Archive for the ‘Kingdom of God’ Category

One in the Parenting “Win” Column

September 28, 2011 2 comments

My son is an american.  He’s into baseball, potty humor, and canned ravioli.  He’s also into having more money – always looking for ways to make money: sell this, go door to door that, “let you pet my dog for a dime” kind of things.  So, when I walked into his bedroom a couple of nights ago I was not surprised to see him with a pile of change.  His sister was with him, and they were counting.

“What’s with all the money, Alex?”

“Bis gave it to me.”

“Oh……………Why would she do that?”  At this point I’m expecting an explanation of an older brother’s well-executed scheme for getting money from a little sister.

“I’m going to help hungry people.”  Not what I was expecting.  Knowing my son, I knew that if anything good was going to come of this, I had to let him make the next move.  So…I let it sit.  The next day he approached me.

“Dad, want to make a donation?”

“A donation to what?” I’ve heard this before.  Usually it’s a donation to the ‘Buy Alex a Puppy Fund.’

“I’m going to help hungry people.”

“Of course I will make a donation so you can help hungry people.”  My heart is swelling.  It’s not that my son is more selfish than any other 8 year old boy, but I haven’t seen this out of him very much.  “Would you like me to help you get it to the right place, and see if I can get more people to give?”  I’m going to pour gasoline on this small fire.

We opened the computer and looked at our denominational website and found a way to feed kids in Malawi.  We’re going to enlist the help of our church (and you, if you’re interested).  Of course dad the church planter is going to let the paper know about his plan to help hungry kids.

The goal is to get a mile of pennies.  If you lay 84,480 pennies end to end they reach one mile.  They also feed 17 kids from Malawi, Africa for a year and give them the chance to hear that God loves them and cares for their well-being inside and out.  We have little cardboard donation boxes coming that we can color.  I picked up some flyers and posters the denomination has available, and we’ll have a special offering.

Later in the day I asked Alex what made him want to raise money for other people.  “I was sitting in my room thinking I didn’t have enough money, and trying to think of ways I could get some money,” (all this is exceptionally believable, by the way), “Then I started to think that there are people who don’t have ANY money, so I started thinking of ways I could help them get some money.”

As a good friend of mine always says, “Parenting is not for the faint of heart.”  And this is true.  I stumble along and do the best I can and trial and error my way through parenting, like most people.  But a moment like that is what keeps me going.  It’s like the one shot on the golf course that keeps you returning.

So, celebrate with me, and if you feel so inclined send some pennies to our church’s mailing address: 630 State St., Holland, MI  49423.



It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.  I’ve been enjoying my mandolin.  It sits in a stand right next to my couch, beckoning me to play.  My friend, Steven, who chooses songs for worship on Sundays, gives me a couple songs on Monday or Tuesday.  Then I sit on my couch and play the same two songs all week – trying to get ready for worship, learning a new chord or two.  My bride is a patient woman who, I think, is enjoying this new hobby.  My kids, on the other hand, find it more than a bit annoying.  I think I’m cramping their TV watching…bummer for them.

My left hand is picking up a few calluses.  This is a peculiar feeling…or lack of feeling I should say.  Primarily my pointer and middle finger are getting calluses so far.  This is undoubtedly due to the simple beginner chords I’m learning that only have two fingers being used.  As I type or as I rub my thumb across the tips of them I get a strange sensation, numbness.  Right now it’s a strange sensation.  I feel the pressure, but not the difference between soft and rough surfaces.  I’m confident that soon I will not even notice the loss of sensation and they will become “normal.”

Normally, a callus will form on any part of the skin exposed to friction over a long period of time, but I’m thinking they can form elsewhere, too.  Take the heart for instance.  With repeated exposure to friction over a long period of time, the heart can become callused as well.  Pharoah repeatedly rubbed against God’s call on his will (to release God’s people), but his heart became callused.  If there was a moment when he was truly feeling God speaking through Moses, it soon ended as his heart stopped being sensitive to God’s words.

I’m not too far removed from Pharoah.  There have been instances when I have felt God moving in my heart, calling me to act in a certain way or stop acting in a certain way – and unfortunately I have disregarded that call.  I’ve rubbed against the grain of God’s movement, and when it happens for a prolonged period of time I find it harder and harder to make a connection to God…I can’t feel the gentle voice of the Spirit.

I went in to a music store and asked if they had anybody who taught mandolin lessons.  They did.  Lance.  Lance is an older fella who looks the part.  Full on bluegrass grandpa.  He’s great.  I could go on and on describing him, but I just want to tell you what he said about calluses: “Don’t ever play with wet fingers.”  Apparently if you play with wet fingers you can make those calluses fall off (something you don’t want, I guess).  Which makes me think that entering the water softens the skin and allows an opportunity to rid myself of the callus.

