rePost – Wise Men

wise-men1Wise Men (Matthew 2:1-12) still seek Him.

Here’s some interesting stuff I’ve learned about them:

Three distinctive actions of the Wise Men: (From an old message by Greg Matte.)

1. They left home to worship Jesus.

Willing to get out of their comfort zones and travel long distances. (Matthew 2:1) The journey from Persia to Jerusalem would have been very dangerous and preparations might have taken quite a while after the first appearance of the star.

2. They focused on eternal heavenly things rather than temporary earthly things.

Gave gifts to Jesus which reflected deeper meaning (Matthew 2:11) and hinted at Jesus’ yet-to-be-revealed identity.

Gold represented royalty.

Frankincense represented the priesthood. (Smoke represented prayers rising to God.)

Myrrh represented death. (Myrrh was used for embalming.)

3. They listened to God and God alone.

They ignored the wishes of Herod and obeyed those of God which were given to them in a dream. (Matthew 2:12)

Misconceptions:

1. There were 3 Wise Men

We read in Matthew 2:11 that there were 3 different types of gifts, however, that does not mean there were only 3 Wise Men. Most scholars believe there was a much larger group of them.

2. The Wise Men were there the night Jesus was born.

Considering the fact that Herod wanted to kill all Jewish children ages 2 and under, (Matthew 2:16) it is likely that they arrived at a much later date. The Scriptures are also clear that they arrived at a house (Matthew 2:11) rather than the “manger” scene which occurred the night of his birth.

3. The Wise Men were Kings from the East.

They were not Kings, but astronomers. They were most likely from Persia. The three types of gifts described were all in abundant supply in Persia and would have been highly valuable in both cultures.

Other Interesting Facts:

The Wise Men had probably known about the coming Messiah through studies of the prophecies of Daniel. Jewish legends even say that Daniel himself (as an official in the Persian government) founded the order of the Magi and had instructed them to be watching for the Messiah. (Guzik Commentary)

In Matthew 2:2 the Wise Men seem to believe that the Jewish leaders would have been well aware of the Messiah’s birth and would be excited too. They’re about to discover otherwise. Some believe they must have been aware of Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17 which describes a “star” which will “come out of Jacob.”

Matthew 2:3 says that Herod and all of Jerusalem was disturbed to hear the news of Jesus’ birth. Herod was not the rightful king and so he had a clear reason for being worried. There are, however, two possibilities for the people’s concern: 1) They knew Herod was going to freak out. or 2) The group of Wise Men was large enough and distinguished enough to scare them a bit.

Herod asks the Jewish scholars where the Christ would be born. Their answer “Bethlehem,” comes from Micah 5:2 quoted in Matthew 2:6.

It is probable that Joseph and his family lived off of the gold gifts which were given to Jesus while they were in Egypt.

Matthew 2:9 says the star “went ahead” of them. This is most likely a supernatural event and cannot be explained by any alignment of planets or the like.

It must have been an interesting site as this large group of dignified foreigners bowed down to a young child. (Matthew 2:11)

3 Different Responses to Jesus in this passage: Today, Jesus gets the same reactions.

1. Herod hated him and wanted to kill him.

2. The chief priests and scribes were indifferent to Jesus. They didn’t bother to do anything different once they heard about him.

3. The Wise Men looked for him and made great sacrifices to be with Him.

Summary and Prayer:

I hope this has been helpful to you all.

Prayer: Lord, Help me to be willing to move out of my comfort zones. Help me choose to follow You – one step at a time. Like the star that “went ahead” of the Wise Men, lead me. Give me the courage to continue this journey focused on You, Give me wisdom to discern Your still small voice among all those which shout at me constantly and give me courage to follow like the Wise Men. Lord, even if it means looking strange or not fitting in, let me trust You. Like these wise men, allow me to lead others (mostly my own family) to recognize Jesus as well. Let me respond appropriately to Jesus. Let me worship with my life and lead me to the specific ways you’d like that expressed with my time, my money, my relationships, and my passions. (Or should I say, Your time, Your money, Your relationships, and Your passions?) Anyway, I love being Your kid. Thanks for making that possible through the blood of Your own son, Jesus. Without Him, without You, I am hopeless. You are all. AMEN.

rePost – Shepherds

shepherd-edit
A shepherd pic I took from our bus when I was in Israel.

