I come downstairs to a greeting much like this every morning. The signs of my son’s latest obsession. Ever since we started watching the Polar Express before Christmas we have started a journey of train exploration like none other. When my son plays, it is with trains. When he watches a movie, it is The Polar Express. When he talks about what he wants to be when he grows up, it is a conductor or an engineer (I so hope these jobs are still available when he grows up). And so every morning when I begin my day I am greeted with the signs of the previous day’s train adventures. I am reminded that my son has been hard at work acting out a world that matters most to him.
I could probably stop there and let the inference be enough…but that’s not my style;) In II Corinthians 2:14 the apostle Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” As captives in the procession of Christ. Think about that imagery. We are so caught up by the person of Jesus that we are like prisoners following after him. Paul then goes on to say that as prisoners we are spreading the ‘aroma’ of the knowledge of Christ. The word in Greek is better defined as ‘stink’. I know that is a hard one to swallow, but go with me here. I can think of one ‘stink’ that might illustrate this best. Have you ever had a skunk linger outside your home (or worse been sprayed by or had a pet sprayed by a skunk)? The smell permeates, it lingers, the evidence of the skunk’s presence is inescapable.
Like the skunk’s aroma, the evidence of my son’s train obsession is easy to identify. Sometimes my feet even provide proof as I step on a toy in the early morning light. Sometimes my ears are flooded the reenactment of scenes from The Polar Express as the conductor attempts to right the train while skidding on ice. Sometimes my mind scrambles for answers as I am quizzed on the intricate inner-workings of a steam engine. But I wonder if these same evidences exist with us and our Christ journey. Do people find our Jesus moments littering the places we have been? Does our proclamation of how Christ has changed our life linger in the air for others to hear after we have left our places of business and recreation? Do our peers and loved ones become overwhelmed by our Jesus talk and questions of how best to bring the Kingdom to earth? Do we ‘stink’ of Jesus?
I know at first that may seem like a crude thought but I guess what I ultimately want to ask is….are we leaving toy trains?
My six year old has become quite the prolific artist as of late. And then again that might be a trait you could probably extend to all six year old artists. On an almost daily basis he produces some new work of art that is either designated for display or for a specific audience. ‘This one is for you daddy…and this one is for mommy…’ And the crazy part about it is that each work has something amazing about it; some intentionality behind why it was produced. Each one has a story. The sad truth is that all to often I lose a piece or two amidst the mass production that is the result of my son’s creative ability. And someday I can’t help but think that I will want all of those back.
I can’t help but think that the way my son feels about his art gives me a better glimpse into who God is. Think about it this way; the first thing we are told about God according to scriptures is that God ‘creates’. He is a creative God. He is a God who is intimately involved in the production of life…all life. And I thought my son was prolific. Here is God who from the get go we are told is a creator, and not just of a few things, but of all things. Now imagine this God stepping down out of His creator role to take on the form of one of His creations. I mean really think about it. Think about the way he would look at a tree. How he would appreciate the proportionate amount of sunlight or the stirring of a storm. Think about how he would look at another human. He would see us like no one ever could or ever would. His appreciation for His creation would be mind-blowing. You couldn’t help but be in awe of His interaction with another.
In fact, the Advent story is pretty much summed up in one of the most famous verses of all of scripture. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave…” – John 3:16. God gave of Himself to encounter His creation in a way that would show us what it means to truly love His creation. The appreciation He had for His handiwork goes beyond all comprehension. When he looks at us He sees the massive beauty and potential bound up in what He created and the breathtaking result is Love. And I am not talking about love that is conditional or bound up by fallen ambition or desires, but love that says ‘I made you and I would do anything just to be with you’.
And here is where the hard part comes in. I think it might possibly be justifiable to sometimes lose sight of one of the many pieces of art that my son creates for me (although in the long run it might not be). But for us to lose sight of or even cast aside one of God’s creations because of our own agenda or callous life-style…God help us. Help us to appreciate where you have placed us in order to love those around us like you do. Give us the eyes of a creator who sees the boundless love and grace poured into existence in the life of another. And may we see life anew this Advent season because of the way you see us.
I almost feel like one of those theologians you read about from days gone by. It’s like I belong to a burgeoning group the likes Lewis, Tolkien, Williams and Barfield, but that may be giving us way too much credit. All the same some of my friends in ministry and the like have begun to meet weekly and although we call it a book study we rarely stay on topic. Instead we end up delving into the depths of Christian thought and philosophy (at least as far as our capacities will take us) and have many conversations that shake us all to the core to help us answer some of the really tough questions of the faith. And that is what it always seems to come around to…faith.
