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.

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John, who needed love the most

gospel of john

So I was talking to a friend today, a seminarian who I have no doubt will be a force for good in the world based on his love for Christ, his compassion toward people, and his understanding of the Scriptures.  It is this latter that we touched on today in conversation.  He has learned to read the Gospels in the original Hebrew and Greek, which absolutely staggers me.  He said some of the translations of Scripture  into other languages have not adequately conveyed what the author was trying to get at in the text.

For example, John, “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved” (John 20 v2).

“I originally took that as a very arrogant phrase,” my friend said, “Like, ‘Look at me, the favorite disciple.’  And then I read the Greek.  The actually Greek translation was less a statement of favoritism than one of need.  It’s more accurate to read it “the one who Jesus had to keep on loving because he needed to be close.”

Which means what?  I asked.

“John was probably the most broken.  He needed to lean on Jesus the most.  And Jesus knew that, and so did John.”

Whoa.

Oh, John, let me tell you: you have a brother in this warped yellow lego.  I’m right there with you.

Another friend once told me, “I envy your religious life, man [whatever that means].  I just don’t have that much faith.  Don’t know how you do it.”

How I do it?

I don’t know how it’s done.  I just know the reach.  I know the outstretched arm.  I know the lump-in-the-throat, I’m-ready-to-lose-it, help-me-please straining.

And I’ve felt another hand close around mine and pull me forward, out of impossible despair, anxiety, and stress.

Every morning.  Every hour.  Every moment.

He sends reminders to me.  Around every corner, in the light of every person’s eyes.

In His Word.  In the teachings of his followers.

In the cross I wear around my neck.

In my very need to reach.

Because I have a tendency to forget.

Every morning.  Every hour.  Every moment.

My face is cupped in His wonderful, assuring hands.  He looks on me with the deepest love.  He pulls me close.

He knows He needs to.

And so do I.

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.