Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Song for the Shepherds

"Then Spread my thoughts to olden times, to that first of Christmases...
When the shepherds who were watching, heard the music in the fields.
They sat and they marveled, they just could not tell...
whether it were angels, or if the bright stars were singing.
It was the singing of the angels, it was the comfort of our Lord."
Words from a poem by Robert Bridges, 1913

Some years ago on Thanksgiving night, I had been working very late in the office. I opened to door to walk home and my breath was taken away as northern lights lit up the sky. I have seen the northern lights dancing in the sky a hundred times before, but nothing compared to these. Honestly, the colors, brightness, and dancing was unmatched by anything I had ever seen in the sky in my life, even in the skies above Disney World! I stood in awe. As I watched, I was struck by the thought of the Shepherds standing in the fields of David outside of Bethlehem, on that first Christmas night. As the heavenly host of angels appeared, it could only have been one of the most awesome and magnificent sights ever to be seen on earth.
As I watched the show in the sky, my thoughts ran back to camp the previous summer and a particular chapel service that anyone who attended will never forget. God's presence came down and filled the air in way I have never experienced before in my life. All who were there were so blessed to be in God's presence. To this day people who were there still talk about that service. I have thought often about that night, why would God choose to bring down his power upon the campers and counselors as He did in that Camp Chapel?
My thoughts then went back to to the Shepherds that first Christmas, a group of people considered lowest on social totem pole, unwanted in town, poor and very much on the outside of the culture and community of the town of Bethlehem. Rabbi's looked at their undisciplined lifestyles in distain, so they where unwanted in the synagogue. History tells us that they where not even considered credible witnesses in the courts of the time, because of peoples perception of them. So why would God announce the birth of Jesus to this group of people? Why would God reach down His hand to those considered the lowest, on the outside of the community of the day?
The people we serve at Camp Daniel are so often unwanted, pushed out of town, poor, uninvited by most churches and typical culture. They are very much the shepherds of our day. My experience among people with disabilities has been that God's presence is powerful when they gather to worship Him. They often have little doubt that God is with us, because His presence is powerful, beautiful and humbling and they experience it on a regular basis.
I will never forget those northern lights in the sky, it will always remind me to be waiting amongst those with no agenda, no religon, and pure hearts. I will never forget that chapel service, as my life was changed that night in the presence of God. Oh God help us to continue to push forward, so the church can see you in a way they have not. Help us to embrace those on the outside who are blessed in their gift to be in your presence.
...Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Preach What You Practice

"Faith in the hearer is the life of the Word"
Matthew Henry

For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. Hebrews 4:2.

I was with a friend yesterday talking about the ministries I am involved in. He said to me, "Tony, I have always admired that you really practice what you preach". I have heard this before and it bothers me every time I hear it. looking back, I find that the times I have found myself in trouble as a leader has been when my ego inflates enough, that I tell others what to do when I am unwilling to face certain things myself. Many Christians find themselves in trouble as leaders, as missionaries, and as representatives of the Gospel by trying to live up to our own words. It can be near impossible, trying to get others to do what we are not willing to do, and is surely a bad way to lead. So I have tried to live by the standard of preaching what I practice. It sounds nearly the same but it is not.

Preaching what you practice is really a testimony to celebrate what God does through your life. Preaching what you practice is teaching with experience behind it. Preaching what you practice pushes you forward to experience more of God, in order that there is more to preach, preaching what you practice is mixing faith to the Word as it says in Hebrew 4:2. While we always should preach the scripture, it becomes much more effective if we are living out the scripture in faith as we preach it. You see, I cannot do anything unless God does it through me, and if God does it through me and I live it, it then is scripture come alive. It is very effective to preach an alive scripture, alive scripture takes faith to live out. Jesus is scripture come alive, He is the Word and lived all the scripture, and was perfect. While we will never perfect, we must attain to be like Christ, who is the Word. So in the end it is important to preach what we practice, to talk what we walk, to have living faith that is guided by the Word and spoken, yet backed up by that faith God has lived out in us.