Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Log Drawer

The Log Drawer
Luke 2:8-11
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

It was the Christmas of 1996. And the plan was to visit my mom a couple of days after Christmas at her apartment to celebrate with her. I spoke with her on Christmas Day and she was so excited for us to come over, eat dinner, open gifts, and share the joy of Christmas together. And that year, my sister Kammi was going to be able to be with us as well. We were going to all be together for the first time in several years. Our excitement was tangible.

As we got to that Sunday, I remember the anticipation we all felt as we drove to Anoka to visit my mom at her apartment.
And I remember the look on her face as we all showed up. I remember the tears which welled up in her eyes as we all walked through her door. I remember the smile of purest joy on her face…and the enduring, unyielding hug with which she enveloped me. She didn’t want to let go.

She finally loosened her arms, stepped back, wiped the tears from her eyes, and invited me in.
She was proud to have us all together in her home. And we were all blessed to be there. After coming in, she offered us something to drink, and she had some Christmas cookies out for us. As I bit into the first one, childhood memories flooded back of sitting at the table with bowls of home-made different colored butter frosting…containers of green and red sugar crystals, red-hots, sprinkles, and those little silver balls to use as stars for the tops of Christmas tree cookies. You know, the ones on which you almost chipped your teeth as a kid. Awesome memories helping to create a beautiful day.

After eating some of mom’s home-cooked food, and sharing time together, she was too excited to wait any longer and ushered us into the living room where we gathered around the Christmas tree.
Now, this Christmas, I was just glad to get together with her. Financially, she had not been doing that well and so I honestly didn’t expect extravagant gifts. But she was quick to prove me wrong. It turns out she had been saving up so she could lavish her children and grandchildren with gifts to show her love. Cool toys for the children, jewelry, perfume, and clothes for my sister and my wife, and all the while, I sat there in awe of this grand event my mother had created for us, her family.

As I sat there on her floor admiring the extravagance with which my mother was blessing her family, I began to get excited about the gift I saw under the tree for me.
I began to speculate about nice cologne, or new clothes, or…

Nothing could prepare me for what was to come next.
My mom—the woman who carried me for nine months in her womb—the woman who raised me and knew me better than probably anyone—this woman handed me my gift as the grand finale to her gift-giving extravaganza. And I was excited, because the gift she passed me seemed to have some serious weight to it.

I shredded the paper and what to my wondering eyes should appear?

With bewilderment, I said as I pulled the item from its wrapping:
“Oh…it’s a log.”

But then I turned it around and noticed something more.
“Oh…and it has a drawer in it.”

My adoring mother had gotten me a log drawer.

And she looked at me with deep meaning in her eyes and said, “When I saw it, I thought of you.”

And I couldn’t help but almost wonder aloud, “And what, exactly, was it you thought of me?”

A log drawer.

I thanked my mother profusely for this enigmatic gift.
And we concluded our holiday festivities together.

The log drawer became a sort of white elephant gift between us and our friends.
When friends would come and stay, we would sneak the log drawer into their luggage before they left. And upon arriving home, we would receive a phone call asking, “Why do we have a log drawer?” And so it would go, the log drawer passing back and forth.

Years later, the log drawer disappeared from my possession.
I’m not exactly certain of its ultimate destination. Maybe it’s still in someone’s old suitcase in the back of a closet somewhere. But I know that I don’t have the log drawer any longer.

After mom passed away right before Christmas in 2001, I would remember the log drawer each Christmas.
And in fact, when I think of the many gifts I’d like to receive, there is no other gift I’d rather have than that puzzling piece of timber with the drawer carved into it.

The log drawer.
I never understood it, or the reason my mom got it for me. But I can’t help but think that in some way, I need it.

Sometimes, the gifts we understand the least, are the ones we need the most.

And so it is, the extravagant gift of salvation comes to us, not in ways we could expect…nor in ways we can understand…but in a smelly sheep cave.

A smelly sheep cave.
The birthplace of grace.

When I think of the log drawer and of my mother, I know I have no understanding of the gift—but I know the giver.
And I know how much she loved me.

And so it is when I allow myself each Christmas to go to the manger scene…the smelly sheep cave…I can’t help but wonder what the Almighty was thinking when He chose not to ride in with a flaming chariot to save us all, but rather, chose to be born as a diaper-wearing infant in a smelly sheep cave.

Sometimes, the gifts we understand the least, are the ones we need the most.

I can’t understand the gift of grace itself…let alone the way in which it came to us. But I know I need it.

I know that on a daily basis, I fall short.
I fall short of my expectations for myself. I fall short of my family’s expectations for me. I fall short at work, and at home, and with my friends. I miss the mark all the time. And yet, God shows up in the smelliness of my life, and loves on me extravagantly, justifying me with His grace…clothing me in His righteousness.

I don’t understand it.
But I know I need it.

