A Flock Of Shepherds
The Christmas story is worth telling and retelling every year because it reminds us of what is really important, and that’s celebrating the birth of Jesus the Christ who is God and the Savior of the world. The night Jesus was born the entire world was naively carrying on as usual. The Shepherds were still out tending their flocks late that night. There was nothing special going on and nothing out of the ordinary to see.
Back when Jesus was born, shepherds were common. It wasn’t a noble job, but a needed one. It’s kind of like the guys who suck the poo out of the Biffy’s. There was nothing really special or noteworthy about shepherds yet God chose to reveal the birth of the Savior to a group of shepherds in the middle of that first night. Their lives left the mundane and experienced the meaningful.
The angel told them that the Savior had been born in the town of Bethlehem. First century Bethlehem wasn’t some thriving metropolis like Jerusalem was, it was more like a St. Boni size town without a Quick Trip and Holiday. As soon as the angels left the shepherds looked at each other with a bewildered look on their faces then said:
“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” Luke 2:15-16
The Christ child had been born and the shepherds saw him with their own two eyes. Their average night took on new meaning, and a very new focus. What’s interesting is that the shepherds became spokesmen for Jesus. What is even more miraculous is that people believed them! Shepherds were not allowed to give testimony in court yet when they shared the good news of the coming of the messiah Jesus people believed them.
Why would God reveal the birth of His one and only son to a flock of shepherds? There are three reasons why. First, God appeared to the shepherds first revealing you are not too broken to be blessed. He revealed the good news to average, rough around the edges people first.
If the shepherds were blessed by God and they rejoiced even though they were broken people what would stop God from blessing you? Even though their human reputation was far from perfect God came near to them. In the same way God comes near to you. The message of “do not be afraid” is for you and me. God came close enough to be touched and held by broken people like the shepherds and still comes close to broken people like us.
Second, you are not too far from God to run to Jesus. After the shepherds heard the good news they ran to Jesus. They didn’t wait for a better time, they didn’t wait for the dawn of a new day, they didn’t say “aw that’s in town, we’re social outcasts in the sticks, that’s too far away and we can’t leave the sheep." They just ran to Jesus. In the same way, we need to run to Jesus.
The third reason why God revealed his son to the shepherds was to let us know that you don’t have to be perfect to praise God and point people to Jesus. The Gospel story empowers outcasts to be outspoken. There are a lot of people who live right next door to you and I that have no idea what the true meaning of Christmas is. You need to tell them about Jesus. You need to tell the gospel story in your life with your words and actions.
Or perhaps you don’t make much of the religious side of Christmas because you know you are far from perfect. It doesn’t matter, what matters is that you tell the world about Jesus and let them know that you are a work in progress. Don’t let the message of Christmas be crowded out by jingle bells and holiday treats. Today I encourage you to refocus on the true meaning of Christmas; that the Savior has come and his name is Jesus.
Surviving the Storm
We have already talked about moving from deceit to truth, from anger to peace, from guilt to grace, from shame to redemption, and from loss to life. Today I want to encourage you to keep healing, keep pressing ahead. I’m going to share five storm survival strategies that will help you move from wounded to wonderful. We all face storms in life. When the storm comes you need to know that God will be with you and He will help you survive it.
Acts 27 tells us that Paul had been imprisoned and the authorities put him on a ship to Rome. They encountered a storm so bad that Paul thought he was going to die on the open sea. But then he refocused his mind on God and moved from fear to peace.
Verse 25 is where we find our first storm survival strategy: trust God in the storm. God reassured Paul that he was going to get through. Paul is even able to encourage others in the middle of the storm because he completely trusted God. In the same way, we need to turn to God when the storms roll in.
The storm raged on relentlessly for 14 days. Some crew members sensed they were getting closer to land so they decided to lower the life boat and try to make a run for shore. Paul warned them that this was a bad idea.
Here is the second strategy: stay on the ship. You will not get to where God wants you to go unless you buckle down. Keep trusting God. Stay on the ship. You cannot have one foot in your faith and one foot somewhere else. You cannot sort of trust God and sort of not trust God. Completely abandon yourself to God.
You might think your lifeboat is divorce, Jim Beam or Jack Daniels. It might be drugs, anger, isolation or suicide. But don’t give up on God. Don’t give up on yourself or settle for a back up plan. Stay on the ship, trust God to get you through.
