What to wear for Advent

As I make my way through this Advent season, a quote shared with me by my retired colleague Dale Vander Veen continues to echo in my mind and resonate in my soul…

Our God, you dressed yourself
in the tattered garments of our human nature,
that we might dress ourselves with
your divine ways.
Help us, therefore, to wear our human frailties
with the dignity and resolve
of those who are the earthly cradles
of the nature of God.

– from Rueben Job & Norman Shawchuck,
A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People

Treasure hunt

Jesus loved telling stories. At one point in Matthew’s Gospel, He tells a couple back-to-back about a hidden treasure and a priceless pearl. A man stumbles across the treasure and then sells everything he has so he can get his hands on it. Meanwhile, a merchant’s quest leads to the discovery of the most beautiful pearl he’s ever seen and he too sells everything so he can acquire it.

I always thought these stories are telling me to search for God, to search for Jesus, or to search for the Kingdom. And once I’ve found them, I have to sacrifice everything to hold on to them.

While it’s indeed true that following Jesus and being citizens of His Kingdom involves commitment and even sacrifice, I now wonder if I’ve been reading these stories wrong. Maybe these stories aren’t so much about me sacrificially searching for Jesus as they are first about Jesus regarding me as a treasure for whom He sacrificially searches!

I must say I really enjoyed preaching on these stories Jesus told during our recent parables series at Trinity CRC. A few weeks ago I also had the privilege of sharing this message at Inwood CRC. Please keep reading. Or watch online.

Giving Jesus all

Monica & I are part of a small group that worked through Not A FanNot a Fan by Kyle Idleman by Kyle Idleman (RightNow Media subscribers can access it here). It challenged us to examine our commitment to Jesus, whether we’re following Him closely or keeping a safe distance.

Here are a couple quotes that continue to resonate with me…

C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity summarizes the call of Jesus this way: “Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you… No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here or a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think are innocent as well as they ones you think are wicked – the whole outfit.”

::– –::– –::

We say to Jesus, “I don’t mind you making some changes in my life,’ but Jesus wants to turn your life upside down. We say, “I don’t mind a little touch-up work,” but Jesus wants complete renovation. We’re thinking tune-up; He’s thinking overhaul. We think a little decorating, why not; but Jesus wants a complete remodel.

The author most helpfully points out that becoming a more committed follower of Jesus is not the result of me simply trying harder. It’s about my old self dying and my new self awaking –

a Christ-filled, hope saturated, love-centered person resurrecting with the new day.

This is the good work the Holy Spirit does in me.

I also quoted Not a Fan a couple years ago


Cartoon found via Google

This past spring we had a plumbing problem. Our kitchen sink wasn’t draining properly so we got out the plunger, washed down baking soda with vinegar, pushed a wire hanger through the pipe, and even resorted to emptying our neighbor’s Drano Max Gel clog remover (no subliminal product placement intended) down the hole.

Unbeknownst to us while we were fighting the plugged drain upstairs, water was backing up and spurting out of a pipe downstairs.

When I went down later it was quite the shock to see water pooling in our storage room. Thankfully the floor is concrete. It only took a few hours to remove our stuff and dry the floor so I admit right away that this was nothing like the flood Rock Valley experienced in 2014 when people had water in their basement up to the floor joists and there was extensive damage in over 150 homes throughout our city. That was a disaster; what Monica and I experienced in our house was only a mild inconvenience by comparison.

An expert plumber from Oostra Plumbing, Heating & AC (not-so-subliminal business recommendation intended) quickly had our drain issue fixed. Judging by the debris that was mixed in the water, he figured our problem was connected with our garbage disposal. In the water we mopped up, we identified pieces of vegetable scraps that had gone down the drain. Those carrot and cucumber bits accurately reported what had recently been on our menu.

The pieces of food floating in the water giving evidence to what we had eaten reminds me of evidence of something else: A lot of words flood out of my mouth on a daily basis. What kind of debris is mixed in with those words? I suspect that a lot of what I read, what I watch, what I listen to, and what I think about gets mixed in. So if I’m listening to stuff with objectionable content or surfing the internet to places better avoided, eventually evidence of that will appear in things I say – whether it’s using foul language, speaking ill and inaccurately of individuals or people groups, or just having a negative tone.

On the other hand, soaking up good and wholesome things will result in me saying more good and wholesome words. Time spent playing games with family or reading a story to my children, time spent in the Bible or in prayer – these sorts of things keep my language positive and helpful.

Just as I’m going to be more conscious about what goes into the garbage disposal, it wouldn’t hurt to be more conscious about what goes into my mind. I suspect that will keep undesirable debris in my daily flood of words to a minimum.

::– –::– –::

I wrote this column for The Rock Valley Bee back in May. Since then we have received lots of advice about garbage disposals and we promise to never put coffee grinds or egg shells through one again.

