Monthly Archives: February 2017

Easter and Star Wars

faith and family

Easter and Star Wars

by Marcus J. Carlson

I grew up on Star Wars as a child. I still love Star Wars. I am proud of the fact I have the Chewbacca mask that makes noise (like the one from the fun lady on the internet). I loved the movies and the characters, and as a kid much of what I enjoyed revolved around Star Wars. As an adult, I have seen every one of the movies made, though like a purest, for years I delayed watching the second set of movies (prequels) that came out because I did not think they were quite worth it.

As the new lms have come out in the past couple years, I have watched and enjoyed them, reliving a little bit of my childhood along the way. When the new lms came out, I also introduced my children to the entire Star Wars series, because we love exposing our children to the things from our childhood we enjoyed. We have taken them to see both lms, the most recent one on opening night, because that’s just good parenting. It has been fun to watch them absorb, enjoy and embrace things that we too enjoyed at their age.

Like many movies, shows and book series, Star Wars has a lot of Gospel undertones. So often, the art in our culture that is not at all faith-based, communicates principles of faith in a powerful way if we are willing to look for it. I have found this to be encouraging and a reminder that God’s truth can be found anywhere. It also has become a great tool in communicating the truth of God to those who do not have church experience or those who may have a negative image of faith, church or Christianity.

It is also a phenomenal tool for communicating faith in a unique and relevant way with children and youth as well. Using Star Wars references in my Christmas Eve sermon this past year actually helped those in the sanctuary understand in a deeper way what I was trying to share from the Bible.

For some, this idea is unconventional, but it is not at all new. Jesus used cultural references all the time to communicate the truth of God, because He knew that would help them understand his message. Jesus used story (we call them parables) to communicate the truth of God over and over again. Children love stories. Youth love stories. Adults love stories. One of the things I often tell people when doing training for children’s ministry is, ‘just tell the story over and over again and let it speak for itself.’ The truth is that as we help our children know the story of God, it will remain in their heart and as they grow older, they will be able to better understand and apply the truth in the story.

Watching the most recent Star Wars lm, Rogue One, I was struck by an important truth communicated in the movie multiple times. As I heard a phrase uttered, two thoughts came to mind. First, this phrase was a theme of many of the Star Wars lms, a consistent theme in the overall Star Wars story. Secondly, it struck me that this phrase communicated the truth of God, the story of Jesus in a powerful way that I needed to leverage and use as I communicated the truth of the Gospel with others. The phrase is “All rebellions are built on hope.”

Jesus started a rebellion, and it was built on hope. We desperately need another rebellion in our world to counter this culture of fear that has been forced on us. We need to live in a world of hope. We need a hope rebellion, and the good news is that all rebellions are built on hope. Hope abounds in spite of what others might tell us, in spite of what we might think, in spite of what we might feel. In the midst of di culty, challenges and fear, Jesus is renewing people and circumstances. Jesus is the author of hope, and it is hope that should rule our lives, not fear. The world has one story to sell us: fear. It is a lie.

I love the Easter story, even in the midst of the pain of the death of Jesus. It is a unique, one time, earth-changing moment, but there is also something that happens in this moment that happens frequently in the Bible and even in our world today. The people see something supernatural, and they are scared. I get that. Seems right, seems true, seems healthy, seems normal. In fact, every time we see a supernatural encounter with God, we see this same comment: “Do not be afraid.” Encounters with angels, encounters with Jesus, encounters with burning bushes, encounters on the mountain. Over and over and over again, every time God shows up, the dialogue begins with, “Do not be afraid.” In fact, some form of do not be afraid appears in the Bible a countless number of times, the conservative estimate being 30, some 365, and the generous one noting that this idea of not being afraid appears over 500 times.

We live in a world driven by fear. Our media sells fear. Businesses market with fear. Our government runs on fear. Fear dictates our words, actions, feelings and relationships. This is unhealthy, false and not at all what God wants for us. Fear has far too much power in our lives, and Jesus has far too little. Easter is all about hope. Our world is all about fear. As parents, grandparents and signi cant adults in the lives of our children and adolescents, we have a call and obligation to care for, minister to, protect and raise our children. We have a call as a church to raise our children and youth up in the faith. Far too often, we embrace the false message of this world, the message of fear, and in turn our children embrace this same message.

