Recently Addison (our 4 year old) was playing with action figure Jesus among many other toys along with her younger sister, Sophie. I enjoy watching them play, though usually it's hard not to get invited in. They were beginning to play with several "dolls" at the same time, and setting up what was happening. That's when it happened.
Addie stood up from where they were playing, and carried action figure Jesus all the way across the room, setting him down on a chair. "Jesus is all the way over here, because he is far far away from all of us in the real world."
Yikes. All of a sudden, this topic about what God has in store for us, which has fundamental roots in "Where Heaven is" seems like much more central than previously thought. We know that where the Son resides presently is not in some far off location, that only if we had a telescope powerful enough, we could spot. Yet, without thinking about it, that is precisely the theology many Christians subscribe to. That Jesus is somewhere "up there", and that someday he will come "down here" to take those who love him to a portion of the galaxy somehow untouched by sin for all these years.
How is that conveying the fact that many times in the New Testament, we find words describing our savior such as "Immanuel", "God With Us", or even bluntly "I am with you..."?
I've talked before, and better interpreters and theologians have said with better language, where Jesus is presently seems much more another dimension of the physical space as we understand it right here. In the resurrected Christ, we see the marriage of these dimensions, and the possibilities of moving between these dimensions in our future "resurrection bodies". But at the moment, our connection to this ultimate "reality" is veiled until God determines to lift that veil, revealing and pouring Himself out completely. Calling our present existence a veiled reality is not escapism. For this is the very physical world that God desires to lift the veil, revealing Himself as Lord and pouring out his resurrection life, bringing about the complete restoration of. We live here and now as citizens of that now and future Kingdom...announcing Jesus as Lord by our very lives.
He is not crouched behind a dimensional rock, hiding in wait for "someday", either. He has given us His Spirit, so that we might actually be involved/freed here and now, to live in the way we will exist when the veil is lifted completely. He actually IS Immanuel - God With Us.
So how to communicate that to our 4 year old? No, actually, you don't have to move Jesus across the room. But she's not slow enough to think he's physically standing right next to her, albeit invisibly. I suppose this is why we don't depend upon one lesson, one moment of salvation, one explanation of Christ that forever exists in the mind of our children. For now, perhaps we'll buy a wedding veil, and throw that over Jesus....
In a time of prayer yesterday, I was struck once again by how similar my prayers are for my family, my local church family, and the family of God. Motivated both by a desire to connect with these prayers, and admittedly a desire to create something...I came up with a long list of passages from scripture that captured such prayers. Obviously, I couldn't use all of them in one fell swoop. But here are some that made the cut:
2 Corinthians 5:17
1 John 4:16
I began by writing out some of the prayers with finger-painting, and then covered the canvas by hand...with the word "Love" through the image. While that dried, I wrote out the scriptures, and tried to see what words or phrases would capture them well, to fit on one canvas. Finally, I attempted to fit those phrases, with my horrible penmanship...onto the painting.
I enjoyed it. I think I might even hang it somewheres.
So I have this fiction book I was writing. Then I stopped, partially due to writers' block, and partially so I could work on a "Parenting" book. Well, now I've finished the book on parenting (not a "how to"...SOOO not qualified there. It's more of a "God wants to use parenting to transform you" type book). Now, I wanted accountability to finish this story that has already begun. It also fills the need of "I'm wanting to write, but can't think of anything incredibly profound or worth saying at the moment." When I have those moments, I will try to move forward with the book.
In any case, the end result is this. An entire fictional story, dished out one blog post at a time. I make no claims to schedule, but if you follow this blog, eventually you'll find the rest of the story. Much of it is already written. Kind of...
PROLOGUE: An Event
Life was everything he could have ever asked for. Adam was at the top of his game at work. He had a great house, beautiful wife, and a son who would probably play professional hockey someday. The drive home from work that day was perfectly normal. That is, it was perfectly normal except for one small issue. He died.
He didn’t choose to die, the way one would choose to eat a cracker. It was more like the way someone chooses to fall when they trip going down the stairs. He realized he was a goner way before it even happened. He saw the guy coming before their vehicles even made contact. He thought to himself, “Anyone who drives a sporty yellow car in the middle of winter probably doesn’t know much about driving in snow.”
He was right.
A loud crash, a flash of pain everywhere in his body, and then, nothing. Not nothing like when you open a closet door you thought your friend was hiding behind only to reveal he’s not in there. But nothing like opening a door and finding the end of the galaxy. All was quiet and still. So what happens now? He felt fine. Well, fine other than the fact that he felt nothing. This was kind of weird.
