To all the shepherds out there…

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“Every year it’s always the same…I always end up a shepherd.”- Shermy, from Charlie Brown Christmas

Luke 2:8-14

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

I feel bad for the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke sometimes.  Really.

Everyone prior to this…Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and even Joseph (better late than never!) get SOME indication that a thing extraordinary will happen in the near future with the birth of Mary’s son, Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the “great joy for all people.”

It is kind of sprung on the shepherds, though, isn’t it?

No WONDER they were terrified.

The birth of the Messiah is announced.  When did it happen, angels?

Today!  and He is over THERE!  And now we are going to light up the sky and sing like there is no tomorrow!

I wonder if the sheep even stuck around with all that going on.

And what was a shepherd, anyway?  Certainly not anyone high up in society.  I’ve heard of descriptions that call them “rag-tag and a bit grimy.”

Rag-tag and a bit grimy.  Sounds a bit like my ever wandering soul sometimes.

And to this rag-tag and grimy crew the very chorus of heaven shows up and points them to the Savior of the world.  “I bring you news that will cause great joy for all people.”

Not just the have-it-all-together crew.

The shepherds as well, who, just as the Wise Men did, followed a star to a manger and saw Jesus, the gift to us all.

It has been a while since I have posted, but that time has not been wasted.  I’m in recovery, my friends.  I’ve been led to a Christ-centered recovery group that takes on all manner of addictions and issues, those specifically shaped sins of ours that need the utter and complete mercy of God.  My recovery is going well, with of course a few stumbles on the way.  This recovery takes place amidst a growing family (the twins are due in a month!), a growing young boy, master classes in literary studies, and my own teaching responsibilities.  And each week as I sit with my group of Christian brothers, either in sadness or joy, the reminder is given to me that I am His work, that I have a role in this great Story He is telling.   I am learning to be myself, in Him.  Massively challenging at times, and at others a simple warm embracing of realization.  Like a shepherd, I am a bit rag-tag and grimy.  But the good Lord send Him in the form of babe to change the world.  And me.  And you.

May God bless each and every one of you this Christmas, now and every day.

Dwelling in Salvation

I heard an interesting term today.

“Morbid humility.”

I’m an avid follower of beautifulsilliness’s blog– if haven’t heard of her, for crying out loud get off this blog and go over there and recently she posted on her thoughts on a theologian named Tozer.  Never heard of him before, so ever the “I gotta know it” guy, I looked him up and found a series of audio files featuring his sermons from the 1950s and 1960s.  I linked onto one in particular which I felt might speak to my situation and it certainly did.  A.W. Tozer identified “morbid humility” as that characteristic which marks the penitent sinner who dwells in their unworthiness and does not make the effort with God to attend to the commandment given in Philippians 2:12-13:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Work it out.

We don’t earn salvation; it is a gift freely given.  But it is a gift meant to be used, to be explored, to be a healing force, a healing action in our lives.

Sometimes it’s not that I’m dwelling in sin, but I’m not dwelling in salvation.

When Jesus meets me at the bottom of my personal barrels

-I’ve substituted, once again,  perhaps, a vacuous, addictive pleasure or impulse for a truer connection to Christ or others-

Am I receiving His loving grace, His unconditional Love, His care and concern and desire to be with me despite my failings…

with Joy?

with recognition?

with relief at His immensity and furious Love for me?

or…

am I anticipating the next time I will screw up?

Am I dwelling in shame?  Remorse?  Guilt?

or doing the Shame+ Power thing, which comes up with the statement that “I’ll never do it again,” trying to use the power of my guilt to build some false sense of security against future attacks?

Been doing that for a while.

I’m so tired.

And I’m starting to realize how many blessings I have that I literally do not have the energy to enjoy or recognize because of that exhaustion.

yet before I start guilt-tripping myself over that

What’s it like to dwell in salvation?

I just took a deep breath.  Maybe it feels something like that.

But it is more.  It is the courage to work with God toward the reordering of my life.  To believe it possible and strive toward it.  Just to even see it.

For crying out loud, Zacchaeus climbed a tree, looking a fool in front of everyone, just to get a glimpse of Jesus.

He climbed a tree, Jesus saw, Jesus wanted to come into Zacchaeus’ house.

To dwell with him.

When Jesus said “I must stay at your house today,” I think Zacchaeus already knew salvation had come.

Zacchaeus acted on that.  He turned his whole life around, right then and there.  For him, it was making amends for financial misdeeds in the past.

What does dwelling in salvation look like for me?  What does the freedom Christ offers look like for me?

Pray I dwell on that a bit longer, and keep trusting in His will.

 

The Dreaded Inmost Place

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After a long session with my spiritual mentor, she wrapped up our conversation with a bit of advice.  “I think it would be a really great idea if you reflected on the fact that you are beloved of God, with every fault in your past, present, and future included.  That he knows you will stumble, but loves you and made you uniquely you for a reason.”

Suddenly I found I had a dozen books to read, numerous articles to read through, several facebook posts to peruse, and let me tell you…

those Youtube videos just don’t watch themselves, ya know.

I know many people who say that those of us who are Christian are delusional, ready to live a lie in order to assuage ourselves of the reality of the world.

How I wish, sometimes.  Really, how I wish.  It would mean my experience would be so much different.

The one where I am shoved up against my broken self and have to acknowledge my inner fears, worries, dreads, anxiety, and past.

The starting point of Christianity is acknowledging we are not the illusions we create about ourselves.  Good or bad.  All of it is stripped away.  Think of Eustace from Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Layers and layers of dragon skin peeled off.

Then he was real.

And…

Wait a minute.

Let me not turn this into a pious pick-me-up post.

