Author Archives: marcusjcarlson

Beauty in the Midst of Tragedy


May/June 2018

faith and family

Beauty in the Midst of Tragedy

by Marcus J. Carlson

Suffering is a reality of this life, but a painful and unfortunate one to say the least. I get asked frequently from those inside and outside of the church about the cause and source of suffering. Our simple sayings, cliches and bumper sticker theology about suffering no longer seem to suffice. While Jesus never promised us a life free of suffering (He said the opposite, in fact), when we suffer, Jesus does hurt for us. As a parent it is more difficult watching one of my children in pain and not being able to fix it or take it away. God’s love will always be more profound than my love for my own children, and so I cannot fathom what it must be for God to watch His children suffer.

So where does suffering come from? To be honest, I think it comes from a variety of sources, and it is not always easy to figure out which is the culprit in a given situation. While Godallows suffering, I do not believe God causes suffering. From my own study, understanding and experience, I have found five general sources of suffering.

The first is the reality that we live in a broken, fallen, imperfect and sinful world. It has been this way since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden and will remain this way until Jesus returns. Suffering is a natural reality in a fallen and broken world.

Second, suffering often is a direct result of sin, our own sin or the sin of someone else. We are more willing to point out when the sin of someone else leads to suffering, but rarely consider that in many instances our suffering is a direct result of our own sin.

Third, suffering sometimes comes not from sin, but simply from our choices or the choices of others. I could not begin to count the number of times I have complained to my wife about something, only to have her point out that it was my choices that created the very thing I am complaining about. So often our children complain about having to deal with difficult things, without recognizing that the source of their difficulty was their own choice. This is the nature of free will and having the freedom to choose.

Fourth, some of our suffering and pain comes from the evil one. We see this in the story of Job — the evil one caused Job tremendous pain and the evil one, whether called Satan or the devil, is still at work in our world today.

Finally, sometimes suffering is just a part of life. Life happens.

While God does not cause our suffering, God walks with us in the midst of our suffering. In our suffering, we are never alone. In fact, it is in the midst of our suffering and pain that God is closest to us. In our suffering, Jesus mourns and hurts with and for us, and in coming to earth and suffering Himself, Jesus understands our suffering. Our God is not a distant God, especially in the midst of pain and suffering. I often remind myself and others in the midst of suffering that we are never alone. This is a key and important message for our children and youth.

So often we try to keep our children and youth from any kind of suffering, and when we cannot prevent it we try to fix it. This is noble and natural, but is not realistic. It is not the right way to help them grow and does not assist in their development. It is not healthy. It also does not prepare them for the reality that suffering is a part of life. It is a tremendous gift and opportunity when our children and youth have the opportunity to learn how to deal with pain and suffering while they are still with us, when we can still walk with them, guide them and protect them from irreparable harm, emotionally or physically.

Jesus never said we would be free of suffering. In fact, Jesus Himself embraced suffering — both to cover our sin and also as a model for us in our own suffering. Jesus consistently warned His disciples, those He taught and those who followed Him, that they would experience suffering. Jesus pointed out that by following Him, His disciples were likely to experience more suffering. In explaining the nature of discipleship in Luke, Jesus urges His disciples to “take up their cross daily and follow.” Suffering is a reality of life and a reality of following Jesus. It is something that Jesus experienced, helps us as we experience it and walks with us in the midst of our suffering.

In fact, God wants to take our suffering and redeem it, to make good of it. One of the most amazing things I get to see and experience as a pastor and follower of Jesus is how Jesus takes pain and suffering and makes good of it. Over and over again, Jesus never fails to take painful situations and circumstances and create powerful, beautiful, meaningful and profound moments in the midst of them. Jesus takes the most terrible outcomes and uses them for good, often drawing people closer to Himself in the midst of suffering. It is a reminder that our God is the God of resurrection and hope.

Recently, I was working with a family I had not previously met that was experiencing one of the worst kinds of suffering I know, the sudden and unexpected loss of a child. The circumstances in this situation added to the pain these parents were experiencing, and in moments like these there are almost no words to adequately share. As I spent time with them, walking with them in their grief, and preparing to lead the services for their son, I had the opportunity to share with them the truth of the Gospel that Jesus is with them in their suffering.

At one point, the father looked at me and asked, “are you saying that Jesus was with my son in this, his worst moment of suffering?” I told him that this was what I believed, and he collapsed on the floor in tears. It is a moment in my life and ministry I will never forget, especially as a father myself.

As we continued our conversations in the days and weeks after this tragic loss, one of the things I encouraged this family to do was to look for the beauty in the midst of this tragedy. I shared that the God of the Scriptures is a God of hope and redemption, a God who takes the most terrible of situations and makes good of them. I tried to point out examples of beauty I saw and heard in the midst of this tragedy.

