This weekend I had an unexpected moment of pride. Gathering in a cabin, my daughter was playing with her cousin. They had balloons and were trying their best to keep them up in the air in the same way that kids have done for generations. I was watching them play on the couch and eavesdropping on their conversation and enjoying the sound of their laughter.
At one point in between giggles, I heard her tell her cousin how she plays this game with her daddy and then she said “My daddy is the best at keeping the balloon up. He’s really good.” After saying that she took off to the next thing, but the moment lingered in my mind.
There are moments in parenting that I always thought I would appreciate. The best moments are the ones that come out of nowhere. I tell you this not because I am especially proud of my “keeping a balloon up in the air” mad skills. I am also not one that thrives on compliments and feel the need to tell others when I receive one.
What I can tell you is that I felt an immense amount of joy when I heard my daughter talk about her daddy. It wasn’t her talking about the valuable life lessons and it wasn’t a skill set that will keep her going in life. What I loved was that in her mind while she was having fun, she took a moment to brag on her daddy. And as so often happens, God took that moment to teach me something.
Somewhere along the way we fell into the trap that God was out to get us, that judgment was the goal, that if we did not get our life together then we were a complete disappointment to our Heavenly Father. As a result we put on a show, we do things that we think we are supposed to do, and we strive for a standard that we undoubtedly actually placed on ourselves.
What I suspect pleases God most is not the things we do because we think we are supposed to, but rather the moments in our day where we are caught up in the moment, where we experience life with joy, and perhaps without even realizing it we take a moment to acknowledge Him and brag just a little on how good He is.
Hearing her share that sentence to a friend while completely unaware of my presence was better than any card or picture she could give to me. I suspect God is smiling on us when unintentional praise comes from our lips because we perhaps have started to grasp His love for us. I also think and hope that our best evangelism will come when we don’t even realize that we are doing it.
Our daddy is the best.
A few days ago while we were playing in the basement, I wrote this message on one of Crosley’s toys. I asked her if she knew what it said and without missing a beat she said “Daddy loves Crosley.”
Crosley can read her name, but there was no way for her to read the other words so I asked her. “How did you know what it said?”
She said “Because it says Crosley and you do.”
I started thinking about the way that we read scripture. We all are in different places, some with more knowledge, some with less. Some have more questions than others. As we relate to God and spend time with the Bible I am sure it won’t always make sense, we won’t feel equipped to feel certainty about everything that we see.
In spite of that, I hope as we continue to grow we take confidence in the love of a God, Abba, Daddy who constantly calls out to us as his children. When people ask why we claim to feel God’s love I hope we are able to say:
“Because I am his child and he does!”
So, how are we feeling about 2020? It sure feels like the coming year feels different in a way that I can’t remember at any other time in my life. An argument could be made that the year 2000 felt more ominous but really that was more about making sure that the world didn’t fall into complete chaos when every computer stopped working. There were technical fears, but I’m not sure that the social change was quite as strong.
2020 is a big election year (though it seems like every year is an election year). As a country our people are more divided than ever. We all have opinions. We are all adamant that our opinions are the best and that if people would only do things our way, then perhaps world peace would actually be attainable.
I’ve never been big on resolutions and I don’t know that I have the requisite experience and qualifications to be able to solve the problems of the world myself. Being the good American that I am, however, I’d like to offer my hope for 2020.
Having no authority to officially do so, I do hereby declare that what we need is this: 2020 – The Year of the Adult.
As I see the national conversations playing out in the political realm, the church realm, and just about everywhere else, it seems like we have decided to allow our leaders to get away with things that we would never allow our children to do.
Political agendas no longer need to be hidden, just declare what side you are on and be sure to take a strong stand against anyone who dares to see things differently than you. Any behavior is tolerable as long as we get what we want. People on our side of things can do whatever they want, but if carried out by the opposition we cry out with moral outrage at the wretched state of how things are.
I try my best to stay out of political conversations and frankly I avoid many controversial theological conversations. The reason is not because I lack opinions. The real reason is that I just don’t believe that what I add to the conversation will be more beneficial than the relationships that can be formed by more pressing things.
This has not always been the case. My wife will gladly tell anyone who listens that she couldn’t handle me the first time we dated in college because I had strong opinions about everything. I look back on my high school and college experience and think about relationships that never got off the ground because being right felt like the most important thing.
