Friday, January 18, 2019

All Things to All People

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible...I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
-1 Corinthians 9:19, 23 (NIV)

I was a rebel, and the nice lady at church was just concerned about me.
     This was about 1984 or ‘85, and the life choice I had made pushed firmly against the way things were and the way things were done at the mostly white, suburban, upper-middle-class church I had been a part of for most of my life. I was baptized there, was involved in the youth group, and beginning to – mostly – take my faith seriously. But what I had done threatened to compromise all of that. This lady saw it and was only trying to spare me from the dire consequences of my backsliding.
     That’s why she wrote the letter.
     Her tone was earnest. Her words obviously chosen carefully. She made it clear that her concern came out of love for me and my family and a desire to see me make the changes in my life I needed to make. But she was unequivocal and bold about telling me what those changes were. I was compromising my faith and my standards, not to mention bringing disrepute upon the church and being a bad example to others.
     The earring had to go.
     Perhaps you’re disappointed. Perhaps you were looking forward to some scandalous details about the preacher’s teen years. While I won’t say there are none, the scandal this lady’s letter was concerned with was my choice a few days or weeks before to get my ear pierced. (At the mall, as I recall. I tried to do it all hard and tough at a friend’s house, but the girl who volunteered to run the sewing needle through my earlobe lost her nerve about halfway through and I almost passed out. You know who you are, Tiffany.)
     I started thinking about that letter because of a new survey done by Lifeway Research that has some interesting things to say about young adults and church.
     The study is a follow-up to one released in 2007. In both, young adults who had attended church regularly in high school were asked if they had stopped attending for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22. In 2007, 70% stopped for a year. In the study released this year, 66% had stopped. 
     In both studies, those who said they had stopped attending were asked to choose from a list of reasons why they stopped – as many as they wanted.  The top reason chosen was simply the fact of moving away from home (34%). But almost as significant statistically were the reasons chosen second through fourth most often. They were, in order: “Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical” (32%), “I didn’t feel connected to people in my church” (29%), and “I disagreed with the church’s stance on political/social issues” (25%).
     In short, three of the top four reasons young adults stopped attending church had to do with their perceptions of the people at church around them.
     The reasons people have from walking away from church always have been and I guess always will be hard to pin down. But it’s kind of undeniable that the way the believers in the pews around them treated them, or their perceptions of that treatment, had a lot to do with why the young adults who responded to this survey walked away, at least for a while.      
     Now, I seriously doubt that there are too many people at any church who have made it their life’s mission to run young adults out the door. But it’s clear that at least some young adults are perceiving that their churches are more interested in looking down on them and correcting them than they are in connecting with them and being their family in the faith. One way to respond to the data in this survey might be to resist the tendency to get defensive and start asking ourselves what young adults in church are seeing in our interactions with them. 
     Paul talked about his missional mindset in extreme terms, didn’t he? I have made myself a slave to everyone. I have become all things to all people. He thought that way because to him the most important thing in any interaction with anyone was that he might win a hearing for the good news of Jesus. He had beliefs, opinions, and convictions. He had specific expectations for the way a person who’s walking with Jesus should live, and certainly was willing to spell those expectations out. But I read his statement about becoming all things to all people is to say that his first impulse was to start where people were and that getting a hearing for the gospel was more important than his own beliefs, opinions, convictions, and expectations. 
     So why does it seem like the church sometimes loves its own way of doing worship more than it loves its young adults?
     Why does it seem like the church thinks its own political opinions are worth sacrificing a few of the next generation for?
     Why do we expect our young adults to just be quiet and do things like we’ve always done them instead of making ourselves slaves for them? Why do we expect them to look like us instead of becoming all things for them?
     What do young adults in our churches see in our social media posts? I saw one post recently from a Christian in higher education I know ridiculing college students as “snowflakes.” What ideas do you think young adults at his church might have gotten from that about his opinion of them? In our world, we need to think harder about the image even our most unguarded words and actions project.    
     There is room for discussion and debate. There is room – and it’s indispensable – for older Christians to share their wisdom with younger. But the most important thing you can do for young adults in your church is to come alongside them and love them and welcome them and let them see you following in the steps of Jesus.
     That lady in 1984 didn’t push me away from church, even for a little while. (I believe my mom did have some words with her…) But that’s largely because I knew that I was loved and welcomed and appreciated there – even though a lot of folks probably thought like her about the earring. 
     But what damage can be done by adults who think our opinions should be gospel and our conclusions accepted without debate. How we can hinder the first faltering steps of faith. How we can discourage young believers who are still figuring out who they are and what following Jesus looks like for them. How badly we can hurt the church. How easily we can come between a young man or woman and their Lord.
     Even ear-pierced rebels can grow up in the Lord, if we’ll let them.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Making It Count

     Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
-1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)

Cody Parkey made a 43-yard field goal with five seconds left in the Chicago Bears’ Wild Card playoff game against the Eagles last Sunday. Parkey, who’s been under some fire this year, especially after hitting the upright four times in a game earlier in the year, trotted out onto the field and calmly nailed the field goal, giving the Bears a 17-16 lead and an almost certain win. 
     Except it didn’t count.
     Right before the ball was snapped, Eagles coach Doug Pederson called time out. Because he cut it so close, the ball was snapped anyway and Parkey went ahead and kicked. The ball sailed through the uprights, but it didn’t count.
     It’s referred to as “icing the kicker,” and most coaches do it as a matter of course before a big field goal attempt. If they have a time out, they’ll call it to let the kicker think about it a little longer. They usually do it exactly the way Pederson did it, too; they let the kicking team get set up, let the kicker get ready, and then right before the snap they call time. It’s a mind game, and kickers expect it.
     It’s not always in a win-or-go-home game, though, like it was for the Bears Sunday night.
     The TV camera caught Parkey on the field during the time out, taking a few deep breaths to calm himself down. That’s when I thought to myself, “We might be in trouble here.”
     When the ball was kicked again, it bounced off the left upright, dropped down and hit the crossbar, and then fell to the ground on the wrong side of the goalposts. No good. Eagles win. Bears go home. 
     Replays show the ball was tipped by an Eagles’ player near the line of scrimmage. That might have knocked it off course just enough. In fairness to Parkey, he made the kick. But not when it counted. When it counted, he might as well have had the holder pull the ball away and fallen on his rear end like Charlie Brown
     I think we can all probably relate to the way Cody Parkey must be feeling, if we care to try. We’ve all had efforts that fell short. We’ve all had moments where we put it out there, but it doesn’t count. You didn’t get called back for that job interview. You tried to help a friend solve a problem, only to have your words fall on deaf ears and your actions go unacknowledged. You’ve done favors that weren’t noticed, spoken truth that wasn’t appreciated, given advice that wasn’t heeded. 
     You gave your best effort to a project at work, only to have it shut down around you.
     You put your heart into a marriage, and it ended anyway.
     You’ve tried changing a habit or overcoming an addiction, and it seems to always get the best of you.
     You’ve tried to pray more, love better, serve more willingly, give more generously, and find yourself falling back into the same old ruts. 
     There’s a myth in our world: “Your best is good enough.” You’ve heard it said. Probably you’ve said it yourself. The point behind it is a good one: If you give your all to something, you’ve done all you can. But it’s simply not true that your best is always good enough; there are countless people every day who could witness to that. They did their best, and they failed. For every person whose Herculean effort is rewarded and noticed and praised — and who we look to for evidence that our best is good enough — there are how many whose best efforts end in failure and are forgotten? Or worse, remembered. Did they just not really do their best? 
     No, they did. It’s just that, by the standards of our world, their best efforts didn’t count.
     Only success matters in our world. Nothing else counts. That can be exhausting. Discouraging.
     I don’t mean to depress you, though. I want to give voice to this distressing thing that we all know to be true so I can remind you that God doesn’t see things that way.
     In the part of the Bible we call First Corinthians, Paul spends a lot of time and ink writing about the hope of resurrection. He draws a line from Jesus’ resurrection to our own, and emphasizes how important that belief is to our faith. In fact, he says that without Jesus’ resurrection, our faith is “futile.” It’s empty, vain. It doesn’t count.
     But, he assures us, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead,” and he goes on to promise that his resurrection is a preview of our own: 

“…the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”

