Tag Archives: kids

trick or treat

woman-hand-girl-professional

One of my favorite events in the life of our church here in Odessa took place last night. For one night each year we roll out the red, or should I say orange, carpet in a big way. Our annual Fall Festival is awesome! We have about 50 or so volunteers rally to host over 500 people each year. There’s food trucks, inflatables, face-painting, carnival games, pop-corn, music and costumes…so many cool costumes. I love seeing all of the kids, and “adult kids”, coming to our church in their costumes for a night of fun and festivities. In fact, it seems that more and more each year people are really getting into the Halloween spirit. And yet, sometimes we in the church struggle with what to do with this holiday full of spooks and ghosts and ghouls.

I guess we could start by taking a look at our own history, after all, Halloween began as part of Allhallowtide, a Christian feast holiday. According to HistoryChannel.com, “In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; All Saints Day…The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.” Halloween was originally part of a Religious feast intended to honor those who have gone before us. And yet so often we see all of the hullabaloo of Halloween today feeling like something different from it’s Christian roots and often become something else entirely. 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. Try putting yourself in the place of one of the kids who got be at our Fall Festival last night or who looks forward to Trick-or-Treating this coming week. 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 who doesn’t love another excuse to eat candy?

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 comes 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. Maybe if we began to see this holiday again through the eyes of a child and all the joy I saw last night we might be able to see it a little differently. Maybe the treat is found through the trick of seeing Halloween as a child. And maybe holidays like Halloween can be enjoyed in a new light as we seek to reclaim the world yet again through childlike wonder and joy.

 

 

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church poison

When we learn about it as kids it seems the right thing to do. In fact, sometimes we are even encouraged to do so as it often seems the best way to settle disputes. I know many times I have found myself telling my own kids to come and tell me if their siblings are doing something wrong or hurting them in any way. Of course sometimes it results in nicknames or declarations of “tattletale” being thrown around, but for the most part it helps to settle disputes among our kids because they often don’t have the skills to settle disputes without some help. However, I think the danger for us is when we don’t understand that this model of behavior modification and mediation is intended for children to help them learn, not for adults. There is actually a very specific church word for this behavior among adults and it’s really quite deadly…gossip.

You see, in essence that is really all gossip is. It is seeing something or some behavior in someone else we don’t approve of and feeling the need to go and “tattle” to someone else; and the listening party is just as guilty of conspiring as the complainer. In fact, Jesus had something very specific to say about how we speak to one another about things that hurt us in the church in Matthew 18. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” – ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:15‬ The word in the Greek there actually says that if your brother or sister misses the mark/offends/errs against you, then go talk to them first, not someone else. My contention is that if we skip this step we are gossiping, and we may be poisoning the church.

I’m always fascinated how things work. Historically the most common poison we humans used to use to eliminate each other was Arsenic. According to LiveScience.com, “Arsenic disrupts the cellular process that produces ATP, the molecule in charge of transporting energy throughout your body’s cells so they can perform the tasks that keep you alive.” The poison actually blocks life from continuing in the body. It blocks the flow of the natural processes of how things are supposed to work. Gossip does the same thing in the church because it blocks natural ways of settling disputes/hurts and creates more mistrust, more confusion and more harm than actually addressing the situation the right way would ever do. Later on in that same passage from Matthew Jesus says this, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:20‬ Often times we attribute this to prayer or worship, when in actuality Jesus is telling us that he is present with us when we handle our disputes, disagreements, offenses and sins against one another in a healthy fashion. The life and movement of the body continues to be healthy and operate in the presence of God when it is void of the poison of gossip. So may we refuse to participate in poisoning the church. May we call each other to grow up a little by encouraging our brothers and sisters to speak to each other directly when they disagree and realize in doing so we are inviting the Spirit of Christ to move more freely through His body, the Church.


misplaced curiosity

I love the curiosity that comes with childhood. You see it evidenced all the time if you are ever around small kids. If they have a question; they ask it. It doesn’t matter if it makes the situation socially awkward. Their immediate need to satisfy said curiosity is going to be made plain. I’m sure like me, those parents of small children always cringe at those social encounters when you notice your child catch something strange or different and you see the wheels inside their little heads begin to turn. It’s only a mater of time before, “How…” or “Why…” turns into a, “I’m so sorry…” from you. But we have all been there before. I remember being a very inquisitive child. So much so that often my parents would just turn me loose on our set of encyclopedias for answers (yes, I was that kid). But it seems sometimes that as we get older, our curiosity seems to wane or become misplaced and we just become indifferent to the lives of those around us.

Oh don’t get me wrong, we still like to know things about people…but rarely directly. We love to find out about people from the safety of our own homes and read about their stories from our digital screens and not have to worry about potential socially awkward moments. Think about it for a minute. One of the fastest growing industries over the last couple of decades is celebrity gossip. I can know all about their story, feel like I even know them, and yet I have never had one conversation with this person. Or even the advent of social media. Here we can look at people’s likes, dislikes, kid photos, workout plans, dinner plates, etc. and never even have to talk to them in real life and feel like we are the best of friends. But what is really occurring is that our natural curiosity that creates true and lasting relationships with others has been replaced with something inauthentic, ineffective and indifferent.

