Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nativity Parades

I've been wanting to write this post for about a year now, but I'm glad I waited.

One of Campbell's Advent traditions (as in many churches) is a Nativity parade. Each year, the children of the church dawn the costumes of shepherds, magi, barn critters, and the Holy Family. Jockying for roles always seems to be a part of the parade (the cow suit complete with udders always seems to be popular) and the oldest kids are always in the running to play Mary and Joseph or the Head Angel. Remarkably, someone in the congregation always volunteers their baby to play the role of baby Jesus. It's a pretty typical scene, just like you would see in countless churches all around the country.

But last year's was different. Our pastor and his family are a foster family and routinely have one or twelve extra kids running around and last Christmas was no different. They had two boys who ended up being with them for about eight months (if memory serves). Anyway, both boys were toddlers and when they were placed with the Bryans they were unable to do much but lay on the floor. By the time Christmas rolled around, both boys had shown remarkable improvement and the oldest was doing a little more walking.

For some reason, Megan and I happened to be at the first service last year, a service dominated by the saints (read older folks) of the church. There typically aren't many kids around for the 8:20 am service, so it's a real treat for these folks to get to see something like the nativity parade. Anyway, there we sat and watched as the various characters were walking in. When it came time for the various barn critters to come in, one of the Bryan's foster boys walked in all alone, thumb thoroughly fixed in mouth.

And my heart broke.

I cry more than I let on, but normally it's just a wet-eye kind of thing. Not that morning. I started bawling. Uncontrollably, almost. One of those cries where you struggle to keep your lip from shaking (the whole time trying to sing various Christmas songs, but with little success). Luckily, Megan was crying to. I looked up and Andy (who was sitting in front of me) was also crying. All because this little boy was walking down the aisle dressed up like a cow with his thumb in his mouth.

I can't tell you for sure why everyone else was crying, but it was pretty simple for me. I started thinking about where those foster boys would be in a year. I started thinking about the hell they had already experienced, the joy of being in a loving home at Christmas, and the uncertainty that lay ahead of them. Where would they be for their next Christmas? It was a strange mix of joy and sorrow that only Christmas can bring.

Here's why I'm glad I never wrote this post until now. The boys were adopted early last year. They've got a wonderful family in mid-Missouri and are no doubt busy preparing for another great Christmas with loving parents. They both continue to get caught up on developmental stuff and will no doubt grow up to be great men; the Bryans even get to visit on occasion.

So I teared up a little big again this year during the Nativity parade, but for very different reasons. Two precious, precious little boys who have been given a new chance in life. God's grace continues to flow through families that choose to foster and to adopt. What a beautiful picture for Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Blend

I love Christmas. From lights, to trees, to music...there's just not a lot about this time of year I can find to complain about. Okay, honestly, there's a lot to complain about (greed, consumerism, commercialization, poverty, the Alamo bowl) but that kind of defeats the purpose of the season, doesn't it? If we truly celebrate the coming of Christ as the purpose of Christmas, then what can we do but be optimistic.

It's a time of incarnation, of remembering that something truly peculiar and mysterious happened as God somehow became human and lived among us. Most importantly, it's a time to remember that as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am to continue that incarnation in the world today by building God's kingdom on earth; to know that hope, love, joy, and peace aren't just words on banners hanging from the Advent wreath, but rather actions that I should be exemplifying in all I do.

There is hope in knowing that Christ's presence is continually incarnated by his disciples today. Love is shared as people forget about themselves for just a little while and help others this season, not because they have to, but because they want to. Joy abounds as friends and family gather from far and wide simply to be together. And peace, although it feels so far off at times, exudes from Christmas Eve candlelight services across the globe.

May you be blessed in all you do this season. May the hope, joy, love, and peace that come with Christ continue in us throughout the year.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Growing up (not that I'm finished by any means!), I always had an answer for those who asked what I was going to be. Like most little boys, I started off wanting to be just like my Dad in every way, including growing up to work at F&H Food Equipment. Granted, I really had no idea what my dad did at F&H, but that's where I wanted to work. After all, he went on sales calls to places with fabulous names...like Milwaukee.