The message of fear ignores the message of Easter. It denies the power of Easter, the value of the death of Jesus for us. It denies the power of the resurrection. You see, the Gospel, Jesus, the death and resurrection of Jesus point not to fear, but something more powerful: hope.

When we look to how Jesus viewed children, we cannot deny that they held a special place in his heart. In fact, Jesus called adults to have “faith like a child.”There is something pure, innocent and beautiful about childlike faith. One of the things about childlike faith that makes it so beautiful is that it is based on hope and not on fear.

In Easter, in his death and resurrection, Jesus brought an end to a world driven by fear, and we have become so familiar with the story, we have forgotten that. We have forgotten how to let the story of Jesus and our story dictate how we operate. Instead we let the story of fear that surrounds us, rule us. That is not the life Jesus wants for us; it is not the life we have to live. It is not the story, the life or the message God has for our children and youth.

Do not be afraid: for there is hope, and His name is Jesus.

Happy Easter!

Dealing with Change

Holy Families

Parent Pages

How do we live as “Holy Families” when dealing with change?

Change is difficult for us all and often gets more difficult as we get older. Even our children have difficulty handling change. The truth is that the only one who really enjoys change is a baby with a dirty diaper!

Change can be hard and unnerving even for the strongest of families. Regardless of whether the change is good, bad or indi erent, change has a tremendous impact on us. So how do Holy Families deal with change?

The rst and most important thing is to look to God as the source of constancy in our lives. God is the one constant in our lives and in the world. Malachi 3:6a reminds us, “I the Lord do not change.” In a world that is ever changing, our God remains the same. Looking to God as the source and giver of life, remembering that he is the one who gives all good gifts, reminds us that we are not alone. He is our sure foundation as we weather any kind of change in our lives and in our families.

Secondly, we look for God in the midst of the thing that is actually changing. Whether it is good change or difficult change, change we have chosen or change that we did not choose, we look for God in the midst of the circumstances. The Holy Spirit is constantly present and at work in our families and in the details of our lives. God has something for each of us in every situation, season and transition. God can and will do a good work in us. We must look for where the Holy Spirit might be moving in the midst of the change we face and ask God to reveal that work to us.

Thirdly, we ask God for help in the midst of change. So often when we face change, we try to handle it on our own or we wait to go to God as the last resort. God is always with us and cares about every aspect of our lives. It is in seasons of transition and change that we often need God the most. Prayer is essential to our lives, and it is essential in times of transition, uncertainty and change. We can go to God with any thought, feeling, joy, worry or fear we have. God hears us, understands us and cares about us. He embraces us in love without condition.

Finally, we must trust God because he can be trusted in all things. Trust is our one great act and God does the rest. Change can be good, it can be hard or it can sometimes be indifferent, but it is a reality of life. Regardless of the type of change we face, God is with us in the midst of it and in every season of life.

We look for God in the midst of change.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) How do you feel about change? How do you think others feel about change?

b) What are some ways you can ask God to help you in the midst of change?

c) What can we do as a family to rely on God during change?

d) How does your faith in God impact how you think about and deal with change?

Asking for God’s Blessing:

God, we thank you that you never change. Your faithfulness endures forever, and your love never fails. Help us to look to you in the midst of any change we may face. Help us to listen to the move- ment of your Holy Spirit and to trust you in all seasons of life. Open our eyes, our hearts and our minds to what you have for us. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Written by Marcus Carlson. Permission granted to copy for congregational and home use.


Superheros in our Midst

faith and family

Superheroes In Our Midst

by Marcus J. Carlson

Like many young boys, as a kid I loved and was fascinated by superheroes. I also grew up on Star Wars, making me part of the greatest generation, but I digress. As we grow older, we lose our fascination with superheroes. I have seen this in my own children, in spite of our attempts to encourage their childlike nature to remain as long as possible. We assume there are no such things as superheroes, and while most of us do not have a guy with the skills of Spiderman in our lives, we forget the real superheroes.

In fact, not only are we blessed by many superheroes in our lives, we all have the potential to be a superhero in the life of someone else. I could never begin to count the number of friends, family members, colleagues, mentors and even strangers who have played the role of superhero throughout my life. You see, superheroes are not really those gures with inhuman powers or special skills; they are the everyday people who go above and beyond to do and be what we need in the subtle and signi cant times of our lives.

