Doubtful Faith

One of the hardest things about being a Christian is, for me, struggling with doubt. 

Other Christians tell you the cliches that seem to be bred into our Sunday School faith. “God has a plan,” “God never gives us more than we can handle,” “Everything happens for a reason.” In other words: how dare you be in doubt! If you believe in God, you can’t doubt! It’s un-Christian!

Non-believers who know you are a believer, jump on you. They make the doubt stronger and more uncomfortable because they are looking for a reason not to follow this “Jesus thing.” You are an example/ experiment that is being played out in real time in front of them. You are the reality star in their Survivor: Faith edition.  

I want to hazard a thought. 

I think doubt is good for a strong faith. 

It’s taken me a long time to come to this conclusion and feel comfortable enough to share it. 

Doubt can make my faith stronger.

Doubt comes in many flavors. 

Strangely though, when one believer hears that another believer is doubting, they seem to always think it means doubting in God. Like I doubt He truly exists. That soon I’m going to be one of those missing-link-believers-big-bang freaks they are afraid of who is killing God.

At least that’s what I feel like they think the few times I have voiced the burden of doubt on my shoulders.

I know people who have gone through this doubt. I understand it. You watch the horrible things happening in the world and possibly the own pain you are going through and wonder: Why? If you believed and loved well…why would a good God allow so much pain? 

So the doubt you struggle with, the doubt other believers don’t help you carry, wears you down. Some of you might tentatively cling to your beliefs, but maybe not necessarily your faith. You keep the good things of the ‘religion,’ by helping others and attempting to live well, but you don’t give credence to the heart changing soul saving aspects of the faith anymore. It hasn’t changed the world for the better, so if there is a God out there, He is no longer involved with His creation. 

Others throw the baby out with the bathwater. God is not real. He can’t be. A loving God would never allow this, so He doesn’t exist. You were brainwashed. 

I have never questioned if God was real since I placed my trust in Him. I also have never questioned His grace or love. That is not a burden I have been forced to struggle with yet, thankfully. I truly feel for those who have to. It is an extremely difficult burden to unload. 

God has always been very real to me. Things have happened to the good, that there was absolutely no way it would have happened by human hands. I have been greatly comforted in heartwrenching sorrow, by an unexplainable peace.

Instead, what my doubt is, is my worthiness. Its not necessarily my worthiness of God’s grace and Jesus’s sacrifice, though on rare dark nights of the soul I find myself wrestling with that question. 

Rather, I doubt my worthiness to be a part of God’s plan. 

I see myself as too insignificant to be a gear in His plan. I’ve always have had this weird vision of the Book of Life open in front of the throne at Judgment Day, turned to my name. There isn’t anything written under it. There is no accounting for what I’ve done or haven’t done. Simply my name, written in Christ’s blood. Proof that I loved Him, but no proof that I lived for Him. 

Some days that snapshot of a daydream haunts me. It fuels a discontentment in my present day environment that I struggle with. 

And I ask myself: What am I doing for God? 

>>I want to take a moment here and make myself abundantly clear: I believe that according to what the Bible has taught me, salvation is not based on my good works. There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn my salvation. It is a gift freely given by Christ when He took my punishment for my sins and died on the cross. The only thing required of me to receive that unearned blessing is to ask for it. Even if it is on my death bed, I still can ask for it. And I will receive it. Because its a gift waiting for me to unwrap it.<<

I am surrounded by some on-fire people with the vision of what God demands of them. They see a chunk of His plan so clearly that it seems that their mission field is so ripe that the fish are jumping in the boat and the fruit is falling from the trees. They have that brilliant passion that just drives them forward. 

I know that what I perceive isn’t always what is happening. I know that they all have their own fears and struggles. But my very human doubting mind wonders. 

Have I missed God’s call? 

But, then again, why would He want me when He has her? She gathers people without trying, she’s so energetic that people line up to help. 

I can’t do that. 

Did you know that Mother Teresa, a woman well known for her faithful service, had doubts? In 2007 a book came out with letters to her confessor that poured out the pain of doubt. 

It rocked the world in many ways. The media of course used it to show how fruitless faith in God was. If a woman as sacrificial as Mother Teresa wondered about a loving God, how can He be real? Some people even labeled her a Christian Atheist.

