Several Sundays ago I had the opportunity to work as a teacher in the 3rd and 4th grade Sunday School class at our church. Now that Summer has begun, the teachers who work year-round are off, and they must make do with substitutes like me from week to week. Kathy and I both signed up for two weeks, thinking we would work together … instead they split us up and, when the dust settled, I was only assigned to work a single week, while Kathy served in the 1st and 2nd grade class both weeks.

The theme for the Summer in the kids program for all ages is Metamorphosis … focusing on the way that God changes believers through the working of His Spirit in our hearts. It seems to be following a cool bug theme and is based on Romans 12:2:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is … his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Of course, unless and until a person has accepted the gift of Salvation through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit isn’t able to transform or renew, but seems to rather be limited to convicting of sin … I worry that there are kids in the program who do not know the Lord. Without the power of the Holy Spirit to effect a change in a child’s life, these kind of teachings are like so many self-help books … they sound nice but don’t accomplish much.

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Some people need a lot more than self-help books.

This week’s topic was humility … a virtue that is not taught much in the Church and not taught (or valued) at all in the world. While most educated people know to exercise some restraint in their boasting, the command in Philippians 2:3 is foreign to non-believers (and not very intuitive even for people long-steeped in the gospel):

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

Western humanistic and individualistic philosophers and sociologists might argue that you can only be a valued, contributing member of society to the extent that you believe in yourself. Certainly Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs seems to indicate that you must take care of yourself in order to reach ‘Self Actualization’, the pinnacle of humanistic achievement.


The idea that I would humbly consider someone else better than myself would be dismissed by the pop psychologists of our day as sick and unhealthy. “What you really need is self-esteem!” they would cry, as though offering some panacea that will cure all society’s ills. As Kathy and I were preparing for Sunday School, I got to thinking about what the world would be like if people really followed Philippians 2:3.

First of all, people would be interested in each other. If I truly desired to serve others, putting their needs ahead of my own, I’d need to know more about them. Perhaps the biggest change of all would be that people everywhere would be talking to each other instead of wrapped-up in their own thoughts and problems.

There would tend to be very little crowding or waiting in lines for anything, since people would not be pushing their own interests or rushing to consume limited resources ahead of others.

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Of course, sometimes there are reasons why we might prefer to let others go first.

Indeed, there would be no artificial shortages, and wealth would largely be distributed among those who needed it. I suspect that there would be very little waste, since any surplus would be accompanied by a strong, proactive desire to distribute that surplus. Telemarketers would be calling around offering free stuff that really would be free, with no strings attached (but of course they would never call at dinner time).

Most people in America would probably live much more modestly than we do, but dissatisfaction in a job would be rare or possibly extinct, since anyone who was unhappy in his work would find no lack of job placement specialists eager to find him or her a better fitting position.

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It isn’t too hard to live modestly when you have S’Mores in hand.

It is hard to imagine something so basic completely overturning our current economic system, but if we all woke up one morning and truly practiced humility, this world could become a paradise.

I wonder if that is what it will be like during the thousand year reign of Christ, before the final confrontation and judgment?

Closer to home, what would it look like if I began to think of others as better than myself?

  • My speech patterns would change. I would spend less time pontificating and seizing the spotlight for myself. My words would tend to be much less judgmental and much more encouraging. I would listen a lot more than I do, and take longer to think before I would speak.
  • The use of my time would change. I would spend more time helping and serving others, less time pursuing my own recreation.
  • The use of my money would change. I would spend less effort in accumulating wealth for myself and more effort spending that wealth on others. I would become a more careful steward of what I have, if I really thought I was holding it in trust for others.
  • I would be much less likely to take offense. It would be hard to trample on my ‘rights’ since I would not be asserting them in deference to others.
  • I would make a stronger effort to be ‘nice’ … to be cheerful and pleasant and ‘safe’ to talk to … not given to cynical or sarcastic talk, but someone who you are glad to have talked to in an elevator.
  • My life would be much more joyful and contented, as I aligned myself more closely with God’s will for me. Already as I have begun to experiment with this ‘humility’ thing, I begin to enjoy God’s smile and I find myself much more prone to peace and contentment. God is on record that he resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

I could go on and on. This simple spiritual adjustment in the way I think can have far-reaching effects on my entire life … in some sense it is the difference between living in world and living in the Kingdom of God.

One of my favorite movies is Groundhog Day, in which an intensely self-centered weatherman is forced to repeat the same day over and over again, perhaps as some kind of Karmic penance for his utter disregard for other people. Ultimately, the character Bill Murray portrays learns to love others more than himself … I think that Hollywood stumbles upon a deep spiritual truth, and does a pretty good job of painting a picture of what that would look like. As you follow weatherman Phil Connors around town on his final iteration of Groundhog Day, you see that almost everything he does is aimed at serving others, at treating them as more important than himself. He is not a cringing or fawning character, but rather moves with gracious dignity as he accomplishes the many good deeds of his day. One tiny example is the way that he greets a portly gentleman in the hallway of the bed and breakfast in which he stays … instead of brushing the man’s cheerful greeting off (as he has done many times in prior iterations), he takes the effort to respond with an gracious word, and leaves the man encouraged and with a lifted spirit as he walks away.

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day

I guess I’d like to do more than just play Phil Connors on TV. Rather, I’d like my life to be a blessing to the people around me, showing the love of Christ so that more and more people are drawn to the One who fills me with joy.

Humility isn’t easy. Even the tiny doses which I have sampled have been hard-won and are extremely counter-intuitive to the way that I habitually think. Yet I feel a strange stirring in my heart as the Holy Spirit continues to convict and mold me into a person who can truly, if only occasionally, think of others as more important than myself.

