As you all know, the last two years working at the Chapel have given me many opportunities to spend time with kids. Indeed, there have been more than a few weeks where I feel like all I did was spend time with kiddos. This week at the Chapel has been no different. Currently, we are halfway through Vacation Bible School (VBS) and loving every minute of it. VBS is always a highlight of the year for many, but recently I saw something pretty special that I want to share with you. Yesterday we were talking about the great wisdom of Solomon (check out 1 Kings 3 if you want to brush up on the story). We went on to tell them how King Solomon, presumably the wisest man ever, wrote down much of what he learned in the Bible. It was at this point that I saw something in a kid that challenged me personally. As soon as this little guy realized that there was this great source of wisdom to be found within the Bible he started asking me questions. “Where can I find it? How do I know what it all means? What do all these little numbers mean? What is the difference between Ecclesiastes and Proverbs?” And throughout all of these questions (some of which I could answer and some of which I may need to do some further learning myself) I found that I was being challenged by the way this young person was eager to apply the wisdom found in the Bible in his life. Why aren’t I always hungry to open the Bible and make sense of how its teaching applies and changes my life? You know, I think this is one of my favorite things about working with children. Every time I start to think that we at the Chapel are teaching them really well something happens that makes me realize that I am as much the student as they are. In fact, I think God uses younger people and older people to teach each other.
This has been such a valuable experience for me I’ve decided to share it with you. The recipe is simple, combine one part Biblical wisdom with one part interaction with children. So here is your homework: First, find a child in your life to spend time with. Read a book. Go on a walk. Try to find sleeping ants. Anything you like. Secondly, read the following Proverbs one per day until Sunday. When you read them, try to find an example or area within your life that could be changed in some way due to the wisdom found within the Proverb. After all, like my little friend challenged me to consider, we should be thankful and eager that we have a book that gives us all some pretty awesome hints on how to live well in this life.
Thursday Proverb: Proverbs 3:5 —Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding
Friday Proverb: Proverbs 4:23 — Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Saturday Proverb: Proverbs 27:17 — As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
Sunday Proverb: Proverbs 15:1 — A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Jesus instructed people to become like little children and that’s exactly what’s happening this week at Snowmass Chapel. I don’t know who’s having more fun at Camp SMashBox, the kids or the grown-ups. One thing that always catches my eye is the focus on kid-friendly instructions. If you stop by the Chapel grounds you might see signs around campus like this:
We are in full swing with 85 kids making joyful noises outside my window and the very best kind of kid chaos. But fun should not be confused with foolish. In order to keep everyone safe and happy there is definitely some structure and a few ground rules written in language all kids can understand. “Drink Water. Wear Sunscreen. Eat Yo’ Food.” There is also a positive slant to everything – as in, provide information and tell them what to do not what to don’t: “Slippery when wet. Please dry off. Please walk.” Short, sweet, and as easy to follow as a yellow brick road.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all directions in life offered such simple advice in plain language? There’s a Colorado Department of Transportation sign that I’ve spotted on Highway 82 which is particularly convoluted, and I have to think not helpful, for anyone visiting our fair state: “MOVE OVER LAW ENFORCEMENT AREA.” It took me two miles just to figure out what that sign was trying to tell me the first time I drove by it. (If you can’t figure it out after re-reading this a few times, click here. It saves lives and it’ll save you a ticket.)
The Bible is also often difficult to understand with its list of obscure ancient laws, tricksters, prophetic dreams, and head-scratching parables. To keep me from sweating the small stuff I keep a scrap piece of paper in my Bible with the following quote: “Much of the Bible is confusing, but the most important parts are not.” Can I get an Amen? Jesus whittled it all the important parts down to this one: Love. When we can’t figure out what something means, or how we are supposed to behave, or why Jesus did what he did — just assume love is involved. Somehow, some way, Jesus is directing you to love regardless of Old Testament battles and randomly circumcised cities.
The Message version of the Bible, which puts scripture into easy to understand language, reinterprets Romans 13:8 this way: Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other…The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others.
Now that is about as plain as it gets! Even a child would understand those simple ground rules, and I think, after all, that’s what God wants. For us to become like children so that we enjoy the silliness of our surroundings, laugh easily, and love well.
We did it! We graduated from seminary, you and I. And don’t you dare say you didn’t do anything because that is FALSE. As I trudged my way through 1,800 hours of homework, more than 100 textbooks, and some 165 miscellaneous readings these past three years, of one thing I am certain: YOU WERE WITH ME. You offered your support, prayers, guest rooms. You asked hard questions that I promised to get back to you on, and offered insights of your own for me to ponder. You gave me tips on better preaching and your two-cents on whether I should wear a robe and a collar in the pulpit (sorry to disappoint). You built me up when I was tired and you cut me slack when my plate was so full things were tumbling from the edges. You were the very presence of Christ’s love and grace these past three years.
At the worship service the day before commencement, each graduate was asked to bring an item that represented our journey and to place it on the altar. I put you there. Really! Three years ago, as I departed Snowmass for my first week of seminary classes and retreat time with my cohort at Iliff, Snowmass Chapel sent me off with a blessing and basketful of the sweetest cards, letters and emails. I took them with me to my room in Denver, read each one (which took some time and a few tears), and decorated my room with them for the week. It was a visible reminder to me that first week that I was there by the grace of God and the good people of Snowmass Chapel. It was only fitting that you make the journey with me one last time. I hope you liked the view from up front!
Until three years ago I was getting pretty good at saying no to God when I felt that holy nudge. I wrote about my reluctance (and what finally got my attention!) here. I was so intent on where I thought I was headed that didn’t realize how AWESOME it is to be led one surprising step at a time. That’s what I reflected on today as I walked across the stage to accept my degree. The Spirit of God has whet my appetite and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next. We walk by faith, not by sight, scripture says. Yet so often we still want to be in control. One thing is for certain — if God had left it all up to me, I’d still be pushing and pulling my way and I most certainly would NOT have suggested I go to seminary! So graduation today is, for me, this beautiful example of opening up to God’s plan whatever it might be, and then stepping out in some cute high heels and saying, “Ok, God. Where to now?!”