the gate for the sheep

There’s an SUV commercial from several years ago that resonates with me. The vehicle makes it way up a semi-rough mountain path to bring the driver to a gorgeous vista. Then the slogan… “Ford: No Boundaries”! I like it for two reasons. First, I’m a fan of the big outdoors. I love hiking, camping, and canoeing. If a vehicle is promising to deliver me into the semi-wild outdoors, I’m listening. Second, I like this idea of having no boundaries. After all, I want to stretch my wings, to get out of the box, to get loose from anything that might limit or hinder me. An SUV touting it’s capacity to deliver me to the realm of “no boundaries” seems like a good deal indeed. It sounds like the fullest life would be the one without limitations. But is this true? “No Boundaries” sounds enticing, but is it realistic? Does it deliver on its promise?

In the first half of John 10, Jesus is speaking the Pharisees and using the image of a shepherd, sheep, the sheep pen, and the threats to the sheep. The majority of the passage (John 10:1-21) is dominated by the comparison of Jesus to the shepherd of the sheep. We’ll talk about Jesus’ saying, “I AM the Good Shepherd,” from parable next week. For now, let’s look at a brief caveat in the passage, John 10:7-10, in which Jesus uses the metaphor of a gate for the sheep pen: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (10:9-10 TNIV)

It seems from this teaching of Jesus that the fullest life we can live is one within the sheep-pen called God’s kingdom, entered into by a gate called Jesus. In other words, to live life “to the full,” we must first limit ourselves to life in God, which excludes certain things from our life.

I once met a woman who had been recently released from prison and was beginning life with her young children again. She had gotten too close to a man involved in using and dealing drugs. She was spiritually alive, hungry for God’s Word, and attentive to the work of God’s grace in her life. Part of her life had been stolen from her because she, at one time, had not had the right boundaries around her life. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…”

An example from the other direction also illustrates the point. While in seminary I was introduced to the music of Christopher Parkening, one of the world’s leading classical guitarists. While a young boy he so fell in love with classical guitar music that he committed himself to practice two hours before school and two hours after school everyday. This no doubt limited him in life experiences, yet it released his passion and ability as a classical guitarist. Having seen him in concert, I’m thankful for the fruit of the boundaries and limits he accepted in order to become great.

Now, this seems like a generic life principle and it may be to a degree. But I think it shows up in the rest of life because it is first true spiritually. Living life to the full means accepting the boundaries of God’s sheep-pen, entered by a gate called Jesus.

And here’s another part to this. There are many gates beckoning. There are many manifestations of the thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy. They promise to release us from boundaries, but ensnare and enslave us instead. Why not entrust ourselves to the one person who truly was unlimited, but who limited himself by love for our sake? He limited himself in order to become the Gate through which we enter into the fullest life possible. Limiting ourselves to life in God is the only way truly to “have life, and have it to the full.”

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4 thoughts on “the gate for the sheep

  1. Great post guy. I like the way you start with a commercial, make your point, then illustrate it with stories. Very winsome approach (asDr K would say.)

    My fave illustration about boundaries is Nicki Gumble’s. His son was in a soccer match but the ref didn’t show up, so Gumble stood in. Only he didn’t know the rules nor where the boundaries of the field should be. The result was chaos and both kids and parents were upset. The ref showed up and only then did the fun start. A good example, I think, of living life without and then with God’s good boundaries.
    -Jessica

    • Jess,

      That is one of my favorite boundary illustrations as well – demonstrates how wonderful heady the potential of having no boundaries can be – wouldn’t we all just like to live w/o the rules from time to time? But in the end it reminds us of the chaos that ensues and the damages that result – yet in Gumble’s example it is brought back together.

      I’ve been trying to figure out how the metaphorical soccer field is drawn for me in this stage of graduate study. Losing focus and wandering away from the ref (and the team) when research and writing is more of a solitary affair than a team effort is easy to do.

      I sincerely believe that the deacon ordination keeps me connected to the field of play even as I also seek to explore the ways we educate laity in the UMC to be formed in faith as they take on roles and offices of leadership in the congregation, district, and conference in my dissertation. Right now I feel like I am dribbling the ball all by myself and I’m looking forward to being back on an active field of play sometime soon – but I guess that will have to wait to happen till the coach and ref say its time till my skills have been perfected enough – I just hope and pray I stay focused and am ready soon.

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