My Pastor, Jerry Gillis, is one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard. And I’ve heard a lot of talented, Godly speakers over the years. But I’m continually challenged by the things he says. A few weeks ago, he preached an excellent message (click here to watch…you won’t regret it!) saying, “Your identity is shaped by the story you believe.” Which narrative do we listen to? The things we were told as children? The messages we see in TV ads (think beer ads…”drink this and you’ll be surrounded by hot women”)? The pressures from friends or loved ones? Sermons by excellent pastors? (I added that one…Pastor Jerry didn’t say that ;))
He hammered home his point by telling us a parable that went something like this: (totally paraphrasing here, my apologies to Jerry for any liberties taken!)
Once upon a time there was a farm with a mud-filled pig pen. A couple of the pigs would watch the Shepherd up on the hills as he led his flock to and from the pasture. The other pigs seemed happy to roll in the slop and cake themselves from head to toe. But these two pigs thought the life of a sheep with a Shepherd to care for them looked really special.
So one day, as the Shepherd walked near their pen, the pigs called out to him. (Jerry says it’s a made up story so pigs can talk, so just get over it.) Yeah, so they called out and the shepherd came over and they asked him if it was possible for them to become sheep. He looked at their earnest, mud-caked little pig faces and told them that it was indeed possible. But it would require a surgery. He would need to give them the heart of a sheep. And once he did that, they would notice changes. Their corkscrew tails would straighten. Their smooth skin would become soft and wooly and their “Oink” would change to a “Baaaa.” If they were on board with all of that, he would perform the surgery. They were and he did.
And sure enough, they left the pig pen and began to hang with the sheep. Over time their features changed until soon they were full-fledged sheep, a part of the fold. However, one night the flock was sleeping on a hillside near the pig pen. After the shepherd had retired for the evening, the old pigs in the pen began calling out to their pig-turned-sheep friends.
“Hey, we’re having a ball over here…you’re missing all the fun! Come back and see us!” Intrigued, they crept back to their old home and began wallowing in the mud. They partied all night long and when the Shepherd noticed they were missing in the morning, he knew where to find them. He picked them up and bathed them and returned them to his flock.
A few weeks later, the sheep were again sleeping near the pig pen and the old pigs called out to the new sheep once again. One of them went back to the pig pen that night. And the next. And the next. Morning after morning, the Shepherd found him covered in mud and slop.
One morning, the Shepherd asked him, “Why do you keep returning to the mud and filth of the pig pen?”
The muddy, wooly mess replied, “Because I’m just a pig and that’s what we do.”
The Shepherd replied, “No, you’re not a pig anymore. I gave you the heart of a sheep. You are my sheep.”
But the dirty sheep shook his wooly head and insisted he was just a pig.
The Shepherd then asked the other new sheep why he didn’t go with his friend back to the pen. He replied, “Because I’m a sheep and that’s not what sheep do.”
Two pigs-turned-sheep with two very different outcomes based on the story each one believed.
This little parable really struck me. I hadn’t been wallowing in a pig pen, so to speak, but I had allowed myself to believe some subtle lies about myself and I was not living the story I know God means for me to live. If we believe lies about ourselves, regardless of where the lies come from, we will not be living the right story. But, if we find our identity in the One who made us in the first place…if we believe we are redeemed, forgiven and made new, we will be free to live the best story…the one He has written for us.
How about you? What stories are you listening to? Have you been wallowing in the mud? Where have you been looking for your identity? Here’s what the Shepherd says about you and me:
Ephesians 2: 1-7
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
My friend, Benji Cowart, co-wrote a song called, Redeemed, with Mike Weaver of Big Daddy Weave. Click here to get the story behind the song and hear it. It is my favorite song. It’s powerful and it speaks to the message in this post. So, if you don’t have time to listen to Pastor Jerry’s message, take the six minutes to watch this video. Trust me.
Oh, and if you’d like to purchase Benji’s version of Redeemed and support the rescue of children sold into the sex trade, click here. (While you’re at it, get the whole album. It’s awesome!!)