The theme of this issue of Connections is Pastoral Ministry. When I began to think about pastoral ministry and our children and families, my mind went right away to superheroes. This is not because this pastor would ever believe he or any other pastor is a superhero, but because so often when it comes to pastoral ministry, we assume it is those with the title, degrees and ordination who do the real ministry in our lives.

The truth is we are called and responsible for pastoral minis- try to those God puts in our lives and calls for us to minister and care for. There are special roles for ordained pastors, but ordination is not required to do pastoral ministry. In fact, we are all called to be ministers in our church, our communities and to all the people that God puts into our lives. We are all the superheroes.

We all need superheroes. While we may not have special powers, degrees or a superhuman physique, we have the one thing who is greater than any power, education or resources in all the universe: Jesus. This is not a cliché. It is the reality we often fail to embrace in our daily living.

As a parent, I have found I need superheroes more now than ever before in my life. The notion that it takes a village to raise a child is not a cliché or political saying (it is originally an African proverb), but it is the truth of parenting and of human relationship. It is also one of the reasons the church of Jesus Christ exists, to be the “village” to those in their church and community. Reality, the Bible and research all tell us the same thing in a variety of ways: we need each other. We need relationships. Our children and youth need healthy adults in their lives. It takes a minimum of ve healthy adult relationships in addition to two parents to raise a balanced and healthy child in today’s world. That’s a minimum.

The moral of the story: our children and youth need superheroes in their lives. They need superheroes who love them and love Jesus. There is no such thing as too many superheroes for our kids, and most of them have far too few in a time and culture where they need more than ever. At the same time, most of our children and youth have many more superheroes in their lives than realized.

While I have always known these truths, I have learned them all in a new and more profound way. After more than 15 years working with children, youth and families in the church, I know rsthand what a superhero looks like; but now as I do that ministry with a bit more distance, those I thought to be superheroes are even more so, especially when it comes to my own children.

Who are these superheroes? They are the pastors that care for your children. They are the teachers of their Sunday School classes. They are the leaders of Vacation Bible School. They are the older couple that always says “Hi” to your kids, tags them in the sanctuary, o ers them some candy and love — even when they are not sure they want it. They are the volunteers of your youth ministry.

Youth workers, in my mind, are the greatest of superheroes. They volunteer to spend time with angsty, pubescent, struggling teenagers who rarely know how to show appreciation and thrive on challenging authority. These superheroes give of themselves because they know we all need it, especially teenagers. During my time leading youth ministries, I have found these individuals go unnoticed and are vastly under appreciated, and I know I could never provide pastoral care to the youth of the church without them. Many of our churches are blessed with youth workers, and I know as a parent I cannot imagine trying to raise healthy children who love Jesus without them.

2016 was a challenging year for one of our children. Undiagnosed medical issues created a variety of emotional, behavioral and social issues. While not a signi cant medical problem, its impact, especially on such a young individual, was hard to watch and to walk through as their parents. We have always known we could never care for and help our children alone, but this year we were forced to live in that reality for the rst time.

We needed superheroes. Not the earth-changing, mountain- moving kind of superheroes. Not the ones who solve a major disaster, but the ones who would love and support us and our child in the midst of a challenging season of life and beyond.

It was the band director who mentored our child with private meetings for lessons to provide normalcy and a meaningful interest. Relationship was built, a skill learned, a passion developed. It was the assistant principal who recognized the needs of our child and found a way to o er support in both the short and long term, while connecting our child to other adults in a meaningful way.

It was the adults in our lives who knew the challenge we faced, and supported and prayed for us. It was the youth pastor who took our kid out to lunch, lovingly spending time and giving opportunities for our child to grow in faith.

It was the friends in our church who came alongside and went out of their way to show our child a good time and to embrace our child during a time when our child felt like anything but normal. Ordinary people doing ordinary things with an extraordinary impact. We could not be more grateful, and we never could have done it alone.

The truth is, we all need superheroes in our lives — especially our children and youth. The joy is, we not only worship the One greater than all superheroes, we also are surrounded by superheroes who love the same God we worship. We have been given the gift of superheroes, and the gift of having the opportunity to be superheroes to others.