See, I took my kids to Vacation Bible School at my grandmother’s church, Rosebud Baptist, over on Knight Circle. It’s a great church of a couple hundred people, led by their inexhaustible pastor, Dr. Lloyd Stancil. My grandmother has called it home for the last twelve years, and while we’ve visited with her from time to time, last night was the first occasion my kids have had to really get involved. This week, Rosebud is hosting Kingdom Chronicles VBS nightly from 6:30-9:00, all visitors welcome. And if last night is any indication, it’s going to be awesome.
My kids loved it. The theme is knights and dragons, and the message is being able to stand strong against the evil things in the world. One of the men in the church built a styrofoam castle slap in the middle of the church’s Fellowship Hall, an elaborate piece of construction that not only has detailed brick walls and parapets, but an inner court big enough for fifty kids to sit down and learn a lesson. There are other great details all over the place, too, including a woman dressed in full Medieval period costume.
But what my kids came home talking about was the fact that the games were led by Pastor Lloyd, and included throwing water balloons at him. That was all they wanted to talk about: the pastor was willing to get messy like the rest of the kids.
What I came away with was a strong sense of nostalgia, of going back to my own childhood, when I attended church in a little red-brick building, and laughed my way through VBS on lovely summer nights. Listening to my kids giggle and scream with delight, I could taste the Kool-Aid from my long ago years; hear the soft voice of Miss Essie as she delivered her Chalk Talk bible stories; feel the stickiness of the glue as we tried to get our popsicle stick birdhouses put together.
Last night I sat on the front porch of Rosebud Baptist Church and felt like the veil between this world and the next had dropped. Suddenly, I was surrounded by ghosts who had made my childhood special; I was immersed in memories that made me glad my children were getting just a taste of what I knew.
See, my kids have never known a small church. Ella’s only seven, Jon’s four, and they’ve only ever gone to church with over 400 people. The VBS’s they’ve been too usually run around 200 kids, with 70-plus workers. And while they’ve always loved VBS, they’ve never had the kind of intimacy they experienced last night. As Ella said, “I liked the fact that the groups were small. It made it fun.”
There’s something about moments like last night that defy description. The weather was perfect, the kids were laughing, the adults were happy and relaxed. My grandmother was all smiles because her great-grandkids were running around her church, loving every minute, and for just a moment she got to go back in time a little bit too.
The only thing missing was Pop, my grandfather, who passed away in 2011 after a long illness. He loved Rosebud Church, and they loved him. Several people referenced him last night when they spoke to me, telling me just how beloved he was among those folks, how much he would’ve loved watching the kids and VBS. It was a bittersweet note, but one full of truth. Pop would’ve loved every minute, maybe even joined Pastor Lloyd in some water balloon mischief.
But later, as I sat on the porch listening, remembering, feeling transported to another place, I felt something else. That Pop was with me, near me, watching and laughing with the rest of the kids. I felt it so strongly, I almost reached out for his hand. It wasn’t there, of course, but such was the power of last night, when the past and present collided in a way that made connection between the two palpable.
It was a magical evening.
Hopefully, I can recapture it tonight. Ella and Jon have already gotten dressed for VBS and have been asking me when it’ll be time to go. I know MawMaw is looking forward to it as well. Heck, I’m looking forward to a little Vacation Bible Old School myself.
If you’ve got nothing going on, why don’t you join us?
So we went on vacation last week with the kids. Took our first for-real family vacation to Saint Simons Island. Rented a little house. Kicked it on the beach. Enjoyed walking around the Village at Saint Simons Pier, getting lemonade at Zuzu’s, and just taking a break from everything that’s been going on in my head for the past 15 years.
The kids loved it too; they got to share a room with twin beds and a television, complete with VCR (remember those) and DVD player. They watched movies to their hearts’ content, and the last movie they watched was Disney’s Aladdin. You know, the one with the hysterical blue genie and the sappy magic carpet ride across the world. In fact, the song during that sappy magic carpet ride got stuck in my head, and I’ve not been able to remove it.
Yesterday at church, it got stuck permanently, I fear.
The pastor who spoke was teaching on Jesus’ habit of eating with unseemly people. How Christ, God made flesh, came eating and drinking with sinners and the lowest of the low. The point of the message was about modifying the frequent religious expectation of people (to behave the right way, believe the right things, and then belong to the right group) in favor of the way Jesus brought people along (by letting them belong with him, then believe in him, then changing their behaviors). We learned that Jesus shared meals with people who weren’t like him so they could know how much God loved them.
But the thing that turned my head around was the following quote:
“When you are uncomfortable with people who are different than you, that says more about your insecurity than it does your spirituality.”
Can I tell you how much this rang true with me?
I spent years trying to teach people that uniformity mattered. That everyone walked the same line, thought the same thoughts, watched the same shows, sang the same songs. I was wrong. It’s not uniformity that Christ called us to, it’s unity. And there’s a difference.
Lately, I’ve been feeling the pull to be around people who aren’t like me. To be around people who don’t think like me, or believe like me, or watch the same kind of shows as me. I want to be around people who will stretch me, challenge me, make me laugh, and remind me that people aren’t horrible all the time. I want to go places I’ve not gone for fear of being judged and meet people I’ve not met for fear of being scolded. I want to be like Jesus, so secure in my own self that I can make others around me feel secure too.
My struggle lies in letting God accomplish this on His timetable. I’ve got this internal clock in my head that keeps sounding off about how I don’t have the luxury of time to wait for God. I can’t afford to give Him my complete trust because He might work so slow that I’ll have to sacrifice something like my house or my car just to stay afloat. I’m at war within because I am hungry for the deeper things that God is doing in my life, but I’m anchored to the security I’ve created outside of God.
