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.

Joppa, Jonah, and Peter

I was sitting in Sunday School the other day as we studied Jonah and learned some cool stuff. (Thanks Kurt) Check out the similarities between the story of Jonah and Acts 10 with Peter:

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I’m always fascinated by the way God uses certain places to speak particular things.There are certain places I can go that remind me of particular things God has done in my life. For example: If I go to Meridian State Park, I’m reminded of my conversion experience and the body of believers that God used to reveal Himself to me. When I go there, I remember my foundation. I remember where I came from and I can more clearly see who I’ve become.

It seems obvious that Peter would have known the story of Jonah. He had probably studied it as a child and quite possibly even memorized it (For more info, check this post). I wonder if he recognized the similarities of his situation with Jonah’s call? When he realized that God wanted him to share the Gospel with these Gentiles, did he realize that he was in the very same Joppa where Jonah had tried to run from God for a similar call? I wonder if he remembered that Jonah had to learn the hard way, and therefore made his choice to share the Gospel more readily because of it? These are the kinds of conversations that might be fun to have with Peter and Jonah someday in heaven.

PS – here’s another post I wrote about Jonah: Whoa Jonah!

Mr. Corn’s Opus

I had a bit of a “Mr Holland’s Opus” moment this past weekend – you know. . .the moment at the end of the movie where all his ex-students come together to honor/minister to him.

Sonya and Tori playing with Kasen
Sonya and Tori playing with Kasen

Some ex-youth (Is that OK Lorel?) drove down to Lake Jackson to hang out. Sonya Wiggins Hunt and Tori Gracey had heard about our job situation and decided that they would drive down to support Miranda and I. Wow! It’s a beautiful thing (and humbling) to have the very same students that you poured yourself into years ago show up to minister to you. In the past, I ministered to them. Sunday, I was the recipient of their ministry. The script may have been flipped, but the author if that script is still the same – and He’s a great writer.

He has truly done some incredible things in and through their lives.

Sonya has finished school, gotten married and is incredibly active in her church. The pastor has even asked she and her husband to help them plant another church. She has also been a part of a program which works to create community in apartment complexes – taking the Good News to her own neighbors. She told an incredible story about her brother-in-law. He is in the hospital in critical condition after being beaten and shot by members of a gang. She and her husband stood at his bedside and shared the gospel with him. He was unable to respond with anything but his eyelids, but when given the opportunity he gave his life to Christ literally with the blink of his eyes. Sonya is a minister. She takes Jesus to everyone she touches as she lives her life.

Tori is now a teacher in one of the most difficult school in Houston. Her students include a 16 yr old girl who had a miscarriage after 8 months of pregnancy. One day, some students were asking her where she kept her Bible ’cause they wanted to look something up. She asked what they wanted to know, and by God’s grace, it was a verse that Tori and had memorized in her Jr High years when we did a specific study together. She quoted the verse to them and they were shocked. These students come to Tori to talk about their lives. They know she loves and cares for them. They know she’s a Christian. They trust her. She has earned their respect. Tori is in full-time ministry.

Tori and Sonya may not work in the church, but their work is more like that of a missionary – one who takes the Gospel to the people.

Anyway, spending time with Sonya and Tori was truly a joy. As they shared the things God has been doing in their lives and a few of the stories where they were able to be a part of His work, I felt like Mr Holland. I was proud. Proud of who they had become. Proud that I was able to be a small part of their lives. Proud to serve a God who is so active in our lives. Excited to imagine what the future (which is in God’s amazing hands) holds for each of us.

Prayer: God, thank you for Sonya and Tori. Thank you for revealing yourself to them and for the commitment that they have for you. Thank you for your presence and guidance in their lives. Thank you for the opportunities that You give to them. Thank you for placing them in these jobs/positions where You can use them in such mighty ways. Lord, continue to be with them and make your presence known so they can operate in confidence throughout their lives. Keep them close to You and to each other. AMEN.

Social Media and the Church

Social Media Stats – crazy.

If this is true and the way we communicate has fundamentally changed, then what does this mean to the church? The church has been notorious for being behind the curve when it comes to innovations – many are still doing the songs of the 50s and lamenting over the “good ‘ol days.”

Some church people are fearful of new technologies. (The news stories of those who abuse the technology doesn’t help.) Some even have “spiritual” reasons for not using it. (They’d rather spend their time “with Jesus.”) I may be wrong, but it seems to me that if these technologies have “fundamentally changed” the way we communicate, then the church needs to break in and use it to communicate the gospel – give Jesus a voice in these new social media communities by being an active incarnated presence.

I’d love to hear from you guys. What are the best (and worst) ways you guys see the church using technology and social media in particular?

Little Shovel

ShovelOn his blog, Seth Godin writes “If you want to dig a big hole, you need to stay in one place.”

