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Posts Tagged ‘Childhood Theology’

Stand!

Alex in Armor

It was cold out last night.  I mean, cold.  You would think that May 2 would be a little warmer, but…I’m not in charge of that.  What I was in charge of last night was Bis and Alex because Dana was at a small group meeting with some friends from church.  What to do with the kids isn’t hard to figure out when it’s baseball season.  Alex had a game.  Now, normally I’m a parent helper (I won’t call myself a coach).  I stand by the bench keep a semblance of order.  It’s like corralling cats back there.  You’re up to bat, you’re on deck, you’re in the hole. You there! Stop eating rocks.  You get the picture.

But I had Bis on my own so I couldn’t do that job.  Instead I was two halves of a parent: one half watching Bis on the nearby playground…making sure nobody creepy was hanging out near her.  The other half was watching the game.  Alex was getting his first opportunity to play catcher.  Now, if you know Alex, you’ll know that he’s the smallest kid on the field and the lightest, but probably has the highest confidence level, so it was good.

I know there’s no “cute” in baseball, but he looked darn close in all that gear.  He stopped almost every ball that the machine pitched that night (something the coach said hardly any little kid will be able to do – so I’m a little proud).  But here’s the thing I’m most excited about (and I got it on video for you) Alex blocked the plate.

You have to understand that at this level of baseball (half a step up from t-ball) the catcher does very little of import.  He’s a glorified backstop.  Until the last batter of each inning.  That’s when no matter who is up to bat, no matter what kind of a hit, no matter how many on base – everybody runs home.  It’s a train of skinny kids with huge helmets coming one after another into home plate.

Alex got the ball and positioned himself in a place where he knew he would tag out any kid running home. And he did. My son, small of frame and large on confidence, stood in the face of the enemy without flinching. I was bursting with pride. And here’s what I got to thinking: When we cover ourselves with God’s armor we can stand in the face of the enemy’s attacks knowing that we are fortified, protected, and covered. Small though we may be, and however large the onslaught, there we can be having confidence in the One who goes before us and stands at our side and has our backs covered. Don’t be afraid.

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What Easter Morning Sounds Like

April 19, 2011 1 comment

Hi.  I’m Jim, the pastor here.  Glad you decided to join us for worship this morning.  If you don’t go to church on a regular basis, or maybe even haven’t been to church at all before, let me introduce you to how things tend to work.  See that guy behind the other mic? That’s Soulinh.  He’s going to play some music and we’re going to sing.  The songs tend to be directed to God or about God or, sometimes, directed at the rest of the people in the room…encouraging them in a certain direction – upward, usually.

After we sing a few songs, we send the kids upstairs to continue worshiping in a way that’s a little more accessible for their young ages.  It’s not that they’re incapable of understanding that God loves them, but the way they need to hear it can be a little more appropriate upstairs.  When they head upstairs we’ll open the Bible and take a look at what God has to say to creation.

If you’ve never heard a sermon before, it can take all kinds of forms.  Sometimes the preacher will talk for a long time, or a short time.  Sometimes it’s even a conversation of sorts between you and the preacher, but the most important thing is that God gets to speak through the Word of God (that’s what we call the Bible here sometimes).  We believe that God speaks through the Bible and the preacher gives some insight into what God has to say to us, here, today.

Now, if you’re new to the Bible, let me give you a short overview: it’s a story, a love story about a God who created a world full of beauty and wonderful animals and the most complex of all: humans – who dwelled in a garden with God and each other.  We were created in God’s image for a relationship with God, to love God, to walk with God, to glorify God and to have a friendship with God.  Being human involves a relationship not only with God, but with other humans in peace and equality.  But things broke.  These relationships were ruptured and separated when people decided to break the trust and attempt to take God’s place, disobeying the only rule God layed out for creation.

Like any good story, especially a love story, there needs to be a problem – a break in the relationship that is overcome.  This is it.  The relationship is broken through the actions of humans, and there is nothing they can do to restore that relationship.  What’s worse, is that the brokenness isn’t just between creator and creation; the rupture goes deeper – into how humans interact with each other, and with the rest of creation.  But, like a good love story, a hero arises who will reunite the two separated parties.