Supposedly, when she first reached out for comfort and guidance in her “dark night of the soul,” one priest urged her to keep quiet and confess her sins. He did nothing to help her understand her doubts or to strengthen her faith so those dark nights didn’t become dark years. He was fearful the impact it would have on other people’s faith.

Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony….Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?— Mother Teresa, Saint of Calcutta. Undated Letter, quoted in “Mother Teresa: Come be my light” (2007) 

How heartwrenching. If only this woman had someone to walk with her in her dark nights. To hold her faith until such a time as she was ready to carry it again. Not to condemn her for wrestling with her questions, but to love her until she could feel God’s love again.

Isn’t that what the Body of Christ is for? We are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep for those who weep (Romans 12:15).” Those who are doubting are weeping. Do not be Job’s friends who tell the man he must have sinned for everything that happened to him. It isn’t a sin to doubt. 

We live in a very broken sin-filled world. Bad things happen. Any believer who says they don’t question it has to be lying or hasn’t read their Bible.

We do such a great disservice to other believers when we don’t ask for prayer and guidance when we struggle.

Church has too often become a building where you come to show off your perfect mask of peace and contentment, rather than the raw honesty of broken tears and uncomfortable anger. There is an unspoken law that we must not make other people uncomfortable because then we can’t win their souls. So we peddle the Prosperity Gospel lie. “When you become a Christian everything become perfect. You no longer struggle, you no longer cry, and you always win.” If mature Christians can’t handle hard times of doubt and bad things happening, how can we expect brand new believers to?

And the first time a new believer stumbles, they beat themselves up. They are a failure. They either run from God, thinking they are unworthy, or they no longer advance of in a deeper relationship with other Christians and God. 

We will stumble. 

We all have our trip ups, our temptations, our trials. We will make mistakes. You are human. God knows that. 

If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, himself wondered if God could let the heavy burden pass from him, or voiced His concern of His Father forsaking him– HE UNDERSTANDS. (Matthew 26:39, 27:46)

God never created us to be mindless followers of Him. He wants a relationship between us. He knows that questions will come, arguments will happen, tears and laughter will be shared. He knows that we will have doubt. This world breeds it like cockroaches. 

He just asks us keep the communication channels open. 

We could totally be Jonah. And God will still use us. I think He’d prefer us to be willing though. 

Jonah questioned God’s justice. He questioned it so hard–because he knew God was just and forgiving– that Jonah ran! He tried to get away from God’s sight even though he knew it was impossible. He got swallowed by a large fish as a disciplinary action. The prophet finally went to Nineveh, dragging his feet. When he told the town about the judgment God was getting ready to mete out, it wasn’t with a passionate cry to listen. It was “God is going to kill you, so repent. Or not. I don’t care.” Then when God actually did forgive the people- like He said He would- Jonah basically said “Kill me now.” Then got another lesson from God.  

Jonah spoke to God and heard His voice. And still he doubted.

Abraham and Sarah, the very beginning of the faith of Israelites questioned God’s plan. They tried to make God’s promise work because they could simply not see how they were to have a child in their advanced years (Genesis). And Abraham is still considered a Hero of the Faith  (Hebrews 11). 

Peter denied knowing Christ three times– even when Jesus told His disciple that he was going to do so. And he lived with that regret even as he worked his mission. (Luke 22:54-62)

All the twelve men with Christ’s inner circle struggled with great doubt when they saw Jesus die. How can this man die? He says he’s the Son of God. How can he die? 

Thomas doubted so strongly the story of the Resurrection, that he said he wouldn’t believe until his fingers were within the wounds on Christ’s body. (John 20:24-25)

Doubt is real.

It isn’t a sin.

Jesus didn’t reprimand His disciples beyond telling them that He said this was going to happen.

Don’t let anyone shame you for your doubt. And don’t shame anyone for their’s. 

I urge you, as someone who doubts, to speak about it. Do what you need to do to move through your dark night of the soul. 

Pray. Get into nature and feel God’s power. Read the Scripture. Listen to music, read devotions. Find the stories of missionaries that speak to you. Find the prayer warriors in your church and ask them to pray. 

God gives us ways to work through those moments/ years of doubt. We just need to learn how to use them.

I doubt. My heart and mind go to battle and I doubt. I wonder how God can use me. But I still move forward.

Find a way to keep walking until your doubt doesn’t cling to you anymore. And help someone else when they start to doubt.