I wonder how this applies to evangelism? He explains that if you take your little shovel all over town, you’ll end up with a bunch of little holes – little impact. As a marketing guru, he applies this to sales: If you make 1000 sales calls, you’re likely to get 1000 rejections. On the other hand, if you work on one person and call him ten times, you might make a sale.

Back to evangelism: I think Jesus understood the “Law of the Little Shovel” pretty well. Think about it. He spent lots of time with the same 12 people (the disciples). He used his shovel digging into the lives of the same folks every day for three years of ministry. Those guys ended up changing the world and bringing Jesus’ message to the world as we know it – big impact.

I think it’s important to realize that when we truly invest our lives in people, (the same people year after year) we will dig much deeper in transforming both them and ultimately, the world around us. We should think in terms of changing a few people greatly rather than changing a great number of people in small ways.

4th Screen, Real Connections, and Community

Check out this video. I saw it on the Youth Specialties site and . . .well. . .in all honesty, I’m not sure what to think about it. It definitely makes me think though. That’s why I posted it here. Take a couple minutes to watch it, read my post below, and then respond. I’d love to know what you guys think.

 

I can pretty much agree with most of what the video is saying, but I’m not quite sure it’s the whole truth. I mean – Yes, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd screens have served to connect people to the world and even to each other to some degree. But they have also served to isolate people. And the 4th? Is it really promising that much freedom? It’s true that people can get their information wherever they are and that means they can be out with people and making REAL connections again, but what about the other side? For example: You’re out with your friends making REAL connections, but you keep getting text messages from other people. Are you truly present with your friends? or are you really somewhere else? Doesn’t this hinder REAL connections? And just because you’re out and about with people doesn’t mean you’re making REAL connections either. I’ve watched lots of students (I’m a youth minister) being completely isolated by their phones in the middle of a huge group of people.

In the end I guess this whole revolution is just another communication device. The church is just going to have to “man up” and find ways to do ministry within the cultural norms and forms of communication. I’m not sure what this revolution means to the world of ministry, but as a youth minister, I’m witnessing huge differences in the students of today compared to those even 5 years ago.

Rather than hiding in a bunker and pretending that nothing has changed, I think the church needs to discover how the 4th screen (texting, twitter, social networking, etc.) can be used to glorify God? How can the church use these new technologies to further His Kingdom? Or an even more elementary question – what is a REAL connection? What is community? Can a virtual community truly be a biblical community? What type of relationship/community is needed to honor God? What instruments/tools/technologies can help us to build those relationships/communities? Are these technologies appropriate for communicating the value/depth/glory of the Gospel?    Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts. What do you guys think?

3rd Space

McmanusErwin McManus spoke at the RightNow conference in Dallas 2008 and shared a great message that solidified some of the things I’ve blogged about in the past. Here’s my summary of his talk:

Acts 17:16 – “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18  A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
19  Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
20  You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.”
21  (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22  Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.”

Erwin points out that there are 3 different spaces described here.

The 1st space (vs 17) is where Paul goes when he is first troubled by the idolatry – The Jewish synagogue. Most church folks do the same thing. When they have a problem, they first discuss it with the people closest to them – people like them. We like to bounce ideas off of people who think, look, and act like us ’cause it’s a safe way to arrange and solidify our own thinking. This is the space we arrange, create, and maintain to help us feel safe. It’s home. It’s where we invite others to join us. Many churches use an “attractional” ministry strategy to get people into their 1st space. This is a great strategy as long as it continues into the 2nd space.

The 2nd space is also seen in verse 17 – the marketplace. Paul immediately, takes his concerns to the people outside the church too. This is the space that no one controls – where everyone is welcome. Unfortunately, most Christians rarely speak of faith outside their “safe” church walls.  However, if they did, they might get invited into the sacred 3rd space.

The 3rd space is seen in verse 19. “Then they took him” describes the 3rd space. It’s the place that others control and create. It’s the place where they invite others. It’s in this space that Paul’s concerns are finally eased. In this 3rd space, he gets to talk to the main people he’s concerned about.

This 3rd space is truly where Christians can reach the world. Instead of waiting for people to come to church, the church should go to the world and express Christ’s love in such a way that they are invited into the 3rd spaces of others.

Another post with similar ideas can be found here: Welcoming or Welcomed?

John Commentary

Gospelofjohn Well, I’ve finally finished this process. We have been through the entire book of John with our students and I have typed up my notes. I have attached them here for anyone who would like to have my thoughts on these verses. I’m sure that over time I could add or change quite a bit of this, but this is where I am for now in it all.

Download John Commentary.pdf

It has been a fun process to study this book (My favorite part of my job.) Our students have grown quite a bit during this time together and I know that the fruit of this time will be incredible. For many of our students/branches, just as John 15 describes, God has lifted them up from the dirt, washed them off, and now they are able to grow and be fruitful for His Kingdom. I pray that’s true for me too. Lord, let me abide in You. Remain in Your hands. Labor for You and be fruitful for Your Kingdom. AMEN.

