“That’s boring daddy!”

“I don’t want to read that book anymore daddy.  It says the same thing over and over.”  These are the words of Ellie, my 4 year old daughter.  I always (usually) read a bed time story with Ellie and I usually let her pick out the book.  There are a couple books she picks out though that I am tired of reading so I tell her to pick another one out.  Her Barbie books are quickly getting to that point!  Last night she picked a book out that neither of us had read before – I Couldn’t Love You More.  This was written by the lead singer, Matt Hammitt of Sanctus Real, a popular Christian band.  I was eager to read it.

It looked like and started out like most children’s books.  It had an eye-catching cover.  The art and pictures throughout the pages were very well done and even the story of the book was good.  But it was the way the story was told that left my daughter, and myself, wanting more.  The book tells the story of parents who love their child very much, but Jesus loves our children even more.  Like I said, this is a good message and story to hear, but it was just boring.  

When I found out the book was also the lyrics to a lullaby song by Hammitt, it made me think about Christian music in general.  Now this is a lullaby and so its simplicity and repetition is purposeful and then after watching the story behind it by Matt Hammitt with him singing a portion of the song to his 3 kids, I had a little bit more grace for it, but it doesn’t change the fact that my daughter doesn’t want to read or hear this story anymore.  It was boring!  And this is coming from a 4 year old girl who can play for hours with a couple dolls!  I was sad as her daddy and also as a pastor.  She was tired of hearing the same thing over and over!

The problem is that I see this in Christian music and storytelling all the time.  Many of the popular songs on the radio tell a great message, but the story and words have no depth to them.  It’s boring!  I find myself thinking in many different directions with this.  How can a 4 year old find this boring, yet full grown adults find it “cute” and even inspiring?  Are we really being honest with ourselves when it comes to music and art in our little Christian bubble?  Do we really find the Gospel story of Jesus inspiring by songs and words so simple and repetitive?  Or do we just accept it and try to justify it since it has nice artwork and the singers and musicians are talented and have nice voices?  Just like the cover and art in the book looked really nice and was pleasing to the eye, so does Christian music.  But just like Ellie decided at the end of the book, there was something missing.  There was no depth even for a 4 year old.  

It’s no wonder so many young people have no interest in the church as they get older and older.  It’s boring!  Yea, there might be fancy aspects of cool churches and youth rooms and videos, and yes we are trying to tell a great message, but in the end, are they wanting to read this story again?  Or are we leaving our kids with something more to be desired?  

Friends, we have the greatest story ever to be told, and yes that is Jesus loves us more than we’ll ever know, but let us attempt to tell this story with greater detail and depth that stirs our imaginations and makes us wonder of the wondrous love of Jesus.  Yes there are times when what we really need to hear is “Jesus loves you!”, but we also need to hear the reasons why.  

Let us tell stories that leave our children wanting to continue reading the Story!  Let’s not be boring! 

 

Wait & Anticipate

Jaron is my friend and lead pastor here at the church.  We used to share an office with no walls.  There were 3 of us in that space including Elizabeth, his wife and children’s pastor.  It was sometimes hard to concentrate and work; whether someone was always talking or there was a long silence and you knew at any moment someone was about to say something.  Our current office space is a little better.  We have 2 separate offices so we actually have a wall between us, but our desks are actually closer to each other than before and the unpainted bifold door is open 99% of the time. Elizabeth shares the first office with Jaron.  That was part of the deal when we moved.  It makes sense though right – for the married couple to share an office!  :)

I say all that to say, Jaron’s sermon title for this pastor Sunday was Wait and Anticipate.  The text was Acts 1:1-11.  Jesus meets with his disciples one more time and tells them they “must WAIT for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon.”  Jesus’ famous last words come next right before his ascension into the clouds, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.”  (MSG)

So the first disciples wait.  Have you ever imagined what was said as Jesus disappeared into the clouds along with the 2 men/angels speaking immediately following?  The text doesn’t tell us about any conversations.  It gives no pictures or emotions.  We are free to imagine.  They had to be completely wide-eyed though.  I’m sure they were actually speechless for a long time.  No one wanted to be the first one to speak and when the text does continue the story with the disciples in the upper room, it was Peter who stood up to talk.  This isn’t surprising.