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Do not grieve (JAF Camp 2016)

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I just recently finished serving a week at Joni and Friends Southern Oregon Twin Rocks Family Retreat. This is my fourth year serving at this camp that caters to family with disabilities. These are families who fight for their loved ones so they can get proper medical treatment, education, and spiritual care.

These families travel across the nation to participate in four days of camp on the Oregon Coast, because there isn’t something like it where they live. While more Joni and Friends retreats are being set up, the need is so great that the demand overtaxes the supply. There are families who plan their whole year around these four days, that is how important it is to them.

This camp is a place where the campers can be kids, and families can focus on just loving each other rather than being on the defense against other people’s curiosity and advice. Here they are eagerly anticipated and accepted. They are not considered ‘other’ or ‘different,’ they are simply seen as someone to love.

Short-Term Missionaries (STMS) are volunteers who come and serve these families. They are all age ranges, from 10-80 at least, who are so eager to love on these campers that they save up all year to attend. This is not a camp where volunteers put in a few hours of work in the kitchen to have a free fun time. No, this is a place where STMS are paired with a single camper and their duty is to be their friend for the week. It’s a place where they are truly missionaries whose mission is to show these campers that they are deeply loved, exactly for who they are. We have STMS who do bake sales, garage sales, mow lawns, build birdhouses, and numerous other things, to raise money, because this retreat is that important to them. $450 is a lot of money for a 13 year old to raise, but they do! And now many of them are raising about that much money again, so they can serve in the next week of camp as well. The STMs love it just as much as the families do.

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All of our camp volunteers (STMS) Nearly a 100 kind spirited people giving of their time and money to serve

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Our whole family camp! Campers and STMS together

This year our camp verse could be found in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But, the verse is right in the middle of a sentence. What the actual sentence says is, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” 

Nehemiah is an amazing book full of God’s mercies and work. It’s about the Israelites getting to go back to the Promised Land, after being put into the chains of slavery due to their sinfulness. It’s about a pagan king who listened to the voice of God and allowed his cup-bearer to leave and build the walls of Jerusalem once again. It’s about the eagerness of the God’s people hearing the words of the Lord once more. It’s about the joy of finding God after years of silence (on the side of the people).

In this section of Scripture, we find the people hearing the Word of the Lord for the first time in years. They were weeping because they hadn’t heard it for so long. But, this was a time to celebrate. The Word was available once more. It was being read from early morning till midday. And the people stood to hear it.

Do not be grieved. Don’t be grieved that before you didn’t understand the Word. Do not be grieved over the past deeds, because now you have the way to make your slate clean. Do not be grieved.

It is a time to rejoice! To revel in what the Lord has done! He has done the unimaginable and it must be savored. He has brought the Israelite nation out of slavery and out of their sin and has brought them back to their forefathers’ Promised Land. The pagan king funded the rebuilding of Jerusalem! How amazing would it have been to be there, to walk back into that land that was your father’s and know that you could come home.

Nehemiah is telling these people who were weeping over the loss of time and of the Word, to not grieve, to rejoice, because that joy of the Lord is your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Rejoicing and reveling in the Lord gives you strength.

These families with disabilities know what it is like to grieve. Some days, it may feel like they can never find anything to rejoice, but then the joy of the Lord strengthens them. And this camp gives them that strength.

But, at the same time, these families know how to rejoice over the little things. Things that might seem inconsequential to us, but are major milestones for their loved one. And this camp helps them rejoice over them.

Joni and Friends Family Retreat is an experience like no other. It is hard to use words to describe it adequately, because there isn’t one thing similar to pull from to compare. It is often compared to Disney, as being the happiest place on Earth, because at camp, the campers can just be kids. No expectations to fit into any mold that one may insist on being the perfect one. No trying to remember the arbitrary rules of society so that one can be accepted. No acting a certain way so that you won’t be laughed at. No explaining why you do things differently than others, why you walk the way you do, or why you can’t speak.

These people at camp, they understand. They look at you, and see simply, you. You. The one God declares Beloved. You, who God created with great love. You, whose beauty can be seen as God intended, rather than as a mark against the plastic perfection of society. You, whose talents are marveled at, whether you can sing or draw, or throw a ball, or take your first walks on screen. You, you are celebrated for being you.

