Dylan is three years old. The other day he was playing outside and he had to go the restroom. A number one, if you will.
This is never good when you’re three and playing outside. Inside is a long ways away. Well, Dylan is resourceful and he had the perfect solution to his dilemma.
But it turns out that little Dylan’s resourcefulness cost mommy almost three grand.
I’m glad that I don’t have to raise my kids on that street. If I did, by my math, they would cost me somewhere around 9.8 million dollars.
Maybe you still don’t know who to vote for tomorrow. Who could blame you? I mean it’s not like either of the two candidates has been on TV or anything. Who is it that’s running for president again?
Anyway, while you’re still trying to make up your mind you should consider this guy.
And remember what Thomas Jefferson once said. ”Any man who uses lightsabers and kung-fu dubbing in his commercial will be an excellent fit for any political office.”
A few evenings ago, when my sons told me that they wanted to play basketball, I immediately thought of all the reasons why we couldn’t play basketball.
We don’t have a goal.
We don’t have a basketball.
It’s football season.
They didn’t care about any of that. It was already settled in their minds. We were playing basketball.
While I was constructing our basketball court I thought about all of the things I would need to buy so that we could play real basketball next time. After all, anything worth doing is worth doing right, right? Money is no option when it’s for the children.
I’ll need a good concrete slab over here. Nothing elaborate. Maybe just half the size of a regulation basketball court. Oh, and if we could get a logo painted on it, that would be great too. Something like Sanderz Boyz Ballaz. Keep it simple.
Construction was complete when I moved our outdoor trash can into the yard and put a bucket on top of it. There was a strong scent of rotten fish with a hint of mustard. When we started playing I felt like one of Fat Albert’s friends.
For a ball we used one of those balls that you get at Big Don’s Kwick Dollar. You know, the kind that weighs something like .02 ounces. It was sort of orange so we had that going for us but there was no way any of us was dribbling it on the grass. I decided that we should skip the dribbling part and just carry the ball, sort of like what happens in the NBA every night.
When we started playing, something strange happened.
We were having fun.
My oldest son was diving for loose balls like Charles Oakley in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
My three-year-old kept laughing. Crazy laughing. No matter what happened. And he wasn’t wearing a shirt or shoes. He was our Dennis Rodman, only with more tattoos.
And my wife and I were having a blast. I’ve always wanted to know what it felt like to dunk on someone and now that I have a three-year-old and a trash can for a basketball goal, I finally know. Trust me, it’s awesome! You should’ve seen me.
Our basketball game reminded me that something doesn’t have to be regulation size or have flashing lights to be fun.
We do our kids great harm when we act as though good memories and good times have to be bought for 36 monthly payments of $120 with 0.1% financing. We can blame our politicians all we want, and there’s plenty that should go their way, but we also have to look in the mirror if we want to figure out at least part of the reason why our economy is in the tank. All the politicians did was jump on an opportunity that the American people gave them.
For a generation or two, parents have been paying their kids off instead of playing with them. Now the bill is coming due and in a lot of cases, everything those parents bought is broken, including their relationships with their kids. It turns out that those toys with giant flashing lights are more expensive than we first thought.
Our trash can basketball game didn’t cost a thing but our family got a lot in return.
We were together.
We were doing something.
We were having fun.
Years from now, I want my boys to enjoy good childhood memories. I’m often tempted to think that this will require a substantial monetary investment. But in reality their memories aren’t likely to involve any backyard state of the art basketball facility.
Instead, I think that their memories will be about having fun with each other and with what we already had laying around.
Sort of like Fat Albert and his friends.
Before I ever became a pastor, a mentor gave me some valuable advice.
“Always remember that there’s a broken heart on every pew.”
At first I thought that he was just using preacher talk. It sounded like one of those phrases pastors tell each other at conferences in between bragging about how many people they baptized. Broken heart on every pew. Sure. Thanks.
And then I became a pastor and realized that there really was a broken heart on every pew.
Some of them are learning how to deal with a mother who is dying of cancer.
Some desperately want to be mothers but no medical procedure has helped them. They cringe with every baby dedication.
Even more are dealing with the stress and worry that comes with a slow economy.
Many people in these situations say the same thing. ”It seems like God is out to get me.”
The typical church response is to gently grab this person’s hand, give them our best Bless Your Heart Face and say, “No, God isn’t out to get you.”
That couldn’t be more wrong.
It seemed like God was out to get Jonah when he got caught in the middle of a storm while out at sea. It seemed like God was out to get Jonah while he was fighting for air on an ocean floor. It seemed like God was out to get Jonah while he was squeezed inside of the belly of a fish. And it sure seemed like God was out to get Jonah when that fish spewed Jonah out and left him lying on the beach, covered in fish vomit.
