Just a Baby…

Nexus,hand,human,body

(FreeImages.com/Miguel Ugalde)

The background of our story:

Dusty roads; the rhythmic marching of a legion of soldiers; the poor and the infirmed begging for food; the elaborate robes and prayers of the temple priests; the bleating and smells of many animals; the jostle and bustle of the crowds; tables overflowing with dates, fish, and breads in the market-place; the din of merchants and customers haggling over prices; the wail of a child looking for its mother in the press of the crowd…

It was a world where you grew up fast, married young, worked hard, feared the oppressive rule of the Romans and the religious leaders, and feared the numerous diseases that could easily bring death to any family member at any time.

Some chose to “get ahead” by taking advantage of others.  The “some” encompassed government leaders and even religious leaders.  You never really knew who was trustworthy and who wasn’t.  Fear has a way of turning loyalty and integrity away.

There were those who lived in great wealth with a large collection of slaves to do their every bidding.  They lived in virtual palaces with elaborate tapestries, colorful gardens, elegant fountains, exquisite paintings, and magnificent, marble statues surrounding them.

On the other hand, many of the people lived in abject poverty: barefoot, dressed in rags, begging or stealing for food, exposed to deadly diseases, and the looming threat of barbarous punishment if caught trying to survive.

To live under the rule of the Romans was to live with the constant companion of fear and oppression.  (The Romans were known for their cruelty to anyone who was not a Roman citizen.)

It was into this dark and fearful world that we begin our story…

It had been 400 years since a prophetic word had been given by God’s people.  The heavens appeared to be silent.

The people longed and waited for a deliverer.  They imagined someone like David who would easily take on the Roman “giant” and would defeat him without them even needing to lift a sword.

Perhaps, their deliverer would be like Solomon and would bring prosperity and peace to their nation again.

Perhaps, their deliverer would be like Moses and would lead them to some new and promised land where they could live free of oppression.

Their dreams were always of a powerful and strong leader — someone they could rally behind, fight with, who would avenge the oppressed, who would set captives free, who would heal the sick, who would bring peace, who would bring hope.

Our story picks up outside a small town.

The glow of fires dotted the hillsides, while the sound of an occasional sheep bleating, the low hum of shepherds talking, and the lonesome notes of a pipe echoed across the valley.  Here on the hills, for a few blessed hours, there was quiet and an appearance of peace.

Suddenly, the curtain of heaven was pealed back!  Onto the stage of heaven and back-lit by the glimmer of stars and the glow of campfires appeared a shimmering host of celestial beings!

Heaven seemed to be making up for 400 silent years with an entire choir of angels, proclaiming two, coinciding messages: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will to men!”

Heaven chose to appear to simple shepherds, on a hillside, to proclaim the news and details of their deliver’s birth.

The shepherds immediately left the hillsides and traveled into the small town to find the baby, spreading the news to those who cared to hear.

The shepherds found a simple carpenter, a young woman, and a newborn baby lying in a crude manger on a pile of straw.   Unperturbed by the surroundings, the shepherds immediately fell down to worship this baby.

Perhaps, it was this very reason they were chosen to be the first to welcome the Son of God…

…the shepherds immediately fell down to worship…

The world had no idea yet what a momentous occasion this was!  Many wouldn’t have believed, even if told the circumstances, that a baby could be their promised and long-anticipated deliverer.

How could a simple baby — sleeping for hours and completely dependent on its parents for nourishment and care — be the deliverer?  Why would God present His Son in such a humble form as a baby?

Perhaps, it’s because of what babies represent and how we are to respond to them…  Babies require us to stop, to hold them, and to speak gently.  When you hold a baby, your soul learns to pause and to listen.

The very way the Son of God came also speaks volumes of Who He is.  He didn’t come with a show of power and wealth.  He came with humility and in simple surroundings, telling an entire world that God is aware of even the smallest and most vulnerable.  He sees those that others overlook.  

God was sending a simple but powerful message that peace doesn’t come in outward displays.  God was saying that peace and good will come from Him.  He was saying that His glory can be both celestial and majestic but also wrapped in simple purity.  He was also showing that what He treasures most of all is our hearts and that is from where true worship comes.

