Losing Jesus

Epiphany starts today. The liturgical season of Christmas is officially over.

In another week or two, our family will take down our Christmas decorations. One of our favorite pieces is our Precious Moments nativity display. Each November we carefully unpack it from a box we have specifically for it and each January we carefully pack it all back in again.

Our Precious Moments nativity set

As you can see from the picture, baby Jesus is the smallest piece of this set. And baby Jesus is the first piece I look for when I open the box and the last piece I double check to ensure was safely put back in. I mean, it would be sad if we lost a sheep or even the shepherd, but it would be nearly tragic if we lost baby Jesus!

I think there’s a bit of irony in the thought of losing Jesus: As He is fully and holy God, I never need worry whether Jesus will become lost or stray from carrying out His redemptive plan for me. He came at Christmas so that I would never be lost!

So each time I put away the nativity, I give thanks that the care I take in not losing baby Jesus is actually infinitesimal compared to the care He took – as well as the pain He endured and the victory He achieved – to ensure I’m never lost.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

A Christmas prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,

Your first disciples heard, saw, and touched you. They concluded that you are the very life – the essence – of God. You are eternal life. Yet they never forgot this crucial fact: You are also flesh and blood.

Too easily we lose touch with this reality. Too easily you become a pious name, an abstract idea, a theological term. Too often we talk about you as if you are not present with us. (But though we cannot see you with our eyes, you are near.) Lord, have mercy on us, sinners.

Grant us, Lord Jesus, during this Christmas season, the grace to contemplate you as the Incarnate One. In you, there is no darkness, no sin, no loneliness. You are light.

So we desire this same integrity that you embody in flesh and spirit. As we contemplate you, O God-made-flesh, dry up the roots of our sin and transform our inner lives into the likeness of you.

The Cradle and the Crown - A Regent College Advent Reader edited by G. Richard Thompson, et alAmen.

I slightly adapted this prayer for Advent
written by fellow
Regent College alum Alvin Ung
who suggests praying it in light of 1 John 1:1-2:2.
It appears in
The Cradle and the Crown.

God’s prepositions

…All this took place to fulfill what
the Lord had said through the prophet:
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel”
(which means “God with us”).
– Matthew 1:22-23

In the birth of Jesus, we see God coming in weak and vulnerable human form. God chooses to share our location and condition.
God is with us.

In the death of Jesus, we see God present in suffering human form. God chooses to take our part instead of being our enemy.
God is for us.

In the resurrection and ascension, we see God in victorious human form. In this form, insinuating Himself into the depths of our very being…
God is in us – as the Spirit of Christ.

…Here is what God is really like. He is the God who is with us, the God who is for us, and the God who is in us.

::– –::– –::

Days of Grace through the YearI just had to share this, my daily reading from Days of Grace Through the Year, a book of meditations drawn from the writings of the late Lewis Smedes. It not only connects with Advent-Christmas but with the entire church calendar as it follows the life of Jesus. Casting Crowns beautifully captures these truths about God in their Christmas song “God Is With Us.”

“God Is With Us” by Casting Crowns

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.