Several weeks after their son’s passing, we were sitting in their home around their dining room table, talking and sharing some of the stories that came as a result of the tragic loss of their son. As I finished sharing one of the stories, the young man’s father looked at me, thanked me for sharing, and said, “Beauty in tragedy.”

While suffering is a reality of this life, we are not alone in our suffering. We worship a God who redeems all things, making beauty out of tragedy.

For more on this topic, contact Marcus or visit his website at

Marcus J. Carlson is an ordained pastor (LCMC & NALC), with a Doctor of Ministry focused in fam- ily ministry. He currently serves as Senior Pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Auburn, IN. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.

Hope Abounds

faith and family

Hope Abounds!

by Marcus J. Carlson

This is the 10th anniversary of Connections magazine. It is hard to believe it has been around that long, and I remain thankful for it, both as a writer and a reader. Its ministry to me as a disciple of Jesus, husband, father and pastor has been of great value. It continues to be an honor and joy to write a faith and family column. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to serve in this way and have certainly learned much along the way.

This is also the Easter edition of Connections, one of my personal favorites each year both to write for and to read.

I do not know if you have noticed or not, but the world is a bit of a mess as of late. This is not new and throughout history we have always had challenges, though the names and faces have changed over time. There is great uncertainty politically and economically. There is tremendous division and unrest all around. Fear is being used as the primary tool of government, media, marketers and others. The family is busy, frazzled and overwhelmed as the understanding of what constitutes a family is a point of disagreement and division in our culture. The Christian church is in decline in North America, with far too many consumers and far too few disciples occupying its seats. Watching the news makes one wonder how bad can it get or when Jesus might return.

It causes one to consider medication or other means of coping. These challenges are concerning and real and must be addressed, especially by those who identify themselves as Christians, followers of Jesus. That said, I think we have also lost sight of a core Christian principle and reality, one that is at the center of Easter.

The truth is that every day should be Easter, but I often forget in the midst of life to treat each day as if it were Easter. That is one of the reasons I am profoundly thankful for the yearly celebration of Easter as a much-needed reminder of an important, powerful and central message of the Gospel.

At the center of the message of Easter is hope. Easter, the resurrection and the Gospel of Jesus are centered on the principle of hope. In Jesus, we have hope, both eternally and for the here and now. So often our understanding of hope is focused on the afterlife or the eternal, but the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus gives us hope now and hope for each day.

As I have written before, the cynic sees the glass as half empty, the optimist sees the glass as half full, the realist sees a glass with water, but the disciple of Jesus sees the glass as re llable. Hope is the reality that the glass is always refillable. There is always more, there is always hope and there is always Jesus.


As a family, we have always had pets of some kind, including dogs. In the past couple years, we acquired two purebred Border Collies, a new breed to us. Our Border Collies, Oreo and Reeses, are incredible animals. They are off-the-charts intelligent (they can do over 30 tricks, including basic math) and are very loving.

They also have a lot of energy and su er from separation anxiety, a common issue for Border Collies. When I arrive home from being gone, whether I have been gone for minutes or weeks, the Border Collies greet me with an excitement, love and joy unlike anything I have ever seen. To them, I am the most wonderful thing in the world and can do no wrong. Sometimes I think to myself, I wish I could be half the person my Border Collies think I am!

They also get quite excited every time they see me grab the keys to my truck. There is a pecking order of what is important in their lives: at the top are balls, because playing fetch is the world to them. Second on the list is my truck. I cannot say or even spell the word truck without them getting excited. I am third on the list, with food being a very close fourth.

Now, my Border Collies have gured out the various things I do before I leave, and so they intuitively know and sense when I am going to leave. They notice the minute I pick up my truck keys, and if I ever use the remote starter, they can hear the horn and the engine start from anywhere in the house. They stand at immediate attention, get quite excited and move ahead of me toward the door. In fact, when I cannot get their attention, all I have to do is say the word “truck” and they stop in their tracks.

When it comes to the truck, they live in a constant state of hope. There is nothing I can do to cause them to be anything other than hopeful for even a short five minute ride in the truck. They have not and will never become cynical about the truck or their chances at riding in the truck, not matter how rare it might occur. It is both telling and convicting for me when I realize that my Border Collies have a greater sense of hope for a truck ride than I often do for the work of God in the world and in my life.

As Christians, as an Easter people, we are a people of hope. Hope abounds! The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are constantly bringing and stirring hope in, through and around us. In Jesus, there is always potential for so much more than we see at face value. Through the continued work of the Holy Spirit, potential brews and hope abounds. I fear that when it comes to the world around us, our churches and our families we do not live as an Easter people, a people filled with hope, looking for potential and the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our lives.