Here your ticks are accepted. Here sounds that are voiced are cheered. Here you can run because its just so much, and we will run with you, rather than force you to stop. Here your mask can be left at home, and the real you can be let out to enjoy the world as it was meant to be. Here people rush to meet you. Here hesitation and fear have no place as you are loved. Here people will share their food and their space. Here the need for quiet is understood, but so is noise, and what a joyful noise to the Lord we make together! Here miracles happen on a regular basis, voices are found, friendships are made, love is given. Here, angels tread and God blesses those he calls his.

God’s love for you is your strength. He knew you when he placed you in that womb. He knew your life would be difficult, but he knew he wanted you. You were not a mistake. He rejoices in you, every minute of every day. He knows you and loves you just as you are. He gave you spiritual gifts to bless this world, don’t let anyone get between you and worshiping your Father. Share your gifts!

I know a camp where we are eagerly awaiting to celebrate them…

I highly recommend Joni Eareckson Tada’s biography if you have never heard about this ministry. Joni- An Unforgettable Story

http://www.joniandfriends.org/store/product/joni-unforgettable-story-discount/

You can also follow her radio/video series, many of which can be found here:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/

For more information about Family Retreat, please see:  http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/

For more information about volunteering at a Family retreat, please see:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/

My shoulders are tired

Last night, I watched “Moms’ Night Out,” and I highly recommend it. I understand this woman! I won’t give it away, because you HAVE to watch it. Suffice to say though is that there are three women who are beyond stressed out with their families. One in particular just can’t get a hold of life anymore and either needs to take a night off or is going to mentally break. Fun and hilarity ensue.

Now, while I am not a mother obviously, I am on that stress precipice where I will either explode leaving emotional debris everywhere or where I will cause equal damage by throwing up my hands and literally walking away.

But, right now, I am stress paralyzed. I totally concur with the movie–it’s a real thing.

I’m not getting respite on any of my three fronts. I can’t run to church to escape the tensions at home and work. I can’t hide at home on my days off to recover from work and gear up for church. And work is no longer a happy experience where I can focus on something to take my mind off of church and home.

And before you give me the supposedly sage advice of finding a new church or job– that is not going to fix anything. The idea of running away from the blessings God has given me, is not hardwired into my DNA. The opposite is. I care too much for the people involved to just leave when things get rough.

Running away– while a nice thought when your jaw aches from biting down on the harsh words that want to spill forth–never solves anything.

I think there is enough broken relationships in this world to prove that.

I am a fixer. I am a counselor. I am a listener. I am a caregiver. These are aspects of my core personality. I can’t change who I am. It is not in me to say, “I can’t handle any more, so don’t tell me anything else!”

I have been so consumed by the stress, that I, who process things by writing, haven’t written anything in many weeks. Which, let me tell you, adds more stress because what in the world am I stressing about?! I don’t know, because I can’t write it out. Argh!!

I always like to say that I don’t worry. Worrying will not change the aspects of the future you are concerned about. Staying up late at night chewing on your fingernails won’t change how much that doctor’s bill will be. Nor will it affect the flight that a loved one will be on as if your worry will be the cushion that will keep that plane from crashing.

Nah, I don’t worry. I stress! Totally different in my book.

I don’t care if Webster’s Dictionary says worry is a synonym of stress. You can’t believe everything that is written okay?

Webster’s says that stress as a noun means: “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” While worry means “give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.”

Sure, I dwell sometimes. But, everything that is concerning me, isn’t even about me! It’s about people I love and am worried concerned about. How can I be there in the moment for them? How can I encourage them? How can I represent God’s love in the tension? How is it going to affect the community, family, client?

I’m not trying to control the world. I’m not even trying to change my little sphere of influence.  I just want answers to be given so people aren’t waiting for the next shoe to drop. So I don’t feel as if I have the weight of these people’s fear crushing my back.

My shoulders are tired from the burden I carry.

The unknown is scary. We do not know how to ready ourselves for the hidden threat. We don’t know if we need the shield or the first aid kit, if we need knives or bullets. We don’t know how to protect each other from the masked intruder who is right outside our peripheral vision. That dark entity that could possibly be holding a sharp knife that is ready to rip our lives apart. We’re in a constant state of readiness, waiting for the attack. Sometimes it happens and we can expel the adrenaline. Other times, we are in the fight/flight response with nothing to do. But be ready. Be alert. Be exhausted…

Sometimes, I feel as if I gather other people’s worries, fear, concerns, hurt, anger, as an attempt to get them through the problem. As if I am trying to protect them from that sick twisted emotional bomb by holding it for them. As if I want to throw myself on that grenade in a brave Steve Rogers act, so others have a chance to live. As if sacrificing my peace of mind will keep someone else sane.

