While I’m a little behind in my 5 Day Bible Reading Program, I continue plugging away. This morning, I came across these verses in the Book of Amos:
21 “I hate all your show and pretense— the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. 22 I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. 23 Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.
Amos 5:21-24 (NLT)
Or as another translation puts verse 21:
I hate, I despise, your feasts! I can’t stand the stench of your solemn assemblies.
Amos 5:21 (CSB)
Got me thinking about how we can come to a point, individually and as a Church, to where our worship of the Lord can become like a stench to Him caused by:
I won’t ever forget watching The Fonz, water skiing in his leather jacket, jump over a small ocean corral of sharks. For years, I had heard of this “jump the shark” moment, but I could never have imagined just how random/stupid this stunt really was.
Our adoption journey had a jump the shark moment a few weeks ago. Our caseworker, despite knowing our adoption preferences, sent us the profile of a much older kid.
At first, I was okay with our case worker testing the waters. Sure, Tab and I could give this child a last name, a place to crash, and help them get ready for life. Sure, we could pack in all of the important life lessons, we would have taught them over the years, into one year of their life. I was okay with the idea of adopting a 17 year old–would especially like to look into this once our son is older–, until I wasn’t.
Our adoption process has been marked with friends and family making small comments that burrow deep under my skin. Comments such as:
“Why don’t you do foster and adoption like we did? You’ll get a kid then.”
“And we were told that we’d never get a child if we went the route that you have.”
“You shouldn’t be frustrated, hurt, or angry over this process, God has this under control.”
“Oh, I’ve heard horror stories about older kids being adopted.”
I don’t think that these comments are meant to be hurtful but they are.
I am forever thankful for those that ask us how the process is going. Those that are willing to listen and not necessarily push their way of doing things. God has brought good friends to walk alongside us on this journey.
I haven’t written as much on adoption lately because there hasn’t been much to say. Silence, from our caseworker, continues to be the norm. I have also felt God telling me to pray more and write/talk less about it. I’m sure there is a balance to that though.
If you think about my family, could you take a moment and pray with us? Every morning I wake up to see the room across the hall is empty. Someone is missing. Could you pray over that with me? That God would have His way. That we would be able to listen/discern the route we need to take. I’d really appreciate it.
I feel like I’ve been all over the map this month. July 2020 has been all about:
Turning 39 year old / celebrating my birthday
Playing all the games
Continuing to read Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer (70%)
As part of my reading through the Bible in a year plan, I read/finished: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Ecclesiastes, Titus, Philemon, and Jude
And a sinus infection that won’t go away
Tabitha and Wyatt bought me Paper Mario: The Origami King for my birthday. So most of my gaming time has been spent working my way through an origami world with Mario. I’m loving the tight writing and unexpected moments of pure Nintendo delight.
Wyatt and I have been playing Injustice: Gods Among Us a bunch. Nothing like Superman kicking the snot out of Superman.
With some of my birthday money, I picked up:
Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
I should note that Paper Mario has been consuming my gaming time, so I haven’t given much time to the above games. Soon though.
As a family, we have played a bunch of Throw Throw Burrito (think of the classic game Spoons but with a burrito war/fighting element where you chuck a burrito at fellow players. This game is super fun!
We also had a chance to sit down and play Disney Villainous, which I also got for my birthday. I like how you have your own character board/objective to complete while you also get to mess with fellow villains. Tab beat Wyatt and I with the Queen of Hearts (Wyatt played Captain Hook; I played Prince John). I can’t wait to play again.
My biggest project of all, this month, has been replacing all of the interior doors in the house. After this past weekend, I’m down to 4 doors needing to be replaced.
A few weekends ago, I spent a Saturday morning working alongside some guys from church. As we cut down/removed trees from a member’s property, I looked around me and thought, “Where are all the younger guys?”
The guys who were working with me, the guys with their shiny trucks and fun power tool toys, were all in their mid-40’s to mid-60’s. Here they were, working away, moving chunks of tree as if they were younger dudes.
Part of me was in awe seeing these guys in action. Them being the hands and feet of Christ to a family who could no longer do this work on their own. Another part of me was troubled…
What happens when these guys can no longer do the work?
What happens when they pass on?
All I can think, is that I can learn from them and lead by example. I can invite those who are in my circles at church to come along on the adventure. Get some younger blood to sacrifice their time, to use their talents, to touch others for Christ.
Wyatt had a friend’s birthday party that morning. I told him that if not for the party, he would have been working with me:
Chopping down the trees
Hauling their tree-bodies away
Being an example of the hands and feet of Christ to the world
Life is a journey. Make sure you’re listening to the right voices. Get godly counsel. Don’t only consider your own opinion, because the way of a fool is right in his own eyes. That means if you are doing something colossally foolish, it may seem perfectly logical to you. Even if you’ve invested a lot in the direction you’re going, progress might mean turning around. And if you get stuck, make sure you call someone reliable for help.