A lot of us sitting around the table have been trained in some realm of postmodern philosophy.* The dominant philosophy of the postmodern era is built around a school known as deconstruction and was developed by Jaques Derrida. In deconstruction you question the presuppositions behind a particular belief statement until you are left with almost nothing…or in some cases nothing. And for the Christian tradition everything ultimately gets boiled down to one thing: faith. You see without faith we have nothing. That’s the beauty and the terror of our tradition. At the end of the day we can prove nothing upon which we stake everything (although experience often tells us differently through the power of the Holy Spirit ). Hebrews 11:1 puts it this way, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Even the words in Greek hint at how instrumental this pivotal juncture in our belief system is. The word for confidence is hypostasis which is best translated as a foundation built up. And the word for assurance iselegchos which is best translated as conviction. S0 are entire way of living is built upon our conviction of what we cannot see becoming truth.
I think sometimes the best way to figure out what things are really supposed to look like is to watch children. After all, Jesus did say, “ And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). Have you ever watched a child in true imaginative play? I mean when they really engage their imagination? All of a sudden there is no other reality other than the world of their play. They could be in a mall, a church foyer, a family get together, it really doesn’t matter where, you will not disrupt their new universe. And my favorite part is when you are asked to join in. All of a sudden you get this amazing invitation to lose yourself for a moment in a new world with limitless possibilities. Hmmm…maybe that is what the call to faith truly is. We are invited to lose our lives in a reality that may not make sense to those around us, but really is the only true reality. We can’t see it; we can’t prove it…it’s faith. But we are convinced and assured that this is the only real way to live and we live out this imaginative reality known as the kingdom of God assured that it is here and yet still to come.
May you find a new way to live out true faith in the midst of a world that thinks of you as holding on to nothing but child-like beliefs.
* I assure you that postmodern philosophy in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact it really is just a new spin on old ways of thinking that even date back to the time of Christ.
I am not the best with money. I never really have been. My dad used to always say that money burned a hole right through my pockets because as soon as I would earn it, it was spent. Unfortunately as an adult this isn’t the best approach…especially as a husband and a father to two. And so I have worked at becoming better with my money. I have striven to eliminate debt and very rarely do we as a family do anything outside the realm of practicality as far as finances are concerned (granted if it is crazy or spontaneous and free, then we are on board). But I have to share with you a couple of recent events that seem so ridiculously impractical; and yes, money is involved.
Recently I shared in my blog that our son has been going through a lot. And so as a family we have been looking for ways to make new and fun-filled memories. The first opportunity came when my wife saw that Disney on Ice was in town on a Sunday morning. I had told her that unless someone hands us the money at church (which almost never happens) that there was no way we could go. And would you believe somebody handed us the money we needed at church that morning. And it was a great night filled with smiles and laughter. The next opportunity was this week. My wife and I saw a commercial for another Disney live show and we both thought of Jonas. And the following morning I was about to tell her there is no way we can do this financially, but right before we talked, I received an unexpected check at work….so we will let you know how tomorrow goes:)
Now I know that the money we were given in both of these circumstances could have gone to something better. It maybe could have paid a bill, put gas in a car, helped boost our emergency fund, etc. but I can’t help but think that God wants us to be impractical with it for the sake of our own. After all, this is the same God who impractically lavishes love out upon us. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” – 1 John 3:1. I almost think God is in the business of impracticality. He looks at us, in all of our brokenness and failures, and calls us His own. And furthermore asks us to go out and seek out more of his children and share the same love. We are to love the broken, the orphan, the widow, the enemy, the other…because we are all God’s children. And the plan is insanely impractical because love is impractical.
I feel like tomorrow this unexpected check may burn a hole right through my pockets, but I think as long as it makes a memory I am okay with that. May you find a new way to be impractical this week for the sake of loving like God loved us.
Our family has been through a lot lately. I am not making this statement to garner sympathy or to earn a badge of honor, but rather to set the stage. Our recent drama has had an effect on all of is, but probably the greatest effect on our five year old Jonas. He has had to navigate emotions and situations that I as an adult of almost thirty five years have not even had to navigate until now. And the result of all of this? All of a sudden I am that parent…the one checking on their kid every five minutes. The one measuring his mood and emotions non-stop to make sure he is ok. I am now even the one who is constantly worrying about how other kids are treating him when I am not around. And I understand why. I want to do everything in my power to keep him from experiencing any more loss, rejection, or pain. And to keep myself from interfering takes an unbearable amount of restraint at times.
So I think about God. And I can’t help but apply the paternal role to Him. After all, we are taught to pray, ‘Our Father’. And if I apply that I can only imagine that the love that I have for my own children is infinitely small compared to the love God has for us. And so I know he has to have some of the same feelings in thinking about our well-being, our interactions with each other and the times where we hurt one another. And then I read a verse like this popular one from Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In all things God works for the good? He restrains himself to let us work things out?
