Archives For Top Ten

Here’s the last installment of my top ten postings about what I’ve learned of the faith from my kids. You’ll have to click over to Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog to read it.

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Spotlight-On-Bill-Perry-pictureSo, I’ve taken some hits for my post about the Texas United Methodist Church considering discouraging people 45 and older from entering the ordination process.

According to some, I ‘just don’t like old people.’

To prove that indictment is far from the truth, I thought it would be appropriate to laud the benefits of older pastors.

Like Jane Goodall trudging into the mist to learn about gorillas, I’ve gotten this directly from a legitimate, genuine old pastor, Chaplain Bill Perry, who began his illustrious career ministering to the spiritual needs of troops in the Spanish-American War.

Proving age may dull memory, reflexes and libido but not humor, Bill offers this list:

10-inability to remember guarantees not revealing secrets told in counseling

9-incontinence means no lengthy sermons

8-no need for long range planning

7-sermon creditability gained by sentences such as “As St. Parsimonious once told me….”

6-doesn’t jog, can’t jog

5-blogs ‘what my great grandsons taught me about God

4-blog set up by great grandson

3-remembers the good ol’ days as ‘these trying times’

2-require long, slow hymns for processional

1-has time to write ‘The value of being an old pastor”

nirvana_nevermind_album_cover
Someone leaving church Easter Sunday asked about my boys, musing ‘I bet you’ve learned all kinds of things about God from them.’

And that got me thinking.

Which got me writing: Top Ten Things My Kids Have Taught Me About God

#2: The Father would NEVER Turn His Face Away

Gabriel has this list we’ll jokingly tick off every now and then: ‘The Times Daddy Saved My Life.’

The first time came when Gabriel jumped into a hotel pool not realizing the depth and proceeded to hang motionless in the water- like the baby on the cover of that Nirvana album. Without thinking I jumped in with my clothes and shoes on. And my wallet and phone.

Gabriel counts that as the first time I saved his life; I count it as the time Gabriel saved- liberated- me from my crappy Palm Treo phone.

There are other memories on the list. Like the time we were walking through a parking lot and a car was about to back up into him. Without thinking I kicked him out of the way by kicking him on his bum (more like pushed him out of the way like I was doing a leg press).

I’m no hero and Gabriel, like his Dad, knows how to dole out hyperbole even if he doesn’t know the word. The list is mainly a ‘remember when’ way for us to laugh.

Still, though, underneath the chuckles and the prosaic examples of bravery there is in Gabriel the unquestioned assumption that his mother and I would do absolutely anything for him. No matter the cost. 

That a wound to him would be a wound felt by us as well.

When we first adopted Gabriel and brought him home from Guatemala, either the doctor’s office or the State Department (I can’t remember which now) required a baker’s dozen vials of blood be drawn from our new 15 month old. It seemed an insane amount of blood to take from his tiny body. ‘There’ll be no leftovers’ I joked to the nursing tech. Only I wasn’t really joking.

And because he was only 15 months and didn’t comprehend ‘We have to check your blood for X, Y and Z’ I had to hold pin him down, while they switched from one vial to the next.

I had to hold down his outstretched as though he were on a cross.

He has no memory of that day, which just goes to prove what I thought in the moment: that it was worse for me than him.

There’s one way of understanding Christ’s passion as the Son experiencing the absence of the Father. When Jesus cries out ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?!’ that’s the Son feeling what’s it like when the Father turns his face away. Some would say.

There’s even a Christian song by Stuart Townend that celebrates how ‘the Father turns his face away.’

It’s a terrible song.

And when you pause to consider that the love I feel for my children is just an impossibly small approximation of the love the Father feels then you realize the song’s even crappier theology. It’s a terrible song.

Most interpretations of Jesus’ cry of forsakenness zero in on how the suffering of the cross was experienced by the Son.

moltmannJurgen Moltmann, a modern theologian, took a different tack in his famous book, The Crucified God. Moltmann asked what in hindsight seems a threateningly obvious question: What was the experience of God the Father during Jesus’ crucifixion?