The temptation is there, I must admit. I see things on the news daily that make me want to rip out what is left of my increasingly disappearing hair. I see people that I love dearly post things on social media that are blatantly wrong, hateful, and contrary to what I know to be true and it takes everything in me to not speak up. As a pastor I do feel the conviction that perhaps I should be more openly engaged in the conversations, speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves. Perhaps I am wrong for not doing so and the day may come where I change the trajectory of my behavior. The real reason that I don’t do these things is because I’m not sure it would help. I do, however, believe that there is something that I absolutely believe to be true: It is time for us to start acting like adults again.
For 2020 to be the Year of The Adult, here are some things that I believe must happen:
- Embrace complexity – As much as I’d like to have a strong opinion about foreign policy in the Middle East, the truth of the matter is that I don’t understand it. If you’re honest, neither do you. Just because you heard one correspondent on Fox News or CNN or MSNBC tell you something, that doesn’t mean that they are right. Just because you saw a clever meme on social media or hear a statistic as you gather with friends, don’t assume that it is that simple. If it really was this simple, we would not be in the mess that we are in.I am not saying that everything is 50:50 or that there is never a time when something is clearly wrong. But to value complexity is to say that perhaps there is more to it than meets the eye.
- Value humility – If you are ever going to value complexity, you must be humble enough to admit that you don’t know everything. You must be willing to admit that your favorite politician is wrong about something. You must be willing to admit that your favorite pastor is wrong about something. Additionally, you must be willing to listen to people that drive you absolutely crazy because you understand that they might very well be able to teach you something from their experience. In 2020, go in willing to listen and to learn. Don’t discount your experiences, just make sure to not discount the experiences of others as well.
- Live with integrity – If we are going to demand integrity from our leaders (and I believe that we should), we must be people of integrity ourselves. We can’t rail against the hatred in the world and then go say hateful things about people that we believe are causing it. If we commit to doing the right thing all of the time, perhaps we position ourselves to demand better from those leading us. Our leaders act this way because we have allowed it and perhaps even encouraged it.
- Change the places where you are – It is too easy to spend all of our time speculating on how bad things are and how bad everyone else is messing things up. If you are upset about the state of the world, work to make the places around you better. If you care about the environment, think about what chemicals you place in your yard and our water systems. If you are upset about homelessness, volunteer at a shelter. If you love veterans, spend some time at the VA. Imagine if all of the energy spent hating the other side was used to help the problems that plague us most? Perhaps there should be a rule that in order to show moral outrage about something online you must have at least worked a few hours to actually change the situation where you are. Start small. See what God will do.
I think we all feel the weight of what 2020 will bring. It has the potential to be a huge stumbling block or an incredible springboard to bigger and better things. In order to get there, we are going to need to be adults again. Commit this year to embracing the fact that the challenges we face are complex and that in order to attack those problems we must be humble enough to admit that we do not know everything. Live lives of integrity and in doing so seek daily, practical, meaningful ways to change the communities where we live.
Enough of the childishness. 2020 is the Year of the Adult.
A few weeks ago, Jenni and I had the chance to spend a few days in Banff National Park. In our almost 8 years of marriage we have spent very little time taking vacations, always assuming that there would be a better time, we’d have more money, etc. A few months ago, Jenni sent me pictures of Banff and said that someday she’d like to go. While I didn’t expect to actually travel, it still seemed like a fun idea to spend some time on Priceline dreaming of the possibilities. As I saw the pricing and I started to crunch some numbers, I knew that it would be tight we might be able to make it happen now. To make a long story short, we decided that there was no better time than the present to go and so we booked the flight.
One of the good things about the trip is that we planned it out long enough to be able to enjoy the anticipation quite a bit. We purchased the travel guide on Amazon. I spent hours on Yelp looking up restaurants. Jenni looked at places she’d like to see on Pinterest and Instagram. We took all of our information, compiled it into a list, and ranked the places where we most wanted to go. We decided we would go to try to go to the #1 place on our first day and work our way down the list. That way we could spend less time stressing about missing our favorites. Admittedly though, my brain wouldn’t let me completely relax until we got to see the top things on the list.