In my heart of hearts I know that I have to let my son go. I have to let him work through new relationships, friendships and the like. I even have to let him get hurt again because I know that he becomes a full person in me giving him this trust and confidence. And maybe that is what God has for us. He trusts us. He sees the full potential we have for love and so He sets us free to live into His purpose. I just think about all the restraint and love wrapped up into that singular action and I am blown away. May we learn to live into God’s trust for us and so model the love He has poured out on our behalf.
So last night I had the extreme pleasure of getting to watch the new Muppets movie with my family. For those of you who were in any way connected to what used to be a weekly schedule set aside for a frog, a pig, a bear and a gonzo you need to go out and rent this movie now. For any of the rest of you, you need to go and rent this movie now. The reason I say this is only because this movie awakened in me a magic that wasn’t necessarily dormant, but all the same needed refreshing. What is entertainment really all about? Why don’t we find things like The Muppet show and the magic and imagination of childhood captivating?
In one of the pivotal moments in the movie Kermit is singing a song about a possible reunion (this isn’t a spoiler for anyone who has ever seen a Muppets movie) and he sings the following, “Would anybody watch or even care? Or did something break we cant repair?” And I feel like he is asking a question we all need to ask ourselves. When did entertainment become so bent on shock and sensationalism that we can’t find delight in great stories about childhood, compassion and care? Did our taste really grow up or just become more base? The beauty of things like the Muppet show is that even though they had us laughing at puppets they also had us thinking about becoming greater. With songs like “Can’t take no for an answer”, “Together Again” and “Rainbow Connection”, they always had us dreaming for bigger and greater things without forgetting those around us who make us great.
But now look at us. We are entertained by sensationalism that doesn’t involve anything of substance. People who humiliate themselves in the tabloids and on YouTube have become our excuse for entertainment. When did shock humor become our standard? I think instead about the words of Paul to the Philippians church, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” – Philippians 4:8. Are the things we are choosing to “entertain” ourselves with worth praise? Is the stuff we call entertainment pure, lovely, right or noble?
I think all to often the loss of childhood involves a loss of innocence that we think justifies “mature” choices in what we allow into our thoughts, vision and hands…but is this really more mature? Or are we really giving into more base desires that in no way validate who we should be striving to be like i.e. Jesus. I for one think that God took great joy in the gift that Jim Henson gave the world in the Muppets. All of a sudden adults and children were laughing as a family at the Most Sensational, Inspirational, Celebrational, Muppet-ational show ever to grace the television air waves…and that can’t be that bad.
A few days ago one of the most powerful and deranged men in the world passed from this life to the next. Kim Jong Il was hailed by many as a power crazed lunatic out for world domination or at least the complete subjugation of his own people. And although he was obsessed with completely isolating his nation from the world and continuing the “war” with the United States, he did have a funny side. The man loved musicals….that’s right, Kim Jong Il loved musical theatre. I can almost see the little dictator (who for his people was always a very demure and solemn figure) cracking up at Rogers & Hammerstein or Gilbert & Sullivan productions played out before him. It almost makes you wander, was he all bad?
I mean what makes a person want to be bad? Why do people want to conquer and enslave others? Why do people want to murder and oppress those around them? I have heard before that most of the time these horrible atrocities carried out in adult hood are the result of tragedies (or really bad indoctrination) that occurred in one’s childhood. It kind of brings to mind Jesus word’s about a “millstone”. I know often I find myself hurting for these people who are so committed to violence against others…how broken must their world be? Where do they find a sense of joy or peace?
Recently my wife and I have been having to engage with certain systems that are in place in our government for the protection of children. All of this is coming about because of our adoptive process for our oldest, Dakota. And I realize that these systems are put in place for the protection of children, but all to often we lose the children in the process. To put it another way…as we were about to go to a meeting the other day I said to my wife, “Do you ever feel like we are just playing grown-up?” I mean think about it. All of sudden we become a certain age and it is ok for us to make decisions regarding the welfare of other people (especially children)? We all of a sudden are qualified to fully weigh all the particularities in order to know what is best for those around us? Take this to the next step…think about leaders, administrators, financiers, government officials…
And underneath it all is a kid who just wants to get along with others in the school yard. You know, once upon a time the world was our school yard. We were God’s children fully and we got to frolic and play in this amazing garden free of pestilence, violence and death. Maybe that’s why the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:2-4 resonate with me so much. “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’.”
I think all to often we get excited about playing grown-up and we forget the school yard. We all of a sudden think the decisions we make are more important and justified in how they affect people because we are older. I kind of see why Peter Pan never wanted to grow up. In Captain Hook he saw people like Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein, Adolfo Hitler, Pot Pol and others who forgot what it meant to be a kid and love others other around them for the children they truly were.
I think Jesus always wants us to change into the children he sees us becoming…children of God.