I think we are made to get to know one another. I think we are made to be neighbors who love each other like God has called us to. I think that natural inborn curiosity is a way for us to engage one another so that we begin to understand one another and ultimately so that we might be able to share Christ with the world. But when that curiosity is displaced, or stifled, or lost…then what? We keep to ourselves, we engage only those like us and we leave this world looking much the same as it did before we got here. In his epistle to the Corinthian church the apostle Paul says this about engaging others, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 In order for Paul to share the gospel he became like those to whom he was called. In order to become like those to whom he was called he probably had to get to know them. In order to get to know them he had to be curious about their story and who they were. Are we curious about the stories and circumstances of those we encounter everyday…or have we become indifferent?

My prayer is that God renews in you and I a sense of curiosity that defies difference and social limitations or awkwardness so that by all possible means Christ may save some.


come with me

The scene opens on every child’s dream; a chocolate waterfall, cream-filled cake mushrooms, candy-cane shrubs, gummy bear trees and edible candied grass. And then the strange man in tails and a top-hat begins to sing, “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” This scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of my favorite scenes in all of movie history. In this brilliant little song/scene all of the magic of childhood seems to be encapsulated. Listen to some more of the lyrics, “If you want to view paradise simply look around and view it anything you want to, do it. Wanta change the world? There’s nothing to it.” Or “There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there you’ll be free if you truly wish to be.” And on top of all of these lyrics you have kids running around enjoying all there is to offer in the chocolate factory with pure abandon.

Recently I have been walking through The Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings with our congregation and I’ve begin to have a new outlook on it all. A lot of times Christians, disappointingly so, look at the Sermon on the Mount and see it as a bit of a pipe dream. ‘Sure these things were achievable for Jesus, but he doesn’t live in the world I live in’. Or, ‘Some of these things will work for radical Christians, but that’s just not me’. And I think it all stems from our lack of imagination in the church and in the world. Think about much of our Christian salvation theology for a minute. We are saved so that we can escape this world and hell. Is that really what it is all about? This to me doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is espousing in much of his teachings. In fact, in the same Sermon on the Mount he teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:9-10. This seams to imply that Jesus very much cares not only about the world to come, but the world in which we live in now.

We refer to this trans-formative way of seeing the world as the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is both a present and soon-coming reality. The problem is that often we look around us and we don’t see the Kingdom of God. We see political upheaval, petty grievances, violence unchecked and a world that is basically broken. So why wouldn’t we want to escape? But we are not saved to escape. Rather we are saved to show the world that another reality is possible. We have the imagination to see that life can be lived without hate, retaliation, lustful coveting, grudges, pettiness, anxious worrying, and everything else that Christ preached against in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, much like the song aforementioned, we can look around us and see life and the world for what it can be and not for what it is. We can imagine the Kingdom of God into reality as we live into the trust placed in us when we are called The Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. Will you ‘come with me’ today find yourself living in a world of imagination that brings forth the reality of the Kingdom of God.


disrupted

It begins without an alarm. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I had to use an alarm to wake up. I stumble around in the darkness for a moment and sneak quietly out of the bedroom. I pass through the living room turning on a lamp, the fish tank light and make my way to the kitchen. I begin heating up some water for the french press, grind my coffee beans, perhaps play a bit with the cat who is greeting my feet and then prepare my morning cup of coffee. Then I make my way to my easy chair to think, to pray, to read and to prepare for the day. This is pretty much my routine every day and it usually happens before 6 AM. Yes, guilty as charged, I am a morning person. And I love my routine. But sometimes…things change.

Today was one of those days. At around 5:37 I heard the bedroom door open that belonged to my eldest. He sauntered out and climbed up in my arms for a bit and just set there. Then he started his routine. At 5:45 a second bedroom door opened and out toddled the youngest and she climbed up in my arms and set for a while before beginning her morning routine. And honestly, I couldn’t have been more delighted. This was and is the best disruption to a morning routine a father can have.

I think that being a father, more than just about any other role in life, has helped me to understand the character of God a little better.* There was a time recorded in the gospels where Jesus’ routine/schedule was being interrupted and his disciples quickly intervened without realizing the context. “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Mark 10:13-15 Jesus became indignant? Those are strong words. And then He goes on to say that if we do not receive the kingdom like a child we will never enter in.

You see, that’s the thing about kids. They don’t understand decorum or etiquette when it comes to interruptions. If they want to get to you…they’re going to get to you. And I think that perhaps God has this same infinite patience and understanding for us as well. He’s the father waiting on the porch for his son to come home. He’s the God who entered into death and hell itself to make a way for us. He’s the Spirit that gives life to all creation and allows space for us. And he wants us to disrupt our lives/the world itself to be with Him. He wants us to climb up into the easy chair with Him and just rest a bit. So maybe your day looks a little different as you disrupt your schedule and routine to find time to be with the God who says, “Let my little children come to me”.

