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.

Community Group

adults2We just got back from a little trip with our Community Group (or “Life Group” as they will be called soon) and so I’ve been reflecting on some of our times together:

I love this group. We play together, serve together, worship/learn/grow together, and just do life together. They have been there for us in both good and bad times. Don’t get me wrong – cultivating these relationships hasn’t been easy. We’ve all worked at being intentional and made sacrifices, but in the end, it’s definitely worth it.

In general, we just enjoy being together and find ways to be together. I don’t think it matters what we’re doing near as much as just being together. In doing so, we “rub off” on one another and begin to share memories/experiences which shape us. Even our parenting skills are influenced as we watch how everyone else “does” it. These are the people I consciously choose as “influencers” in our lives and I will protect those relationships.

kidsHere are just a few of the things we’ve experienced together so far:

  • Before my son Kasen had surgery earlier this summer, the kids from our group gathered around him and prayed for him. In this one act, they were an example for taking our burdens to the Lord. Their faith gave him more courage and their little prayers communicated their love and support for him. They taught him that God is in control and his faith was strengthened as he witnessed God answering those prayers.
  • When my truck broke down, one of the guys in our group came to my house to help with repairs – truly an answer to prayer. I’m not good with this sort of thing, but my friend is. This is how the body of Christ should function – each one offering his own gifts.
  • Some of them showed up to support me on the night I was leading a fundraiser for another organization I’m involved in. One of them actually serves on the board.
  • We volunteer together at the Pregnancy Help Center and work to be a blessing to one of our local schools. We also serve at our church together by cleaning the building and working behind the scenes.
  • The girls celebrate birthdays together and the men hang out and see movies together. We plan “Date Nights” together. Our kids play on the same soccer teams.
  • We go on trips/retreats together – Jellystone and Livingston.
  • We spontaneously decide to do things together – bike rides to the park for picnics.
  • We spend time praying for each other and study the Scriptures together. We have worked our way through a few books (Respectable Sins, The Praying Life) as well as sharing our own life stories with one another.

Prayer:
LORD, Thank you for giving these people to us. They are instruments in Your hands to help keep our family on track. When they speak, I often hear Your voice. When we’re together I sense Your presence and know You are near. When we’re together, I feel safe to ask questions and wrestle with what it means to live as You have called us. These relationships give us opportunities to practice living out this call to love one another and I must admit that sometimes it can be difficult. I’m so grateful that You brought them to us and pray that You will continue to draw us into deeper relationships that will push us deeper into our relationship with You. AMEN.

 

 

The Bridge

Over the years, the valley had grown wider. All the storms (big and small) compounded and made it tough to traverse so . . . we built a bridge.

I had a great Spring Break! Miranda, Kasen, Kesleigh, and I spent the week in Livingston with our good friends (we consider them family) the Godbolds. We also got to spend time with the Bowles, Leitschuhs, and Dale Googer’s. It was incredible! We spent the week as bridge builders.

We built a bridge over a little creek on the property, but there were also other bridges built. Since the time we moved away from Tomball, we have felt separated from our friends, but bridges were built. I watched my children meet new friends and learn new things – bridges were built.

Bridges were built with discussions around the fire. They were built as we reminisced. They were built as we shared stories and laughed. More bridges were built as we sang old songs and even as we reflected in the silence.

Livingston – this place – the people it represents – the memories – all of it reminds me of who I am and challenges me to remember who I want to become. This is a bridge. Livingston is a bridge between my past and my future. I’m grateful for this bridge – for this place – for my friends – for my God.

The years had worn on them – torn the banks.

We built a bridge.

Livingston is a bridge.

I want my life to be a bridge.

Place of Grace – Meridian – for my children

I never finished this, but it was an idea for a poem or song or something to give to my children. It expresses the things I plan to share with my kids when I take them to visit Meridian State Park someday. I’ll tell them the story of how I came to know Jesus. I’m so excited about that day! These words capture some of the emotions I feel as I think about telling them.

Anyway, maybe I’ll finish it someday, but I wanted to go ahead and post something so I wouldn’t lose it.


This is a couple of years after I came to know Christ, but it still floods my mind with memories of that day. Lots of the same people in this pic.

