Let’s say that I came to your home or to your church and told you that I had just seen hundreds of angels and not just seen them but I heard them talking to me, what would you think?
Let’s also suppose that you know some things about me that would cause you to question my credibility. I’m not typically known for being gentle and I’m very opinionated and because I’m not gentle all the time, my opinion comes across as criticism and I had just announced to you that I had seen the angels of God, what would you think?
Once more, say you know that there are some things in my life that you wholeheartedly disagree with; some choices that I’ve made in my life that you believe are less then wholesome, in fact, you consider them dirty. Still, I came to your part of town and told a whole bunch of people that would agree with you that I am not a man of integrity but I went on to tell you I’d just received a message from God about the Christ and that message came by some visible angelic messengers. Would you believe me?
What I’ve just asked you to consider has already happened and it’s recorded for us in Luke’s gospel account, chapter 2. Most of us are familiar with the story, but we’ve become so used to hearing it, that we don’t look at it as closely as we could.
The “Christmas Story”, as we call it, has become so mired down in tradition that few of us really pay it any mind from January to November. It’s become a Christmas ornament. It stays in the attic or basement until two weeks before the day when we are ready to take it down, wipe it off and plug it into our thinking.
Well, it’s the month of May and I would like to celebrate Christmas with you, right now. We can start by reading a few verses from the Christmas Story;
Luke 2:5-18, NKJV-
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night, and behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”
Two thousand years ago, people who raised sheep were thought of as being the bottom rung on the ladder of life. Not only were they inferior for city life, they were certainly not somebody one would turn to on spiritual matters. They were considered unclean. When it came to life among the population and matters of the church/synagogue, their credibility wasn’t an issue. They didn’t have any.
Few things have changed over the centuries. Nowadays people are saying, not with words necessarily, but by their actions, something like “Unless I trust the man I can see, I won’t trust the God in him that I can’t see.” Yet, we’ll insist that we trust the Lord.
I know of nothing more difficult or more “searching” than when I am called upon to trust the Lord inside of another human being. I tend to believe that, unless they are hard working, responsible and/or kind that I don’t have to listen to them. It’s been a plight I’ve learned to overcome. It’s not been an easy road. It fact, it has been impossible. But, had it have been possible, I would have done it on my own and the Lord wouldn’t have been necessary.
Just the other day, for no reason other than idle curiosity, I went to a web site that listed jobs for pastors. I was both amazed and saddened that there were so many “job” opportunities. I wasn’t amazed by the number of “jobs” and that’s not what saddened me. It’s that the place of pastor/shepherd/leader is now referred to as a “job.” I thought it was a “calling.”
The applicants were to respond to the ad, and in some cases they were asked to submit a resume. If their application appeared to be acceptable to that particular congregation, my guess is that they would be asked to come in for an interview. A good affirmation of what I’ve said previously that "until we trust the man we can see, we don’t have to trust the God we can’t see."
It’s on us to determine whether or not God can be trusted inside of this man or not. The resume and the interview are supposedly outward evidence of the real man inside. Then we are amazed when one of those applicants is arrested for molesting the children at our church! We really shouldn’t be. We asked for it when we didn’t seek the Lord concerning this man. We sought the man concerning the Lord.
Samuel made a similar mistake when he supposed that one of David’s brothers was the man God had chosen to be the ruler of His people. In his mind, he assumed that the outward appearance of one of those brothers qualified him for the role. God interrupted his thoughts, however, and Samuel was divinely directed to the one whom God had chosen. More than that, and in his defense, Samuel likely didn’t consider this to be a “job interview” and these men were applicants.
Now, I’ll admit that topics such as this one tend to become complex. It’s like we start out talking about a vine and it spreads out rather quickly and like a vine it does so easily, but by the time we have talked for a while, this topic has grown so far from the root that we can’t remember how it all began. I’ll try to keep it simple.
Here in our story we have a scene that warrants our close attention. The fact that it is in scripture should be proof enough of that.
Here is a group of men who were social outcasts and more than that, when it came to matters of the church, they had nothing about them, much less in them that caused the people to want them inside the city limits.