OK – What are shepherds? Well, they’re the guys who watched the sheep. Many times in ancient Jewish culture they were young boys, but sometimes older guys did it too. They were responsible for moving the sheep from one field to the next so they could get plenty to eat and safe water to drink. They also protected the sheep from predators and would leave the group in order to search for a lost sheep. The sheep knew the shepherd’s voice. With a few shepherds and their sheep all intermingled, the shepherd could call his sheep and only those who were his would follow. Shepherds led a humble life – probably a bit of a lonely life too out in the fields with nothing but sheep (and God) to talk to all day. This sets the scene for what we’re about to read. A group of shepherds were out in a field near Bethlehem one night when according the Message paraphrase of Luke 2:8-20:

They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.  This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”

They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Now consider this: These particular shepherds are famous. Think about it: Shepherds were humble nobodys and social outcasts in their own culture, but here we are talking about them 2000 years later. What did they do that made them different?

1. They listened to God. (vs 15)

When the angel appeared that night in the field, there were lots of voices competing for their attention: 1) The voice of Doubt saying “You must be hallucinating. It was something you ate.” 2) The voice of Duty “You can’t go into Bethlehem. You’re responsible for these sheep.” 3) The voice of Laziness “You’re tired. It’s been a long day. Just stay here and rest.”

2. They ran to Jesus. (vs 16)

Once they decided they were going to listen to God, they had a sense of urgency. They didn’t waste time. They allowed their own Godly curiosity to dictate their pace. (When I’ve preached this message, I use the scene from “When Harry Met Sally” where Harry runs to the Christmas Party to talk to Sally. At one point he uses the line ” When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” I think that quote is appropriate for the shepherds too.)

3. They told everyone about Jesus. (vs 17-18)

When they had seen Jesus, they didn’t keep it to themselves. News spread quickly ’cause they were so excited. Matthew 12:34 says “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” The shepherds couldn’t contain themselves. Much like the news of a woman’s engagement. Sometimes she doesn’t even get to tell everyone, ’cause the news spreads so fast that people hear before she can get to them. Also, Remember, the angel had told them that this news was for “all people,” and so they were just doing their part.

4. They worshiped Jesus. (vs 20)

The shepherds worshiped with their mouths, but also with their lives as they told others and spread the news of Jesus.

I don’t know if it’s important to have people talking about us 2000 years later, but these shepherds stand out among all the other shepherds of the world because they reacted to Jesus in these ways. How would our lives be different if we did too? Would we stand out from the rest of the world if we truly listened to God, felt an urgency to be with Him, told others about Him, and worshiped Him? I think so and I pray that my life will reflect the attitudes and actions of these shepherd nobodys.

Other interesting Stuff:

It is very possible that these Bethlehem shepherds were watching over the temple flock – taking care of the sacrificial lambs. I think it’s cool that some of the first to see the true Lamb of God were the humble folks who took care of the sacrificial lambs from the temple.

Note that when angels appear, they aren’t greeted as if they are cute little flying cupids. They are feared. The first thing out of an angel’s mouth is almost always, “Do not be afraid.”

The fact that God chose to send the angel to the shepherds spoke volumes. Shepherds were regarded as unreliable and were not allowed to give testimony in courts (Morris), and so God chose to use them in spite of that reputation. Notice in verse 18 that when the people heard what they had to say, they were amazed. I think it’s interesting that they believed these unreliable shepherds enough to be amazed!

Notice the angelic glory in comparison the the humble Jesus who created the angels.

In ancient Jewish culture, when a boy was born, local musicians congregated at his home to greet him with music. (Daily Study Bible) Since Jesus was born in a stable, the angelic choir had to take the place of the local musicians.

The swaddling clothes was normal, but if the angel hadn’t told them to look for Jesus in a manger (feeding trough) they would never have believed it. Calvin said, “This was a revolting sight, and was sufficient of itself to produce an aversion to Christ. For what could be more improbable than to believe that he was the King of the whole people, who was deemed unworthy to be ranked with the lowest of the multitude?”

Check out what Calvin says about the shepherds “glorifying and praising God” in verse 20. “If the cradle of Christ had such an effect upon them, as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ to be in raising us to God?”

 

Misconceptions:

Most scholars agree that the time of Jesus’ birth was probably not Dec 25th. In his commentary, Adam Clarke suggests a fall time frame due to the fact that the sheep were in the fields at night.

Shepherds fields in Israel are much more rocky than Most Americans imagine. Notice the shepherd and sheep in this pic.
Shepherds fields in Israel are much more rocky than Most Americans imagine. Notice the shepherd and sheep in this pic.
shepherds-field-with-shepherd
Shepherds fields in Israel are much more rocky than Most Americans imagine. Notice the shepherd and sheep in this pic.
A Manger was a stone feeding trough for animals, rather than the wood/hay centerpiece in most Nativity scenes.
A Manger was a stone feeding trough for animals, rather than the wood/hay centerpiece in most Nativity scenes.