Then, and I remember this vividly, when I was six, my dad and I were driving around in his Bronco II when he put a tape in the stereo that would forever change my life: Garth Brooks' No Fences. From that point until around sixth grade, I wanted to be Garth Brooks. I had every song memorized, started learning the guitar, had a big Garth Brooks poster over my bed. Some boys memorized baseball lineups and statistics; I memorized the track order of Garth Brooks albums. I was going to be a country music star.

Sometime around the sixth grade, I developed an interest in medicine and decided I was going to go to school at UMKC and become a pediatrician. I even shadowed my pediatrician in eighth grade and it was a great experience...I even got to wear a lab coat. But in eighth grade, I had the greatest social studies teacher in the world, Jim Wood. I've always had a passion for history and Mr. Wood ignited that. My tenth grade world history teacher, Jeremy George, taught me to pursue my passion and my passion was history; why not teach it? So that was it. I was even voted most likely to end up teaching at Hillcrest by my senior class.

That lasted until I randomly took a New Testament class at SMS and had so much of what I thought I knew about the Bible and religion turned on its head. Talk about a paradigm shift. I even learned what a paradigm shift was. I immersed myself in the study of religion and found the intersection of my two biggest passions: history and Christianity. It was beautiful. I remember how long I wrestled with whether or not to change my major from history education to religious studies, a switch I've never regretted. I was still going to teach; it was just going to require a PhD.

But like my other career paths, my confidence over the last year and a half has wained regarding becoming a professor. See, I firmly believe that God calls each of us to a vocation. As in all other things, I believe that we choose whether or not to accept that calling. I could be perfectly content as a high school history teacher and I know that I could do a PhD program if I wanted to do so. But what is God calling me to do? Is it something else entirely?

Ever since I was little, my GaGa (that's Mom's mom, for the uninitiated) has told me that I was going to be "her little preacher", so that's been in my head too. Every year at Camp Galilee, there would be a special call for those who might feel called into full-time ministry of some kind and I always wrestled with God as to whether or not that was me. I've wrestled and wrestled, warning God that if God was truly calling me to ministry as a vocation, God would have to start moving some mountains or burning some bushes to prove it. I haven't seen any yet. But the thought's been creeping up a lot more over the past six months.

I'll be 24 in November. Not old by any means, but perhaps not so young either. Hopefully I'll be finishing up my MA this year. And I'm getting closer and closer every day to marriage. But what's next? I love my job and have no intentions of leaving any time soon, but I don't want to be a youth director for the rest of my life.

The freak-out part of this is that growing up, regardless of what it was, I was always incredibly confident of what I was going to do in life. The last year and a half has truly been the first time I've had doubts about what I wanted to do with my life. And there's the rub; I could be perfectly happy teaching (at either level) or preaching. But where is God calling me?

For now, I'll just keep singing.

Lead me, Lord
Lead me in Your righteousness
Make Thy way plain before my face
For it is Thou Lord
Thou Lord only
That makest me dwell in safety.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Oh my...

If you haven't seen this yet, do yourself a favor and watch it...just be sure you're not drinking anything while you watch, lest it end up all over your keyboard.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Politics as Usual

This is getting ridiculous. I am utterly and thoroughly confused by this ad from McCain.

I'm just baffled. What is the point of this message? I'm so confused, I can't even write a clear paragraph. Yes, Barack Obama is a celebrity. And so is John McCain. But what's with the messianic language and use of footage from the 10 Commandments? If the McCain folks are trying to make Obama out to be some sort of failed messiah, why did they choose to use clips from a mid-century epic of the life of Moses? Since when is Moses a messianic figure? Doesn't comparing Obama to Moses hurt McCain's case? According to Hebrew scriptures, Moses was only the one chosen by God to set God's people free from decades of slavery and oppression at the hands of the Egyptians. I'm not sure that's the kind of person to whom I would compare my opponent.