As you gather with friends or family this Christmas, and as you tear into the wrapping paper, I’m sure you will find at least one present under the tree which you don’t fully understand.

But remember this:
you know the giver. You know their love for you.

And so while you may not understand the gift…you know the heart of the giver.

And so it is with grace…with Jesus.
We can’t possibly fully understand the gift…but we know the heart of the Giver.

Sometimes, dear friend, the gifts we understand the least, are the ones we need the most.

By the way, if you happen to find the log drawer, would you mind returning it? I promise it won’t end up in your luggage ever again. It will be put in a place where I can see it everyday and be reminded of the heart of the one who gave it to me…and through hers, the Father’s as well.

Merry Christmas to you, dear friend!

©2010 Shane Burton

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hey Cuz!

Luke 1: 36-42
“Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you bear.!”

Here is a small fact which gets glossed over each Advent. God's holy angel, Gabriel, comes to give news to Mary and while talking to her about the Savior she will bear, makes reference to her relative Elizabeth. How closely related were they? Luke doesn't say. But, what is important to mention, is that Mary and Elizabeth are indeed related.

At some level, that makes Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph—Son of God—the cousin of John, later known as The Baptist.

I got to thinking, what were family reunions like? What was it like for these two cousins? John knew who Jesus was...who He would be come...who He is still today. It says that “He leaped in her womb.” When Mary, mother of the Savior walked into the room, John, as an unborn baby recognized Mary. He knew her role. He knew the Child she would bear.

He knew.

So as children growing up, John knew. When Mary and Elizabeth would get together, John knew. I imagine that childhood games weren't all that much fun. “Red rover, red rover, send...God right over.” Or can you imagine hide and go seek? Jesus wouldn't even have to go look. I'll bet they never had to play eeny-meany-miny-moe to choose who would be “it.” All they had to do was ask Jesus. And do you think Jesus and John ever went to a fishing hole together? There's John, sitting on the shore, waiting for even a nibble, while Jesus strolls right out on the water, reaches down, and grabs a fish. Could they play guessing games? Did they ever try and count the stars...and succeed? Did John know one day he would get beheaded? If he didn't know, did Jesus tell him? Did Zechariah and Joseph ever have to forego sparing the rod in the aftermath of any Baptist & Savior shenanigans? Did John and Jesus ever wrestle? Did Jesus win fairly, or did He sometimes let John win to be a good sport? Did Elizabeth and Mary ever look at the Baptist and the Savior and say, “Boys will be boys?” Was John ever envious of Jesus? Did they ever fight? Did John ever give God a bloody nose? And then think to himself, “Oops.” Were they ever grounded? What dreams did they dream...what stories did they tell? Did Jesus ever use His divinity to get out of taking a bath? When they stomped in puddles, did John notice the far away look in Jesus' eye as He remembered creating the oceans and seas? Did He ever Lord His Lordship over His mom and dad, “You just wait until you get home to your Father!”

Years later, when John is in the water, baptizing people and here comes Jesus, it's no wonder John recognizes Jesus. No wonder at all. They're family. John knew Jesus...from the time he was a babe. And so as John's disciples were repenting and getting baptized, he immediately knew the Man walking down the shore towards them.

Do you see the twinkle in Jesus' eyes? Our mischievous Savior, walks right up into the midst of this mottled crowd and says, “Hey cuz” with a knowing nod of His head. Oh, the words aren't there in the Bible...I've looked. But can't you just hear something like that coming from the Savior? Something so unheard of coming from the Almighty and yet, that's the kind of startling Savior we have. He shows up when we least expect it, but most need it.

Did you catch that last phrase?

Here it is it slowly, and over and over again if you need to. Let it really sink in.

Jesus shows up when we least expect it, but most need it.

He showed up when I was depressed. He showed up when I was broke. He showed up when I got divorced. He showed up when I denied Him. He showed up for my greatest celebrations...and my greatest failures.

He even showed up when I didn't.

Jesus shows up when we least expect it, but most need it.

That's what Advent is all about...God showing up when we least expect Him, but most need Him. God diving into human history to swim through the mire of our ways and rescue us in spite of ourselves.

I have a question for you today, my friend: are you expecting Him? Because you know what? He's going to show up...whether you think you need Him or not. Another question, why do you need Him right now? Are you down and out? Are you unemployed? Have you abandoned your family, or they you? Are you underpaid and overdrawn? Are your credit cards already maxed out with false perceptions of “need?” Do you crave a drink or a toke more than you do your next breath...more than you do your Savior? Have empty wanton promises of lust left you wanting and waiting for something more?

What are you waiting for isn't the right question. No, the question is: “Who are you waiting for?” Who? Friend, there's only one name I can think of that will do. Don't look now, is that Him walking towards you? He strolls right up to you, nods His head, and with a twinkle in His eyes He says, “He cuz!”

