Last night was fun. How many of our days begin that way? I often wonder. But last night was fun for me because it was our first youth group outing here in Nashville and we went and played FootGolf (It’s basically what it sounds like…golf played with a soccer ball with your feet). And it really was so much fun. Seeing thirty or so middle and high school students run around a golf course kicking and laughing and having a blast. And I was right there with them. For about two hours we weren’t worried about schedules or upcoming classes or responsibilities (and most of them weren’t even on their cell phones). We were just present with each other in the moment. Say what you will about teenagers and youth ministry, but when it comes to playing together we know how to be present in the moment.
It’s actually kind of funny. Over the years you hear different critiques about youth ministry and one of those that always seems to come down the pike is that youth ministry is all about playing. All they seem to do is look for ways to have fun together. Can I flip the coin a bit? One of my main critiques of my peers and those older than me in the church is sometimes this…they have no idea how to play anymore? When do they make time to play? I’m not talking about scheduled recreation or hobbies, but opportunities for belly laughing and goofing off and losing track of time as you find yourselves just being fully present in play with those around you.
In his letter to the Corinthian church Paul writes this amazing passage all about love. And nestled in the middle is this verse that most read through the lens of spiritual maturity, but I look at it a little differently. The verse goes like this, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11 Now I have the unique privilege of spending my working life around teens and my home life around kids even younger. It’s amazing to see the necessity of play in their lives. It puts them on equal footing, the expectations are understood and for the most part everyone is included. What if in speaking about love, Paul is referencing the loss of naiveté that is the heart of love. A love that doesn’t ask questions but includes everyone and draws them into a beautiful experience as one. You see, this is what play does. This is what so often we are missing as adults. So maybe today you need permission to…walk in the rain, jump in mud puddles, smell flowers, stop along the way, build sandcastles, watch the moon and stars come out, say hello to everyone, go barefoot, go on adventures, act silly, dance, fly kites, laugh and cry for the health of it, go wondering and wandering around, ride bicycles, draw and paint, fall down and get up again, talk with animals, stay up late for or even climb trees…in other words, play. Maybe this might be the way we see the Kingdom come crashing in on our lives once again.
This morning I write surrounded by boxes. It really is amazing how much stuff we humans acquire. Here’s a test for you. If you think yourself a minimalist, just try moving once. It really can be mind boggling. So here I sit surrounded by cardboard and chaos. But it really is a picture of something much larger than myself. Over the last almost sixteen years of marriage my wife and I have had the privilege of living in Tennessee, Florida, Michigan and Texas. And you know what we’ve found? People are beautiful and amazing and incredible no matter where we live. We have found more in common with people we never thought we would connect with because of our ability to experience different cultures and communities all over these United States. The scary thing is that it seems like these days we are led to believe there is more that separates us than unites us.
But let’s be honest for a moment. The way in which many of our lives are lived today only helps to contribute to the ease of which we are divided. We listen to the same news sources, we dine and discuss with the same folks, we read the same literature, we go to church with similar minded people and we rarely break out of our routines. We are boxed in more so than my current writing environment. And so, if we are led to believe that there is more that separates us, than unites us, then it becomes easier to embrace as a mindset. In his travel book Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain had this to say about living our lives boxed in, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And honestly, you don’t have to travel across the world to gain these perspectives…sometimes you just need to go to the other side of town.
We who claim the title of Christ should be very careful how our worldviews cause us to perceive one another. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes this, “Since you have taken off your old self with its practicesand have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” – Colossians 3:9b-11 Because of Christ these labels that society is quick to pick up and employ do not exist anymore. We don’t see each other through the lenses of mass media or liberal or conservative or democrat or republican or citizen or refugee or rich or poor or whatever the dividing line might be. We see all as if we are seeing them as Christ in flesh. But in order to do that we have to get outside of our boxed in worlds and realize Christ has called us to so much more. So I sit this morning surrounded by boxes…but I know they are about to lead me to new people to love through Christ.
So I know this may not come as much of a surprise, but I love having fun. I love playing games and being crazy. But one of the most important things you have to take into account when having fun is you have to make sure everyone understands the rules. As recently as this week, I was part of one such occurrence. This Monday was our annual Memorial Day picnic for our church. Since it was going to be roughly about 1,000 degrees outside, my wife and I decided to fill up water balloons to bring to the park for the kids. But before the battle could ensue, I had to make sure everyone understood the ground rules. No hitting anyone in the face. Little kids this is your bucket and big kids this is your bucket. Make sure you step five steps away before you begin to throw. And thanks to these simple ground rules, everyone had fun, no one got hurt and we all were able to cool off for a little bit.