John 13

Gospelofjohn Here’s the newest commentary that I’ve written on John 13. I started the book of John a long time ago, and now we’re continuing through that book in our Wednesday Bible Studies, so I guess I’ll be adding to the original stuff that I wrote. Here’s what I learned today about John 13:


John 13 Commentary

Who would want to know when they were gonna die? Not me. But Jesus knew. What would that be like? How would you spend your last few days of life?

This story is a “type” or “foreshadow” of what Jesus is about to do on the cross.

Vs 1

Passover – a Jewish festival in which they partook of a celebration meal remembering how God had provided for them during the Exodus. They also remembered how God had saved them from the last Egyptian plague with the Passover lamb. The time of this celebration was the perfect time for the cross, because Jesus would be the new Passover lamb.

Vs 2

Jesus knew what Judas would be doing and yet He still treated Him well. Jesus served Him knowing that he would betray him.

Leonardo_da_vinci_the_last_supper The famous artistic portrayals of the Last Supper are pretty much all wrong. The disciples were not sitting at chairs around a table, but probably laying on low couches around a “U-shaped” low table. This is the way the Roman triclinium was arranged also. Jesus was in the center, with John at his right and Judas at his left. These were both honored positions. It is also probable that they leaned on their left arms so as to keep the right hand (the “clean” hand) free to grab food and partake in the meal. This meant that Jesus would have been facing John’s back and Judas’ would have faced Jesus’ back.

The foot-washing custom was normally given to a slave or even a crippled or mentally handicapped slave who was unable to do anything else. A water pot was kept outside the door for this practice. If there was no slave at the door, one of the group members would wash the others feet out of courtesy. No one volunteered this particular day, so Jesus stepped “up” to the task.

Vs 4 – 11

The Luke account of this story says that the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus answers their question with His own actions as He washes their feet. This is scandalous humility – for someone of Jesus’ standing to step into the lowliest of positions. God scrubs the feet of the creatures that He created.

Vs 4 – Jesus stripped his outer clothes – most likely down to a loincloth which would have been typical attire for a slave.

Footwash Vs 5 – Jesus actually washes Judas’ feet. Jesus had spent 3 years caring for this guy – clothing him, feeding him, etc and He knew that Judas was gonna betray him. (By the way, Judas had been stealing money from Jesus’ ministry the whole time.) Jesus washed Judas’ feet because he was re-enacting what was about to come – He was gonna die for the whole world – including Judas. Jesus did it to honor His Father – Remember his words in Mt 26:39 – “Not my will, but yours.”

Vs 8-9 – Peter’s unwillingness to have his feet washed was a normal response for an unbeliever – but Peter was not an unbeliever. On the other hand, by saying “wash all of me” he was missing the point to. He needed cleansing for daily sin, not to be rebathed (reborn).

If you consider this act of service a foreshadow of the cross, you realize that Jesus’ seemingly harsh words here in vs 8 come out of a deep concern for Peter and the other disciple’s acceptance of His later act on the cross.

Vs 15 – Again if you consider this act a foreshadow of the cross, the example to follow is not one simply of humility, but also one of self-sacrifice and laying down our lives for one another.

Vs 23 – “reclining next to him” should literally be translated “reclining in the bosom (or lap) of Jesus.” The Epistles of Pliny (the younger) refer to this as a place of high honor.

Vs 34 – Love as a commandment is an interesting thought. In the OT, their obedience to the commandments symbolized Israel’s relationship with God and marked them as a people who were set apart from the rest of the peoples. Love should be the mark that we carry setting us apart. It also symbolizes our relationship with God.

Da Vinci Code Lies

06-05-22Just thought I’d share some of the stuff I found and talked about at U-TURN.

Jesus was NOT married to Mary Magdalene.

Not even one of the 4 gospels makes any reference to this. And the interaction that you see between the two of them in John 20 – there’s not even a hint of this kind of relationship between them. Besides, the whole idea of Jesus being married doesn’t work ’cause we (the church) are the bride of Christ. We’re the ones He is going to be married to. When Jesus speaks of “going to prepare a place for us” it was a reference to a Jewish wedding custom where the groom would go and build an addition onto his fathers home where he and his bride would live. All this is to say Jesus is married to us – not Mary Magdalene. The idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene comes from some other books which are not included in our Bible. These books (The Gnostic Gospels) were written between 150ad and 400ad – long after the books we have in our Bibles. There is also no way of really knowing who wrote them. For example the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas couldn’t have been written by the disciple we know as Thomas simply because Thomas would have been dead by the time the book was written. The Gospels we have were all written Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – people who were eyewitnesses to the claims they were making.

The Council of Nicea was NOT the first time Jesus was considered to be God.

check back and I’ll finish this post later. . . . .