The name the Baby was given was Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  God was saying that most of all, He wants to dwell with us.  In the last book of the Bible, God once again reaffirms His purpose for us:

Revelation 21:3

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

As you follow His life, you discover that the way Jesus or Immanuel lived tells its own story.  He was kind where others were cruel.  He was generous where others were greedy.  He was humble where others were haughty.  He was loving where others were lewd.  He was forgiving where others were fuming.  He was scrupulous where others were scheming.

He healed the sick — no matter their station in life.  He raised the dead to life!  He fed the hungry.  He rebuked the arrogancy of the religious leaders.  He played with children.  He helped fishermen.  He recognized and honored women.  He associated with people from all walks of life.  He was never worried about His reputation; He only did what was right every. single. time.

He spoke in parables and said, “He that has ears to hear, let Him hear.”  Jesus was saying that it doesn’t require a degree in religion, science, mathematics, or psychology to understand the most important truths.  He was saying that He loves to bring His greatest truths and greatest insights to those who are willing and humble enough to listen, to be led by Him, and to yield their hearts to Him.

He brought the truest form of peace to those who were willing to receive and see it.  He brought the bread of eternal life to the hungry.  He brought freedom from the greatest oppressors ever: sin, fear, greed, and shame.  He set the captives free because no one can enchain a soul that God has set free!

Ultimately, Jesus’ earthly life ended on a humble and crude note.  He died the death of a common criminal with shame, cruelty, and anguish His final moments.  Once again, the heavens responded by closing the curtain (darkness fell) and the earth itself shook (earthquake).  Jesus’ final words were “It is finished!”  He had finished what He came to do.  His death and resurrection were the means for our entrance into Heaven, eternal life, and fellowship with God.  He removed the sting and hopelessness of death at His death.

Heaven’s curtain is waiting to be lifted to reveal the final act on the stage of life.  It will be an act that will once and for all eliminate evil and will reveal the Son of God in all His glory to us.  At that time, “Every knee will bow…”

This Christmas, let’s take time to reflect, to ponder, and to worship… a simple baby but also a magnificent Savior!

What Shepherds Teach Us In Regards To Godly Leadership

(http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=415255&searchId=23ec24c5ca59000543cee1dfded0cbea&npos=12)

It’s interesting that God compares elders, pastors, and Israel’s kings to “shepherds.”

When God gives an analogy or tells a story, it is always to give insight into truths He wants us to understand.

The relationship between sheep and a shepherd gives incredible insight into what the role should be between those in oversight towards those under them.  (This can apply to elders/pastors in a church towards the laity, parents towards children, employers towards employees, etc…)

Shepherds have several responsibilities when it comes to their sheep:

  • Shepherds are to provide protection from the enemies of the fold.
  • Shepherds are to provide food for the sheep.
  • Shepherds are to provide water for the sheep.
  • Shepherds are to attend to any sick or injured sheep.

Shepherds also have a role when it comes to their relationship with their sheep:

  • Shepherds guide the sheep.
  • Shepherds teach the sheep to trust and follow them.
  • Shepherds teach their sheep to be attentive to their voice.
  • Shepherds work to keep their sheep calm.

Sheep have a wide variety of enemies that the shepherd needs to protect against.  The enemies vary according to geographic location and habitat.  The enemies can be wild animals, cattle thieves, poisonous weeds, uneven ground, and sometimes the sheep themselves — their own propensity to be easily scared and to bolt, thus resulting in injury.

Shepherds have various means of protecting their sheep.  In Biblical times and in nomadic regions, the shepherd’s staff or rod was used to protect the sheep, along with the sling-shot.  The rod was used to ward off wild animals or thieves.  The rod was never used against the sheep themselves. 

There have been some stories circulating about a shepherd braking the legs of a naughty sheep until it learned to obey.  I began to research to see if there was any substantiation to such a claim.  I read a number of articles on this topic and concluded that the claim of a shepherd braking a sheep’s legs is inaccurate.

Instead, we have the Biblical story of a shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to look for his lost sheep, the disobedient sheep who wandered off.  We see the shepherd returning to the fold and rejoicing over his sheep that was found.  Nowhere, do we continue to read that the shepherd then broke the legs of that naughty sheep to teach the sheep not to wander again.

Shepherds were to provide food and fresh water for their sheep.  This meant foraging for new pastures and good stream beds.  Sometimes, this meant keeping them at home in the winter and feeding the sheep themselves.  A good shepherd always looked after the physical and practical needs of his sheep.  If the old streams dried up or the old pastures became barren, it was time to move on to new fertile pastures.  The shepherd was concerned about keeping the food and water sources fresh and abundant for the sheep.