I feel like lately though, we as adults have forgotten how to have fun and get along. Even in the church we have allowed ourselves to succumb to worldly division and talk that just doesn’t belong. Remember Paul said to the Philippians once upon a time regarding the world and the church that, “Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” – Philippians 3:19-20 So to help us on a little refresher course and make sure everyone gets along, I decided to help us out with a few ground rules today.
- In the Kingdom of God, it is never okay to refer to other children of God as animals. Regardless of what someone has done, Jesus died to save us all. Sure in Scientific classification we are all animals, but this is the church and not science class. Therefore let’s all refer to each other as humans or even brother or sister.
- In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to compare a person of color, particularly an African American, to a monkey or an ape. This is not only dehumanizing but historically very racist.
- In the Kingdom of God we don’t fly or promote symbols that are linked to racism. And although you may claim the flag of the Confederate States of America is historical in nature, it was a history that fought to keep my son in chains and for the right to own people. Let’s keep it in the text books and out of our yards or off our clothing.
- In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to refer to women as gals or chicks or anything that would make them feel less than the equally gifted and called children of God that they are. And let’s also stop blaming them for the violence, abuse and even rape that for centuries has gone unreported, even in the church.
- In the Kingdom of God we don’t think less of anyone because of their country of origin or their international and/or undocumented status. We seek to be Christ to all because at some point someone was Christ to us.
- In the Kingdom of God we seek to know a person’s name and award them their humanity regardless of their perceived status. A whole lot of misunderstanding and hurt will be avoided if we simply get to know each other.
I know sometimes that people think the world has become insane or difficult to manage, but these ground rules really aren’t that hard to follow. At the end of the day if we simply start treating other people as if we are all one, instead of us versus them, we would get a lot further. After all, Paul said in his letter to Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28 And if you are still struggling as to how to implement these simple ground rules, maybe we can take it back to the words of Christ himself, “Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I hope this all helps. Now go out there and have fun and love people for the children of God they are.
When I learned to read I quickly became a little predictable. You see, we had this book that my parents got every once in a while and every time they would get it I would find myself rifling through the pages until I got to a certain section. It was either “Humor in Uniform”, “Life in these United States” or “The Best Medicine”. The publication was called The Reader’s Digest and I went straight for the joke sections. I remember going to my grandparents house and seeing their Sunday paper and going straight for the comics section (as long as my PaPaw was done with his puzzles). For a while I feel like I was almost obsessed with reading “The Far Side” or “Hogarth the Horrible” or “Get Fuzzy”. So yesterday, the superlatives at a teacher’s meeting for the end of the school year really didn’t come as too much of a surprise. That’s right, yours truly was awarded the Staff Comedian. Someone even asked if I was given the award because they were laughing with me or at me…? My response, “Yes”.
But I treasure this award…truly. I see laughter as a reflection of joy and I hold joy in the utmost regard when it comes to the life of faith. When the apostle Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit, you know the things in our life we see as a result of the living presence of God within us, it goes a little like this, “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23 The first one on the list makes a lot of sense. After all, God is love. But the second one? Joy?!? It’s that important that it gets picked second. There is a story in the Old Testament where the people of Israel are overcome with grief and guilt. They had finished rebuilding the temple wall and in the process had discovered anew the law. After hearing it read the people began to weep because of how far they had fallen, but this is the response: “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Don’t mourn or weep…Go, eat rich food, and drink something sweet,” he said to them, “and send portions of this to any who have nothing ready! This day is holy to our Lord. Don’t be sad, because the joy from the Lord is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:9-10 The joy of the Lord is your strength!
Laughter to me is a natural reflection of joy. I remember my wife and I reading about the biology of laughter some time ago. Evidently laughter, true laughter, is an almost involuntary response when your brain gets surprised…literally tickled. It’s our bodies way of showing us there is a new way to see the things around us and sometimes it can even be silly or absurd or flat out funny. Laughter is a reflection of learning and a way of showing us the joy to be found in and through the world around us. Maybe it might not be the best literal medicine (my money is on ibuprofen), but it does make life a little more livable. And if God’s joy is our strength and a reflection of the presence of God in our lives, then let’s find more things to smile, laugh and be joyful about each day.
