I never noticed or thought it important who the angels chose to tell about Jesus' birth. They didn't go to the ones with influence: the kings, the governors, the warriors, or the religious leaders of the day. They went to the shepherds: the ones with the menial jobs and the ones doing it well. Along with this story in Luke 2, I've been reading the story of Moses and the Israelites. Moses’ whole life was spent shepherding; first, flocks of sheep, then, the nation of Israel. As I’ve dwelt on these two stories, God has continued to speak to me about how He is the good shepherd and how seeing more deeply into His shepherd’s heart equips me to live a lifestyle of shepherding.
John 10 records Jesus talking about Himself as the good shepherd and His sheep as hearing and knowing His voice. There's an awesome video of people trying to gather a flock that isn't theirs. The sheep don't even look up from their grazing when the people call, but, when their real shepherd calls, the sheep come running. Check it out. This passage in John is packed, but what moved me the most was how Jesus says the good shepherd calls each sheep by name, (v. 3) "He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out."
If we understand ourselves as sheep and Jesus as the shepherd, we can see that Jesus calls us by name and leads us. He renames us, leads us out of deserts, leads us into His love, and into our callings. Thinking back to the story of Moses, Moses was once named a Hebrew newborn sentenced to death under Pharaoh's command. But God renamed him and lead him out of danger and into Pharaoh's palace. Moses was once named a murderer and a man with conflicted identities. God renamed him, lead him out of sin and told him he would be the instrument of rescue for the Israelite people. Moses was once named a shepherd of sheep but God renamed him and lead him to his purpose of shepherding God's favored nation.
God spends His time shepherding us. He spends His time leading us to green pastures, rescuing us from danger, and giving us names. He loves being alone with us and He doesn't flinch at the journey of seeking out a lost lamb. We all start named "sheep" and can be renamed into "shepherds." But, to be a good shepherd, we first need to know how to be a good sheep. I think it’s simple: humility that comes from gazing on Jesus’ face and seeing Him clearly.
Much of Moses’ story is in Numbers. Numbers 12:3 is a sweet verse, "Now Moses was very humble--more humble than any other person on earth." In the next verses, God defends and honors Moses in front of Aaron and Miriam who had become jealous of him. The more I read the Word and get to know God, the more I see the adventure of falling in love with humility. Humility breaks down any barrier I might have to walking in my calling and true intimacy with God because humility is an emptying of me and a filling up of Him. When we are humble, we are creating space for God to use and move through us. Humility is a beacon signaling to God that He is more important and attractive to us than our own life or dreams. Humility speaks to God that we are sold out in love with Him and that's the point. God has been relentlessly chasing us every moment of our lives, and when we reciprocate, we get a Moses-like relationship with God. A relationship bound in covenant. A relationship where we are aware of His presence moment by moment. A relationship of trust, of partnership, and love. Moses and David both began as shepherds, and, to me, have the sweetest and fullest relationships with God laid out in The Word. David was called a man after God’s own heart and Moses was called God’s servant and the one God trusted (Numbers 12:7). Humility is a strong through line in each of their stories signaling they never lost sight of their first names as sheep under the Good Shepherd’s protection.
As we grow into shepherds, we don’t (or shouldn’t) leave our “sheepness” because we never grow out of needing God to guide us and fill us or needing His presence. I think the only way to be a good shepherd here on earth and to fulfill our callings is to stay a sheep to God: to stay hungry for His presence and stay responsive to His voice.
As we step into this shepherding call, we start shepherding sheep, then, God can lead us into shepherding nations. Our "sheep" can look different. For me, my sheep are my friends, the girls I mentor, my writing, my job, my classes, and my ministry leadership roles at college. My job is to faithfully steward what's in front of me until God gives me a new assignment to steward. Maybe it will be a literal nation, maybe it won't. But, if I'm called to shepherd, I am expectant for my flock to grow and my humility and dependence on Him to overflow.
I think it’s important that the angels went to shepherds first because there’s something about the heart of a shepherd that God trusts and is wild about. I think God saw the same Moses-like humility and the same fixation on God’s face in these shepherds. We don't get their names, but, God trusted them with the most important news for the world at that time. How these shepherds responded to the host of angels is exactly how we should respond to revelations from God and everything He entrusts us with. Luke 2:9, 15, 17-18, "An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified...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'...when they had seen him [Jesus], they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."
