Wednesday, December 22, 2010

a sign for Christmas: Swaddling Clothes

Interesting insight from my devotion that I read today. “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

The word “swaddling” has fallen into the dustbin of unused terms. It is still a viable term concerning the care of infants. While some translations simply use the word “clothes” or “cloths,” others misuse the word “rags” for that in which the newborn Savior was wrapped. The Holy Spirit specifically selected the term “swaddling” – it is used only twice in the New Testament (sparganoo, Luke 2.7, 12), because of it's use among shepherds.
This was the common practice of the day – to wrap a newborn snuggly. To swaddle a baby was to wrap it so that it felt the security of the material and to protect it from the elements. I remember with my own children when they were born, Karen and I would wrap our young babies tightly like this as it was recommended by so many medical practitioners for protection against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Did Mary know all of this then? Was she aware of how she was protecting the baby Jesus when she swaddled Him? Maybe. Maybe not. But there is much more to the story. This was to be a “sign” for the shepherds. If this was a common practice, then why would it be considered a “sign” for Mary to do something that everyone else was doing?

The answer lies in God’s providential care and sovereignty.

According to Jimmy DeYoung (biblical and Jewish scholar), these were no ordinary shepherds. They were priest/shepherds. They were selected at a very young age for this particular task – watching over the Temple flock. They were most probably not the young boys depicted in most Christmas plays, but were men in the early years of the priesthood – somewhere in their early thirties. For most of their lives they had studied the Scriptures and had been trained to care for these sacrificial animals.

From atop a two-story stone watchtower, shepherds would watch over the flock – making certain that there was no threat to the flock. On the ground, other shepherds would remain with the sheep insuring their safety.

When a ewe was ready to give birth, the shepherds would take the mother into the first floor of the watchtower, reach into the mother’s womb, and deliver the lamb. The lamb would then be wrapped in swaddling clothes to protect it from any harm and lay it in a manger lined with soft hay. (Remember the lamb for sacrifice must be without blemish. A bruised or broken bone would disqualify it.) Once the lamb had settled down from the birthing process, the shepherd would remove the swathing materials and deliver the lamb to its mother. The lamb would receive special care from the shepherd/priests because this lamb would be sacrificed for the sins of the people.

The shepherd/priests had trained all of their lives for this very moment.; To the common passerby, seeing a baby in a manger meant very little; however, to the shepherd/priest it was a sign of the coming Messiah. They were keenly aware that the Messiah would one day free the people from their sins.
A baby, announced by the heavenly choir, lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes was more than they could handle – they “came with haste.” They immediately recognized the sign – this baby was the One born to die for the sins of the world.
All the signs are still here. Christmas is a time to remember the birth of the Christ-child, Jesus the Messiah. We all should come with haste and bow before the King of kings and Lord of lords. We all should recognize the wisdom and power expressed by our heavenly Father as He presented His Son as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
In the middle of all the "signs," traditions and symbols of Christmas today, let us not forget that this was the Lamb of God, who at birth was determined to go to the cross for our sins. Our youth did a drama Sunday that was a beautiful display of this truth. I will post a video it here soon.
Look for the signs that God is placing before you today that will remind you of what He has done for YOU through the birth of His Son, Jesus.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Heart of Delay.

Something that I have learned so much about the heart of God is that, from my perspective, He often operates from a posture of delay.  Well, it seems that way at least.  We live in a culture of drive through, instant, microwave society that expects God to be more spontaneous and immediate in His actions.

So many examples of scripture reveal that God is about building depth of character by delay.  When Moses led the people out of Egypt, it did not take long for the people to become restless with the slowness of blessings, so they took things into their own hands, making an instant idol to lead them.  Result?  More delay.  Forty more years of delay.  However, forty years later, when Joshua received his battle plan to take the city of Jericho, delay was the plan (Joshua 6:1-5).  March around the city six days, on the seventh day add the blowing of horns, and a shout.  Did  Joshua look for short cuts?  No, he was faithful, trusting the delay of his commander and chief, the Lord.

There is so much wisdom found when one learns the heart of delay.... patience. It could appear in so many different ways.  A delayed appointment, a delayed health treatment, a delayed assignment, a delayed response, blessing, etc.  God is always on time and never late.  But the best approach is to expect delay according to your schedule and calendar... but the blessing will be oh so sweet when He decides you are ready to receive... trust, patience, faith.  A wonderful delay.  (Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 119:73; Joshua 24:14-15)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Stretching Me.

Last week I spent a day Mountain Biking around Fontana Lake, in Swain County, NC, right next to the Smoky Mountains. I was spending some time alone with the Lord, there was no one else on the trail the whole day. It was just me and God. I remember at one time during my trip, I had planned to just sit and listen to God when the time was right. Well, that time came at just the right moment. I was on top of a great hill, having climbed it for hours on my bike, and wow... what a view. God began talking to me right away. His creation and beauty were speaking in such a loud voice I could not help but sit and listen.

My muscles were speaking loudly as well, and grateful for the break. I began to think and pray about the many assignments that were in my hands and I wanted to listen to what God had to say about them. While my assignments have been many these past months, I was kinda thinking that I was capable of something a bit more, something a little more challenging, and kinda expecting God to begin to lay some things out before me to start working on.

Well, I should have seen it coming. As my muscles were still doing some talkin', I began to sense that God was letting me in on something even bigger than any assignment He might have for me. He has been at work on me. If God based my assignments on my walk with Him, and I wanted something more than I had in hand, I realized that he needed to work on my faith and character even more. One thing I realized is that there is really no one particular way God helps me grow, but one thing I did realize, as the sweat dripped off my cheeks, there will be growing pains.