It's true, isn't it? We're all a part of His family.

God showing up when we least expect it, but most need it to remind us of the family to which we belong.

You nod your head...unsure at first...hoping, no, praying Jesus is the answer to all of your questions...the healing to your greatest look at Him. Everyone has stopped and observes. What will happen next? It's up to you. Do you recognize yourself as part of God's family, or do you keep on walking, ignoring this Man...this God who has disrupted your self-pity, your searching, and your solicitation.

You have tried all your own answers...and failed.

Jesus shows up when we least expect it, but most need it.

Hesitantly, a smile comes to your face. You find the boldness from somewhere to meet His fierce, tender gaze. You see the Man...and recognize the Savior. Your Savior.

As you stroll malls searching for you wait in long-lasting you ponder your predicaments and procurements...remember what you really need this Christmas...who you really need.

Jesus shows up when we least expect it, but most need it.

Be WILD For Christ!

Pastor Shane

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dignity Redefined

Matthew 1:18-19
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

In 1994, I began serving my first church. It was a United Methodist Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. I was young, inexperienced, and very excited…especially as we drew nearer and nearer to Christmas. I will never forget my first Christmas as a pastor and planning for the Christmas Eve worship service. You know the deal. Candlelight. Angels. Reading the Christmas story. And of course, singing Silent Night, raising your candles high, singing the sweet refrain, "Slee--eep in hea--ven-ly peace." Sigh.

Now, what was causing me a bit of consternation was the fact that a local group home of developmentally disabled adults attended the church. And they were there most of the time. And for the most part, they were very well behaved. Except for when it came to singing. They sang at the top of their lungs, and not particularly in tune. And most of the time, it was sweet. They didn't know any better. They didn't know that they should sing quietly, blending in with those around them so they wouldn't stick out. They were presenting a problem to me in my Christmas Eve planning. How could we possibly sing Silent Night in reverence and awe with the members of the group home yelling out the words? You see, I didn't want my Silent Night to be blemished by their awkward behavior. I didn't want to sacrifice my dignity, nor the dignity of the occasion.

And yet, what I failed to realize, is that my thoughts of their behavior, had already cost me my dignity altogether. For truly, what is more dignified: to be concerned with what all those around you are thinking and how you're behaving and whether or not everyone is in tune as you sing Joseph Mohr's famous Christmas hymn? OR, to lose yourself completely in worship, singing to your Savior at the top of your lungs?

Dignity redefined.

Here is a Christmas story over which we gloss each year when it comes time to read about the silent, holy night in that little town of Bethlehem where the world in solemn stillness lay: a teenage girl on the verge of being stoned to death. Silent night, holy night, huh? Mary, a young woman betrothed to Joseph was found to be pregnant…and Joseph knew he wasn't the father. And for her perceived actions, the punishment was clear: death by stoning. This is a death difficult to imagine any time, let alone in the midst of traversing malls to buy the perfect gifts for our loved ones. It is a death difficult to imagine, let alone in which to partake. Put down the wrapping paper for a moment and try to imagine instead bending down to pick up a fist-sized stone and then hefting it at a young pregnant woman.

A young woman, just barely past girlhood, her dignity shattered, as she thought of what her family and her husband-to-be would think of her. And yet, the angel was clear, wasn't he? "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” Luke 1:31 So, a virgin is suddenly with child…and it's not the child of her betrothed. This was not her plan. It certainly wasn't Joseph's. To anyone else, the young maiden was a disgrace, a shameful wretch, an undignified out-of-wedlock mother. But to the Father of Creation, she was the mother of God.

Dignity redefined.

Is the story of young Mary fore-shadowing of a later woman in a similar situation? She's caught in adultery and is drug into the town square, publicly derided for her sin. And as the angry mob stirs deeper into the oblivion of their self-righteous fervor, a rabbi steps into their midst. Did Jesus bend down to write in the dirt so as to avert His eyes in an effort to preserve this woman's dignity because the memory of His mother in the same situation was overlaid upon that moment? Jesus preserved her dignity, just as His earthly father Joseph had preserved Mary's.

And as you read this, my friend, what undignified actions of yours come to mind? Over what have you sinned? Have you held hatred in your heart? Have you clung to bitterness, rather than seek to forgive? Have you lusted after that which you have no justification for, and yet have sought with all your heart in a futile attempt to assuage the pain you've endured? Let's cut to the chase now. Friend, as you draw nigh to Christmas, to celebrate Jesus' birth, what sins are yet before you?

Will you come to the manger this Christmas with them? Instead of laying gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh before Jesus, won't you kneel before Him and lay your sins at His feet? Because truly, the greatest gift you can give, is to set aside your own dignity, humbling yourself, seeking His grace.