Fast forward to the first morning. Number one on the bucket list was a placed called Moraine Lake. It is super popular and because of limited parking it is hard to actually get to go see the lake. We read lots of things that said as long as we got to the parking lot before sunrise we would be fine. On day one sunrise was at 7:25 so we got up early and made the hour long drive to Moraine, getting there by 6:45. We thought we had planned well and were there in plenty of time to find a parking spot and await sunrise on the lake. It was dark and the road was pretty empty but I had a nagging feeling in my mind. I couldn’t relax until we got there. Things were going well and we were ahead of schedule as the GPS said our turn was approaching. I looked to the left and much to our dismay the road was already closed! I was mad. I was up early. I didn’t want to waste a day of our vacation. Even though we did everything we thought we were supposed to do, it was closed.
Thankfully, number two on Jenni’s list was Lake Louise, located in the same area as Moraine Lake. After already making the hour drive to this area, we proceeded to Lake Louise just a few minutes away. There are worse places to spend some time, but all I was still upset about Moraine. We parked the car and headed over to the lake where we saw a crowd of folks lined up to catch the sunrise. Traffic, early mornings, and crowds stress me out. It was breathtakingly beautiful, but this was not how I expected the trip to go.
A few minutes later we found a clear spot along the side of the lake to set up camp and watch the sunrise. It was amazing and my anxiety was starting to lessen…but there were other people there…and that means reasons for stress. As we jockeyed for position, I had a short exchange with someone who demanded I get out of their spot. I kept thinking about Moraine. We watched sunrise. It was beautiful and memorable, but my mind wouldn’t slow down.
As we were finishing up I heard Jenni say, “Jeremy, look!” Usually that means some kind of dangerous creature or something she needs me to handle so I curiously approached the edge of the sidewalk. I looked down where she was pointing at the rocks below and growing there by the boardwalk was a daisy. Daisies are Jenni’s favorite flower. They were all over Banff, but we didn’t know it at the time. As I looked around the entire row I looked and looked and looked and nowhere else in that place was a daisy. It felt like it had been put there for us.
The moment that I saw the daisy is the moment that my anxiety completely dissipated. All of the stress leading up the the trip, the problems in not seeing Moraine Lake when we wanted, all of the encounters with the crowd were things that messed up my plans but led to the moment where I saw something that felt like it was placed in that location by God for us. It was a confirmation that the trip was a good thing for us and that the God that brought us to that trip was not going to turn it into something bad.
My brain likes to look for the logic in things. Daisies grew all over Banff and so it probably was not all that uncommon for one to grow where we found it. For a good portion of my life I would just chalk it up to coincidence, say it was just a lucky moment, and move on. Increasingly, I have had to remind myself that these are the moments that deserve the most attention. Things that appear too good to be true are often indicators of the Spirit speaking in our lives. The problem is that we have calloused our hearts and closed our minds to embrace it for what it is–the Lord speaking to us in our own unique ways to meet our own unique needs.
The longer I live and the more that I read scripture, the more that the image in my mind of how things are supposed to go is never as good as the plans that God has for my life. Even when I try to do things a certain way, there is a good chance that there will be things that get in the way. My awareness of God’s presence is the difference in how I handle those things. If not for that daisy, my grumpiness might have continued and ruined the rest of the day. Instead, I got the confirmation that I had so desperately desired all along.
Oh…and guess what? After spending an incredible day at Lake Louise we decided to go back to the hotel. As we passed Moraine Lake, the road was open and we were permitted to enter! We asked in the days that followed and were told that this never happens. We got what we had wanted all along and the way that it played out was better than we could expected.
If life doesn’t look like you hoped, don’t give up. Perhaps the Spirit is preparing to show you things better than what you think you want. We serve a God who redeems and restores and who speaks to use in so many different ways. Pay attention!
This was originally a Facebook post but I wanted to leave it here for my own benefit later. I hope it helps some of you as well.
Being three is hard. Parenting a three year old is hard. This morning was just one of those moments where worlds collide and I headed out the door frustrated.
Coming home I was greeted at the door by a little girl who apparently also realized the morning was rough. She wanted to try and make things right and so I was welcomed with a sidewalk chalk greeting, a card she spent an hour on, and freshly baked peanut butter cookies.