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Father’s Day

Yesterday was Fathers’ Day. Oh, I admit that for most people this ‘Hallmark Holiday’ was celebrated on Sunday, but I have always felt that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing right.

Saturday evening, Kathy asked me, “What do you want for Fathers’ Day?” It reminded me of a scene in the movie Joe Somebody in which the main character (who has just suffered a humiliating physical encounter at his workplace) is asked, “What do you want?” This question serves as a catalyst that ultimately transforms the character; for most of us, it is a question that bears careful consideration. What do I want?

As it turns out, I want a lot of things. I would like for Jesus to return immediately and for His kingdom to be established in the New Jerusalem. I’d like there to be justice and peace and mercy and prosperity and joy. But in the context of Fathers’ Day, what did I actually want?

My initial reaction was to be self-indulgent … after all, it is a formula that I have followed faithfully for much of my life. What father wouldn’t like a day of relaxation … iced lemonade in a hammock, reading a good book, being waited on hand and foot with tasty morsels? I could maybe play a computer game or watch a movie … perhaps even take a nap?

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Taking a nap on this swing wasn’t an option — it always seems to be full of kids.

“Wait a minute!” I said to myself. “You could do all those things if you were single!” Fathers’ Day ought to be a celebration of being a father; it ought to reflect and feature those who call me ‘Daddy’, ‘Big Papa’ or ‘Dad’. (Admittedly, they mostly call me ‘Big Papa’ when they are clumping around the house in my shoes, saying things like, “No, I’M the Big Papa!” in a deep comical voice.)

After we returned home from Sunday school and church, I laid down the law:

  • Since it was Fathers’ Day, I got to pick everything we did
  • no one else was allowed to even make suggestions*
  • anything we did had to be written down on a large posterboard and could be checked off by any of the kids

*This rule was broken quite a bit, especially by the younger ones.

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Wherever there is something thrilling and a little dangerous, there is Daniel.

It was a glorious sunny day, temperatures in the upper 70s, with blue skies and a light summer breeze. Our list looked something like this:

  • Go to Sunday School
  • Go to Worship Service
  • Eat lunch
  • Thank God for Fathers’ Day
  • Read a chapter of The Magician’s Nephew (C.S. Lewis)
  • Play zookeeper
  • Read a chapter of Don’t Care High (Gordon Korman)
  • Sit on our new patio swing with my Sweetie
  • Make and consume a Strawberry-Lemonade-Mandarin slushy blend
  • Go to Lowe’s for sprinkler parts and assorted other items
  • Fix the sprinklers and play in them
  • Eat a delicious supper (steak, hamburgers and shrimp)
  • Read a chapter of a Sugar Creek Gang book (Jim Hutchens)
  • Go to Samuel’s birthday party

By the end of the day, all those things had been checked off in various shades of permanent marker.

On Monday I was off and when I woke up, I thought to myself: “Yesterday was really fun, but it was a little short. Why not do it all again?”

Nobody seemed to have a good answer to that, except Kathy, who thought the kids ought really to do some school. I managed to persuade her by offering her the opportunity to go off for a few hours to Home Depot and Barnes and Noble by herself on a decorating fact-finding trip.

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Sometimes David announces, out of the blue, “Mom, I just need a blend.

It was another even more glorious day, with temperatures in the mid-80′s and skies even bluer than the day before … a day made for water games and contemplating the goodness of God. So we started the second half of our list:

  • Read Magician’s Nephew
  • Sit on the patio swing and read my own book
  • Set up the video capture software/hardware to convert Joshua’s play to DVD
  • Play a computer game (this solitary pursuit was sharply criticized by David)
  • Eat lunch (graciously provided by Kathy before she slipped off on her mission)
  • Have a water balloon fight (or two)
  • Set up the Slip ‘N Slide (water slide) and play on it
  • Read Sugar Creek Gang
  • Read Don’t Care High
  • Break down and recycle boxes in the garage
  • Do a little yard work
  • Play zookeeper
  • Eat supper
  • Watch a Little House on the Prairie episode
  • Eat ice cream
  • Go to bed

We finished the Magician’s Nephew (I managed not to tear up over Digory’s concern for his dying mother) and I spent a long time watching the kids play on the Slip ‘N Slide and reading my book, with Sarah just sitting companionably beside me. The little ones skipped their nap both days; Sarah is still young enough to need some down-time. She lay across the swing cushions with her feet on my lap … whenever I would look up from my book, she would tell me, “Read, Daddy!” I’m not sure if she thought I would send her to bed if I stopped reading, or if she was also just enjoying our companionable swinging, but I was more than happy to oblige. I took a few moments to reflect on the grace and love of God, such that I, who have so many faults, have been privileged to be Father to five delightful children.

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I actually got the water balloon fight on film, but no still-shot pictures except this aftermath.

At supper time I was again exclaiming over the glorious sunshine and blue skies, and said (as I do at least three or four times every summer): “Kids, take note of this day. You will probably only have a hundred days like this in your entire life … cherish it well.” They all nodded appreciatively until Kathy said, “Wait a minute! You’ve already had a lot more than a hundred of these days!”

I felt rather sheepish … it is true. I think I’ve had more than my fair share, and I hope I haven’t taken any away from someone else. I mumbled something about how many of them are seen only through an office or school window, and that actually getting out IN the day was what was so rare, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Truth is, I’ve had several hundred days like yesterday which remind me of the famous Calvin and Hobbes comic strip:

Calvin: My elbows are grass-stained, I’ve got sticks in my hair, I’m covered with bug bites and cuts and scratches…I’ve got sand in my socks leaves in my shirt, my hads are sticky with sap, and my shoes are soaked! I’m hot dirty, sweaty, itchy and tired.
Hobbes: I say consider this day seized!
Calvin: Tomorrow we’ll seize the day and throttle it!

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