When you seek out Jesus, in humility and repentance, He honors His Word by "remembering your sin no more." The Lord of this universe, more powerful than presidents, kings, and even capitalism chooses to preserve your dignity. Your sins are cast into the depths of the deepest sea. They are as far as the east is from the west. They are blotted out by His bruises. For the preserver of our dignity--this Jesus--was "bruised for our iniquities…pierced for our transgressions," sacrificing His dignity to preserve yours--and at the same time redefining the word.

Pre-serve. Hmmmm…now there's a thought. Jesus died to pre-serve you. He was serving you before you were even born. He was pre-serving you. And His pre-service has preserved you for all eternity to be at His side.

Because here's the thing, my friend, Jesus came to redefine your dignity by sacrificing His.

When the "Silent Night" moment rolls around for you this Christmas, remember the song of the developmentally disabled group home members. Without a care in the world for what anyone around them thought, they burst forth in a song so beautiful, and so pure, that it didn't need a certain melody because it was filled with such a dignity of undeniable, overwhelming faith--sung at the top of their longs, with no particular tune.

Silent night. Holy night.
All is calm. All is bright.
Round yon virgin, mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Dignity redefined--for you and for me.

Merry Christmas, dear friend.

A Secular Christmas

A Secular Christmas

Red ribbons of the blood He shed, each bow a crown of thorns.

The ornaments hung on the tree, just like the one that He adorned.

Each sparkling light upon the tree, the star of Bethlehem.

And the angel that sits on top, brings glad tidings to all men.

For even in this secular world, the sacred still shines bright.

Each store-bought bow, brings hope you know,

On each blessed Christmas night.

Each candle light around our wreaths, an angel shining bright.

Each gift I get reminds me of, the gift God gave that Holy night.

Each candy-cane with its red stripes, reminds me of His wounds.

Each trumpet sounds Joy To The World, He's comin' back real soon.

For even in this secular world, the sacred still shines bright.

Each store-bought bow, brings hope you know,

On each blessed Christmas night.

Each house I see with Christmas lights, reminds me of the barn,

Where Jesus got His gifts that night, like in our stockings made of yarn.

So if you're growing cynical now, about each store-bought Christmas toy,

Remember in each Christmas gift, to every girl and boy,

The gift He gave, His life and light, to bring this world some joy.

For even in this secular world, the sacred still shines bright.

Each store-bought bow, brings hope you know,

On each blessed Christmas night.

--Shane Burton
Copyright 1999

Monday, January 22, 2007

And Step By Step

Psalm 25
“My head is high, God, held high. I’m looking to You, God; No hangdog skulking for me. I’ve thrown in my lot with You; You won’t embarrass me, will You? Or let my enemies get the best of me? Don’t embarrass any of us , who went out on a limb for You. It’s the traitors who should be humiliated. Show me how You work, God; school me in Your ways. Take me by the hand; lead me down the path of truth. You are my Savior, aren’t You? Mark the milestones of Your mercy and love, God; rebuild the ancient landmarks! Forget that I sowed wild oats; mark me with Your sign of love. Plan only the best for me, God! God is fair and just; He corrects the misdirected, sends them in the right direction. He gives the rejects His hand, and leads them step by step.” (The Message)

Every year, for several years, I would take a group of youth on a weekend retreat to a camp. We'd do the fun stuff--campfires, singing, playing know, camp stuff. But we'd also do some group-building stuff. We took this retreat at the beginning of the year, rather than at the end. This group of teenagers would be spending time together each week throughout the year, learning more about God, each other, their faith, and whether or not they have any.

We would be dealing with each others' feelings and beliefs. These are very touchy subjects. Very vulnerable. And to get to a place where the sharing of such things becomes real and honest, one thing must be present: trust.

I knew each year, that if these kids would trust each other, then God would do some awesome works in their lives! And so we started the year with a retreat with just that goal in mind. We'd start with a lot of fun stuff. But then we'd move them closer to each other, starting to share some heart stuff. That was Friday night.

Saturday morning would bring us to the place where trust would really begin to take shape. I'd take them out to a high-ropes adventure course. We didn't really do much of that--a lot of them were really afraid of heights--but we'd do a lot of team-building exercises. We would end our time there doing something called the flying squirrel. Each person would strap into a climbing harness and then clip themselves to a rope which was suspended from a pulley about forty feet up in the air. The rope passed through the pulley and back down to the ground. Once the person clipped onto the rope, the rest of their team would grab the rope and then hoist them up to the top...forty feet up in the air! The "flyer" had the choice of how high and how fast they wanted to go. And they would have to trust the team to only go as fast and as high as they wanted. It was a lot of fun. And most kids would eventually end up going all the way to the top and as fast as their teammates could pull them.

