My oldest daughter is six years old. The big thing in our town for kids her age is soccer. Practically every kid from kindergarten to second grade plays soccer. If you’ve ever seen young kids this age play soccer it doesn’t offer much in the way of athletic competition, but it offers a ton of entertainment.
Kids follow the soccer ball in a mob around the field. There is no real passing and they don’t keep score. For the first year there is no goal-keeper. Kids will often forget about the game and end up talking with their friends on the field. Referees will tie the shoes of the players during the middle of the game. Kids will occasionally stand in the middle of field staring off into the distance or into space distracted by the dragonflies that sometimes circle the field or by a distant ice cream truck. All you can do is to take it stride. After all, these are six year olds.
Not unlike those kids on the soccer field, I am a man who is easily distracted, and this is no less true when it comes to faith. When it comes to trying to live a Christian life, I am so prone to following butterflies and dragonflies. For a time, I might think that being Christian is all about being religious, or about knowing a lot of scripture, about attending as many church functions as possible, or even about being spiritually disciplined. But in the pursuit of these other things, I have also found disappointment. I have been burned out and have lost my way. Like a kid who gets separated from their parents at a mall during Christmas I’ve gotten separated from Jesus as the result of distractions and my own sin.
This past year I started writing this blog and an important part for me, were those Monday with Jesus posts. I wouldn’t presume to say that those posts were great theology, or even that they were great writing, but they were very helpful to me, insofar as they allowed me to think about Jesus in a new way. In my life, in claiming to follow Jesus, I’ve often twisted and used the words of Jesus for my own purposes. During the past half year, I’ve tried to reclaim and visit again those familiar texts in the gospels and think anew about who is Jesus and what does it mean to follow him. Along the way, as I’ve taken this new look at Jesus, I have found someone far more loving, compassionate, understanding and radical than the Jesus I formerly knew.
This past fall I also read a wonderful book called “Speaking of Jesus” by Carl Medearis which also follows this same theme of focusing more on Jesus. Too often as Christians, our faith and our testimony focus around religion and around ascribing to religious practices. Christianity becomes an elaborate fraternity or club with rituals and ways of doing things that speak more to our desire for significance and belonging, than anything else. In promoting our church or denomination, Jesus becomes lost in the fine print.
I’m reminded of A Charlie Brown Christmas. At the beginning we find our everyman Charlie Brown. He’s depressed about the holidays. He’s not at all sure what he is depressed about, but he feels terrible and cannot pinpoint why. He’s disappointed with his sister’s Sally’s materialism and his dog Snoopy’s commercialism. He goes to Lucy and her cure for him is “involvement.” He needs involvement. He needs to find something to occupy his time. He needs to do something that will make him feel important. Lucy encourages him to be the director for their Christmas production.
But he’s still Charlie Brown, and even this task is proves to be too much for him. Finding that his friends have no interest in being directed, he’s discouraged and so they send Charlie Brown to a Christmas tree lot. They tell him to find a big and impressive tree. At the lot, Charlie Brown sees these huge live trees and these grotesquely garish artificial trees. Instead of bringing back one of these big and exciting trees, Charlie Brown is drawn to this embarrassingly pathetic little Christmas tree. When Charlie Brown returns with his tree, he’s ridiculed. How could Charlie Brown think to bring back this unremarkable and unimpressive little tree? This is Christmas after all.
In this moment of Charlie Brown’s shame and frustration, he asks whether anyone knows what Christmas is all about. In response Linus shares the Christmas Story from the book of Luke, about how a virgin gave birth to a baby in a manger. You see Christmas isn’t about “being involved”, about having an important task, about Christmas shows, about impressive trees, decorations or even presents, it’s about a baby who was given to us in a manger. In this most unremarkable and unimpressive place a savior is born and this is what Christmas is all about.
I think that this is a lot how things work for many of us. Like the kids in Charlie Brown, we get distracted from the true meaning of Christmas, but for us it’s even more fundamental, we get distracted from what it means to even follow Jesus. It’s about being busy. It’s about being involved. It’s about the show and about finding an important place for ourselves.
Now we near the end of our year. In our family Christmas letter, I wrote the following:
(T)he word for 2011 is advent, which seems all the more appropriate since this is a Christmas letter. Advent is traditionally a season of preparation and expectation in advance of the birth of Jesus. We likewise feel that God is working out His own advent in our lives. We’ve gone through transitions and now He’s preparing us for what is to come, which we hope is more of Jesus.
It is my dearest hope that this Christmas and that 2012 may be an opportunity for us to experience more of Jesus. This is certainly a theme that I wish to further explore with you in this blog.
Toward this end, I hope to read more of the gospels. I also hope to read more about Jesus. A few books on my reading list include the following:
Simply Jesus by NT Wright
The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow by Scot McKnight
Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love by Mark Scandrette
I would love to read even more, but let’s start there. What I’ve come to realize again, even now as we approach Christmas and another year is that Jesus is someone worth getting to know. What will this mean for me and my life? I honestly cannot say, but I would very much like to find out, and I hope that you can travel this road with me as we rediscover Jesus.