At HOPAC, over 100 of our students traveled four hours to a Young Life camp for the “The best weekend of their life”. It was an amazing weekend! I could tell so many stories of challenges, changed lives, and the spiritual battles around us. But one little story stands out. It seems insignificant. There is a flock of sheep on the grounds of the camp. A few days before we came, twin lambs were born. The girls in my cabin thought they were adorable and wanted to catch them and pet them so they went running after flock. A few minutes later they returned.
“Miss, we couldn’t catch them”
“Did you think when you went running after them they would just stop? That isn’t how you catch a sheep. “ It got me thinking, is this how we feel? Like we are just grazing through life then a big scary being ‘God’ starts chasing us saying, “Come here! I want you!”
“Ahhh what is this thing! It must be bad! Runnnnn!!!!!!” or “if he catches me then he will know how messed up I am and not want me”
I realized, If we have grown up in the church, we have heard many times. “Jesus is the good shepherd. We are sheep.” But this doesn’t make any sense if we don’t understand what this means. I mentioned this to a co-worker and he said, “Sounds like you are leading assembly!” As I gave it more thought, I remembered The Friday we left for YL camp, I had to run home a minute. As I was walking up to the back gate, a sheep was on campus running towards me. I tried to herd it back towards the gate but it didn’t know me so I just scared it more. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that I encountered this sheep the same weekend. Fast forward a month and here I am sharing my message to 160 senior school students. There is a message God wants you to hear about the Good Shepherd.
Did you know sheep are the most referred to animal in the Bible! Let’s look at a few:
Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. – Psalm 100:3
All of us were like sheep that had wandered off. We had each gone our own way, but the LORD gave him the punishment we deserved. Isaiah 53:6
My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Jeremiah 50:6
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36
12“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. Matthew 18:12-13
You had wandered away like sheep. Now you have returned to the one who is your shepherd and protector. I Peter 2:25
and John 10
Sound familiar? Do you understand them?
When I told my dad I was going to be talking about the shepherd and sheep, he asked, “do you know the difference between a shepherd and a sheep herder?” I didn’t. He said a shepherd leads and a sheep herder follows behind, pushing them to where he wants them to go. Generally, sheep don’t take well to pushing. Sheep need a shepherd, they need to be lead.
Driving from Arusha to Serengeti, I would see several boys with their sheep at the same watering hole and wondered how they figure out which animal goes with which shepherd. The shepherd calls them and they know their master’s voice! They trust him and follow him. He leads them to food and water. He provides for his sheep.
More importantly he protects the sheep. When animals are threatened, what are their natural instincts? They will either Fight, flight or take on a posture. Think about sheep- can they fight off a wolf? Rear-up, bit, kick, attack? Can they outrun a wolf? How about a scary posture? like a growling dog, a spitting cat? See why sheep need a shepherd? A good shepherd is fearless and will fight off the wolf with his rod and staff.
Did you know, Sheep will not lay down unless they feel safe. Scared sheep will stay standing or run. Even the FEAR of a wolf too close will kill a sheep. So only when a shepherd leads to them pastures where they feel safe will they fully rest by laying down.
We too need a shepherd. A GOOD shepherd. You might be thinking, sheep sound like dumb animals. I am NOT a dumb animal! I don’t need a shepherd. I am doing just fine on my own. Teachers- How many of you thought you were just fine on our own without a shepherd at some point in your life? Where you? How many of you thought you could protect yourselves only to find out later that you needed a shepherd to protect you? How many of you have wandered astray in your life and the good shepherd came and found you and brought you back?
As it says in John 10, our shepherd calls us by name. Can you hear his voice? Or are other voices, wolves, or other predators leading us astray? We try to protect ourselves, but get weary and frightened. We build walls around us to try to protect ourselves but actually then isolate ourselves from the flock, from the green pastures and refreshing streams. But even when we build this wall, there is a gate. We run around on our side of the wall like the lost sheep on campus. All kinds of fears prompting our survival instincts. We run, run from people, run from our past, run from God. Maybe we run in circles looking busy, trying to feel fulfilled. That is what I do. I run. I run and hide but there is no place I can go where he can’t see me. We fight! You don’t know me. You don’t know my story! Get away from me. Spread rumors, act out in disrespect, bully, say cutting words. Maybe literally try to fight with fists. Or we take on a scary posture. Glare a people, ignore people, take on a bristly body posture that says don’t come near me.