The waiting continues.  The disciples were now in transition.  What were they going to do now without Jesus?  They remembered Jesus saying they would do even greater things than he did, but there was still this sense of shock that Jesus left.  And what did he really mean by being baptized in the Holy Spirit?  This was a time of transition.  It was a time of waiting.  And it definitely was a time of Anticipation.  I’m sure the disciples had no clue what was going to happen at Pentecost, but they were anticipating it.  They trusted in Jesus’ words to them that the Holy Spirit would come upon them.

So they waited.  But this wasn’t the kind of wait where no one did anything.  They were praying, they were conversing about everything that happened the past few weeks and the past 3 years.  God was working in them.  God was speaking to them.  God was preparing them in the wait.  And as Peter went on to speak and recall the words from David in the Psalm, another witness needed to step up replacing Judas.  The text tells us that Matthias outdrew Justus to become the 12th apostle.

So they got to work waiting-praying-appointing.

It’s hard to wait.  It’s hard to intentionally sit still in God’s presence.  It’s hard to wait because we demand immediate results.  Our culture tells us that we can have anything we want as fast as we can type and click.  Amazon Prime is really awesome by the way!  In the church it’s hard to wait.  We want to see people’s lives changed immediately.  We want people to “get it” faster.  We want “Next Day Shipping” of the Holy Spirit.  We start to question our ministry and impact when it seems like people take a long time to fully engage.  We get easily frustrated when close followers of Jesus seemingly fall away.  It seems people are receiving Jesus and the Church, but weeks or months later they are returning their “packages”.  Waiting is hard.  Not knowing is hard, but these are the last words that Jesus leaves us with.

In a couple weeks we celebrate Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit on God’s people.  As we wait for this day in our churches, let us truly anticipate the Holy Spirit filling us completely.  Even as we wait as Advent people praying, Maranatha – Come Lord Jesus!  Even in the unknown, may we know Jesus is with us.

 

Evan’s Story Part 4

“Hello.” answered Evan’s mom, still audibly and visibly shaken from what had just happened.  

“Hello.” The voice on the other end was just as shaken.  It was Jimmy’s mom.  

For what seemed like an eternity of silence and sadness between two friends/mothers, Jimmy’s mom spoke, “How is Evan?”  This wasn’t exactly what Evan’s mom was expecting to hear.  She didn’t know what to say.  Her son was obviously in shock and completely out of his mind from being a part of his friends death.  

“Um.”   

 

Silence.

 

“I’m SO SORRY!”  cried Evan’s mom.  

 

“Today my son died”, replied Jimmy’s mom.  “The police explained as best they could what happened today with our boys.”  “I know what happened was a complete accident.  I’m not sure what to really think.  I just want you to know, as your friend, that it was not Evan’s fault that Jimmy died.”

 

Evan’s mom was speechless as she was sobbing trying to breathe.  

 

Grace.  Grace is what was shown that day through the phone and words of a mother who lost her son.  In the midst of the worst pain she had ever experienced, Jimmy’s mom was an example of grace.  

 

2 weeks went by.  The town was still in shock.  Evan and Jimmy’s friends and classmates still couldn’t believe what happened.  Evan still hadn’t return to school.  His parents and other counselors were afraid of what he might experience.  Evan and his family did receive a lot of support from people.  The grace that was shown to them was truly remarkable.  Jimmy’s family was right in the beginning stages of grief, trying to figure out what to do next; waking up every morning without feeding Jimmy breakfast, taking him to school and everything else that went in to the daily blessing of be a parent, yet they were still so very gracious to Evan.  

 

One thing they had learned after a few of the autopsies and reports came back was that Jimmy died instantly from a brain injury that occurred from being struck in exactly the “right”/wrong spot.  If he were hit in a place just an inch away he wouldn’t have died.  But they also learned that Jimmy had an abnormally thin skull that was never noticed.  

 

Sadness took over the community.  It took a long time for Evan to start doing the things he had enjoyed doing with Jimmy and was actually encouraged from a somewhat surprising person.  Something that happened as a result of this tragedy was the relationship that grew between Evan and Jimmy’s dad.  He had become a mentor to Evan and they met regularly to share stories about Jimmy and about his days playing college football.  

Life would never be the same again for Evan, his family, and Jimmy’s family.  But grace and forgiveness proved that life could continue on.  

 

The End.

 

Evan’s Story Pt. 3

Evan kneeled down right beside Jimmy, speaking his name, “Jimmy, Jimmy, get up Jimmy!”  

Nothing.

