This summer, three of us girls had our own version of manic Mondays. It was the “last hurrah” of a mom and two daughters before the final one left the nest.
One of those took us on the train to downtown Chicago, always a good place to encounter the unexpected. While sitting down to rest, I noticed something odd about the two young men we had just passed. They left the corner they had been standing on to sit down about ten feet to our right. Then, one of them picked up his things, crossed before us, and sat down about ten feet to our left, nodding to his friend and looking over us.
Mom radar beats NORAD every time. Very quietly, I said to the girls, “We have to go. Now.” Without hesitation or question, they got up, and we stepped quickly to our destination. End of questionable scene.
I would like to say that in all their 18 and 22 years that has always been the response of my children. Instant, unquestioning obedience. I would also like to say that I am on the short list for the next Pulitzer Prize in Literature. There would be equal validity in both statements. So why the compliance then? Because they knew the serious mom voice. And they knew to follow it.
We've been talking for several weeks now about identity. Who ar we? Who were we born to be? Today, let's turn a corner and talk about a new question.
Why are we not being that?
Here's a recap in case you're joining the story now.
We are people created in God's image to enact his character, cast his vision, and work under his authority to release His kingdom around us. Part of that character is absolute respect for his image in others and in ourselves.
But what makes that so hard to put into practice? Why do we wake up ready to “be all that we can be,” only to go to bed wondering what the heck we were?
(OK, full disclosure. I never wake up ready to be anything. It requires a full hour at least and one cup of Earl Grey before that is even thinkable. But some of you manage it. Kudos to you.)
Why don't we hear the voice of our parent every day and instantly follow? What keeps us from hearing the voice of God and saying, I know that voice. I love that voice. I trust that voice. I'll follow that voice? What about understanding our identity as images of God would take down our barriers to living out that identity with purpose and passion in this world?
Well first, I think we need to be able to recognize the voice.
Four years ago, we spent six weeks riding the rails of Europe. (Yes, we like trains. Trains are cool.) Usually, it was a blast. Sometimes, it was a confusing mess. You haven't lived crazy until you've stood in the middle of a train station listening to speakers blare at you from five different directions, informing you of this destination, that track, those trains. Add to that scenario the fact that all the German I know I learned form Hogan's Heroes reruns growing up, and you get the picture. Confusing. Easy to listen to the wrong thing and get on the wrong train headed for the wrong place. There are simply too many voices telling you where to go.
Same goes for life with God.
We listen to too many voices that tell us our identity.
“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! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 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. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.” (John 10.1-5)
What's the first thing we get from Jesus' words here? He's plainly telling us—there are thieves. They're out there. And they want you. They will sneak in and and they will look good, sound good, and try to confuse you completely. They don't want you to know who you are. If you know who you are, you have power, and the thieves don't like that. They prefer you powerless and willing to listen to anything. Jesus clearly warns--don't be surprised when thieves try to steal who you are. It happens.
How do we know who is a thief and who is not? How do we know which voices to listen to?
There are a few questions we can use to make it easier.
- Does this make sense? Really, would an intelligent person believe this? You are an intelligent person. I know you are, because only intelligent people read my blog :)
One of my pet peeves is when people post a story on Facebook and then preface it with, “I don't know if this is true or not, but . . .” Um, if you don't know, how about don't post it until you do? Put it through the “does this make sense?” filter. And Snopes. Please.
But you, my friend, are smarter than that, and you know that if something looks too good to be true, it's probably been photoshopped. Question everything that tries to tell you who you are or should be with a simple—Does this make sense to a sensible person? You'd be surprised at how many ideas that boots out right away.
- Does it appeal to making me feel good? And the corollary--are they trying to sell me something? Thieves make their livelihood from our willingness to listen to them. Of course they tell a story we want to hear. Of course they appeal to our sense of well being, adventure, rebellion, power, happiness, whatever. How else will they convince us to empty our wallets into theirs? Sure, sometimes what people are selling is a good thing. (Um, I write books and speak for a living. I would prefer to sell some. Yeah. It's kind of how that eating and heating the house thing works.) But think about the answer. What does this message appeal to and why?
- Will it really be good for me? Like long-term good. Not short-term happy happy joy joy. Real, like “don't text and drive is a pain when I want to communicate now but saves my life long-term” good.
- Does the Bible agree? Why is this the most important question? Because this is the plan laid out by the only one in the entire universe who has never tried to sell us anything. In fact, it's the word of the one who gave us everything instead, up to and including his own life.
Jesus says his own hear his voice. They can distinguish it. They know the good voice from the many, many competing ones. They will get on the right train because they are concentrating on the right destination.
Jesus said that He gathers his flock and leads them—that means he goes in front to see any danger, to clear a path, to lead to food and water and all kinds of nourishing things.
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10.10)
Which voice do you want giving you an identity? The thief or the shepherd? Who are your thieves?