I had mixed emotions. I was thankful and proud that she wanted to make things right. I was upset that she had worried about it all day. I, too, wanted to make it right.
So, tonight we had an impromptu daddy-daughter date. Blue Marble, Wendy’s (her favorite), and the Dollar Tree for a toy. We talked and we laughed and hopefully by the end of the night all was right in her world.
Today I learned several things, but I am thinking a lot about repentance. I don’t believe for one minute that God wants us to make ourselves miserable thinking about how we mess up, but I do believe there is great joy about wanting to change. Talk is cheap. Actions matter. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m thankful for a little girl who teaches me to try harder every single day.
(And my Dollar Tree prize? A picture frame for the card so I will always remember this day)
Growing up in a mostly typical baptist church and having spent all of my life in a baptist setting, it seems that more often than not the real trinity worshiped has been the Father, Son, and the Holy Bible. Sure, we might actually say the Holy Spirit, but we don’t know what to do with it. If we know a lot about the Father and the Son, the Spirit is more like the second cousin in that we know there is some relationship to be acknowledged, but it is hard to actually explain how it all works. I say this not to mock or discredit or devalue the importance of scripture in our lives, but instead to point out something many of us lack in how we pursue kingdom work.
There is a word that I’ve used consistently for most of my life that perhaps shows my own participation in this injustice: Coincidence. Things happen in my life that are eerily related, the timing works out perfect, and I just throw it up into the category of “well what are the odds?” and move forward. I am, sometimes to my own detriment, practical by default. I like to explain logically how and why things happen as it gives me some form of control. It makes me feel better to have a reason to know the ins and out of how things work and when I can’t I just go ahead and chalk it up to coincidence.
For example, many years ago I would drive up to Northern Kentucky on my way to a Reds game and on multiple occasions I would point out churches that were on the way and joke with Jenni about how cool it would be to serve at a church that close to Great American Ballpark, but nowhere seemed like a logical fit so I assumed it was a pipe dream. A few years down the road, at a time when I least expected it, I received an email from a church in a place called Fort Thomas, Kentucky asking if I would be interested in being considered to serve as pastor. I didn’t realize how desperately I needed it at the time, but the church ended up being exactly what my family and I have needed at a pivotal time in our lives. Yes, being close to Reds baseball is great, but it is the church that has me excited for the future. I believe God has called us to do something transformative and we are positioned to do that. It just so happens that along the way I get to spend time doing something else I love at baseball games.
For most of my life, I would have chalked it up to coincidence. Now I realize that it is the work of the Spirit.
A few weeks ago I got a call from our administrative assistant telling me that our utility bill had gone through the roof and we were on pace to spend way more money than we ever imagined. With a smaller congregation and a…umm…vintage building, I immediately felt an impending sense of doom. We feel called to this place, but the gas bill might do us in. For about 45 minutes I sat at Fort Thomas Coffee dejected and defeated.
Then, I saw an email arrive in my inbox. A generous individual who works with energy conservancy reached out to let me know that he was coming to the church two days later to help us walk through the church to figure out how we can make the church more environmentally friendly and lower our bill along the way. This person had no idea that our bills had just skyrocketed, but had felt a calling to help churches using his giftedness. We had talked about doing this work a few months prior, but up until that moment nothing had actually materialized. When I read the email, I knew that help was on the way and the burden was lifted.
For most of my life, I would have chalked it up to coincidence. Now I realize that it is the work of the Spirit.
I have no idea how to grow a church. I have theories. My social media feeds are filled with pastors that provide “300 Easy Steps to Quadruple Attendance and Budget” that might help generate their personal revenue, but aren’t practical to my current ministry context. I am interested in experimenting and seeking out new models for churches to thrive but most days I feel like I am left with more questions than answers. With that said, I am increasingly convinced of is this:
If we do not acknowledge the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the lives around us, any and all of our efforts will be a waste.
Our church is embarking on a process to rework our bylaws and imagine what it might look like to do church in the years to come. The danger in doing this work is that we sometimes trick ourselves into believing that it is up to us to create the perfect structure to get the type of results that we desire. If only we do this, this, and this, then we’ll be successful. If we can just do what other successful churches do, then we’ll be fine. If only we go up to those not involved in a church and say a few basic sentences, they’ll immediately believe. We seek the silver bullet of programming, the next sure-fire thing that has been boxed up and is ready for us to explore.This is dangerous thinking.
