Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Holy Spirit, our children and youth

Published in Connections Magazine (May/June 2012)

Learn about Connections here

The Holy Spirit, Our Children and Youth

by Marcus J. Carlson

As parents—and as a church family—we always want the best for our children and youth. We know we are obligated to keep them safe, provide for them and lead them spiritually so that they might grow into their own relationship with Christ. As parents—and as leaders of children and youth ministries— we cannot always succeed or be perfect in our parenting; after all, it is hard work, and we are human beings.

There is this thing known as sin as well. Sometimes what we think is best for our children and youth resembles what we want and need as adults instead of what the Holy Spirit is doing and wants for our children and youth. We easily forget that the Holy Spirit leads and guides us as we parent and work with the children and youth entrusted to us in our family, our church and our circle of influence.

We often react and respond based on emotion or instinct, especially when it comes to our children, youth, families (and even our churches). We should stop and sincerely ask the question, “What is the Holy Spirit up to right now?” We must look to the Holy Spirit for guidance in all things and trust the Holy Spirit is speaking in the midst of every situation and wants to use all things to draw us closer to God. As evidenced in Scripture and history, God is always redeeming all things and making them new.

Parenting and leading our children and youth can be challenging and difficult. The Holy Spirit will help us—and in many ways make this task easier—but it would be wrong not to admit that following God’s direction is not always easy. It continues to amaze me both as a parent and a pastor how freeing it can be once I choose to let go and trust God with the lives of the children and youth I care about. Maybe it is personal fear, our individualistic nature or a desire for control that causes us to assume control over things we must trust God with. If we choose to allow the Holy Spirit to lead, not only do we find freedom, but also the process and the results will be more fruitful.

This does not mean that we abdicate our responsibility; rather, it means we recognize the significance of our responsibility and our need to have God lead us as we care for the children and youth in our families and churches. We must make our best effort to discern what the Holy Spirit is, has and wants to do in the life of our children and youth in all things, not just their spiritual lives. God cares deeply about every aspect of the lives of His children, and the Holy Spirit is here to guide, encourage, support and challenge us as we accept the high calling of parenting and caring for the children and youth in our families, our church and our community.

We somehow assume God needs us or that God is our backup plan. We assume we are in charge and fully responsible and in control. It does not take children or teenagers (especially teenagers) to remind us that there is little we can control. To illustrate this idea, Jesus offers a parable about a sower where he explains the difference between the planting of four seeds. Jesus loved to use agricultural imagery in much of His teaching.

Our culture today is nowhere near as agricultural as the culture Jesus was speaking to, but we can all understand the simplicity of this parable. If you try to plant a seed on the sidewalk, some animal will eat it. If you try to plant a seed amongst the dirt and the rocks, it won’t grow well because it cannot take full root. If you try to plant a seed among the weeds and the thorns, they will choke it. If you plant a seed on good soil, however, it will grow and produce fruit. Sounds good, right? If you ask any farmer or gardener, they will tell you that the first three statements are almost always true and the last statement is usually true. It is possible to plant a seed in perfect soil, give it the right amount of moisture, sun and care and still have it not grow.

Parenting, as well as leading our children and youth, is a seed-planting mission. We must do all we can to cultivate the right environment and experiences for them to have the best opportunity to grow and flourish in every way. While we can do all of these things by the grace of God, who provides us the means to do so, we are still not in control. Whether or not the seed grows, how it grows or what it produces is not really up to us—it is up to God. The more I remind myself of this reality, the more I am humbled and empowered to care for and lead the children and youth God has put in my life. If we all recognize that it is God through the Holy Spirit, who leads and guides us, and that the Holy Spirit is the one who makes the seed (our children and youth) grow, then we can be empowered to not only better parent, serve and lead our children and youth, but we will grow in our faith as well.

Recently I was walking my youngest child, my daughter Abby (who is 4 going on 30), from my church office to the preschool at the church. As we were leaving my office so she could go to school for the day, she looked at the two baby pictures in my office of the children. She asked which one was her and after I asked her to guess, she picked correctly.

“I was beautiful, Daddy!” she exclaimed.
“Yes,” I said, “and you are still beautiful.”
“You and mommy changed my diapers when I was a baby.” “Yes,” I said, “we did and we loved to take care of you.”

I could see her mind processing it all, and as we walked hand in hand to school I was reminded that the Holy Spirit frequently speaks to us through our children. Time and time again I learn more about God from children and youth that changes my life and ministry than I ever could have learned in seminary. Remember, God can speak to us, the church and the world, through our children and youth. Also, the Holy Spirit can speak to our children and youth as well, enabling them to lead us to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit is speaking to us through our children and youth. The Holy Spirit guides us and calls us to align ourselves with the will of God as we care for our children and youth in our families, our churches and our community. May we always recognize that the Holy Spirit is at work in, around and through us.