This was the beginning of some real trust. After leaving there, we'd head back to the camp for lunch and some more fun. That night, we'd have a campfire. At one point in the campfire, we would pair everyone up with someone they didn't really know that well. We would then have one person in each pair blindfold the other so there was one sighted person and one "blind" person. We would then explain to them that this is a Trust Walk. One person had to trust the other to lead them safely through the woods. The sighted person was allowed to guide the blind person. The one catch is they had to do so without talking. They would have to guide each other in even the smallest of steps. They would have to guide them over logs, under branches, on ledges, through the woods, and eventually to the middle of the forest where they would switch roles. We would eventually end up back around the campfire where we would have Communion.

After this was done, all of the adult chaperones would place their lives into the hands of these teenagers, allowing themselves to blindfolded and led through the woods in the very same way they just did for each other.


We had to trust them with our safety. We had to trust them not to take off and leave us. We had to trust them to lead us step by step. Not an easy thing to do. We knew these kids. We knew the errors of their ways. We knew which kids had sown "wild oats" and we hadn't forgotten like David asks God to do in the Psalm for today. We knew this...and yet, how could we expect them to trust each other, if they couldn't even count on being trusted by us? I have to tell you, it was scary at times. There were moments when even I would say nervously, "You're not going to hurt me, are you?" The response would be silence. They weren't allowed to speak...and they took that a little more seriously when they were leading us around. Sometimes, I'd try to take control and feel my own way, and I would often stumble. There were times when I wished that I wasn't being so trusting. Because they led us through some pretty rough places.

It's interesting though, the rougher the places they led us through, the more they trusted us. They knew that if they could go to some of these rough places and we would stick with them, then they could trust us and open up to us.

What are some of the rough places you've taken God? Have you nervously asked God, "You're not going to hurt me, are You? You're not going to just leave me hangin' out here? 'Cause it's scary...and well, I'm not sure I can let go and trust You. How do I know I can trust You?"

And the response we so often receive is silence. We are blind and deaf. And yet, we are called to trust. In these moments, God seems so far away. It's so hard to hear His voice. And yet, we know God is there. But there is a difference between knowing and trusting.

Sometimes God whispers to us, but we're unable to hear His voice over the din of our lives. And other times, God is quiet because He's asking for our trust. We're unable to hear Him. We're unable to see Him. Talk about a Trust Walk. We must rely on God for even the smallest of steps. But I suppose that's the point, huh?

Duh. It's easy to have knowledge that God is there. But it's a little tougher to rely on God for our baby steps. Why that'd mean we'd have to acknowledge that we're not in control!

There's a song we often sing around these campfires. It's called Step By Step. It goes like this:

"O God, You are my God.
And I will ever praise You.
O God, You are my God.
And I will ever praise You.
I will seek You in the morning.
And I will learn to walk in Your ways.
And step by step You lead me,
And I will follow You all of my days." (by Beaker)

Make this your prayer today. Ask for God to lead you even in your baby steps. God desires our trust and not just our knowledge. Knowledge of a net being there to catch you is a lot different than trusting it to do so. Let go. Surrender to God's leading. Stop trying to find your own way, stumbling about in blind folly. Stop. Breathe. Listen. Feel. If you listen carefully, you just may hear God's whisper. And then again, you may not. You may not see or hear a thing. But God is there. You know that. Now trust it. Trust Him to lead you every step of the way.

We are the very rejects David is talking about in the last lines of the Psalm. And God is offering us His hand to lead us...step by step.

Be WILD For Christ!

Pastor Shane Burton

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Unlikely Heralds

Matthew 2:12
"In a dream, the wise men were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country."

Luke 2:20
"The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!"

So the wise men and the shepherds all took off. They'd followed stars and listened to choirs of angels. There must have been a lot on their minds as they traveled. The wise men traveled a long distance. With how many people did they have a chance to share the Good News that the Messiah had come? Were lives changed as they traveled? Are there people who have relationships with Jesus today who are spiritual descendants of those with whom the wise men shared the Good News? Do you know of the Messiah because of the wise men? Could be.

How long were the wise men gone? Were they kings in their own lands? Some texts say kings...some say wise men. Whatever the case, we know they were followers of astrology. They searched the heavens for signs of what was to happen. They looked for portents in the stars to tell them the future. And God spoke to them in a language they could understand. God put a bright star in the sky so they would understand that something great was happening. God used the stars to signal to them that a great King had been born upon the earth. God spoke in their language. God chose them to be His messengers.

The shepherds went back to their sheep. They traveled back to their homes and along the way, they praised God. It says that they "let loose." That means they weren't being quiet about what they'd seen. It means they were ardent in their proclamation of the birth of the Savior! They were wild in their faith. And their words were probably crude and as un-poetic as you can get, like their crude exteriors, used to tending sheep. There words were possibly laced with the profanity of the day: "Holy sheep dung! We just came from a freakin' stable and saw the Messiah!" God went directly to the shepherds with His angel. God met them where they were. God chose them to be His messengers.