Come let me show you this place, this place full of grace.
Come let me show you the spring where we sat and listened to the quiet
And the outcropping where we waterbombed the bus.
Let’s go walk the carpet of bluebonnets
and run past the bees on the trail of Mesquite
As a child I ran these trails and stepped on a snake
These vines scratched my legs but helped heal me too.

We played frisbee golf and waterballoon volleyball
Chased Bulldog to soak him
James Garner taught us the Scriptures under the tree.
Ross Senter spoke around the campfire.

Let me show you the grace in this place.

Come watch the horizon swallow the sun
Breathe in the lights. See the milky way run
From up on the ledge and above the lake
Lets watch the sky. and see the stars come awake.

Come hear distant voices from the lake down below
Let’s sit and sing and wait – take it slow
If we’re lucky we’ll see a star fall from space
Here in this place – this place full of grace

And this is where I sat and sang and cried
Around the campfire On the night I gave my life to Christ.

This place is so dear. It’s a place I want you to know
Whether this place or that place, I want you to have your own place full of grace.

A Cannibal Meal

Passover Haggadah

I had a cannibal meal last night. Let me explain. A few years ago, I studied up on the Jewish Passover, which is the meal that Jesus celebrated with the disciples in the upper room. We have come to know it as the “Last Supper.” You know. . .the one where Jesus asks us to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood – the cannibal meal. (Sorry the whole cannibal thing was just a hook I was trying to use to lure you into reading this stuff. If you’ve gotten this far, maybe it worked?)

Anyway, I was amazed at the connections between Moses and Jesus and between the Passover lamb and the “Lamb of God.” The Lord’s Supper (or Communion) took on brand new meaning for me. I especially loved the wedding imagery that Jesus used that night and how He spoke of cultural things that the Jewish disciples would have understood perfectly which fly right over our heads.

Out of my excitement, I was telling some other people about what I was learning and ended up leading our whole church through a Passover/Seder experience which was a combination of the meal with some teaching about it. I also led my small group through it last night. We ate/celebrated last night. I guess that means I’m a cannibal. (By the way, Romans accused the first Christians of cannibalism for these very same misunderstandings.) Anyway, I love teaching this stuff!! Tomorrow night (Maundy Thursday) is the traditional night that Jesus would have celebrated it with his disciples in the upper room (John 13, Luke 22:7, Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12) and so I wanted to post this material so my on-line friends could remember/understand the “Last Supper” in deeper ways too. I’d love to talk to you guys about all this stuff, so please make comments or better yet – give me a call!!

Anyway, if you’re interested in the guide (also called a Haggadah) I wrote and used, you can just click the links or the picture to the right. It should take you right to it. (There is a regular guide and also a leaders guide with notes marked in blue.) If you prefer a version which can be printed and then folded together to make a booklet, you can get it here: Christ in the Passover (There are actually 2 versions of this one too – one for copiers that will print front to back without rotations and the other for those that rotate. If you’re not sure, do a test run on the first 10 pages and then try again with the last 10 pages.)

I’d also highly recommend watching the Zola Levitt videos: Miracle of the Passover pt1 and Miracle of the Passover pt2

Primal – A Book Review

PrimalInspired by a trip down a staircase which descended into ancient catacombs, Mark Batterson encourages Christians to be great at the Great Commandment! There, beneath the layers of 2000 years of Christianity and tradition, he imagined the ancient primal form of the Christian faith. In Primal, he takes the reader back in time and reminds him/her of the essentials of the faith. Centering on the Great Commandment (Mk 12:30), Batterson acts as a tour guide exploring the depths of genuine compassion, infinite wonder, insatiable curiosity, and boundless energy – the very ideas that sparked the first-century movement and exploded into the modern Christian faith. Hidden by 2000 years of tradition, Batterson leads the reader to rediscover and reclaim the power within them. Primal uncovers the greatness of the Great Commandment and calls the reader to join the primal force which is revealed by it’s convictions.

Primal is a very interesting read. Batterson has become a great writer and is a master at weaving together personal stories, Scriptural examples, psychological research, and scientific evidence. He also knows how to turn a phrase. Here are some of my favorites:

We’re not great at the Great Commandment.

It’s much easier to act like a Christian than it is to react like one.

You can give without loving, but you can not love without giving.

The mind is educated with facts, but the soul is educated with beauty and mystery. And the curriculum is creation.

