This post is based on a lent lunch at All Saints Milton. You can her a recording here . Whether you read the article or listen to the recording it’s probably worth watching this video.
I wonder if in life we can get a bit like the crew on the boat in the video. In the same way that they were dazzled by all of their different radars and instruments, we can get dazzled by the different voices and instructions coming at us. We live in a world where advertising agencies are telling us what shampoo to buy. The government is spending millions telling us how what and how much we should and shouldn’t eat. Maybe like me you have Cold callers phoning you to tell you that you need to start thinking about your pension.
Life can be dazzling and confusing, how do we know which voices to listen to and which to ignore? In the video the light house was actually,there to help boats navigate treacherous water, but the boat crew didn’t recognise it and it just became another source of confusion.
So the question I want to address here is how do we recognise the lighthouse and tell it apart from the other lights that distract? The answer is, I think, in John chapter 10, but before we look at that, let’s remember what happened in the previous chapter:
In John chapter 9 Jesus heals a blind man. The whole of account of this healing takes 7 verses, from John 9:1 – John 9:7. Then from John 9:8 all the way through to John 9:34 you have the Jewish authorities talking and arguing about the healing. 7 verses on the healing, 27 verses on the Jews dissecting it.
The Jews fret about:
- Whether the man who can see is the same man that was blind
- Whether the man should have been healed on a Sabbath
- whether the person who performed the healing was a sinner
Then when the healed man points out that they are asking him all these questions but aren’t listening to his answers they simply hurl insults at him.
When I read John 9 the main thing I hear is the Jewish authorities going blah blah blah. For me the only sensible thing that is said in the whole of that discourse is when the healed man says ‘I don’t know whether he was a sinner or not, but one thing that I do know, is I was blind but now I can see.’
The noises in our culture can be very much like the blah blah blah of the Jewish authorities in John 9. Unlike the Jews, our culture doesn’t analyses everything through the lens of the Old Testament law and prophets, but we do live in a culture that queries and questions everything through our own set of values and ideals.
Here are some pictures from relatively recent advertising campaigns. To be clear I’m not saying that any of the products being advertised are wrong or evil or anything like that. But I would like us to have a little look at the way that they are being presented and ask if these tell us what some of the voices of our culture are saying to us.
So this first one is a house buying scheme.
Well on a practical level it is simply saying that you can get on the properly ladder with a £4k deposit if you join this scheme, a perfectly innocent message. But on a deeper level I think it is saying something else.
‘I’ve just bought my first home’ – does that mean that every house he has lived in previously but not owned wasn’t a home? I think this advert reflects our societies obsession with house buying. Nothing wrong with buying a house, but do we believe that ‘home’ is only ‘home’ if we own it?
This one is for slimming world.
Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t watch our weight and I know people who have lost a lot of weight through slimming world. I’m on a very half-hearted diet at the moment. But what is this advert saying? It’s essentially saying if you want to love life you have to lose weight. As Christian’s is that a value that we share?
This has got to be one of the most famous advertising slogans in the world.
L’oreal, because I’m worth it. I’m not going to have a dig at L’oreal as a product. At the moment my dioderant and shower gel scent of choice is the ‘L’oreal men expert -Power Clean’. Yes Ordinands can be classy!
But really, deep down what is this advert saying? It is saying that because you are a special person you deserve to have more expensive hair care products. As a unique individual who was made by God in his image, I don’t really consider my choice off cosmetics to really be the factor by which my entire sense of self-worth should be measured.
And it’s not just people trying to sell us products that are throwing these ideas at us. The Politicians are at it as well. In the interests of balance I’ve got a Tory and a Labour poster form the last election. What are they saying?
Well the Tory one is saying, trust us with the economy because a strong economy will solve all of our nations problems.
The Labour one is telling us to trust them to look after families because giving money to families will solve all of our nations problems.
I know I’m over simplifying, but my point is that come election time we have hundreds of billboards appearing offering to solve all of our problems with things that aren’t Jesus.
So with all of these competing voices and ideals floating around how do we know who to listen to?
I think that the answer lies in John 10 verse 14. Jesus says ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me’.
There’s two things I want to take from this verse which I think will help us with the whole voices thing
- The Our Good shepherd knows us.
- We know our Good shepherd
Firstly our Good Shepherd knows us.
So it’s time for a bit of a confession here. Having moaned about marketing as being voices going blah, blah, blah at people. I actually worked in marketing prior to coming to Ridley. In my defence it was for the charity sector, but even so I will publicly repent and hold my head in shame.
Now I can tell you from personal experience, marketers think that they know you. And in a way they do. We would profile our database, to use statistics and averages to build up a picture of who we thought our donors were. In the charity sector we have ‘Dorothy Donor’. She’s in her late 60s, female, recently retired with a fairly large pension. She owns her own home and lived in the south east of England.