The shepherds were terrified; they were in godly fear and awe from being in the presence of angels. They trusted the angels’ message and immediately investigated what had been revealed to them. I love how although the angels didn't command the shepherds to do anything, the shepherds received the message joyfully and went to see it for themselves. Then, once the shepherds found Jesus, they spread the news to everyone they met which became an overflow of awe and joy in the people.
This is also the pattern for shepherds today: receive from God, trust it, investigate it, then tell people the good news you have. These shepherds began shepherding sheep, then God gave them the honor to be the first preachers that started the movement of The Kingdom.
For the past two months, my life was in California. It's over now and God was gracious to show me a glimpse of why I made that grand adventure. From feeling childish because I wasn't making money, to completely doubting my decision to go to California, my perspective was doing push-ups the whole time. But, in the last week God spoke to me and said, "You're too big for the things you dream about, Taylor. The revelations you have of Me are important to share. Here are some shepherds in the Word and this is what you are made for." God renamed me shepherd, He is leading me into my calling, and I’m in the process of emptying myself of my plans and trusting that His plan is much more magnificent and suited for me than what I could dream of for myself.
God calls us by name and gives us new names if we will humble ourselves and listen for His voice. We will know His voice because we are His sheep and we will know it because it is the voice that calls out our deepest, most meaningful names, hopes, and purposes. God is eager to give us an abundance of Himself like He did for Moses, David, and the shepherds watching their flocks by night. God watches for those whose hearts have decided to seek His face and His face alone as they shepherd the world God’s given them. Their prize and portion is Himself and their lives emanate Christ’s light with a brilliance. Surrendering to humility is sweet, and the intimacy with our Good Shepherd is sweeter. Let us not be surprised by the joy will we find and by the flocks He will give us when our every breath confesses our sole desire is Him.
Author: Taylor Abigail
I went to Israel in May and I'm still untangling how it changed me. When we landed back in the States, one of our group members said, "It's like we just time traveled." Our flight from Newark, NJ to Tel Aviv, Israel was ten hours and we were met with a 7 hour time difference. For ten days we were at least one day ahead of the Western world, but centuries behind in history.
I went into this trip expecting a spiritual whirlwind experience. However, the trip itself was much more like a crash course in Israeli and Jewish history. I adjusted my mindset in a few days and found that coming home would be the start of the spiritual renewal in me. When you learn things like the name "Mary" doesn't exist in Hebrew and so it's in fact "Miriam" mother of Christ - and that Jesus' Miriam is reminiscent of Aaron's sister Miriam - the Bible becomes a beautiful mystery all over again. And when your eyes see the same sights as Jesus' eyes, this disruptive religion of Christianity takes on new life. Little realizations like Mary's undercover name have the potential to scare us: are there any core doctrines we are translating incorrectly? Is my Bible translation leading me astray? Can I even know God if I don't know Hebrew and haven't seen the landscape?
I rest in the fact that God isn't confined to one language. He speaks in dreams, pictures, visions, through music...etc. I have a Malaysian friend who is fluent in both Malay and English. I asked her if God spoke to her in both or one language. She said both depending on which language got across the idea best. What a sweet avenue into God's heart. I'm learning Sign Language in college...praying for the day that God speaks to me through it.
What's been dancing around in my head the most since I've returned has been the wonder of what it means that believers are now God's temple.
I can't relate to temples. I'm not even sure that America has anything remotely close to what the temple was for the Jews. The temples and synagogues were the epicenter of Jewish life because that's where God's presence was (quite literally at some points in history) and that's where the people had to go to connect with God.
In Israel, we visited the Wailing Wall. This wall is considered to be part of an old temple. Jews still congregate there today to pray and cry out before the Lord because that's where God's presence is for them. There's security when you walk in. A wide and sunbleached courtyard stretches far out from the actual wall with dividers standing between the men's side and the women's side. The wall itself is not all that large. But long enough for scores of Jews to press themselves against the massive stones in prayer. All along the wall, there are prayer papers snuggled into the cracks. A little more unromantic was the hundreds of white plastic lawn chairs and women backing away from the wall (it's disrespectful to turn your back on a holy place) and running into the chairs and little kids romping around.