As a parent, I often nd myself worrying about my kids. I worry about their safety, I wonder and worry about their future. When they are sad or stressed, or have had a bad day, I nd myself worrying about them and wanting to fix their pain and problems. As a parent, it can often be easier to worry about my children than to be lled with hope. It can be easier to think about what can go wrong than to look for all the potential. It is easy to fear the world in which our children and grandchildren will grow up than it is to look forward with hope to what God can do.

While all real hope comes from God, it is not accidental. We get to choose our perspective. We have the ability and opportunity to instill, share and bring hope to our children, families and churches. The choice is ours.

Happy Easter. Hope Abounds!

Marcus J. Carlson is an ordained pastor (LCMC & NALC), with a Doctor of Ministry focused in fam- ily ministry. He currently serves as Senior Pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Auburn, IN. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.

For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:
or visit his website

Four Dangers We Might Be Missing

Faith and family

Connections Magazine, January/February 2018

Four Dangers We Might Be Missing

by Marcus J. Carlson

The world has changed and continues to change rapidly. While there are many things that are no di erent from decades or generations before, there are also many things that have changed dramatically from one generation to the next. In our globalized, technology-rich culture, the rate of change seems to be ever increasing. The burden of following Jesus and raising kids in today’s world is often understated. I have yet to meet anyone who does not have some fear about the world in which their children and grandchildren will grow up in. While we can point to many specific cultural and institutional challenges, there are several underlying challenges I nd most people miss, and they are far more dangerous than many of the external issues we fear as followers of Jesus in a broken world.

There are four specific words I think highlight some of the most signi cant, dangerous and toxic elements of the world today: division, fear, guilt and shame. These are not new concepts or dangers, but their in uence in the church and world today are of great concern.


Currently, the entire purpose of government and media seems to be to distract and divide. We spend hours ghting over insigni cant issues that we have been manipulated into thinking are significant issues. We no longer seem to know how to agree to disagree, and often evaluate people based entirely on their political viewpoints and perspectives. We draw lines in the sand as we assume those who think di erently than we do are the enemy. We have bought into the mindset that there are only two ways to think, and our current view is right while the other is wrong.


Guilt is also a toxic force in our culture and our churches. Guilt, though it may seem Biblical, is not. Guilt is not of God and is a tool of the evil one. It is neither Biblical nor healthy. In my work across the country and the world as a pastor, speaker and educator, I have found guilt and shame to be some of the most powerful and destructive forces in the world today. This is true both among those who are Christian and those who are not. It is true among every generation and every age group.

The real problem with guilt and the feeling it elicits is that it seeks to continue to punish people for their shortcomings, mistakes, failures or o enses. Guilt allows us to dwell in our sins instead of embracing forgiveness in Jesus and living in the grace of God. Most people confuse guilt and remorse. Remorse is the recognition that something wrong has been done and should not have been done; it is a call to live di erently. Remorse is Biblical and healthy. Guilt is the idea that we must continue to live in and punish ourselves for our sins. This, of course, is a blatant denial of what Jesus did for us on the cross, dying for those very sins. Remorse is a value of discipleship; guilt is a rejection of God’s grace.


We react to the news story of the day out of complete and utter fear. The media, government, marketers and even many leaders in the church create a great sense of fear in us in an attempt to motivate and sometimes manipulate. We are a divided people, but unnecessarily so. We can value, love and be in relationship with someone who disagrees with us.

The opposite of fear is love, but fear is easy, sells well and is something that is a powerful motivator. If we are honest with ourselves, many of our reactions, especially negative and divisive ones, are rooted in fear. The only fear we have ever been called to have is of God, and many argue that fear is more about respect than it is being scared.

If the opposite of fear is love, the antidote to fear is trust. At the core of our faith is the principle that we are called to trust God in all things, and the practice of faith in everyday living is to grow in that trust of God. In fact, many of the uses of the word “faith” in the Bible refer to trust. Consider this as well — in almost every instance in the Bible where God appears, the first words God offers are “do not be afraid.” From Moses to the shepherds in Bethlehem, we see a God, we see a God who sees fear as a primary issue to address.


If guilt is a feeling, then shame is an identity. Guilt tells us we must focus on where and what we have done wrong, where we have fallen short of our expectations, the expectations of others and the expectations of the culture as well as our perceived expectations from God. If guilt tells us we must focus on our sins, failures and shortcomings, shame tells us that our sins, failures and shortcomings are our identity. Guilt is about what we have done; shame speaks to who we are.

The message of shame is this: our identity is found in what we do wrong, nothing more, nothing less. But our identity is found in Jesus, not in our sins and shortcomings. Shame is a favorite tool of the evil one, as it forces us to live in our sin instead of living in God’s grace. The Gospel value that is the antidote to shame is repentance. Repentance is a healthy, Biblical approach that means to turn. It means with the help of God, we turn from the ways that are not of God to the ways of God found in the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus and in the Scriptures.