I spent nine years of my life raising sheep in the valleys of southern Oregon and I know all too well the stigma that comes with the life of a shepherd. As a young boy, it was a continual source of embarrassment and pain when I was among the city folk.
Sheep stink. Bottom line. If you spend any time at all with those wooly critters, you can’t go to school without the aroma of sheep all around you. An odorous halo, if you will. As if that isn’t bad enough, when you are that closely associated with sheep there is one other thing you will experience that will add to your social dilemma. If you are going to raise sheep then you’d better be ready to smell like manure. It comes with the territory.
Because they aren’t the thoroughbreds of the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, we think of sheep as worthless. Therefore, the people that raise sheep are just as worthless as the sheep themselves. I watched the Derby this year and when the winning horse, “Big Brown” was brought to the winners circle, I wasn’t surprised by not seeing a shepherd there, staff in hand, with two or three sheep by his side. Actually, I would have been shocked if I did.
The church behaves in pretty much the same way. We see ourselves as spectators at the Kentucky Derby of life. How many of us would choose a sheep judging contest over a horse race anyway? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
But here in our story we have some shepherds who’ve shown up at the stables and they didn’t come to see the horses, they came to see the lamb. They didn’t come to see the feeding trough; they came to see Him who lay there. They didn’t come because they wanted to place a bet on the race; they came though there was nothing in it for them. They came as stinking shepherds and they left as stinking shepherds, but…
…they had seen Him.
The only thing that had changed wasn’t what they had seen, but who. There wasn’t a single characteristic about them that had changed outwardly. They came as shepherds and they left as sheepish men. As far as their credibility goes, I’ll let the story speak for itself; “all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”
Though the “vine like” tendency of this topic has branched out some length, I’ll cut to the heart of the matter, the root of the vine. In fact, I’ll go as far as quoting the Vine Himself, Jesus Christ. It was He who said “I am the vine, you are the branches.” So, I know I’m on solid ground when I say these things, because I didn’t say them first, He did.
Jesus said, and still says; “My sheep hear my VOICE.” He did NOT say; “My sheep hear my WORD.”
As long as we continue to believe that God the Son no longer speaks to us in a way that we can hear Him, there will always be classified ads for pastoral jobs. As long as we falsely accept the lie that God does not really have a relationship with us, although we’ll proudly say that He does, then the interviewers for the “job of pastor” will have nothing but the outward credentials to rely on. It’s a subtle way of saying “I trust what I see in this man” rather than saying “I trust what I hear from this Man, the Son of Man, about this man.” It’s a lose/lose situation.
If this isn’t sufficient proof that we tend to trust ourselves more than we trust the Lord, then perhaps we need to consider the story of Balaam, the prophet; a man who had become known as a man through whom God spoke. His credibility with man was rock solid, but there came a day, and you know the story, when God had to talk to his servant through a donkey. How different this story would have been if Balaam had “interviewed” his donkey!
If God doesn’t speak to us the same way He has spoken to our brothers and sisters that have gone home, then we have no choice but to trust ourselves with the bible. If He doesn’t communicate to us in a way that we can hear then we need to quit lying to people by telling them that “God isn’t into religion, He’s into relationship.” We don’t believe what we say, but we’ll say it with a repulsive arrogance that grieves His heart.
“God isn’t into religion, He’s into relationship, but He never talks to me” Now, how ridiculous does that sound? Yeah, that’s what I said too. That’s like telling you that I’m married but I’ve never said a word to my wife. I only write her letters even though I live in the same house.
We’ve bought into the lie, one of many, that God doesn’t speak and we bury ourselves in a theological grave when we assume that men have to be “credible” before they can be listened to. If that were true, then tell me, why did the people marvel when they’d heard this message from those shepherds? I’ll tell you why.
He, who is the only credible one among us, confirmed the message in the hearts of those who heard it. It had nothing to do with those men who smelled like sheep.
The Lamb of God wasn’t interviewed on that day, He was worshipped. Those men didn’t trust what they knew about sheep, they came to Him who would tell them what He knows about sheep.
But, you need to seek Him about this article and hear Him for yourselves about whether or not all I am saying is true;
I don’t want you to think I am “pulling the wool over your eyes.”
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