I must think highly of myself.

We, or maybe I should just say, I, get this convoluted idea that if I work my butt off, I can protect people from…well, from life. I can keep my friends from finding out that their beloved parent has cancer. I can keep my parents from worrying about their financial existence. I can keep my grandparents healthy. I can keep my brother and his wife safe in Texas from the floods. I can keep gossipers from harming my church family with their vicious vitriol. I can keep my client safe from her anxiety. I can keep my community working together for the betterment.

(Humm, psst! Ranelle, you know, that sounds a lot like worry.
Nah…it’s stress, you don’t know what you are talking about. Shhh!)

I don’t have a messiah complex. I don’t have a hero complex. I don’t have a martyr complex. Believe me, I don’t aspire to be Captain Steven Hiller who takes on the alien ship with a nuke strapped to my ship.

I KNOW that the weight of the world is NOT on my shoulders. That the happiness of those around me is not my job. I KNOW this. But, still. I have a desire to make sure that if I can, I can keep them from shedding tears. I can keep the anger at bay.

I need to live in the Swedish Proverb, “Not my monkey, not my circus.” Or in BBC’s Sherlock’s Detective Inspector Lestrade’s motto: “Not my division!”

Don’t borrow trouble. You can be concerned, but ultimately, it’s not your job to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the world. God gave me the heart to love people, but he has also told me that I have a limit on how much I can take on. It is all in God’s hands. I need to stop taking my loved ones out of his hands, thinking I can do a better job at caring for them. Because, obviously I can’t.

Where I grow weary and exhausted with the strain, God never does. Where I get exasperated and frustrated by their actions that just cause more pain, God just continues to love. When I don’t know the whole story, God does and still loves. Where I make mistakes in the course of helping, God never does. God is the only perfect caregiver there is. I am a pale broken imitation. But, still God uses me.

So, today is a day of self-health. I am dating myself. I am finally writing, here in the park on a pretty day. I am taking a breath. I had my comfort food, aka Tacos. (Yumm) And I will go watch a movie. I will go home to play with my dogs and be snubbed by my cats. I will simply be. Try to keep from mind the problems that Sunday will bring, that Tuesday will hold. I will unclench my jaw and rotate my neck. I will shed this weight and put it where it belongs, in God’s hands.

When I start to take it back, I will say a prayer instead.

I will learn how not to worry the problem like a nasty mosquito bite. Checking in on it every few minutes to see if it still itches. I will pay attention to God’s police line, where it says “DO NOT ENTER” and in smaller words “IT’S NOT FOR YOU TO WORRY” (I mean…stress.) I won’t sneak under the tape and rob my loved ones back into my hands.

If you pray for me…I would be eternally grateful.

“No one can pray and worry at the same time.”– Max Lucado

Matthew 11:28-30– “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Luke 12:25- “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

His Language is Spoken

I had the extreme pleasure of attending Joni and Friends’ first ever Global Access Conference recently. I am still struggling to put into words what I learned and to describe who I had the joy of breaking bread with while learning about their ministries around the world.

One thing that I can say with all certainty though, is that God is moving mightily among these people whom the world considers worthless.

I’ll be talking about it for some time, I am sure. I’d love for you to enter into the conversation with me, and perhaps it might get you thinking about your own church as well as your own interactions with those who are disabled.

The first topic we will look at can be found in the panel session I attended called “Learning to Speak Their Language,” which was about how to interact with children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

One of the attendees asked a question that is a common query in churches: “What if they can’t understand the Gospel?”

The panelist, who was a mother of a child who is non-verbal due to autism, said something that really struck me: “The Holy Spirit knows his (her son’s) language.

What a beautiful response! It totally wiped away any scientific, theological, or medical argumentation regarding what is human knowledge (in my mind). It brings it down to the most basic of beliefs–God knows my heart.

