On November 23, 2018, I wrote the following thoughts and now want to republish them so that they become a permanent part of my Grace Journey memoir. It was during the writing of this article that I determined to launch a blog and to name it Grace Journey. I want to record these thoughts as a part of my legacy.
My recent study in Psalm 23 brought to mind a unique experience we had many years ago with a Shepherd and his flock in the High Country of Wyoming in 1960. This was the time of the Western Camping Trip when Connie and I met. Our group from Fourth Baptist of Minneapolis was camping at about 8,000 ft. in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area of the Big Horn Mountains, just west of Buffalo, Wyoming.
Youth Pastor Don Nelson chose our campsite because it was near a mountain stream and straddled the trail heading up toward the Cloud Peak glacier. He had obtained the services of a wrangler and a string of horses from the Paradise Ranch where we parked our vehicles. Even though the campsite area was primarily among the pine trees, there was a wide spot on the trail that provided a good place for some tents and a makeshift corral for the horses.
Each day part of the group would go on a trail ride above the timberline toward Cloud Peak. The rest of the group would stay at the campsite or go hiking, fishing, or creating activities that only teenagers can invent. One day when I was at the campsite we began to hear a strange noise coming up the trail. One of the leaders went to investigate, and learned that a Shepherd, on horseback, was driving a huge herd of sheep right up the trail to higher elevations beyond our campsite.
Our leaders realized we had a big problem! This was a herd of several hundred sheep that would follow one another right through the middle of our camp – trampling tents, equipment and everything in their path. Leaders quickly sprang to action and secured a long rope to a tree off to one side of the trail. Then they extended the rope, held at intervals by campers, to form a skirmish line around the perimeter of the campsite. It worked. The Shepherd, and his sheep dog, kept the sheep from straying too far off course, and the entire herd circumvented the campsite and headed on to their destination.
Later, on one of our trail rides, I saw the Shepherd, and his sheep, in a valley high above our campsite along the trail toward Cloud Peak.
The sheep were grazing all over the expansive lushness of natural grassy pasture land high in the mountains. The stream that ran down from the glacier passed through the middle of the valley. It was a fairly gentle stream, but made some natural twists and turns creating small pools of calmer water that were ideal for sheep to drink.
Here was a Shepherd, in late June – all by himself, except for his dog – tending his sheep for the short mountain summer. This was 1960, and I think he had a long-rifle in a saddle scabbard, and then his trusty dog, to protect and tend his sheep. The “green pastures” and “still waters” of Psalm 23 come to mind as I think of that lone Shepherd tending and guarding his sheep high in the Wyoming mountain range. But there were no human enemies armed with lethal weapons lurking in the trees, or camped in hidden enclaves like the Psalmist faced in his day.
David’s imagery of sheep and shepherd, and enemies and conflict, are used in the 23rd Psalm to direct our attention to the Great Shepherd. He is not a lonely Shepherd, but He is the lone Shepherd that we need. As Dr. Robert Ketcham expounds in his little volume “I Shall Not Want”, the Lord Jesus Christ is all that we need for: Rest, Refreshment, Restoration, Guidance, Courage, Comfort, Supply, Protection, Power, Mercy, and a promise of Forever with Him.
The Lord has been so faithful to us along the trail of life and ministry. I call it our Grace Journey. Dr. Ketcham quotes a little girl from his ministry who recited Psalm 23:1 and then declared, “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I want.” He has truly been all that we need.