In other words, Moltmann tries to approach the cross from God’s side. How did God the Father experience the Son’s cross? What was happening in God?

And when you put the question that way, especially if you have children, saying ‘the Father turned his face away’ suddenly rings false. The words seem to float away, no longer weighed down by any truth.

Moltmann says that in Jesus Christ the Son, the second person of the Trinity, takes flesh and identifies with us in our humanity even when the brokenness and sin of the world put the Son to death. Jesus’ cry of forsakenness, Moltmann says, isn’t a cry of abandonment.

It’s a cry of rupture, of pain within God’s own self from having the Son torn asunder from the family of Father, Son and Spirit.

I read Moltmann’s The Crucified God in college and, at the time, it struck me as a curious and interesting variation on what boring, churchy types like me call ‘atonement theories.’

I didn’t come back to Moltmann’s interpretation of Father and Son until after I became a father with sons of my own, and now I no longer think Moltmann is interesting. I think he’s right. The Father- no good father- would ever turn his face away.

Such a Father would no longer be worthy of adoration because he’s certainly not a Father worthy of emulation.

Whether this is something my kids have taught me about God or just Jurgen Moltmann, I’ll let you decide.

 

 

 

leglamp10Someone leaving church Easter Sunday asked about my boys, musing ‘I bet you’ve learned all kinds of things about God from them.’

And that got me thinking.

Which got me writing: Top Ten Things My Kids Have Taught Me About God

#3: Fra-geee-lay

I met with a couple mourning the death of their son.

Actually mourning is too premature of a term. Mourning has the ring of work to it, and it is work. An endeavor. It’s an undertaking that eventually leads to healing.

Before mourning can really begin you must first get past the ‘I still can’t belie…’ shock that this is your life now. The stubborn disbelief that someone else’s life isn’t.

Anymore.

Their son was only a few years younger than me.

I can’t say much more than that, pastoral privilege and all.

What I can reveal:

Right after I left that family, I collected my youngest son, Gabriel, who was just down the church hall.

We got in the car. Closed the doors. Buckled our seat belts (‘I beat you Daddy’).

I turned on the ignition. Looked in the rearview mirror at Gabriel behind me; he was wearing my faded UVA hat and smiling.

And I started to cry, suddenly feeling like I’d gotten into my car wearing someone else’s shoes.

leglamp1Life is so infuriatingly fragile.

This isn’t something my boys have taught me. They have no notion that while God may be good and gracious, life is seldom fair or forgiving.

It’s not a lesson my boys have taught me. It’s more like a lesson my job has taught me, a lesson I wasn’t in a position to learn until I had children. It’s more like now that I have skin in the game my vocation won’t let me forget just how fragile are my boys’ own skin and bones.

They’re here today…(down in the basement playing Legos, actually).

But tomorrow? The day after tomorrow?

I bring my work home with me.

I watch my boy turn his bike out the cul de sac for the first and I close my eyes to wait for the inevitable sound of screeching brakes.

I can’t drive by a car accident without imagining my own impending, parallel nightmare.

Standing in line at a roller coaster with my son, I can’t look at the twists and turns of the track without imagining my boy in the statistical margin for error.

Death is a big part of what I do. 

If I punched a clock, several many hours of every year would be taken up by people mourning the sudden absence of someone who’d made their life whole.

I bring that absence home with me.

Or rather, like a nurse who comes home wearing a uniform with blood stains on it, that absence follows me home and there it gestates into something else: my own fear of absence.

Theirs.

And while if you caught me in a different mood I might say I’d prefer not to bring this part of my work home with me, it’s more true to admit that this near constant dread of their absence has woken me to something else, their presence in my life.

The sheer- as in flimsy- grace- as in unwarranted gift- of it.

Just like someone who doesn’t realize the pain of unbelief until they begin to believe, the fear of losing my boys calls out the greater joy of having them. 

Life is fragile.

It wouldn’t be worth it otherwise. 

