Welcome – The Verhelst Family
I would like to begin today by thanking all of you for keeping in touch with your church through these services and for your continued efforts to encourage each other through this time apart. We are gaining a deeper understanding of the truth that the church is much more than the building, or even our weekly Sunday gathering. The church is the community of God’s people wherever they are! It is when we are all reaching out to each other that we begin to sense what Jesus is talking about when He calls us to the Kingdom of God.
Today I would like you to begin our time together with your eyes closed, visualizing those who you have typically worshiped with on Sunday mornings. Call to your mind the faces and voices of those you sit with, attend Sunday school with, greet before and after the service, or go to lunch with. As you do that, give thanks to God for them, pray for them and then later on give them a call and tell them they are missed, and they are loved.
Call to Worship/Song
The Blessing (Kari Jobe)
This song is a little longer than we are accustomed to in worship, but I encourage you to use this time to worship God in gratitude for His everlasting love for you.
Reflection on “The Blessing”
I was reminded of this beautiful blessing this week that we typically use as a benediction at the end of the worship service. The word “benediction” literally means “well say” or “good words.” These good words are usually used to speak a blessing of God over us as we are dismissed.
I wanted to place these good words at the beginning for this week because I want you to be reminded of God’s great love for you, and His desire to bless you. This is especially important during this time when we can become so focussed on the problems and challenges we are facing. This is a time when we need the clear reminder that “God is for us!”
Passage: John 10:1-10
As you read this passage, try to envision yourself as one of the sheep in the pen; a helpless, needy, easily distracted sheep (this may not be so difficult for some of us!). As you do this, imagine how you would feel when you saw your shepherd approaching you – how you would feel protected, secure, cared for, loved.
The Good Shepherd and His Sheep
1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
This passage is about your relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We talk regularly of our faith with the language of relationship, but I think we need periodic reminders to correct the wrong thinking that can creep into our minds.
“God needs me to work for Him.”
“I am not good enough to deserve God’s blessing. I need to do better.”
“My relationship with God is important, but it is only a part of my life.”
These are just a few examples of the ways we begin to pivot away from our relationship with God without even realizing it.
This passage is the very first passage I remember memorizing as a child. All I can recall now is that it began with, “Verily, verily I say onto you …” I know that I spent a good amount of time memorizing the words, and I hope we were taught their meaning as well – because it is a beautiful and poetic statement of God’s love for us!
The first truth I want us to ponder from this passage is the call for us to know God’s voice; to be able to discern His calling on our lives. There are many voices that call to us in this world – parents, bosses, spouses, children. Each of these are in possession of a part of us, and we know that if we respond poorly to them there will be consequences.
So too does God call to us, however His voice is not always as clearly heard or discerned. It has never come audibly to me, but I have definitely heard it. It is easy for us to mix up God’s voice with our own voice or the voice of someone else if we are not careful – if we do not learn to recognize our shepherd.
How does God call to us? That is a most complex question, but there are ways we can begin to answer it. Knowing scripture is one critical way we hear God’s voice, but even scripture’s call can be obscured by wrong theology or superficial interpretations that can lead us in the wrong direction.
Another way we hear God is in prayer. Too often our prayers are filled with our own many words, and we fail to include a time to listen, to be silent. In our lives, we know it is impossible to have a meaningful relationship with someone who does all the talking, yet that is often exactly how our conversations with God go! Silence in prayer can feel awkward and it can be more difficult than it seems, but it is absolutely necessary that we practice it if our intentions are to know the voice of our Shepherd.
Shepherds in the middle east didn’t drive their sheep out of the pens when they took them out to pasture, they called to them by name and the sheep followed and were taken to green pastures where they received the nutrition they needed to live. Failure to recognize their shepherd would have had dire consequences.
How well do you hear God’s voice in your life? Are you able to spend time with Him when you are not talking; content to listen in silence? This can be difficult to do, but it is absolutely critical. How else will you be able to hear Him when He calls your name?