Embrace the Gospel of Jesus

Rather than embrace the lie being sold to us, this gospel of division, fear, guilt and shame, we must instead embrace the Gospel of Jesus. We must embrace the truth of God’s love and grace, the promise that is God’s covenant with us. We must not forget some of the most important tenants of our Lutheran faith: Word alone, faith alone, grace alone. Instead of this gospel of division, fear, guilt and shame, we must embrace the opposite of these ideas found in the Gospel. We must embrace unity, love and faith, remorse and repentance.

We have in front of us an incredible opportunity to change the narrative of the church and the world. The harvest is ripe for God to work in mighty ways in the midst of some of the most uncertain and challenging times we have ever faced in the church and the world. The choice is ours.

One thing is certain, our children do not stand a chance in this world if we pass on to them this false gospel of fear, division, guilt and shame. We believe in a God who has and who will conquer all. As parents and other signi cant adults in the lives of the children and youth of our homes, churches and communities, we are called to be leaders. We are called to pass our faith on to them and to equip them to be disciples in the church and the world in which they live. If we want them to have a healthy, life and world changing faith, we must ght and reject the toxic mindsets of division, fear, guilt and shame that have permeated our world and our faith today.

For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:
or visit his website

Reclaiming Thankfulness

faith and family

Reclaiming Thankfulness

Nov/Dec 2017 Connections

by Marcus J. Carlson

If you are reading this article, you are already someone who has much to be thankful for. You can read, you get mail, you have enough income to get a magazine and of course the many other things that make you blessed. The truth is, that as a culture and in the church, we have lost sight of thankfulness.

I know this is also true when it comes to parenting and to our families. We live in a world that constantly sells fear and focuses our attention on what is not going right, what we do not have, what we need, where we fail and where we do not measure up. Sadly, the church of Jesus Christ has bought into this as has the family.

As a parent, I want the best for my children. I want to give them the best chance at having a Christ-centered, ful lling, happy life with many opportunities and resources. As a parent I am also someone who worries about how my kids behave, how others see them, our family and the two of us as parents. When our kids get in trouble, do something wrong, misbehave, upset church members or hurt someone else, I struggle in many ways. I struggle with how we might look to others. I struggle with wondering if I caused it. I struggle as I wonder if there is something going on with my kid that I do not know about. I can say this, because I know that I am not alone in that.

We are also consumed by the ways that we do not measure up: to God, the ideal image of family, the ideal body image, our possessions and accomplishments and so much more. In the church we are no better. We often talk about what we do not like, what person is doing this thing or that thing wrong, who is upset about what, who is not showing up right now and why, the decline of our membership and attendance, and the decrease in people under 40 in our churches. We are a people who get stuck on what is going wrong and what we do not have instead of being thankful.

The truth is that this is not only unhealthy, it is not the way of Christ, and the devil has a eld day with this. While it may be human tendency to focus on the negative, the way of the disciple is to start with a posture of thankfulness.

Thankfulness starts with the simple and obvious. It also helps us to see God in every moment and every little detail of our life. The God who created the universe cares about every little detail in our lives. Thanking God — for a new day, for food, for family, for a job, for life, for friends, for a home, for a vehicle, for good weather and a laundry list of items — is something we take for granted or forget about every singe day of our lives.

We assume that somehow they do not matter because everyone around us has these things. We assume that somehow we are entitled to these things. We get so focused on how much better the neighbor’s family, job, car or house is than ours that we completely neglect to be thankful for what we have. When it comes to being thankful for the things we are used to having, complacency is a tool of the evil one.

Anyone who has traveled to a second or third world country has learned to appreciate what we often take for granted, such as indoor plumbing, electricity, doors, clothing, health care, etc. While our thankfulness starts with the simple things, we are called to be thankful in the bigger things. Times where God answers prayer for some relational,financial or health challenge. Thankfulness for something that has happened in our faith, our family, our work or some other area of our life. Thankfulness for when God answers prayers in a way that is different from we hoped or expected, such as relieving the suffering of someone we love by calling them home or providing a challenging, but manageable resolution to an issue we are facing.

Thankfulness is not just an idea, a prayer or a habit, it is a posture of our heart. We are to give God thanks in all things, knowing there are always worse alternatives. We give God thanks knowing we are loved and that there is nothing we do or face alone. We give God thanks that we are called and chosen as His children, adopted into His family, saved by His grace.

