“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen…”
Phil Shattuck is celebrating five years of being a Hartford resident this summer! He attends THP’s summer home base of South Church where he serves on the worship team, and has previously led the youth group. He first attended The Hartford Project in 2011, has since done just about everything in between, and now serves on the Board of Directors. Phil is the Program Manager at the iQuilt Partnership in Hartford. Below, Phil shares how God has been speaking to him in this season.
I am so blessed to be able to live in the City of Hartford, and to be able to live out my calling that God introduced to me at The Hartford Project six years ago. I grew up in the suburbs, but I am a “city person” through and through. Having this history of living with a suburban lens, to now living in a beautiful vibrant city, I eventually realized something that hurts the heart of God: Hartford, its suburbs, and its peoples too often live in adversarial relationships with each other. If you pay attention, this situation is not unique to Hartford by any means, but God has placed me here, and has made a way for me to “do something” about reconciling His people across these urban-suburban lines. For the last month, that has meant helping run Winterfest in Bushnell Park. I love my job with the iQuilt Partnership because our desire is to see the City of Hartford be a source of pride for people all across the region, something I see as directly in line with my calling.
Given my calling and experiences, it’s not hard to see why, seven years after graduating high school, I still come back and support The Hartford Project every year. God revealed that one of His desires through this ministry was one in the same as His calling on my life. For the last couple years, one of my roles at THP has been leading the Life in the City Planning Team. In some respects, this is really ironic because, if I am honest with myself, I don’t usually live my life in the city well. When I leave my apartment, more often than not, I approach the world with a “New York City mentality”: I have a destination in mind, and I’m ignoring everything until I get there. And I miss so much in the process.
This fall, God has been taking a wrecking ball to that part of my psyche – sometimes it just feels like that wall is 300 feet of concrete. And so, God has been working to change this mentality through a lot of different things. But during Advent, he put a peculiar thought in my head. In Luke 2:8-20, we read about the shepherds during the time of Christ’s birth.
There is so much we can learn in the fact that God chose to tell shepherds about Christ’s birth, but a day or two after reading this passage I was watching the Little Drummer Boy short film from 1968, and one part in particular stood out to me - where the entire crowd before the manger is shown. And while, in reality, the Three Kings weren’t at the manger yet, and the little drummer boy is really a made-up character, there were still many people around the manger, even without them. And while seeing this, I thought, “I wonder what everyone casually walking by that night thought about this scene?”
Think about it for a second: you’re an average Bethlehemian (that works right?). There are a ton of people in town, and you’re frustrated because your crabby aunt is going to be staying at your place now that all the inns are full. You’re walking to the market to buy an extra of everything now that you have company, and you’re walking past the stables. Except on this seemingly random night, there’s a ton of people with their sheep praising God as they surround two people sitting near a manger with – a baby? That might be weird enough to get me to stop in the middle of running around.
The shepherds and whoever they told knew that the Savior had come. But most people didn’t even understand the prophecies of the Messiah, let alone put it together that this was how they would be fulfilled. What’s crazy is that, 2000+ years after this night that literally changed the course of human existence, our communities are still filled with people who have no idea about their Messiah, or just don’t really get it. And the burden that has grown in me from this random thought is that, like the shepherds, we still have a calling to be witnesses at the manger.
You may have put away your manger scene now that Christmas is over - or if you’re like me, you don’t have a manger anyway. So kneeling in prayer before the manger might not literally be what’s going on here. But the actions of the shepherds amplified God’s glory in that situation. We can do that, right?
A couple of years ago, my youth group talked about something that I found fascinating and exciting. We were discussing the baptism of Christ, found in John 1:29-34. In this passage, Jesus is recognized as the Son of God when the Holy Spirit is displayed on Him as a dove from heaven. The group was talking about how to be recognized with the Spirit which lives within us, since it’s not usually through doves falling on us (although if you’ve had a dove fall on you, I’d love to hear about that). Instead, Paul tells us quite explicitly in Galatians 5:22-23 the fruits from which our mark is shown: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
All these years later, God is still placing this knowledge before me and asking, “What are you doing about this in your life?” Because if I limit the amount of interaction I have with the world around me, how does anyone see that fruit in me? How does my life reflect the Father’s love for his creation? That’s why a ministry like The Hartford Project is really important. It gives all of us involved an opportunity to live out these fruits with people that we don’t typically interact with. Our prayer for everyone is that this challenge at THP might make living our faith easier in settings that we’re more familiar with, like our schools or workplaces or homes... Easier said than done, right?
But God is so gracious. Even when we struggle to live that lifestyle, God can use something much simpler. The shepherds in Bethlehem that night weren’t displaying any particular fruit of the Spirit before the manger. It was their prayers and praises that drew the attention of the people around them. The amazing truth is that, even if all else fails, living a life of praise is all God needs to make you a witness to the world around you. And when we really stop to think of what the Father has done for us, isn’t that pretty easy?
And if we keep continually returning to the manger – spending time with the Father, stepping into His mission and being His hands and feet – God will use that faithfulness to bring out a greater work within you and fulfill the fullness of His Spirit within you. In this process of God chipping away at my concrete wall, I have been so excited by all the Lord is revealing about His desire for me. I still have to mentally stop myself and remember to return to the manger often, but over time my expectation continues to build. I am so confident that 2020 is going to be an amazing year for the Church in Hartford, and I pray that as you faithfully dwell with the Father, He reveals to you the ways in which He calls you to be a witness – even if it’s as small (though truly big) as the mindset you have when you leave your home. Because that’s how He changes the world.
Who else is ready for THP 2020??
Written by the many voices of The Hartford Project!