The day after – the shepherds’ perspective

28 12 2011

For every holiday or major event there is the day after.  It is a time to catch your breath and reflect on how things went.  Life starts to go back to normal.  Decorations come down and we get back into our regular routines.  As I reflected on that, it made me pause and think about the shepherds from Luke 2.  They were taken completely by surprise.  It was not a holiday for them.  They were working the night shift like they normally did when suddenly an angel appeared and told them it was an incredibly special night.  The Messiah had arrived!  Then, there was a large group of angels praising God.  They went to where the angel told them to go and then told everyone they could about what happened.  (Luke 2:8-20)

If the shepherds had attended services at the temple, they would have known one day a Messiah would come.  They would have anticipated a renewed kingdom and images from the days of King Solomon would have been in their mind.  Roman occupation would soon be over.  What an exciting time.  Then, a year went by and no change.  Two years and life was still the same.  Ten, twenty years, nothing significant changed, life went on.  Finally, after thirty years the baby they had seen in the manger starting doing something.  However, the message he was sharing was far different than what they were expecting.  He wasn’t building an army or preparing to overthrow Rome.  After three years he was executed.  His follower’s started telling stories of him rising from the dead but that would have just sounded crazy.

I wonder if they doubted.  They had seen the angel and saw exactly what the angel told them they would see.  However, everything else pointed to this being some sort of mistake.  If they did see Jesus when he began his earthly ministry, then they may have understood.  Being shepherds would have meant they were looked down upon by most people.  Jesus always had a special place for people everyone else rejected.  That would have given them a special connection to Jesus.  I wonder if he told them it was good to see them again.  Even then I think it would have been hard to grasp what God was doing.

It is a great reminder for all of us.  We should enjoy and appreciate when we have experiences that show God’s work in our lives.  However, our hope rests in God and not in our experiences.  We can easily be caught in a trap of chasing after experiences.  We may believe that without experiences we have no hope or God has forgotten us.  That was not the case for the shepherds and it is not the case for us.

Will God give us experiences?  Absolutely.  The shepherds were given and incredible gift.  An ordinary night was turned extraordinary by a loving and giving God.  However, if I don’t have an experience it does not mean God is not working.  It just means God is working in a way I can’t see right now.  My hope rests firmly in God and not experiences.

This week I invite you to think back to a time you experienced God.  Thank him for that time.  Then, ask yourself the question; are you chasing after God or after another experience?  If in the honesty of your heart you admit that you are chasing after an experience ask God to forgive you and start looking for ways seek after God.

For some, either you have not had a powerful experience with God or it has been a long time and you are losing hope or doubting.  First, I am sorry.  I know it is a hard place to be.  Second, I would encourage you to take a bold step.  Thank God for the work he is doing that you cannot see.  Focus on your hope in God and not in experiences that will come and go.

It is possible the shepherds never had another amazing experience like that night for the rest of their lives.  However, at the same time they didn’t experience anything, God was doing something amazing.  His son was on earth preparing to face death to give us eternal hope.  Yeah, I think it is safe to say God was working.

Transformation in Forgiveness

8 12 2011

I just finished a great book called “As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda” by Catherine Claire Larson. It talks through the transformation happening in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. She tells stories of people who faced horrific circumstances and yet were able to overcome and offer forgiveness. A quote that leaped out at me was her description of a young man who had deep scar across his face. She said, “Emmanuel’s scar testifies to two realities. It is a witness to the human capacity for evil…. Yet his scar testifies to another truth: the stunning capacity of humans to heal from the unthinkable.”

One of the elements needed in healing is forgiveness. I did a bible study on the topic and became amazed by the power that comes from this simple yet in some cases incredibly difficult decision. While there are many great ways to talk about forgiveness, I am going to look at one aspect that I think we overlook; the power of forgiveness to bring true transformation.

By the very act of offering forgiveness I acknowledge sin happened. I am saying clearly I was harmed by what happened and gives me the opportunity to have an honest discussion about it. Reconciliation can begin when the person accepts my forgiveness. When they accept it, they are acknowledging they understand they hurt me. Forgiveness facilitates this honest discussion.

From there we are able to look at the root causes and truly talk about solutions. We are able to face the truth about the situation and can look at the whole picture. We can begin to look at taking a different path because the path we were on caused pain. The new path can bring peace.

When I choice not to forgive, I still acknowledge I have been hurt but the pain instead of the cause of the pain becomes the focus. Bitterness and anger seep in. I become distracted. I want revenge instead of righteousness. I miss out on dealing with the bigger picture. I become trapped and there is no transformation. There is no peace.

The second half of verse 10 from Psalm 85 says:
“Righteousness and peace kiss each other.”

In order for there to be true peace there must be righteousness. In order for there to be righteousness we must acknowledge and deal with the sin that is around us. That was part of the amazing transformation that was happening in Rwanda. They were not down playing the atrocities. Actually, they were having honest and real discussions about them. They were grasping the truth depth of the pain that was caused and they were looking at roads that could lead to real peace that touched the soul.

