Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Spirit of the Shepherds

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

Luke 2:15-16

While we all know this story, I wonder if it's really possible to get inside the minds of these shepherds, to know what it was like to experience this heavenly interruption to the workaday routine? Probably not, but it is such a fascinating scene, that I can't help but wonder what it must have been like for these unprepared, unsuspecting men.

Besides reminding myself that I would not be whipping out my phone to record the scene and upload to You Tube, I have a very real difficulty placing myself in the shoes of the shepherds:

Being initially terrified by the angelic visit? -- Check.

Listening to the announcement without a word? -- Not a problem.

Feeling relief at the assurance not to be afraid? -- Definitely.

Wanting to see the baby the angel spoke of? -- Absolutely!

Actually leaving my job site with work in progress, and exposing the animals entrusted to my care to danger, to travel some distance back into town to search for a family of complete strangers in an unknown location, for a reason that wouldn't be remotely plausible to my boss, if he should ever ask?

Are you kidding?

What about the sheep? What if they got scared and wandered off? What if a predator attacked them? What if someone came along and stole some of them? What if the owner checked in, as Murphy's Law dictates, right when I'm gone and not paying attention?

Is anyone out there with me?

Anyone else so conditioned to being obligated to maintaining the routine of earthly responsibility, that the risk of consciously taking a pass on the arrival of Jesus into your world is a very real possibility?

I'm not talking about being too busy to notice He's there. I don't mean never hearing the message, or being persecuted or prevented in some way.

I mean knowing He is there, having every opportunity to go to Him, and deciding, like George Bailey did when Sam Wainwright offered him a ride to Florida, "I'm afraid I just couldn't get away."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting anyone cast aside the responsibilities of life in the name of Jesus.

But there is something we should learn in the spontaneous decision of these shepherds to leave their flocks unattended in the fields long enough to get themselves to Jesus and be changed by His presence. To trust that everything would be all right long enough to see the One they needed to see, to get hold of a story they would be telling the rest of their lives. And I imagine there was joy in the Father's heart every time these men recounted this event to anyone who would listen.

What better time than now?

Step away from your work. Stop your routine. Disconnect from media.

It'll all be OK. Everything will be there when you return. The Father who wants you to know His Son will cover you.

And you will find yourself eager with anticipation for the next time His arrival is announced by angels in the sky.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

He Does Understand

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

John 1:14

"...we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

Hebrews 4:15-16

He does understand.

He understands what it's like to live in a world where good and evil reside, side-by-side.

What it's like to see the best and worst in the human condition, in the same place, at the same time.

What it's like to wonder why some people do the most terrible things.

What it's like to see the grief of those who have suffered loss from which they may never heal.

What it's like to know that some may reject Him because of these losses.

What it's like to be tempted to think the worst about all people.

What it's like to be tempted to circle up into camps against one another.

What it's like to wonder when He is coming again.

He understands that we don't understand why. He understands how hard it is to witness things that are only possible apart from His presence, in the middle of the season when the whole world remembers the story of His arrival here. He understands that our minds long for an answer, even as we concede the fact that an answer will probably never come.

He understands the temptation to despair.

He understands when we ask why He doesn't prevent these things, if He understands them so well.

And He understands that by not guaranteeing us a life free of grief, He may very well lose some of us.

He simply asks us to trust Him, especially when those answers don't come, and nothing makes any sense.

And that's what I choose to do.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You Packin' Heat?

I am haunted by this news story:

A boy is dead who didn't have to die, and a man has killed, who might not have had to kill.

While I generally support the idea of concealed-carry permits, I have grave reservations over whether John Q. Public always understands what it means to measure one's response to the actions of others.

Yes, I understand that a citizen should have the right to draw on some criminal who threatens his safety, and I understand that criminals deserve to live in fear of whether their potential victims might be armed.

I occasionally visit the Chinese buffet that resides in the building where the Luby's massacre took place, and I, like everyone else, have wondered how many lives might have been saved if someone could have fired back at the killer.

(Of course, there is no guarantee that 6 or 7 random, panicked, civilian diners, pulling out firearms of their own in the middle of that chaos would have made anything better.)

We all know the narrative that is used to explain the need to pack heat:  The law-abiding citizen is just minding his own business, when the criminal seizes the moment, has a weapon and the element of surprise in his favor, and carries out the robbery, the assault, the kidnapping, the rape, the murder, or what have you.

And who hasn't wished this innocent victim could have been armed, and at least had a chance to ward off the attacker?

But the story above is different, isn't it?

Yes, the guy is claiming a shotgun was pointed at his car, and maybe it was. The surviving boys from the car are claiming there was no weapon in their vehicle, and maybe there wasn't. We will probably never know.

But what led up to the critical moment?

The innocent, upstanding citizen himself, John Q. Public, supposedly minding his own business, was the one who initiated the argument over the volume of the music, and made contact with the boys a second time when the music was turned up again. The guy who had no legal standing to order these boys to turn the music down. The man who was waiting five minutes for his fiancee to get in and out of a convenience store. The father who didn't live in the area, but was visiting town for his son's wedding. The visitor with no stake in the community in which he was a guest, and no connection to the boys he confronted.

Do you really think the volume of the music in the car next to him was not something he could have tolerated for five minutes?

Do you really think he could not have simply joined his fiancee inside the store if he didn't like the music in the car next to him?

Do you really think this matter was so critical that he needed to confront complete strangers he was never going to see again?

Do you really think something so important was at stake here, that it warranted introducing hostilities into a visit that was supposed to be about his son's wedding?

Surely not.

Why do you think this man confronted these boys?

Just because he was annoyed by their music? Maybe. Who hasn't been annoyed by the rudeness and presumption of someone's loud music? Or maybe this guy is just a complete hothead who confronts people all the time. Who knows?

Of course, now that his only priority is to avoid legal culpability for this killing, we will certainly see him portrayed as a kind and gentle soul who feared for his life and fired eight shots into a car out of pure necessity.

But I doubt he fits either stereotype, the hothead or the gentle soul. I suspect he is an average guy given to normal human emotions, and the fact that he was armed had something to do with the boldness he felt and the shortness of his patience, which prompted him to confront complete strangers over a trifling nuisance in a convenience store parking lot in an unfamiliar city he was visiting for his son's wedding.

Who doesn't feel tougher when insured by Smith & Wesson? Who hasn't fantasized about inviting some disrespectful punk to go ahead and make your day? Anyone might feel like the wrong hombre to fool with if a loaded gun were within easy reach.

Is it tempting for us to go ahead and start a fight we might otherwise avoid, when we know we have the power to finish it?

How do we handle the power to hurt other people?

Whether or not you're carrying a physical weapon, you have within your reach, at this very moment, everything you need to make someone bleed.




*Uncontrolled anger.

*Digs at character flaws.

*Assumption of bad motive.

*Reminders of past sin and its aftermath.

These weapons and others like them are more damaging than any blade or bullet, and are readily available to every one of us, without any permits or restrictions. When it comes to these weapons, we're all packing, aren't we?

Since we're all practicing concealed-carry, what kind of people ought we to be?

*Makers of peace (Matthew 5:9)

*Absorbers of insult (Matthew 5:38-42)

*Lovers of enemies (Matthew 5:43-48)

*Choosers of loss (I Corinthians 6:1-7)

*Refusers of revenge (Romans 12:17-19)

Where is maturity? Where is wisdom?

Wisdom and maturity are found when our easy access to the deadly weapon makes us less likely to pick the fight in the first place.

What do you imagine the shooter from the news story is now wishing he had done that day?