A startling mix of reverence, normality, and bondage. Eerie music hovered over the atmosphere and I wondered what it was worshipping God for. I picked up a prayer paper off of the ground in hopes I could read it and pray for someone. We sat and watched and I prayed. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would make Himself known to each of the women and that God would reveal to them His son, Jesus, as the Messiah.
Many think of the Wailing Wall as sacred and holy unlike any other thing. Maybe I'm missing something, but I walked away thankful that when I don't know how to cry out, the Spirit in me does, and that no matter where my back is facing, God is still before me, beside me, behind me, and within me. If I believed God's presence was only in some holy places, I would pitch a tent and never leave. His presence is the craving of my life.
1 Corinthians 3:16, "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?"
I lose words when I think about what it means that we - our bodies and spirits - are God's home. We are the temple He constructed from the beginning. He is only home and we are only home when we are together. He couldn't be in us for thousands of years after we sinned and the cross cleared the path for the Holy Spirit to come to a joyous homecoming and reunion. God has never been confined by space and time, but He clothed Himself with skin to blow away the sin that kept us from being his home. Still, we are not at our final and eternal home of Heaven. But our souls are eternal and are even now communing with God's Spirit within us.
The miracle of the cross cannot be thought on enough. Jesus' sacrifice was the gateway for the Holy Spirit to enter us. The shock of the resurrection; the joy of the Father as He sent His Spirit to journey home to our souls are things that I cannot turn my face from.
Believers today have never had to experience life without God's Spirit in us. We know little to nothing about the radical and timeless changes that Jesus instated. To be so brash, to be so bold, to be so generous with peace and freedom to dismember religion entirely and to name us His dwelling place probably sounded too good to be true at the time.
We can get angry when good things are given to us that we don't really believe we deserve. I wonder if that was part of the Pharisees' heart.
2 Peter 2:4 calls believers "living stones." A living stone is any stone that serves a purpose; that has a specific function and job for a building. Stones that aren't used for buildings and that remain part of the landscape are called "dead stones." 2 Peter 2:4 says, "As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him--you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." The thing about living stones is that they all were at one time dead. Choice and chiseling is what made them into living stones. Every stone had to be chiseled perfectly to serve its function well. The more specific the position of the stone, the more the chiseling.
Because we are named living stones, we can expect to be chiseled so that we can fit our specific function and purpose for every season of our lives. Our tour guide made this comment as he taught us about living and dead stones, "That pain is bad is unbiblical." Suffering - chiseling- is the crucible that transforms us from dead stones into living stones. Our guide also said, "There's always meaning in the pain. But meaning doesn't lessen the pain. It's just a guide to handle the pain well and with hope."
We can choose to remain dead stones. We can choose to not live out our identity as God's temple and living stones in His Church. We can choose to see pain as a thing to be avoided and feared. But we grievously cheat ourselves. We leave our souls dirty and unfit for the throne of King Jesus and continue wailing at a wall He set us free from.
Sometimes we feel distant from God. Could it be because of a weak hold on our identities as temples?
I listened to a sermon this morning by Matt Chandler about work and rest. He talked about the Sabbath and how it is actually a thing that God instated that denies us a spirit of self-reliance and grows in us a spirit of dependence on Him. Ezekiel 20:20, "Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” It's a sign to remind us who is God and who is definitely not God. The Sabbath is about identity. Chandler said over and over again, "Step into the privilege of your identity. God's not upset with you for falling short. He doesn't think that way: you do."
A temple isn't a place anymore, it's an identity.
The Sabbath is not a practice anymore, it's an identity.
A living stone is not just an analogy anymore, it's an identity.
These admonitions to take chiseling well, to wonder in amazement and be humbled that we are temples, and to step into our identities as living and not dead stones are not shame-filled requirements. These are privileges that we can take or leave. These are gifts that God gives us to remain under His wing. These are identities that protect us and motivate us. We don't have to become the temple, we already are. We have been for thousands of years now. We just have to live like it's true.
A picture says 1000 words. Here are some from the trip!