All of a sudden, something came from the nothing. It was the world he had just left, going on without him. But not without him as if there had never been a him. More like, without him…having just lost him. And for some cosmic reason, he was being allowed to watch it…
Last week my family went on a vacation. It wasn't a holiday, we weren't traveling to meet other family, and it wasn't a trip for work that we called "vacation". It was a true, me taking a few days off, and us getting a hotel for no other reason than to get away as "The Anderson's". It was beautiful.
THURSDAY: The girls had swim lessons in Decatur, then we packed up for the Gateway City. Checking into our hotel (thanks Orbitz!), we took the girls for their promised swim in the hotel pool...on the roof! Then we changed, and went out for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and a leisurely stroll through the park around the arch & along the flooded riverbank. Bedtime around 9:30pm.
FRIDAY: We got up early so we could be at the (free!) zoo by 8am. Between 8-9am, there is free access to usually admission-costing exhibits. We were able to pet stingrays and sharks, then head over the children's zoo/play areas/exhibits. Our kids had a blast! The weather was hot, but we spaced it out with visits to indoor animals (LOVE the Penguins, of course!), and did quite well. We took a train ride after lunch, and left still feeling great.
Next we headed over to the (free!) Science Center, where our kids enjoyed a few exhibits for younger kids. Most of the (free sections of the) museum is for an older age group, but we still enjoyed a solid couple hours there. We returned to our hotel for another long swim on the roof, soaking up the sun and scenery. Then it was dinner at the hotel (we had a giftcard!!), and a seemingly early bedtime of 9-ish-pm after an extensive family reading/playtime. (Bedtime with 3 toddlers in a hotel is always "ish")
SATURDAY: We awoke at a relaxed pace, and headed over to Park Avenue Coffee (LaFayette Square location) to try a few of their 73 flavors of "Oooey Gooey Butter Cake". It was all that I imagined butter cake could be, and then some. Our girls loved it, and they had a great outdoor patio area to enjoy. We walked around a bit near there, enjoying the weather and throwing a few pennies in the fountain. Then we drove around the city a bit, being rerouted due to a "For the Cure" 5k Walk.
Next we ended up at Union Station, where our girls loved the "Fudgery", complete with vocal entertainment, crowd interaction, and fresh fudge samples. We walked around a bit, got flattened souvenir pennies, and mommy got to grab a quick "salad-to-go" from Houlihans before we went back to the hotel. After a quick lunch of stuff we brought, Sarah laid Ruby down for a nap while I took the older two out exploring the city. We went under the arch to the museum and old-timed snack shop, and then walked deep into the downtown area to visit Schnucks and be in awe of all the all buildings!!!
We went for a quick swim in a pool that was jumping with people (many celebrating something or something else with a bit of 21-and-older beverages), and decided to go out for dinner. We wanted to check out President Obama's favorite pizza place, "Pi Pizza", famous for their cornbread crust. It was, indeed, great pizza, no matter your opinion on the man. It was even better topped off with some Ted Drewes Frozen Custard!
We ended the day by walking from the hotel down to the "City Garden", where our girls LOVED playing in the colored lights and spraying waters of the fountains! They played until well past sundown, and we walked back to put our soaking wet kids to bed.
SUNDAY: We began with a light in-room breakfast purchased from the Arch store on Saturday, sausage and cheese, and crackers...mmm. We did a short Bible story in honor of the Sabbath, of when Jesus "went on vacation" with his family, and his parents lost track of Him. Then we changed into our suits, and headed back over to the CityGarden for some more playing in the fountain while the sun was up! Our kids SERIOUSLY loved these fountains! And during the day hours, you're allowed to swim IN the actual fountains! Gotta love that, and we really think Decatur, Illinois NEEDS something similar!
After a quick change, we checked out of the hotel, and went over to a SONIC (mom's favorite) for lunch. Then it was off to the "Magic House", which is a children's museum on steroids! We spent the first couple hours in a building apparently for older kids, but found quite a bit our girls loved. Then we realized an entirely different building meant for kids our girls' age, and began to explore that!! We definitely could have stayed, alas they closed at 5:30. So after a TON of exploring, pretending, learning, and playing, we headed out to meet family from the area for a quick dinner at Fazoli's, before our girls passed out on the way home.
Altogether an INCREDIBLE time away with family. A very good reminder that a vacation with 3 toddlers CAN be done, done well, and done inexpensively!! And Saint Louis is a great city to take such a trip!!!!