Thankfulness is a matter of perspective and trust. The cynic sees the glass as half empty, the optimist sees the glass as half full, the disciple of Jesus sees the glass as re llable. There is always hope, there is always something to be thankful for. Anything we face, we do not face alone. No matter how di cult and ugly life becomes in our family, work, church and world, we already know the ending to the story. Jesus wins. Jesus has already won.

Until that day we come face to face with Jesus in our death or His return, we live on this earth as a people of hope, trust and thankfulness until that day where we will live in glory with Jesus where being thankful will be the only possible choice.

We must create space for thankfulness in our worship and our churches. This year, in our own church we have as one of our priorities to focus more on thankfulness and gratitude, to infuse our church culture with a posture of thankfulness. We are challenging each other as pastors, sta and lay leaders to share more often the things we are thankful for. We are taking time to focus on what we have to be thankful for over the challenges we face.

When we talk about the challenges we face, we then take time to give thanks in the midst of those challenges. We are sharing stories of how God has moved in our midst so that everyone can join in thankfulness. We have added time during our prayer time to share prayers of thanks, both corporately and individually.

Thankfulness is not the natural response or posture in our hearts and lives, that is a part of our sinful nature. We must be intentional in our thankfulness and culture, a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts, our families and our churches.

Thankfulness is something we must do better as Christians, as the church of Jesus Christ and as families. We must model thankfulness to our children. We must have thankfulness be a part of our everyday lives.

Our children need to have the message of the Gospel imprinted on their minds, hearts and lives. Thankfulness is part of the message of the Gospel of Jesus. Our children will continue to grow up in a world focused on negativity and fear, a world where our attention is drawn to what we don’t have rather than being focused on giving thanks for what we do have.

One of the best ways to give our children a better world and a better life is to teach and model a posture of thanksgiving. May God give us the courage, wisdom and strength to be thankful in all things.



For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:
or visit his website

Marcus J. Carlson

is an ordained pastor (LCMC & NALC), with a Doctor of Ministry focused in fam- ily ministry. He currently serves as Senior Pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Auburn, IN. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.


Faith and family

Connections Magazine Sept/Oct 2017


by Marcus J. Carlson

This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Refor- mation. While the Reformation occurred over many years, we mark 1517 as its primary year. We also, in the Christian church, mark October as the month of the Reformation cel- ebration. This year, I had the privilege of leading a Reforma- tion tour in Germany where we visited many of the sites of the Reformation. We saw Luther’s home, went to Wittenberg where the 95 Theses were nailed to the door, and went to the church where Luther did most of his preaching. It was a fun, powerful and meaningful experience.

The Reformation tour also opened my eyes in a new and deeper way to the true power of this movement in history. We forget that we have our church because of this movement. We forget that we have the Scriptures in our hands because of this movement. The abuses, brokenness and corruption in the church leading up to the reformation are well documented; however, we do not always recognize the tremendous negative impact that they had on the people.

As a part of this tour, we also went to Italy, including Rome. There I got to see the Sistine chapel, one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sites I have ever seen. Ten minutes in that room was worth the entire trip across the ocean. As a part of that time, we also saw St. Peter’s, one of the most elaborate, largest and most beautiful churches I have ever seen. That said, as I was walking through this church, I could not help thinking about where the money to build it came from. I remembered how the indulgences or “guilt money” from mostly the poor people built this massive structure. I say this not to be critical, but to point out that history is something we have to be aware of, but more importantly, revisit.

In this church and others we visited, we found many kneelers where people could pray. Something was di erent about these kneelers though. They each had a coin slot. Perhaps they were just there to give people a chance to give to the upkeep of the church, but the message they sent was that one had to pay to pray. It was a stark reminder to me that while the Reformation changed much in the church of Jesus Christ, we still need reform.

Sometimes I wonder if the church needs a good reformation every 500 years or so. We have lost our way in many ways — from straying from Scripture to trying to ght a culture war instead of reaching people with the Good News of Jesus, to focusing on self-preservation and the perpetuation of our traditions instead of bringing the Gospel to our communities and the world.

Today, in most churches, the people with the most money carry the most power. Today, in most churches, we expect outsiders to come to us and to quickly behave and act like us. While these are not exactly the corruptions of 500 years ago, they are things that could use a bit of reform. The truth is that the church of Jesus Christ — including the Lutheran Church — has lost its focus, particularly in North America and Europe.

The church is not the only American institution that could use a bit of reform today; the family is another institution that could use reform as well. We all recognize the family faces many challenges in our world and culture. In most cases, I nd people focused on casting blame for this problem rather than looking for, naming and being part of solutions to bring health and reformation to our families. Some blame the government for the woes of the family, while others blame culture, the media, technology, parents or a variety of other factors for the challenges the family faces as an institution today.