A Perfect Act of Love

Self-Love (1)2If I ever do a perfect act of love, I’ll probably be proud of it, and then it won’t be a perfect act anymore. Maybe if I die in the midst of performing this act, I could do it.” – man on radio (wish I knew who he was)

When I heard it, this idea struck me. Even my best efforts are littered with selfishness and pride. My “wants” show up in the most unlikely of places – even when I “serve,” I want to be recognized – or I want someone else to take notice and look at me with more admiration, etc. My service serves myself. I’m sinful. Very sinful.

Scripture addresses this too.

Isaiah 64:6 – “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

Romans 7:21-25 – “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

So here’s the question: How can I get rid of this? How can I serve selflessly? Of course the only REAL answer is Jesus. He alone has done a “perfect act of love” – the cross. He alone is perfect, and so all of His acts were perfect. Ours are NOT. Nor will they ever be. Our acts of service and sacrifice are always going to be tainted with at least a little bit of selfishness. We are sinners, but because of His “perfect act of love” (the cross), we can receive forgiveness and will be made holy. Our selfishness is forgiven and covered by His blood.

A perfect act of love? This is not a goal for us to attain, but a grace that Jesus has offered to us.

Confess with Your Life

life speak“Confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD and you will be saved……” Romans 10:9

Christians have used this verse over the years to get people “saved.” Unfortunately, I feel like some have missed the point. It’s not just the confession with the mouth that saves. Words are not enough. There’s more to it than that. It is the faith which accompanies these words that brings salvation. In it’s context, Paul wrote this verse to Romans, who could be killed for saying these kinds of things. They were coming up against the political systems in their culture and this statement would have been considered treason. They were risking their lives to make this confession. The verbal confession was not just a statement. It would have been attached to the rest of their lives. Anyone who made such a claim carried a faith which was expressing itself, not just with words but with a willingness to risk their very lives for this belief. Jesus is LORD.

We must confess with our LIVES that Jesus is LORD. Yes, confessing with our mouths is a huge part of it, but confessing with your life involves more – everyday decisions and sacrifices as well as boldness and taking risks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is worthy of so much more than just a few words. He humbled Himself, and died on a cross for my sins. The only proper response to that kind of love is to give Him my all, my life. And even that’s still lacking if you think of it as repayment. It doesn’t matter what we give. We still come up short. It’s only by His grace through faith that we are saved.

CONFESS WITH YOUR LIFE! (and your words)

Magic Hugs

KesleighI was just playing around the other day with Kesleigh and was trying to convince her that my hugs were magic. I explained that if she hugged me, she’d be able to fly like Tinkerbell. My hugs are better than pixie dust. I’m not sure she was buying it.

Truth is: It’s her hugs that have the power to make a big daddy soar through the air like Tinkerbell. I lied about the power of my hugs as an excuse to get some of hers. (I’m a sinful man.) Her hugs and snuggles can redefine my entire day. My stress dissolves in her embrace. She has the ability to bring light into the darkness that runs around in my head. I’m so grateful for the joy that she is and the ways that Jesus uses her to touch me. I’m grateful for her magic hugs.

Prayer: LORD, Thank you for Kesleigh. She is such a precious gift and You’ve used her to help make me into a different man. I’m not sure why you entrusted her to me, but I’m very grateful. Please continue to grow our relationship. Help me to be the father that you have called me to be. Use me and my bumbling to lead her to You. Give me wisdom to guide her into the life You have prepared for her and help me to see the specific things she needs in order to be equipped for whatever comes her way. Hold each of us in Your hands and hold tight when we’re tempted to run away from You. You are our true father who has already given much more than magic hugs. Thank you! AMEN.

Effort > Success

swim1He slapped at the water and flailed his way across the length of the pool. Kasen tried out for the Lake Jackson Swim Team back in May and didn’t make it. He just couldn’t breathe properly and struggled with swimming the required 25yd distance without a few dog paddles. It was the first time he didn’t immediately excel in a sport. He cried and didn’t understand why he didn’t make the team. He talked about quitting and giving up.

Miranda and I didn’t really mind the fact that he didn’t make it and I sort of thought, “Well, our summer won’t be consumed by swim meets.” However, when Kasen responded this way something inside me felt differently. I don’t want my kids to think it’s OK to just give up or quit when something is difficult. As a matter of fact, I really believe just the opposite. When something is hard and they have to work at it, I will be even more proud of them. Sometimes effort is more impressive than success. Success may be a result of effort, but the effort/struggle is what grows us and strengthens our character. I don’t want kids who are just successful. I want kids who know how to work and earn their success. Kids who understand that pushing themselves makes them stronger – makes them grow.

