In good company on a mission

Clouds picture found via Google

Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are Good News. This is a season in the church calendar for joy: I’m filled with joy that Jesus lives and reigns; I’m filled with joy that sin and death no longer have the last word.

But this is also a season emphasizing mission: As Dale Bruner points Matthew - A Commentary (Vol 2) The Churchbook by Frederick Dale Brunerout in his commentary on Matthew, every appearance Jesus makes to His followers after His resurrection includes a call to mission. The Holy Spirit of the living Lord sends me on a mission to where I work, go out for ice cream, and even travel on vacation.

When this sounds overwhelming to me, I remember I’m in good company with the first followers of Jesus.

Maybe I don’t feel bold enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Well, I’m in good company then. Jesus first gives His commission to go and tell that He’s alive to a group of women who have been (understandably) frightened by a dazzling angel. He later commissions scared disciples hiding in the dark and sad disciples who will watch Him ascend to heaven. The truth is that Jesus equips and sends fear-filled people to free people from fear of alienation, sin, death, and hell.

Maybe I don’t feel qualified enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Well, I’m still in good company. Jesus appears to and commissions 11 disciples – an incomplete number following Judas’ tragic death. In the Bible, 12 is a perfect number, not 11. But the truth is that Jesus equips and sends imperfect people to do His perfect work.

Maybe I don’t feel official enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Guess what? I’m in good company. The Gospels refer to the disciples being commissioned by Jesus – no mention (yet) of specific leaders, church officers, or even the more official title of apostles. It’s simple people known as disciples who Jesus sends on mission. And that is all a Christian should ever want to be – a disciple. So the truth is that Jesus equips and sends ordinary people to do His extraordinary work.

Maybe I don’t feel spiritual enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. By now you’re not surprised to hear I’m in good company. Jesus first commissions a group of doubters. It’s not just Thomas, but a bunch of them who have doubts mixed in with their worship. But Jesus remains patient and forgiving: He does not divide up His disciples into two groups – commissioning those who believe and worship while telling those who fear or doubt to come back later when they have their acts together. No, in the Gospels, all are commissioned, leading me to see how Jesus’ sending power is far greater than His disciples’ faults and failings. The truth remains that Jesus equips and sends unsure and uncertain people to do His sure and certain work.

Maybe I don’t feel authorized enough to be part of Jesus’ mission. Again, I’m in good company with those feelings. I think about how the very first people to be sent on mission by Jesus are women. Today that’s no big deal, but in Jesus’ day, a woman’s testimony did not count in the law courts of the land. Women were not allowed to stand as witnesses. Everyone would’ve said that as women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary are poor choices as the very first witnesses and testifiers of Jesus’ resurrection. Yet the women are the first ones commissioned by the angel at the tomb to go and tell. Then they meet Jesus Himself who again confirms they are indeed the ones to go and tell the Good News. Throughout the Gospel, Acts, and the letters, we see women serving and proclaiming the Good News in wonderful ways. Still today the truth is that Jesus equips and sends all His sisters and brothers of all ages and cultures to do His work that enfolds everyone regardless of gender, age, and culture.

Jesus is raised from the dead and now reigns over all. This fills me with joy. It also sends me and all Jesus’ followers on a mission. The command “Go and tell” is for each of us. That’s joy and the mission of this resurrection and ascension season.

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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

Ashes

Ashes graphic found via GoogleIt’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to an Ash Wednesday service. I’m glad I went yesterday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Being there helped me discover something to give up for Lent this year.

One of the songs we sang was “Ashes to Ashes,” a relatively new one composed by Daniel L. Schutte (perhaps most well known for “Here I Am, Lord”). Here’s the chorus:

Ashes to ashes, from dust unto dust.
The cross on our forehead, your promise, O God.
Ready to follow the way of your Son,
to rise from these ashes, redeemed in the fire of your love.

The verses are adapted from Joel 3. Here are two of them:

Rend your hearts, not your garments;
return to the Lord
who delights when we offer
a truly humble heart.

Let us fast from unkindness
and turn from our greed,
giving bread to the hungry
and lifting up the poor.

What better things to give up for Lent than unkindness and greed? Quitting those might afford me more time to consider the needs of others, particularly the hungry and the poor – the kind of people Jesus regularly showed interest in.

I have to admit I’m quickly intimidated and overwhelmed by wondering how I can respond to the needs of the poor. Thankfully I don’t have to figure this out on my own. The final verse of the song assures me of the help of God Himself!

Though his nature is holy
yet Christ became sin,
so that we might inherit
the holiness of God.


(Chris Brunelle’s cover of “Ashes to Ashes” is here.)

While Children Watched Their Flocks by Night

If you use Google to look up pictures of “shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks,” you find a lot of bearded fellows with long staffs. Some look like they could be grandparents.

Christmas carol graphic found at SermonCentral

To this day, you will still find shepherds in the vicinity of Bethlehem and historians believe that not much has changed in the shepherding profession in the past 2,000 years. Something I heard Ray Vander Laan once say about these shepherds (and I understand he repeats it here) fascinates me: Many of them are children, often young girls.

That means some? most? all? of the people who receive the angel’s message that first Christmas are children. So then it’s children who make their way to the manger to find the newborn Messiah. And it’s children who “spread the word” about the Christ child and go about “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.”

I’ve known for a long time that the Holy Spirit is no respecter of age: He can use and work through anyone regardless of how old they are. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the first evangelists telling others about Jesus are very likely young girls and maybe some boys, too.

This is a great time of year for children. Monica and I are looking forward to watching our children open their presents this evening after we enjoy a fun meal together. But children need not only be recipients of Christmas joy: They can join their adult sisters and brothers in Christ in spreading the Good News of Jesus’ arrival and the difference He makes in our lives and in our world.

No one is too young, immature, or inexperienced to be blessed by and to bless others with the joy of the season this Christmas. Not even you regardless of your age!