So, I had the honor and privilege of sharing with over a hundred 4th-7th grade girls yesterday at GEMS Camp. (Yes you read that right – 4th-7th graders. Jesus be near!) They were ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTFUL. As I studied John 10 in preparation to share, I realized that the message I was going to give them was as much for me as for them. (Isn’t that the way it always goes!)
John 10:1-10 says:
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber!2 But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.5 They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”
6 Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant,7 so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.8 All who came before me[a] were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.9 Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.[b] They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
The imagery of sheep and shepherds is prevalent throughout Scripture and John 10 is a prime example. One of my favorite authors, Margaret Feinberg, wrote a beautiful book called, “Scouting the Divine” where she spent time exploring first hand the meaning behind some of the most frequent Biblical metaphors, including sheep. One of the most amazing things I learned is that sheep really do know and respond to their shepherd’s voice.
Margaret spent time with a real shepherdess on a farm in Oregon. She describes arriving and accompanying the shepherdess to go meet the flock. After quietly approaching and ensuring the gate was securely closed behind (we’ll talk about the importance of gates in a future blog), the shepherdess called out, “SHEEP, SHEEP, SHEEP”. And to Margaret’s amazement, the sheep came running. Yes, sheep really do know their shepherd’s voice.
So…do you know your Shepherd’s voice?
Have you learned to recognize it above the buzz and distractions of daily life? Have you taken the time to develop the trusting relationship required to know when your Shepherd calls? If not, maybe it is time. He’s calling you, and if you read closely, he’s even calling you BY NAME!
(Next week we’ll talk more about sheep, shepherds, and these precious GEMS girls.)
So it’s great to say that you and I are children of God, that we are adopted into His family. But what does that really mean? Our earthly families are so broken that it is sometimes difficult to know what it really means to act like family. Here are the top 10 things it means to be part of a family:
1. Family defends one another. My sister and I didn’t always get along growing up, which I’m sure is fairly typical of many sisters. However, no matter how mad we were at one another, we always stood up for one another. No one picked on her without dealing with me too and no one messed with me without messing with her too. We had each other’s back. We too need to have God’s back by standing up for the things that matter to him. We need to stand up and defend the poor, the widow, and the orphan. We need to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). We need to love everyone and judge no one.
2. Family encourages one another. In all of my endeavors, my family has always been my number one cheerleader. Whenever I doubted myself, they would believe in me all the more. In the Bible, Paul seemed to be constantly encouraging the churches and communities he visited. He modeled encouragement and he repeatedly urged Christ followers to follow his example and encourage one another in their faith. We too need to spur one another on in love (Hebrews 10:24).
3. Family accepts one another. Every family has a variety of personalities. The crazy uncle (I have many of those). The nerd (I am one of those). The jock. The fill in the blank. In my family, I was usually too serious for my own good. My sister was known as the chatterbox. And my brother kept us all laughing. My dad is always late. My mom is always trying to get us out the door. We all have our quirks and roles. And we are all accepted in spite of them. God’s family is no different. We are loved and accepted just as we are. Romans 10:12 says, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.”
4. Family grows together. Although we are all accepted, we also long to grow into better people. People that look more and more like we were meant to be, more like Jesus. My parents walked along side me as life taught me tough lessons that formed my character. And when life didn’t do a sufficient job, my parents and other mentors would come along and gently encourage me in the way I should go. Proverbs 22:6 states, “Start children off in the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” And as our Heavenly Father, God promises to discipline us and mold our character to look more and more like Christ. In Psalms God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you (32:8).” And though discipline and character formation is not always easy and does not always feel good, when it is housed in the security of God’s love, it leads to great blessings!
5. Family delights in one another. Many of my favorite memories growing up include shopping with my family, especially my mom and sister. We wouldn’t always purchase, but even just walking around the mall provided plenty of entertainment for the three of us. On one particular trip, we ended up laughing so hard that my mom began to cry and couldn’t see and almost put the car in the ditch. My family truly loves being together. My cousins are my best friends and we laugh until our sides hurt when we are together. My aunts and uncles have invested in my life. Family delights and celebrates with one another. Family laughs together. Family enjoys being together. The Psalms repeatedly urge us to delight in the Lord and to shout for joy. The New Testament is full of examples of Jesus followers celebrating and rejoicing with one another. One of my favorite examples is when Jesus shares the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15. When the shepherd finds the little lamb, “he joyfully puts it on his shoulders” and returns to the rest of the flock (Luke 15:5). And Scripture tells us that angels throw a party whenever someone chooses to follow Jesus. As His children, God delights and celebrates us!
