by Rev. Doug Gray
Several guys are in the locker room of the country club. When a cell phone on a bench rings, a man puts the call on the hands-free speaker and begins to talk.
WOMAN: “Honey, it’s me. Are you at the club?”
WOMAN: “I’m at the mall and found a beautiful leather coat. It’s $1,000. Can I buy it?”
MAN: “OK, go ahead if you like it that much.”
WOMAN: “I also stopped by the Mercedes dealership and saw the 2020 models. I saw one I really liked.”
MAN: “How much?”
MAN: “For that price I want it with all the options.”
WOMAN: “Great! One more thing. ... The house we wanted last year is back on the market. They’re only asking $650,000.”
MAN: “Well, then go ahead and buy it but just offer $620,000.”
WOMAN: “OK. I’ll see you later! I love you!”
MAN: “Bye, I love you too.”
The man hangs up. The other guys in the locker room are looking at him in astonishment. Then he asks: “Anyone know who this phone belongs to?”
It’s getting harder to tell whom to trust. Everyone to give us an answer. The infomercials all have broadly smiling people who are happy to tell us how we can all be as happy as they are. On-line, we are told we are just one click away from happiness. So how can we tell whom we can trust? In our passage today, Jesus offers three clear insights into how to tell whom to trust with all we are, and in the process points the only way to real, lasting, fulfilling joy.
We are known. Maybe that’s why I hate calls from telemarketers. I feel like I am just another statistic in their quest for the next sale. They don’t care—they’re not paid to care. They are paid to make as many calls as they can, trusting that statistically they will happen on one or two out of every hundred who will buy what they’re selling. Jesus says, 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…” We are more than a number to God. We are infinitely precious in His sight, so precious that God knows each of us to the very core—our wants and needs, our hurts and deepest desires—because God has known us from the beginning. We can trust the One who truly knows and loves us.
We are the goal. Danny Dutton lived in Chula Vista, California. At the immense age of 8, had a homework assignment to “Explain God.” Here’s some of what he wrote:
If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can’t go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He’s around you when you’re scared in the dark or when you can’t swim very good and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids. But you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and He can take me back anytime He pleases. And that’s why I believe in God.
I think Danny is really onto something here. If you want to find out who your friends are, see who sticks with you when your life is caving in, who will stand by you when you’re scared and hold you when you are hurting. All the false gods will give you up when it gets tough. They’re in it for themselves, not you. But God is in it for you! You are not only important enough to know by name, you are important enough that Jesus was willing to lay his life down for yours. Only put your whole self in the care of those for whom you are the goal.
Jesus guides us to what we most need. I was a camp counselor at a wilderness camp for a few years. My co-counselor and I had 12 boys we would take on one- and two-day hikes. The camp had several different trails, and you would go to the trailhead and on a tree would be a spray-painted symbol, called a trail blaze. If you stood next to the tree with that blaze, and looked ahead on the trail, you would find another tree with the same colored symbol. Then you would go to that tree and look for the next blaze and so on until you got to your destination. In the same way, Jesus has blazed the trail for us to follow, as Christians and as a fellowship. Jesus knows what it means to follow God with His whole heart and He has marked the path for us to follow. On this path, we will find all that we need—food, water, shelter, purpose and fulfillment—and on it we will also find a cross. Because Jesus knows that the only way to really gain our life is to offer it up for something and someone bigger than we are. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who guides us to what we most need.
We are surrounded by voices clamoring for our trust. If only we will make our lives revolve around their program, their store, their vitamin, their technology, then we will have real happiness. The voices that worry me the most are the ones like the guy on the cell phone in our opening story that say you can have whatever you want. But the only one who truly knows us—knows us better than we do ourselves—is God…and He still loves us! And as we look around for someone or something willing to make us their goal, we turn and see a guy who beckons to us with nail-scarred hands. These scars were ones He chose because He knew how hard it is to do what’s right, and wanted to give us a chance to become more than we ever thought possible. At their best, the people who mother us love like Jesus, the Good Shepherd. The ones who mother us best know us through and through—sometimes better than we know ourselves, and still we are loved. The best love of a mother wants us to become the whole, happy, capable, purposeful, loving people God has made us to be, and like Jesus, they help us on the road to our best, most loving selves. Of course, the thing is that all of us—even moms—can listen to these other voices and go down unhealthy paths, only to find nothing but dead ends. (Even in those dead ends, Jesus is with us!) I’d like to say lots of paths lead to true happiness, but I haven’t found any except one—the guy with the nail-scarred hands who beckons to us down his trail. Jesus understood that only someone who came from God could be the way to real happiness. Only someone willing to lay down his life to ransom the souls of many could have a chance to take that life up again. Sure, Jesus is the good, noble, beautiful shepherd. But Jesus also says, “9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He 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.” I have tried lots of God-replacements and watched others try a lot more, and Jesus is the only sure way to the truly abundant life, where we reach the fullness of what we are meant to be. And the best part is that Jesus is not just the way, the truth and the light, but that He is the good shepherd. Jesus is the One who knows us, the One who loves enough to make us the goal, the One who guides us into a great future, then we, too, can enjoy the refreshing, challenging, growing, abundant life.