I read recently that more Americans are renting their homes or apartments than ever before, which is unsurprising: home prices are sky-high, and young people are coming out with such huge educational loans that they face the choice of whether to go to college or own a home (or neither). But I wonder what the long-term effects will be as less and less people actually own property. Dan and I had an apartment for the first year of our marriage, and while we certainly enjoyed the space, we have a totally different attitude about our home. When something breaks, it’s our job to fix it; if property values go up, we benefit. It’s ours, our investment, and that makes a difference in the way we treat it.
Now think of this: of all of the spiritual guides, therapists, and life coaches out there, there’s only one who has an actual investment in you, because you belong to Him.
Jesus describes the life of faith as a life of being shepherded. There are lots of people out there, Jesus contends, who pretend to be shepherds, but actually hurt the sheep:
· John 10:1-2: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees and others were perfectly willing to pen people up within God’s Law—for a small fee. But this was not for the benefit of the people, but for the benefit of the Pharisees. The sheepfold is like God’s Law; sometimes, we need boundaries around our actions in order to live a more abundant life. I think of my son Charlie. We’ve recently had to put up all the gates in our house; we’ve installed the cabinet locks, put little plugs in the outlets, because he’s at that age where containment is a high priority.
So we have to pen him in some of the time. His siblings like to show their solidarity.
We make all these little child prisons not because we hate our son or want to deprive him of the pleasures of self-electrocution, no matter what he might think; it’s because we love him, he belongs to us, and we want him to have a full and abundant life–with as few trips to the E.R. as possible.
And this is true of Christ.
· 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
The sheepfold is there to protect the sheep, but also to let them out through the gate, Christ, so that they can partake of the rich pasture, the green grass, and have abundant life.
The problem with the religious people is that they are holding the sheep back from abundant life. By holding them in their pen, they’ve created an escape from the world that can hurt them, but they’ve also kept the sheep away from what they need to live.
There are many thieves today that seek to rob us of our life, to keep us away from the sheepfold, and one problem I see is that many people are trusting the voice of the thief instead of the voice of Christ.
We seek peace and love and enlightenment, so often, from things that promise an escape from life.
Right now, I’ve learned, there is a drug called “iowaska” that tourists are taking in Peru. “People who have consumed ayahuasca report having mystical or religious experiences and spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth, the true nature of the universe as well as deep insight into how to be the best person they possibly can.”
Why not just watch an episode of Mr. Rogers? You could get all that stuff, without the unpleasant side effects–which can include prolonged vomiting, or, um, death.
The question becomes, for me, is taking a drug a path to a more abundant life, or as an escape from your actual life, that takes you away from yourself and your problems for a while? So many of these thieves, like alcohol, or video games, or television, take us away from fuller engagement with our lives, promising escape from ourselves—but in reality, they become thieves of our time, our health, and our energy. I’m totally sympathetic to wanting an escape: I’m a person who thinks a lot, and sometimes I just want to dive into an escape from my own mind—like a couple of hours of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, my current Netflix addiction. But if I take it too far, it’s robbing me of my time, and cutting me off from the green pastures of a more abundant life.
Or think of an affair. An affair promises escape from the problems of a marriage; a momentary easy pleasure. But in reality, an affair ends in robbing us of trust, love, and oftentimes even financially. Which is more of an engagement with life: having an affair, or having a real conversation with your spouse, not an argument, but a conversation, in which you discuss the problems you are having and the true roots of those problems?
Are the things you do with your time, with your body, with your spirit, leading you to engage more fully with life, yourself, and God, or are they means of escape?
The answer is to allow God, through Christ, to guide us; to lead us back into the sheepfold when we need boundaries in life, and to guide us out into the pasture when we need to experience life more fully and abundantly.
Now we, especially as Americans, might take offense at this whole sheep metaphor; we don’t want to be sheep! We don’t want to be herded!
But here’s the thing: everybody follows somebody, not just on Twitter, but in life. We all have spiritual, emotional, and social guides. The question isn’t whether you’re going to follow, but whom. And only one leader has an actual investment in you.
· John 10:11-14: 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.
Only Jesus has an actual investment in you, because He is God, and you belong to Him; just as a shepherd has his whole life invested in his sheep, just as a homeowner has her life savings invested in her home, Jesus has invested his life in you.
But imagine if we had built the house from the ground up; if we had chosen the site, the materials, and built it with our own hands. Jesus was there before your were born, when you were created in your mother’s womb. Our family has a cabin like that, built from logs by my great-grandparents back in the 1950’s, and now no one can change anything, because it’s sacred; they built it with their own hands.
Your are sacred, because Christ built you with his own hands. He chose you, created you exactly according to his plan. You are precious to Him.
And even more than that:
· John 10:15: And I lay down my life for the sheep.
Jesus gave His life so that you could live more abundantly. He invested in you, not only in your creation, but by giving His very life out of love for you.
It’s amazing how there are always new insights to break forth from God’s Word. For the first time reading this passage, I recognized that God’s love for Jesus is based on Jesus’s love for us:
· John 10:17: For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
At first this verse struck me as odd. Doesn’t God the Father love the Son because Christ is, well, His Son? This verse shows us that God loves Jesus because of Jesus’s sacrifice, because it’s on the cross that Jesus most showed who he really was. As the Roman soldier watching the crucifixion observed, this really was the Son of God.
His actions on the cross best demonstrated His true nature, which was love.
So great is the Father’s love for us, that He loves His Son because of the love that Jesus showed for us. Think of that. You are so precious in God’s sight that, not only did He allow His Son to die for you, but He loves His Son because of His willingness to participate in that sacrifice.
So why would you follow any other shepherd? Christ is the one who has everything invested in you. All these other guides, the politicians, the writers, all these other thieves, the distractions, the drugs, the time-suckers, they are taking you away from the abundant life Christ promises you. He’s the Good Shepherd; he’s the only one who created you, who built you with his own hands, and who has his whole life invested in you.
So follow Him. And how can you follow Him?
· John 10:4-5: When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.
As I’ve said before, God’s message in your life is trustworthy, tenacious, and tough. It’s trustworthy because it will never go against the message of God in Scripture. It’s not going to distract you from your life but lead you into a more abundant life. It’s tenacious because once God wants to tell you something, He’s going to keep yelling it at you until you get the message—so if you hear something over and over and over again, that could be the voice of God. And it’s tough because God doesn’t tend to speak up unless it’s something you don’t actually want to do—things like building an ark, or standing up to Pharaoh–the dirty work of changing the world.
Here’s three questions I want you to think about this week:
What false shepherds are robbing you of your life?
When you consider how much Christ has invested in you, or that God’s love for you is so great that he loves Christ because Christ loved you, how does that make you want to change your life?
And third, where is the Good Shepherd calling you?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.