Can I admit that prayer is not one of my strong suits? I can read the Bible all day. I can teach through the Bible with ease. When it comes to prayer though, prayer is something that I have to work at.
That God would maximize Pam’s incredible gift of hospitality—and that I would be fully supportive. I add that latter phrase because I’m an introvert while Pam’s an extrovert. I love seeing Pam’s joy when she serves others. I just need to love it more….
Tabitha also has an incredible gift of hospitality. A gift that I too push against with my introvert nature. I need to work on being supportive when Tab wants to invite others over. Even when that invite pushes me out of my comfort zone.
God has been speaking to me a lot about prayer these past couple of days. A friend posted a quote, to Facebook, that I’ve been thinking on:
The things you pray about are the things you trust God to handle. The things you neglect to pray about are the things you trust you can handle on your own. – H.B. Charles Jr.
Got me thinking about:
How I’ll often talk more / write more on certain topics than pray over them.
How there are some prayers I don’t think God will ever answer–me being honest here–, so I quit praying over them due to lack of answer.
What type of spiritual legacy, I’m modeling, for my wife and son.
Tabitha has always told me that God answers prayer in 3 ways:
Reminds me of how long I prayed for my wife before we even knew one another. How I went through years of thinking I’d never find someone. Only to meet Tabitha when I was least expecting.
Reminds me of our current adoption process. How I find the silence and slowness of the process to be heart breaking. But I realize also that I need to pray more over the process as God says not yet.
Prayer is that unused tool, on my spiritual tool belt, that I need to actively use more. Not use in order to get what I want, per se, but use to communicate with my Heavenly Father and deepen my relationship with Him.
How about you, do you find the spiritual discipline of prayer to be easy?
Before the pandemic, my wife and I were balcony dwellers at church. A throwback to a time when our Sunday school class would all sit together, on high, in the balcony. A great place to watch all the movements below and be hidden from the pastor’s view due to the bright lights.
Unnecessary Explanatory Note: We have stayed in the balcony due to the ease of finding seats. When you serve, easy seat access is a plus.
Since we have returned to church from the dark pandemic times, Tab and I have sat downstairs. Free from Sunday school, serving, and any other positions we may hold, we have been free to just attend… to just be.
Sitting where we have been sitting, I have smiled to myself many a time. You see, church goers joke about members having assigned seating. When I say joke, I speak of a partial truth. One of those things that is awkwardly grinned at but often experienced in the form of a wordless glare. The “Hey, why are you sitting in my seat” glare. But why are you talking about assigned seating and “the glare”, Bryan?
On the other side of COVID-19, everything is new at church. Months of not meeting together have erased ingrained habits. We’ve had to figure out what the church looks like when it does not meet; We’ve had to figure out what church looks like when it does meet with a lurking virus.
My key here is that the old is gone. The boardgame has been reset. New habits, even those as small as seating, are allowed to begin anew.
I have loved being able to talk with those I didn’t normally see by sitting in the balcony.
I have loved feeling more a part of the worship service, not so distant–proximity is huge–.
I have loved the feeling of a new beginning.
As we experience a reset of the old norms, I want to encourage you to shake things up. Talk to those you didn’t talk to before. Allow yourself to experience the Body of Christ in a whole new way.
Leaders are called to lead and leading means making decisions. As it relates to worship services within our church, some people will be thrilled if we choose to remain outdoors for the next three months. Others will be frustrated if we choose to endure the July and August heat outdoors in Camden, SC. Neither decision is morally superior to the other, but either decision will be judged right by some and wrong by others.
There are many other truths that Tolkien’s works reflect, but I would like to mention two. First, Tolkien’s works, and The Lord of the Rings in particular remind us that even the most seemingly insignificant among us are important. It can be argued, for example, that the hero of the Lord of the Rings is a gardener, a servant of the one who is usually considered the hero of the story. The steadfast loyalty, faithfulness, and perseverance of the hobbit Samwise is absolutely crucial to the success of the mission that will save Middle-earth. In the eyes of the world, Sam and the other hobbits in the fellowship are small, both literally and figuratively. But the role they play is just as important, if not more, than the role played by the great powers and kings in the story.
Woke up this morning, and I hit the snooze button. I hit the snooze button, over and over again, for the next hour. I didn’t want to get out of bed today. But I did get up, make my coffee, and manage to eat a few lemon poppy seed muffins–thanks, Tab!–with some oatmeal.
In the process of getting ready, I happened to check my social media feeds. Friends and family, who are normally pretty chill people, are upset and angry right now. The topics of Coronavirus and racial injustice overwhelm my normal places of fun escape.
