by Rich Bregitzer
(St. Louis, MO)
Jn 10:1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
Jn 10:2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.
Jn 10:3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
Jn 10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Jn 10:5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
Jn 10:6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
Jn 10:7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.
Jn 10:8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
Jn 10:9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
Jn 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
So, one windy cold day in January I hopped on the church office computer and visited a website called sheep101.info to learn a little something about sheep.
It looks like Jesus knew what he was talking about when he alluded to us as sheep and to himself as the Good Shepherd. According to this website sheep are a prey animal. When faced with danger they are naturally inclined to flee. Their strategy is to use avoidance and flight to avoid being eaten.
Sheep also have a natural tendency to flock together for protection and here is an interesting fact sheep are unable to walk a straight line. Years of walking crooked paths have led to a strange adaptation in the sheep.
Also sheep have a great tolerance for pain or at least to not express it. They may die before expressing that anything is out of the ordinary.
I think it’s a bit strange, but Christians are similar when it comes to their personal pain. Many of us go through physical, mental or spiritual anguish and never let on that we’re hurting. Perhaps these folks don’t want to worry or inconvenience others, some hold onto it out of embarrassment and still others just want to maintain their privacy.
I wonder how many sheep could have been saved if they had shown they were in pain. And I wonder how many people could’ve been helped if they had shared their pain with others.
Getting back to my sheep education: Sheep are very sociable. Animal behaviorists have suggested that sheep require the presence of at least 4 or 5 other sheep when eating and that they maintain visual contact with each other while they graze.
Lastly, sheep have a strong instinct to follow the leader. When one sheep decides to go somewhere others follow, even if it’s not a wise decision. In fact if a sheep commits sheep-i-cide by jumping off a cliff it is highly likely that others will follow. Even from birth, lambs are conditioned to follow the older members of the flock.
Shepherds generally carry lambs until they get too big so that a relationship is forged with the lamb that will continue it’s entire life. This way as they become adult sheep they’ll know they can trust the shepherd and in most cases will follow where the shepherd leads.
If another shepherd or individual should approach the sheep, someone they do not know, they will run from that person as if they were a predator.
In this day and age we have a lot of voices telling us what to do. Internet, television, radio are all filled with personalities and professionals telling us how to live and what’s important. And in a lot of cases these people do not have our best interest at heart, but are looking to turn a profit at our expense.
As a fellowship of believers we find safety in our numbers and in our ministry to one another. We gather in fellowship acknowledging Christ as our Shepherd, but thank God we have the un-sheeply advantage of God given intellect, rationalization and the ability to actually be a help to one another.
Yes, we do have a tendency to be sheep-ish at times especially when the going gets tough or when we are simply worn out by the struggle. This is why the words of 1 Peter 5:7-9 are so important:
1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1Pe 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
1Pe 5:9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
We are not alone as individuals because we have a family of believers right here at OCC, but we are also part of a global Christian flock that is acquainted with our struggle and familiar with our common enemy.
I have known several people that are convinced that they can be Christians without attending church and the truth of the matter is you can. Church attendance is not a prerequisite of salvation, but it is a very strong recommendation of the earliest of the church fathers because it can serve those in attendance so well. Hebrews 10:24, 25 explains:
Heb 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Heb 10:25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
It is in our fellowship as fellow sheep that we celebrate our Shepherd, Jesus. And it is in fellowship as fellow sheep that we find the safety and camaraderie to grow as believers nurtured by a loving God. The shepherd is there to guarantee us life and a life that is abundant.
I don’t know about you, but living isn’t enough for me. Someone on life support is living, but they are not engaged in life. Abundant life is found in fellowship. Without others life is dull. This is why the scribe of Proverbs 27:17 wrote, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.”
If you want dull, lackluster life then skip fellowship, but if you want sharp, abundant life then we need each other; we need to gather and we need our Good Shepherd.
I like the sheep analogy Jesus’ used because it doesn’t really work with other animals. What if he used Japanese fighting fish instead of sheep. Or lions? Or poodles? Or even other herd animals? No other animal really trusts in a shepherd and is content in the herd like sheep.
Other animals have all sorts of dominance issues and are loners and untrustworthy, but sheep after centuries of nurture have come to rely upon the protection of a shepherd and the protection of the flock.
I remember when I first came to OCC and Jackie Rall called me up to tell me she was my Elder and that I was in her flock. I thought that a church with Elders, real visiting, communion giving, letter writing, phone calling Elders was a pretty amazing thing.
And having been an Elder for two years and having attended dozens of meetings I can tell you that the flocks at OCC are prayed for and watched over. It’s an important ministry; being the spiritual shepherd of folks with real needs and real issues. If not done properly the flock could have a tendency to fall apart.
An important aspect of fellowship is that it requires more than just showing up. Relationships with depth take time and communication. We need to move beyond pew relationships and to start to cultivate caring, nurturing relationships.
Everyone look at the person in front of you and now look at the person in front of them. Chances are that person is not related to you. What do you know about that person? Do you know them well?
My challenge to you is to get to know someone in this fellowship that you don’t already know. I have been very blessed to get to visit people I haven’t visited in my 4.5 years at OCC and I believe I am making friendships that will last a lifetime, but even more amazing is that the fellowship we build when we do something like that
a) follows the biblical suggestion to do so and
b) is an example to the unchurched world that we care for one another and
c) lets the enemy know that we are the sheep of the Shepherd.
So let us keep this in mind as we meet again and again and again in the name and in the presence of our Shepherd Jesus.