 

599553_4192234766386_1070461117_nSomeone leaving church Easter Sunday asked about my boys, musing ‘I bet you’ve learned all kinds of things about God from them.’

And that got me thinking.

Which got me writing: Top Ten Things My Kids Have Taught Me About God

#4: Justified By….Grace

Worst Christmas gift to which I’ve ever been an accomplice:

Talking Woody Doll.

You know- Woody? The lanky, pull-string cowboy from Toy Story 1-18 that speaks in Tom Hanks’ earnest, incredulous voice yet gives off the overall annoying affect of Cousin Joey from Full House.

I hate- HATE- Gabriel’s Woody doll. He stalks my waking hours like Chuckie stalks the night.

Gabriel’s Woody doll can say: ‘A cowboy with out his hat is like a yodel with out a hey-hoo.’

Gabriel’s Woody doll can sing: Home, home on the range where the deer and the… you get the picture.

Gabriel’s Woody doll can ask: ‘Hey, who took my hat?’

Gabriel’s Woody doll talks and talks and sings and talks and sings to infinity and beyond.

I’ve never been in the grip of illicit drugs, but even if I had, I’d still count the day we purchased Woody at FAO Schwarz as the worst decision of my life.

And before you think I’m exaggerating, consider that even though he’s a pull-string toy, Woody can say the above mentioned things (and more) and can keep on saying ‘em whether or not any chubby first grade fingers have actually pulled his string.

Like the totem in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a slight variance in weight upon the wood floor of G’s bedroom is enough to set Woody off. Woody

Which sets me off.

I’ve been told just the sound of ice tumbling in a glass is enough to remind an alcoholic of their limitations; likewise, Gabriel’s Woody doll haunts our home as a near constant reminder of my chief and abiding fault as a father creature: my impatience.

I often tell couples on their wedding day that a life lived together can expose the very worst about two people, all their flaws and foibles. So goes parenting too.

My boys’ childhood is simply an ever-increasing realization of what their mom has already learned. Their father isn’t perfect.

His patience can be short.

His temper can be quick.

His tone can be unwarranted.

His threats (I’m going to beat that __________Woody toy with a baseball bat if you don’t get him to shut up) can be unfair.

As I said, my boys are an ever present reminder that I’m not as perfect as I pretend to be.

And dammit, they love me still. Anyways.

unforgiven_ver3Clint Eastwood’s character, William Muny, in Unforgiven delivers a spot-on synopsis of what Christians mean by ‘justification,’ the doctrine which confesses that we’re right with God not by any goodness or merit of our own but sheerly out of God’s profligate grace.

In reply to a young gun slinger who needs to feel exonerated- justified- for his crimes (‘They had it coming to them didn’t they?’), Eastwood’s tragic Pauline antihero says:

‘We all have it coming to us, kid.’ 

I’m no William Muny. My crimes are most often provoked by a plastic cowboy that was made by children in China. Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I claimed I didn’t have it coming too.

My boys, even if they’re too good and kind to ever admit it, know it to be true.

They love me still, no matter what ratio goodness to sin coheres inside me.

And here’s what they’ve helped me learn afresh: That’s exactly how God loves me us, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

524133_3597103688481_1374151714_nSomeone leaving church Easter Sunday asked about my boys, musing ‘I bet you’ve learned all kinds of things about God from them.’

And that got me thinking.

Which got me writing: Top Ten Things My Kids Have Taught Me About God

#5: Jesus Is Meant To Be Followed Already

Not spilling the beans on my boys’ secrets will mean I keep this brief and to the point:

My boys are good. I think they’re the greatest, kindest, funniest kids in the world. And at least 2 out of 3 of those attributes I attribute to osmosis by way of yours truly.

But they’re not perfect.

At least not always.

Around Holy Week this year, one of my boys made a mistake. A bad choice, really. For one of them it was a sin of commission and for the other it was what the Church (leaving no stone unturned) calls a ‘sin of omission.’

To be vague yet specific, one of my boys bogarted a toy from a friend.