Theologically, we have decided that there has to be a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ where we verbally recognize that we are sinners and are in need of God’s forgiveness. In many instances, when someone says they want to believe, we tell them that they need to repeat after me, an example of such a pray can be found on The Blessing House website: Lord Jesus, I come before you and confess that I am a sinner. Jesus, I believe that you died on the cross, and that Almighty God raised you from the dead. I pray that you forgive me of my sin, and be my Lord and Savior. In the name of Christ Jesus I pray this request. Amen

This is based off of verses such as Romans 10:9 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We must first acknowledge that while having a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ is not wrong, it is not Scripture based. The only prayer that we are told to pray is the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. There is no description of the prayer that we are supposed to say in repentance and acceptance of God’s forgiveness. There are no motions that we are supposed to do, no assigned person we are to do it in front of, nothing we are told to do but: Confess and believe.

Now, it does say to confess with your mouth. This can be a hang up for those who are non-verbal due to illness, or some form of disability. But, it doesn’t have to be! Because, as God tells Moses, who is attempting to get out of the duty that God has set before him, in Exodus 4: The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

To echo the mother at the panel session: God made you and he knows your language. He knows your language even if you have never spoken before. No matter the language your heart speaks, God created it: Sign Language, Hiri Motu, Korean, Inuktitut, and English or the roughly 6,500 other languages in the world. The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is proof of that:  There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Why do we put human limitations on what God can do? Why do we make rituals take the place of the beauty of God’s encompassing love and forgiveness?

God knows your heart.

No matter your ability, God knows you. If you in your heart of hearts ask for God’s love and forgiveness, I cannot deny your salvation because you didn’t come to him the way I did. It is not my place to deny your salvation. It is my job to love you as a beloved child of God, and teach you the Gospel so you can know him.

Even if I believe that you might not understand, I am still tasked with the duty to tell you of God’s love and sacrifice to save YOU. Because when you stand before God’s throne, you will be judged just as I will, no matter the limitations that humans have placed on you. God will judge your heart to see if you have been made clean by his Son’s blood.

The Holy Spirit speaks your language and it is love.

So, to all the Christian believers out there, I urge you: Do not hesitate to reach out and speak God’s love to all you meet. No matter if you think they might or might not understand, God knows their heart. Do your duty with love and tell of God’s sacrificial love.

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Why the Shepherds matter

Last week, I mentioned the Wise Men and why I believe they are important to the Nativity narrative.

Today, I thought we would discuss why the shepherds were at the birth of the Savior.
Once more, God did not call the priests or the kings to come to the manger. Rather, he called the lowly shepherds to come and give witness to the miracle of the Messiah.

Why is that?

Shepherds were the working men of that generation.
They travelled far and wide to find good feeding grounds for their large flocks.
They held no sway in the courts, no power in the synagogues.
They may have had only minimal education, as they would not have been near a synagogue, or destined to teach in one.
Depending on how many were in charge of their flocks, many of them might have gone weeks without seeing another shepherd, as they roamed.
They were protectors of their flocks. They watched for predators and thieves, they sought out the lost sheep and worked hard to find them fresh water.
These men would have been alert to any change in their flock.
They would not allow one to straggle away, but would seek them out to bring them back into the midst of the flock. If one faltered due to an illness, they would have brought them up to their own shoulders and carried them to the place of that night’s rest.
These men would have known the exact number of sheep in their flock and would have accounted for each, numerous times during the day.

Why did God choose these men to be a the birth of His Son?

We do not know who the shepherds were that bowed before the Child. We do not know how many they numbered as that is not mentioned either.

But, we do know that an angel of the Lord came before them. “Do not be afraid, for I bring good news that will cause great joy for all the people. For this day a Savior is born in the town of David; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:9-12)”

Then they saw and heard the great host singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those whom his favor rests. (v14)”

And these shepherds went. I highly doubt they would have left their flocks alone, as that was their livelihood. And really, could you imagine these men who just heard from angels, doing Rock/Paper/Scissors over who got left behind to tend the flock while the rest went to see the Savior? I don’t think so.

I always like to imagine that these flocks flooded the small town of Bethlehem as these shepherds hurried to the manger. It was at night, and the awe inspiring vision of angels descending from heaven was still burned into their retinas, perhaps the sheep led the shepherds that night to their Savior. Or it could just be my writer’s imagination filling in the details.