Try spending a few moments in silence with your Shepherd right now. If you don’t sense His call in the moment, it is enough to sense His presence.
God Cares for You
In this passage Jesus seems to change the metaphor of Himself as “the Shepherd” to Himself as “the gate.” In reality, this isn’t really the abrupt change it appears to be. As “the gate,” Jesus is using an image the people would have known of the shepherd standing in the entrance way to the pen at the end of the day. From this position, the shepherd would inspect each and every one of his sheep before they were allowed to pass by. This gave him the chance to check for disease or injury, and to administer any care they might need in order to recover. This could be a tedious and time consuming job, but one that a good shepherd would never overlook.
Jesus is telling us here that this is how God cares for us. God knows us, sees us, and makes sure we have everything we need to thrive. If we are experiencing deficiencies, He ministers to us and sets us on a healthy path.
The mistake we sometimes make is that we expect our Shepherd to give us both all the things we need AND all the things we want. There are whole groups of Christians who misread the scripture and believe that because they want to be wealthy, God wants that for them too. Yet the New Testament in particular points out over and over how wealth (something that is morally neutral – neither good nor evil) can be both a blessing and a curse for us. It is true that we do need financial resources in order to thrive in our culture, but it is also true that having financial wealth is no guarantee we will experience the “abundant life” or the “life to the full” of verse 10.
There are a number of things in life that play the role of “thief or robber” and threaten the flock. Wealth, health, freedom, independence: we need and desire all of those things, but we also know that they can ensnare us if we are not careful. Whenever one of these (or others like them) become our primary desire, God is being pushed away, and the inevitable result is our suffering.
What is the “thief or robber” in your life that pulls you away from the Shepherd? What legitimate desire do you have that has a way of taking over your life? Take a moment to identify one, confess it, and repent (turn away) of it.
God Wants the Best for You
God wants the best life for you. It is that simple. Do you believe that? I’m not sure we always do. For many of us who believe in God and have actually put our trust in Him, we sometimes see Him as a being to be afraid of; a force to be appeased; a God who is watching us closely and is eager to swoop down and punish us when we mess up; a cosmic babysitter who wants to spoil our fun.
Even worse, we can find ourselves believing we would be happiest if we could just find a way to get God to leave us alone so we can carry on with life on our own terms – after all, we know what the good life looks like, don’t we?
Until we truly believe God wants what is best for us, we will never fully give ourselves to Him. It really is that simple. We will never leave the sheep pen, unless we believe that the pasture He is leading us to is better than where we are right now.
For the next few moments, imagine what it could be like to trust Jesus completely – not just trust Him to forgive you, but trust Him with your whole life! For now, don’t consider the obstacles or all the things you need to change – just remember that Jesus loves you exactly as you are, and imagine what your life could be like if you stopped holding back! Don’t rush this.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We confess that our love for you and our willingness to follow You can be so inconsistent. One moment we embrace this truth, and the next we grab back control.
We are sorry that we live as if health, success, comfort and security are all more important than You.
We are sorry we don’t always believe Your Word when it calls us to be humble, or to simplicity, or to honesty, or to unity, or to love our neighbours, or to forgive those who have hurt us.
Restore us Lord, and help us to quiet our hearts and minds before you, so we can hear your voice and follow your call.
Our stated desire is to be a community of believers who are, “Committed to becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ and inviting others to do the same.” Help that to be more than just words for us. Help it to become the true pursuit of our hearts.
We even give thanks for the disruption that we are experiencing in our lives right now. Help us to see the blessings that are not always obvious – the opportunity to stop and see the world in a whole new way; the chance to discard and the chance to embrace what is true and what is You. And give us the wisdom we need to discern what to hold on to, and what to release.
May Your presence be strong with all who call on You. May your peace overwhelm us, even in the face of suffering And may your love flow into us, through us, and out into the world.
In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.
Song: You Are Loved
You are loved.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you
And give you peace.
May His favour be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children.