COVID-19 and creation

With all the devastating health and economic impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has brought (which I do not wish to minimize), it’s a relief to hear about one positive effect the pandemic is having: In some ways, the pandemic has been good for the environment.

Less traffic, grounded airplanes, and decreased production in factories have improved the air quality in many places. In India, for example, people are seeing mountain ranges in the distance they haven’t seen in decades due to pollution. Satellite imagery over China shows reductions in nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide being pumped into the air. Cities such as Rome, London, Los Angeles, and New York are Average NO2 concentration in northeastern US. From theconversation.comalso reporting improved air quality.

I’m aware there have also been environmental setbacks. For example, cities report the collection of more garbage (including personal protective equipment like disposable masks).

I nevertheless remain encouraged by the news of improved air quality. Again, I recognize COVID-19 has resulted in lost jobs, economic chaos, illness, and death, and I do not downplay those. But I do wonder whether the pandemic is giving humanity a little preview of how, when it comes to the environment, things could be better.

As a Christian, I believe God calls me to care for his creation. It is among the first tasks he gives to the first humans in the first garden. And it’s a recurring theme in the Bible. In addition to mandating a weekly sabbath rest, God also commanded his people to give creation a Sabbath rest: “In the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest… Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines.” God promised that if his people obeyed this command, their land would produce enough in the sixth year to provide for them through the seventh year and beyond. God designed creation so that when we care for it, he will direct it to care for us. I wonder if COVID-19 is forcing us to give the land and sky an overdue sabbath rest.

And that leads me to wonder whether instead of trying to go back to normal, we can investigate ways to create a “new normal” in which we can restore jobs and improve the economy while also carefully tending the land and keeping the air clean. Can leaders in government, industry, agriculture, and business find innovative and profitable ways to run things both so people can work and so creation is respected? I ask myself where in everyday life I can recognize and change my greedy and consumeristic tendencies that harm creation. Can I buy a bit less? Can I reuse things more? Can I travel fewer miles? Can I conserve energy?

In the middle of the pain of the pandemic, there has been an unexpected blessing of the environment faring better than six months ago. Can we receive that as a fresh invitation from God to care for creation? I for one would like the air we breathe to not go back to what we called normal prior to COVID-19.

I wrote this article for Perspectives column
in this week’s
Rock Valley Bee.

Helping kids worship

People are gathering again in person at Trinity CRC. We’re doing our best to make our facilities and procedures as safe as possible to prevent the spread of germs. I must say it’s wonderful to sing, pray, listen, and talk together again irl (in real life)!

As more families begin attending services again, it’s a good time to consider how to help our children engage in worship. Standing to sing songs or sitting still to listen to the Bible reading and message might be a bit harder after getting used to watching the services from the comfort of home. These ideas from the CRC’s Faith Formation Ministries might be helpful for your family as they have been for mine.

1. Be positive.
Instead of saying, “We have to go to church,” say “We get to go to worship.” Worship isn’t a place we go, it’s something we do with God’s family, and when we’re not there, God’s family isn’t complete. You can create patterns to help you and your family anticipate going to worship such as choosing clothes the night before and setting the alarm a little earlier so that you can arrive at worship in a peaceful state of mind. As you get ready, play worship music and maybe even sing together.

2. Take along worship tools.
Worship tools available from jane.comBring along tools that will involve your children in worship rather than simply keep them busy. Some ideas: a storybook Bible or a Bible geared for teens, a small notebook, and colored pencils or pens for drawing or writing quotes, questions, impressions, and prayers. Older kids may like to decorate a blank journal to use as their own weekly worship journal.

3. Let kids choose the seats.
With four people in our family, we sometimes have four different preferences for where to sit on Sunday! Parents with young children often feel most comfortable sitting toward the back of the worship space, but children might prefer the front so they can see, hear, and participate better. Can a different family member choose each week where to sit?

4. Be a “church whisperer.”
Help kids stay engaged during worship by discretely asking questions and making observations. During a song, whisper, “My favorite verse of this song is the third one. Which part do you like the best?” As Scripture is read, ask your child how it would feel to be living in that story or what they think the pastor will focus on in the message.

5. Talk about worship on the way home.
Ask kids about what they saw and heard in worship. Affirm their insights and encourage them to learn more. Ask if they wonder about anything that was said. As you talk, use words you heard in the worship service to build your family’s biblical vocabulary.

