Oh come oh come Emmanuel

“We aren’t just waiting on God – we’re waiting with God.”
– Louie Giglio on Advent

Earlier this fall I preached on the characteristic of Kindness and within my sermon I set out a challenge to for our congregation to be Agents of Kindness.  I have been on the receiving end of mountains of Kindness throughout my life.  And I mean true kindness – the acts that are above and beyond being polite to your fellow human.  In my sermon I talked about how I see the verse from the Psalms that says “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”  One aspect, in my opinion, of the truth in this verse is when the people of God bestow kindness, mercy and goodness on one another.
Whenever I open my social media or the news recently, I feel like I see a lack of this verse.  I see the brokenness of our systems, the brokenness of people, the brokenness of relationship, the brokenness of sin.  I’ve stayed quiet on social media about these things because I don’t think a productive conversation is happening in the comment section of my facebook page.  Or that if I tweet something out to oblivion about the topic that I will really be changing any hearts or minds.
Some may say I’m running from the issue.  Some may say I’m not doing my due diligence as both a pastor and a minority.  Some may say that I’m exerting privilege because I am not dealing with it.  And while some of those things might have an ounce of truth in them, It does not mean I am not wrestling with them.  I am struggling to find truth, to find grace, to find calm within the storm.
Then I hear this quote from Louie Giglio this morning.  He talks about the Advent season, the wait for the coming of the King.  And I realize that we are not simply waiting on God to reconcile the races, we are waiting with Him.  He is here alongside us.  His spirit is alive in us and in those around us.  And he makes good on his promises of mercy and goodness.  Whether through His acts or through the acts of his people.

it's all coming back to me now

When I was in high school, there were things that my youth pastor did that I thought all youth pastors did.  They were little quirky things that were a regular part of our youth group meetings, missions trips and services.  It wasn’t until I was in ministry myself and sharing ideas with other pastors that I realized that was specific to my youth pastor and my youth group.  The other thing I realized was that usually they were things that when you look back at it – it’s completely ridiculous.
Example – On one mission trip I was on, at the end of every day we gathered together as a group to recap the day.  During which we would do “Rotten Thermos” and something like “Mad Props” – basically it was a chance to nominate someone who had done something great (Mad Props) or funny/not so great (Rotten Thermos).  After we went around and shared for each of these, our youth pastor would decide on a winner for each and there was usually a prize/penalty for that person.  But instead of just choosing who won, she had a “person” in her finger that would tell her the winner.  We all thought it was the funniest thing ever – or at least I did.
The other day I was remembering this and thinking to myself – I wonder what the kids in my ministry are going to look back and laugh about when they are grown up?
Then it hit me.
On our retreat last year for 3rd-5th graders I started something called “Pastor Alicia Points.”  They were ways of encouraging them to be kind and helpful to one another.  They got a point if I caught them doing something kind or helping each other (or me).  And then magically, by the end of the weekend, they were all tied!  There was no winner or loser, just a group of kids who had all spent the weekend being nice to one another.
Now, almost a year later, this has spilled over into the classroom.  When we are reviewing the story from last week or talking through various bible stories, I offer up extra “points” to the kids who can remember small details from the story.  I also give out random “points” for when they are being quiet during story time or doing well at a task.
The thing about these points is that they don’t really exist.  It’s not like we have a chart in the room that has each child’s name and how many points they’ve gotten.  It’s a completely valueless reward system.  They’ve even stopped asking how many points they have, or for prizes that go along with the points.
It’s mind boggling to me really, one of those things that I was using as a means to an end – the end being well behaved and easier to manage kids during a sugar high filled retreat.  And it has become a staple in our interactions.  Last week I asked a question in our Kids’ Club and someone responded with, “Do I get extra points if I can remember his name?”
This all just hit me in the last week.  I wonder at what point in their growing up are they going to look back and think that I was crazy?  I mean – I don’t think my youth pastor was crazy.  It’s just a fond memory of her.  Here’s hoping it’s a fond memory for these kids and that they don’t feel ripped off.
Also if you are reading this and go to our church – please don’t tell them! Let’s just call it my own “Elf on the Shelf.”