     Anyone standing at Jesus’ cross might have been forgiven for thinking that the whole enterprise was an abysmal failure. On Friday, not one of his followers thought that his teaching and healing counted for anything.
     On Sunday, they were starting to believe again.
    And, you know, there will be times in your life — as there are in mine — when you wonder if anything you’ve done matters. You’ll wonder if you’ve accomplished anything. Guilt and shame over your failures will weigh on you. You’ll question if anything you’ve given your life to counts for anything.
     When you feel that way, please remember that “your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” When you make the Lord’s work primary in your life, then what you do matters. It counts. You won’t always be able to see how. It isn’t dependent upon your proficiency. It counts because God takes obedient lives and does unimaginable things with them. It matters because it gives him joy when his children give themselves to him, and he will not let us give ourselves in vain. He gives meaning and purpose to our work for him. If necessary, by raising the dead.
     I hope that gives you a sense of vocation: that whatever you get paid to do, or whatever your current calling is, that your real work is the Lord’s, and that whatever else you do is done with that in view. Your other work is made significant ultimately by doing it for him. Whatever else you may accomplish, what really counts is that you let God tell you what his purposes for you are, and learn to give yourself fully to that work.

     I’m pretty sure you’ll get a kick out of it.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Of Candy Canes and Non-Resistance

     You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  
-Matthew 5:38-41 (NIV)

Bring back the candy canes.
     You might have seen the news that the principal of a school in Nebraska banned candy canes a couple of weeks ago. Actually, candy canes were just one item on a memo the principal compiled of holiday symbols that should be avoided by teachers, staff, and parents at the school. Other items on the list included Santa- or Christmas-themed clipart on worksheets, Christmas trees in classrooms, Elves on Shelves, Christmas carols or music, reindeer, Christmas movies or videos (or characters from those movies and videos), Christmas tree ornaments, and even the colors red and green. You can see that candy canes were by no means singled out, but probably gained the most attention because the principal explained the rationale for the ban in this way:
“Historically, the shape is a “J” for Jesus. The red is for the blood of Christ, and the white is a symbol of his resurrection.” 
     Obviously, this principal was trying to navigate the tricky path of serving a diverse community of students, families, and teachers, some of whom might not celebrate Christmas. “We have varied beliefs in our school,” she wrote, “and it [is] our job to be inclusive.” 
     It seems like every year around Christmas time there’s at least one story like this that makes national news and ignites a debate about whether or not our country’s “Christian heritage” (whatever you make of that) is being threatened. I don’t know a thing about this principal or her motives, and I won’t presume to accuse her of anything other than attempting to be sensitive to the children she’s responsible for educating and their families. 
     The school district her school is a part of almost immediately issued a statement that said the principal’s memo does not reflect district policy and suggested that candy canes are off the “naughty” list. They also placed the principal on leave: I really hope that she doesn’t lose her job over what seems to be nothing more sinister than excess enthusiasm. Candy canes do not represent Jesus, though I’m sure that at some point during the 200 years that candy canes have been in verifiable existence someone — probably several someones — has made the connections. But, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a candy cane is just a candy cane.