I put this together for last week’s Rock Valley Bee.
A similar article will also appear in the next issue of
News & Views
at Trinity CRC. You can purchase the Kids Bible Study Journal
pictured above at
jane.com.

New normal

I hear people say they are looking forward to things returning to normal after the pandemic is over. Me too. I wonder, though, if things won’t so much go back to normal as we will enter into a “new normal.” Sort of like after 9/11 – you can still fly, but new security protocols have changed your experience in the airport and on the plane.

Here’s my wish list for what I hope part of the “new normal” will be like after COVID-19 is over.

In the “new normal” we no longer take our ability to gather with others for granted. Or, put positively, we are more grateful for opportunities to spend time together with other people. Handshakes, high fives, and New Normal greeting card available at emilymcdowell.comhugs mean a bit more than they did before. We’re more intentional about deepening friendships and connecting with the neighbor up the street we’ve never met. Gathering weekly with others for worship, fellowship, and growing in faith is a higher priority.

In the “new normal” we better manage our schedules. We continue having meals together as a family and spend less time racing around from one event to another. There’s time in our day to check in on the family who just had a baby or the acquaintance who is homebound. We take seriously our need to rest body and mind on a regular basis, choosing to do so ourselves before having a pandemic force it upon us again.

In the “new normal” we are quicker to say Thank You. Some of us can work from home. Some of us are doing a decent job of keeping our kids on task with their online schoolwork. Others of us, though, have no choice but to work at the hospital or the grocery store, to continue manufacturing or driving truck. And some of us are receiving abundant confirmation that we’re not cut out to be teachers. So we begin to intentionally express gratitude to hospital staff, store cashiers, shop workers, truck drivers, teachers, aides, principals, and anyone else who serves us and our community.

In the “new normal” our eyes and hearts are open wider to God’s provision and grace. We’re quicker to talk to him just because he loves to hear from us and we love to be in his presence. We continue prioritizing prayer instead of waiting to pick up the conversation with God until the next crisis hits.

What are you going to do or prioritize differently in the post-COVID-19 “new normal?”

This column appears in this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
You can purchase the greeting card pictured above
at emilymcdowell.com.

O Sordid Town of Bethlehem

Until recently, if you’d have asked me what I imagined the town of Bethlehem to have been like in Bible times, I would have described a pleasant hillside village on a cool evening surrounded by peace and quiet. I assumed the Christmas story takes place in a sort of wholesome US Midwest small farming town, where people are generally friendly and values matter.

Artwork by Carol Sheli Cantrell

It turns out that the Bible paints a startlingly different picture of Bethlehem. The place is first mentioned in Genesis as the location where patriarch Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel sadly dies in childbirth. After that, the next two stories with references to Bethlehem come in the book of Judges. These stories are filled with idolatry, injustice, rape, and murder that culminate in civil war. Then right on the heels of that comes the story of Ruth which begins with a famine in Bethlehem that makes a local family flee to a foreign country. We learn in 1 Samuel that the great king David is from Bethlehem. But we’re first introduced to him as the youngest son of Jesse who doesn’t even bother inviting the kid to the feast when the prophet Samuel asks to meet all of Jesse’s sons. In 2 Samuel, Bethlehem is under the control of the Israelite’s enemies, the Philistines, at that point in history.

We read about Bethlehem once more in the New Testament soon after Jesus’ birth in that town when King Herod goes on a murderous rampage in an effort to destroy “the one who has been born king of the Jews.” The despot kills all the children in Bethlehem 2-years-old and younger.

To summarize: Stories in the Bible connected with Bethlehem are filled with extreme sadness and sin.

Yet despite its sketchy history, God chooses Bethlehem as the birthplace for His Son! I see in God’s choice of Bethlehem a picture of God’s redemptive purposes – His tendency to rescue the most hopeless of situations.

I head into Christmas fully aware that I do not have the perfect family that people might be inclined to think we have based solely on the smiling faces on our Christmas photo card. Our home is not always a haven but sometimes a place filled with stress and short tempers. There always seem to be temptations vying for my attention and opportunities for me to mess up and hurt others.

Yet I need not despair: If God can bring something (Someone!) good out of Bethlehem (of all places, it turns out!), then God can use me and whatever mess I find myself in. The Good News is that God specializes in redeeming bad places, relationships, and situations.

Which, of course, is why Jesus came to Bethlehem in the first place.

These reflections appeared in last week’s Rock Valley Bee.
They are an adaptation of something I blogged for Christmas 2015.