God wants to bring things back into the peaceful wholeness (there’s a great word we use for that – Shalom) that we had in the Garden of Eden.  God wants to reconcile, wants to walk again, talk again with us – this time with the even deeper knowledge of love; the love that reconciles and moves forward.

So, back to the hero who arises.  Through time God raises up a people who represent all that God stands for.  They fail miserably to be God’s representatives in the world, but the Creator continues to bring them back and forgive them.  His plan is to raise up out of them a Messiah (a person who will bring them to salvation – or a restored relationship with Godself).  In time, God did just that – he sent a hero, a Messiah.  But not just any person – God came himself, put on flesh and dwelt among us to be the perfect reconciler.  It’s tricky and simple that he was born to a virgin named Mary – a simple and faithful woman.  The child was named Jesus.

Of course God showed what a human is supposed to look like, what they used to look like: full of love, and in an unbroken, unsevered relationship with God.  It’s something people haven’t seen in thousands of years, and they didn’t quite know what to do with this picture – a picture that showed their own frailties, foibles, and faults in such an nonjudgmental way.  So just when we, the readers of the story, start to get ready for the wonderful resolving of conflict, there is a plot twist.

Jesus is killed by those he came to reconcile with.  And the reader of the story is crushed.  And those who followed Jesus were crushed until the beauty of the whole story becomes clear.  All along God had planned on the death of Christ – reconciliation is not inexpensive after all.  And after three days of death, God overcame death with the power of love and life and brought Jesus back to life and with Him our relationship…all back to life.  At last, in the death of Jesus, the price is paid and a dying, broken relationship is finally put out of its misery.  And in the resurrection life is breathed into Jesus and at the same time breathed into the dead relationship.  Life.  Real and unhindered.  Renewed to the garden we walk and converse freely.

All this was free – the grace God showed free for the taking – a relationship renewed.  It’s when we recognize this that we are free to be truly human again.  And, inevitably, when we try again and again to sever our relationship, Christ’s death and resurrection covers it over and again so that we are reconciled again and again.  Life without end.  What a love story: pure love, broken relationships, a costly reunion, and a renewed passion and relationship more vibrant than before.

So, that’s what a sermon kind of sounds like.  After that we’ll respond.  Because, really, after a love story like that – one that involves us – who wouldn’t want to respond in some way.  Maybe a “thank you”.  And there are a lot of ways you can do that…primarily God wants us to respond with our lives – to give back our lonely self to God, but not just a little of us, the whole self.  That is, after all, what God gave for us.  Here at church we tend to pass a plate where you can respond monetarily, if you’re prepared for that.  If you’re not prepared to give a gift today, let this worship service be our gift to you.  We’ll sing a song, too…usually a praise to this reconciling God.

After this we go out into the world to be God’s representatives: the hands and feet of Christ in the world.  To help the continuing restoration of the relationship between humans and humans, God and humans, and humans with the rest of creation.  God sends us out into the world (like God did so long ago with Jesus’ lineage) to represent love and righteousness and mercy and justice.

You Mean I’m Going To Look Like You?

Spring Break.  My kids were watching TV when I came downstairs this morning.  I was prepared for many questions like: what’s for breakfast? or when are we going to crazy-bounce? or will we see our friends this week? or can you help me in the bathroom?  But I wasn’t ready for the question that did come first.  The kids were watching the animated movie UP.  I could see that they were at the point of the movie where the old man was dealing with the loss of his wife after her death.

They heard my “Good morning” and Alex made his way into the kitchen to ask me, “What happens to us when we die?”

Ok.  Good morning.  “Well, Alex, the Bible tells us that when we die we live with God forever.”  “What about our bodies?”  Now, I’ve been struggling with teaching my children dualism.  It’s a struggle I’ve dealt with, but I just went ahead and embraced it for the moment until they are a little older and we can have a better conversation about the distinction or connectedness between the body and the soul.  “Our bodies go into the ground and our souls, our thoughts and who we are inside go to heaven to be with God…to keep living with Jesus forever…in fact the Bible tells us we’ll get a new body.”

“You mean I’m going to look like you?”

“Bad news for you kid.  The older you get the more you’ll look like me.  Take a look, buddy, because this is your future.”

Then it was back to the movie and breakfast and crazy-bounce prep.  I headed out the door to get ready for Easter and began thinking about the whole interaction.  Death lurks just beyond the next corner always, but because of Easter I don’t have to fear it, in fact the adventure only turns a page…but a preface to the rest of my time in God.

