Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a deacon dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: children

First Look: VeggieTales in the City

veggietales in the cityAfter a successful run of VeggieTales in the House, Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and all the other Veggies are setting roots in the city.  In the re-imagined VeggieTales in the City on Netflix, the Veggies are ready for a new set of adventures. All the while imparting valuable and inspirational lessons along the way.

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Book Review: The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do

the_thing_lou_couldn_t_doThe Thing Lou Couldn’t Do, Ashley Spires, Kids Can Press, 2017.

Lou is a brave girl who is afraid of very little. She will do anything!

Well, almost anything.

When her friends choose to climb a tree, Lou isn’t so sure. She is scared and uncertain. In addition, she is concerned that her friends will think differently of her because she’s not climbing the tree.

Even though she makes up some pretty fun excuses, her friends never mock or make fun of her. Lou decides on her own to join her friends by watching them have fun. She decides to try to climb the tree.

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Book Review: Sock Monster

Sock MonsterSock Monster, Stacey R. Campbell, Green Darner Press, 2016.

Little Billy is a typical small child. He does not want to pick up after himself. When told he needs to pick up his laundry, he decides to hide the clothing under or in various parts of his room. In an effort to help Billy learn to clean up, his mother tells him a bedtime story about the Sock Monster.

Sock Monster is comical, at best. While there are elements of this story that could be scary for some children, Elizabeth Thieme’s illustrations remind the child and the parent that this is a fun story.

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Book Review: I Want to Be Just Like Jesus Storybook

51tPMz-lzlL._SX388_BO1,204,203,200_Just Like Jesus Storybook, Stephen Elkins, Wonder Kids, 2015. 

This is a neat little storybook perfect for toddlers. It has a lightly padded cover, with bright colors on thick, slick pages. It is a book with a very clear purpose: build good character, as shown by Jesus. Never mind Aseop and his fables, we have Jesus to show us what perfect character looks like.

Each section of the book begins with a theme and a related Bible verse. Then, it guides children to consider different aspects of Jesus’ character with the intention of considering how we might be like Jesus. Some of the ways we can be just like Jesus is to be thankful, responsible, kind, and caring.

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Sermon: How Long, O Lord?

A sermon preached at Peakland United Methodist on Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-5 for Children’s Sabbath.

My God is Powerful

Holy.

Spiritual.

Transformational.

These are not always the first words used to describe a Vacation Bible School. You are more likely to hear words like loud, chaotic, messy. But that was not the chance at Peakland last week. While talking to Kristin, our VBS director at Peakland, she said, “My goal was for someone, somewhere, to have a spiritual experience.”

It happened.

2015-07-12 21.22.55

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Guest Post: Love God, Love Others

by Kara Byrne

washing_3262c-2Read Exodus 20:1-17.

I was a teacher before I was a parent, so you’d expect that I’d have this whole discipline/ behavior management thing figured out, right? Nope. The lines get blurry when they’re your own children. We’ve tried various techniques with varying results which has often left me wondering: what are the desired behaviors? What do we most want our children to portray? Well, that answer is actually pretty easy: loving God and loving others.
Guess what? Those are the exact  desired behaviors that God established a few thousand years ago. It’s a shame I didn’t consider that first…

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“Thank You, Jesus!”

Sometime ago a new family started attending our church. They have three children, including a little girl named Rachel.

One Sunday, after church, her mother told me that during church Rachel was calling out to me, but instead of calling my name, she was saying, “Jesus.”

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Pursue Justice. Pursue Love.: A Sermon

A sermon preached Sunday, October 14, 2012 at Peakland United Methodist Church. Some illustrations were provided in a Children’s Sabbath resource provided by United Methodist Family Services.

Scripture readings: Job 23:1-9; 16-17 and Mark 10:17-27

It was a Sunday morning, but something seemed different. As Erin drove to church, she noticed that the roads were more crowded than they normally were. And then she saw it. Instead of an abandoned parking lot at the Toys-R-Us like it was every other Sunday morning, the parking lot was full!

It looked like hundreds of children and their parents wrapped around the building and lined up in anticipation of something – a new Elmo toy, perhaps. Erin couldn’t help but think, “WOW.” All of these families lined up outside of a toy store just to get the newest toy.