At Caiaphus' house. One of the places that Jesus was put on trial the morning of His crucifixion. These steps are the actual ancient steps where Jesus walked to the trial.
The Sea of Galilee! Fresh water and the prettiest seafoam color.
The Garden at Gethsemane. Some of these trees are the same trees Jesus prayed under.
Our tour guide - Arie - teaching us about dead and living stones.
Herod the Great's hippodrome at Caesarea. Also the Mediterranean Sea and ALSO a prison that Paul was kept in for two years (the structure to the left of the entrance).
More pictures to come with more blogs!
One of the most detrimental things we can do to our spiritual life is to think it's all about salvation. What I mean is staying in the idea that Heaven is on the way once we've said the prayer, therefore, this life is rather inconsequential. I'm not about to go into explaining what Paul has to say about the proper response to our salvation and grace. I want to talk about how the salvation of our souls is only one cog in a much larger machine.
Salvation is just the first step in this adventure.
Salvation gives us a sure eternal destination, but, it also makes it possible for us to receive the Holy Spirit and have real communion and intimacy with God here and now. The Holy Spirit gives us authority and power to usher in The Kingdom on earth as we are being transformed into the image of Christ. And, most importantly, there's a closeness with God that we just won't experience any other way than embracing the authority God has given us.
The concept of salvation and authority goes back to the foundations of identity. If we only see ourselves as "saved souls" but not also "authoritative souls," we are missing out on great intimacy with Jesus. If we only live out of part of our identities, we are only experiencing Christ in that one part of ourselves. Increasing our understanding of the expanse of our identities increases our experience of Christ's love.
Let's take it back to Sunday school and John chapter 3. John 3:2-3, "He [Nicodemus the Pharisee] came to Jesus at night and said, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.' Jesus replied, 'Very truly I say to you, no on can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.'" And John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. So that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life."
These verses are about identity and calling: God's identity, our identity, and what we've been made for.
They are about identity because they clearly display God's motivations for us and His heart towards us: His main goal is to love us and help us live out our high callings and identities as Kings and Queens in His Kingdom. Notice that Jesus responds to Nicodemus's claim about signs (miracles and wonders) with a comment about seeing The Kingdom. We usually think of The Kingdom as what's through the Pearly Gates on the other side of eternity. However, Nicodemus was referring to things Jesus was doing here on the earth which Jesus says we will only be able to see if we are born again and have God with us (His Spirit on us). I read this and see that Jesus just laid out for us how life works (as usual): we are saved so that we can experience closeness with Him here and now as we trust who He is and who He has called us so that we can watch The Kingdom flourish here and now. The reality of Heaven says we can't lose which is meant to give us an unshakable hope and motivation.
God sent his Son so that we could not only have eternal life, but also so that we could step into our true identities as Kings and Queens who fight to take back ground the enemy stole. Because we are saved, we can partner with God's winning team and live in our fullest authoritative identity.
I want to bring this down to earth for us. Thinking about life through a "saved and authoritative" identity heals much more heartache and answers much more questions than just staying "saved". And, in my own experience, it's carried me into depths of God's heart that I wouldn't have otherwise known.
1. What our authority means for prayer
I love to write about prayer. And I love writing to audiences who sincerely don't understand what it's about though they try to be faithful to God in it anyway. I believe God honors that, but, He also doesn't want prayer to continue to be confusing.
If we stay in the "just saved" identity, I think it's hard to understand prayer. If we ignore the part of ourselves that is meant to hold and practice authority to usher in The Kingdom, then prayer looks optional instead of vital. We can fall into the thought that God's sovereignty means that we have no influence. But, when we step into the authority Christ has given us, prayer becomes an incredibly powerful weapon and place of intimacy. God's sovereignty becomes a motivation to engage in warfare because we are sure we cannot lose.
If we believe our words and lives have power when we allow the Spirit to work in us, then we must also believe that our prayers to God hold immense weight. Proverbs 18:21 says that "death and life are in the power of the tongue." And Jeremiah 29:12 says, "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." If the Lord is listening, He will act on our behalf because we are His chosen vessels empowered by His Spirit to push back the darkness in the world.