I honestly do not know what happened to the sheep, what the shepherds did when they saw the Child, or what happened to them after. They did tell the story after laying eyes on the family, and people were amazed. But, what did they say? The common man would have believed them, but would have the teachers and priests?

The shepherds matter because they would have been culturally insignificant.

God does this numerous times throughout the Bible. He chooses people with no power in the courts or temples; women, slaves, Gentiles, and ultimately the low man on the working totem pole, to tell of his glory. He chooses these people to see glorious wonders; angels, the Risen Lord, prophecies and visions. They are chosen because God is not just the God of the rich or those who are proud, rather He is for the forgotten and belittled.

God sees no distinction in the worth of a human. That is why the shepherds matter to the Nativity narrative.

He chose the common man to be the first to lay eyes upon the King of the Jews. No gifts to give, but perhaps the warmth of a flock of sheep that huddled together. They would have stepped in to that humble room, in their rough clothing, without having been primped for the encounter. They would have come as they were.

The shepherds matter because they are representations of the Jewish common man who sought the promised Messiah.

The shepherds matter because they are representation of the common person who seeks.

The average person is not going to come to God with gold and knowledge, rather with humbleness and brokenness and with nothing to give.

The Wise Men showed that God was for every human- not just the Jewish– no matter their background.

The shepherds show that even if you are not rich or learned, God is for you as well.

There was no mistake in who God chose to be there. Each person had a distinct purpose.

Those who He denied entrance to is also very important. Riches will not save you, nor will knowing all the ‘right’ answers.

The priests thought they knew when the Messiah would come and that He would come as a warrior to save them from slavery.

The Messiah came as a baby instead nestled in hay, to preach peace and forgiveness.

The priests refused to see the truth because it didn’t follow their specifications, much like churches today.

The Wise Men saw the truth in the star and believed in the prophecy. When they laid eyes on the Baby Jesus, they saw God.

King Herod was not chosen because he refused to give over power. He was fearful of any ‘King of the Jews’ rising and winning the power from him. That is why he ordered the slaughter of hundreds of little boys, echoing the Pharaoh of Egypt’s play when Moses was born. It was not done in power, but rather fear, much like the governments of today.

The shepherds did not have power, nor did they seek it, rather they saw truth in a humble home. They saw a baby in a manger who would one day be king. They saw God choosing to lay in hay, rather than sit on a throne.

They saw power wrapped in humbleness.

There is a purpose for why God chose certain people to come see His Son. For Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Savior of all Mankind is a shepherd as well. He seeks out all who are lost, gathering them to him. He protects them from evil and finds safe places for them to rest. When they are weary and can no longer walk on their own, Jesus puts them on his shoulders and carries them. He knows each by name and knows when one wanders away. He seeks each out.

Is it any wonder that God chose shepherds to be the first to see His Son?

Luke 2: 8-20
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[c]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 ButMary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Why the Wise Men matter

I’ve always been curious about the men who came from the East. 
Imagine the scene: an undisclosed number of men studying numerous prophecies, the stars, and other occurrences in nature.They collected bits of information for years. They knew about the prophecies of the Jewish people, even though they weren’t Jewish themselves.
Suddenly, a star is noticed to be rising in the West, and they set out to follow it.
While we don’t know exactly how far in the East they were, church tradition says that at least one might have been a black, probably Ethiopian, and perhaps another being of Asian decent. How the tradition started I’m unsure, though later on the name of Magi became known as followers of the 6th century Zoroaster, which seemed to reach beyond Persia to Asia.
Either way the important thing here is, the Magi were not Jewish. 
These men followed the prophecies of a people they were not of. 
These men traveled a long distance to bow down in front of a king they would not be ruled by. 
These men were Gentiles. 
They were not only the first Gentiles to lay eyes on the King of the Jews, but also the Savior of the world. 
The Magi were men who were astronomers, fortunetellers, magicians, and seers. 
In the Jewish culture, those who practice star study, or anything related to magic, are seen as practitioners of evil, due to the very laws that God put down for them. 

Deuteronomy 18:10-11 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.