Offering my body in worship

During the past few months of blogging, I’ve been looking at various elements of worship. Just as we don’t limit worship to a single day of the week but rather see it as a way of life, so we don’t limit worship to merely something that occupies our minds or our hearts. God invites us to offer every part of our bodies and every aspect of our beings in worship to Him.

I love how Dale Vander Veen expresses this in these reflections he recently wrote…

::– –::– –::

“I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies
as living sacrifices.”
– Romans 12:1

How blessed I am that God would invite me to offer myself to him. How blessed I would be even if God grabbed hold of me and dragged me to his altar! But the God of grace prefers to invite, call, court, woo, wait, allure, and at times nudge me.

How do I offer myself to God? In a very earthy way. “offer the parts of your body to him.” Wouldn’t this be an appropriate prayer?

Lord, take my feet that I may walk in your ways.
Take my legs that I may stand firm in you.
Take my knees that I may bow in worship before you.
Take my arms that I may embrace your children.
Take my hands that I may do your work.
Take my fingers that I may write your thoughts.
Take my heart that I may pulse with your love.
Take my lungs that I may breathe the freshness of your Spirit.
Take my lips that I may speak your words.
Take my eyes that I may see your world.
Take my ears that I may hear the cries of your people.
Take my mind that I may think your truth.
Take my will that I may be wholeheartedly yours.

I am blessed, blessed indeed, from head to toe, inside and out.

Graphic found via Google

…Dale offers these reflections with the prayer that today you and I see God’s altar as the place of your life, not your death.

The end of worship

When is worship over? With the blessing? The final note of the closing song? The postlude? When we leave for home?

I believe that just as the worship of God began long before I entered a church sanctuary, worship doesn’t end the moment I leave it. The heavens have been declaring the glory of God for millennia as have His people through all time; I join their ongoing song each Sunday in community with other travelers on the way. And even after I’m long gone, the song will continue. It never ends.

Acknowledging this invites me to learn from the worship practices of the ancient church as well as those of my grandparents. It creates within me interest of how the church in other traditions and in other parts of the world brings praise and lament to God at the same time I am. It also reduces anxiety in me when it comes to changes in music or style. In short, knowing worship doesn’t start and end with me helps me see a bigger picture.

I worship with others on Sundays because God is worthy but also to motivate and equip me to join creation and His people in glorifying God all week long at my job, in my leisure, and with family and friends at home. I glorify God when I use the talents He’s given me to do my work to the best of my ability. I glorify God when I see His artistic hand in a sunset or hear His power in a thunderstorm. I glorify God when I reflect His love to my wife, children, neighbors, friends, and even strangers I meet in town. Sunday worship helps me recognize how all of life is lived in the presence of God where He’s inviting me to see Him graciously at work in, through, and around me and others.

You could say that I see worship not simply as a once- or twice-a-week activity wedged into an already crowded calendar. I see it as a lifestyle where I dedicate my everyday life every day to God. What happens on Sundays helps me realign my orientation to God as I’m easily distracted as the week progresses. And receiving encouragement from others when we gather goes a long way, too. The “concentrated” worship on Sundays fuels worship all week long. That way I’m following the good counsel of the apostle Paul: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Graphic found via Google

The gift-receiving part of the worship service

I sometimes worry that people treat the blessing at the close of the worship service as just a fancy way to say “Good bye, see you next time.” In reality, these are powerful words God invites us to receive as coming directly from Him. As you receive the blessing before you leave, God affirms that you do not go out alone: He is with you to guide and strengthen you in everything that lays ahead of you in the upcoming week.

I love the article that Pastor Lee Eclov wrote entirely about the blessing (a.k.a. benediction) in which he describes it as “sort of an uber-promise:”

[The blessing] doesn’t tell us what God will do for us, but what God is doing ever and always for his people…  I wonder if the best analogy would be that it is God’s wedding vow spoken to his people. It’s his way of saying, “I take you for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and death will never part us.” The benediction is like God renewing his vows to us.

This is more powerful than someone just wishing you well before you leave to go somewhere. It’s also much more appropriate than ending the service with a command to obey. As The Worship Sourcebook warns, a command at this point in worship could “imply that the Christian life is only about working hard to earn God’s favor” (p. 367). No. Instead of this, God pronounces His unfailing love to you.

At Trinity Christian Reformed Church, I invite everyone to respond to the blessing by saying “Amen” in unison. It’s a way of the congregation declaring “This is indeed so. We receive God’s blessing.” I’ve seen people hold their hands out during the blessing, palms up. This is very appropriate, too, as it shows how God’s blessing is something to be received. Like a gift our gift-giving God is eager to give.

Palms up graphic found via Google

Blessings, of course, need not be reserved only for worship services. May I leave you with two right now? The first is one Dr. Neal Plantinga regularly spoke at Calvin Theological Seminary chapels when he was president there. The second one is likely the most famous one in the Bible from Numbers 6.

God go before you to lead you,
God go behind you to protect you,
God go beneath you to support you,
God go beside you to befriend you.
Do not be afraid…
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.