One of the things I have noticed since living in Flint is the enthusiasm surrounding Halloween. My neighborhood in particular is insane. We have a guy a few blocks down who covers his house In a haunted castle facade complete with a graveyard filled with all sorts of goblins and ghouls. The house two doors down always has a sound system complete with voice alteration with which he scares all of the trick-or-treaters as they come around. It really is quite the spectacle. We even have families stop to watch the show. This year however, I have come to see it in a new light.
Take for instance my neighbor two doors down. Not only does he have the sound system, but he also has his teenage sons and their friends get in on the act. They are dressed like zombies and add to the over all “ambience” by trudging in and out of their yard and the cul-de-sac in order to scare people. But think about it….here is a dad getting to have fun with his kids and their friends on Halloween. They are staying out of trouble and making memories all at the same time.
And then there is the guy who decorates his entire house; my boys refer to it as the scary evil man house…what about that guy? Well we finally decided to go to his house for some candy this year and see what all of the fuss is about. I have never seen anybody enjoy having kids come to his door and marvel at all the stuff than this guy. He really just relished the whole festiveness of the evening. He even comforted my four year old as he was a little anxious about approaching the house.
Even as I am writing this I am thinking about all of those who feel like Halloween is a dark holiday to be avoided at all costs*….and I respect your opinion, but think with me for a moment. Put yourself in the place of a child. You’re telling me that for a day I get to dress up like someone else, go around to my neighbor’s houses and they give me candy. It’s almost kind of magical. And I think that this might be what is happenings with the instances referenced above. These adults are still looking for that bit of magic found in child-like wonder.
I have always looked at scripture a little differently and I hope you will amuse me here. To me, one of the saddest verses in all of scripture is found in I Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” So often we think of this as the natural maturation process, but what if it is talking about the loss of the natural wonder and love that come with childhood? I think all to often we are ready to grow up and we miss the joy and simplicity of living that can be seen through the eyes of a child.
So maybe that is it. Maybe the treat is found through the trick of seeing the word like a child. And maybe holidays like Halloween can be enjoyed in a new light.
* on another note. Sin, death and hell were defeated through the cross and resurrection, so this being a “dark” holiday poses no threat to those who are in Christ.
In the beginning God created…This is our introduction. This is how God is first revealed to us. He is a God who creates. And shortly thereafter we are awakened to the fact that we are created in His image. We are formed into the image of a God who creates and it is magical. It all of a sudden is no mystery why we as humans strive to create great things. Works of art, compositions of beauty, buildings of grandeur, even the little pieces of ourselves we like to call children.
My wife and I were conversing recently (a healthy habit which I suggest all married couples do) and she talked about how it made sense that couples define their landmark moments around the birth of their children. In that moment you are drawn into something mystical as you “create” life. You experience life in greater fashion because in that moment you are closer to God, the creator, than ever before. This is part of your design! But often times this is where we see design-flaws come in. And in no way is the original Creator to blame, but instead the secondary creators take over and the design starts to falter.
Children are at times abused or neglected. Or they are purposed to live out the dreams of their originators, instead of being raised up to understand that they are God’s glorious creation intended to live out their lives for His glory. Not only is this our purpose as God’s creatures, but this should be the purpose of all of our creations as well. This is where Babel fell. This is where our creations fall short. And this is where we to often as the image of God fall short.
We can draw closer to God when we create. We do take on a sense of God-likeness when we create. But if it is not for His glory…then sometimes we are just trying to be our own gods and we are building Babel all over again and our life takes on the form of confusion and chaos.
So create! It is after all a mandate from our Creator God! But paint, compose, design, dance, sing, build, run, leap, and find any way to express your creative potential that you can…but be sure you are doing it for the glory of the Creator and not your own.
Last night as we were leaving church my four-year-old decided to throw a small fit as we got into the car. I can’t even remember the cause. But when he realized he was upsetting his baby sister he quickly settled down and began to comfort her. I leaned over to my wife and said, “He can be really sweet when he gets past himself.” And that’s when I was hit with some heavenly Father perspective. I am sure that the aforementioned phrase probably is something that often is expressed in the mind of God towards his earthly vessels. “They can really be sweet when they get past themselves.” The problem is, we don’t often get past ourselves in order to be sweet to one another.
We live in a Fast Food society where our demands are met almost instantaneously. We potentially can get anything we want simply by ordering it offline or going down to the local super-center to buy it. Our culture has ingrained in us that ultimately life is all about me and no one else. Fortunately, we are called to be counter-culture. We are called to care for others before ourselves. Philippians 2:4 says, “You should look not to your own interest, but to the interests of others.” It’s a radical concept…but only because the society that gives us value teaches us to value ourselves first.
The joy of watching my children grow up and learn life is invaluable in helping me understand the dynamics of human relationships. But lately I have learned, that they can be really sweet when they get past themselves. And I think the same an be said for us.