7 Reasons Santa is Welcome in Our Christian Home

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The conversations that come up around Christmas are always interesting to me. One that has recurred over and over the last few years revolves around the varying opinions of Christians about whether or not we should promote the idea of Santa Claus. I find this particular conversation interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that this didn’t seem to be an issue for people just a couple of decades ago.

As the somewhat resident theologian in most of the groups we hang out with, I sometimes get inquiring looks or questions when this topic comes up. This may be because I rarely offer an opinion on the subject publicly, or maybe because people expect me to have some awesome Jesus-y reason that the Bible either supports or rejects the concept of Santa (hint: it doesn’t).

My personal belief is that Christian parents should thoughtfully consider how they want to raise their children, then act in accordance with their convictions. If you choose to include Santa in your Christmas traditions, just do so with temperance and try not to turn him into the Wal-Mart of the North Pole. If you choose not to include Santa, that’s great too, but please don’t force your opinions on every family you meet and don’t ruin it for their kids. Whatever you choose, I urge you to follow your convictions with a humble spirit.

In other words, don’t be a jerk.

This year, since I reflected on the issue a bit more than usual I thought I’d give a few reasons why Santa is welcome in our Christian home.

  1. We don’t just talk about Jesus at Christmas, so by the time it arrives we don’t have to scramble to explain its “true” meaning to our kids. I am not concerned that Santa will draw our focus away from Jesus, nor am I afraid that my kids, upon finding out that Santa isn’t what he is cracked up to be, will flee from the church, turn against Christ, and curse my name for feeding them a pack of lies.
  2. We often talk with our kids about how much fun it is to give gifts and how important it is to care for others who are in need. Santa is a distant second after everyone else. He is more the icing on the cake of giving.
  3. We don’t address presents from Santa (though we are fine with the grandparents doing so). Because we travel every Christmas, we fill the kids stockings on the way out the door, so that they know Santa visits our house too. But all of the presents under the tree are from family and friends.
  4. Our children are just that – children. They will lose their sense of wonder soon enough, so we want to let them keep it as long as they can. I have no problem with our children playing with imaginary friends, pretending to be super heroes, or using their imaginations for any of a hundred other activities. Why should it bother me that they imagine a jolly fat man flying around the world to deliver presents to children?
  5. It is decidedly unkind to spoil the surprise for other families, and children who are in-the-know are ridiculous little evangelists. Its fine if your family doesn’t want to talk about Santa. Its your choice how you want to raise your children. However, not everyone shares your convictions about this decidedly un-Biblical topic, so for the sake of others, at least tell your kids to keep their knowledge to themselves. We allow talk of Santa around our kids in part to preserve the peace and joy for other families.
  6. We don’t buy into Christmas commercialism (pun intended), so our kids don’t view Santa as a magic genie who grants all their wishes. There are many things they simply won’t get for Christmas, even if they ask. So including Santa in our traditions doesn’t carry the burden of breaking the bank so that the kids don’t think Santa doesn’t love them.
  7. If we didn’t let our kids believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy would get pretty lonely around here. And boy does she visit often.

Whatever you decided this year and for your future, I hope you and your family had a very Merry Christmas!

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On Being Present

smart-phones

The last few days have been both wonderful and challenging for me. My wife has been visiting friends in California for a much needed and well-deserved break, and I have been home with our two children. Now, I love being a dad. In fact, I consider it to be the most important job I will ever have in this life, and I am grateful for the time I get to spend with the kids.

Having said that, I am also honest enough to say that being alone with the kids isn’t always sunshine and roses. Parenting is hard, and being a single parent (even for a short while) is harder still. Couple that with the fact that there are some things that moms simply do better than we dads do, and I find that I am always learning new lessons about being a dad, and these often the hard way.

One of the more important lessons I have learned in the last couple of years is that it is incredibly important to be present with your kids, in mind as well as body. Our society tells us that we must be available at all times. We are slaves to work, to busy-ness, to entertainment. Even as I write this, I am fighting the urge to check my email or Facebook. At any one time, we might be consumers of a dozen different voices all vying for our attention. But all of these voices become distractions from that which is most important when we don’t learn to turn them off.