As I reflected on Erin’s experience, I found myself thinking of all the children in our community who will never have that experience. Children who struggle to get by each day and who don’t know what the next day will bring. These children are not lined up outside of a Toys-R-Us waiting to take advantage of a sale or release of a new toy on a Sunday morning.

Take Renee for example. Renee is a client at United Methodist Family Services and she doesn’t consider herself anyone’s child. She is a ward of the state. Renee’s biological mother was 17 when Renee was born and living in poverty. Her troubled life involved convictions for theft, cocaine possession, and carrying a concealed weapon. After her mother was arrested for forgery, 7-year-old Renee was scooped up by a social worker and placed in the foster care system. Renee is not waiting outside Toys-R-Us to buy the latest and greatest toy on sale.

Renee is waiting for a forever family who will love and care for her.

Erin’s experience at Toys-R-Us and Renee’s story leaves me wondering, what is it that we the church are seeking for children? Are we seeking and pursuing justice and love for all children? Or are we focusing so much on teaching what we think Christians should believe while neglecting to show how Christians should live by actively pursuing justice?

Job doesn’t quite ask it this way in our Old Testament reading this morning, but he gets there. Job is the Biblical example of what it means to suffer. God and Satan set a bet on the table to see if Job would curse God or not if Job was no longer under God’s protection. God removes his protection from Job and Job loses everything. He loses the family farm, his children die, his wife leaves him because she can’t handle it anymore. His friends try to help, but all they offer are ways in which Job caused this suffering on himself. The verses we read this morning are often looked at by scholars as Job’s complaint to God. Complaint often has a negative tone to it. But challenge your thinking on that. Job is complaining because there is no sense of justice. Job feels that it is not right that he should suffer in the ways in which he has suffered.

Shane Claiborne, a well-known Christian author and speaker, who defines himself as an “ordinary radical,” describes his own experience as a youth growing up in the United Methodist Church this way:

I began to wonder if anybody still believed Jesus meant the things he said. Jesus was crazy enough to suggest that if you want to become the greatest, you should become the least. Jesus declared God’s blessing on the poor rather than the rich and insisted it wasn’t enough to love just your friends. I thought that if we really lived like Jesus taught, it would turn the world upside down and that it was a shame Christians had become so normal. I learned in Confirmation class about the fiery beginnings of the Methodist Church, but where had the fire gone? I learned about John Wesley who said that if they didn’t kick him out of town after he spoke, he wondered if he had really preached the Gospel. Then I watched as the congregation built a $120,000 stained glass window. Wesley would not have been happy. I stared at that window. I longed for Jesus to break out of it, to free himself, to come to rise from the dead . . .again.

Claiborne’s words remind me of the story of two old men talking to each other and one of them says he has a question for God. He wants to know why God allows such injustices, poverty, suffering, and hunger to exist in the world. His friend says, “Well, why don’t you ask God?” The fellow shakes his head and says he is scared too. When his friend asks him why, he answers, “I’m scared God will ask me the same question.”

It is quite possible that the rich man in Mark’s gospel today could have felt the same way that this old man did. The rich man comes to Jesus inquiring what he must DO to inherit eternal life. For Mark, eternal life is a synonym for the Kingdom of God. He uses the two terms interchangeably. In Jesus’ time it was widely believed that the rich were more likely to inherit the Kingdom of God. Their wealth was something that they had worked hard to accumulate over time or they had inherited. The rich man was most likely used to doing something in order to inherit great wealth (aka the Kingdom of God).

Jesus’ response is enough to jar us as it exposes the shakiness that is the bridge between the have’s and the have-not’s. Jesus flips the understanding of what it means to belong to the Kingdom of God.

Remember last week when we read from the Gospel of Mark, the disciples were trying to keep the children away from Jesus? Jesus said, “Let them come to me, because the Kingdom of God belongs to ones such as these.” Remember how Edwin told us a few times that in Jesus’ day, children were expected to not be seen and not be heard. They had no social status what so ever. They were the least of these. And Jesus says that the Kingdom of God belongs to them. Jesus has flipped the understanding of how to enter the Kingdom. He does the same this week, with the rich man.