Everything feels like a battle for my soul because I’m secured myself to insecure things, and God is calling me into a whole new world where I find my security solely in Him.
Not in my religion. Not in my self-righteousness. Not in my works. Not in my finances.
In Christ alone.
It’s scary, but it’s the only thing that offers peace these days. I will trust in Him, even as the battle inside rages on. I will be with him, and trust him to change what I believe and how I behave. That’s walking with Christ.
And that’s the life I want.
“When your god is small, you can still be the biggest thing in your world.”
I heard that on Sunday. It’s been in the back of my mind ever since. Small god. Small God. It’s a fascinating thought.
I can’t get it out of my head.
See, I know people who worship the small God, the God that is more concerned about rules and uniformity than about redemption and transformation. The small God doesn’t change you; he gives you rules and demands that you change. The small God doesn’t disciple you; he disciplines you for committing errors you didn’t know you’d committed. The small God doesn’t love you; he demands you love him.
The small God is not the true God.
Even now, there are people who are reading this and going ballistic. They hear words like love, redemption, transformation, rules, discipline, and they hear something very different from me. I am teetering on the edge of heresy by suggesting that God is not concerned primarily with rules and discipline and order and obedience. I’m leading people down a wrong path, a path of easy-believism.
The reality is the opposite. Easy-believism is when you tell people that if they’ll live their lives a certain way, according to to certain code, then God will make everything work out, and if it doesn’t, then it’s their fault for not living right. Easy-believism says that everyone else is wrong and you’re right, so there’s no need to have a conversation. Easy-believism says that only people who live by certain rules truly get God.
True belief is hard. It’s challenging. There are black and white areas to be sure, but there’s also a lot of gray. And it’s in that gray that a person is forced to lean into God, to dig into the word, to search Him out for answers. It’s in that gray that a person finds themselves being transformed. It’s in that gray that a person discovers that the small God is pathetic and mean and not to much different than a petty human being; that if God exists, He must by definition be something more than we can create on our own.
And that’s why the quote above resonated with me so much: people who worship the small God want to be bigger themselves. They want to be able to say that they are special, they are unique, they are gifted or holy or any other adjective that places emphasis on them and their ability to be blessed by the small God.
Maybe that’s the tell: if your God exalts you for following him, you’re worshiping the small God.
Because the big God, the real God, the God revealed in the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ, isn’t concerned about you being exalted through Him. He wants to be exalted through you. And He does that not by piling the rules on you to the point of suffocation, but by freeing you up to be who He created you to be. He is exalted most when you live a life fully free in Him.
I get scared writing stuff like this. I get scared pushing against the small Gods out there, the gods of abusers and bullies who use religion as a weapon to secure their own power. I get scared because I know those types of people don’t like being called out, don’t abide people who stand up to their scare tactics. I get scared because I know people who live that way, and I don’t wish them any harm or want to hurt them. I get scared because I don’t want to become like that myself.
More and more, though, I find that this is something I want to write. That I feel driven to write on. More and more I feel like I need to say something that presses back against the small Gods so the people who wonder if there’s something more can know the truth: there is.
And He’s so much more than you’ve been lead to believe. Or dared to dream.
Don’t settle for a small God. Don’t settle for a world where, by simply following rules you become the biggest thing. Don’t settle for anything other than the one true God.
I had breakfast with an old friend this morning, and while the subject of our conversation was mostly about our lives and what God has done in each, there was a moment when he said something that’s stuck with me all day. Maybe it will stick with you too.
“My goal,” he said, during a conversation about work and environment, “is that the same guy who lives at my house is the same guy who goes into the office. I don’t want to have a ‘home self’ and a ‘work self.’ I want to be me in both places.”
Isn’t that awesome? It’s got to be one of the top five or six things I’ve heard/read/seen lately, and I’ve been hearing/reading/seeing a lot.
I want to be me, wherever I’m at.
For some people, that statement’s pretty stupid. Or at the least, self-evident. After all, who else would you be? Cher? But for some of us, who’ve been conditioned that the bifurcation of ourselves is not only permissible, it’s necessary, the idea of being able to fully ourselves regardless of environment is beyond belief.
We may call it compartmentalization, we may call it professionalism, we may call it a thousand different things, but the bottom line is that a great many of us are used to being limited in some way, shape or form in some areas of our lives. For some us, it’s the decorum of our workplace; our sense of humor, our religious beliefs, our personal lives, might not be welcome conversation topics. And while you certainly don’t want to sit down with your company CEO and make fart jokes, if your company doesn’t respect all of you, then they don’t respect you, period.
For some folks, this is best seen at church. The Sunday Face that so many people put on so people won’t decode the pain they hide, or the differences between their Monday-Saturday life. While I’m not saying that a life of sin is permissible for a Christian, there are some things that some Christians make into MAJOR sins, while conveniently minimizing others.
(In some churches, sin – like beauty – is in the eye of the beholder. Just saying.)
So to avoid issues, some people pretend to be something they’re not. This defeats the purpose of the church, to be a community where people come and grow with Christ and each other. With so many people hiding struggles and problems, just to fit into the expected decorum, there’s nothing to talk about. Everyone just pretends like things are good with them, thanks, and isn’t that painting of Jesus just lovely over the antique table in the hall?
Authenticity. It’s so crucial.
I want to be me. I have a strange sense of humor. I make the occasional statement that people take issue with. I like nerd stuff, I prefer tennis shoes over going barefoot, and I would rather drink a gallon of gasoline than eat a cobb salad. And at 37 years old, I’m tired of having to be HomeJason and WorkJason.
I just want to be Jason. Take it or leave it.
Being yourself shouldn’t be as hard as it is, but courage can change that. Of course, some of us find courage easier than others. Some of us don’t have a choice. Here’s hoping you find the courage you need to be yourself, wherever you are.