I love that the first evangelists were foreigners and smelly shepherds! Isn't that great? God chooses unlikely people to be His messengers. Do you know that means for you and me?

We are the very kinds of people God would choose to be His messengers. You and me...we’re unlikely people. Think of where you've been. Think of the things you've done. You and me, we're not rulers. We're not even mayors, let alone presidents or kings. You and me, we're just ordinary folks with great hang-ups, fumbling faults, and more than likely, colorful pasts which we'd have to explain if we were to ever run for any of these offices. If Jesus were to be born today, I imagine that God would choose a biker gang and some Buddhist priests from Nepal to be His messengers. He'd choose the homeless man you saw downtown. He'd send people like the Hispanic busboy who cleared your dishes from your table the last time you ate out. He'd send the prostitute hanging out on the street corner who thinks she's got good news, but whose life will change forever once the angel talks to her. That Viet Nam veteran you saw in his raggedy old army jacket, Johnson was his know, the guy with the scraggly beard, missing his left arm who flinches every time there's a loud noise...He's God's messenger. You and me, we're not any better, nor are we all that different. We stink just as badly as those shepherds and we're foreigners in a strange land, trying to find a language so we can all understand each other.

God chooses unlikely people to herald what He's doing.

You and me? Hah! God chose us? Hello! What's He thinkin'? Why us? Well, it's precisely because we are who we are that God came to us and spoke to us in our own language and met us where we were. God spoke to the wise men in their language and met the shepherds where they were. He did the same for us. With all of our hang-ups, faults, and the sins of past and present, God came to us, speaking in a language we could understand and our lives have been forever changed. We are the very wise men and shepherds of this world. Are you laughing yet? Me too.

But think of it...God chose you and me! Boggles the mind, huh? Why us? It's pretty simple, it's because we have's because we've's because we can speak the language and have "been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt" that God has come to us. We can understand and relate. We've been down in the dumps. We've been trod upon at one time or another by the cultural elite of this world. We've been taxed and taunted, exploited and excluded. We know what it is to be alone. We know hurt. We know betrayal. We understand what it's like to want more and receive less because at one time or another, we've been a stinky shepherd. We understand what it's like to be a foreigner because at one time or another, we've all experienced not being allowed to "join in any reindeer games."

"For unto us this day is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." That's very poetic, ain't it? How will we say this in a language that the weary and downtrodden, the homeless and the mortgage-bearer with the 8.5% variable interest rate can understand? What words will we use? How will we "let loose?" Will our words be poetic drivel, cheesy and beige? Or will we speak with the colorful slang languages we each use in our own lives?

And so we find ourselves on our way back to our homes and villages, called to let loose in the very same way those shepherds and wise men did. We find ourselves, with all of our hang-ups, faults, and colorful pasts being the very messengers of God!

We are unlikely heralds, huh? What's God thinkin' anyway?

Be WILD For Christ!

Pastor Shane

Saturday, December 23, 2006

He Didn't Have To Do It...But He Did

Isaiah 7:14
"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and will call Him Emmanuel."

He didn't have to do it, you know. The Almighty Lord Creator Of All That Ever Was And Ever Will Be didn't have to bother with the likes of us. And He certainly didn't have to do it in the way He did it. But He did. One day, God was contemplating all that He had brought forth into being and it came to be the time that He had planned for all along.

God sat upon the throne of eternity looking across time and space to see the first wayward choice made by God's first friend upon His creation called earth. And at the very same moment He stared Adam in the face and saw the shame there, God also saw the look His Son would give Him at the moment of His ultimate abandonment and betrayal upon His earthly throne...two roughhewn pieces of wood, lashed together with rope, not crushed red velvet. God also saw in that very same moment the looks on all of the faces who would come to receive His Son in their hearts. From shame to abandonment to the purest rejoicing! And the sight of rejoicing clinched it. That did it.

God arose from His throne, gathering up the infinity of His divinity, and He squeezed Himself into a womb of a young virgin named Mary. What was it like for an infinite Being existing in every moment and in every quark throughout the universe to be confined to such a space? What was it like for God, Absolute Purity, to enter into sin-stained creation? What did the taint feel like?

He didn't have to do it, you know. The Creator Of Order And Chaos didn't have to bother with the likes of us. Certainly humanity had turned its collective back upon the Divinity from which it had sprung. Certainly, God could have resigned Himself to being the Great Watchmaker who created the watch, set it into motion, sitting back to observe history unfold, never entering into it...never bothering to check its accuracy or movement. But He did. He dove right in to bring about a New Order. Several years later, He would gather some of His friends around a table and tell them about this New Order. He would call it a New Covenant. A New Covenant of grace and forgiveness which would set things right all the way back to His first friend Adam. But this New Order was also a New Chaos, because He would come and turn everything upside down...from our perspective, anyway.

