Of Gates and Shepherds

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Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:7-10

My fellow choir members and I were on tour in Namibia. We had asked to see some termite mounds and our drivers agreed. We headed for no-man’s land and proceeded to see more termites than we could imagine. This was a diversion from the usual road and so we crossed through numerous farmer’s fields. At each one, our coach lumbered to a stop, someone hopped out, opened the gate, let us pass through, closed the gate and hopped back on the bus. Each gate served a purpose. Each farmer was able to keep his herd separate from the other. It made sense, until you tried to follow the dirt track road through the fields. Then the gates were a hindrance rather than a help.

Jesus is the gate. Some treat Him like He’s all about preventative measures. They think of Him as the kill joy of life’s fun. A permanent stop sign. But Jesus as He describes Himself is the gate that offers life. To enter Jesus’ gate means that a rescue operation has been performed. Jesus is the gate that saves.  He saves from thieves and robbers. Those who have plans for harm, for hurt, for temporary “fun” with lasting consequences. His gate opens the door to new possibilities. It’s a place to go in and come out of and find the sustenance that souls long for. Jesus contrasts Himself as the gate with the thief. Thieves come in, attack, remove, destroy, and harm. Jesus offers life. One word – life. But this is not a life of emptiness and frustration but one that is full. Those are Jesus words – life to the full.

 

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“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”     John 10:11-18

I am not a farmer. I don’t know a lot about sheep. I do know they are not the smartest animals on the planet. In fact, when trouble comes they are most likely to get themselves mired further into the trouble than to get out of it. They need constant care – for their eyes and noses, for their coats. They can be willfully disobedient and harm themselves deliberately. They don’t know their limits and will overgraze a pasture to its ruin if the shepherd does not move them on. They know their shepherd’s voice. They will follow the one they know.

I am alarmingly similar to a sheep. I get myself in trouble and then in my attempts to rescue myself, I dig in a little deeper. I need constant care. I am prone to wander off on my own. I am often deliberately disobedient and then wonder why I am suffering the consequences. I will wear away at people and things until relationships are broken and ruined. My sheep-like tendencies are rather frightening.

But, I am learning to know my Shepherd’s Voice. Too often I have heard Him speaking to me and have attributed it to some niggle in the back of my mind. Other times I have discredited His Voice to me altogether. “That can’t possibly be God.” I have convinced myself that He speaks to other people but He doesn’t speak to me. These have all been lies I have chosen to believe – thieves that have come in and stolen and destroyed. Jesus has been calling my name my whole life. He’s sometimes been subtle. Other times He’s shouted! However, in it all, He’s been calling my name.

His Voice has taken numerous forms. Sometimes its the sweaty palms and the fast beating heart. Other times its the Song of the Morning calling me into a new day. Recently it’s been His promptings that seem like whispers in my mind. When I hear Him speaking, I often wonder what’s next. Often times He isn’t speaking to me for me. It’s usually for other people. Pray for this person. Do this deed. Stop and listen.

I would love to say that I always listen. I would love to say that I always obey. I don’t. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes I am selfish. Sometimes I deliberately turn my ears off. But the regrets from those moments are now spurring me on to listen more deliberately. I have been blown away at how God has meshed together the moments of Him speaking with my everyday life.

This Shepherd is the One to listen to. His continual pursuit of those who know Him and those who do not yet know Him is amazing. His sacrifice for the sheep, the very ones who often ignore and disobey Him, is His life. He lays down His life to rescue us, to rescue me. I can’t save myself on my own. Only He can be the Gate that opens and the Shepherd who restores.

This Advent season, I am in need of a Gate and a Shepherd. I want to live the full life that the Gate offers. I want to live, knowing my Shepherd’s Voice and responding to His call.

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