Pastor and author David Fitch speaks often about the goal of “opening up space for the Spirit to work.” Structures are fine, but only if they push us to constantly be open to where the Spirit is leading. When we see the Spirit at work, we join in. When we feel the Spirit nudge, we follow.
To get there, I have to change the language I use. For the past year I have encouraged our folks to do something that I am working on as well: stop talking about coincidence and start talking about Spirit. By doing this, we remind ourselves that we have a great power working in and through us and that none of the results will truly be up to us. It’s still a challenge for me. I’m not mystical by nature and part of this is practicing things I largely still don’t understand (how’s that for a faith statement?).
But…it’s exciting. Because I acknowledge the Spirit leading the way, the outcome is going to have better moments that I can possibly imagine. There is freedom because instead of creating to control, I am only charged with being faithful in the moments where I feel God’s call and with creating rhythms in my life that leave me open to see where the Spirit leads. There will still be heartache and defeat and days where it feels like there is impending doom. There will be times where I think I’m following the Spirit but it’s really just my own mess. But, there will also be great moments where things line up perfectly…where things happen with the kind of timing that simply make me laugh.
And where I used to say coincidence? Well, that’s the Spirit. Thanks be to God.
In my closet (or, truthfully more often in a pile somewhere in the bedroom) is a special shirt. When I found out that we were going to be having a little girl named Crosley, I knew that I wanted to have a shirt with her name on it that I could wear on the day she was born. It has now been one that I more often than not where on special daddy/daughter events. She knows the shirt well. When I wear it Crosley inevitably smiles and says “Daddy, my field!”
Last week I decided to take some vacation time. The blessing was that we got to spend more time together as a family. The struggle was that we got to spend more time together as a family. If you’ve been around small children, you know what I mean and that I’m kidding…mostly.
One of our adventures for last week was to go visit the site where Crosley Field once stood. I had talked to Crosley about it and personally I had always wanted to tour the full area. On a beautiful weather day the plan was to pack up the kids and head that direction. The plan was to go mid-morning and then end up grabbing lunch somewhere.
Easy enough, right?
On that morning, chaos did everything it could to take over our house. A day of fun now felt at risk. The brothers were crying and Crosley was doing what toddlers are known to do. We played out the stereotypes as she defied the rules and ran around like crazy while I caught myself yelling out threats I never thought I’d say:
“Stop that or we aren’t going! Do you want to be in trouble? Stop messing with your brother! I know you want to do that, but daddy said “No!””
At some point it was my turn to get dressed for the day and I went into the bedroom, picked up the Crosley shirt. This was a Crosley day, how could I not wear it? But, I put it down. I looked for something else to wear. My patience had been tested, she had been a stinker, and I was not going to wear it. Nope.
In that moment I heard a voice. Not an audible voice (they hadn’t driven me THAT crazy), but I felt the Spirit talking to me and I was reminded of these truths. I love that little girl more than anything, even on her crazy days. I am proud of her. When we go out in public I want everyone to know that she is mine. Even when she is being a stinker, I want only the best for her. I want to see her grow, and I know that even though she might acting right in the moment, she is still mine. Because of that, I put the shirt on.
In 1 John 3:1 we read “See what great love the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God!”
As I continued to get dressed, I couldn’t shake these thoughts from my mind. God the Father’s love is not given reluctantly, but lavished on us with joy! As children of God we celebrate that His love is not stingy or contingent on how we do on any particular day. Instead, we rejoice in the truth found in Lamentations 3 that those mercies are new every morning. I believe God gets frustrated with us when we don’t obey, but only because He knows that following His way is the key to life abundant. I imagine there are times where God wants to scream “If you would only do it my way!” But in the midst of our mess, His grace abounds. Even when we are screwing up, He is planning good things for our lives.
Of this I am confident…even during our moments of rebelliousness, God is wearing our names on his t-shirt and he is doing so with pride. That’s my boy! That’s my girl! Our challenge is to believe it and to take comfort in it. It’s not about us, but about God’s love for his children and because of that we press on.
Thank you, Lord.