This weekend, I took the kids to the mall. They wanted to play in the children’s area there and then walk around to look a things. As they ran around like crazy playing with the other children there, I began to glance around at the other parents, and was honestly a little startled by what I saw. A full 60% of the parents there (I counted) were staring intently, not at their children, but at their smart phones. Another 20% were standing outside the play area completely, and were engaged in conversation with other adults. This left only 20% (2 out of 10) actually paying attention to, and interacting with, their kids as they played.

Kids continually seek the affirmation of their parents. They want to be seen, and they want us to engage with them in the things they are enjoying. Kids don’t want parents who are spectators only; they want parents who are living life with them. What I saw in that play area was a group of parents who were mostly checked out of what was going on around them. They were completely disengaged from their children, oblivious to the kids’ attempts to show them the ‘cool’ things they were doing.

Now, don’t hear me wrong. I understand that people have other things they need to think about. I know how nice it is to have an adult conversation while the kids are otherwise occupied. And I am not simply pointing out a splinter in someone else’s eye, while ignoring the log in my own. I’ll admit that even as I observed these things, I had to resist the urge to whip out my cell phone and take a picture to share here. The hypocrisy and irony of this didn’t escape me, but it still took an effort of will to just let it go and remain present with my children.

I believe that it matters to my kids and to their well-being when I make that effort of will to remain engaged with them, even when I don’t feel like it. And to do that, I must first silence the other voices calling out for my attention, and listen for the voices of my children. When we fail to close off the myriad voices of this world we run the risk of missing out on the joys of shared lives. We run the risk of missing that which is most precious.

Parents, I urge you to make time to being present with your children. Shut of your phone, take time away from your labors and distractions, learn to just ‘be’ with your kids, and I guarantee that you won’t regret it.

Unless the  Lord  builds the house,  the builders labor in vain.  Unless the  Lord  watches over the city,  the guards stand watch in vain.  In vain you rise early  and stay up late,  toiling for food to eat—  for he grants sleep to  those he loves.  Children are a heritage from the  Lord ,  offspring a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior  are children born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man  whose quiver is full of them.  They will not be put to shame  when they contend with their opponents in court. (Psalm 127)

Blessed are the Peacemakers: Reflections on 9-11

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In writing this, I know that I am opening myself up to criticism from several fronts. We are commanded in Romans 12:1-2 to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God, seeking the renewal of our minds so that we might discern what is pleasing to God. Serious reflection about one’s self and major world events is part of this, though it is no easy task to do well.

Today, I write as one reflecting on the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the light of my identity as a child of God and follower of Jesus Christ. I also write as a husband, a father, a son . . . and a brother to one of the most courageous men I know; a man in uniform, serving God in the midst of war.

Terrorism is Evil Action

It is very easy when remembering distant events to begin thinking of them in passive terms. It is not uncommon to hear phrases like “when the planes hit the buildings” or “when the buildings fell” or “lives were lost”. These are all passive phrases used to describe events. But there is a problem with remembering in passive terms. This type of remembering further removes the events from the one remembering, and trivializes the events as inevitabilities that have come to pass, so be it.

Christians are continually called by Scripture to remember, and we are called to do so collectively. Through collective remembering we become participants in salvation history as God has unfolded himself and his will to lost humanity. This collective remembering, however, does not end with the Biblical witness. We are also called to remember, for example, those who are living outside of a saving faith in Christ and who are living on the margins of society. We are called to remember the poor, the downtrodden, the widows, the orphans, the homeless, the helpless. We are called to collectively remember these in prayer before the throne of God and in practice through acts of mercy. This is active remembrance.

This collective remembering also includes the victims of disaster, war, and famine. Through the solidarity of collective remembering we become part of the story of others, and they part of ours.

But collective memory ceases to become a shared experience when we do not rightly remember that acts of evil are just that, the chosen ‘actions’ of evil men and women. 9/11 did not just ‘happen’ to America. Three-thousand people did not just happen to die on that day. On 9/11 evil and cowardly men attacked the United States of America and murdered three-thousand people. It was an act of terrorism, not a passive happenstance. And we do no justice to the memory of the dead when we fail to acknowledge the wickedness of those who perpetrated these acts.