The third strategy is, take care of yourself. Right in the middle of the storm, Paul tells his shipmates to take a break and eat something. The waves were still raging, the wind was still blowing, and somehow they managed to care for themselves.
They trusted God, stayed on the ship, rested up, and then Paul praised God. This is the fourth storm survival strategy, praise God in the storm.
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:11
You need a ‘yet’ praise when you are in the storm.
I am having financial problems yet I praise the Lord.
I am having relational problems yet I praise the Lord.
I am having health problems yet I praise you.
I am hurting, yet I praise you.
You need a “yet” praise when you’re in a storm.
Can you get to the yet part of your prayer?
As soon as it looked like they would make it to shore, they struck a sand bar where the ship blew apart from the wind and the waves. “43 But the centurion… ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.” Acts 27:43-44
The final storm survival strategy is this: Believe that God can take you to your destination on broken pieces. Maybe you are so focused on what you have lost, you cannot see what God has left you. We want the whole ship to arrive safely in the port, yet God may only provide you with the pieces you need.
You can move from wounded to wonderful if you hold onto the people God provides you, the hope God gives you. Hold on to a piece of that dream and let it develop into something new. Let’s praise God for what he is going to do and for what he has already done. Hold on to what’s left and praise God.
Moving From Loss to Life
How many of you love roller coasters? The reality is that roller coasters can be a lot of fun to ride at the amusement park, but if your life is a roller coaster it bites. When it comes from moving from wounded to wonderful we need to go deep into the valley today and talk about loss so that we can start to climb back to a better life.
Most people have learned how to mask loss, cloak it, hide it, and set it aside, but most of us have never let the love of Christ into that specific area of loss in our life so we remain wounded in that area. If you don’t learn how to process the loss you will never make progress into God’s preferred future for you because you are stuck.
When I was 13 my grandfather died. Several of my best friends have moved out of state in the past few years and I miss them. I have mourned hopes and dreams which never happened or died before they developed. What sadness, grief, sorrow and loss have you experienced? There is an emotional cost to every loss and every loss is different. If we never acknowledge the pain we feel we will become numb to life itself. I want to help you move from loss to life, from sorrow to joy, from hurt to healing. There are four insights that will help us move through a painful loss so that we can experience a fulfilling present.
First, give yourself permission to grieve. In John 11, Mary and Martha grieved Lazarus’s death. In the same way, we need to give ourselves permission to grieve loss. The reality is that if you never allow yourself to embrace your own feelings then you will never be able to experience true connection with God and others. Love, joy, grief, and sadness are all God-given emotions.
Second, surrender the sadness to Jesus. When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany after Lazarus had died, Mary was crushed and said “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Even in her pain, she was transparent with Jesus. After Martha tells Jesus that she wished he had come earlier she affirms her faith that Jesus is the Messiah in the middle of her misery.
Third, allow the Holy Spirit to work in the wound. Jesus, Martha, Mary, and others all went to Lazarus’s tomb to grieve. Seeing his friends Mary and Martha broken hearted broke Jesus heart too. He wept. In the same way, we need to spend time with Jesus grieving and allow the Holy Spirit to work in the wound. Spend time in prayer talking to God about it. Read the Psalms and if a passage sticks out to you, pause and talk to God about it because it is reminding me of something that still hurts. We can also let God work in the wound by being transparent with a few good friends. Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you. Find a friend who will just be present with you and cry with you. Don’t forget to take care of yourself physically Stay fit, eat right, get enough sleep. These habits will help you mentally as you grieve.
Once you give yourself permission to grieve, surrender the sadness to Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in the wound you will be ready to move into the fourth insight: embrace the hope that God has for you. Many people witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead and put their faith and trust in Jesus. In the same way if you believe, God will resurrect your hope even after a significant loss.
Ultimately, we have hope for our present circumstances and the promise and assurance of the resurrection. But until that day comes, we cling onto the hope God gives us here and now. With God’s help you can move from wounded to wonderful. That you can move from loss to life, from death to healing, from sadness to joy. I believe that God is present in your life right now. My friends, will you let God’s grace fill the gaps in your life suffered from loss? You can experience new life after painful loss by faith and the grace of God.