This has been one of those weeks where I have hit the snooze button more; this has been one of those weeks where I haven’t read my Bible as much. Instead of starting my mornings in the Word, I have been starting my mornings with a different type of word.
I am tired this morning.
Mentally exhausted from being told that I should fear something. That instead of engaging history, we think that that engagement equals erasing the past. We live in some sort of Orwellian nightmare.
Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. – Winston Churchill (paraphrased)
I am also heart tired. As Augustine wrote, I long for how our human experience could/should be versus what it actually is. While we may not put this longing into words, this is a longing for Jesus to return. His return will fulfill that deep human longing for the restoration of all things, for justice. No more:
A future where we will work alongside the Creator of the Universe. The curse of Adam, against work, removed from us.
In writing all of this, I realize that I need to pray for strength to overcome being tired. I also need to pray for grace… maybe for myself with the snooze button… more so for those whose actions I do not understand right now. When you have been living a pretty normal life, for more than a month, and your friends and family have not been, it can feel like talking to people on Mars. Irregardless of that Martian divide, I think grace continues to be the word.
I am thankful for my wife’s encouragement and wisdom. She is my Abigail.
As David’s impatience risked boiling over into dangerous rage, it was Abigail who placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, bringing grace and wisdom with her words. Not only was Nabal rescued from his wrath, but David was saved from a foolish and rash action that could have had long reaching consequences. David needed an Abigail. I needed an Abigail. I needed to hear that there may be a cake on the back seat.
We grow spiritually when we commit to faithful attendance. We grow as a believer in Christ when we have a committed prayer life. We grow when we are committed to read Scripture daily. We grow when we share our faith regularly. We grow when we serve in ministry. And we grow when we commit to attend worship services faithfully. That attendance is a spiritual discipline. It is a vital and necessary act toward greater spiritual maturity.
The Coronavirus has wounded the American Church in a way that many cannot see yet. As social distancing measures lift and other post-pandemic precautions ease, some Christians are hesitant to return to the Church. Presented with the convenience of watching a worship service on Facebook or YouTube, many believers are making the intentional choice to stay at home. Telling themselves, “The virus is still out there, we still need to protect ourselves for another month or two.” Happy in their newfound sermon consumption that doesn’t require one to ever leave the home. Or better yet, require them to sit with their kids in the worship service due to the church’s children’s program not being up and running.
Meanwhile, In Social Media Land…
I can see that you recently volunteered on a project.
I can see that you went and visited the zoo.
I can see that you are hanging out with friends and family.
I can see you doing all of these things, and yet, I haven’t seen your happy face at church.
Gathering with fellow believers, attending church, this is a Christian discipline. What I have hated seeing, in these pandemic times, is how quickly that discipline has been let go; convenience and inconvenience pushing against one another.
I am not advocating for fellow believers to come back to church in order to check a box. I am advocating for fellow believers to come, grow, and encourage other believers with your presence.
I keep asking myself, “Is Jesus enough of a commonality to hold believers together in these times?” My answer is of course, Jesus is enough. But, I think these pandemic times are revealing who church attendance is important to.
All of these things communicate to both the world and our fellow believers where our priorities lie.
I want to encourage my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to push past their preferences and convenience. The withdrawal of your presence is hurting others, silently wounding the Church in the process. Please do not let being in the habit of attending church slip away and become your new normal. Your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ miss you.
Last year, when Tabitha and I were going through adoption certification/PRIDE classes, I shared with a coworker the journey we had begun. Somewhere in that very honest conversation, she said to me, “I just don’t understand white people adopting black children, acting like white saviors.” While our conversation ended well, I was quite taken aback and felt hurt. Tab and I had started our adoption journey because we felt God calling us to do so. We felt Him telling us to proceed. We’ve both said that we can provide a stable home for someone who has not been given that stability. Never in my mind did I ever see myself nor my wife as some sort of white saviors. Apparently though, those thoughts exist in others. I had known that the adoption process was about developing thicker skin, but I had not known just how thick it was going to have to become.
In our adoption classes, we would hear about how we would need to expose our potential black adopted children to black culture. At the same time, we were never told what black culture is.
From white friends, I’d hear, “Well, if you adopt a black child, you are going to need to expose them to people like their own, black culture.”
I would reply, “What is black culture? How does that differ from white culture? Do you even know what you are saying/talking about?”
My heart hurts.
My heart hurts over George Floyd’s death at the knee of a police officer who knew what he was doing.
My heart hurts over the 3 other police officers standing nearby not intervening as George Floyd complained about not being able to breath.
I can’t wrap my mind around this situation. The blatant injustice on public display. How a moment in time could be escalated to the point where someone dies intentionally at the hands of those who are supposed to uphold justice.
I want justice for George Floyd.