 

 

* I understand that the reference to God as a father is not always helpful to some as your earthly fatherly figure has been distorted or absent. For those who can I encourage you to seek out mentoring programs in order to help become a positive example of how an earthly father can reflect the love of the heavenly father such as http://www.thementoringproject.org/


stormy weather

I used to be able to sleep through any storm. I’m not kidding. I have slept through thunderstorms, tornado warnings (I have yet to confirm if I have slept through a touch down) and even a hurricane in north Florida. But all of that changed on December 6th 2007. Why you may ask? That is the day we brought Jonas Ezekiel Anthony Arp home. All of a sudden I couldn’t sleep through a gentle mist (that may be a bit of hyperbole). But truly I have never enjoyed sleeping through storms the way I used to for almost nine years now. And last night in West Texas we had a boomer of a thunderstorm. Around 2 in the morning the lightning was flashing, the house was shaking from the thunder and I just knew our kids were about to come running for our bed at any moment. So attempting to beat them to the punch I quickly jumped out of bed and quietly went to their room where I found them both still sound asleep. Sound asleep? I’m the one who can’t sleep through storms now and here they are like little sleeping angels while the world is coming down around them.

Now this hasn’t always been the case. There have been many sleepless nights in the Arp household where we have tried any number of cheesy analogies in order to comfort little ones scared by thunder. The angels are bowling, God is moving furniture around in heaven, there are changes in electrical currents between storm fronts and the ground…maybe one of those is true. But now it seems our kids have come to have some sort of weird confidence in that they are going to be okay. Maybe because they know their parents know about the storm it might give them some sort of ease. The Psalmist had a number of ways to describe his confidence in God in this fashion. “He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121) “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” (Psalm 29) I wonder if that is the same confidence with which my little angels slept so soundly.

In the gospel of Mark though we have a different picture of God in the storm. Jesus, after a long day of teaching (on Faith of all things) crawls up to the front of the boat while the disciples are crossing over the sea of Galilee and falls asleep. Suddenly a storm comes upon the disciples and they lose their minds. They wake him up saying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” – Mark 4:38. Jesus wakes up, calms the storm, and then asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:40. All along they have been walking, talking, eating, sleeping, traveling, and spending every waking hour with Jesus. He has shown them his power, compassion, love, grace, provision, etc. and yet all of a sudden when they fear their lives and/or livelihood are in danger they think he doesn’t care?!?  I think for a moment they may have forgotten that the same God who never slumbers, the same God who is enthroned above the flood was the same God who slept for a moment in the midst of the storm. Jesus is with you in the storm. God sits enthroned above the flood and the storm. We can have peace in the midst of the good as well as the bad because of our faith. And maybe we might find ourselves like those little smiling Arps last night; resting peacefully while the world shakes so violently around them.


there’s Jesus

I’m a Christmas Spirit junkie….there I said it. After all, the first step is admitting you have a problem, right? But man do I get wrapped up in the trees, presents, warm drinks, holly and ivy, carols, nativities, Santa visits, cookies, garland, mistletoe ;), pageants, decorations, smells, sights, and sounds of Christmas. Even last week during our kids performance at the church I found myself fighting back tears as these children sing about Jesus and Christmas (confession again….tearing up slightly now). And I love the fact that my kids are at the perfect age to get excited about all of this stuff!  This year we have even been visited by an Elf on a Shelf and my kids think its the most magical thing they have ever seen! But one of my favorite things that happens takes place while we are driving in the car. If we pass by an outdoor nativity scene, yes they still have those, one of my kids, without fail, will yell out, “There’s Jesus”. And I promise this was not prompted by me at all. I don’t even know where it comes from. But all of a sudden, “There’s Jesus”. And I love it. It warms my heart a little more each time.

But it got me thinking; wouldn’t it be something if whenever someone drove by our church (feel free to place your respective church here), they looked out and yelled, “There’s Jesus”. Without a nativity scene, or a giant sculpture like that church between Dayton and Cincinnati on I-75, they still felt compelled to shout out, “There’s Jesus”. Not because of our facilities or our programming or our music or our preaching, but because they as a community knew that this church embodied Christ to them. Jesus was a man of compassion, grace, love, and truth. What if this is what our communities came to chiefly identify our churches as? After all, Jesus said in John 13, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love. Love is what characterizes us as Jesus disciples.

This season is also known as the season of The Incarnation; God becoming flesh. As disciples of Jesus it should be our goal to become incarnations of Jesus as well. One of my favorite passages that talks about what it means to be Jesus incarnate to the world around us is in Matthew 25. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” When we as a church feed, give water, practice hospitality, clothe, heal and visit the imprisoned we become Jesus to those around us.

Maybe then, if these become our chief characteristics, people will find themselves driving by and declaring, “there’s Jesus” for in our church we find the Spirit of Christ defining everything we do. This is my prayer as we move throughout this Advent season and into the years to come.


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