Then one morning I walked out to the chicken pen to gather eggs. I stepped inside warily because the rooster had a habit of declaring his territory with an assault on whoever came through the gate, and as I watched for him over my shoulder, I realized that my subconscious count of the hens was off by one or two. So I scattered the feed and carefully counted them when they came running to eat—one, two, three, four…nine, ten, eleven. One was missing.
I scoured the pen. No chickens hiding behind the coop or under a scrubby bush. I checked the old tub we used to water them just to make sure one had not fallen in, as had happened before. Nothing quite like finding a drowned chicken first thing in the morning, but no chicken in the tub. Then I left the pen and searched around it. On the far side lay a trail of feathers leading off to the woods, but Keith was away on business and there wasn’t much I could do. The next morning I counted only ten chickens and found yet another trail.
We were fairly sure what was going on. So when he got back home that day, he parked the truck up by the house, pointed toward the chicken pen, and that night when the dogs started barking, he stepped outside in the dark, shotgun in hand, and flipped on the headlights. Nothing. Every night for a week, he was out with the first bark, and every night he saw nothing. But he never stopped going out to look. At least the noise and lights were saving the chickens we still had.
Then one night, after over a week of losing sleep and expecting once again to find nothing, there it was—a bobcat standing outside the pen, seventy-five feet across the field. Keith is a very good shot, even by distant headlight.
I still think of that trail of feathers sometimes and shiver. I couldn’t help hoping the hen was already dead when she was dragged off, that she wasn’t squawking in fear and pain in the mouth of a hungry predator.
Sometimes it happens to the people of God. We usually think in terms of sheep and wolves, and the scriptures talk in many places of those sheep being “snatched” and “scattered.” It isn’t hard to imagine a trail of fleece and blood instead of feathers.
I think we need to imagine that scene more often and make it real in our minds, just as real as that trail of feathers was to me. Losing a soul is not some trivial matter. It is frightening; it is painful; it is bloody; it’s something worth losing a little sleep over. If we thought of it that way, maybe we would work harder to save a brother who is on the edge, maybe we would be more careful ourselves and not walk so close to the fence, flirting with the wolf on the other side.
Look around you today and do a count. How many souls have been lost in the past year alone? Has anyone bothered to set up a trap for the wolf? Has anyone even acknowledged his existence? Clipped chickens, even as dumb as they are, do not fly over a six foot fence, but a bobcat can climb it in a flash and snatch the unwary in his jaws. Be on the lookout today.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15)