Home is where my family gathers. We laugh. We play. We cry. Home is where we settle our lives and work through our difficulties. Home calls us away from strife and beckons us into its’ safety. It’s where we find true rest. It’s where we find peace. Home is where we’re fed and filled and find satisfaction. Home is where we are meant to be. I love home.
My house is not my home. As we evacuated our house and our town this week, these things became much more clear to me. I looked in the rearview mirror and watched all of our earthly possessions grow small and smaller, shrinking as we distanced ourselves from the path of the hurricane. It was very surreal. This week, I have struggled between the fear of losing everything and the knowledge that we already have all that we need in Jesus. We have our family and yet, my faith is intermingled with unbelief.
“Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” – Mark 9:24
When we drove away, I made some decisions. I decided that I was willing to lose everything that we left behind. I “let go” of our house. I now understand, that I was able to make that decision with confidence because I knew that we would always have a home. Jesus is our home and He has promised to never leave us. He is with us even in the midst of the hurricane. Would I miss certain things? Of course. Mostly things with sentimental value…. Items that are “more” than they actually are. However, in the end, even those things fall short of what Jesus Himself can provide.
Read my first paragraph again:
Jesus is where my family gathers. We laugh. We play. We cry. Jesus is where we settle our lives and work through our difficulties. Jesus calls us away from strife and beckons us into His safety. He is where we find true rest. He is where we find peace. Jesus is where we’re fed and filled and find satisfaction. Jesus is where we are meant to be. I love Him.
PS – We have returned from our evacuation and our house has remained dry. Everything has remained the same. However, I have not remained the same. I have been changed. As a community, we have much work to do. I plan to help my neighbors. I’m praying that together we will experience this true “home” as we work side by side. Pray for us.
Quiet – The internet doesn’t do quiet. It’s good for a lot of things, but quiet is not one of them. The internet overflows with information. It is loud and noisy. It’s a million voices. It’s full of people. (Many who would never be so obnoxious in person.) This can be a great thing. Sometimes, we need sensory overload and we need to fill our brains. Only then, can we sort through it all and make sense of the world around us.
Unfortunately, we need quiet for that part to happen. We can’t live our lives fully online, ’cause the internet doesn’t do quiet. When we’re online, we don’t see the long, quiet, thoughtful moments where people wrestled with themselves or with God or with other people. No one communicates the deep unsure quiet space where they work through things…..where they pray or where they seek guidance, but we need these times to sort through all the noise and settle in on the quiet where we find the “still small voice.”
I studied underMike Ayers in college and he used to say, “A leader needs time to sit and stare out the window.” We’ve all got to have time to stare and imagine what life “could” be like and maybe more importantly, how it “should” be. Staring out the window gives us a chance to imagine and create a way to get to these new places, how build something new, to develop a new strategy. It allows us space to dream. Maybe daydreaming should be a bit of a discipline? When we need to make big/important decisions we need space and margin. We need quiet. Internet can’t do this.
Confession: Quiet is what I need. Soccer games, and football practices, and dance classes, and church responsibilities, and work, and family, and lifegroup, and, and, and. It all just overwhelms me. My life seems like a lot of noise. Then I come home to the internet……and it’s just more noise, more information, more, more, more. The stress builds and just piles on. I feel like screaming. I just want it to stop. I need quiet. I need margin and space so I am working on it. As a family, we are taking January off from sports – no soccer games or practices. We didn’t sign up for basketball. We’re planning to go camping. I’m also refraining from tv and much of the internet – planning to read more and write (on this blog) – to contemplate and sit and “stare out the window.” Pray for me.
I’d also encourage you to do the same – take a break from the internet. Disconnect and I believe you’ll find real connections – deep connections which the internet cannot provide. Get quiet. Listen to God. He is so much better than the internet. He has real answers without the booming voice – without all the sensory overload and confusion. He is the “still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)
I had the opportunity to preach through the book of Ruth over the last few weeks @ Grace Bible Church. In my preparations I listened to sermons by Voddie Bachaum, David Platt, Alistair Begg, and Mark Driscoll. Much of what I shared comes form these resources as well as a commentary that I wrote many years ago based upon several commentaries as well as some of my own thoughts as I studied.
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?”
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.
He 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.
After 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.
Tonight I had the privilege to lead a group from our church through a teaching called “Christ in the Passover.” Here’s a link to the guide I created for the event as well as a link to pics for the video presentation.