God...yes God...was in a womb for nine months. Hearing the muffled sounds of life going on around His mother, a young woman named Mary. God heard her prayers from inside her. Imagine that...she's praying, thinking her prayers are drifting off into the ethereal realms of God, and her prayers are being heard from within her. Sure, she'd heard the prophecy of Emmanuel...God with us. But she didn't really understand how with us He'd be.

He didn't have to do it, you know. The Lord Over All And Everything certainly didn't have to become Emmanuel. The Lord who set the universe in motion sitting above it all, aware of every atom, did not have to come to be with us. But He did.

And here's the question...why?

Why did the The Lord Over All And Everything, The Creator Of Order And Chaos, Absolute Purity, The Almighty Lord Creator Of All That Ever Was And Ever Will Be come to be with us?

Well first of all, because He said He would. But even that doesn't fully answer it. Because certainly a Being so great could change His mind.

So why did God come to be with us?

The answer is so simple and yet is beyond my understanding. Because the answer to this question truly is the answer to all of our questions. And if we would first live this answer before and above everything else, then our lives would be radically different. This answer is the very reason God came to be with us. And it's something we once knew but we forgot about along the way. And this Emmanuel God tried to remind us throughout the years. He sent folks all over the place to remind us. And often we'd remember for a while. But then our power of choice and the influence of the Enemy would distract us...and we'd forget. Emmanuel God came to be with us for one reason. What is it? It's so simple...will you believe me when I tell you? Okay, here goes...


God could not sit idly by watching us hate each other. God could not sit idly by watching us destroy or worse yet, ignore each other. Because truly, the opposite of love is not's indifference. And God is not indifferent. God is the very answer He sent...Love.

Emmanuel. God with us.

Love. Love with us.

Mary didn't really understand how with us God would be. Do we?

My friends, Emmanuel is here. God is with us. God is with you at this very moment, wherever you are. God is with you whether or not you even want Him to be. God is with you as you walk the malls, searching for that something to fill your loved one's void. God is with you as you look for things which you think will fill your own void. God is with you at work. God is with you when your work is fulfilling...and when it's not. God is with you when you sin. God is with you even when you turn your back on Him. God is with you. Love is with you.

Christmas is a reminder to us not of a fairy-tale-esque story of Wise Men, Shepherds and Angels...although the story we read each year at this time does recount the blessing of Emmanuel…and there is great value in reading the Truth, God’s Word. No, Christmas is ultimately a reminder that God is with us...that Love is with us.

That is the miracle of Emmanuel. That is the real surprise we receive each Christmas. The real surprise is not a box with ribbons and bows...but is the fact that the Infinite Almighty Creator would choose to enter in not in a blazing chariot of fire, vanquishing our foes, but as a baby, basking in our love...blessing us with His.

He didn't have to do it, you know. He didn't have to be Emmanuel...God with us. But He did. And each Christmas, we are given the choice of whether or not to receive this gift of Love. Christmas is a bold reminder that Love awaits us in every moment whether we want it or not. That is the miracle...the gift...the great surprise of Emmanuel...God is with us. Love is with us.

Christmas is about what God gave. Not what we give. Will you receive His gift? Will you receive the great gift of Emmanuel this Christmas? Will you open your arms and receive the great gift of God's Love?

He didn't have to do it, you know. But He did.

Be WILD For Christ...and Merry Christmas!

Pastor Shane

Sunday, December 10, 2006

And God Winked

Luke 2: 8-12
"There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, 'Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.'"

There's a light breeze, blowing the tall grass, making whisper noises which foreshadow the song which will be sung later this very same night. The crickets are chirping, adding their harmony to the whisper-song of the grass.

There is a group of shepherds there, reclining in the grass, keepin' an eye on their flock of sheep. Some of them slept, getting some sleep before it came their turn to take shift on the night watch. They probably had a few small campfires going to further scare away predators and to warm up some food. As they camped there, some of them probably wondered about the bright star in the sky. I'll bet some of them even gossiped about it, coming up with possibilities for its purpose. This is a scene, just itchin' to be painted. It's a Kodak moment.

The world in solemn stillness lay. It is a silent night. The midnight is clear. Bethlehem is lying still. All is calm.

For the moment, that is. Little do those poor shepherds know what's coming next.

Sheepherders are prepared for predators. They know that at some point in their illustrious careers tending flocks of sheep, they will have to do hand-to-paw combat with some nasty fang-bearing critter which would love to have a midnight snack, munching a sheep or two. Sheepherders are prepared for bad weather. They know they'll have to find shelter for themselves and quite possibly weather some bad storms. They're prepared for long times away from family and friends. They're prepared for travel. They're prepared to search for a lost sheep.

But the shepherds we read about in this story were nowhere near prepared for what would break the silent reverie of their midnight clear.