Reflection, however, is not just about correct remembrance. True reflection also invites both the group and individual to evaluate our conclusions gleaned from and responses to the events in question. As we remember the acts of evil and their impact on our shared lives, what should be our response?

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Matthew 5:9 tells us, ‘ Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.’ (http://bible.us/matt5.9.niv84).

This verse and others like it have been co-opted for a variety of causes, particularly that of pacifism. But the language of the text is not as clear as some would have us believe. While it is quite clear that to seek and make peace is preferable in the eyes of God, the means to that end are not spelled out.

Easy speculation suggests that to make peace one must always be peaceable, hence the position of pacifism (this is simplistic, but consistent with the logic of pacifism). But while this sounds good on the surface, the truth of the matter is something entirely more complex and deep. It is a fallacy of logic to assume that peacefulness leads to peacemaking in every instance. This is an ideal, and it is one that has a serious flaw.

You see, Matthew 5:9 tells us that peacemakers are blessed. Peacemakers are those who make peace. They are active in the pursuit of peace. Pacifism, on the other hand, by its very definition is passive. It does not make peace, it merely seeks to be peaceable.

Are You a War-monger, Isaac?

No. War is terrible, no matter how you look at it. It is a true picture of fallen humanity, that we should ever seek to solve our differences by killing one another. My prayer is that all war will cease and that humanity will learn to live together as one body. Even as I pray for such a peace, I know that it will only come when Jesus Christ returns, and so I pray that his return comes swiftly.

When we remember the violent atrocities of 9/11, and we remember that wicked men performed evil acts, our immediate response should not be a sprint toward war or conflict. Any such response should be carefully weighed, prayerfully considered. Yet neither does Scripture tell us that we should flee from agression and embrace a passive stance in the face of evil actions.

When evil is active in the world, sometimes the only viable response is to act against it.

Sometimes, evil must be stopped, not simply tolerated until Christ’s return. This can only be done through the actions of peacemakers. While war itself is to be avoided if at all possible, we should not seek to condemn those who fight in wars, for many of those who do so are brothers and sisters in Christ.

My older brother is one such person. He has faithfully served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force for many years. His job, both in the sky and on the ground, is often a dangerous one. It is one that he does not take upon himself lightly, but does so because it is where God has called him to serve for now. My brother is first and foremost a loving child of God and disciple of Jesus Christ. He is also, like me, a husband, a father, and a brother. He has served in many countries, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and he is in the greatest sense of the word a hero, because he voluntarily goes in to confront wickedness and evil at the risk of his own life and well-being. My sister-in-law has also served as a fighter pilot, putter herself in harm’s way many times during the early months of the Iraqi invasion. Many of you have family and friends who have served in the military selflessly and at great personal loss.

Not all of us are called to serve vocationally in such dangerous jobs, but each of us is called to serve others sacrificially as a testimony to God’s love for humanity. Most often, this sacrificial work is done through works of mercy and service, through prayer and fasting. Occasionally, though, when wicked people perform evil acts we may be required to act in response.

It is not loving, nor does it faithfully represent the love of God who acted mightily to save us, to sit idly by in the face of evil acts.

And so, on this day when we remember September 11, 2001, let us also remember all of those who have served and are serving to combat evil actions wherever they occur. Let us all strive to be active peacemakers. But let us also remember that God alone can bring true peace to our world and is doing so through his son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Five Birthday Wishes (Hopes) for My Son

My little boy turned four years old today. I am so proud of him and am overjoyed that God has entrusted him and his big sister into my care as a father. Simon and I sometimes have a rocky relationship. He loves his mommy fiercely (so do I), and sometimes doesn’t want me to help him with things. I’ve learned not to take offense when he doesn’t want my hugs or kisses, and have learned to love the times when he dresses up like Spider-man, because I know it means he is ready to wrestle and I am always the villain.

When I look at my son I see a little boy with a wonderful personality, who is learning who he will be. But when I look at him, I also see me. I know some of the struggles he will face and some of the joys he will experience. We are so alike in some ways that I can even guess how he will feel about and react to certain life events. And so, on this special day, I want to make a few birthday wishes (hopes) on my son’s behalf.