     I’m really not bothered by the principal’s actions. They were a bit misguided, but they seem to have come from good intentions.
     I’m a bit more bothered by the actions of Christians (apparently) who made her memo the latest morsel for those who want to see themselves as the victims of some kind of war against Christianity to salivate over.
     Let me be very clear here: Jesus has told those who want to follow him what we should do if (and when) the world at large turns against Christianity. If (and when) the world around us wants to take away our freedom to worship without being harassed, if (and when) it wants to take away our livelihood, if (and when) it wants to take away our rights, Jesus is unambiguous about what we ought to do then. It’s not hard to understand. It doesn’t require deep reflection on the text or fluency in biblical languages. The problem is not understanding; the problem is that what he tells us to do runs so counter to the ways we’re used to thinking that it seems wrong
     “Don’t resist,” he says. 
     “What!? But it’s un-American to let someone walk all over you that way!” Maybe. But it’s very Christian. “If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile,” we argue — but Jesus literally says that’s exactly what should happen. “Eye for eye and tooth for tooth” is in the Bible, yes, but it isn’t the way Jesus says we should deal with those who want to take from us. Want to follow Jesus? When someone strikes you, don’t strike back. On the contrary, treat them with the kind of gentleness that would allow them to strike you again if they chose. Want to follow Jesus? Give more than the one who takes from you expects. If someone takes your candy canes, give them your Christmas tree too.  
     I know, Jesus is exaggerating — a bit. Honestly, though, not by much. His point still stands: “Don’t resist.” It may be heroic to fight back, but it isn’t Jesus. Jesus defended the defenseless, absolutely. He stood up for the powerless and lent his strength to the weak. But when he was accused, misquoted, attacked, beaten…. 
He was oppressed  and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth; 
he was led like a lamb  to the slaughter, 
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
     What bothers me way more than the actions of one Nebraska school principal is that at least some believers attached Jesus’ name to their decision to go to war over those actions. What bothers me is that some might even be celebrating her suspension as some sort of victory in a “culture war” that Jesus would tell us is not worth fighting at all. What bothers me is that we still don’t understand why non-resistance is integral to the Gospel.
     Jesus tells us not to resist when people act to threaten our faith because we’ve already won. We don’t have to fight against human beings, none of whom are really our enemies anyway. The victory over evil, injustice, sin, and death was won when Jesus chose not to resist. In him, we see our own path to victory.
     We can’t resist because the gospel of God’s love in Jesus can’t be proclaimed by force, or election, or coercion, or legal decision. The only way we have a chance of credibly preaching the good news is by showing our world how it works: by taking seriously his command to love even those who oppose us.  
     No one will ever take away your right to love your enemies. No one will ever be able to force you to stop being generous to those who take from you. No one will ever be able to oppose you for giving more or going farther than you have to. So don’t you see? No one will ever be able to keep you from practicing your faith. For a Christian, practicing your faith is following the example of Jesus. The only way to stop that kind of faith is to not live up to his example. 
     This time of year, we’re reminded that his story starts with God giving.
     May we receive what he’s given us with joy, gratitude, and worship, and may we then engage our broken, divided world with hearts filled to overflowing, with words and actions infused with kindness, grace, mercy, and caring.

