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The Shepherd and the Lamb of God

March 2nd, 2013
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In previous parts, we have seen how we are sheep in God’s Almighty care. Here church-member graziers describe what the handling of sheep can tell us about ourselves.

John Merriman, down at Jerrawa, between Gunning and Yass, sees parallels every day between sheep and the Christian walk. “I admit I talk about it constantly,” he laughs.

He mixes cattle with 400 sheep and sees the latter individually or in mobs bereft of leadership. “They will not move through an open gate unless you (and your dog) lead them,” he reveals.

“There’s natural timidity and fear which needs coaxing to overcome. They often don’t get the big picture, so to speak, and can’t see that you’re doing what’s best for them — even though their shepherd is with them,” John adds.

“Some mobs can be quite mad and their attitude will spread to others,” he observes. “Although sheep are easily spooked, they’ll settle down if you stay with them. Their demeanour is also strongly affected by their diet, so what they ingest is crucial to their well-being. Much like the mind-food we take in as Christians,” he says.

Sheep need maintenance work, he notes. “Wool will gradually — very slowly — grow over their eyes in a year; and then they become wool-blind,” he explains.

As followers of Christ, we too can become careless and ‘let the wool grow over our eyes’ to cause us to stumble or lose direction – or even lose sight of the Good Shepherd leading up-front.

John’s final observation is one we’re familiar with but probably have never witnessed in the flesh. “We slaughter our own sheep: and we sense that as a lamb comes to its time, it knows what’s about to occur. It grows silent. It doesn’t resist,” he says soberly.

John concludes that in their special role in the natural world, sheep are appointed to die so that we might be fed to live as a human.

“But from a Christian’s perspective,” he says, “I see the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, dying for me … that I might live forever in the spiritual realm!”

There’s a powerful lesson for us there — as is the whole issue of raising and caring for those wonderful animals God has provided for mankind.

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(above) John Merriman … Daily Lessons

Click here for Part 1 (of 4)

Our Community

Sheep and the Big Picture

March 2nd, 2013
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While ‘talking sheep’ in recent newsletter editions we found another sheep farmer from within our satellite church in the ACT. Rick and Sandra Kevill live and work in Canberra, but they have a 240-acre hobby farm at Yass stocked with 250 ewes and a handful of cattle.

Rick, who has a horticulture and property maintenance business in the Capital, observes that sheep are a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses (like us). And these characteristics are especially evident in the breed he raises — not for its wool – but for its meat. He explains: “The white ‘Dorper’ is a cross between a Dorset and a Persian and is relatively new to Australia, having arrived here only in 1998 from South Africa. Its Persian background makes it self-shed its wool which is of no value. Its true commercial strength is its meat. It needs no shearing, crutching, mulesing and is less prone to fly-strike. The Dorper is a low-input sheep.”

In short, this sheep is different from others of its kind.

If this sounds a bit like a Christ-follower, note what Rick sees in his mob. Compared with the Merino’s trait to bunch in a flock, Dorpers are the ‘free-thinkers’. They naturally want to do their own thing. (Sounds familiar?). Bred on the open areas of the South African veldt country, the Persian in them encourages a ‘free spirit’.

“With this comes a flighty temperament, says Rick. We can’t use dogs when mustering. They just stir them up. Despite this, Dorpers make good mothers and protect their young. They will often be seen caring for the lambs of other ewes. And they’ll certainly take on predators.”

Although short-legged, Dorpers have great walking ability; able to walk kilometres to a water supply. Their endurance and stamina suit them to hostile environments like Outback Australia. “And while their shepherd-owner pays a high price for them compared with Merinos, the latter will starve to death while the Dorper — a non-selective grazer — will survive drought.

Why run Dorpers? Rick reveals they will breed — be fruitful, if you like — all year round in an 8-month cycle. In contrast, Merinos lamb only annually. “As a flock (congregation) Dorpers are very productive,” he contends.

Yet despite their clear strengths in a world that’s set against them, the sheep farmer must be vigilant that they don’t grow too fat. “If there’s not a lamb at the foot, or one on the way, the good country around Yass can temper their natural resilient qualities,” Rick admits. Like us, absence of trials can weaken the flock.

Could we identify with Dorpers? We might see ourselves — and shudder a bit. But be heartened. Rick grins when he believes that when looking ahead, the ‘Dorper’-kind will come out on top. “It’s the sheep of the future.” And isn’t that where we are headed?

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Click here for Part 4 (of 4)

Our Community

From the Sheep-Fold

March 2nd, 2013
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In Part 1, we saw how we are sheep in God’s Almighty care. Here, church-member graziers describe what the handling of sheep can tell us about ourselves.

Bathurst church member Peter Valusiak grazes 400 sheep with cattle on a 424 hectare property 120km north-east of Dubbo on the Central West Slopes of NSW — a four-hour drive each way to church.

As a long-time grazier, he echoes his fellow church sheep-owners’ experience.

“If you’re a concerned owner, sheep look to you for caring and feeding. If they become trapped in a fence, they rely on you to free them. If food is short, a mob will instinctively mill around at a gate to be moved to a better pasture. They know you’re the one to do it for them,” he explains.
“Orphaned lambs, or ‘poddies’, look in childlike fashion to the ‘carer’ for their bottle at lunch and dinner time. If you pat and talk to them they will follow you,” he says.

In this vein, Peter notes that the Middle-Eastern way of nurturing sheep recognises each lamb has a different nature and must be handled as an individual — just as Christ works with his followers.

In contrast, an indifferent grazier neglects his sheep. A bad shepherd’s flocks become fly-blown; their wool damaged by lice.

“If your good sheep are too close to your neighbour’s affected sheep at the boundary fence, the fruit of his neglect can be transferred to your mob. Your precious sheep then become contaminated,” is Peter’s sad admission. A parallel to the Christian walk can easily be drawn here.

David Arkinstall and his wife Merilyn graze 300 sheep north of Bathurst. He agrees that sheep are “like us” in many respects. “They need constant caring,” he says, “despite the strong mothering instinct in the ‘Dorpers’ that we raise for their meat, rather than wool.

“You do become attached to them, especially if you rescue one from, say, a water hole — in the same way that Christ finds and rescues us. Likewise, there’s a spiritual parallel in how we, as shepherds, work at keeping lambs safe from fox predation and in providing shelter for them on bad nights.”

Despite the challenges in keeping mobs safe, identifying ‘internal’ problems in the flocks, and treating the effects of attacks from parasites, David gleans enjoyment from what he calls the ‘small things’ with sheep: “… the expressions on their faces … the reward of working outside with them and constantly seeing God’s lessons in what he teaches us through them.

“My respite from my full-time carer role for my wife is spending balanced work overseeing the sheep and goats on our property,” he says. “The work and service is different, but beautiful in its time. I’m fortunate to have a part in the process.”

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(above) Peter — Up Dubbo Way

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(above) David — Bathurst

Click here for Part 3 (of 4)

Our Community