I am always surprised by the things God does. How He provides. How He speaks. How He. . . .
However, when I look back over my life, I see His consistency in all things. He is always faithful to provide. He is always speaking. He is always working, loving, guiding, intervening. . . He is always. . . He is God.
If I reflect on His character and our relationship, it’s not surprising at all that He would do these things. Why am I surprised?
Maybe my surprise reveals my lack of faith? Or maybe it reveals the greatness of God? He is beyond my imagination and comprehension.
I told the story tonight before we sent the kids to bed and Kasen wanted me to tell it again. When I explained that it was bedtime, he began telling the story again himself. I caught the second half of it on video here.
She’s been crawling a little here and there this week, but I was finally able to capture it on video. She was chewing on a plastic fish toy and so we set it out in front of her. It’s a bit intimidating to think about having 2 mobile children under 2yrs old in one house, but still very exciting times. Anyway, here it is:
Carrots and Sticks may motivate a horse to run, but Dan Pink argues that for humans, they just aren’t good motivators. In the video posted below, he shares some amazing research about motivation. I thought I’d share a bit of it here for all you guys who are leaders ’cause we’ve gotta learn everything we can about motivating people – especially church people who work with volunteers.
Incentives/rewards as motivators? Here’s a quote:
As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance, but once the task called for ‘”even rudimentary cognitive skill,” a larger reward “led to poorer performance.”
Many studies have shown this to be true across cultural boundaries throughout the world. Here’s an example of one of them:
“The Candle Problem.” Here’s the scenario:
The behavioral scientist brings you into a room and gives you a candle, some matches, and some thumb tacks. He explains that your job is to attach the candle to the wall so the wax doesn’t drip onto the table.
Many people begin by trying to thumbtack the candle to the wall or melting the side of the candle to stick it to the wall. Neither will work. After about 5 minutes, most people figure out the solution.
A scientist named Sam Glucksberg (Princeton) did a series of experiments using the candle problem. He told one group of participants that he was just timing them to establish “norms.” To another he offered a carrot, a reward for the top 25 participants with the best times.
Results? The group that was offered the reward averaged 3 and a half minutes longer. Incentives/Rewards actually stifle creativity. This study has also been replicated over and over for nearly 40 years.
Next, Glucksberg did the same experiment, but presented it in a slightly different way.
This time the group who had been offered rewards kicked the tails of the others. Why?? It’s “no brainer” work. ‘Cause, with the thumb tacks out of the box, there was no “creativity” (well, little) involved. Incentives work very well for non-cognitive tasks, but for tasks requiring creativity. . .well, it’s a bad motivator and actually hinders performance.
Here’s the bottom line:
There’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business (leadership) does.
1. Incentives/rewards only work in a narrow band of circumstances. (No brainer work)
2. “If then” rewards often destroy creativity.
3. The secret to high performance (motivation) isn’t carrots and sticks (rewards & punishments) but that unseen intrinsic drive – the drive to do things ’cause they matter.
OK – Here are my thoughts: As a church worker, this all makes sense. I can’t really offer our volunteers anything anyway. We may bake them cookies or something to show our appreciation, but we’re not exactly giving huge salaries or bonuses to them. Over the years, I’ve seen a few people volunteer out of wrong motivations – trying to watch their child, or get close to another volunteer, or maybe they just want to feel good about themselves. Whatever the case, those people don’t ever last very long. The people who are the greatest assets to our programs and ministries are those who are intrinsically motivated – those people who really believe in what we’re doing and want to make a difference in the lives of others. Those kinds of volunteers are consistent. They will work into wee hours of the morning trying to get things “just right.” They aren’t “high-maintenance” volunteers. They come to me with new ideas and like to tell me what they’re going to do rather than asking me about all the details of how to get it all done. These are the kinds of people I love to work with. They understand our goals and create new ways of reaching them.
Another thought: What does our carrot and stick system do to our children? We like use this system all the time with them ($$ for grades, ice cream when the team wins, etc) but if these kinds of motivators stifle creativity. . .hmm. . .what hasn’t being created that might exist right now otherwise?
The modern church needs leaders – people who can create a new vision and lead others into a preferred future. Ministry is a creative calling made by the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. If rewards and incentives break down creativity, we’ve gotta stop trying to motivate our people with them. We need all the creativity we can get. The Good News is that God’s creative Holy Spirit resides with us and within us. He’s just looking for a chance to come out of us.
If you’re interested you can check out the video that inspired these thoughts.