The real challenge is becoming the type of person I want my children to look like.  If they’re going to look like me, I better pay a little more attention to what they’re seeing, so that when they look in the mirror in 30 years they don’t mind passing along the type of person they’ve inherited.

Toddler Army Crawl

March 22, 2011 1 comment

I’m sitting and trying to think about where I’ve seen God around me.  I feel like writing, but nothing seems to be coming.  It never really works that way for me.  I can’t just sit and write something, but need a picture or some small drama to actually happen in order to notice what God is up to around me.  I was almost getting frustrated when this happened:

Two women.  One with hair perfectly coiffed and ironed clothes and shiny shoes, earrings and a smile.  One, also with a smile, with jeans, sweatshirt, hair that you can tell got washed, but not blow-dryed…oh and she’s towing a toddler.  He’s everything that cute is about.  He’s got a little pair of khaki pants, blue sweater and a plaid collared shirt under the sweater.  You can see his diaper poking out of the top of his pants.  He’s got one hand in his mouth and the other swiping dirt off of various surfaces (preparing to go into his mouth no doubt.)  His hair is a curly poof of golden sunshine.

The women are engrossed in their long-overdue conversation and giving cursory attention to the little boy who’s within arm’s reach.  He toddles a little away and realizes he’s gotten farther from his mom than he realized.  He turns, sees the distance, and makes a running fall toward his mom.  His hands and body make that slapping sound on the floor (not the “my head hit the floor” sound, but the “this is enough to scare me” kind of sound).

Watching this, and having some experience with falls like this I am anticipating what is sure to come: a blood-curdling scream.  But it doesn’t come.  What does come impresses me: ARMY CRAWL.  Staying on his belly he doesnt take the time to get up and run to mom.  He just wants to be near her as soon as possible so he wiggles on his tummy until his hand reaches her pant leg.

Wow.  I wish I knew this kid’s name.  I wish I were more like this kid.  How often have I found myself too far from my heavenly Parent’s side, fallen and then taken far too long to return?  While I’m writing this it’s the season of Lent in the church calendar, and this kid just summed it up for me today.  Recognize where you are in relation to the One who loves you and return to that One.  With all haste, and no matter the cost.

Big Chalk is Back!!!

One of the offices I use throughout the week is Lemonjello’s, a hipster kind of coffeeshop.  They’ve recently gotten new chairs which almost killed their cool vibe, but they maintained their coolness factor somehow.  Anyway, one of the things they have is a coffee table that doubles as a chalkboard.  I don’t know why but sometimes it’s there and other times it’s not.  Go figure.  It would be very unhip of me to ask why, so I just act like I’m in on the reasoning and that makes me apathetically cool.

I have gone on Tuesday or Wednesday mornings to meet with our worship leader, Adam, a Hope college student (he has a lip ring – totally fits in at Lemonjello’s).  He’s my ticket in.  So, I’m sitting at a table for two beneath some avante gard piece of art which is totally inappropriate in most churches, and in comes a dad and his little girl.  I’ve seen them there multiple times.  He reads the paper while she draws on the chalkboard and mangles a blueberry muffin. 

“Big chalk is back! Big chalk is back, daddy!  Big chalk, yay!”  She’s obviously elated and due to her age she is allowed this indiscrete emotive expression which would not be allowed in such a cool place by an adult (or what passes as an adult at times).  As she dances with huge pieces of chalk in hand, I look at her dad who gets a bye on coolness by bringing a cute little girl to a coffee shop.  He explains to me that they’ve had the table, but no chalk the last couple visits they’ve made.

The chalkboard is the only thing age appropriate for a 3 year old girl to do at Lemonjello’s (the place is not as family friendly as The Way Cup on 17th).  So, the dad was happy to have chalk available again.  I got to thinking, as I always try to, about how I am like the little girl.  What am I excited about?  What do I miss when it’s gone?  What brings me to dancing?  What do I mourn?  What about me or about God’s family goes beyond cool and enters the authenticity of pure humanity?

