Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out... John 10:1-3
Outside our gate is the Good Shepherd, but also... the thief. The good shepherd is constant, faithful- infinitely reassuring. He waits, with his quiet presence, for the gate to be opened. He gently and consistently calls our name, shows us His Way and waits for our response. He doesn't become frustrated, impatient, or angry. He doesn't grow louder to drown out the noise. He just persistently calls out for us, lovingly and mercifully waiting for our response. He desires our readiness and willingness. He doesn't enter by force, he doesn't kick down the gate, he doesn't go in another way. His Holiness desires and persistently seeks our earnest participation and response.
He knows love can't be stolen or held hostage or locked away. He knows love only dwells in freedom and with freedom there's always choice.
But sometimes- sometimes- the thief is loud- maddeningly, deafeningly, soul-stealing LOUD. Sometimes he wants in so bad that he howls over the fence, he crashes into the gate, he brings the forces of hell to rattle the walls that surround us... He's all we hear. He's as loud as possible because he sees the special parts of us that, left alone, would boast of God's goodness too loudly. He will do anything to get in, and if he can accomplish nothing else, he will distract us from our shepherd who is relentlessly calling our name. The thief, with all his ruckus and rowdiness can be so loud and frightening that we barricade the gate closed. We fasten every lock we can find, pile up the heavy stuff in front, and hunker down.
The shepherd waits. The enemy keeps growling.
But prayers come. Loved ones and strangers alike detect this rusted, overgrown, welded shut gate and so they pray. They pray for silence from the enemy, courage for the gatekeeper- that the shepherd would call just a little more loudly... They pray for the chains to break, the welds to crack, the keys to be recovered. And slowly, slowly, the gatekeeper begins to hear whispers. The Shepherd's gentle voice is heard above the slowly fading growls and threats.
We, the gatekeepers, begin to tentatively monitor the gate, slowly moving away all the weight and hardness that's seemingly closed it for good. This is hard and dirty work. But the promises begin to make their way through the cracks... the Truth begins to permeate the piles of rubble.
Then it happens. A fully exposed, movable gate appears. The growls are so faint they are now almost imperceptible. Only the gentle, loving voice of our Good Shepherd is heard, and his voice is so familiar. It's a the voice that has been muffled and shouted over, but never silenced.
Finally. We have the courage to open the gate, ever so slightly, and peek through. It's HIM. All of His Goodness. All of His Glory. The growls and the threats and the overwhelming and terrifying noise of the enemy was all... just... Noise.
So the veil is lifted. Eternity is now in hand.
The Lord is our shepherd. With him, we want for nothing. He has created us to lie down in green pastures and enjoy calm, cool waters so that our souls can be restored.
And in the midst of this ever-present rest, he leads us down paths of righteousness. Paths of righteousness are not always easy or painless. Paths of righteousness do not feel like rest. They often feel like the valley of the shadow of death.
Righteousness can often be found right in the middle of mourning.
The valley of the shadow of death is rampant with fear and evil and overwhelming sadness. And our path toward righteousness walks right through. But- in the thickness of this overwhelming fear and great sadness, our Shepherd is right beside us.
He not only comforts us and brings respite in the midst of the valley, but he guards and protects us, too.
His comfort always comes when called.
This path toward righteousness has a purpose. His name's sake. And only God, our a good shepherd, in the middle of the valley of darkness, can spread an abundant feast before us. Only HE is good enough and Holy enough to accomplish such a feat.
A feast filled with his bountiful righteousness, mercy, and faithfulness to fill and strengthen our bodies when we feel most depleted. A feast to restore our soul when it feels drained of all courage and joy. A feast that anoints us while the enemy stares on, hating the healing and strength that he's powerless to stop.
In this valley, at this feast, our cups are filled until they run over with the goodness of our shepherd- with his sacrifice, his tenderness, and his faithfulness. And surely, in this hard journey toward righteousness, with feasting in the face of a roaring lion, we know with profound certainty that we shall always be showered with his goodness and mercy and shall dwell in his house forever.
Sometimes the cries of the enemy and all of his threats can cause such fear that we run from the promises of our Father. But he is RELENTLESS in his pursuit of us, for all eternity. He will keep waiting for the gate to be opened, for his sheep to hear his voice, for the prayers of the saints to help those that can't hear Him over the noise. Always pray for those who can't hear Him over the noise. Always.
It's been said that He brings us home when we are closest to Him and tonight, I know that's true.