Rules that Set Us Free

I would guess that most of my readers are familiar with the 10 Commandments. Maybe you can even list some of them off by heart. (You can find all ten in Exodus 20.)

But do you know why God gives us these commandments?

Some people think God gives these commandments as a test: If we obey them, he may give us a reward. Other people imagine God as someone who wants to take away our fun, 10 Commandments graphic found at society6.comand laying down rules is one step in that process.

I don’t see God that way. I believe God gives us the 10 Commandments for the same reason the park officials installed fences in front of the cliffs along the Tunnel Mountain Trail I hiked earlier this fall in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Those fences kept me safe. They told me how far I could go to enjoy the views and take pictures without falling and injuring (or even killing) myself. Similarly, the 10 Commandments teach me what’s safe and what’s not. It lists behaviors and actions that prevent me from harming myself and others.

But the fences in Banff National Park not only prevented me from going somewhere dangerous; they also told me where I could enjoy myself and have fun. Everywhere on this side of the fence was fantastic for At the top of Tunnel Mountain with my colleague Dan Hoogland from Fredericton, New Brunswickgetting exercise as I hiked and for basking in stunning scenery. Similarly, the 10 Commandments explain to me how to enjoy life. I have the most meaning and contentment in life when God is central and I treat others with dignity and respect. I experience joy and fulfillment and even fun as I love God and love others (to summarize the 10 Commandments).

I believe that God created the world and that he created me. As the original designer, he knows how things and people work properly. The 10 Commandments convey that wisdom to me. They are not a means God uses to enslave me; God gives them to me so I can experience the wonderful freedom he created me to have.

Like God’s people in ancient times who were freed from slavery under a cruel dictator, God frees me from slavery to sin. Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection on the third day guarantee my sins are forgiven, giving me new life today and for eternity. In profound gratitude for this, I embrace God’s will for me (including the 10 Commandments) so I can please him and discover how he indeed wants what’s best for me.

These thoughts put into writing a children’s message I gave several weeks ago at Trinity CRC and this is the column I submitted for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
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Louis

I recently stumbled across the story of 9-year-old Louis. He was watching his father work with leather in his harness-making shop in 19th-century France. “Someday, Father,” said Louis, “I want to be a harness maker, just like you.”

“Why not start now?” retorted his father. He took a piece of leather and showed his son how to work with a hole puncher.

Excited, the boy began to work, but soon the hole puncher flew out of his hand and pierced his eye! He lost sight in that eye immediately. Later the other eye failed, and Louis was totally blind.

His life came to a standstill until one day when Louis was sitting in the family garden, holding a pinecone. As he ran his sensitive fingers over the layers of the cone, he could picture it clearly in his mind. Suddenly he thought, “Why not create an alphabet of raised dots to enable sightless people to read?” So Louis Braille opened a new world for the Bust of Louis Braille by Étienne Leroux found at Wikipediablind, something that would never have happened if not for the tragedy he experienced.

There have been times I could look back and see something good come out of a bad situation. I’ve heard about a death in a family bringing two estranged relatives together again. And natural disasters can bring out the best in communities as people pull together to help one another. A lot of times, though, it seems to me that sad and hurtful circumstances happen for no good reason.

Regardless, I can choose one of two ways to respond to hard times. I can choose to become angry and bitter; however, that will only make the difficulty more painful. Or I can choose – by God’s grace and with his help – to endure. A pastor colleague I know once compared going through hard times to the work of a jeweler. Like an excellent jeweler, the Lord brings his most treasured possessions – you and me – to journey through the crucibles of fire so that you and I become stronger and more beautiful on the other side. In the Bible, the apostle Peter puts it like this: “Troubles test your faith and prove that it is pure. And such faith is worth more than gold. Gold can be proved to be pure by fire, but gold will ruin. When your faith is proven to be pure, the result will be praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ comes.”

I don’t like hard times. I don’t go looking for them. But, as Louis Braille discovered, God can use them to bring about something good. In fact, one of the greatest miracles is that God – the one who knows how to bring back to life that which was dead – regularly uses hard times so we can grow, live, and hope in him.

I shared the story of Louis Braille in a chapel with the students at Rock Valley Christian School last week. I wrote these reflections for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.