It’s Ash Wednesday and I’m reminded of my humanity – both by the little girl who found elation in the simple joy of chalk and a blackboard…and by the ashes on my forehead.  One reminds me of the fresh life and adrenaline-laced possibilities of the coming days and months and years.  The other reminds me that from dust I came and to dust I shall return.  Humanity: born, broken, and bequeathed a gift of these days, this place, this air to share and use.

Read At Home

January 27, 2011 1 comment

Every other Thursday I go to my son’s classroom and grab a milk carton full of gallon freezer bags.  These bags have books in them and a name on the outside.  I call out three names from three bags.  The children whose names I’ve called get up from their desks and join me.  We head down the hall to the Read At Home room.

The RAH room is full of books separated into reading levels.  Every kid has a level.  2nd graders fall in a wide range: some at 9 or 10 (tend to be the kids who forget their books at home a lot), and some at 25 or 30 (tend to be the kids reading longer chapter books, and returning them every day).  Each child either goes and finds a new book to replace one they have completed, or they sit down to read to me. 

Every kid gets to read to me.  I only have one hour, so they only read a page or so.  I have to stop them and say, “Ok, let’s pause there and you can finish reading this at home…maybe to your little brother or sister.”  Some, I know, will not read at home for various reasons.  Others will make it the very first thing they do when they get home.

I know that as a male adult I have a unique role in a couple of these kids’ lives.  There is a chance that I’m the only consistent man in their life…and one who remembers their name.  I care about them and encourage them.  Some really are making remarkable steps in reading, and some, you can tell will not make too many steps because they are carrying the burdens meant for an adult, and don’t have the time or resources to read into the future.

The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  I pray every week that I’m able to join those kids that the Kingdom of God is recognizable and ushered a little more into their lives.  I’m at a public school, so I can’t give them something to read from the Bible, but I’m hoping that in the long run my presence will be a paragraph that makes a difference in them understanding that the Kingdom is for them particularly and attainable through the person of Jesus Christ.

On Thursdays my son comes home from school and I check to see that he’s reading what I helped him find in the Read At Home room.  And I hope to help him read the Kingdom at home, too…as difficult as that can be.  Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Read that to whomever God brings into your sphere of influence.

Sermon Notes

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Pastor Dan from First Church and I swapped pulpits today.  I told Alex that I wanted to know what Dan preached about, so I was asking him to take notes during the sermon.  The passage was John 2:1-11, Jesus turning water into wine.  Following are the notes he took, separated by commas:

old scripture, dan doesn’t understand it, cind of a part of a puzzle, Angels talking about what Jesus might do, wedding in Gallale, Jesus, Deciples invited, talking about wine the best is Jesus blood, smart guy named rodney – studies gods and goddisis, jurny found 1 temple with 100,000 skulls, sacrifice them to the gods, mean guys thats wat people in the olden days were like, they came to Isreal to do bad stuff, wedding whole comuniys there, wine gone, weddings usaly 7 days of food, wine dude screws up, peple laugh at them, its not there foult, there misreble, Jesus comes up with a plan, they have no more wine, Jesus: I’m no longer just belong to you, I belong to the world., saves them, first mericle, turns water into wine, happiest day of his and there life, take big stuff to him, take little stuff too he cares about everything, what matters to you matters to God, this scripture takes along time to understand

Those are the notes he took.  Not bad.  Kind of proud of the little guy for paying such good attention.  I can see that kids of that age are definitely able to pay attention and get a lot out of a sermon.  I should never discount their presence and their ability.  Perhaps we should start expecting a little more out of children in worship and in life.

At what age do we start allowing children to lead us in one way or another?  At what age do we allow children to make important decisions alongside the adults?  I have a bit of a grip with the church, and it’s this: I hear complaints from pastors all the time about the missing generation (people from 18-28).  Seems we lose our children for about 10 years after graduation and only get them back (maybe) when they have children of their own and remember the importance of raising your children in the company of other believers.

I don’t have the answers to this challenge, but I propose this: why not treat them like part of the church before they’re 28?  Why separate them all the time?  Why not incorporate them in important decisions, ask them their opinions, take their point of view into council?  Why not have a teenager on every important task force or ministry team?  Help them prepare for being an adult in the church by taking them seriously.

Maybe, just maybe their involvement will give them enough ownership in their own faith and faith community that they’ll know how to act as an adult believer when they come of “age” … whatever that means.  Perhaps we should be taking a few sermon notes from them, huh?