Jesus calls the rich man to give up all of his possessions and follow Him. The man, as Lamar Williamson, points out, was mostly awe-struck, astonished at what Jesus was asking of him. And the man walked away.

This is the part of the story where we usually yell out like we were watching our favorite TV show, “Dude, what are you doing?? You’re walking away from Jesus??” In Mark’s gospel this is the only time someone is called to follow Jesus and does not immediately do so. But, as Megan, who is also preaching on this text today, pointed out to me, we don’t know what the man does when he leaves. Maybe he was disappointed. Maybe he was angry and bitter. We really don’t know, Mark does not tell us, that’s another story for another book for another day. The question it raises for us is, where are we walking? Where are we going when Jesus calls us?

Today is Children’s Sabbath which is sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund who works tirelessly to ensure every child is healthy, is educated, and has an equal start. They challenge faith communities, like this one, to transform our communities and our nation as they defend and care for the youngest, weakest, poorest, and most vulnerable. The least of these.

So, while we are here in this beautiful place of worship and not in line at the Toys-R-Us, we must tackle some tough questions. Are we engaging in our Christian education in spiritual disciplines that lead to the practice of risk-taking mission and deep authentic community to seek justice for all children? Are we engaging people in our ministries in leadership to equip them to be the change they wish to see in the world? As we consider the millions of children in our own country who live in poverty, who are homeless, abused, neglected, without health insurance, or who are hungry, we must think about how we can be the body, the hands, and the feet of Christ for these children to work for – to pursue – justice on their behalf.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel knew something about pursuing justice. He said once, after marching with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, “It felt as if my feet were praying.” Rabbi Heschel and Dr. King were walking with purpose and intent. To pursue is to hold purpose, there is nothing accidental or incidental about what we are doing. Rabbi Heschel would write, “The term ‘pursue’ carries strong connotations of effort, eagerness. This implies more than merely respecting or following justice”; in other words, justice is something we actively pursue. We don’t just sit back and say oh, that’s a great idea. The talk the talk and we walk the walk.

When a child is in absolute jeopardy, mortal danger, we put out an Amber Alert – we tell the whole community that we are in pursuit of the child and the one who is endangering that child, it is a time of utmost urgency and everyone has to get involved, everyone is expected to be aware, to look out for the child, to do what they can to help rescue the child in danger.

Brothers and sisters, this is our Amber Alert. We as a community of faith, as ones who follow the Christ, need to be on the lookout for children in danger, we need to be in pursuit for safety, to see that justice is done. In an Amber Alert, we get all kinds of information about the child, including their face, name, and story plastered everywhere!

There are countless faces of children lining up, not at Toys-R-Us, but at soup kitchens and other churches and agencies to get one hot meal or one box of food or for the lucky chance of getting to see a doctor at the free clinic. They are lining up all over Africa, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Dominic Republic, Washington D. C., and Lynchburg, Virginia.

We most likely will not get to see the faces of the 16.4 million children in this country who live in poverty, or the millions without needed health care, or the countless faces of children who go to bed hungry. We most likely won’t see the faces of the 5, 367 children and youth who are in foster care in Virginia and the 1, 372 who are waiting to be adopted by a forever family.

But some of us will. 25% of the population in Lynchburg is made up of children living below the poverty level. It is easy to look out and not see, but chances are with 25% of the population being children below the poverty level, we’ve met them. We’ve see them somewhere. How are we going to respond? Are we going to walk away?

Jesus was once asked what the greatest commandment was, and he answered two-fold: “Love God. Love each other.” We are called to love our neighbors are ourselves. We are called to love our enemies. We are called to love all people. And because we love, we pursue justice. When we pursue justice we are showing others our love.

We can rest assured that the faces we don’t see, God does. God knows each of their names, each of their faces, and each of their stories, just as God knows each of ours. And God has called us to go in pursuit of justice and love on their behalf – the nameless/faceless children of our community and our world. I challenge you this week to consider how God is calling you to be in ministry with children and youth whether that is here at Peakland or in our community of Lynchburg, or beyond. How is God calling you and how fast are you willing to go?