Too many times we will simply say “its okay” or “don’t worry about it.” Meanwhile we are hurt, angry and frustrated. There is no peace in the relationship. We either drift apart or separate. Injustice is allowed to win and we miss out on what God is offering us.

God gets it. God offers us forgiveness. When we accept it, we accept we have sinned and missed the mark. This opens the door for God to transform us. We are able to have honest conversations about what we have done and we can step back and look at the whole picture. God does not down play our sin. The cross stands as a huge reminder that God dealt with the ultimate consequence of sin. He extends righteousness to us transforming our lives and we have peace.

Do you need to extend forgiveness? I hope you will see that if you do, you will actually be giving yourself a chance to really face the situation and deal with it effectively.

Do you need to ask for forgiveness? I hope you will see that if you do, you will open yourself to the possibility of truly changing that area of your life by facing it honestly and directly.

In either case, righteousness and peace will be able to kiss and what a sweet kiss it will be.

God bless,

Good Model Great Reminder

1 12 2011

I like looking at models. They help you get a better understanding of whatever object they represent. Then when you see the real thing, you have a better appreciation of it. One of the classic tasks engineering students have to do is build a model of a bridge. It is small but they get to see the basic principles at work. Their small bridge is tested. If they missed something the only thing damaged is pride and some Popsicle sticks. If they got it right they can have a better understand of the bridge they will walk on when they go back to their dorm room.

The author of Hebrews tells us that the Old Testament tabernacle was a model of something much larger. As I was looking at one of the passages from Hebrews an insight leaped out to me that I wanted to pass along. I want us to look at the sacrificial system in the Old Testament and see if we can pull some larger truths out of that model.

If you study the sacrificial system, there were three principles that stood out to me.

1. The expectation was you only took the best to be your offering. It would be the first born from your flocks. It could not have any defects at all. It would be the first fruits from whatever you harvested. In other words, it would be costly.

2. This was not a private affair. You had to go to the temple. The priest had to be involved. You could not just go into your backyard and have a private ceremony. Your sacrifice would happen in the community.

3. The focus was on both the holiness of God and the holiness of the people. When you sinned against another person, you had to pay restitution but you also had to sacrifice to God because ultimately you sinned against God. It was a reminder your sin damaged your relationships with both God and others.

This system would have created a longing for God’s mercy. It would have created a hunger for an ultimate sacrifice that would take away sin once and for all.

The amazing thing was to reflect and see there is very practical application of the sacrificial system on our understanding of sin.

1. Sin is costly. It takes the best from us. When I am caught up in sin, I have to take my focus off good things. I become distracted. I become ineffective. My best energy is not available to encourage and support the people around me. I am lost in my own world. I don’t care about the needs of my wife; I only care about my own needs. I miss opportunities to connect with my kids because I am distracted. Friends around me who need help are left to face their issues alone because I have my own issues to deal with. Sin costs us.

2. Sin is a community affair. When I sin, it doesn’t just impact me. If I look at pornography all by myself even if I was single, there is still an impact. Women become objects instead of human. My desires and fantasies cloud my ability to honor anyone I am with. Private sins seep out and poison my relationships. Anger, bitterness, deceitfulness all become the way I manage my life. I start to assume the worst of the people around me because they must secretly be doing the same thing I am doing. Sin is never isolated. It hurts everyone.

3. Sin offends God. When I lose my temper and take it out on someone, I not only hurt that person. I hurt God. God is the one who manages anger. God leads me in way to properly express anger. When I am out of control, I am telling God he is an idiot and has no idea how to deal with the situation I am in. I sin against God. I not only need to apologize to the person, I need to seek God’s forgiveness as well.

Sin creates a longing for God’s mercy. It creates a hunger for an ultimate sacrifice that would take away sin once and for all.

The old covenant with the sacrificial system helped me understand my sin.

The new covenant established by Jesus Christ deals with my sin.

This is what the author of Hebrews was getting at. In chapter 10 he tells us:

“But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Verses 3 and 4)

“Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.’ He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Verses 9 and 10)

We can actually be holy.

Now my best really can be given to God.

Now I can look for opportunities to serve the people around me and really make a difference.

Now I can be in right relationship with God and you.

That longing for God’s mercy is fulfilled. That hunger for a sacrifice that can truly cover my sin is met.

It is an incredibly powerful truth. My life can be transformed into something amazing. This last Sunday we lit the first candle of Advent, it was the candle of hope. Because of this truth we can have hope.

Where are you at?

Are you trapped by some issue that is stopping you from being who you want to be? Are you seeing a sin in your life that is costing you and hurting both you and the people around you? Are you feeling convicted because you see that you have also sinned against God? I have some great news. Acknowledge the sacrifice Jesus made for you and talk with someone you trust about what that means.

If you were like me and humbled by the reminder of what Jesus has done for us and the hope we have, take some time to say thank you. I hope it continues to build your excitement as we prepare to celebrate what the Christmas season is truly about.

God bless,