Half-dozing sheepherders, leaning upon their staffs, as the wind whispers through the tall grass are shocked from their peace by an angel which just appears out of nowhere.

I imagine some of them going into attack mode, thinking of protecting their sheep, almost attacking God's messenger. I imagine that some of them were too bewildered to do much of anything, standing there with mouths agape. And I imagine that some of them were so startled that they soiled themselves from the sudden shock of the angel's appearance.

Can you blame them? They didn't have much experience with angels. When they were going to shepherd school, there was no elective course in Angel Appearances and What To Do About Them. The story tells us that they were terrified. I imagine that when the shepherds who went into attack mode or were bewildered truly realized who had just angel of the Lord!...that they all became terrified.

I imagine this rough, gnarled group of guys huddling together in fear, knees trembling, some of them begging for mercy, others crying. Have you ever been afraid like this? Have you ever truly been terrified? Because these men were. They were truly terrified. Fear was shredding away at the edges of their consciousness, reducing them to a group of knee-knocking, simpering, whimpering children.

The first words out of the angel's mouth? "Don't be afraid."

Some of them probably thought, "Uh huh. Yeah, right! Don't be afraid? Easy for you to say Mr. Bright-and-shiny-Angel-of-the-Lord-guy. You just pop in out of nowhere and we're supposed to 'not be afraid.' Excuse me while I go clean out my shorts."

But others of them, I'm sure, were able to hear the tone of the angel's voice. They were able to hear the peace there. They were able to hear the words of God through the chaos of this event. These shepherds breathed a sigh of relief. And as their brains began to give way to peace instead of fear, a new thought dawned upon them: "Why on God's green earth are you coming to us? We're just a bunch of stinky ol' shepherds out watching our flocks by night. How come you're not visiting that ol' King Herod? Why aren't you going to the priests in the temples? What do you want from us?"

The angel chuckles lightly, adding a note of joy to this chaotic moment. "What do I want from you? I don't want anything from you. That's not why I came. I want something for you. I want to tell you some news."

"News? God sends an angel to us to tell some news? We don't get it." responds one of the more experienced shepherds.

"It's precisely because you are who you are that God has sent me to you. God's kinda gettin' tired of being so predictable. So, this time around, He's going to mess with things a bit. Instead of sending angels to the people you'd expect, He's sent me to a young virgin and her fiancé, a group of foreign scholars, and you guys! The kings and priests of your world need some shakin' up. So, here I am, talkin' to you...shakin' things up."

The shepherds could appreciate that. They understood the joke. And they suddenly had a whole new appreciation for God. A new joy filled them...although it could also be called humor. And with smiles beginning to appear on their faces as each one of them in turn began to realize how God was upending their social order, one of them asked, "So, what news do you have for us?"

"Are you ready for this?" asked the angel, "You've known for a long time that God was going to send a Messiah, right?"

"Yup." responded the shepherds.

"Well, get this...God's sent the Messiah, all right, but..." the angel had to stop to laugh. He finally got control of himself, took a deep breath, and said, "but the Messiah is a baby!" with that, the angel burst into tears, he began to laugh so hard.

The shepherds didn't quite get it at first. And so one of them asked, "Well, He's like some sort of a king or something, right?"

"Well, yeah. Technically He's a King. But this King has just been born in some motel-stable down there in Bethlehem. And His throne is a smelly old feeding box used for the stable animals. You see guys, God's not interested in all of the religious trappings...He's tired of all the pomp and circumstance you've added to worshiping Him. That's why He's sent me to regular folks...unexpected folks. That's why God has sent the Messiah as a helpless baby who will grow up with common people. God wants to be known by the least, the last, and the lost, because the most, the first, and the found already know God and have missed the point."

"What's the point?" asked a shepherd.

"The point is this: love each other. But you know what...I shouldn't say anymore. I'll let your new Messiah tell you...when He learns how to talk!"

The shepherds all laughed at that.

"Now, just one more thing," said the angel.

"Sure, what's that?" asked the sheepherders.

"God would like you guys to head down to Bethlehem and go see Him. He'll be in that stable I was telling you about."

"You got it. We'll go and see Him. Anything we need to bring?" they asked.

"Nope...well, nothing material anyway...just bring your sense of humor...and bring your hearts." said the angel.

And so the unlikely heralds of the Messiah went to see Him. They laughed and talked along the way. They wondered about the future. They wondered how things would change. They wondered how this Messiah would save them. And they laughed some more at the thought of the Lord of the Universe having such a great sense of humor.

And when they got there, joy exploded from them as they saw the Messiah lying there in that feeding box. The poor virgin and her husband looked tired, but a great sense of peace filled them.

And here is how I imagine the scene to have happened…that as the smelly sheepherders approached, the Baby Messiah King looked at them...God looked at them...and winked.

And the sheepherders smiled. And then they knelt to worship Him.

Be WILD For Christ!

Pastor Shane