I remember pretty vividly the day we brought our first born home. It’s not every day that you walk into an office building with an empty baby carrier and walk out with a baby. But here we were, at Bethany Christian Services, signing adoption paper work in order to become a mom and a dad for the first time. We walked in and we were ushered into a small meeting room and we signed so much paper work that it seemed like we were finalizing a mortgage. Then our case worker said those words that are forever written on my heart, “would you like to see your son”. We then walked into the room next door and met Jonas for the first time. We were in awe of how tiny he was and we even had to have help loading him into the baby carrier for the first time. I even remembered how slow I drove back to Donelson that day…and it had nothing to do with the traffic. And the one thought that kept repeating through my mind was, “man, I hope I don’t mess this up.”
It’s something that anyone that is a parent has said at one point or another. All of a sudden we find ourselves responsible for another human being and it is absolutely terrifying. It’s funny, but I think there is a verse in the Psalms that expresses this well, but is rarely used for this insight. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139:13-14 We often pause to reflect on the wonderful part, but rarely give said due to the fearful part. The word in Hebrew is yare’ and is most often translated as ‘actual fear’. The psalmist praises God because he is made wonderfully and this is easy to see. We are incredibly complex beings. But the psalmist also praises God because he is made fearfully. What does it mean for God to make us fearfully…?
I think it might be a bit like that feeling all parents get when we realize we are responsible for another human life. There is a fear, a reverence, a holy trepidation that the actions we take and the way we care for another influences who they become. As parents of teens and children, this can sometimes become overwhelming as we seek to trust God as he guides us into this responsibility. And the crazy thing about all of this…God made us all this way. Even more astounding is the fact that as the church we have been given the charge to engage all of creation with this same reverence and responsibility. We are God’s plan for redemption of all creation. And sometimes I look at the church and the world and think to myself, “Man, I hope we don’t mess this up.” And yet, the beauty in all of this is that God created us all this way. With freewill that often leads to things that could be considered scary and terrifying, or beautiful and lovely. So today, let us praise God. For you and I and all creation have been fearfully and wonderfully made and we have a mission before us. May all those we come into contact with realize that they too are fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God who trusts all of us with each other.
Yesterday was one of the longest days of my life; at least in recent memory. You see it all began when our five-year-old had a stomach bug over the weekend…Holy Saturday night…you know, the night before Easter Sunday. So here I am the night before one of the biggest days of the church calendar changing bed linens and caring for a very sick child and thinking all the while, “I’m staring down the barrel of a gun.” For most of Monday and Tuesday I thought maybe, just maybe I had escaped the clutches of this foul intestinal bacteria beast. But alas, that was not the case. Tuesday night, although not in the same fashion or severity, I slept maybe about two to three hours total due to stomach cramps and anxiety over what might come next. The most worrisome part about all of this was my lack of sick day accruing as a teacher and so I knew the next day would be rough.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life…and I was a youth pastor for eleven years with annual lock-ins. After a day of stomach cramping, heavy lids and middle school students I was barely able to drag myself in the door. Luckily I have a wife who was looking out for me and allowed me to sleep for 12 hours…12 hours. She handled bed-time and even kept the kids or pets from waking me. But the next morning she had one important direction for me. I had to wake our three-year-old and spend time with him before going to school. Evidently him not being able to see daddy for a day was a little much and he was suffering from major daddy withdraws. So after recovering from my early spring hibernation I roused my little monster a little early and he spent about thirty minutes on the couch with me watching Thor or Hulk or some other super hero that inspires our special relationship. And I began to think about how important these moments are.
Sometimes in the midst of our hustle and bustle we forget about the most important things we have here. Was it important for me to be at work? Sure. But perhaps it was even more important for me to recover so I could be the best for those around me. In The Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks a bit as to our most important investment. “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21 I came to an epiphany earlier this year as to the treasure that Jesus is pointing us to. What does God value more than anything else in the entire world? His children. So the treasure we are called to invest in is…(wait for it)…each other. So yes, there will be times when we are busy or sick or spent or worn out, but we are called to take those moments that we do have to invest in those who are a piece of God’s heart as we seek to reveal God’s heart to the world. This is the treasure that we seek to store up for heaven’s sake.
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.
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.
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.
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/