“Can You Play?”



“The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” -Zechariah 8:5

It was Saturday afternoon at the church, on the cusp of Advent, and I was working.

Kylie (our awesome children’s director) had recruited some volunteers to offer free babysitting just to give parents a few hours of kid-free time.  Judging this to be a noble task, I signed on to help.

We had watched a movie, and done a variety of crafts, and now, with an hour to go, Kylie and I filed the older kids into the gym for some running around time.

I found a chair and sat down.

Kylie began leading the kids through one form of tag after another.  Freeze tag.  Sharks and minnows.  Stay-on-the-line tag. (There are a lot more versions of tag than I remembered)

I watched as calories were burned and a good time was mostly had by all.  Then it happened. One of the girls, a third grader, was getting things organized for yet another version of running and catching.  She looked at me and said the words:

“Can you play?”

I had been sitting on my rump for an hour, never even considering joining in.  Her words literally stunned me.

I jumped to my feet and stammered, “Yes…I can play…”  At that very moment Kylie called out that it was time for the kids to meet up with their parents.

What a strange moment for me.  I had been invited (called out) to play, and now I was saved by the clock.  Half of me felt like I’d dodged a bullet.  The other half felt…old.  And not the good kind of old.  The kind of old that looks at the past wistfully, wondering what’s become of me.

CAN I play? I play an occasional video game.  Does that count?  I walk my dog.  I watch Netflix.  Wow. I used to play instinctively.  With wild abandon.  Have I lost this spark of my humanity? I certainly hope not, but I may admittedly be a little rusty.

Which brings me to Advent.  In honor of this little encounter, and in spite of all the work I have on my plate these next weeks, I have decided to honor the coming Christ the way a child might.  These are the ways I aim to play this Advent:

  1.  Play a board game.  Monopoly, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit.  I’ve got all those in a closet somewhere.
  2. Play Santa.  I aim to give gifts that aren’t just check marks on a list.  I want to feel that thrill of giving — Fewer gift cards…more toys!
  3. Play with Tom.  Tom is my doggie.  He ALWAYS wants to play, but most of the time I give him a treat to distract him.  I plan to get down on the floor and rough house.
  4. Play with kids.  I will joke and tease with the kids at my church, but if I want to recapture Christmas through their eyes, I’ll need to listen to them, learn from them, and get up off my rump, wiling to burn a few calories!
  5. Play with my imagination.  I used to be so good at this!  Bringing a drawing or a story into the world.  You know, Making believe is actually a good way for Making Believers! So today I’ll pretend to be a shepherd.  Tomorrow I’ll do my best to be an angel.

That’s my list, for now.  Do you have one?  While making a list seems counter to the whole spontaneous notion of play, in this case I hope it serves as a good reminder.

Yes! I CAN play. May that never change.  To see Christmas as the twinkle in the eye of the creator takes more effort for some of us than others, but it’s always worth it.  Besides, I’ve received an official invitation to try, from a real live young person.

Let me extend that invitation to you.  Can you play?  Do you want to try with me?


Tag, you’re it.

Have a great Advent,



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Child_pushing_grandmother_on_plastic_tricycle (1)

I have a lot of Grandparents in my church.

They sure know how to stay busy!

On Saturday afternoons, they watch their grand kid’s sporting events, or work in their yards.

On Sundays, they tell proud stories and show pictures of birthdays, and family gatherings.

But that’s not all.

They seem to know how to do stuff that I still haven’t learned.

Mechanical stuff.  Needlework stuff.  Hospitality stuff.

A lot of the people who make my church happen are Grandparents.

They serve on committees, or sing in the choir.

(Some of them play in the praise band, I’ll have you know)

So many of them know how to cook! And how to repair a car.

And how to love Jesus.

They have room in their schedules — or make room — to help folks who need it.

They are dependable.  And faithful.

And strangely enough, they’re not as much older than me as Grandparents used to be.

As for me, I have no kids, and that’s just fine.

But as God is my witness,

I still hope,

some grand day

to become a Grandparent.

Have a great week,



Keep ’em Coming


When I look at this picture, I have some really great memories…

of being bored out of my mind.

This is Saline Presbyterian Church, in Michigan.

I would have been around 9.  My brother was 7.

Up front, the preacher (our dad) was preaching,  and we were trying to make it through another hour of worship.

Tic Tac Toe.  Hangman.  That dots and boxes games.

We’d count the number of ceiling tiles.

We’d scratch out letters and words in the bulletin to make new sentences.  “We lift up our cares” became “We lift up cars.”

We’d try to make the other one laugh, and then look scornfully if they did.

We’d stand and sing the hymns, sometimes changing the words.  “When I fall on my face with my knees to the rising sun…”

We’d doodle, and fidget, poke each other, and stare at the clock that seemed to tick so slowly, and sometimes, when all other options were extinguished, we’d actually listen.

My dad was a great preacher.  When I was a little older, my mom became ordained.  She was a great preacher, too.

Still, I’ll be honest.  There were plenty of Sundays when I would have rather been any place other than some old stuffy sanctuary.  But something about that weekly discipline, that time spent in “Holy Space” listening to words of wisdom, began to affect me.

Theological concepts began to make sense.  Stories from the Bible became more intriguing.  And I was actually able to see the connection between what we did in here, in the Sanctuary, and what the Church is called to do out there, in the world.

Today, when I see kids in church, there with their families, I feel so happy to see them.  I wouldn’t begrudge them some doodling or tic tac toe throughout the service, either.

But when I preach, part of me is preaching for them.  I want to make them smile, or laugh, or perk up. Or even learn something.

I want them to catch a glimpse.  A glimpse of Jesus there in the room with us.