This might work short term, but not against the wolves or the thieves. The evil in the world that wants to steal our joy and peace, our souls, to keep us from finding our eternity with Christ. The false teachers, bad religion, the cultural lies. Those wolves and thieves aren’t scared of sheep. That is why we need our shepherd. Without him we would be devoured. Picked off one by one by the wolves that come to kill and destroy. Our shepherd, He isn’t afraid of the wolves! The wolves are afraid of him! That means, shouldn’t we want to be right by his side? To show how much he isn’t scare of them, He prepares a FEAST for us in the presence of those enemies. He laid down his LIFE to protect us from them.
Psalm 23 says that our Shepherd is our provider. He says we will not lack. He will provide what we need. He leads us to green pastures where we feel safe enough to lay down and truly rest. When we run around trying to protect ourselves and provide for ourselves without the shepherd we grow weary. We can’t sustain it. The shepherd leads us to a place where we can find contentment and peace- not to be confused with being happy all the time but peace knowing our shepherd has our back. Where HE can restore our soul. Our mind, passions, desires, feelings and emotions.
He doesn’t promise a life without hardship, but he leads us through those valleys, through the shadow of death. But we don’t need to be afraid! Because we are following our protector! And finally, not only does he protect us, provide for us, bring us to a place of contentment and peace-, we get to dwell in the house of the Lord forever! He came so that we could have life and not just life, but an abundant life! What is an abundant life? Well it isn’t a life where you feel you are lacking something, empty and dissatisfied. It is a life that is meaningful, purposeful, joyful, and eternal.
The shepherd doesn’t “put up with us”. He KNOWS us. We are his prized possession. He wouldn’t lay down his life for something he didn’t care about. He looks for us when we wander away. He never thinks, “that one is hopeless or that one has wandered away one too many times. I give up on that one. NEVER! He doesn’t want a single lamb to get devoured by the wolves. He doesn’t consider how broken, bruised our messed up we think we are. He doesn’t sit there, “well they did this, they are now damaged, dirty, not as valuable… not worth my time to get them” Absolutely not!!! Please hear this! What he sees is his beloved little lamb is hurting and he wants to help you heal.
So, when John says the shepherd stands at the gate calling, who is he calling? Think he isn’t calling you and that is why you don’t hear him? He is calling those who know his voice and have wandered away so those who call themselves Christian but aren’t representing Christ in their lives. He is calling those who aren’t Christian and are running around lost seeking rest somewhere but aren’t finding it in their family’s religion or a life without religion. He is calling those of you who are Christian to a life closer to him.
Growing up in a Christian home, I had heard about God speaking but never really understood what that meant. I would listen to messages and go on “Silent Retreats” to learn to listen for the voice of God but only recently, maybe within the last year can I say I have really learned to recognize his voice. Before that, he used other people or my gut to confirm decisions or choices. My conscious wouldn’t let me be okay with things that were counter to his will. About a year ago, I was taught that God’s voice isn’t a different voice. It is my own voice speaking truth in love. Since learning that, I am recognizing more when he is speaking to me. Any time I question if it was him, I ask for a confirmation and many times someone will tell me exactly what God told me. For example, when I was preparing this talk, there were so many different directions I could have gone. As I prayed about it, God told me to speak on the shepherd as our protector. Before I had prayed, I sent a message to a friend of mine that had grown up raising sheep and was now a pastor. I asked her what came to mind regarding the sheep and shepherd. Her response- the most important thing is he is our protector!
So the protector, the Good shepherd is standing at the gate in your wall calling you to follow him to green pastures where you can find rest in him, where you can heal. To streams of water so he can fill you, bless you to over flowing with peace. What is keeping you from hearing his voice? From allowing HIM to protect you? What fears are drowning out the shepherd’s voice that you feel you need to protect yourself from? Are there distractions? He isn’t a big scary being running trying to catch you! He wants so much more for you than a life of fear, worry, regret. He wants to lead you to freedom from whatever fears or regrets are holding you captive! Take a moment in silence. Ask the good, loving shepherd, “What is holding me back? What do I need freedom from? Why have I built walls and what do you need to do to be freed from my own captivity” He has left the 99 to find you. He isn’t chasing you down like a mad man. He is a shepherd looking for his prized possession because he loves you! You are too important to him to abandon you. It doesn’t matter where you are, if you call to him he comes to you.