One less plastic bag in the ocean

I just read about recent expeditions into the Mariana Trench in the northern Pacific Ocean, the deepest part of the world’s oceans. It’s about 7 miles down at its deepest. Reaching the bottom, the scientists’ cameras and traps both captured remarkable creatures God made that thrive in such a cold, dark, inhospitable environment, including tough amphipods (shrimplike crustaceans), intricate sea anemones, and transparent sea cucumbers.

A retired naval officer from Texas with a love for the oceans landed his submersible at the bottom of one part of the trench to meet shy marine life and see vast, untouched underwater landscapes.

Except, as it turns out, it wasn’t so untouched.

Within minutes of his submersible reaching the bottom of the trench, it found trash. The naval officer told reporters his cameras detected Graphic from Maclean's magazineplastic with writing on it. “It could have been a plastic bag,” he said.

That news, more than the fact that this naval officer had accomplished the deepest dive in human history or that his expedition had broken a slew of other records, made the headlines. How had garbage reached the deepest part of the ocean even before humans?

It actually doesn’t take as much as one might suspect. Like dirt in anyone’s home, junk collects at the lowest points. It’s simply a matter of gravity, and the trenches are as deep as it gets.

Humans are “made in God’s image to live in loving communion with our Maker. We are appointed earthkeepers and caretakers to tend the earth, enjoy it, and love our neighbors” (from “Our World Belongs to God”). Finding a plastic bag at the bottom of the ocean is an indicator we can do a better job of caring for God’s good creation as the Bible tells us to.

To care for creation, for the soil, water, and air God gives us, you and I can start small:

    • Use the city’s recycling bins to their full capacity and bring them to the curb every other week. Maybe we should even ask the city to switch the collection schedule so recycling gets picked up weekly and garbage every other week.
    • Use cleaning supplies with less harmful chemicals.
    • Turn off your car when you stop to run into a store or an office.
    • Plant a tree in your yard.
    • Use a refillable water bottle.
    • And, naturally, in light of the plastic at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, bring your own reusable cloth bags to the grocery store and everywhere else you shop.

These reflections appear in this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
I concluded with noting that I care for creation in a small way
by often biking to the office thereby using my car less.

Summer hospitality

Summer day graphic found with Google

The best days of summer are those you can spend outside with family and friends – not getting drenched in a thunderstorm downpour and not fleeing to somewhere with air conditioning in a heat advisory. This summer I hope to find numerous occasions and excuses to invite people over on a lovely summer evening.

Offering hospitality like that is not simply a nice thing to do. I understand it as a Biblical command for anyone who is in Christ: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

The trouble is, it’s easy for me to confuse hospitality with hosting. If I think I’m supposed to be a good host, then Martha Stewart is my role model. I want the house spotless. I want the lawn freshly mown. I want to take out the good dishes. I want to offer fancy hors d’oeuvres. I want the kids to be on their best behavior.

While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of those things, none are requirements for showing hospitality. Hospitality is first of an all an attitude. It’s the willingness to get to know people and have a heart tuned to welcoming others. This can be done in a messy house over coffee served in old, cracked mugs.

Hospitality, though, is not only about welcoming people I know. The original Latin underlying the word hospitality is hospes, which means stranger or even enemy. I believe Jesus calls me to show hospitality not only to family, friends, and neighbors up the street; he wants me to open my life and heart to strangers, to people I don’t know and might not even want to get to know. After all, Jesus showed grace to me by dying for me despite me being a sinner, being like an enemy to God. When it comes hospitality, Jesus is my role model.

How might the Spirit of Jesus be nudging you to extend hospitality this summer as he is with me? Use these examples to fire up your imagination:

    • Plan with others on your street a neighborhood BBQ, potluck, or game night.
    • Smile and say hello to people on the street and employees in the store.
    • Introduce yourself to someone who is of a different ethnicity than you.
    • Deliver a fruit or candy basket to new neighbors.
    • Invite a widow or widower out for coffee or over for a meal.
    • Offer to babysit for free.
    • Volunteer to be an ESL partner.
    • Talk to someone after a church service or at an event who is standing by themselves.

Like myself, people long for hospitality, to be welcomed and be known. It’s a gift I desire and a gift everyone (you and me included) can give regardless of how clean the house is.

These reflections appear in this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
I concluded with noting how we usually have ice cream in the freezer to share with anyone who happens to drop by our house!

Conform or be transformed

Grad graphic found with GoogleThis is the “Perspectives” column I wrote for the
Rock Valley Bee. It is adapted from part of the graduation address I delivered to the 8th grade graduates at Rock Valley Christian School last week.