The times that Christians mature the most in their life is when things are up hill, facing hardship or crisis. Inevitably people say it's through their suffering that they grow the most spiritually. If that is true, what should I expect when I ask God to increase my faith and to make me more like Christ? Yet, here is the typical pattern: 1. we pray and ask God to make us more like Christ. 2. God allows stretching circumstances into our lives so we can grow. 3. We call our church prayer ministry and frantically enlist everyone to pray that the latest difficulty in our life be immediately removed! I believe that many of the items found on our church prayer lists are actually circumstances God allowed in order to mature His people.

The reality, we must decide whether we want comfort or Christ-likeness. We often can not have both. I have come to enjoy (somewhat) the trying times. God let's me see that He is still working on me. At first, the hill is difficult and quitting is a lingering thought. But as I approach the summit, the more enthusiasm I experience and the view... the view is just something else. That, is really an incredible thought. God still considers me worthy of a deeper, more mature growth experience, and the end result is breath taking... sometimes literally.

So the call remains in my heart. I am NOT satisfied with my present state of service to God. And I am open to the necessary growth, even when it is painful. Stretch me more, and Lord, I am thankful that you have given me just enough strength to endure the hill that awaits ahead, for it is only through the pain of that climb will I have the growth experience that will in turn equip me for the greater assignment.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Clarity of Call.

I have had a few opportunities that have recently come my way that gave me reason to go deep for clarification on what God has called me to.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: [2] Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. [3] For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. [4] They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. [5] But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 2 Tim. 4:1-5

I have my call from God; that is it, from 2 Timothy 4:1-5 above. God's call on my life is an inescapable commission, and as Paul said, 'Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.' I love the fact that God continues to give me reason to experience the clarity of this call in fresh ways again and again.... it never gets stale or old.

So, what exactly should people expect from me as a minister? I want to be fair and honest when I say, I intend to love God with all my heart, and to love all people, no matter what. I intend to shepherd and feed His people for as long as I am able and God's people will allow me to serve them in this way. I will not discredit, compromise, or turn my back on what I believe the Word of God teaches, and that means that there may be times some may feel my shepherd's crook, not to judge or malign, but to help move people in the right direction, to protect, and to heal. I intend to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, for that is my calling. I have a strong burden to fulfill the duties of this ministry that has been charged to me by the Holy Spirit. I can not turn my back on this call or deny it. Until the Lord tells me otherwise, I intend to remain focused on this call.

I have great opportunity to go deep, and it has given me great passion for even greater depth in His Word and Spirit. The joy, peace, patience and provision has been more evident in my life than ever before. I will remain faithful to the depth of such a call... in season or out of season.

I enjoy clarifying the call that God has placed on my life from time to time. I am thankful for the moments that come my way that cause me to deeply reflect and certify a fresh this call. Thank you Lord for clearly reminding me again and again of this assignment.

What is your call? Is it clear today? It can be. Go deep!

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Sapling in God's Hands

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water. —Psalm 1:3

Last night I watched (via computer live feed) Adrian Despres, (a disciple who I first met over 27 years ago as a freshman recruit who joined our Furman football team) speak to a packed crowd at Clemson's FCA where 100's came to Christ, many dismissed sin in their life that was weighing them down while others were encouraged to build solid foundations on every act of a normal day. I was encouraged in so many ways. Not only was I encouraged to continue using the bricks of a strong foundation in my life, but also that so long ago, after his freshman roommate led him to Christ, I had a part in discipling him, laying those first foundational bricks, in those early days as Furman's FCA president and Senior Football player/mentor for Adrian and others.

Helping to plant in someones life a direction of faith in Christ appears to be so insignificant when I see a young sapling begin to grow by God's hand. I don't know, and most of the time never know, if someone ever will grow into that strong towering tree that brings honor to Christ.

So it is with all my spiritual endeavors: I may have planted, watered, and fussed over my “saplings” (those I've mentored/discipled) for a time, but only God can make a “tree.”
Occasionally, I hear from those I ministered to years ago, and discover to my delight that they have grown to maturity and have been greatly used of God—with no help from me. It’s a gentle reminder that I plant and water for a while, and help others “grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Eph. 4:15). But only God “gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

German theologian Helmut Thielicke writes, “The man who doesn’t know how to let go, and does not have confident joy in Him who carries out His purposes without us (or also through us or in spite of us), . . . that man will become nothing but a miserable creature in his old age.”

I still may yet tend a sapling or two, but mostly I will let go and watch them grow. I have been in Ministry for over 25 years and seen more people than I can remember who God has planted in their heart a love for Him and a life devoted to service. I think too that God is still at work in my heart as well. Many have watered, fertilized and encouraged my growth over the years and I still have so much farther to go.

A number of months ago I began ministering as a speaker, mentor, consultant to people and churches. This assignment, has been a time where I am growing too. I saw this as a time of transitioning into another forest where I can continue to serve Him by planting more. However, the planting opportunities have multiplied in this season. I substitute teach in a different school class room just about every day, I help coach two middle school basketball teams, I work at a local Ski Resort on weekend and some weekday nights, I officiate school and recreation basketball games, counsel folks in marriage, speak and consult chuches in many ways.... Time with my children and wife have been incredibly precious. I have been more busy planting in different ways than ever before.

It is so incredible that while I have been planting, feeding, watering and fertilizing others, God is tending to my sometimes limp and broken branches as well with total attention. My roots are being strengthened as my faith in Him continues to grow.

My Prayer: Thank you Lord for gardening in my life. I want to continue to be used by You in others’ lives. Teach me from Your Word so that I can help others follow You too. And enable me to let go and trust You to work in them. In the mean time, teach me and enable me to walk with You and not be satisfied with simply following You. Amen.

Those who follow Christ leave a path for others to follow, but why not encourage others to walk WITH you along the path as you too walk WITH Christ.