This Sunday is a significant Sunday for the life of the Church…actually it is the celebration of the life of the Church, because it’s the Church’s birthday! Pentecost Sunday is the day we commemorate the reception of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the movement that came to be known as the Church. The story goes a little something like this, “When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:1-4 And from that moment on the world would never be the same. I love the description for the presence of the Holy Spirit; wind and fire. (Add earth and you’ve got a soul-filled experience, I couldn’t help myself). But these two movements in nature are both powerful and mysterious, yet how often do we think of the action of the Church in terms of wind or fire today?
Often the Church is more of a comfortable movement in the world today. We hear passages from scripture and rather than being spurred on or challenged, we simply seek to be affirmed or comforted in the station or position in life in which we currently exist. Take for instance this passage from Paul to the church in Thessalonica, “Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else. Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:15-19 That sounds good. Don’t repay wrongs, rejoice and be prayerful, give thanks and don’t suppress the Spirit…wait, what!?! The Greek word is actually sbennymi, which meant to extinguish. Don’t extinguish the Spirit? But think about it for a minute. This is the presence of God that on the day of Pentecost was described as a fierce wind and fire. What is it about the movement of the Church today that resembles a fierce wind or fire?
In his book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis is describing the four children’s preparation for their first meeting with Aslan. The children become a bit scared when they realize that Aslan is a lion. Here’s how the conversation concludes, “’Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you’.” I think that’s where safety has taken over the flow of the Spirit in the Church today. We want the action of the Spirit to be safe, comfortable, fit our schedule, pat us on the back and tell us we’re doing okay. But what we don’t realize is that in doing so we are fighting the very fire of God that continually seeks to set the church ablaze. When we seek to control the Spirit or dictate how the Holy Spirit must work in our churches or in another’s life we are actually extinguishing that which is unpredictable. And yet God does not force us to remain in the flames of His love. In fact it’s quite easy to suppress the presence and power of God when our agendas of safety, comfort and control take over. So what will it be this Pentecost? Will we find ourselves consumed by the mystery of a God who is nowhere near safe, but good? Or will we continue to suppress the very Spirit that gave birth to Kingdom of God on earth?
Maybe it’s high time we put down the fire extinguishers.
I am by nature a relatively lazy person. Truthfully, I think we all have to fight this. I mean if I were given the choice of doing something I do in my every day routine or taking a nap, I think would always opt for the nap. I even find myself resonating with my 11-yr-old every time I ask him to do the simplest of task, you know like brush his teeth. “Ugh. Right now?!?” And yet, it’s the procrastination, the laziness, the not wanting to stay ahead of the game that so often adds stress and frustration to an already hectic life. My wife and I were talking recently and she mentioned something she had learned once. A speaker had shared a talk about “five minutes”. Basically the person shared that if you were staring something in the face that you didn’t really want to do, but you knew it would take five minutes or less, that you should go ahead and crank it out. I know it seems overly simple, but it speaks volumes into our overly hectic lives.
We truly are over-scheduled people. We have work and school and church and rehearsals and practice and gym time and lessons. And somehow in the midst of all of that we are called to foster healthy homes and families and spiritual lives and do you see where I am going…? So sometimes we do need something as simple and as profound as “five minutes” to help us take back some semblance of order with our lives. In the 90’s there was a Christian record label called 5-minute walk. And 5-minute walk’s motto/vision was simple. They urged people who listened to their artists to begin to spend five minutes a day with God. Just five minutes; and see where it would lead. Now think about this for a minute…each person in their life has an average of 39,000,000 minutes. Of course some have much fewer and some have a bit more, but if we take out five minute increments from 39,000,000 it really doesn’t seem like that much and yet the impact could be huge.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul writes these words, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” – Ephesians 5:15-16 And Ephesus was a very busy place at the time. It had the temple of Artemis and an extremely healthy guild trade system, while also being a port city for the Roman empire. So when Paul urges the believers there to make the most of every opportunity he realizes how busy their lives are. But maybe the same challenge exists for us today. If it only takes five minutes to go out of your way and be nice to someone; do it. If it only takes five minutes to write a hand written note to someone you know is going through a difficult time; do it. If it only takes five minutes to stop and pray for someone you know is hurting or someone that has hurt you; do it. I think we will all be amazed to see how profound of an impact five minutes can have on us and the lives of those around us.