I know worship can sometimes be boring (for any age),

but I do believe it has a cumulative affect.

So parents, keep ’em coming.

Both for their sake, and for mine.

After all, the glimpse of Jesus I get to see

is frequently in them.

Have a great week,



The 5 most embarrassing things that can happen to you at church.



When I think through my collection of embarrassing moments, it seems like almost all of them took place out in public somewhere.

Makes sense.

So I suppose it’s no wonder that people can find themselves embarrassed at church from time to time.  The problem comes when the embarrassment feels so strong that someone is tempted to not come back.

It happens more than we might realize, and that’s something worth addressing.

Here, then, are the (unofficial) top 5 ways folks find themselves embarrassed at church, and how to move past them.



What happens:  I hear this one all the time.  Maybe your baby has a complete meltdown in the middle of the pastoral prayer.  Perhaps your 3rd grader and your 5th grader won’t stop fighting.  Somehow children have this uncanny ability to pick the WORST moments to cry, scream, laugh, argue, and fuss.

How it feels:  It can feel as if the whole world stops and turns towards you.  Every nearby woman becomes a disapproving mother.  Every person of authority deems you unworthy.  And in general, everyone in your presence agrees:  You are not a good parent.

Truth be told:  There probably are a few people who act annoyed or disapproving.  Shame on them!  The truth is there is NOTHING more precious to the church than children.  Most people and churches understand the joys (and trials) of raising children, and most parents can sympathize with those days when the kids are wound a bit too tight.  Church is better — for all of us — with children in it.

Bottom line:  Let the Children Come.




What happens:  The plate is passed.  The person to your left puts in a check.   The person to your right is holding an envelope in anticipation.  And you?  You don’t have anything for the offering plate.

How it feels:  It can feel as if all eyes are on you and your lack of a contribution.  Do people think you’re stingy?  Do people think you’re poor? Does it mean you don’t deserve to be here?

Truth be told:  Relax, nobody’s looking. Many people pass the plate without putting something in it.  Lots of people give monthly, or online.  Some mail their pledge in, and yes, some folks just can’t afford to contribute financially.  Passing the plate isn’t supposed to be an exercise in guilt.  It’s an exercise in commitment.  Next time the plate comes by, touch it and briefly say a word of commitment to God.

Bottom Line:  Offer yourself, as best you can.




What happens:  In Sunday School, the teacher has everyone turn to Colossians (or some other book).  Everyone else turns right to it, and you find yourself flipping around before sheepishly looking at the table of contents.  Uggh.  Either that, or  you’re being asked general Bible knowledge questions and you haven’t the foggiest answer.

How it feels:  It can feel as if everyone is snickering behind their Bibles, watching you flail in your scriptural ignorance.   Or you might feel frustrated and lost, as now the teacher’s moved on to the next scripture before you could even find the last one.  It can make you feel stupid and silly and out of your depth.

Truth be told:  Every church is filled with people at every range of Bible knowledge.  Some folks were raised memorizing scriptures, and others have come only picked up the Good Book recently.  Most adults know a lot less about the Bible than they would like to admit, so it’s very doubtful anybody is snorting in your direction.  Instead, be proud that you have a desire to grow in your faith and knowledge of this Holy Book!

Bottom Line:  Keep Searching.  (Colossians is towards the back)

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4.  I COULDN’T REMEMBER SOMEONE’S NAME. (Or they couldn’t remember mine)

What happens:  You recognize the face, but when you find yourself standing next to them at the coffee hour, you can’t remember their name. The worst is when you call them the wrong name, but it’s not much better to have to fish around and act like you remember it when really, you don’t.

How it feels:  It can feel like you’ve offended someone.  As if you didn’t care enough to remember who they were.  Or, if the opposite happens and they’ve forgotten your name, you can feel slighted, less important.  Either way it can make you hesitant to want to keep wading through that sea of Sunday morning worshipers.  Why bother getting to know these people anyway?

Truth be told:  A person’s name IS important.   In many ways we see it as the key to our identity.  So when the name game fizzles, it’s not a great feeling.  However, it’s a harder game than most people realize.   There are only a few gifted people out there who can remember everyone’s name.  So, the rest of us just keep working at it.  Since most of us have our slip-ups from time to time, it’s better to just laugh about it together, own up to having a slippery brain, and devoting the rest of the conversation to learning more about each other.

Bottom Line:  Names are important, but slippery.  And that’s okay.




What happens: This is perhaps the most serious one of them all.   When you’re the subject of gossip, or your name ends up in the paper, or the folks in your neighborhood know about your business, coming to church at all could seem like a really bad idea.  Why would you want to walk into a church — where people talk about sin — if everybody already knows about yours?

How it feels:  Every whisper, every glance — it would be hard not to think they’re talking about you.  Maybe you had a brush with the law — will church members trust you now?  Maybe you had an affair — will that change everyone’s opinion of you?   Maybe you have struggled with an addiction — will people see you as unworthy?   It would be easier to stay away, right?  To roll over in bed for another hour and avoid the pain.

Truth be told:  The church was MADE for people like you.  People who have fallen in some way and are trying to stand up.  The church is where you can receive love and support, where you can be embraced by a family of other sinners, all redeemed by God’s grace.  Now, let’s not be naive –churches have plenty of gossip and judgement in them.   Some of that you may just have to ignore.  But don’t give up on the idea of church — there’s a place for you there.

Bottom Line:   Church is about Grace.  Keep looking, and you’ll find it.


Okay, that’s it.  An impressive list of embarrassing things that, in the end, you have no need to stay embarrassed by.

Instead, may your experience at church turn your cheeks a rosy red,

not out of embarrassment and shame, but as a reflection from

your warmed heart.

Have a great week,


Noah rosy cheeks