We never would’ve found out about it if he hadn’t spontaneously burst in to tears the moment we were pulling out of that friend’s driveway.

He fessed up, admitting it made him ‘feel bad inside.’

When asked what he/they should do about it, he offered plainly- as though obvious- that the next day he should return to his friend’s house, ‘tell him what I done,’ give it back and ‘ask him to forgive me.’

The friend said: ‘___________, I forgive you.’

And that was that.

Unless you’re a bible-reading Baptist, you may not recognize the above as a Eugene Peterson-worthy paraphrase of Matthew’s own Gospel:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” 

Now, you might chalk that up as small potatoes. An experience that is ubiquitous in any and every childhood.

But you could only minimize such an encounter of one-on-one confession and forgiveness because you are not a pastor. 15511_10200406823199355_1199302465_n

You (perhaps) only attend a church or maybe even participate in one. Unlike me, you don’t get to watch (and sometimes suffer) everyday Christians every day of your 7 day working week.

I already praised the institutional Church in this series of posts so now let me roll up my sleeves, be honest, and knock some heads:

You’d be shocked how few grown-ups can do- or would even countenance- what my boy did: admit a wrong, confront the wronged, confess, forgive and move on.

Where my boy, on his own, intuited his way to embodying Jesus’ command in Matthew 18, too often grown-ups in Church embody the gossipers and slanderers Paul condemns in Romans 1.

Too often Christian grown-ups don’t see the disconnect between professing faith with their lips but then using those very same lips to talk behind someone’s back.

Too often in our rush to affirm that we’re justified by faith alone not our works, we conveniently forget that our incarnate Lord actually, you know, told us to do certain specific things.

Exhibit A: If you got a beef with someone, it’s your Jesus-given duty to tell that person and not one other person until you’ve told that person.

Exhibit B: If you’ve wronged someone, it’s your Jesus-given duty to tell that person and not one other person until you’ve told that person.

And it’s not a light matter. In Luke, Jesus follows these commands with a nifty little parable of a servant who’s thrown in hell and tortured for a good long while.

So there it is.

My boys showed me in the flesh what I wished I saw more of in church: people following Jesus’ instructions for how we treat one another.

The early Christians weren’t called ‘The Way’ for nothing.

 

 

 

 

gandalf

Someone leaving church Easter Sunday asked about my boys, musing ‘I bet you’ve learned all kinds of things about God from them.’

And that got me thinking.

Which got me writing: Top Ten Things My Kids Have Taught Me About God

#6: Jesus is like Gandalf

A few weeks ago my boys watched the first 5.5 hour installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. The movie seemed to last longer than Coldplay’s last album, but it did elicit a debate of almost ontological urgency:

Could Gandalf, the staff-wielding, death-conquering wizard of Middle Earth, defeat even Jesus, the sandal-wearing carpenter from Nazareth?

Begun as I pressed stop on the DVD player, the debate continued upstairs, occasionally interrupted by the gurgling and spitting of their toothbrushing.

On the one hand, Alexander noted, Gandalf defeated the whole Orc Army at Helm’s Deep- pronounced ‘Him’s Deep’ by X.

‘Yeah but…’ Gabriel countered with his Socratic logic, ‘Jesus DEFEATED (with emphasis on the -ed) the Devil AND came back from the dead.’

‘But God raised Jesus from the grave’ X replied, as though the better question in question was whether God could beat up Gandalf.

‘Duh, Jesus IS God.’

Omitting the therefore, Gabriel continued: ‘If Jesus is God, Jesus could beat up Gandalf, Ironman and Batman put together. Jesus is awesome.’

‘And he loves all of us’ X said, sidestepping his rhetorical defeat.

This is but one ‘for instance’ of a conversation thread that runs like a seam through our life together.

On some days, the discourse turns more speculative:

‘If Jesus was a tribute in the Hunger Games, do you think he would win…without killing any of the other tributes?

Or would he volunteer to die for them and defeat the whole HG system?’