Conclusion: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in reclaiming the Christian faith and pursuing with abandon the Great Commandment. Primal is absolutely the first book you should read in 2010.

More info: www.theprimalmovement.com


PS: Reading Mark Batterson‘s book “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” was truly a life-changing moment for me. Therefore, it’s an incredible joy and honor to have been selected to be a part of his blog tour for this book. I was sent a pre-released copy and asked to post a book review.

Jesus in the Passover – Maundy Thursday

I had the pleasure of leading our congregation through a Seder/Passover meal a couple of years ago. I put together a little booklet called a “Haggadah to explain the symbolism behind each element of the meal. I made the booklet into a slide show for anyone interested. I’d encourage everyone to step through it and truly think about depth of Jesus’ participation in this meal as the actual Passover lamb. You can also download the booklet and print it out here along with an extra leaders guide: Christ in the Passover (It has a few extra meaningful notes in blue.) For a better understanding of the fact that Jesus deviated from the normal Passover meal during the 3rd cup (Cup of Redemption), I’d also encourage you to read this blog I wrote about Jewish wedding customs.

Click on the first pic and the rest will come up in “book” form.

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Emmaus

Emmaus_2I went on a retreat for men last weekend called Emmaus. The weekend is based on the Scripture (beginning in Luke 24:13) about two  men who were traveling to Emmaus. They met Jesus and were talking to Him without even knowing it. When Jesus finally reveals Himself to them, he disappears. The idea is that we would travel together down this same road and  Jesus would reveal Himself to us.

Anyway, it was a great retreat. It was really awkward at first being with a bunch of people you don’t know, but it doesn’t take long to begin getting into the routine. Some of the best parts of the experience are supposed to be surprises so I won’t spoil it for anyone, but those were certainly the most memorable moments for me. I have worked in youth ministry for over 20 years now and have been a part of putting things like this together, but it’s been a really long time since I was a participant – since I was just able to sit back and listen and receive from the Lord. It was a refreshing change of pace. Someone asked to sponsor me for Emmaus about 15 years ago and it never seemed to work out as far as a date. I also never made it much of a priority because I had heard about the life-changing experiences that others were having. I knew that I had already given my life to Christ and was already living out my faith, and so I was afraid my experience wouldn’t live up to what they wanted it to be for me. Anyway, after all these years, I have now had the Emmaus experience. I was right – it wasn’t a huge deal for me, but it was certainly a good experience which allowed me to just focus on Him a bit. How could that ever be a bad experience?

The other part I really enjoyed was the discussions around the table. I sat with a bunch of really creative and fun guys. (David, Everett, Scott, Mike, and JJ) I was able to see God in new ways through their eyes and gained perspectives that I would never have seen before. We also had quite a bit of fun with the creative parts of the weekend (posters, skits, and songs). It was encouraging to hear how these guys (who were mostly my own age) were living out their faith and how God was working through their struggles with them. In my own church I have missed having guys my own age around – the good news is that He is bringing more and more of them to us and we’ve found a great small group to be involved with.

There were definitely some parts of the weekend that I did not enjoy too, but it was kinda cool to see God working in spite of it all. Here’s what I mean: On Friday afternoon, we were singing and I started noticing these guys behind me arm in arm swaying back and forth while they sung. Soon more men joined them and eventually it was me and a couple of other guys who were not involved. I felt a certain pressure to join them, but it was way out of my comfort zone – can you say awkward? JJ, one of the guys at my table, called it “Manlove.” Anyway, as I thought about it I realized that there is no place in American culture where this sort of thing happens with men (well, straight men). There is nothing about this behavior that men would really get excited about. As for a retreat and setting the stage for men to interact with God, it shouldn’t work. BUT when you factor God into the whole thing, “All bets are off.” God did move among us. He made His presence known, and in spite of  this sort of counter-intuitive approach, God used the efforts of the Emmaus team.

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for the work of the Emmaus team and my fellow walkers – for their servanthood, teachings, discussions, and expressions of love. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to leave my job for a few  days to focus on You and for protecting my family while I was away. Allow me to be the man you’ve called me to be at my home, at my job, and in my church, and everywhere I go. Lord, as You did on the road to Emmaus, continue to reveal Yourself and Your ways  to me so I can become more like You.