For the next 2 weeks, I drove Kasen to the pool every day after school. We hired another swim coach to work with him. (Thanks Andy!) We set goals and worked toward them. Some days went well. Others didn’t.

swim2After two weeks, he tried out again. He made the team. At the first meet in his very first race, he placed 1st in backstroke and got 1st place on his freestyle that day too! For the rest of the regular season, he was never beaten in backstroke. He didn’t have his best race, but still got 6th in the final State meet! For a kid who couldn’t swim the length of the pool only a few weeks earlier, I was really proud. Proud of his effort, not his success. Happy for success, but proud of effort.

Romans 5:3-4 – We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient.  And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady.” – The Message

PRAYER:
LORD, May this lesson follow Kasen throughout his life. Help him to remember to persevere. Help me to be an example to him of a hard worker, and as a man who doesn’t give up on things that are important, even when they are hard. Give us strength (physical, mental, and spiritual) to endure. Help us to recognize your presence with us and teach us to trust in your strength when we don’t feel like we can go on.

PS – This is why everyone loves the movie, “Rudy.” He was admired by his teammates for his effort – not his success. They were willing to sit out and make sacrifices for him because he was such a hard worker.

Legacy

Me and grandma 1983
Me and grandma 1983

My grandma died last year at the age of 97 and she never snow skiied. She traveled all over the country and did all kinds of things, but she never went on a ski trip. Well…….. maybe she did……. just last week. She was there. I saw her almost everywhere I looked. When I broke open mom’s haystack candy, I saw grandma nibbling on one of her own. When the kids had a snowball fight, I saw grandma throwing one off the deck at me accompanied by her laugh and smile which both hit me harder than her snowball. When we played board games at the table, I watched her nimble hands slide the exact card into place to win the game. One morning

There's that smile I saw last week. 1982
There’s that smile I saw last week. 1982

we had cinnamon rolls and they got burned because ovens cook differently in high altitudes, but I couldn’t help but see grandma’s cinnamon rolls sitting on that countertop. When I looked around the room at all my family, grandma’s influence was evident. She didn’t put up with arguing, and you know what? I don’t think we had any. We learned that from her. She loved spending time with family and so do all of us. She laughed often and it just hung in the room there like it was a permanent fixture.

 

 

When grandma’s estate was divided, my mom used some of her portion to take us on this trip. There were 17 of us: Mom, Me, Miranda, Kasen, Kesleigh, Roger, Kathy, Tyler, Betsy, Tucker, Tanner, Brenda, Schonn, Brianna, Ethan, Jaycee, and Tristian.

Grandma took all of us skiing…………. but we also took her. And we will take her everywhere we go.

Grandma left some things behind for us, but the most important things aren’t things at all. She left her mark on us. We have her in us. We became at least partly who she influenced us to become. Influence – that’s grandma’s greatest gift and the greatest inheritance anyone can leave for their loved ones. Love you Grandma! Miss you!

Thank you Mom for passing this precious gift along to us. Love you.

Here are a few pics. If you want more, check out facebook, shutterfly, or google+ sm - 01sm - 02IMG_1448IMG_1425 (3)

Compass or Map

compassThe goal of teaching is to enable and empower students to navigate this world with a compass, but I’ve been teaching them with maps. Here’s what I mean: As a teacher, I work very hard show my students the steps it takes to accomplish a task. The problem is that if they follow those steps they get the task done.

What? That doesn’t sound like a problem.

Well, I guess it’s not a problem if your goal is the simple task, however a teacher’s goal is larger. I want my students to understand the content well enough that they can interact and navigate around completely on their own. By following the steps (my map), my students haven’t discovered the landscape around the task. Many haven’t even looked up from the map to notice the landscape. They haven’t made mistakes which would teach them how to navigate towards their goal. A compass is a much better instrument for students. It forces them to learn the landscape and to get a real grasp of the content. When they get off course, they will need to find their way back and will discover that missing a few steps is not failure. They might even discover a better way to get somewhere. A compass allows a student more freedom and room for personal expression than a map – as long as they are within the boundaries they can go anywhere they’d like. If students had this kind of freedom, they might be a bit more motivated. Compass work forces deeper thought and requires higher order thinking skills.

Let me be clear. To create a “compass” lesson is much more difficult for the teacher. It requires more flexibility and will most likely bring some chaos. The “compass” teacher/student relationship probably looks more like an apprenticeship. There needs to be more one on one time. More exploration time. There should probably be more mistakes and disasters as well. As a matter of fact, I’d say that if there aren’t many mistakes, then students aren’t learning. As hard is these ideas might be, I believe our students are worth the efforts.  