On other days, the conversation turns on a casual observation:

‘Joseph is kinda like Alfred. He’s not Jesus’ real Father but he takes care of Jesus just like Alfred took care of Bruce Wayne.’

Maybe this is all a consequence of my boys having a preacher for a father. But I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s the predictable result of my having given each of them the Action Bible, a graphic novel version of scripture replete with square-jawed men and women with hefty…ahem…endowments.

It could be either but I tend to think it’s because they’re kids.

Jesus says in the Gospel that if we want to have any chance of comprehending, knowing or getting close to God then we need to become like little children. 

Usually we interpret that as meaning we need to become innocent like children are innocent. Unflinchingly kind as children are kind. 

Read: Naive. 

I think that’s patronizing. I also wonder if it’s wrong.

imagesTo the little children in my house, Jesus is just one freaking, kick-@#$ awesome dude.

He hangs out with the wrong people. He upsets the right people. He likes to party. He has magic powers. He takes all our cooties and puts them on himself. Bad guys are out to get him and even when they kill him and it looks like Jesus has lost…

HE COMES BACK.

BAM.

To my boys, Jesus is as contrary as Tony Stark. He’s as complicated as Bruce Wayne. He’s timeless in a Wolverine way and still, somehow, he’s as unremittingly kind as Superman.

Plus, there aren’t any love interests to mess up the plot.

In other words, he’s a superhero.

And superheroes, with the exception of the Flash, are never boring.

Yet BORING, God forgive us, is exactly what so many of us grown-ups make Jesus.

To my boys Jesus is on par in the interesting category with Nick Fury; meanwhile, most adults- to say nothing of most pastors- turn Jesus into a bland, bearded version of Bill Moyers, someone so nice and unoffensive it’s impossible to imagine why anyone would ever want to kill him. 

But here’s just one reason why people like us would want to kill someone like Jesus: 

Jesus says between you and me and my boys, the Kingdom of Heaven goes to them every time. 

superhero JCAnd Jesus said:

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

As a parent, I know full well that kids aren’t as innocent as we like to pretend, and anyone who’s spent time on a school bus or a playground knows they’re not automatically and reliably kind to everyone.

But tell any kid about a dude who walks on water, brings a little girl back to life and dropkicks death’s door and they’ll think that dude is awesome. 

Every time. 

So thanks to my kids, I now wonder if this is what Jesus meant about how we grown-ups need to change.

Because in my house, to “become like children” is to think Jesus is kick-&^% awesome.

So awesome, in fact, it would never occur to them that they should be hesitant, reluctant, or embarrassed to tell someone else about Jesus.

That would be as silly as being shy to tell your friends how cool Captain America is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

524133_3597103688481_1374151714_nSomeone leaving church Easter Sunday asked about my boys, musing ‘I bet you’ve learned all kinds of things about God from them.’

And that got me thinking.

Which got me writing: Top Ten Things My Kids Have Taught Me About God

#9: Prevenient

‘Prevenient’ is from the Latin, meaning ‘to come before.’ 

As in ‘prevenient grace.’ 

‘Prevenient grace’ is one of those bold-faced vocabulary words United Methodist ordinands must be able to define by way of John Wesley (Methodism’s founder), unpack by way of soteriology (theology of salvation) and apply by way of personal experience.

And because ordinands are jumping through the hoops otherwise known as ‘the ordination process’ responses vary from the vanilla to the pedestrian. 

Take my own response, for example:

“The arc of the biblical story tells the good news that God seeks after us despite the distance of estrangement that stands between us. As Karl Barth said, the Bible is not the story of humanity’s quest for God. It’s God’s search for humanity. 

This seeking after us even when we do not seek after God is what John Wesley called ‘prevenient grace.’ It names God’s, often unseen, moving in our lives to bring us, one day, to a place where we can hear and be moved by the Gospel. 

God desires to make from aliens a covenant people, from strangers, sons and daughters. Salvation is a vibrant process of restoration in which God bids us come and we respond in loving faith. 