We’d review this data and then produce marketing that would appeal to this kind of person. And it works, the marketing industry wouldn’t do it if it didn’t.
But marketers can’t actually ever completely know their audience.
You may have seen all of the coverage of a lady called Olive Cook a year or so ago. She was a lady who suffered from depression and then tragically committed suicide. Three years previously she had written to her local newspaper to complain about the amount of charity fundraising letters she received. The national press put two and two together and go seven. For a few weeks in 2015 all any of the papers ever seemed to talk about was how charities were seeking out poor, vulnerable old ladies and badgering them into giving away the entirety of their meagre income.
Just to be clear, no charity would deliberately target vulnerable old ladies for donations, however they do target older people with a high disposable income. When charities information is bad they can accidentally write to vulnerable older people thinking that they aren’t vulnerable.
To give you another example. As I have already told you I currently use L’oreal cleaning products. Back in the day I used to use Linx. You may be familiar with Linx’s advertising campaigns. Here’s one of the less offensive ones.
Linx clearly think that their customers are men who want to use their products to lure women into bed with them. As it happens I just wanted to use Linx to make me stop sweating. Linx thought they knew me, but they didn’t and to be honest sifting through all of the Linx adverts I could find online, trying to find one that I could put up here now, there advertising has meant that I will think twice before I every by a linx product again.
The good news in our passage though is this, whilst the advertisers, politicians journalists think that they know you, the good shepherd actually knows you.
Jesus doesn’t look at you see Dorothy Donor, or Mondeo man or white van man. He sees you.
He knows what makes you tick. He knows whether you love hate or are indifferent to marmite. He know what makes you laugh, cry and smile. And he knows what you need. And because he knows us, we can trust him to look after us.
The good shepherd has your best interests at heart. In John 10: 11 we are told that the Good shepherd will lay his life down for his flock. I hate to tell you this, but I have never once met a marketing agency that was willing to close down for the benefit of the people it was targeting.
So when the Good shepherd says ‘adultery is wrong and even looking at a member of the opposite sex with lust in your heart is adultery’ you can know that you can trust him. Whereas when your deodorant company tells you that if you use this particular brand you will experience ‘the Linx effect’ where attractive people will fall at your feet and you’ll be happy, you can be pretty sure that they are thinking about their sales figures rather than your long term emotional and spiritual well-being.
When we hear Jesus’ voice we can trust it.
Secondly We can be sure that we know him, even if it doesn’t feel like it
This freaks me out a bit, because I can be terribly indecisive. I’m also guilty of over analysing everything. I think I hear God speak then I start to wonder if it was God speaking, if it was my imagination, or even worse if it was Satan pretending to be God speaking. Then I read this verse and start to worry that I’m not one of Jesus’ flock because I don’t recognise his voice.
I doubt I can be the only person in Christendom who ever thinks these things, but the thing is, when I take my own feelings of insecurity out of the equation and think about things logically, I think that I do recognise Jesus’ voice, and I suspect that is true for all of us.
A big part of my problem is when I hear the phrase ‘Hearing Jesus’ voice’ I immediately think of Prophesy, visions and supernatural expressions of Jesus’ voice. But actually Jesus so often talks to us in more mundane ways.
I read my Bible and Jesus talks. I chat to my friends and quite often they will say something very wise and I will realise that God was speaking to me through them. Occasionally, even someone doing a talk will say something that will strike a chord.
So when I read this verse and panic about not hearing and recognising Jesus’ voice I need to take a deep breath and look back over the last few weeks and I can usually identify one occasion where I was challenged or encouraged about something and I can genuinely link it back to Jesus, even if I didn’t at the time.
So that’s a challenge I’d like to lay down to you now. If you feel like you are in a bit of a dry patch at the moment, like you haven’t heard God speak to you recently, have a think back over the last few weeks and think about the things that you have read and the things that you have heard. Is there something out there which struck a chord? You didn’t realise that it was Jesus at the time, but now, looking back to realise that it was.
We had a talk on Esther in college the other day. Esther is one of only two books in the Bible where Gods name isn’t used. We don’t hear that ‘God did such and such’, but when you read the book back with high insight you can see Gods influence throughout, even if it isn’t named. I think if we are Christians and we look back with hindsight we can usually see how we heard Jesus’ voice and responded.
That’s not to say that there aren’t desert times. Jesus can feel very far away at times. We can look back at really struggle to see where God was. If you’re in that place now, I don’t want to be glib and say ‘just look harder’ so please don’t hear me saying that, but I do wonder if, when you come out the other side you may be able to see how Jesus never left your side.
I’d like to finish by saying something especially to anyone who feels like they are dark and cut off from Jesus.
What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. (Matthew 18: 12-14)
If you feel lost and you don’t think you can hear Jesus’ voice any more, hang on, because he is coming to get you.