Shepherds for Christ

May 19, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Marty Norman –

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night”  (Luke 2:8).

Shepherds are amazing people. From biblical times to today, they are on guard as they watch over the sheep and baby lambs placed in their care. By day they feed the sheep, leading them to pastures for grazing. By night they guard the entrance to gated pens, protecting the sheep from wolves and predatory animals.

Shepherds have a distinct place in history. They were the first to whom God revealed the good news of the birth of his son. Standing in a brightly lit field, they stood in awe as the heavenly host descended, singing and praising God, proclaiming peace on earth, good will towards man.  Without hesitation, these simple men left the hills of Judea to see for themselves the miracle of the baby’s birth. They found him lying in a manager wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Today there are many types of shepherds–pastors, preachers, parents, grandparents, teachers and youth leaders.  They each have a role in the guarding of the flock. In God’s way, he uses the few to confound the many for he leads with precision those he has called to shepherd his sheep.

As grandmothers, we have our doctorate in shepherding. Not only does our age bless us with wisdom and longevity but our role in the family places us in a shepherd position. If we look closely at the Christmas story, the Word gives us the key to shepherding. For isn’t this how god made us—to feed our flocks by day and guard our flocks by night.

As grandmothers, we do this a number of ways–physically, spiritually and emotionally. Physically we provide necessities for their well-being, but we also give them fun things we didn’t provide for our own children because of lack of funds. Emotionally, we offer a place of safety and a heart of unconditional love; we see and have time to do the things that others don’t. Spiritually, we show Jesus to our grandkids when we sing songs or hymns of praise, sharing our joy in the Lord. At night we offer comfort and protection through our prayers. In our quiet times we speak and read the Word of the Lord over them, providing a canopy of covering.

But there is more to the Christmas story than just guarding the flock. Luke 2:17 tells us, ‘When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”  This is the heart of the story. First they saw, guarded, protected and watched; then they went and told.

As 21st century shepherds, are we doing the same, telling all that we see about Jesus?  Are the people who hear amazed at what we tell them?  If not, then we are not applying the Christmas story to today.

So our challenge this Christmas is to make a plan. Determine how you will you share the gospel that Jesus, the Messiah, has come. Who will you tell about the good news of the baby Jesus?

Prayer:   O God, I praise you that you sent your son, Emmanuel, the Messiah, to us on Christmas Eve. I praise you that you spoke to humble shepherds who were guarding their flocks by night. I thank you that they investigated, believed and went out to tell others.  I pray that you would do likewise with me. Use me this Christmas season to spread the good news of the birth of the Savior. Use me to amaze people with your story.

Thirty-three

May 1, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Heather Allen-

A few weeks ago our plumbing had a run of unfortunate events.

Early one morning I leaned in to the shower and realized it had not drained from the previous shower. I opened my mouth to groan but a verse came out instead. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV). I  swallowed a mouthful of irritation and croaked my thanks for indoor plumbing.

The next morning I woke to find that our hot water heater was not working properly. Thanks for indoor plumbing I mumbled through blue lips. I have to admit I have become an expectant wimp. Where is the thanksgiving for the other days that start with a hot shower, full belly, and the best cup of coffee in town?

Christ left Heaven for Earth and He did not even have a place to lay His head. He was looked down upon. He was called a drunkard and a glutton. But He knew who He was and why He had come. As I work my way through the book of Matthew and consider Christ’s words, I find a priority list slightly different than my own. Christ said that He only does what the Father instructs Him to do. He said give up your life if you want to find it. He says follow me. And when the day came to lay His life down in obedience, He did so.  He is God and He chose to walk among us for thirty-three years, poor and rejected.

I don’t think modern Christianity lines up well with Jesus’ instructions. Because there is a lie we tell ourselves, and it goes something like this: I deserve this. I deserve a nice house, a nice car, to do what I want, to watch what I want, to respond how I want. I deserve to be treated with kind respect and even preference.