The doctrines of repentance, justification, and sanctification correspond to Wesley’s belief that Christ’s perfect obedience unto the cross is not truly perfect if its effects do not cohere in the present lives of believers. Nonetheless, the doctrine of prevenient grace insists that salvation is always firstly God’s initiative, not our own.” 

It’s not a terrible answer. It’s just not good.

It reads like the description of a sports car written by someone who’s never done 80 with the top down.

It’s an anemic answer; the words have no blood coursing through them.

What ‘prevenient grace’ is trying to capture is the notion that no matter where you are in life, God’s beaten you there.

God got there first.

As a student and later as a pastor jumping through those aforementioned hoops, I memorized a solid, working definition of prevenient grace. I carried a ready-made response around in my theological pocket.

But I had no idea what the hell I was really saying.

That is, until I had kids.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has children, but I will say it anyway:

kids come with an entire hard drive all their own. 

That you didn’t install. 

Joy. Empathy. A quirky way of looking at the world. A guardedness that can only be undone with a good, long belly laugh.

My second but oldest son (such are the complexities of adoption) came to us just a week before Kindergarten. He came to us only after much upheaval in his life and not a little harm. The statistics of a background bio like his would lead you to sketch a very different boy than the one patiently playing baseball with his little brother in my backyard right now.

I believe the empathy and the (almost naive) trust that first helped him survive and now help him flourish have no point of origin other than the One in whom we also trace our origin.

When we frame children’s behavior in terms of nature vs nurture, I think we miss a whole other category:

God’s grace- who they are not because of biology or parenting but simply because God beat you to them.

God got to them first.

And God never left them either.

When Paul declared that God is the one in whom we live and move and have our very being, Paul didn’t then pull out one of those height restriction charts they have at Busch Gardens. 

Children are a canvas where you’re only one of the artists.

And for me, this provokes not only wonder.

It also insists that I adopt a posture of receptivity.

I try to listen to, and respect and learn from the thoughts and views of my sons- not because ‘active listening’ is good for their development, though it’s that too.

No, I try to listen because they actually thoughts and feelings from which I can learn. Because God is at work in them no less than in me. Or you.

‘Prevenient‘ comes from the same Latin word from which we derive the word ‘prevent.‘

As in: children prevent you from ever thinking you were first in your kids lives.

God got there first.

And he’s not leaving anytime soon.

* Which, by the way, is the only rational by which it makes any sense at all to baptize babies. 

 

Myth_of_You_Complete_Me#1 Dust Jackets

Many engaged couples I meet have only vague goals for their marriage:

We want to be happy. We want to have a family. We want to be best friends.

That’s all well and good but how in the Hell do you measure goals that airy?

Likewise, I’ve met with many married couples who describe their marriage as ‘stagnant’ or ‘stuck.’

And you know why?

Because they have no idea where they’re trying to go.

You only put your car in Drive to head towards a destination. Otherwise you leave it in Park. Or Neutral. 

And if you’re not headed to any particular, specific destination, it’s not long before you’re wondering why you’re wasting your time sitting in a car that’s not moving. 

And it’s not long before you get annoyed with all the commotion the kids are making in the back seat.  

Theologians use the term ‘telos’ to describe human life. It’s Greek for ‘end.’ By it they mean that, having been made in God’s image, a life well-lived is one with a trajectory that points to and proceeds towards Christ and his Kingdom. Sin is literally something that gets our lives off track.

Just as our individual lives should have a specific trajectory so too should our marriages.

Husbands and wives should have specific, concrete goals for their marriage. Not only should couples have micro goals for each stage of their marriage, they should have macro goals for their marriage as a whole.

It’s just common sense. If you don’t know where you’re going, you can end up anywhere but there. And if you don’t know where you’re trying to get to, it’s very easy to get hung up on things that don’t matter and to compromise on things that do.

I tell engaged couples to imagine their married life as a story or memoir. As a book.

What do you want the dust jacket to say?

What do you want the summary of your story together to be?