Here’s my biggest question: In this type of classroom, students must have some sort of self motivation. A teacher who works with students individually like this can’t possibly watch everyone else simultaneously. How can a teacher like this keep everyone on task? How can a teacher motivate those students who simply don’t care? Of course the answer is to give them something they care about, but the truth is that there is no course/content/class that can motivate everyone. Ideas? Thoughts? Please leave some comments, I’d really like to know your thoughts.

Falling is not Failing

Kesleigh BikeKesleigh and I went on a bike ride the other day. She’s 4 (almost 5) and is still a little wobbly on her “new bike.” (She got it for Christmas.) Our neighbor, Peyton (7yrs) joined us for the ride. We rode around the neighborhood a while but then I got a little bored and decided to take them off road. We found a little trail that led us to a ditch. (maybe 20ft deep) The sides were a little steep and I could see a little trepidation on both their faces when I suggested that we ride down and then back up the other side.

Kesleigh spoke first, “Daddy, you go first.” I did. I rode down the smooth part of the hill thinking they would follow me.

When I reached the other side and motioned for them to come on over, Peyton jumped off his bike and walked it down the hill. Kesleigh (I love this girl) just looked at him and jumped on her bike and started down the hill. She trusted me and the direction I had pointed her in.

No fear. Fully committed. I could see the concentration on her face. She wobbled a little, but made it to the bottom, hit a bump, and bounced off the bike and onto the ground. By the time she realized what had happened, she heard daddy’s cheers showering down from above. “You were awesome Kesleigh! Good job! That was cool!”

Her first words? “Daddy, I made it to the bottom.” No tears. Just a positive outlook.

She fell, but she didn’t fail. I was so proud to see her commitment and determination. She didn’t hesitate.  Fear didn’t have time to speak. She just went for it! She was all in! Her focus was perfect and even her attitude about falling was great. Daddy is proud!

That’s my girl!!!!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for Kesleigh. She’s a precious gift. Lord, help me to train her up so that she will grow in her understanding and love for You – so that she will give her life to You and serve you wholeheartedly. Lord, I also ask that You teach me to be like her – trusting the directions you point me in – not allowing fear to have a voice – having a great attitude about falling – being committed and focused – going for it and being all in when it comes to the things You’ve called me to. AMEN.

 

Holding Hands

honeymoonWe strolled down Main Street hand in hand. It was a moderately cool day and we drank in the moment savoring each step as we made our way toward the castle in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The breeze nipped at our faces, but nothing could quell the excitement coursing through our veins. These days would be remembered forever as precious – a beginning as well as a celebration.

It was January 2004. Miranda and I strode past families who gathered in their matching t-shirts to capture the excitement with their cameras, but it was our honeymoon. We were oblivious to anyone outside our own little gaze and communicated our love for each other with just a look.

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Just a week ago….10yrs later, Miranda and I were able to relive the same experience – only this time, we had our kids. We still held hands and strolled down Main Street towards the castle, but this time there were extra hands. We stopped to have our picture taken in our matching t-shirts, We still looked into each other’s eyes and were oblivious to others around us, but this time the look carried different messages – “Can you do something about her whining?” or “Tell him to stop chasing his cousin.” The ease with which we chose our next destinations had disappeared – now there were so many more factors: “Is she tall enough? Will they be scared? Where is the nearest restroom? How long is the line? Can the kids make it without a meltdown? When is our fastpass scheduled? Can we use a stroller pass?”

However in spite of all the madness competing for our attention, nothing could quell our excitement. With the extra people, we also had contagious excitement that coursed through our veins. These days will be remembered forever as precious – a new beginning and a celebration of who we are and have become.

Mike and Patti Mathews generously provided everything for us to enjoy this trip. They arranged: 1) a surprise on Christmas Day for the kids, 2) Flights for 11, 3) an incredible house with a pool and hot tub, 4) car rental, and 5) 5 days of Disney tickets – not to mention the countless hours of planning, the tshirts, parking $, and extra gifts all along the way. Your love for all of us is incredible and we are blessed to have such a “legacy of love” in our lives. Thank you!

Prayer: Thank you Jesus for our family. Thank you for all your efforts in drawing Mike and Patti to you all those years ago and for giving them to us. You have blessed them and they are truly a blessing. Guide Miranda and I to carry this “legacy of love” forward and pass it to our children. Thank you also for giving Miranda to me. Allow us to continue to “hold hands” as we move through life – not just with each other but more importantly, help us to “hold your hand.” Amen.

I posted a few pics here, but if you want to see a few more, you can go here: Disney 2014

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