It’s gotta be tough being a kid in middle school. You want to be uniquely you, yet you don’t want be different and excluded. I see middle schoolers walking the tightrope of expressing themselves (pursuing their particular interests and talents) while simultaneously wanting to conform (looking more or less like everyone else).

The apostle Paul tells middle schoolers and adults, little kids and senior citizens: “Do not conform” – at least not to the pattern of this world. This quote from Romans 12 is part of the class verse the 8th graders at Rock Valley Christian School chose for their graduation. When I had the privilege to give the graduation address last week, I reminded everyone of the definition of the word conform: to behave in accordance with socially accepted standards.

Sometimes socially accepted standards stink.

Yes, there are many beautiful things and places and ideas throughout our culture, and I seek them out and recognize God’s grace in them. But there is also darkness and rebellion in the world. It comes in many forms: lipping off at your parents or yelling at your kids, cheating on a test or making a substandard product at work, being judgmental of someone, uttering a racist slur, violent computer games, filthy language, pornography, gossip, even gambling (with new opportunities to do so in the news lately). Don’t conform to this kind of garbage, Paul urges.

Instead of conforming, Paul invites me to be transformed. And this is critical for me to hear: Paul is not telling me that I have to transform myself; he is inviting me to be transformed –something Jesus does for and in me and you.

Author Marva Dawn in one of her books describes a little boy trying to pry open flower buds. With blossom after blossom falling apart in his hands, he asks his mom, “Why does the bud fall apart when I try to open it, but when God opens it the flower is beautiful?” His mom wisely answers: “When God opens it, he opens it from the inside.”

Through his Holy Spirit, God is working within me, changing me, making me a new creation in Christ. Yes, I can resist it. I can choose to conform more to the dark and rebellious patterns of the world than allow the holy and gracious God to transform me. I can insist on having my way. Or I can let God have his way in me which will be far more meaningful and filled with vitality.

The invitation is for you, too: God wants to transform all of us into the beautiful creatures God created us to be. We’ll discover that’s the best kind of unique anyone can be.

Fasting for Lent

Those of us getting tired of winter’s cold grip eagerly welcomed the official start of the season of spring last week. A couple weeks before that we entered the church season of Lent which spans from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection Sunday (a.k.a. Easter). Both seasons are about renewal: In springtime we anticipate longer days, birds returning, flowers coming up, the grass turning green, kids on the playground, and farmers getting in their fields – all reminders of new life. In Lent, we seek renewal and new life in our hearts.

Lent graphic found with Google

To help experience this renewal, Christians often choose to fast during Lent. For some, that means skipping a meal each day; others abstain from a particular food, such as chocolate. I’ve also heard of people choosing to disconnect from social media or turn off the radio in the car. (One of my children volunteered to fast from doing homework, but I don’t think that’s quite the right idea.) Each time you miss the thing from which you are fasting, you choose to focus on God instead. So instead of scrolling through your Facebook feed or hanging out on Snapchat, you choose to read the Bible instead. You treat each growl of your stomach as a call to prayer.

Reading from the prophesy of Isaiah the other day, I was reminded of another kind of fasting, a kind of fasting to which God called his people when their abstaining from food had devolved into an empty ritual, something to just check off the To Do list. Here are some ways I’m being challenged to rethink fasting this season:

“You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground… This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.”  Isaiah 58:4, 6-8, Message paraphrase

These sorts of things make skipping a meal suddenly sound a lot easier than before! But when I choose to “fast” in these kinds of ways, I suspect my walk with God will grow closer. It’s not that fasting from food, social media, unjust practices, or a stingy attitude will impress God and save me. It’s more that this sort of fasting will make me more attentive to his presence and plans for me. And that will create a very welcomed kind of renewal in me during Lent that will have an impact long after the season is over.

These reflections appear in today’s Rock Valley Bee.

It’s ok to cry at Christmas

The story of King Herod killing the baby boys in Bethlehem in his unsuccessful attempt to destroy the newborn King of the Jews might be in the same chapter as the Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel, but it is rarely told at Christmastime. I’m pretty sure I’ve never sung about it in a Christmas carol nor received a Christmas card with a reference to it. Yet, try as we might to ignore it, there it is told together with the story of the magi (a.k.a. the wise men or “We Three Kings” of whom we like to sing).

