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Lessons From the Shepherds

At Christmas we are once again introduced to programs, cantatas, and musicals that have all the familiar characters of shepherds, magi, and the manger. We are use to seeing boys dressed up in a bathrobe with a towel wrapped around their head, and holding a staff in one of their hands. They are absolutely adorable but they are far from what the shepherds were actually like at the time of Jesus birth. The shepherds were hardened men who lived lonely, obscure lives and were scorned by most people of that day.

The shepherds were the people group who were given the privilege of being the first to know about and be told the good news of Jesus birth. They were very uneducated, untrained, and unskilled laborers. They were smelly, rough characters and probably the most unlikely people of that day to be invited to the party. These shepherds offered a meager but necessary service of watching over the herds believed to contain the sacrificial lambs being raised for the temple and the Passover.

Shepherds were not trusted by very many people back then. They were not allowed to testify in court even if they were eyewitnesses. It is quite ironic that the very men who were not permitted to testify in court are chosen by God to be the first to testify of the virgin birth. Yet, when the Pharisees referred to the tax collectors and the sinners the shepherds were most likely at the top of their sinner list. Wow, what a God that announces the birth of His Son to the poor, uneducated, despised shepherds.

What can we learn from these shepherds and their involvement in the birth of the savior?

  1. This Bible story makes it very clear that God loves the outcast. God always reaches out to those who will come to Him no matter what society may say or think of them. Those who the world sees as the least important are the first that God seems to be interested in. Even the religious elite of the day wrote shepherds off as unclean and pagan but God chose to reveal the truth of Christ’s birth to them.
  2. God reminds us that following Him requires sacrifice. Jesus did not come to just make slight alterations to our lifestyles but has called us to live for a completely different Kingdom. We are commanded by Him to die daily and to take up our cross and follow Him. The shepherds knew what it meant to sacrifice for their sheep as they cared for them day by day. They understood that the sacrificial lambs they helped care for were a picture of the coming Messiah, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.
  3. The shepherds and the manger scene remind us to never interpret God’s love based on our circumstances. Jesus was not born in a palace with a silver spoon in His mouth but rather of the most humble beginnings. You would think the creator of the universe should of made sure that Joseph and Mary had a reservation for a room in the inn but they didn’t. Just because God does not provide for us the way we think He should does not mean He does not love us and have our best in mind.
  4. The manger and the cross settle forever how God feels about you. He loves you and you should never doubt that truth. Whenever your circumstances make you wonder where God is you must remember that He has already proven how much He loves you by dying for you. Even when He does not answer every prayer request the way you think He should you should be very careful of ever trying to use Jesus to get what you want more than you love Him for who He is. As the good shepherd He always has your best in mind.
  5. The shepherds teach us that Jesus invites all to come to Him. He invites those who are poor, uneducated, despised, and outcasts like the shepherds.   He also invites the rich educated, respected, and well thought of like the Magi. John 3:16 and Romans 10:13 reminds us of God’s invitation to everyone because “whoever believes will have eternal life” and “whoever calls on His name will be saved.” Whether they are outcasts or the uppity ups Jesus invites all to come to Him.

The shepherds teach a lot about the heart of God for the lost, the last, and the least. Most people of that day were unaware of the shepherd’s existence because they did not see them nor were they around them. They never gave shepherds a thought nor would they have given them the time of day. They had no desire to get to know them personally; but God did! Isn’t that just like Him? He pursued a relationship with them and sent angels to invite them to worship Him.

The shepherds show us the heart of God. He takes the initiative to invite those considered last on the social ladder to be first on the heavenly invitation list. J.D. Greear in his gospel prayer says, “As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross and your power by the resurrection.” The shepherds teach us that God’s love is not based on our earning it or deserving it but rather totally based on who He is; a God of love. Oh, that we would learn first hand with this truth the shepherds experienced that first Christmas morning.

May we testify of his greatness as they did of His in Luke 2:20, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told.”

ABUNDANT JOY!

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The Christmas season is upon us. II Cor 9:15 says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” The amazing part of the context of this passage is the joy the people had in giving even though they were poor and suffering themselves. II Cor 8:2 says, “During a severe testing of affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity.” They not only gave generously but their eagerness caused them to beg Paul to let them help. Not just joy but an abundance of joy.

This time of the year should remind us of the wonderful gifts God has given us. We have hope because of Him. This hope is a holy expectation of what is to come. There is peace provided regardless of our situation. He provides a calmness in the midst of the craziness of this world. We must also remember the gift of love described in II Cor. 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.”

The gifts of God brought to us through the birth of our savior are hope, peace, love, and abundant joy. Do you have your joy on? Are you able to rejoice in the Lord on a regular basis? Has someone or something taken your joy away from you? Church, not only should you be a generous church but your generosity should come out of your abundance of joy!

Oswald Chambers said, “A life of intimacy with God is characterized by joy!”

If you have lost your joy the place to find it again is in His presence.

John 15:9-11 explains it to us, “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

Joy is not determined by our circumstances but rather comes in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is why from prison Paul could say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Without joy we will struggle and joy is not produced by what is happening but by our intimacy with our savior. Our primary focus must always be on Him and what He has done for us. Otherwise, when problems and challenges come our way and we are faced with our own inadequacies, we are tempted to react in harmful ways. Think about it! Mary and Joseph had to leave home when they needed a home the most. They were alone when they needed support the most. Yet we sing, “Joy to the world the Lord has come!”

Three areas will really challenge your joy.

The first challenge is tough situations. We know that these challenges will come. It has been said that there are three kinds of people: those with problems, those coming out of problems, and those about to have problems. It is inevitable and James 1:2 tells us, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials.” If your joy is not full as Jesus said the temptation will be to become discouraged, defeated, and fearful.

The second challenge will be difficult people. Now I am sure your church does not have any difficult people but there are rumors some churches do. If your joy is gone you will react in harmful ways that can create division and disharmony. Some chose to be timid and never address the difficult person. Others become cynical and talk about them behind their backs. Then there are those who become bitter and scarred from it. Seek to love them, pray for them, and confront them when necessary. They do not produce your joy, Jesus does!

The third challenge is when your control is threatened. There are many areas of church life where people are use to being in charge and do not want to relinquish that control. When disagreement or conflict comes the reaction so often is not healthy. Some will respond in a dictatorial way saying, “It’s my way or the highway!” Others will become more driven and might respond, “This is where I am going. You come with me or get out of the way.” The third might be the ugliest when a temper tantrum is thrown because they did not get their way.

The focus here is upon how you react to tough situations, difficult people and when your control is threatened. Your joy is not determined by any of these but rather your walk with the Lord. Jesus said, “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” When Jesus began His earthly ministry the Father said these affirming words to Him, “This is my beloved Son. In whom I am well pleased.” Joy comes from hearing the Father say, “It’s going to be all right.”

Joy is produced when we realize the depths of the truth of these words. The Father says, “My Beloved Son.” That is His identity. Joy comes from knowing you are a child of the King. Then He said He was “pleased” in Him. That is our security. If God is pleased with us then there is nothing to fear and our joy multiplies. The significance of this passage is that He is the Messiah. He had a job to do and joy comes from fulfilling the role God has for each and every one of us. Joy comes from an intimate relationship with Jesus where we understand our identity, security, and significance in Him!

Healthy churches are experiencing abundant joy regardless of their circumstances and challenges!