1. No fear

My first wish for my son is that he would live a life devoid of fear; fear of death, fear of failure, fear of loss, or any other fear. We are constantly reminded by Scripture that we should not be afraid. We live with a hope and a peace that transcends fear and that expresses itself in fear’s antithesis: joy.

2. Joy

And so my second wish for my son is that he will experience a life of joy. I’m not merely talking about a life of temporary, passing joy that we sometimes experience at life’s special moments. I want his to experience that joy too, but also something much deeper. My wish for Simon is that he will experience an abiding joy that can only be found when one comes to know that he/she is a beloved child of God, in whom the Almighty delights.

3. Patience

I have been very impatient at various times in my life. In fact, it is something I would say I have struggled with on a deep level. Sometimes this patience has manifest as anger or sarcasm or grief. But most often when impatience takes hold it quickly turns into deep-seeded bitterness. My son is like me, and I know he will wrestle with impatience as he is figuring out who God has made him to be and what he will do with his life. It is my wish for him that he will learn patience early, that he will trust fully in God to act when the time is right, and that he will never allow bitterness to enter his heart, where it can so easily take root and grow.

4. Faith

My fourth wish for Simon on his fourth birthday is that he will become a man of faith. As he grows, he will meet with so many challenges. For much of my life I had what I would call a very rudimentary faith. I believed that Jesus is the Son of God and that he dies for my sins. But beyond that, I had very little faith that I could be a better me, or that God would ever see much value in me. It is something I struggled with into adulthood, and I would wish with all my heart that my son never experiences that struggle.

My wish for Simon is that he will never doubt his value to his Heavenly Father. I want so very much for him to know and love Jesus with his whole heart. I want him to be unashamed of this love and faith. I want him to experience the joy and peace that come from knowing that our Father in heaven loves us and is pleased with us. I want him to experience newness of life through Jesus Christ. I want him to devote himself and all that he chooses to do to God and his glory.

In other words, I want him to remember always that he is a beloved child of the living God, and a co-heir of glory with Jesus Christ.My wish for him is that he will live the words of Paul to the Philippians, when he said:

7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

5. Love

My final wish for my son on his birthday is this: that he would learn to love extravagantly. Simon has a sensitive heart. I can tell you from experience that it will bring him heartache in a number of ways, but it will also give him great capacity for loving others. My wish for him is that he will not lose this, for it is worth all the suffering of this life to be able to show true and extravagant love to others in the name of Jesus. And only Jesus can take the heart that God has given Simon and cause it to overflow with love. A sensitive heart left to its own devices slowly turns in on itself. It seeks ways to hide from hurt. It becomes jaded, scarred, withered, and finally corrupt.

I nearly lost the battle for my own heart to corruption, until Christ stepped in and rescued me. It is my wish for Simon that he early on (even now) gives over the fight for his heart to Christ. That he will allow the Spirit of God to live in him and take this sensitive heart of his and use it to lavish others with the extravagant love of a father for his children. This is the legacy I would have him leave.

I have become a lot more introspective these last few years, as I have watched my kids grow. I have wrestled with the knowledge that they will experience both pain and joy, that they will make good decisions and poor ones. It has been my prayer that they will not wrestle with the sins I have wrestled with and that they will always put their trust in God through Jesus Christ.

It is my greatest wish that they know Jesus intimately and walk with him always. And it gives me great comfort to know that God never stopped pursuing me, and he will never stop pursuing them.

Happy Birthday, Simon! I love you, and I am proud of you. May all your wishes and the ones I have made for you come true.

Reflections on Being a Daddy, or Why I Don’t Need to be Right All the Time

Pumpkin Carving with the Kids

Pumpkin Carving with the Kids

It seems like there are a lot of babies being born lately, and it has got me thinking about what it means to be a Daddy to my two bright and wonderful children. Our daughter turned 6 this past April and our son turns 4 in August, and in the last six years I have learned a thing or two that challenged what I might have thought before having kids. I have compiled a very short list of these life lessons for your encouragement/amusement/reflection.