In the same breath, I wonder about bringing a black child into my home. Raising this child in a white family. Worrying about the possibility of them being killed, by a police officer, due to the tone of their skin.
As a white male, I don’t think too much about being killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. Last year though, I was pulled over for making a right hand turn into an outer lane versus the lane closest to the curb. I watched as the police officer drove past me and then made a quick u-turn to come after me. I couldn’t figure out what I had done. Daily, I watch other drivers make the same type of turn I had just made. After thinking about it, I think I wasn’t pulled over for turning wrong. No, I think I was targeted due to the condition of my car and the perceived nature of my skin.
Note: My Honda has black paint that has been peeling for ages. The car is nice on the inside but looks rundown from the outside. I call it camouflage!
As the young officer walked up to my car, I noticed a change come over his demeanor. I could tell that he thought I was going to be either black or Hispanic, but not white. As he told me why I was pulled over–which to me seemed like he was reaching for a technicality–he told me he was going to let me off with a warning.
Now, every time I pull up to that traffic light where I was pulled over, I make sure to practice the correct type of lane change. I also get a little angry, remembering that day, remembering feeling targeted because of the condition of my car. If that incident was but a small taste of what black people deal with, in America, on a daily basis, I cannot even imagine living like that.
I know that we live in a fallen world. That Jesus is coming back. But I hate the injustice that I see around me. I hate the helpless feelings that I can’t do anything to bring about change. I hate having to think that someone that we bring into our home, no matter our parenting nor love, could still be the target of such heinous acts.
I am thankful to serve a God who is bigger than all of this. That I don’t have to shoulder all of these thoughts and feelings alone. I am thankful for serving a God who can give wisdom, discernment, and guidance to us on how to proceed in the midst of such racism. I am thankful for His call to adoption, no matter the color of skin.
I figure that if my family can be a model of God’s love to just one child, perhaps he or she can make an impression and help change the world for the better until His return. And while we are waiting for that child, black or white, I have my own son to teach.
Adoption is messy. Conversations about race are messy. But we need to listen, talk, and act towards a brighter future.
Growing up, Sunday mornings could often become tense. While getting ready for church, words would be said and feelings hurt as all six of us hurried to get out the door.
Even with a family of three, there can occasionally be a morning where we pull up into the church parking lot and say, “Everyone smile.”
Tab and I serve in our church’s kids ministry by helping check kids in, Sunday mornings. As parents walk up to the check in desk, they will often look relieved to be dropping off their children. Maybe their morning had been harried/tense while trying to get to church? I am never sure. But I get it. I try and reassure those parents with a sincere smile and a quick, “Hey, ya’ll made it today.” Sometimes merely getting to the destination is the biggest family battle of all.
In the wake of the pandemic, my church has started meeting once again. This week will be week five of meeting physically, together. We’ve been meeting with some rules/modifications in place:
Not shaking hands, although elbows are encouraged
A row of spacing, behind and in front of, each occupied row
No passing of the offering plate.
Masks and gloves offered to those in attendance (not mandatory)
And this week, we are beginning to offer an earlier service for those ages 60+/vulnerable
Our small groups have yet to restart and have been meeting online.
One of the bigger changes now is that our children are sitting with us in the service.
Sunday morning, during the worship service, I got looking around. Trying to see if any of my little friends were in attendance; kids I used to check in each week. A few of the kids were there, sitting alongside their parents or even grandparents. For the most part though, the kids from our kids ministry have vanished.
I understand the need to practice social distancing.
I understand a parents desire to want to keep their children healthy.
I understand wanting to protect the vulnerable.
At some point though, I wonder if there is another reason I’m not seeing my little friends anymore. I wonder if their parents do not want to sit with them in the service.
Serving in the kid’s ministry, I have seen how amazing our children’s minister is. I have sat through her teaching time; I have seen the way she handles the kids and the expectations she holds them to. Yes, your child can sit through the service without getting up to pee.
Get’s me thinking about the way we can pass our children along to others, expecting them to teach/raise them. I see this pandemic time as the perfect time to model through action how to sit in big church. Pulling out, if needed, items to help your child:
Blank pages to draw on
And, depending on age, maybe even–gasp!–an iPad (with headphones)
I’m not sure about your church, but our children’s minister offers a kids sheet for sermon notes. Our pastor, each week, provides notes for his sermon. This is a great way to encourage our kids to engage in the service. I’m not interested so much in behavior as I am in teaching our children how to worship God.
I get tired of parents treating their children like they are the plague. Yes, I am a parent of one (and God-willing, more one day) but that doesn’t lessen my experience… nor my overall encouragement to bring your kids to church right now. This is the perfect time to grow spiritually as a family.
In closing, I say this with love: Some of us need to stop hiding behind this virus and using it as an excuse to forgo meeting with fellow believers. So what if your kids have to sit with you in church?