It seemed like God was out to get Jonah because he was. Jonah, in his sin and disobedience, was trying to get away from God. God wouldn’t allow one of his own to get away. He was out to get his man. This is how grace works. Grace hunts us down and restores us when our sin has convinced us that the bottom of the ocean is the best place for us to be.
I don’t know why a godly couple, a couple that would have made excellent parents, lost their baby halfway through the pregnancy. I don’t know why my mom died at an early age. And I don’t know why smart, hard working business owners lose it all. It’s always dangerous to assume that we know the exact reason why God is doing something or that suffering is always due to some hidden terrible sin in the person’s life (John 9:1-3).
But we can be certain that God is out to get us. It’s just different than we tend to think.
If you walked around the outside of my house every morning you would hear the following three things.
1. Crying. By that I mean the loud, weeping and gnashing of teeth type of crying.
2. An adult male voice saying, “Hurry up before I beat you!”
3. The voices of two toddlers saying something like, “Go quick before he gets us!”
You would then probably be tempted to call 911 and report a case of child abuse.
But if you walked inside of our house, you would have a whole new perspective. You would see that I had just told my two sons to make up their beds. And you would find out that they were crying because, get this, they didn’t want to make up their beds. If you stuck around for a few more minutes you would hear me challenge them to a race.
“Let’s see if you can have your beds made up before I come back in here. Hurry up before I beat you!”
And then you would see their crying faces quickly transform into looks of determination.
“Hurry, before he gets us!”
It always works out that they win. I get to hug them and tell them what a good job they did. Three happy boys.
From the outside, you thought that a father was out to get his sons for all of the wrong reasons. A better perspective, one from the inside, revealed that you were only partially right. Yes, the father was out to get his boys but not to harm them. It was their well-being and fellowship that he was after.
Christian, when it seems like your Heavenly Father is out to get you, he really is. But you can rest in the fact that he is not seeking your destruction (Romans 8:1). His Son took that for you. Instead, it’s your ultimate well-being and fellowship that he’s after, two things that you can’t enjoy while gasping for air at the bottom of the sea (Hebrews 12:1-11; John 17:1-26).
So yes, God is out to get us.
And we shouldn’t want it any other way.
I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. Jonah 2:6b
That suspicious looking fellow with the black bag may not be up to no good after all. He might just be getting a few of his friends together to play you a song from your childhood.
Is your church’s children’s ministry a holding room or a training facility?
In their book Creature of the Word, Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger explain the importance of teaching the gospel to children.
“Some children’s ministries are simply viewed as child care, which is most tragic when we understand the blessed vulnerability of children. Why would we be content to provide child care while mom and dad, who are far less likely to realize their own weakness, are somewhere else being taught the Christian faith? No, this is the time to lovingly melt the hearts of children with the good news of Jesus. With children especially, we must help them see that the goal of the Commandments was much deeper than tweaked behavior.”
Anyone in a church leadership position, not just youth or children’s ministers, needs to consider whether or not they are simply keeping people busy until the next event on the calendar or if they are training them up as disciples. Creature of the Word is a helpful resource for those who are committed to the latter.
The auditorium was packed, mostly with people who didn’t want to be there.
It was spiritual emphasis week at my small Bible college which meant that we were all required to spend pretty much every night that week listening to a guy give lectures about something spiritual.
On the last night of the week the speaker decided to start things off with a little review. This would prove to be awkward for everyone in attendance.
And it was all my fault.
“What was our main point on Monday night?”
Hands shot up all over the place.
“Yes. You way in the back, in the brown shirt.”
“Good. Very good. And what about Tuesday night? Anyone?”
Again, hundreds of eager hands popped up in the air.
“Okay. You in the red dress.”
Without giving it much thought, I told my friend Derrick that Doctrine of Integrity was the answer to the next question. It wasn’t. I just thought it would be funny to tell Derrick that it was.
My heart stopped when he raised his hand and the speaker called on him.
“Yes, you in the orange and blue shirt.”
“Doctrine of Integrity!”
Derrick seemed so proud to have the right answer.
Derrick knew that he had been had but it was too late. He was stuck. He finished his answer with gibberish.
“What was that, son?”
It’s amazing that I was allowed to graduate from that school. It’s even more amazing that Derrick kept being my friend.
A few years later Derrick and I were out with a bunch of friends. When things started getting crazy, Derrick was the one that drove home with me, away from all of the drama, to watch TV.
When I found out that my mom died, I never asked Derrick to come to my house. He didn’t let that or a ten hour drive stop him. I’m glad.
When my firstborn son was about to be born, Derrick was at the hospital almost as fast as me and my wife. When it was time for delivery, he was in the waiting room. When the labor dragged on and things started to look bad, Derrick was still in the waiting room. And he was there for the four minutes that nurses worked to get my newborn son to take his first breath.