 

 

 

20 Things I have learned / am learning about being a Daddy, presented in no particular order:

1. After feeding, clothing, and sheltering my children, there is no more important task that I have in life than to introduce them to Jesus. Why don’t I follow the Sunday School answer to everything and put Jesus first here? Because God has given my children to my care, and caring for their needs in a loving, self-sacrificial way is one of the most prominent ways that I can show my children who God is and how much he loves them. This, in turn, helps me to communicate with them how Jesus is the ultimate image of God’s love.

2. Play is the great bridge that crosses all other barriers between a father and a child.There have been times, especially with my son, where the kids don’t want much to do with Daddy. This most often happens when I am researching/working long hours or after I have taken a long trip. There are some hurt feelings upon my return, that I wasn’t there when they wanted me to be. There are also those times following discipline, or hurt feelings, or booboos when a child is especially hard to talk with. It is at these times in particular that the act of playing can bring a child out of gloominess into the joy of life. More than that, play is one of the greatest ways to bond with your children. It shows them that they are important, that their Daddy (or Mommy) wants to spend time with them, that their imaginations are good and wonderful, and that family time is some of the most enjoyable time of our lives.There have been many times when I did not play with my children, because I was distracted or feeling unwell. I regret every missed opportunity to play with them, and pray that God will give me the energy and “funlovingness” to play with them at every future opportunity.

3. Being right is less important than being real. I am an ‘answer man’. I like to figure out why things work, how they came to be, and why it matters. Its what makes me enjoy my research. However, I have found that when it comes to my children there are times when an answer man is needed (like when my son asks me what various animals eat), and there are times when I should keep my mouth shut, even when my urge is to correct something that is wrong. For a child who is growing and learning it is more important that they know their Daddy is listening to them and learning with them that they have all the right answers.

4. Discipline should always be conducted out of love, and never in anger. Discipline given in anger damages relationships. It is often too harsh (uncontrolled), too swift, and too dismissive of your child. Loving discipline has at its heart the well-being of your child. Discipline doled out in anger is more often seeking retribution.

5. Saying sorry isn’t just for kids. I tell me kids when I am wrong, and I ask their forgiveness when I have wronged them. I had a talk with my daughter last night about the wrong way and right way to deal with disappointment; one way can lead us to sin in anger, while the other leads us to patience and contentment. I openly used an example of my own sin of losing my temper as a way to talk about what God would have us do, and what we can and should do when we have taken the wrong direction. You are your child’s most important role model. How can they model you well if you don’t ever talk about your failures?

6. Say “I love you” often, and mean it every time. You simply cannot say ‘I love you’ too much to your children. They will have many voices vying for their attention as they grow. Let the dominant voice be your’s, echoing our Heavenly Father: ‘You are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased.’

7. It is OK to let your daughter paint your nails and brush your hair. Dads, get over yourselves. If letting your little girl paint your nails makes you question your masculinity, you have much bigger problems to deal with. Let your daughter lavish you with her love the best way she knows how.

8. Answer every question your children ask with utmost seriousness. One sure way to tear down a child is to treat them as though they are not important. If your child asks you a question, do everything in your power to not only answer it, but to answer it well. This shows your kids that they are important to you, that the things they have to say are worthy of your attention, and you might just learn something along the way.

9. Don’t shy away from talking about “big things” with your kids. Some of the most challenging conversations I have ever had with any person (adult or child) I have had with my daughter and son. We have talked about death, heaven & the resurrection of the dead, the Trinity, the Crucifixion, you name it. Don’t underestimate your child’s capacity for understanding. Talking to your children about important things will challenge you to communicate well, using language that is accessible without diluting the content. And who would you rather they hear this stuff from? Society is telling already what they should think about big questions. Are you?

10. Be your child’s biggest fan. I am unashamed in my overwhelming support of everything my kids do. We try to praise all of our kids’ accomplishments, big or small. I’ve heard the argument that this makes praise cheap. I disagree. I think it makes praise a precious commodity. When we praise our children often, we not only instill in them a sense of confidence, but we show them the proper source of affirmation is the family. They will be less likely to seek that affirmation elsewhere in destructive relationships or behaviors if the receive it adequately at home. There is a caution that comes with this, though. Praising your kids for their accomplishments does not mean giving empty praise. That leads to the phenomenon of the American Idol generation where people with no talent whatsoever can’t understand their failure, when their mom has always told them they were the best at whatever they pursued.