And I tell them to be damn specific. I tell them I don’t want to hear something like ‘Dick and Jane were just so happy together because they loved each other so much.’ That’s usually what their first drafts will say.

I tell them they should choose, together, 3-5 things they want to accomplish in their marriage and weave that into dust jacket summary:

Dick and Jane built their dream house at X.

Dick and Jane traveled to Y.

Dick and Jane worked to make sure their relationship was always characterized by Z, that nothing ever changed blank about them. 

And, sure, those 3-5 things can change as life happens and things change, but you’ve got to be intentional about identifying what the new 3-5 things are when that happens. You’ve got to be intentional about what the rewrite on the dust jacket says now.

This isn’t about married people having a bucket list.

It’s about married people having a compass to steer by.

You have to have an agreed upon basis by which you’ll make decisions and set priorities as a couple. You have to be able to say as a married couple: ‘These are the 3-5 things we compromise on in our marriage.’

Because, the truth is, if you have those goals in your marriage upon which you won’t compromise, it’s less likely that other things will compromise your marriage.

So that’s it. That’s number the 1 thing I’ve learned about marriage.

You’ve got to know what you Dust Jacket says. 

For a marriage to be successful, you’ve got to know what you’re marriage is about. 

 

Myth_of_You_Complete_Me#2: What God Didn’t Give Adam

If you scratch at the surface of the doctrine of the Trinity what you learn underneath is that God didn’t create humankind because needed to create. Our existence doesn’t owe to some poverty, absence or need in God.

God wasn’t lonely.

As Father, Son and Holy Spirit God already is- and has been eternally so- a community of perfect love and friendship. The Trinity is, as the theologians say, a perpetual exchange of gift and grace.

So God didn’t create us because God needed someone to love.

And God didn’t need to be loved.

Rather God creates to express and share the love God already enjoys as Father, Son and Spirit.

As I illustrate for confirmands, God’s love within the Trinity is like a fountain of water that is so full it overflows and spills out all over the place. Creation, you and me and everyone else is like the water that spills out from God.

Now: if we’re made in the image of this God then it follows that we’re to love and (pro)create as this God does. We have children not because we need someone to love and not because we need someone to love us. We have children to express a love we already enjoy and share. With our spouse.

The love of our spouse is primary and foundational. 

The love of our spouse comes first. 

And it should always come first. Even when others come into our lives later on. 

This is a lesson I’ve learned by watching couples learn it the hard way. Too many husbands and wives, because their love for each is far from overflowing, turn to their children to give and receive the love they’re not giving to or receiving from their spouse. At best that’s unhealthy and at worst its idolatrous. And that’s not hyperbole. I see too many turn their children into idols because of a lack in their marriage. No different than the golden calf, we project onto our children a need they can’t possibly fill.

As I said in my sermon on Sunday: no child is big enough to fill what’s missing in their parent’s life.  And no kid should have to bear such a burden. They’ll only get crushed underneath your expectations. Because if you look to your children for validation, to fill an emptiness inside you, you’ll need them to be perfect. And when they’re not-because no child is- there will be conflict. 

When my wife and I began the adoption process for Gabriel, our son, we had to answer a battery of questions and go through several interviews assessing the health of our relationship, the depth of our faith and the strength of our self-image. Why?

To make sure we weren’t adopting a child because we needed to have a child to make us happy. I wish biological parents had to go through the same process.

Heard the wrong way this can sound harsh but its true: your primary commitment is to your spouse ‘til death do you part.

When God lamented Adam’s loneliness in the Garden, God didn’t give Adam a child.

God gave Adam a spouse.

The person to whom you’ve sworn vows is your spouse not your kids. If you’re a Christian, the only vows you make to your kids is at their baptism when you promise to raise them in such a way that they’ll share in the suffering, self-giving life of Christ.

You can’t cultivate a marriage, or even survive one, by loving your kids. However, you can raise loved, loving children by making a loving marriage your priority.

So that’s the #2 thing I’ve learned.

Marriage is about the person you’re married to. 

It’s got to be. 

If nothing else, do it for the kids.