As a researcher, pastor and parent, I can tell you that not one of these things is responsible for the challenges the family faces in American today. I can also share with con dence that focusing on whom to blame for our problems will not help us bring the change we all yearn and pray for.

I had the honor and great privilege of being a part of a project with Sola, the NALC and Thrivent that is a celebration of the Reformation and a resource for all churches and families for the reform of our families in our churches and communities. This project is called Holy Families (learn more at This resource is not the reason for this article; however I have found that if I highlight problems, I should also share solutions and resources for the problem to the best of my ability.

What is needed most in our families today is support and encouragement from the church and from all adults who follow Jesus. Our children and youth need many more healthy adult relationships today than ever. Sadly, the trend is heading in the other direction as most children and youth have far fewer adults invested in their lives than any generation in history. So often, the most complex problems have the simplest solutions. As is always the case, the solution to any problem is found in the Scriptures.

From the very beginning, God created us to be in relationship with Him, with the world and with one another. From the beginning, God gave parents a special role and a unique calling when He created the family. It is also clear throughout Scripture that parents are not the only ones who solely in uence children. The church was created to be in part a community of faith and a family. The church and its people have an obligation and calling to care for and minister to the children and youth of their church AND their community.

You see, we are all in this together, whether we are happy about it or not. We need each other. The parents in your churches and communities need you. The children and youth in your churches and communities need you. Together, by the grace of God, we can bring the healthy reform to our churches, communities and families we yearn for, the reform they need, and the reform God desires for them. In order to do that we must be committed to doing it together.

God gave us a gift in the Reformation, but it was a gift not meant to be celebrated as only a historical moment. It was a gift to be embraced as a mindset and posture. Anyone who is a disciple is one who is continually becoming more like Jesus, continually being transformed and continually reforming.

We found reform in the Reformation, but we were also given a vision to be a people of God who are reformed and always reforming.

Marcus J. Carlson

is an ordained pastor (LCMC & NALC), with a Doctor of Ministry focused in family ministry. He currently serves as Senior Pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Auburn, IN. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.

For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:
or visit his website

Apologizing for Apologetics

faith and family

Apologizing for Apologetics

by Marcus J. Carlson

I make it a habit of apologizing. When I say apologizing, I mean sharing remorse, offering an apology. This is slightly different from the often glib and overused, “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry no longer carries the deep meaning it used to; it is simply a passing phrase. That is part of the reason why I make it a point to try to apologize instead of saying I am sorry.

Apologizing is a function of life. It is a part of the practice of forgiveness. It is a reality that comes with being an imperfect, fallen, sinful person. Sometimes the apology is for something intentional; often it is for something unintentional or a simple misunderstanding. Apologizing is a function of relationship, especially marriage and parenting. Living together is not easy stuff, and it is in our homes and with our families that we o er both our best and our worst.

Now what exactly does the word apology have to do with Christian apologetics? While they have the same root word and have some similarities, they are also two very di erent things. In Christian apologetics we are not apologizing for Jesus, the Bible or the Christian faith. Now we often need to apologize for our behavior as Christians, other Christians and the church, but there is never a need to apologize for Jesus. The word apologetics means to give a defense of the Christian faith, of Jesus. It means presenting a rational and reasonable argument for the Christian faith. I will come back to this later.

The truth is, we often confuse giving a defense for our faith with being defensive about our faith. Defensiveness has never produced any good fruit, is often a symptom of an unhealthy ego and rarely leads to healthy relationships. It limits growth and an honest assessment of the issues at hand. So often, we as Christians are defensive of our faith, Jesus, our views and our behavior when really we need not be defensive. It is a fruitless effort.

The best defense of our faith is not in our rational, reasonable arguments, defensiveness or guilt. The best defense of our faith is how we live, how we love, how we treat others. Christianity, like all good movements, was meant to be contagious. Do people look at our lives and the way that we live and love and say, “I want some of that!”? Unfortunately, our defensiveness, our inability to apologize and our judgement of others make others want anything but Christianity.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I have heard it said that perhaps we need a reformation every 500 years. We are truly a church that is reformed and always reforming because while God never changes, we need continual transformation. While the message of the Gospel never changes, the way we communicate it must change as the world around us changes. How we talk to our children and youth as well as others when it comes to Christian apologetics matters. In some ways, apologetics is much easier with this population (our youth) as they tend to be more open and honest. In other ways, it is more complicated as they are still maturing, are unsure and are in uenced by many more forces in their lives compared to adults.

When it comes to our children and youth, the single most important aspect of apologetics is to give them Jesus. It seems like an oversimplification, but it is the truth. Jesus is enough. Jesus is more than enough. Our children and youth are built for connections, for relationships. While they cannot always retain the complexities of the faith, they can embrace Jesus.

