caring, authentic relationships. The voice of Jesus is heard above all else by children and youth through the mouths of the caring adults in their lives.
This Sunday and the next two Sundays I want to unpack with you a very simple but profound spiritual tool. It’s called the FAITH5. It comes from the work of Dr. Rich Melheim and Faith Inkubators. It is made up of five steps or habits or practices you can use with others in your daily life – with your spouse, your children, your grandchildren – to hear the voice of Jesus together on a daily basis and to care for each other. If you live alone, it can also be used with a group of friends or your small group. While the FAITH5 is a gift to parents and grandparents to unwrap each day with their children and youth, it’s not just for them. It’s for all of us.
The first step in the FAITH5 is to share what are called “Highs” and “Lows” with the significant others in our lives each and every day. A “high” is a positive memory from the day. A “low” is a not-so-good memory or a challenge from the day. Sharing “highs” and “lows” as a daily habit is a simple way of connecting with what is going on in each other’s lives. It’s amazing how many people – including those who live together under the same roof, and those who go to the same church year after year – don’t go beyond surface level with each other from day to day and month to month. This simple step is a way of doing that, regularly and intentionally. When we take the time to check in with each other about how life is, we are saying that the other person and what happens to them matters to us. And in doing that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are affirming to them that they matter to God.
Sharing our “Highs” with each other is really living out the Bible’s call to rejoice together in what he has given and in what he has done. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice”. Deuteronomy 12:12 says, “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you together with your sons and your daughters.” Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Sharing a “”high” reclaims, renames and reframes the day as God’s good gift. It helps us to count our blessings and to celebrate how God has blessed others. So often we take the miracle of each day for granted. Even when a day has been difficult, there is still much to be thankful for. Sharing a “high” helps us to think about and celebrate the good. It reminds us to praise our God from whom all blessings flow. That’s good for our spirits, and for the spirits of those around us.
Sharing our “Lows” with each other also has a deep Biblical foundation. Romans 12:5 says, “Weep with those who weep.” Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” When Jesus was dealing the “low” of his upcoming arrest and sufferings, he didn’t deal with it alone. He took his disciples with him to the Garden of Gethsemane, so that they could see his tears and support him. If Jesus needed that, how much more do we!
Sharing “lows” with each other – you with others and they with you – is important for a number of reasons.
- It helps us to understand others better. So often we make judgments about others without really knowing what struggles and challenges they are facing and going through.
- It makes us more aware of the needs of others, and of ways in which we can support them and pray for them.
- It shows others that we have struggles too, and can relate to theirs.
- It gives others a sense that they are not alone in their struggles.
Rich Melheim says, “A home that instills and installs this nightly sharing of both highs and lows becomes a safe sanctuary where tears, fears and even failures can be discussed and worked out in confidence and love. The home becomes a grace place where children can be honest in expressing griefs, hurts and disappointments.”
This week, I invite you to take time with the significant others in your life – spouses, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren – to share your “highs” and “lows”. If you live together with them, do it every day. Choose a time that’s best for your situation. In my own home, the best time is the evening meal. It might only take a minute or two to do. Sometimes, it can turn into a much longer time of sharing and caring. Turn off the TV and commit to really listening and really caring. Don’t criticise or problem-solve or give advice. Just be present as shepherds to one another, in the name and in the Spirit of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Sharing “Highs” and “Lows” is the first of the steps in the FAITH5. The next two are “Read” and “Talk”. Each step will build on the other. Together they have the potential to change hearts and homes by drawing us more closely into heart and the ways of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.