But, who are the very people God chooses to see the Savior of all mankind? The very people he warns his nation against.
That is why the Wise Men matter in the Nativity story.
According to Jewish culture these men should have been killed for practicing magic, instead they gave gifts to a baby who would grow up into a man who would be killed to forgive sins.
Their sins.
This is why the Wise Men matter.
These men would have traveled home to study the stars yet again, to wait for more of the prophecy to unfold. I wonder if they knew thirty three years later when Jesus was crucified. If they realized that the baby they saw in a humble home in Bethlehem, was the very one that was paraded though town being tortured and mocked.
These men though would have traveled back to their homeland, telling of the prophecy and the star. Of the virgin mother and the God-man child. They would have told of the truth seen in the stars and how they heard an angel speak to them.
What did they think when King Herod went after all the little boys? When Israel ran red with the blood of children, because of a king that feared being disposed?
Men who saw things in the stars, met the God who created them, born in the body of baby boy.
Men who practiced magic, saw miracles in a new star rising and angels warning them.
The Wise Men matter because they were the first Gentiles to see the Messiah.
The Wise Men matter because they were chosen to be in the presence of a God they do not know.
The Wise Men matter because they, rather than Jewish royalty or priests, saw the truth in a star, and followed it.
The Wise Men matter because they believed in the prophecy.
These men who came from the East have always fascinated me.
I hope you might look at them with some of that same fascination.
As a Gentile who is in love with the Savior, I’m thankful for their part in the Nativity story.
Merry Christmas!

If you would like to learn a little more about what the Myrrh, Frankincense, and Gold mean that the Magi brought to Baby Jesus, jump over to my friend’s blog where she recounts a fascinating sermon she heard: heidibay.wordpress.com 

Matthew 2 New International Version (NIV)

The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with giftsof gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.



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Because Satan lets me sleep

Why is it so hard to stay awake in church?

I can’t be the only one to think this. I can rule out boredom because even in the midst of a very intriguing sermon, I still find my eyes closing, my head nodding. I could say it’s because of the horrible back pain that makes it nearly impossible to sleep through the full night. That during the week, I can’t sleep as deeply because I’m at work, always having to be ready and aware of my client, so exhaustion just catches up with me when I’m sitting for an hour and a half in a warm room.

I could say that.

But really? There is a better answer, a truer answer, an answer that shines the light on the depth of the question.

It’s rather simple in its complexity.

Why do I fall asleep in church so easily? Because Satan lets me sleep.

What better way for Satan to disconnect me from learning more about God?
What better way for the Scripture’s truth not to sink into my mind?
What better way for me to not be a part of the Body of Christ’s worship?

Satan lets me sleep at the most horrible time because he doesn’t want me to learn about God. He doesn’t want me to bring God’s wisdom into both my mind and my heart. He doesn’t want me to remember what I learned, to pay attention and really dig into what I know.

Now, I’m not a demon alarmist. I do not think a demon is behind EVERY SINGLE one of my bad actions.

As I have said more than once: I can walk myself all the way into Hell by myself without the help of any demon, but walking to the gates of Heaven, I need the blood of Christ, the helping hand of the Holy Spirit, and an abundance of faith and grace to get to the Father’s side.

I don’t think that I need Satan tempting me at every turn or influencing me.

I am perfectly capable in all my broken sinful ways to cause problems all on my own. But, I do think that if there something directly hindering our ability to learn about God and the Gospels, Satan probably has his fingers in it.

He doesn’t want us to learn ways of keeping him out of our heads. He wants to continue to be the prince of lies in our conscience, and how do you do that? Extinguish the light that the truth brings.

Satan and his minions work overtime on Sundays, I’m sure.

Don’t you find it odd that Sunday is the day you sleep past your alarm?
Sunday is the day that is the ONLY day to get anything done?
Why waste two hours at church when you can be running errands or cleaning your house for the following week?
In a family situation, Sundays seem rift with tensions, parents yelling at each other for not getting something done. Children cranky because their sibling hit them, dogs getting lose, cats making messes. Parties seem to be held on Sunday and you have to travel.

THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING ON SUNDAY!

It’s a choice.

A choice to get up in the morning, a choice to put a smile on your face, a choice to pray instead of yell. A choice to stay awake during the sermon and not get annoyed with the children who are squirming in the pew in front of you.

We have the free will to allow Satan to control us and keep us from hearing the message or the free will to listen.

I’m choosing to do some more prayer before I go in to the service, and hopefully with more discipline I can stay awake this Sunday.

Just because Satan lets me sleep, doesn’t mean I have to.