This doesn't mean "it's all on us." We can't really screw up God's plans. But if I truly want to live within my God-given identity fully and experience the intimacy that comes along with that, then I won't even ask the question, "Do my prayers matter?" "Can I make a difference?" The answer is "yes" because God doesn't want to win back His Kingdom without us. He's a relational hero. That's something I want to be apart of and someone I want to belong to.
2. What our authority means for heartache
This could be anything from feeling anxious or experiencing deep betrayal. Heartache creates so much space for the devil to come and spin tornadoes in our souls. I know for myself heartaches that came into my life in high school still rises up today. When that happens, I can either choose hopelessness and deal with the pain until Heaven, or, I can believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27) and authoritatively claim God's comfort and truth for myself.
If we don't live out and accept our God-given identities of authoritative vessels, then we are defenseless in spiritual warfare. We claim healing will never come and settle for an existence of struggle instead of an existence of triumph. But 1 John 4:4 tells us that a victorious life is what we are made for, "You, dear children, are from God and you have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."
3. How to fight for who we are
Colossians 1:29, "To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me."
Luke 10:19, "I [Jesus] have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you."
One final statement I want to make about all this is just what it takes to nurture and protect our beliefs in our identities:
I've been learning to not only run from things that harm my identity, but to also run from the things that don't encourage my identity.
It never ceases to amaze me how much darkness we let ourselves live under. Not just the biggies here like sex, drugs, and alcohol. But things like anxiety, passive aggressive friends, boyfriends or girlfriends who critique before they encourage, poor time management...the stuff that the world deems as a "normal" part of our existence, but really isn't normal at all.
There doesn't even have to be concrete evidence to get out of a situation. Sometimes, we can point to how places or people make us feel because of certain behaviors or atmospheres, but, sometimes it just doesn't feel right. And if it doesn't feel right, then continuing in that place will only tear us apart: unrest either creates space to trust God or creates space for the devil to wreak havoc. And we very much choose which path we go down. If you're looking for a new home church, that church you tried last week may do everything right, but, if you're heart doesn't rejoice and feel at home, don't stay. That boyfriend or girlfriend might do everything right and treat you well, but, if it doesn't feel right, if you're heart isn't singing at the thought of being with them more than it's wondering, then that's grounds enough to leave. If someone critiques or makes mean or suggestive comments about you a little too much, but always turns around to ask for forgiveness, but the pattern isn't broken, over time those little comments will become footholds for the devil to tell you lies about yourself. "You really are worthless." "You'll never be able to make anyone happy." "You will never be able to love someone fully."
If we're not around what makes us grow, we're in the traps of stagnation; a breeding ground for lies.
We won't have a perfect life here on earth. I get that. But if we go through life without truly standing in our God-given identities, then we are cheating ourselves egregiously. An anxiety battle I engage in is whenever I let my "plan-less" future overwhelm my identity as a child of God. I want to go into ministry, but, there's not one organization I'm hoping to partner with and I don't have a grand idea for starting my own ministry. I'm still in the training grounds. I can look at other people who have clear goals and stepping stones and get anxious at my own lackings, or, I can remember that I am a child of God and that He has an amazing plan for my life beyond what I could concoct. As I claim that truth for myself and believe it and the anxiety flees.
Let it sink in. Because God already has a plan for us, because He is our provider, because He guides and communicates with us clearly, there's no need for me to be anxious about formulating my own plans and setting my own steps. Of course be wise with opportunities and self development, but, our preparation or lack of preparation doesn't have the final say. I don't want to get into a conversation about free will and sovereignty here. I just want to point out that any presence of darkness means we haven't let a stronger light into ourselves. The moment we ask, "What if I don't hear God clearly?" or "What if I fail on the path He's set out for me?" we've faltered at the identity level: God desires to communicate clearly and His plans will never be stopped for those He loves (which is you).
We can't think about our lives as just settling for what's good enough. God has more for us than "ok" if we follow our hearts cry for adventure and the call for more. This isn't about contentment. This is about being in the space and around the people who can see who God had made you and help you flourish in that. This isn't about just making it to Heaven and not doing the bad things while we are on earth. This is about stepping into the open floodgates of blessing that swing wide for us when we say yes to Jesus. It's about taking up our authority and experiencing tangible intimacy with Jesus; which I'll do anything for.
Even believe in miracles.