Pointing our children and youth to Jesus shows them exactly what God is like. It teaches them the person, message and lifestyle of the Christian faith. Jesus is the ultimate apologetic for us all. As the song goes, “You can have all this world, just give me Jesus.” Jesus is always what we need, is the source of truth and life, and is the one true Christian apologetic.

What our children and youth need the most is Jesus. Not facts and figures. Not arguments and defenses. Not Scripture memorization and indoctrination. They need Jesus. They need to know Jesus. They need to know that they are children of God. They need to know that life as a Christian is about being a disciple, one who imitates Jesus. We can give them all the information in the world, but if there is no transformation, it is not Christianity. Jesus came for more than information. Jesus came to transform us, to make us new.

Our children and youth are still developing. Development is most profound from birth until age 25, with constant physical, emotional, social and spiritual changes happening. At these various stages they can only grasp so much of an argument and a defense. They are full of questions, faith and doubt. This is normal and healthy. We could learn a thing or two from them in this way (faith like a child). Jesus is relevant to every culture, every person, every generation, every race, every person in every corner of the earth.

While a full defense of the Christian faith may not be best for children and youth, that does not mean we do not teach the faith. We must teach the faith and the Scriptures, and point our children and youth to the stories of the Bible. Again, we let these things speak for themselves and allow doubt, doing our best to answer all their questions.

On a more practical note, the best tool for apologetics that I have ever seen in the past two years of my life in ministry is ALPHA. ALPHA is a program that was born out of a church in London, England, more than two decades ago. I have had the privilege of being a participant in ALPHA, leading it and bringing it to a church. I have been able to see its impact on people, from long-time Lutherans to unbelievers. I have been able to attend ALPHA live in London where it started and meet the humble man who started it. It is the most fantastic, Biblically solid, theologically sound course on the Christian faith I have ever seen. Its teaching is deep and meaningful, and yet approachable to all.

We use ALPHA for part of our con rmation teaching and we have had more than a quarter of our members go through it. It is a key part of our ministry as we seek to reach the lost, unchurched and dechurched. It is honest, authentic and gracious in its strong approach to apologetics. I strongly recommend it for youth, adults and any church serious about reaching people outside the church.

We can give a defense for our faith with our lives and with our words. We can give a defense of our faith in logical arguments, living a life of love and service and in our relationships with others. Yet, the truth remains that Jesus and the Christian faith speak for themselves in so many ways.

Just give them Jesus. There is no more powerful apologetic than a person living like Jesus, loving and serving others, bringing transformation in Jesus Christ.

For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:
or visit his website

The Challenge of Parenting

faith and family

The Challenge of Parenting

by Marcus J. Carlson

Being a parent is a great joy; in fact, it is one of the greatest joys life has to o er. It also is one of the most challenging tasks we are ever asked to do as human beings. I often tell expecting or new parents that parenting is one of the greatest and most meaningful things you will ever get to do, but it is also one of the hardest.

Like many things in our world, there is a lot about parenting that has not changed over the years, yet there are also many aspects of parenting that have changed dramatically and over a very short period of time. Over the past decade in particular, as I have worked with parents and made my best attempt at this thing called parenting, I have made some observations I believe can be helpful to us all, even those of us who are not currently parents.

The truth is the world is busier, messier, more dangerous, more divisive and uncertain than it has been at almost any other time in history. This adds to the challenge for parents as their children have greater access to resources and information, both good and bad. Many children face higher levels of pressure and anxiety than previous generations, while experiencing greater levels of resource and entitlement. This makes for a challenging and toxic combination.

Most parents today feel particularly alone. Though we have more tools and opportunities to connect in the world today, we have become more isolated as a society. In our busy world today, many parents feel very alone. Few parents I know or have ever spoken to feel as though they have friends who are also parents they can journey with in an honest and authentic way. For those who do have connections, they are far too few and far too often insufficient.

Many parents also feel judged by other parents, grandparents and adults in their lives. I could not begin to count the number of parents who see other families around them as so much better and as perfect, while I know full well that those very families face some of the same and perhaps even greater challenges. The grass is always greener on the other side, and many of our families have felt a need to pretend or put on an image of being more put together than they are — especially in churches and around other church members.

At one church I served, I often had the opportunity to see this dynamic in action every Sunday. From certain windows in the office area I could see a vast majority of the parking lot. Each Sunday I could look out the windows, and based on where a family would park in the lot I could tell which families were having a harder morning than others. I could easily discern which families were still nishing their argument before they walked into church to put their perfect image on display.

Parents today are simply overwhelmed. While this may have been true throughout all of history, it is more widespread than ever before. I have been blessed to have been surrounded by many wise people. My kids are gifted with many adults in their lives who care about them. We have been privileged to work with many kids and families, even before we had our own. We have had careers in education that have given us access to great tools and information.