I'm sick of hearing about how McCain needs to do a better job of courting evangelicals when he puts out ads like this. Is it just me, or does this border on blasphemy? Yes, I understand that this ad is tongue in cheek and that the McCain folks think Obama is taking his role in history a bit too far. But people, this IS huge. I don't care which side of the political aisle you choose, we have an African-American about to claim his party's nomination to run for president of the United States. Sure, it's not on the same spectrum as Moses freeing the Hebrew people from bondage and allowing God's covenant with Abraham to continue. But this IS a big deal. And I think the McCain folks just made it even bigger. As one youtube commenter said, this may be the best ad in Obama's favor yet.

Perhaps, as most politicians do, Obama thinks a little too highly of himself. And yes, his supporters probably paint him in bigger terms than they should. But that's because they're excited. So far, McCain hasn't given me anything to be excited about. Perhaps I'm just another impressionable feller in his mid-20's getting swept up in Obamania. Regardless, it feels good to be excited about the prospects of a political candidate for once. Did somebody say change?

Monday, August 25, 2008

To switch or not to switch...

I think google may be taking over my life. My blog on wordpress seems to do everything I ask of it, but the fact that I can keep my online life so easily connected thanks to google (the thought of a disconnected online life seems somewhat paradoxical) has inspired me to give blogger a try. So here goes...who shall emerge victorious? Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Romans 8:1-11 (NRSV)

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

I was a part of a Bible study thing called the FIRE Institute at one time in high school. It was a very intense multi-month study full of learning spiritual disciplines, fasting, scripture study, video watching, for which I quit freshman football (wasn’t too tough of a decision; I don’t think I was cut out for high school football…much more comfortable on stage) and made various other sacrifices. It was an overall good experience that helped gird up my fundamentalist attitudes of the time but that I am quite sure genuinely helped me grow.

One of the most challenging (but fulfilling) aspects of the experience was that we had to memorize Romans chapter eight, one of my favorite passages since that study. In fact, ten years later (it’s been 10 years since I was a freshman?), I can still get through the first half of the chapter without stuttering. But this is good stuff friends…

I’m always intrigued by what exactly Paul had in mind when talking about the law of sin and death. Is this some kind of original sin idea? Or is it just the result of humanity’s sinful nature, like a natural law? My lovely New Oxford Annotated Bible says that Paul, when speaking of the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and death is reffering not to “two different laws, but of God’s law experienced under two opposing dominions, of sin and of righteousness.” In that case, I suppose that Christ ushers in the death or collapse of the dominion of sin and death by bringing about the dominion of the Spirit of life. That makes sense in light of verse four, when Paul talks about those who “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

But would that imply that God set up a dominion of unrighteousness? Or was God’s righteousness simply corrupted by flesh, as in verse three? I need to read some gnostic interpretations of this…I could easily see how this could be fodder for the idea that the God of the Jews is actually an evil diety, Lord of the law of sin and death, while the God of Jesus is actually the God of the good stuff, of the Spirit of life.

Personally, when I think of a law weakened by the flesh, I think of my inability to live up to God’s righteousness on my own apart from Christ, who came “in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in flesh, so that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” I supposed the idea of separate dominions still works with this interpretation though; it’s a matter of which dominion we choose to walk under.

Having one’s mind set on the desires of the flesh ultimately leads to destruction according to Paul and creates a mind that is hostile to God and unable to submit to God’s law; BUT, the mind focused on the Spirit brings life and peace. I like life and peace a lot more than destruction. I need to spend more time in prayer and meditation, focusing my mind on the Spirit, finding peace.

I like to think of verse eleven as applying to living bodies, to the idea that God, through Christ, wants to give life to our mortal bodies, our bodies that are still alive. When people look at me, I want them to see someone who is truly alive. I struggled with that last week on mission trip; being tired and sick at the end didn’t help, but I was not a good demonstration of the vibrant life that Christ wants to give for my kids. I’m going to work on that, to find a way to still be me and be true to my personality, yet show that joyus life of Christ within.

Good stuff indeed.