There are times (like now) where I am just tired.  And the Gospels just make me say “Eh.”  I’m worn out.  And knowing how much I am loved is actually more of burden than anything else.  Trust and intimacy are Lothlorien and I’m in the Battle of Helm’s Deep.  Yeah, Gandalf may be coming, but I got fifty orcs in my face right now and my sword swing just isn’t cutting it.  (There, for you Lord of the Rings fans, and concluding with a bad pun to boot).

I have friends around the world right now who are traveling the world and experiencing marvelous things.  And I feel stuck.

How is this short-tempered, impatient, impulse driven, depressed self supposed to see himself as loved by the Lord?  Needed by God?  Asked to be part of the communion of saints?

So here’s a post asking for prayers, please.  Because I do believe, I do.  I cling desperately to that which Christ offers.  But sometimes I get tired of holding on, and don’t realize he’s been carrying me for the past forty miles.

“Just Say Okay.”

The week has been full of a ridiculous amount of blessings, and in true warped yellow lego fashion, God has to do a bit of prodding in order to provide assurance.

Because to receive a gift is in itself an act of trust.

Just as Zechariah questioned the angel about John the Baptist, and Mary marveled and wondered about Jesus, these great gifts from God often have a “Who, me?” aspect about them.

Especially if this gift might have some large amount of responsibility attached to it.

I envision this conversation between myself and God:

God: Just say okay.

Me: To what?

God: You’ll find out.

Me: What is it?

God: A blessing.

Me: Really?

God: Really.

Me: So what is it?

God: Just say okay.

Me: I don’t know…

God: Trust me.

Me: That’s hard for me.  You know that.

God:  I do know that.  But I love you.  I want to shower you with blessings.  I’m here for you.  All the time.  And I believe you can do this.

Me: Do what?

God:  Just say okay.

Me:  Well, urrrr,hhmmmm, uhhh..okay.

God:  Awesome.  Here are the results of your wife’s ultrasound.

Yes, my wife and I went in for her first (7 week) ultrasound to get the first glimpse of the baby developing.

And it turns out, everything is fine.

Both babies are doing well.

Yep.

Both.

Twins.

Me: AHHHHHHHH.

God: Like I said, I’m always here with you.

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Who Me Yup

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this?  I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” – Luke 1 v 18

So I am setting up camp in Luke for the next month as my daily devotions, which will, God willing, have some amount of order to it.  And I think an ongoing theme will be the question “Who, me?” and God answering “Yup.”

I have been urged, by various writers and pastors, to engage with the Word by putting myself in the Word.  “It can’t be abstract,” said one mentor, “For anyone, but especially for you.  You’re the one that needs all the senses engaged, you’re the one that wants it to move from your head to your heart.  It has to go to your gut.  So get in the Story.  That’s where God is calling you to be.  Put yourself in the place of those who saw and felt the gospel in the flesh.”

Me, as one of the crowd of 5000.

Me, sitting on the grass, listening to the Sermon on the Mount.

Me, as one of the disciples, called to make “fishers of men.”

Me, as a paralytic, healed.

Me, watching a mat lowered into a room.

Me, as a Pharisee, concerned about the Law and seeing miracles done on the Sabbath.

Me, watching the procession into Jerusalem, palms waving.

Me, watching another procession, to a place of Skulls.

Me, seeing an empty tomb.

Me, noticing the company in which He keeps.

Me, being gazed upon by Jesus, His hand extended.

Asking, bidding, calling.

Among those who ask, in disbelief, “Who, me?”

Who, me?  I’m an just old man.

or just a girl.  or just a boy.

or only shepherds, watching our flocks by night.

or only fishermen.

or a leper.

or a tax collector.

or just a middle management centurion.

or a widow.

or a cripple.

or a Samaritan.

This call, this miracle, this blessing, this gift couldn’t POSSIBLY be coming to me.

Yup.

I need to picture myself there.  Through His Word, I need to realize that His eye falls on me as well.  That’s the hardest part.

It’s easy for me to marvel at the conversion and healing of others.  I love hearing the stories.  They fill me with such joy and hope.  I marvel at the people they have become through Christ.  Their raw honesty and heart in revealing their stories.  I am surrounded at every side by the communion of saints.  In awe.

I stand back and exclaim, “Whoa, good stuff!”

I like standing back, truth be told.

I can be a very vicarious Christian.

Ever watch some sporting thing, like American Ninja or the Olympics or something, and after its over, it was almost like you worked out yourself?  I mean, you got so INTO it.

…as you sat on the couch eating something atrociously unhealthy.  Irony here, right?

God’s Word,  I have heard, is a Living Word.

He reaches out His hand.

He is calling me OUT.

He is not content that I remain “audience” anymore.

Especially when he wants to label me son, heir, chosen.

But He is meeting where I am.  So He’s starting me off with Zechariah.

Old man with an old wife.  Wanted a son, and it is granted.  Time ten in the blessing department.

The angel says: Not just a son, but great, filled with the Holy Spirit, with the power of Elijah, turning hearts back to God, making Israel ready.

And Zechariah?  He says, “You’re joking, right?”

Angel: “Okay, you’re in time out.  And yeah, it will.”

Okay, I paraphrased that last bit.  But that’s what it is essentially, right?

I am so like Zechariah.  Can’t immediately accept the Good Thing offered.  “How can I be sure?”

And the thing is, he can’t.  I can’t.  It comes down to that dreaded word: Trust.

I pray everyday for it.  Now all the more, for I feel myself ENTERING INTO IT.  At last.

Reaching out to the Hand that would take me to Himself, in Love.

“Who, me?”

“Yup.”

Thank you, Jesus.