I think we tend toward what is permissible rather than what is beneficial. And I wonder what this attitude has cost. If I pursued holiness like I pursue my comfort zone I would be a different person.

I long to be different.

I yearn to imitate a God who does the unexpected and never tries to woo us with a good reputation. We would have been drawn by power, looks and wealth.

He was born in a stable. He did not have anything that would cause us to desire him. He knows humanities tendency to be drawn by outward appearance and lovingly preferred us by coming in humble fashion.

He showed us what was important by the way He lived, and it was not reputation building, it was humble obedience.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8 NIV).

Philippians 2 goes on to say that the result of Christ’s humility was exaltation, a name above every name, and every knee bowing before
Him.

He laid His life down freely and He says we should do the same. May He enable us, through His great strength, to give up our lives to follow Him.

Right or Left at Oak Street?

April 22, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton

“Mrs. Thornton, we’re so sorry, but we can’t find Matthew.” The voice of my eleven-year-old son’s principal echoed through the earpiece.

The world slowed.

“What do you mean?”

“His teacher let him go to the restroom at eleven this morning.”

My gaze flew to the wall—two o’clock.

“The class went to lunch, and she thought he had returned and gone with them, so she didn’t notice he was missing until the end of the meal. We’ve searched the entire campus and can’t find him.”

I wanted to scream, And you’re just now calling me? But somewhere in the depths of my foggy brain, I knew this was a tough call to make, and screaming wouldn’t find Matthew.

“The police are on their way. You can meet them here at the office.”

Denial stupefied my mind. Stunned fear jumbled my thoughts. Matt had run away before (to the park down the street); surely he was voluntarily missing. A school employee had seen a kid walking down the road during her lunch hour. Thirty-five years of training in manners managed to squelch my desire to screech at her, Why in the world didn’t you stop him?!

Matt had been headed east. Our house was five miles northwest. He had a friend who lived seven miles east. We made frantic phone calls. No one had seen him. The police cruised the roads in both directions—no sign of him. They sent my husband home to wait in case he called or showed up. I stayed at the school office.

Time dragged. The police asked questions; I can’t remember what they were. I made phone calls. I prayed. I grasped at every straw-like possibility that would bring my son safely home.

And God blessed us beyond belief.

At five, Wes received a call. Matt had made it four miles to the freeway where he walked down the middle of the construction area and got in the car with a construction worker. Thankfully the man took Matt to Whataburger where they called us.

Matt had gotten fed up with school and decided to come home. Roads look different on foot and alone than when riding with Mom. Every time he came to a familiar street name, he chose the wrong way to turn. He never realized he was lost.

I assume since God is omniscient, He doesn’t have the fear of the unknown that we have as parents. But He is our Father, and I have to believe that he does suffer the agony of the known. He sees us making those wrong turns and knows the consequences we will have to suffer. He knows how lost we get even if we don’t.

He also knows our final destination. But then again, so do we, and still I agonize over the path my children may take to get there. Does God suffer when we don’t listen to His guidance? “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21 NIV).

Comment Prompt:  What incidents have reminded you that God feels our emotions with us?

Off-Kilter

April 11, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Jane Thornton –

Noise swirls around me. Paper rips. My niece shrieks in triumph. She got the present she knew she’d get; the slight doubt my brother managed to plant has been slain. A crack of laughter erupts from my son at the antics of his cousin. My other brother heaves an exaggerated sigh of contentment as he swallows his first morning taste of Mexican Cheese Fudge. My daughter gurgles over the baby. Muted carols fill any chance moment of silence.

In the midst of the chaos, I sit in an oasis of stillness.

The whole scene is off-kilter. Tears brim, threatening to expose me. My breath claws at my chest. I stare at the ceiling light, forcing the tears back where they belong.  Daddy is not here, but that’s not the main issue. We’ve managed three holidays without him.

My mother slants me a sweet smile of understanding, but her paper-crumpling speeds and takes on a slightly frantic jerkiness. Guilt swamps me. I know she can’t stand having her grown baby unhappy—and she’ll take on her own guilt over my feelings.