11. Embarrass yourself often. My kids will come to loathe this, I am sure, but I have no qualms whatsoever about embarrassing myself for their sake. If I can do something ludicrous (but safe and legal) that will get a smile out of them and endeer me to them in any way, you  better believe I will do it.

12. Fight for your kids (and their mother). Never allow anyone or anything to come between you and your family. If there are other things vying for their attention that cause stress in your relationships to one another, fight with all your might against those things. Part of fighting for your family is loving them extravagantly. Part of this fight is also waging war against those things that can tear a family apart. Dads in particular, this means workaholism, sexual misconduct (including pornography), friendships with the opposite sex, sports fanaticism, etc. If what you do threatens your family in any way, flee from it!

13. Be present for what matters to your kids. (i.e. Birthday parties, concerts at school, etc.). I have had to learn this lesson the hard way. At the end of my life, my children will not remember or care all that much about the things I have accomplished. They will not care how much money I made, how many letters I have after my name, what my research focus was, or how good my golf game was. They will care about and remember the time I spent with them. Be present for every important event in your child’s life, if at all possible. And when you miss such an event, make it up to them by spending extra time with them, doing something you both love. There were times growing up when I told my parents I didn’t care if they came to this or that event. No matter what your kids tell you, they notice and care if you aren’t there.

14. Learn to dance, especially if you have a daughter. For many Dads (myself included), this goes hand-in-hand with #11 above. I don’t know why this is so, but believe me when I tell you that your daughter (and probably your son) loves to dance with you. Dancing always leads to joy and laughter.

15. It is OK to cry in front of your kids. If you never cry in front of your kids, they won’t think you are strong and powerful, they will think you are careless and cold. Teach your children that there are things so important to you that they bring you to tears. But make sure those things are really worth it.

16. Don’t hold on too tight, but don’t let go too quickly. The catch-22 of parenthood. Work hard to raise your kids in such a way that they can make good choices on their own and live healthy lives dependent on God. But never, under any circumstances, let them think that they are no longer your baby girl or boy. I want my children to always feel safe when they return home.

17. Learn about your children’s favorite things. Want to really strengthen your relationships with your kids? Get to know what they love and learn to love it too. This is not in any way disingenuous, rather it shows how important they are to you. I don’t feign interest in the things my kids like. Instead, I cultivate genuine interest in those things by spending time doing them. For example, my daughter loves to play board games. At her age, most of these games don’t pose a huge challenge to parents. But, because I love her, I spend time playing those games with her, and have done so enough that I now love to play them with her.

18. Splurge on your kids to teach them responsibility. (i.e. family is worth splurging on, good behavior gets rewarded, our treasures are in heaven). Don’t be a tight wad! Not all fun things cost money, thank goodness. But sometimes they do, and you should occasionally splurge on your kids, even if it means putting off the purchase of something else you think you need. Doing this teaches them that they are important to you, that good behavior should be rewarded, and that God has called us to lives of generosity. Along with the occasional splurge, if you are going to eat out at restaurants, make sure you tip well. Few things damage our witness for Christ (for our families and others) more consistently than stinginess, and believe me, when you go out to eat after church and leave a 10 cent tip on a $50 bill, the servers are equating your tight-wadiness with your Christianity.

19. Being a Daddy is more important than anything else you will ever do in life. If you think your main legacy should be anything other than raising your kids to love Jesus and experience confidence in who he created them to be, then you are wrong.

20. Pray with and over your children. If you have any hope of all these other things, then your first step should be to pray regularly with and for your children. Commit their care to God, ask him to guide you as a parent to be Christ to them, and teach them to speak with their Heavenly Father often and intimately. God will answer these prayers and will bless your family abundantly for the asking.

Evangelistic Hearts

Anyone who has read this blog for a while will notice how often I talk about the lessons of parenthood.  My children are two of the greatest teachers of what it means to love Jesus, and I am often humbled by the lessons I learn from them.