Evan ran as fast as he possibly could inside to call 911.  With instructions from the lady on how to do CPR, Evan once again knelt down besides Jimmy.  After a couple attempts of CPR, the ambulance showed up taking Jimmy away.  

Silence.

Evan sat there on the side of the hill in complete shock.  He had no idea what happened to Jimmy.  Thousands of thoughts and questions came pouring into his 12 year old brain.  “Did I just kill my friend?”  “He’ll be ok right, he’s just unconscious.”  “What will Jimmy’s dad do?”  “What am I going to tell my parents?”  “…”

The cops were there and it didn’t take long for Evan’s parents to arrive.  Evan could hardly breathe.  It was as if his heart had simultaneously started beating as fast as it possibly could and also came to a complete stop.  His skin was as pale as the white fence he was sitting next to.  

“Evan.  Evan.  Evan!” the familiar voice finally catching his attention.  It was his mom with tears streaming down her face.  “What happened?”  she asked her cold, blank son.  There were no words Evan could muster.  He didn’t even know exactly.  Nothing seemed real at that moment.  For the next few minutes, Evan and his parents just sat there in silence embracing each other with a hug.  After a couple minutes, Evan’s dad broke the silence and in his usual soft and warm voice, asked Evan, “son, can you tell us what happened here with Jimmy?”

Evan began to speak frantically and crying uncontrollably, “We were playing a game, then we were bored.  Then we got out his dad’s boxing gloves, then we were boxing, then I was getting tired, then I just…”

As he was replaying the events in his mind and attempting to tell his dad and afraid of what actually happened to Jimmy, a police officer interrupted, asking to speak with Evan’s parents.  Evan didn’t know what to think.  “What are they saying?”  “Will someone please tell me what happened to Jimmy!”  “Is he O.K?”  

“Jimmy died,” his dad spoke.  

“NO!”  

 

Jimmy and Evan’s families had been friends for a long time.  But what were they supposed to do now.  Is it ok for them to go see them?  What are they thinking?  Their 12 year old son had just died!  It was an unthinkable situation.  

This was only the beginning of a disastrous and sad time and many questions and conversations and investigations were about to take place, but just as soon as Evan and his parents walked through their home door, the phone rang.

Evan’s story pt. 2

Not only did Evan see someone close to him die with his own two green eyes, but this someone was his friend.  Jimmy and Evan had been friends since kindergarten.  They lived on opposite ends of town and they would take turns going to each other’s houses to play after school.  Evan loved going to Jimmy’s house because their was an endless supply of snacks and candy and there was almost always freshly baked cookies on the counter.  The smell was glorious.  Evan made a point to make sure Jimmy’s house was the hang out spot if they knew the nursing home was on the schedule for that day!  

Best friends.  

Nothing special happened at school that Thursday.  Neither of them had any homework and by the time they ate their fill of snacks and cookies and played a few games of Mike Tyson punch out, they grew bored.  Video games was another reason Evan loved to go to Jimmy’s house.  He didn’t have Nintendo!

Jimmy’s dad was a big guy.  He wasn’t just fat.  Yes he did kind of have a big belly, but there was also a lot of muscle on his arms. He had heard stories of him playing football at a large college. Evan had always been a little intimidated by Jimmy’s dad.   Evan’s dad on the other hand wasn’t so big, but he was very athletic and fit.  As Jimmy and Evan got a little older, now in 6th grade, they were easily the two most athletic kids in the school.  

So on that Thursday afternoon, stuffed and bored from video games, they decided to have their own Mike Tyson punch out.  Jimmy’s dad was very into boxing and had a couple pair of gloves in the closet.  He had told Jimmy not to have any boxing matches if he wasn’t their to supervise, but that didn’t deter the boys from strapping the gloves on.  

They went out side set on having a little fun and burning some energy.  Evan and Jimmy were very evenly matched and they had both decided no head shots were allowed.  10 Minutes in to the backyard punch out, Evan was starting to get a little more tired than Jimmy.  Jimmy started getting the best of Evan.  One hit to the stomach dropped Evan to his knees and the air knocked out a bit.  Evan’s competitive nature was starting to pass the level of playful fun into a determination to beat Jimmy.  Jimmy himself was also pretty tired but definitely doing better than Evan.  Evan regained his breath and with a look of revenge in his eye, charged at Jimmy.  Something snapped in Evan.  Forgetting the friendly no head shot rule, Evan came out swinging.  A shot to Jimmy’s body and then it happened.  With Jimmy’s hands only blocking his gut, Evan had a clear shot to Jimmy’s head and with his right hand, swung as hard as he possibly could.  