Amen.

God’s billfold

A sermon preached on Children’s Sabbath in October of 2008 at Lebanon United Methodist.

In the 2006 film Around the Bend, the death of the main character’s grandfather, brings him and his estranged father back together. The grandfather’s final wishes were for his son, grandson, and great-grandson to go on a journey together spreading his ashes at various locations as he had indicated on a map and series of sticky notes in KFC bags. As they continue on this journey, they begin to realize that the grandfather’s intention was more than just spreading ashes. His intention was to bring a family torn apart back together, and begin a journey of reconciliation.

Along the journey, the grandson finds an old billfold photo of himself when he was a child that his father still had. Because of their shattered relationship, he didn’t expect his father to have such a picture. When he turns the picture over, written on the back in his father’s handwriting were the words, “My boy.”

In her book, Thus Far on the Way, the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner recalls such billfold photos that many of us may carry of our children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, or godchildren. We look at the photos and we see similarities between family members. He has his father’s nose. She has her mother’s chin. It is easy, gazing at the faces of those we love, to see them as made and beloved by God. But what, muses Lindner, must God’s billfold look like?

As I pondered on this question this week, I wondered who among us has God’s nose or God’s chin or God’s hairline. Looking through old billfold photos is like looking through a persevered history of a family. I imagine that the children of this community are in God’s billfold.

I imagine the children of Uganda born with AIDS –

The children of Iraq and Afghanistan of Israel and Lebanon, suffering from a war that is not theirs –

The children of this country, where every 51 seconds a child is born without health insurance. The children of this country, where every 35 seconds a child is abused or neglected –

The children of Asia, Central America, India, and Africa without parents, living in orphanages ..

The children of New Orleans left homeless by Hurricane Katrina –

The children who make up 4% of Hanover County’s population who are living in poverty and the children we have met through the Angel Tree program who are parent-less because their parents are incarnated.

The children of Diques, Costa Rica living in poverty, poor in material things, but rich in faith. These are the images I imagine are in God’s billfold.

Many of these children worry about where their next meal will come from. Many worry about where their water will come from. Many worry about having clothes to fit. Yet, despite these worries, as we saw in Costa Rica, these children and their families were able to put aside those worries and trust in God. For they understood that through it all, every worry, every doubt, every injustice, every thing that goes the wrong way, God will see them through. They’ve learned to trust and depend on God.

The writer of Genesis clearly tells us that humanity was created in the image of God. This either says a lot about humanity or a lot about God. As it has been suggested, being created in the image of God does not mean a physical mirror image of God, but rather that the image of God within humanity is reflected by the words, actions, thoughts, and behaviors of humanity.

An example of God’s image on earth can be found in the form of Jesus Christ. Jesus modeled a way to be God-like for the rest of humanity. Whether it was sitting down and eating lunch with the tax collector, sharing the Way with the Samaritan woman, or allowing the little children to come to Him. Jesus shows and tells us that in order to inherit the Kingdom of God, we must become like little children. We must trust and depend on God as a child trusts and depends on a parent.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus answered two fold. Love God and love each other. If we are to truly love God and love each other, we are called to respond to the needs and injustices of all God’s children. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” What are you doing to show your love for God and for each other?

Jesus shows us, not just by his words, but by his actions, that being created in the image of God has a great deal of responsibility attached with it. As Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben tells him in the Spider Man movies, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” If we trust and depend on God than we have entered into a relationship with God. Through that relationship we have a responsibility to do for God and others as James says we can be doers of the Word – we can be doers of justice – we can be the miracle. For though we may not have God’s nose or chin or hairline, we have God’s eyes and hands and feet.

Imagine, for a moment, God’s billfold with the image of every single child in it – including yourself – including those who have wandered away from God for awhile, God still has their picture in his billfold, with their name on the back – the children of Hanover, the children of Africa, the children of Costa Rica, the children of Iraq. Imagine this billfold unfolded until it circles the world. Each one of those faces, every child, held in God’s hands is beloved by God. We who love God are meant to love not just our own children, but all of God’s children.

© 2017 Jason C. Stanley

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