Our first Christmas as a blended family. Some traditions discarded, new traditions started. I know resenting any of it reeks of pettiness. I know my step-siblings are going through the same struggle in reverse. I can rest in the deep security of my mother’s love that overrides any jealousy. I know we celebrate Jesus’ birth—which broke all kinds of traditions.

But it still hurts. Unreasonably. Full of shallowness. Drenched in selfishness. My heart aches.

Seven years after this scene, the differentness has become easier. I love Johnny, my stepfather. He treasures my mother. He’s funny; he’s wise; he’s generous. I knew all that then, and I know it more thoroughly now.

Still, we all wrestle with accepting the ways of our new families. Somehow I have to learn that my way is not the only way. I have to believe that my way may not be the best way for everyone else. (I’m not convinced of this at all, so it’s scary to think what God may have to do to persuade me!)

Not to be sacrilegious, but . . . Sometimes I think the way God lets the world run has gone off-kilter, too.

Actually, I rationalize secular problems with the presence of evil and sin and people who don’t know better. But what about the church? If we all know and love Jesus, and we are all trying to please Him, why does it so often seem out of whack?

I know part of the answer is our humanity. But so many scriptures promise His ability to move us beyond the capacity of our flesh. So, my answer is mostly, “I don’t know.” I do know “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. . . But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27 NIV).

Recently, a friend shared her struggles with Christians acting un-Christlike. After years of ministry, disillusionment with the church is driving her to withdraw. I have been pondering what gives me assurance. I cling to the deep faith that I see that is making a difference and pray to understand the rest. And I sing the hymn that echoes Paul’s words to Timothy:  “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day (2 Timothy 1:12b KJV).

Comment Prompt:  How do you reconcile the way things ought to be with the way things are?

Free

April 2, 2020 by  
Filed under Christian Life, Family Focus

By Heather Allen –

Sometimes God’s words are a sweet, honey soothing balm. And other times, like tonight, they stick in my throat as I try to swallow them whole. I want a consecrated life but the dying process that leads me there, is truly killing me, my flesh at least.

My children have spent the day loved and are now tucked in blankets and prayer. I sit in the dim stillness of the midnight hour accompanied by a restless mind. I want to lay my head on the table and have a good cry, but the tears and the sleep are long in coming.

I have spent two weeks reading George Muller’s biography with my kids. And during these last two weeks there has been a financial decision my hubby and I have tried to make. Tried being the operative word. There seems to be an invisible fence hemming us in.  George Muller lived a fiscally amazing life, and he cared for thousands of orphans in the process. During his lifetime he had millions of dollars go through his hands. Yet he used the money for others, even when it was hard to buy food. The biography details how he read the Bible from cover to cover 300 times. And how he chose to be in need, giving away all excess, and waiting for God to fill the need. He was constant in prayer: asking, seeking and knocking.

I want to live like George Muller lived. He saw miracles every day. But tonight, with a mixture of frustration and fear I told God how hard it is to let go. The response back was “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” I grabbed my Bible and turned to this verse, not realizing it shows up in both the New and Old Testament.  And part of me, the part that is small and immature, wishes I had stuck with the Old Testament version. But I didn’t. I turned to Hebrews 13:5 also.

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (NIV).

Here’s the thing, I really just wanted a pat on the back and some sympathy tonight. Being content with what I have doesn’t sound so good, and what I envision buying sounds great. Yet even as I write this I am reminded that what is seen is temporal.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV).

Somewhere along the way I befriended a lie. I often trust in resources and choose what is seen. If I ever have the courage to live like George Muller I think it will feel like miles of rope being cut off of me: freedom.

See I know God does not withhold good things from me, but I live like He might. I know He loves me as a daughter and is actively pruning my life, yet sometime I live like an orphan.  I know that any no ultimately gives way to a greater yes, yet I long for the yes.

In the midst of all this, He is the God who actively rescues me from trying to be my own salvation. He sets me free.

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