      Even if someone wants to take away our candy canes.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Follow the Shepherds

     In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
     And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" 
     When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 
-Luke 2:8-15 (NRSV)

      It could have been King Herod who got the news from the angels. "Messiah," the Anointed One, was a loaded term in his day. It implied royal power, kingly authority. If this child born in Bethlehem was going to be king, it meant that Herod's descendants would not be. You'd think, wouldn't you, that he would have been notified? But while shepherds are visited by angels, while the birth of the Savior is announced to simple herdsmen and their confused sheep, Herod sleeps in his comfortable bed. Unaware of the storm about to break.
      It might have been the high priest to whom the angels went. If anyone should welcome the Messiah with open arms, it should be the man who was in charge of the people's spiritual well-being. He who offered the sacrifices on behalf of worshippers should have recognized the Lamb of God come to take away the sin of the world. But while the high priest dozed, the birth that would make the entire system of sacrifice obsolete was announced to the victims of those sacrifices and their keepers.
     You might have expected the scribes and Pharisees to be notified. They were the faithful, the scrupulous, zealous for the Law and the teachings of their forefathers. They knew how far you could travel on a Sabbath, what constituted work and what did not, and the proper way to prepare food. Sure people who knew the Scriptures so well would have recognized the significance of the birth of a descendant of David in his city. They would have known the prophets' longing for the Messiah and joined in the angel chorus enthusiastically. But while the upright Bible scholars rested their pious heads and dreamed their righteous dreams, God sent angels to announce the birth of his Son to men who weren't trusted enough to be accepted as witnesses in court.
     Or you might think that God would have sent his angelic ambassadors to Governor Quirinius, the Roman authority in the territory. Or even to Rome, to Caesar himself. You might think that God would get in the face of the Emperor, that the angels would sing a song of the conquest of God's kingdom over the human race's mightiest empire. But while heads of state rested from the cares of their offices, the birth of a new King was announced only to common laborers caring for someone else's livestock as far from the corridors of power as they could be.
     Curious of God to announce the birth of his Son in this way. Curious that the One whom the church has believed for centuries to be God in flesh should come into the world in such an innocuous way. Wonder what the shepherds thought when the angels told them that the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord was wrapped in common cloth and lying in an animal's feed trough? Wonder what they thought when they arrived at the stable to find no one but a tired peasant couple trying to get a cranky newborn to nurse? 
     "Good news of great joy for all the people," the angel had told them. In a rich-get-richer-poor-get-poorer world, good news for everyone is hard to come by. But by announcing the birth of Jesus to simple people like these shepherds, God showed his commitment to creating joy for everyone. By going to the shepherds, God showed that average, everyday working stiffs matter to him. By believing and going to search for the One God told them had come, the shepherds showed their trust. Herod, we know, felt threatened and tried to exterminate the upstart king. The high priest, we know, eventually condemned him to death. The scribes and Pharisees were offended by him. A Roman governor passed off responsibility for him. And in his lifetime he was never important enough by human standards to attract Caesar's attention. All the important people of Jesus' time missed his coming, for one reason or another. But the shepherds were a different story. They heard and saw the angels, believed, and went to see.
     As Christmas rolls around again, should we perhaps stop and ask ourselves if we too believe and go to see? It's ironic that in the "Holiday Season" that Americans celebrate Jesus is almost nowhere to be found. He makes an appearance in our Christmas carols, sometimes adorns cards, maybe is the centerpiece of nativity scenes, and yet very often it feels as if he's little more than a decoration -- one that gets put away with all the others when the season ends. But according to what the angel said to those shepherds, his coming is not just a holiday to be celebrated once a year. To those who put their trust in him, he brings "good news of great joy." He is exhibit A that God looks upon the human race with favor. 
     Only too many of us miss his coming. We go about our busy lives, raise our kids, do our jobs, even meet our religious obligations, and never see what those shepherds saw. We never see God Himself sleeping in a manger or nursing at the breast of a human mother. We never notice that the Creator became creature, that he traded heaven for earth: for a stable, a manger, a cross. We don't notice because few of us take the time to listen.
     Hear that? A chorus of angels sings in heaven still, because one song won't contain the joy of the gospel. But this good news is not to be just heard. It is to be seen. Experienced. Lived. So follow the footprints of a scraggly bunch of shepherds. Go with them to the manger to see the Savior of the world, the Son of God who cares for shepherds and mechanics and admins and managers and accountants and students and wives and mothers and fathers and preachers just like me and you. Kneel beside them in the dirt and straw and dung to see the Savior who came into this world and took our sufferings on himself to save us. All the "important" stuff you have to do will wait. For now, let the song of the angels lead you to the Savior. To good news of great joy for all the people. Including you. 
     Including you.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Price of Christmas

     The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. 
     Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. 
-Matthew 13:44-46)