Last night, as we were sitting down to supper, my son (2 1/2) was playing with his favorite cup, which was filled with milk at the time.  I have to admit that this particular cup is pretty awesome.  It is shapes like a cone filter with bright colorful pictures of Lightning McQueen from the Disney movie Cars on it.  At the base of the funnel is a clear ball that spins when you play with it, and inside the ball is a tiny little replica of the Lightning McQueen car.

My son loves this cup!  He loves it so much, in fact, that last night at the dinner table he began to tell the little Lightning McQueen about Jesus.  At first I thought he was singing Jesus Loves Me, which would have been astounding enough (I’ve not heard him sing it so clearly before), but then I realized that he was talking to the car, saying “Jesus loves you.”

Fast forward to this morning.  As I was prepping some things for the day in our kitchen, my daughter (almost 5) wandered past with Sarah (my wife) and said to her, “If we don’t praise God, even the rocks and the wind will praise Him.”  It was a very simple, yet profound rephrasing of Luke 19:39-40.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

 

Through my children, I am beginning to understand more and more what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 18:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child and had him stand among them.3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

 

I have heard it said many times that Jesus is here indicating that we must have a child-like faith in that it is unquestioning, non-judging.  I don’t think this understanding does justice to the faith of children, who, while trusting, are also very discerning.

When I read this passage now, what I understand Jesus to be saying is that we must all become like children in that our faith cultivates in us a focused enjoyment of God and a sure trust in Him, not based on a non-judging, whimsical hope, but founded on a confidence that God loves us and draws us to himself.  It is a faith that cannot remain self-referenced.  It is a faith directed toward God, and as a direct consequence it is a faith that cannot help but pour out love upon those around us.

My children understand that Jesus loves them.  Their response is an unrelenting love in return; a love that doesn’t stop with God-talk, though there is plenty of that in our household (praise God), but continues into a sharing of that loving relationship with others through evangelism and proclamation.

Before anyone begins to dissect this too much and begin quoting evangelism strategies to me, let me say this.  Evangelism is telling others about the Good News of Jesus Christ, plain and simple.  It implies proclamation of the Word, which is the witness of God’s mighty acts in Christ.  When children tell others that Jesus  loves them and quote Bible verses like they are a natural part of their vocabulary (something I wish I did more often), they are engaging in one of the purest forms of evangelism there is.  They are sharing their evangelistic hearts, transformed by a loving God.

Would that we all learn to live with the faith of little children.

Who do you see in the mirror?

This weekend, Sarah took the kids to Cincinnati to visit her family. While they were there, they decided to stop and see Sarah’s grandmother, who just recently moved into a nursing home. The kids are young enough (3 1/2 and 15 mo.) that they have not previously been exposed to an environment like that, so Sarah wanted to make sure that they were protected form some of the things they might see. She decided it would be best for them to meet with grandma in the waiting area, rather than in her room.

This particular nursing home is affiliated with the Catholic Church, so there were some nuns working there. Janna’s only prior experience with a nun was when she was 3 months old. We were visiting the Cincinnati zoo when a couple of sisters commented on how cute she was and asked to hold her. We obliged (they were nuns after all), and no sooner did we hand the baby over than she decided to throw up all over the sister’s habit. We have kept our distance from the convents since…

So, as Janna watched a nun as she worked in the nursing home reception area, she was doing so without any background understanding of who these people are. She was observing things entirely on her own, and her reaction was somewhat startling….and profound.

As the nun answered phone calls and went about her business, Janna pointed at her and said, “Mommy, is that God?”

Now our natural reaction is to chuckle at a question like this and explain who nuns are, but I don’t want to pass over the significance of what our 3 year old has just said. In just a few moments, as she watched an older lady in plain clothing going about her daily tasks, Janna witnessed some special, something peculiar. She witnessed the very presence of God.

So often we get caught up in all of the things that we think we have to “do” for God. While those things are important, I wonder how many of us regularly take time to consider all of the things that God wants to do in us, and for us? How many of us are content to let God direct us from a distance, rather than move us from within.

Are you allowing God to so fully rule in your life that his face is the one that shows when you look out on the world? Is it his hand that reaches out to show love to others? Is it his presence that other sense when you walk into a room? Does the love of Jesus fill you up until it overflows and spills out on those around you?

If a child were to witness you going about your dullest daily tasks, would she ask, “Mommy, is that God?”