In a split second, Jimmy was laying unconscious on the ground.  Evan was proud of himself for that same split second, but then immediately realized the situation was anything but a “win” in their countless friendly competitions.  Jimmy wasn’t moving! 

a story about Evan pt.1

It wasn’t so different than most childhood stories for Evan.  As a young boy, he liked to be outdoors playing with his friends, exploring the wooded hills, and trying to learn how to ride his dad’s unicycle.  Life was full of fun adventures with little responsibility.  Things seemed perfect for Evan.  He was even able to ride that rickety old unicycle with that torn pleather seat around the entire neighborhood block without falling off.  

School was even fun for Evan.  In the small town he grew up in, everyone knew each other and got along with 97% of everyone else.  There’s always that small percentage of people who seemingly hate the world.  The local police didn’t have much to do except drive around town pretending to be keeping the peace.  It wasn’t hard.  Not too many random acts of violence happened.  There was this one local rent-a-cop lady who thought it was her calling to give speeding tickets out like candy and everyday was Halloween.  She was properly named “Fife.”  But Evan wasn’t old enough to drive anyway so he didn’t care.  

In Evan’s small town school, forming popular groups and outcasts groups didn’t really work with the 25 total kids in his class.  Sure, there were the athletic types, the comedians, the genius nerds, and the wannabe skaters within that one small class, but they all understood each other and were truly friends.  Life was full.  Evan and his friends were all still young and naive enough to think that nothing bad would or could ever happen.  Until it did…

It was something they all knew about.  It was something they knew was a reality for every living person.  Evan experienced the reality of this with his own great grandpa when he was really young, but it was still disconnected enough that it didn’t really hit him.

Death.  

Death was real, but mainly in the abstract truth of it all; for really old people who weren’t much alive even while they were still breathing.  Those school field trips to the local nursing home were something else.  Evan did his best to keep from breathing himself down those wall-papered halls.  He didn’t know exactly what the smell was, but it was something of a cross between his grandpa’s pig stalls and the local beauty salon he had to endure while his mom got her perm.  Gross.  Those crazy hair style magazines were sort of interesting though and he never figured out how those “models” actually got their hair to look that way and never actually saw anybody in real life that sported them!  So the question of reality was present again.  What is real?  Is death really real?

And for the first time, he actually saw someone close to him die.

 

1 + _______ = Easter

Resurrection of the Lord Sunday is over.  Yesterday, sanctuaries all around the world were filled with more people than they typically are throughout the church year.  As a worship leader, having more people in the service gives the liturgy so much more energy.  After all, liturgy is literally the “work of the people” so when more people are there to sing, to fellowship, to pray, and to walk the aisles to receive communion, the “people’s work/liturgy” is done better!  There’s an “energy in the liturgy”  

It was Easter!  Our own sanctuary was transformed from a very dark place on Good Friday to a place filled with light, lilies, and extra light with candles.  White fabric is draped from the ceiling down on the cross.  There’s a beauty and a new life that is visible in our sanctuary.    For we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on this day, the first born from the dead; the first to fully experience new creation!  

But Easter didn’t end yesterday around 12 noon.  Sure people went home to celebrate Easter some more with family/friends and eat delicious lunches and Easter egg hunts, etc.  This is exactly what my family did, thanks to the Graham’s, our adopted family.  It was indeed a wonderful day.  But today is Monday.  What happens now?  Is Easter now over?  Will our liturgies have less people once again? (unfortunately probably so).  

But Easter is NOT over!  It’s only the beginning!  Easter is not just 1 Sunday.  It’s an entire season, just like the season of Lent, but with a completely different feel.  And where the season of Lent lasts 6 Sundays, the season of Easter lasts a “perfect” 7 Sundays.  Where Lent is a season of work and preparation, Easter is a season of rest and celebration!  Numbers play an important role in the church.  Their meanings are significant in telling the story!  7 is considered to be the “perfect” or “whole” number.  As we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus throughout this Easter season, we are reminded that God has already started this wholeness and salvation in Jesus and that we are to live and rest in this reality.  

So 1 + 6 = 7/Easter.  Let us continue to fill our sanctuaries for the entire Easter season these next 6 weeks!

Eastertide Collect:

In the Paschal (Passover) Mystery, ALMIGHTY GOD, You established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant, we pray, that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. Amen.