You could probably have guessed that Christmas was going to cost you more this year than last. You just didn’t know how much more. PNC Wealth Management can help you with that.
     The financial organization has released, for the 35th year in a row, their Christmas Price Index. The index is a tongue-in-cheek (but accurate) look at the escalating price of Christmas, as seen through the classic Christmas song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
     According to PNC, this year it will cost you $170,609.46 to surprise your true love with the items in the song if you repeat the gifts each day as the song suggests (a total of 364 gifts). That’s up only one half of a percentage point from last year. On a budget? Then just buy each item in the song once for the low, low price of $25,969.43 – an increase of 1.7%. 
     Prefer to shop online? Shipping is going to add a considerable amount. Ever try to ship seven swans a-swimming? (I’m pretty sure they aren't available on Amazon Prime.)
     Higher food costs pushed the cost of six geese a-laying (laying eggs, as opposed to geese a-laying in the freezer of your grocery store) to $390, better than an 8% jump over last year - by far the largest increase in the index. The going rate for musicians has apparently increased as well: it’ll cost you $2,804.40 to hire eleven pipers piping and $3,038.10 for drummers drumming. (No word on whether you get a break if the pipers drum and the drummers pipe.)
     Strangely, while lords a-leaping will cost you $1,000 each (up $300 from last year), ladies dancing are a bargain at $7,552.89 for nine ($839.21 each for the sixth year in a row). Someone should take note of inequities in the salaries of men and women in the entertainment industry.  
     There is good news in the index: the prices of a partridge (just over $20), two turtle doves ($375), three French hens ($60.50 each), and calling birds (about $150 a piece) remained flat. Seven swans, a-swimming or not, are the most expensive items on the list ($13,125 for the set), but they haven’t gone up in the last couple of years.
     But for the biggest bargain in the index, look right in the middle of the song. For $750, you can get your true love a fist full of gold rings. That’s down over 9% from last year.
     I’m imagining one of those MasterCard commercials: “Five gold rings: $750. Seven swans a-swimming: $$13,125. A Christmas she’ll never forget: priceless.”
     Priceless. Lest we forget, that word describes what Christmas is really about better than it describes anything else. In all our rushing around, internet browsing, and catalog-perusing (“Does Harry and David even carry partridges or pear trees?”) for the perfect gifts, we can easily overlook the reason for the gifts we give. What we should be recalling as we make final preparations for another Christmas is that we give Christmas gifts because God gave a gift first. Our gifts seem to get more and more expensive every year, as our credit-card bills will attest in January. But maybe “pricey” and “priceless” are more different than the words themselves suggest. And maybe, if you’re like me, before you spend another dime on the one kind of gift, you need to take a minute or two to reflect on the other.
     A treasure hidden in a field. A pearl of great value. When Jesus wanted to talk about what it’s like to live in God’s world and pursue his agenda, he described it as a treasure so priceless that when you get a glimpse of it, you wouldn’t hesitate to give up everything you have to possess it. There isn’t much you could say that about, probably – something so valuable to you that you’d consider it a bargain to live on the street if only you could have that one thing. But that’s the very definition of “priceless,” isn’t it: so beyond our standard methods of measuring value that we can’t even place a price tag that would make sense on it? Something is really only priceless when it has value far beyond what human beings can attribute to it.
     Christmas, of course, is about the event and ultimately the person who was the focal point for this new reality God created for us. When Jesus talked about God’s kingdom as a pearl or a hidden treasure, he was also talking about himself as the one through whom that kingdom has come, and through whom it will come in its culmination. Let’s not forget that the gifts we give to one another should call our attention to the Gift he gives to us in Jesus. Let’s not forget that the gifts we receive from one another should remind us to receive graciously the Gift God gave to us graciously.
     Jesus comes to us first, even before we know enough to look for him or recognize him. Like the hidden treasure in the field, we uncover the gift unexpectedly, often while we’re all about other things. It has nothing to do with our goodness, or ingenuity, or perseverance. Jesus is God’s gift to give, and he offers it to us on his own initiative, out of his own goodness and grace, and in his own way and time. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son….” How and why the treasure got into the field, we can’t say. How and why we were blessed to find it is not necessarily for us to know. “Saving is all his idea, and all his work…It’s God’s gift from start to finish!” (Ephesians 2:8, The Message) It’s left for us only to celebrate.
     And then again, the gift God gives us in Christ is like that valuable pearl; he fulfills our wildest dreams more completely than we could ever hope. By his grace, we find one day that he is everything we’re looking for, and more than we could ever expect. By his grace, we recognize that the greatest catastrophe to ever befall us would be to lose what we’ve been given, to have it in our grasp and let it slip away. By his grace, we come to know that all of the other trinkets we’ve spent our lives pursuing together don’t come close to matching the value of God’s single perfect gift.
     So that’s why the only response that makes sense is the response of the fortunate people in the parables: you let everything else go. The Lord who put aside equality with God and took on the limits and pains of humanity and our fallen world asks that we live his life after him. He asks that we rise above our preoccupation with self, loosen our grip on the false treasures that leave us unable to receive his gift, and be alert for the ways in which God will offer the gift of Christ to others through our lives. He asks us to follow him in giving to others: our time, our resources, our energy, and our lives
     There’s no Christmas Price Index to help us put a number on the gift God gave to us. There’s no way to value it. It costs much more than we could ever repay. It’s offered in grace, love, and compassion. But when you receive it – well, there’s no room for anything else, and no reason to want anything more. 
     As we give this Christmas, let’s think about how we have received God’s gift of Jesus Christ.

     There’s a limit on your credit cards. But God’s gift to you? Priceless. 

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