Last week I had the privilege of attending a concert over 10 years in the making. I was introduced to "Dispatch" back in college by a few close friends I traveled in a band with. Their incredible music, and faith-infused lyrics caught my attention. Unfortunately it's also when the band stopped playing together. They went off to do their own solo stuff. My attention was drawn to Brad, who went off to form "Braddigan", with songs that touched more deeply into faith elements, and even actively involved his shows with bringing light to places in the world that were dark. He connected with established ministries and offered hope to people living in the garbage dumps of Nicaragua.
I have to say, the music was incredible, as expected. But I got a lot more than I'd imagined/expected along with it.
Mind you, I haven't really attended a large concert that wasn't labeled "Christian" in a long time (Hootie & the Blowfish), unless you count walking past one at Decatur Celebration. I realize this concert probably isn't what all shows are like, but it reveals quite a bit about how we are wired/created as humans.
Thousands of people, standing shoulder to shoulder, filled to the brim with emotions (or hormones? or drugs/beer?), singing the lyrics loudly...many moving to the rhythms. Let's just say the entire venue began to smell like burned palm branches, and it was not anywhere near Ash Wednesday. So how can so many people fill themselves with so much alcohol and weed, and be shouting out introspective lyrics about grand themes like forgiveness, God, Love, Jesus, hope, etc.?
I found a small clue, in one of their most popular songs "Elias". The very first line, sung in an Eastern Zimbabwe tribal language, says "If I could meet my Jesus I would be very happy with him". The song goes on, with a great message about community, helping out those in need, and being stronger when they are stronger. Dispatch has even created ways to help communities in Zimbabwe, because of the story that inspired the song.
But as the woman behind me cried "This is the most high I've ever been!!!", and a few minutes later, through the same tears, "Did you know that guy helps people who live in TRASH!! I can't believe it! People live in garbage!!"....I wondered if something may be lost in the translation of God's love for His people.
The lyrics focus on humanity being very happy with Jesus...and with each other...but neglect any mention of what God desires for His creation. I found myself, in the midst of enjoying great music; burdened to prayer for the crowds that were right on the edge of experiencing a bit of who God is....but deciding only to go as far as it benefits me and mine.
I have no doubt that God is at work, both in those moments and through their music beyond. But the concert experience reminds me there are other forces who would love to masquerade as a meaningful faith experience...
I think five years of anything in particular can prompt a bit of a reflection. June 1st of 2006, I was officially hired by Moundford Free Methodist Church in Decatur, IL. Sarah and I had spent over a year in Decatur, waiting on God, believing He had called us here. Not only to be near family, but to be deeply involved in a ministry that held family in high regard.
Spending some time in prayer this morning, the picture above seemed to capture exactly what I wanted to convey. I feel as if the sun has only begun to rise on what God has for us here. It's hard to express just how thankful I am for where we are, and the ministry we're enabled to live out. The relationships we've built, and continue to build on.
Family has definitely been a focus of our life and ministry ever since coming to Moundford. After all, for most of our tenure so far, we've added a child every year or so to our own. We began here with no kids, and now our home contains so much cuteness that we should probably charge admission. It's a tremendous blessing to have a church that acknowledges the sacrifices of having a youth pastor at my stage in life. They could have a younger, "pre-child"-stage youth pastor with unlimited time and resources to give. They could have an older, "grown-child" stage youth pastor, who can pack up the kids or leave them at home and knows how to navigate parenting with professional life. Instead they've been enduring a youth pastor who is still learning how to balance a hugely demanding family role with a job that he never clocks out of.
I like to believe my family is a HUGE part of my life as a minister. It seems my church family agrees. We continue to experience God's "Yes!" to this path of raising a family and ministering among the people of the greater Decatur area.
There's another side to this coin. I'm almost 30, and there's that overly-quoted statistic about the short tenures of most youth pastors. Any youth pastor with a balding spot gets asked, "so when do you think you'll become a senior pastor?" My response, this morning at least, would be something like:
I get to preach often. Sometimes to the whole congregation. I get to lead worship on occasion. I get to teach/discuss/study scripture. I get to visit people in the hospital, and pray with people in their homes. I carry a burden for our church's needs in a way that drives me to prayer as one of their pastors. I also have a special love for the youth, and this stage of life that is so ridiculously fluid and foundational. I get to focus much of my energy/efforts towards calling these young adults and their families to the revelation/transformation of Jesus Christ and His Spirit. I get to help feed the hungry. I get to minister in a city that is marginalized, and actively working to reach out to the marginalized...in a congregation that is increasingly globally-burdened and active. I am in the midst of God freeing captives, bringing redemption, and giving New Life. And that's an abbreviated list.
I think this is a pretty good place to be. And we have only begun...