Black Friday. As someone who tries to be as sensitive as possible when I speak and write, I'm not exactly sure why this particular label has emerged to describe the day the shopping madness for Christmas officially begins, but it doesn't quite sit all that easily with me. Nevertheless, though I might opt for some other title to describe the phenomenon, I believe I understand the attempt to address the sense of dread that accompanies the start of the Christmas shopping season for retailers and shoppers. In one tragic example of what can go wrong, a major retail store worker was trampled to death as he opened the doors for the "Friday Madness". Apparently, as the doors were opened, shoppers entered the store with such force that doors were taken off the hinges and the store employee was killed by the onslaught that even seriously injured those who tried to save him! I understand that finding a good deal can be a real motivator, but stampeding to the point of killing someone? Outrageous!
This incident shows just how easily a "herd mentality" can take over an otherwise sensible group of people. Caught up in a moment and a "movement," people who would most likely not ever consider lifting a hand in anger against another human being to the point of murder, literally stomped a man to death! This is inexcusable. I have ministered in settings around the world and in this country where people faced situations in which their very lives were at stake because of some serious problems like a lack of food, shelter and adequate medical care. What amazes me when I consider what was at stake with these folks, is that they had to wait in line for hours, sometimes days, to receive help that literally prevented them from dying, and in very few cases did I witness anything close to a stampede or disorderly conduct! Most of the time, they merely waited their turn and received the help available with dignity and courteous regard for others. I believe this s the kind of example and perspective we must consider as we face the temptation to enter into the madness of the Friday free for all.
As a Christian, I am called to follow the Good Shepherd who leads a flock, not a herd. The Bible assures me that He knows what I need before I ask and, should I feel compelled to ask, I need not panic because The Good Shepherd is inclined to hear me and to help me as I need it. When I was in Seminary, I remember being admonished along with my classmates to consider why the Lord constantly used the example of sheep and a flock rather than cattle and a herd. Our instructor explained, "Cattle can be mindlessly driven. Sheep must be thoughtfully led."
My challenge to you and to myself as we enter the Christmas Season is to remember to go with the Shepherd and the flock, and to avoid the pitfalls of following a herd. With the Shepherd, we're challenged to put the needs of others above our own. Philippians 2 puts it this way:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross...
SO, let's slow down and take some time to consider how we might use this Christmas season to spread the love of the Lord through caring deeds of service and kindness directed towards others. I've heard some encouraging stories of individuals and churches who are taking some powerful steps to assist others during this season rather than focusing on themselves. Take time right now to help others and show that you're a member of the Flock, whether it's by donating money, food, time or ideas to an existing ministry or service organization or by serving others on your own who are not on any assistance or help radar. Just do it! Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. The Good Shepherd is calling all who claim to follow Him to not pursue treasures that will ultimately not last or satisfy. Follow Him and His example: be humble, courageous and kind, willing to go the extra mile that someone else might know the love of God through the light your kindness shows. That's life with the flock. Don't get sidetracked by the thunder of a herd. The Shepherd's still small voice and clearly written Word has shown us the best way.
Until next time...