Living in the Resurrection

Published in Connections Magazine (March/April 2012)

Learn about Connections here

Living in the Resurrection

by Rev. Marcus J Carlson

Jesus Christ is risen! In this issue we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Each year after spending the season of Lent reflecting on Christ’s journey to the cross, I am ready for the celebration of Easter Sunday. As Lutherans, we have a tremendous theology and understanding of the cross, yet we must always remember we are a resurrection people. We believe Jesus rose from the dead, and so we must live in the resurrection. What does it mean to live in the resurrection? What does it look like for individuals, families, churches and the world to live in the resurrection?

Several years ago, a television show came out that has since run its course called My Name is Earl. The show was about a man who won the lottery and as a result felt that fate, or Karma, required him to make up for every bad thing that he had done in his life. The show shared a variety of stories that affirmed this line of thinking. The basic gist of Karma is that if you do bad things, bad things will happen to you. If you do good things, good things will happen to you. When we, as followers of Christ think about this, we readily recognize that this is a false line of thinking, especially the preposterous way that this show often depicted Karma. Karma is the New Age, postmodern version of a works theology. If we are to be honest, however, we at times hold a view incredibly similar to Karma. When something bad happens we wonder why God is doing this bad thing to us, or why God is allowing it to happen. We wonder what we have done wrong. We feel and live in tremendous guilt when we sin and often look for ways to make up for our sin, while living in our mistakes instead of grace. I am not suggesting we not have remorse for our sin, nor am I suggesting we not engage in authentic repentance. What I am suggesting is that oftentimes we allow suffering and sin to have more power in our lives than grace. When we do so, we fail to live in the resurrection.

The resurrection is the story of new life. Christ died for our sins. We are saved and as we are reminded in 2 Corinthians, we have new life in Jesus Christ. This new life does not exempt us from sin or suffering, but it does guarantee that sin and suffering do not get the final word. Christ was victorious over death. God has made a promise to His people fulfilled in Christ, and it’s a promise God is not going to break. When we live in the resurrection, we recognize that God can redeem all things. God can make all things new. Whether is a major event or a minor issue, regardless of whether is a story of joy or suffering, God is redeeming all things. God wants to take every event, experience, and part of our lives, our families, our churches and our world and make them new creations.  It can be tremendously difficult in a time of pain, grief or suffering to see the good; there is no denying that. One of the greatest tools we have in healing from these situations comes when we are able to look for the good that God is, has and wants to do in the midst of the difficulty we are facing. Every individual, family, church and community faces difficulty, but those who live in the hope and promise of the resurrection are able to find not only healing, but also new life.  To say that God redeems all things recognizes that through the resurrection, God has promised to take all things, the good, the bad and the ugly, and make them new. To live in the resurrection is to look for the ways God might be redeeming every circumstance, experience and relationship. To live in the resurrection is to reject Karma and believe that even in the midst of sin, suffering, grief and pain, God can write a new, better and more powerful story that not only brings healing and hope, but a new life as well.

Recently, we had one of those weeks in our house where almost everyone had some sort of health issue or ailment. It is one of those frustrating times where you wonder why everyone has to be struggling all at once. Even though it is not terrible, you secretly wonder if it can get any worse, but don’t want to say it out loud for fear that it will (a different form of Karma thinking). I did not mind much when I was feeling terrible, but when my wife Jessica got sick, I suddenly felt a lot worse. Then, when my precious little four-year-old princess Abigail got sick, I felt awful. Jessica and I (suffering from different ailments) both wished that we could take away Abby’s sickness. We hated to see her sick, uncomfortable and in pain. We would have gladly taken her illness from her. Ironically, this gave us a rather simple glimpse into the power of story of the cross. As parents and as human beings we often wish we could take on the suffering of those we love. It’s the beauty of the human story, it reminds us of the holiness and power of love and it demonstrates the potential of human beings.

The great news is that the story does not end with our desire to take on the suffering, because there is more to the story. There is the story of redemption that profoundly and mysteriously declares that God will make all things new. To live in the resurrection means we believe with our whole being that God can take anything and not only create good from it. God can, will and desires to make all things new so we might experience healing and live in hope and so that God’s grace may be known to all the world. It’s hard to realize this when you marriage is falling apart or when your son or daughter has wandered off in ways that makes the story of the prodigal son look like a walk in the park, but it is the truth of the Easter story. Somehow, in some miraculous and mysterious way God is going to take these situations and others and make them new in a way that not only brings great joy, but proclaims his love story to anyone who is willing to watch and listen.

To live in the resurrection is to look for and engage with the glorious, redemptive work God is doing in our lives, in our families, in our churches, our communities and the world. Living in the resurrection is trusting that God is going to do amazing things in our lives, our children, our families and our churches even when things seem dark and hopeless. After all, that is the story of Easter when after the darkest hours of the history of the world, the greatest story of redemption broke forth in a way that will never cease to amaze all of creation.

Jesus Christ is risen! May we be a resurrection people. May our lives, our families, our churches and our world reflect the power of the resurrection.