Even with all of this at our own disposal, we have been overwhelmed many times as parents. Added to these three challenges is the reality that today more grandparents than ever are raising their grandchildren. No one plans to spend their golden years, the end of their career and their retirement season, raising children. Parenting today is a great challenge.

So often in talking with and working with other parents, I nd myself frequently doing two things: letting them know that what they are experiencing is normal and giving them permission to struggle.

Any good parent wants to be the best parent possible, and also wants to be better parents than the ones before and around them. We love our children and want to give them our best, but there are plenty of times where, for whatever reason, that does not happen. Most parents need to know that what they are feeling, experiencing and going through is normal. Many parents feel as though they are the only ones facing a particular challenge when in reality it is a common problem.

I also nd I often need to give parents permission to struggle. Parenting can be a scary adventure, and so often we doubt ourselves. Not only do we doubt ourselves, but many parents worry about how others view them. More times than not, we simply need permission to trust our instincts.

All this said, we are all in this together, and we need each other. No two parents can raise a child alone. It takes a village, Christ’s village, to raise a healthy, Christ-following child. Above all else — and perhaps more than ever, parents need each other. We need to learn from one another, support one another, encourage one another and pray, cry and laugh with one another.

I have found that gathering parents together is a gift to all. The beauty of the body of Christ, the church, is that God knew that while we each have a relationship of our own with Jesus, we need each other and faith is best expressed and lived in community. Every parent needs a community of parents alongside of them as they journey together through this gift, this adventure and calling we know as parenting.

In working with educators, social workers, pastors and other leaders who work with parents, I often remind them their job is to support and encourage parents, even if they do not agree with their parenting approach and even when their parenting falls short. We are meant to be a complement to parents, not a supplement. Those of us who have in uence in the lives of children and youth must build up, support, complement and partner with parents. We are all in this together, and our children and our youth need us all.

It is not just our children and youth that need us, however, it is all of the parents in our midst. In order to give our kids our best, we must start with building up and partnering with parents. Parenting is a calling and a gift, but is also a challenge. It is a challenge in which God walks with us, but it is also a challenge that should never be experienced alone. After all, we are all in this together.

Marcus J. Carlson is an ordained pastor (LCMC & NALC), with a Doctor of Ministry focused in family ministry. He cur- rently serves as Senior Pas- tor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Auburn, IN. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.

For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:
or visit his website

Holy Families Parenting Page-Dealing with Money

Holy Families “On the Same Page” – Topical Parent Resource

Dealing With Money

How do we live as “Holy Families” when it comes to handling money?

Living as holy families means we should live as God intended for us to live in every aspect of our lives. We should model our lives after Jesus, imitating him as his disciples. One of the areas many Christians and families struggle to understand is in the area of money or nances. As parents, grandparents and other in uen- tial adults in the lives of our children, we must teach them about money, model stewardship, and give them a Biblical perspective on money. He reminds us that all we have comes from him and that it is to be used wisely in a Godly way. God calls us to be good stewards, to give and to be generous in all we do. We must teach and model this for our children as well.

In Luke 16, Jesus spent some time talking to his followers about money, wealth, generosity, and indebtedness. First he told a par- able about a dishonest manager who was in trouble with his mas- ter for wasting the master’s money and resources. We are called to be wise managers of what we have been given so that we neither squander our resources nor hoard them. At the end of the story Jesus warns his disciples, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be de- voted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

Here are some practical ways to teach and model stewardship for our children:

1. Give them a weekly allowance that is age appropriate.

2. Teach them about spending, saving and giving with their allowance.

3. Create ways for them to earn extra money for extra work.

Allowance is a wonderful way to teach stewardship and how we are to live in ac- cordance with God’s word. We can begin by simply teaching our children how to set aside a portion of their weekly allow- ance for spending, saving and giving. As we model this for them, they learn about managing money, spending wisely, saving for the future and giving to the church all at the same time.

The key is to teach our children that all we have comes from God. We need to model stewardship in a way that is consistent with what God intended us to do. Living as holy families re ects our love for God and all He has done for us. It also re ects the love and hope we have for our children.

Topical conversation starters to help parents stay “on the same page” with each other and their families.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) Why is money so important? How does God want us to think about money?

b) What are some ways we can model Godly liv- ing with all of the resources we have?

c) What does generosity look like to you?

d) What does Jesus mean when he says we cannot serve God and money?

Asking for God’s Blessing:

God, we thank you for all that we have. Help us to recognize that everything we have ultimately comes from you: our skills, our work, our money, possessions and relationships. Give us a spirit of generosity as we seek to be stewards of all we have. Help us to live Godly lives as holy families in all aspects of our lives, including our money. We thank you for your generosity towards us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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