Why is such a ghastly story included in the Bible, let alone in our beloved Christmas story? Well, if nothing else, this tragedy illustrates how badly our world needed (and needs) a Messiah. In the pain surrounding death, we need someone to bring life. In the face of arrogance, we need someone to model humility. In the destruction wrought by violence, we need someone to restore peace.

Interestingly, Matthew does not immediately explain why the tragedy in Bethlehem happens. Instead, he provides a lament, quoting the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning…” Hearing this cry of pain suggests to me that it’s ok to cry at Christmastime.

Christmas sadness graphic found at verywellhealth.com


It’s not a holly, jolly Christmas for everyone. For some, there’s an empty chair at the table. For others, the battle with depression clouds even the happiest days. In some homes there’s no holiday from the spiteful fighting or cold hostilities between family members or roommates. Countless 20- and 30-somethings dread being asked in yet another social gathering why they aren’t married or don’t have children as though there’s something wrong with them. Around the world, people live in fear even at Christmastime because of corrupt tyrants, food scarcity, or gang warfare. For all of these kinds of people (yourself included perhaps), the Christmas story includes a paragraph with tears. The tragedy in Matthew’s Christmas story gives us permission to tell the truth about the hurt in our lives and in the world. The tragedy in the Christmas story also gives us permission to lament (like Matthew) the pain in our lives and in the world. And in that we begin to find some comfort, healing, and maybe even joy.

I like how John Witvliet, a professor a Calvin College, puts it: “There is no grace in Herod’s heinous act. But there is grace in Matthew’s truth-telling. Matthew is telling us there is no reason why we should avoid the whole story. We tell it as a candid account of what Jesus came to resolve. We tell it to testify that even this terror cannot ultimately thwart God’s purposes.” May God give you grace this Christmas season to both acknowledge the pain in your life and in the world as well as press on to receive the Good News that Jesus’ arrival at Christmas changes everything, making things new and whole while he lovingly holds on tight to you even in – or perhaps especially in – your pain.

These reflections appear in today’s Rock Valley Bee.
They are a summary of what I talked about
at Trinity CRC’s Blue Christmas service last week.

Treasured

Jesus loves telling stories. Children think Jesus’ stories are great and adults are still left pondering them long after they end.

There’s one story Jesus tells where this person unexpectedly stumbles across a forgotten treasure chest that had been buried in a field. “Finders, Keepers” was not a familiar custom in that time. Buried treasure graphic found with GoogleAccording to property laws back then, the man needs to buy the field so that everything in it – including the forgotten buried treasure – will belong to him. But land is expensive and the man doesn’t have the cash to purchase it. So he sells all his possessions; he liquidates everything to raise enough money to buy that field. And he doesn’t sell his belongings hesitantly or sadly. No, he’s ecstatic to part with all his old stuff if it means getting his hands on that treasure. And when he finally owns the field and claims the treasure, his joy is complete.

This is a bit like what knowing and following Jesus is like – not that you can buy his friendship like you can buy a field, but that friendship with Jesus is of such great value that it’s worth giving up anything and everything else. In fact, following Jesus eventually and always involves getting rid of old stuff that gets in the way of walking closely with him. He won’t necessarily ask me to sell my house, but he may ask me to give up some “me time” so I can extend hospitality and welcome people into my house for a meal or conversation over coffee. He might suggest that instead of buying that impressive new car, I get something less expensive so I have money to share with the local church or to sponsor an orphan child overseas. He’ll certainly work with me to get rid of things like pride, my desire to be in control, lust, coveting the latest gadget, and selfishness. Friendship with Jesus always outweighs any sacrifices he invites me to make so that nothing gets in between him and me. Jesus’ story helps me remember he is the best treasure I can pursue.

But it occurs to me that I can hear this story another way, too: What if Jesus is the treasure finder and I am the treasure? What if I am not the seeker but the one being sought? Jesus’ story also reminds me how Jesus went and sold all he had so that he might buy me. He gave up everything he had – his life even! – to pay the price of my sin so that I could be friends with him. It was the hardest thing ever, but still he did it willingly – with joy, even – so that he and I can be friends. Anything he calls me to give up so I can follow him more closely pales in comparison with him sacrificing his life for me. And you could say that before I decide to pursue Jesus like a treasure, I discover he has already been pursuing me. I am his treasure.

That’s a story that will keep me smiling today. Hopefully you too.

I wrote this for today’s Perspectives column in the Rock Valley Bee.
I’ve preached on this parable and you can read the manuscript here.