In “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis, a young boy with a hard heart transforms into an ugly dragon and can’t rid himself of his “dragon suit” until Aslan submerges him in water and painfully, beautifully removes his scales.  This is the move I must periodically make – remind myself of my baptism and the freedom from hardness that has already been given to me.  I repent and allow God to submerge me and soften my heart, remove my calluses, and give me renewed purpose and the voice of the Spirit to direct me.

White Privilege

June 23, 2011 1 comment

My son is finishing his baseball season this week.  He’s in “machine pitch” minor league.  That is supposed to mean that there’s a spring-loaded arm that flings a baseball at a consistent speed to a consistent location over home plate where a little boy stands ready to take on the world.  That’s what it is supposed to mean.  But the league, which has 12 teams, has at it’s use a total of 1 old and broken, inconsistent pitching machine.

Here’s something else to know about this league: the children are placed on teams based on neighborhood.  In fact, within 1/4 mile of our house there are 6 boys on my son’s team.  The coach lives two houses down, and the assistant coach lives three houses down.  We are blessed to live in a really nice neighborhood.  The lawns are manicured, the houses well-kept, dads are playing ball in the back yard with their sons and my next door neighbor, the police officer, plays catch with Alex and me.  In fact my former congressman lives down the street.  I say all to say that we live in a very upper middle class area.

My son’s coach, disgusted by the lack of machines in “machine pitch” basebal,l decided to use some expendible cash and purchase his own machine.  We practiced with it, and the kids got used to the speed.  Each time we played another team there were some significant differences.  These other kids did not have a machine, so we used ours…they were not used to the speed and weren’t able to hit well.  It was clear these kids had not had as much back yard time.  One last difference: these other teams were put together based on their own neighborhoods.  Our team is the only one with no children of color.

The denomination I’m a part of is going through a process of trying to understand white privilege.  As I’m sitting in a task force to lead the denomination in the conversation, I came to think of the Holland, Michigan little league.  My son’s team wipes up the field with about every team they come across because they have a distinct advantage with a machine and, while this is obviously an uninformed blanket statement, plenty of parental back yard time.

As a white male I have many privileges that most people of color do not have.  I’ve outlined one above.  Coming to notice things like this make me uncomfortable.  There are definitely some deep wounds that my denomination needs to address, but also some that I need to address.  The whole idea of white privilege brings about questions of justice.  Do I ask my neighbor to stop using his machine?  That doesn’t seem very “American” and wouldn’t go over well in my neighborly relationship.  Do I, as a white male, offer to purchase machines for each team?  I think there’s a distinct problem with this, too.  Do I attempt to make changes to the way the league is organized – bringing up the idea of mixing neighborhoods?  I happen to like knowing my neighbors in this manner.

One thing is for sure: I’m uncomfortable.  And that is a start.  And that is a good thing.



There are three entrances/exits to Lemonjello’s.  It’s a coffee joint in my town.  I use whichever one is closest to where I parked my car, and that usually turns out to be the small backdoor rather than the glass-covered-in-band-promo-posters ones that are larger and more obviously entrances and exits.

Today I met with Steven, my summer intern.  He’s preaching his first sermon on Sunday while I’m in Iowa participating in the ordination service of a friend.  We sat for a couple of hours discussing the fine-tuning of the sermon that will forever be his first sermon.  He’s well prepared and well thought out.  The kinds of things he’s coming up with are really great, and I am excited to hear how it goes.  Steven is going to be a great pastor, and I’m sure to many he already is.

But like most students there are a lot of things he’s unsure of…things that make him nervous or even a little scared.  I had my issues, Steven has his.  I’m not a master mentor or coach extrordinaire by any stretch of the meanings, but I think there is probably one thing that every student needs to overcome…same thing for 92% of them: lack of confidence.

It’s expected that they wouldn’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going.  But the thing they need to do (myself included) is simply believe in themselves and the gifts God’s given them, step up to the plate, take a few swings, miss a few and hit a few.  Just do it and believe that God’s going to make something good come of the hard work you’re putting in. 

After Steven and I met I was going to give him a ride home.  We each headed for the door, and by the time I realized that he hadn’t followed me to the door I was using, he was outside one of the large poster-covered doors.  He looked like I feel sometimes.  He was standing outside looking left and right – probably trying to figure out where I went.  I opened the door and said, “I’m parked out back.”

Confidence.  He was showing it in the wrong direction.  I will take it!  God will definitely use it.  That’s why we have coaches and mentors right?  Producing and directing confidence.

The Import of Story

I recently told you about a great a superlative book I read recently called The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson (pick up a copy here) (It’s the third in the Wingfeather Saga).  I thought I would let you know about how it helped me in a sermon and in a hospital visit.  As I was preaching on Sunday it came to me – a quote from the book.  I held up my finger (indicating that everyone should wait a moment) walked over to the piano and picked up a pen and wrote a note to myself in my notes…where I could use this quote.  I was preaching on the story of Joseph.  Actually, I’m trying to preach a spring/summer series on the larger story we’re a part of.  We started with Adam and Eve, hit Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and this week was Joseph.  Kind of hard to do.