My son made it out okay. And a few years later, my second son came with a little less turbulence. When they grow up, I hope that they have friends like my friend Derrick.
Friends they can laugh with.
Friends that will call them out when they are wrong.
Friends that are there for them.
He had a very concerned look on his face.
We had talked about this kind of thing before. A lot. This time was different. He wasn’t going to settle for answers to his questions. Something had to be done. Now.
“Dad, I need to know how to repent of my sins and believe in Jesus.”
“Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the grave like we talked about?”
“Well, now you just ask. Jesus told people to repent and believe in the gospel so you need to pray and ask him to forgive you of your sins.”
My son ran away into the woods to pray.
He came back a new creature.
This happened almost two years ago and I’ve wrestled against a temptation almost every day since then. The temptation is to think that my job is over. My kid has repented of his sins and put his faith in Christ. One down, one to go.
Jesus’ last commandment in the Gospel of Matthew always brings me back to reality.
This commandment is just as relevant for parents in the United States as it is for missionaries in China.
The day that my son became my brother was really the day that my work had just begun. Jesus didn’t tell me to get my son to say a prayer. He told me to make a disciple out of him.
This means that if I want him to live in total submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ like I pray for every night, I better be living in total submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. It means that along with telling him how important it is to love Jesus and others, I need to be showing him as well. And later on in life, when our schedule gets more chaotic, I need to show him with my time that Jesus is more important than work, running, soccer and karate.
My son asked me the other day why we waited so long to baptize him after he became a follower of Jesus. I explained how we were just taking our time to pray and watch. My three-year-old son was listening and interrupted.
“Dad! I don’t want to get dunked in water.”
My baby boy, the Presbyterian.
My oldest son stepped in to explain that once you become a Christian, getting dunked is no big deal except for the fact that, “you might miss a few songs during church.”
By the end of this explanation, my youngest son was convinced.
“I think I’ll be okay getting dunked.”
I pray that this conversation was a small vision of a future where both of my boys are my brothers in Christ.
But even when that day comes, my job will not be done.
My family was divided last week.
Soccer practice was at the same time as karate practice.
We planned on my wife taking my oldest son to karate while I took our youngest son to soccer. The only problem with our otherwise brilliant plan was that my youngest son wanted his mom, not his dad, to take him to soccer.
It’s very humbling to hear your three-year-old son tell you that he’d rather you not go with him someplace. As I saw it, my options were threefold.
1. The Anger Option
“Well fine then, kid! You can just walk to soccer practice. SMH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
2. The Great Cave-In
“Whatever you want, son. But I’ll be cheering you on, from a distance.”
3. The Brick Wall
“Stop crying. We’re going to soccer practice.”
I went with The Brick Wall option because I wanted my son to know that I love him, even when he doesn’t want me around. I wanted him to know that true love isn’t something that can be switched on and off and that devotion isn’t practiced on our own terms.
Human history is littered with people’s attempts to enjoy God’s presence on their own terms.
Adam and Eve had perfect communion with God but tried to hide from him after they sinned (Genesis 3:8).
Jonah described himself as a Hebrew who feared the Lord (Jonah 1:9) even though he was on the run from that same Lord. Only moments after uttering those words Jonah would try to kill himself just to avoid doing what God told him to do (Jonah 1:12).
Peter called Jesus, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) but denied that same Christ shortly before the crucifixion (John 18:25-27).
And today we love to hear sermons and songs about Jesus being with us “during the storm” or “through the journey” but we don’t much care for the idea of him being around when our most hated politician shows up on TV or our favorite team loses or the kids are going nuts.
We want God’s presence but we want it on our terms.
Thankfully, God’s grace is greater than our fickle devotion.
In Matthew 1:21-23, we see that Jesus came to earth with the promise that, “he will save his people from their sins” and that, “they shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us).”
At the end of Matthew, after Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, he leaves his disciples with a similar word.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
I wonder what Peter thought when he heard those words. He had to have been amazed that the God whom he abandoned promised to never abandon him.
And that brings us to one of the most Satanic songs ever written.
God is watching us.
God is watching us.
God is watching us.
From a distance.
How sweet. While we’re blowing each other up and dying of cancer, God is watching. From far away.
Thankfully, the Bible gives us a different picture.
God has no interest in merely watching us from a distance, even if we think that’s what we want. We may wish that we could avoid his presence but his grace will not allow that.
He promised Adam and Eve that a Savior would come to crush the serpent who deceived them (Genesis 3:15).
He refused to allow rebellious Jonah to die at the bottom of an ocean (Jonah 1:17).
He restored Peter by gently reminding him of true love, devotion and mission (John 21:15-19).
And he refuses to look the other way while we sinfully reject or ignore his presence.
Instead, he lovingly corrects us (Hebrews 12:1-11).
Just like a father to a son.
A father who is always present, no matter what.