Shepherds also cared for the sick and injured sheep.  They knew the basics of “first aid” care for their sheep.  They knew what brought healing, and healing was always the goal.  The goal of the shepherd was always to restore the sick or injured back into full health.  This meant gentle and appropriate care.

Shepherds played a personal role in the lives of their sheep.  By spending hours near the sheep, the sheep learned to recognize the voice of their shepherd.  This was imperative for protection, provision, security, and guidance. Often shepherds would calm their sheep by playing musical instruments, such as the harp or a flute-like instrument.  Shepherds understood that a gentle and calm manner would protect the sheep against anxiety and help the sheep to follow the shepherd’s guidance more clearly.

The hours the shepherd spent with his sheep taught them to be attentive to his voice and to trust that voice to guide, protect, and provide.  Sheep that recognized their shepherd were much calmer and therefore able to be attentive to guidance.

Shepherds gained the trust of the sheep in order to effectively guide them. 

It’s interesting that God didn’t compare leaders to cowboys.  Cowboys tend to yell and crack a whip against the ground to scare cattle into submission.

Shepherds though never use force against the sheep.  They use a calm manner to guide their sheep.

Guidance implies personally demonstrating how something is to be done or leading towards help.

guidance

[gahyd-ns]
noun

1.

the act or function of guiding; leadership; direction.

2.

advice or counseling, especially that provided for students choosing a course of study or preparing for a vocation.

3.

supervised care or assistance, especially therapeutic help in the treatment of minor emotional disturbances.

4.

something that guides.

5.

the process by which the flight of a missile or rocket may be altered in speed and direction in response to controls situated either wholly in the projectile or partly at a base.
(From dictionary.com)

Guidance implies an ongoing relationship that assists the one being guided towards a positive direction.  It involves an investment of time, energy, and resources.

Guidance doesn’t just lead away from danger but purposely leads towards something positive (e.g., growth, provision, protection).

In the Bible, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd.  Just reading what it means to be a shepherd gives us beautiful insight into how God sees us and how He interacts with us.

The voice of the enemy may try to convince us otherwise, but God’s voice is always that which lovingly steers us in a direction that is always for our good.  I love the following quotes, taken from Discerning the Voice of God, by Priscilla Shirer:

The Lord reminded me that He seeks to deliver me from the guilt of the past and move me toward the promise of the future.  His goal is never to bring guilt and condemnation by continually reminding me of my past sins but rather to bring healing and obedience by turning my attention to my future with Him.

God doesn’t point out our sin to condemn us.  God’s purpose in lovingly revealing our sin is to encourage us to acknowledge it and confess it so He can change us.  The Enemy’s voice brings condemnation.  You will know condemnation because it will bring guilt and offer no clear means of relief.  The Holy Spirit brings conviction that always provides a road map out and away from a specific sin.  His aim is always to lovingly steer us in the direction of His grace.

He doesn’t bring up the past without pointing to the future.

He doesn’t want me to come to Him out of guilt but out of love and affection.  I know He is wooing me when I feel a soothing conviction that tenderly urges me to respond to His love.

In First Corinthians 13, we are told that we can endure immense suffering through persecution, we can be able to preach a doctrinally-correct and eloquent sermon, we can do all kinds of good works for others, but if we don’t have love, it means nothing.  Ouch!

Jesus tells us that love is the key, love is the foundation, love is the “vehicle”  or “instrument” that helps to communicate God’s message accurately to His people.  What is that message?  It’s a message of grace. 

Jesus didn’t come to condemn sinners.  He came to save sinners.

Our sanctification is an ongoing work of redemption in our lives.  It’s not a work of condemnation and fearful subservience to a narcissistic god.  Our God is Love Himself.  What He does is always, always for our good.  Even His voice of conviction is only so that we can be brought into a more abundant life of true freedom.

I leave you with the following descriptions of love:

  • Love pursues.
  • Love heals.
  • Love empowers.
  • Love motivates the recipient towards personal growth
  • Love inspires.
  • Love frees.
  • Love endures.
  • Love thinks the best, regardless of past or present failures.
  • Love believes.
  • Love forgives.