6. Family also mourns together. When tragedy strikes, family comes together to cry with one another. Ecclesiastes 3 states that there is a time and season for everything, including mourning and weeping. When Jesus receives word that Lazarus has died, he stops and he weeps (John 11:35). And after Jesus’ death on the cross, the disciples gathered together to weep and mourn all that had taken place. Family supports one another and grieves with one another in the dark times.
7. Family works together. Admittedly this isn’t always the fun aspect of family, although my dad did try to make picking up walnuts in our backyard more exciting by seeing who could get the most in the bucket. 1 Corinthians 3:9 says, “For we are co-workers in God’s service…” and in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul reminds us that just like every part of the body is needed for the whole body to work well and be healthy, we all need to work together for God’s kingdom.
8. Family forgives one another. This truth is probably one of the main reasons we tend to treat strangers we don’t know with more kindness than our own family. We know there is always grace and forgiveness from family.
9. Family represents one another. Your last name represents your entire family. Good or bad, how you conduct yourself reflects on your family members. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches” and Ecclesiastes 7:1 compares a good name to fine perfume. When we decide to follow Jesus and become part of God’s family, we bear HIs name and represent Him.
10. Finally, family loves one another! What does it mean to love someone? It is difficult to define! I know that it is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling towards another person. Loving someone means a willingness to care for them and meet their needs at the expense of your own. 1 John is full of commands to love each other. 1 John 4:7 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” So if we claim to be part of God’s family, we must love others the way God loves us!
Family is an interesting thing. We don’t always get along with them but we love them all the same. Some of us have wonderful, loving families. Some of us have distant, hurtful families. But even the most broken earthly family should not deter us from understanding what family is supposed to be. If we are truly children of God, that makes us family. In fact, the blood of Jesus should be stronger than any earthly DNA. Unfortunately, even though we are family, so often we do not treat one another like family is supposed to treat one another.
The one thing being family is not? EASY!! Being family is hard!
However, as part of God’s family, as His beloved, we are entrusted with representing the family name. We must act like a family towards one another and we must share God’s love with those who have not yet received His offer of grace and forgiveness because that’s what our heavenly father wants us to do.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list! What does family mean to you?
Have you ever thought about your name? There is a lot of meaning and a lot communicated in a name. I have spent much of my life living in small towns – like really small. I had 75 students in my high school graduating class. My parents have lived next to the same neighbors for over 20 years. And in my small hometown of 2000 people, my last name communicates a lot. It connects me to others that have the same name. Whether you are proud or ashamed of your last name, whether your name carries positive or negative connotations, your name means something.
When you accept your identity as a child of God and become part of God’s family, you receive a new name. Now you bear God’s name and now you represent Him. What is that name? Many might say, “Christian” is your new name, except that Christian is rarely mentioned in Scripture. I believe God’s family name is actually “love”.
1 John 4:7-17 says,
7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
13 And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.14 Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.15 All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
Wow! Did you catch that? Through God’s ultimate expression of love – Jesus’ death on the cross, we can become children of God. If God is love, that means you are beloved! But we must love others in response to God’s great love for us. Bearing God’s name means representing God’s love in the world. Loving others is how God becomes real and “seen” in this world. You have experienced God’s love and grace, that is how you were adopted into His family as His child. Now it is your calling to share that same love with the world so that the world can see how real God’s love is.
This is not as easy as it may sound. Loving others is risky business. There is no guarantee that others will love you back. And God knows this truth better than anyone. Loving others requires giving sacrificially of ourselves. Jesus sacrificed everything for us and bearing God’s name means being an example of Jesus to the world through sacrifice. When we love others well, we bring glory and honor to God’s name.
Christ is counting on you to live out your faith in this world. To do so effectively, we must count on Christ for the strength we need. What keeps you from sharing God’s love with others? What are some ways you’ve shared God’s love with others?