You have to tell a long story and then land on one particular scripture passage in the middle or at the end and draw out of it what God has to say.  Anyway, it was Joseph this week.  I told his long up and down story: Up – Dad’s favorite, Down – Brothers sell him into slavery, Up – become slave-owner’s favorite, Down – thrown in jail for not sleeping with someone, Up – become head prisoner/warden, Down – have to tell someone that their dream means they’re going to die soon, Up – Become lord of all Egypt.

After telling the story we read the part where he was reunited with his brothers and says, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:8).  And in the middle of the story I remember this line from The Monster in the Hollows, “Evil digs a pit, and the Maker makes a well. That is His way.” ~Artham Wingfeather.  Dang! I wish I could write like that.  It fit well into the sermon, but then, on a hospital call it worked well, too.

The 6th floor of the hospital has a wing for mental health.  I was on the 6th floor of the hospital on the last day of May visiting a friend.  She asked me why all this was happening to her, and why God would put all this hardship in her life.  What possible good could come out of it all?  As is the case in many situations like that, I don’t have a good answer.  Not sure there is a good answer – at least not a good one that can come from people.  God’s got a lot of explaining to do in my opinion. 

With Joseph and Artham fresh on my mind we talked about the Bible story – one she had never heard.  Sometimes story is the only thing to tell in the middle of hardship.  Sometimes explaining things away only makes everything worse.  Take Job’s friends for instance: they did everything right until they opened their mouth.  So it was story for us on the 6th floor, and I let Joseph’s tale just hang there.

Thank God for story.  And thank God for storytellers.  And thank God for the larger story we get to participate in.

The Cat’s Out

For My Next Trick...

Wilson Valdez won his first professional baseball game as a pitcher on May 26, 2011.  The game began on May 25 and lasted 6 hours and 11 minutes.  His team, the Philidelphia Phillies, used 21 players and had run out of pitchers in the 19 inning game.  19.  That’s more than 2 full games worth of innings.

Everyone was tired.  Fans were literally asleep in their seats until Valdez came to the mound.  It’s a big deal because he’s not a pitcher.  Well, he wasn’t a pitcher, but he showed there was more to him than everyone thought.  He normally plays 2nd base, but now the cat is out of the bag.  Now everyone knows he is capable of doing so much more than they ever thought.

And now, of course, the cat is squirming in everyone else’s bag and going for daylight.  What else is hiding underneath everyone’s facade?  What am I capable of when the innings grow long?  What gifts lie hidden in the church that only come out when they are desperately needed? 

I say, let them loose.  It’s good to have people doing what they do best, but let’s face it: there are a lot of people in our churches who ride the pine and we have no idea what they are capable of because they never step up to the pitcher’s mound and give it a try.  I’m not sure whose fault this is, and I don’t think it’s important.  What I do know is that Valdez, a journeyman infielder, threw a 90 mile per hour fastball and got the win.  What can you do?

What Could Have Been

There is a table in the coffee shop.  It’s low and it’s made out of chalkboard.  It’s where parents bring their kids.  Today a mom and her two daughters (3 and 5 probably).  Cute little rain jackets, pigtails, and dresses underneath that would certainly pass the “twirl” test.  Mom sets down the drinks and cookies.  Each little girl has her own drink and her own small plate with a big cookie.  Before mom has a chance to sit herself down I hear a “clink.”  5 year old has tipped over her drink.  It covers half the chalkboard and all of her cookie.

What could have been:

“There it went.  That’s ok sweetie.  Accidents happen.”  That’s the mom in a hushed, reassuring tone.  “We’ll see if they have any more cookies, and you can share your sister’s drink.  You’ll share with sister, right?  Good girl.”

What was:

“Now you’ve done it!  It’s all over the place!”  That’s mom in a loud belittling tone.  “I didn’t do it on purpose, momma.”  That’s 5 year old in an ashamed little voice.  “Well, of course you didn’t do it on purpose!”  Again, loud enough so that nobody missed the fact that daughter goofed it.  Mom storms off to the front of the shop.  Daughter shrinks into her seat.  From the front of the shop everyone hears, “My daughter just spilled an entire drink, and we’ll have to clean it up.”  Daughter shrinks even further.

And from there the cycle of parenting passes on, and surely the little girl will hear her mother’s voice for decades…even a lifetime.  Chances are good that her daughter and her daughter’s daughter will hear the same words, the same tone, the same powerplay.

I sat there with a friend, and we both looked at each other.  I wish my sister were there.  She would have said something.  She would have done something.  She would have put that “mom” in her place.  My sister is a paragon, a peerless example of justice.  The world in black and white – especially when a child is mistreated.  Dang, I wish she were there.

And now reflecting on the situation I ask myself what could have been if she were there.  I ask myself what could have been if only there had been someone in the room who knew that the little girl was being bullied.  If only there had been someone to stand up for the weak and powerless.

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