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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:

marcusjcarlson@me.com
or visit his website at:www.revdrorange.com

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.

Reform

Faith and family

Connections Magazine Sept/Oct 2017

Reform!

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 holyfamilytime.com). 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:

marcusjcarlson@me.com
or visit his website at:www.revdrorange.com

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:

marcusjcarlson@me.com
or visit his website at:www.revdrorange.com

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:

marcusjcarlson@me.com
or visit his website at:www.revdrorange.com

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. solapublishing.com). Written by Marcus Carlson. Permission granted to copy for congregational and home use.

Holy Families Parent Page-Dealing with Change

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

Dealing With Change

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

Change is difficult for us all and often gets more di cult as we get older. Even our children have di culty 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 fami- lies. 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 first 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. Look- ing 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 di cult 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 pres- ent 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 tran- sition. 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 transi- tion, 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 indif- ferent, 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.

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

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 Je- sus we pray. Amen.

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

Holy Families Parent Page-Loss of a Pet

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

Dealing With Loss of a Pet

How do we live as “Holy Families” when we lose a pet?

Loss is always difficult. When we lose a family member, friend or another person, it is di cult regardless of the circumstances, their age or even our age. Loss is hard when it is expected and when it is not. While losing a person we know or love is di cult, losing a pet can also be very di cult, especially for children. Teaching children about loss is one of the hardest and yet most signi cant tasks par- ents must tackle in their ministry to their children.

Some of the most painful moments come when our children are hurt or sad. There are few things as painful as seeing your own children in pain, especially when you do not feel equipped to handle the problem. It is natural to want our children not to experience pain, yet pain and loss are a reality of life. We have an obligation to help our children deal with pain and loss as we prepare them for adulthood.

The loss of a pet can feel as signi cant as losing a person, especial- ly to children. Pets are not people, but they are often family. Many of us can be very thankful that as children we grew up with pets; pets teach responsibility, care and love, amongst other things. All creation matters to God, and all creatures have been created by God to display his glory, grace and love, even those animals, in- sects and other creatures we are not too fond of! Helping children understand our unique place in God’s creation as human beings made in the image of God is important. Helping our children value all of creation is also very important as we have been given the task of care-takers of the creation.

What do we do, as parents, when we face the loss of a pet in our family? First, we thank God for all creation, especially the pet that we have lost. Teaching our children to start with thankfulness is essential. Second, we allow ourselves and our children to grieve.

Grief is normal and takes on many stages and forms. It is di erent for every person in every situation. Model and allow grief. Third, we ask God to be with us in our time of grief. God always walks with us, espe- cially in our pain and we can trust God with the future. No one can say for certain what happens to our pets when they die, but like our own salvation, we trust in God’s love and grace.

Loss is never easy. We thank God for family, friends, and for all of creation. We can trust God in the midst of our grief and walk with our children in the midst of theirs, reminding them that Jesus walks with them always.

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

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) What is your favorite creature? What is or was your favorite pet?

b) Why do you think God gives us pets?

c) How can we learn about God and love from our pets? What are our responsibilities to our pets?

d) How does your faith in God impact how you think about the loss of a pet?

Asking for God’s Blessing:

God, we thank you for all that you have created. We thank you for our pets. We thank you for the opportunity to care for them and for making them part of our family. May we worship and praise you in all that we do. We thank you for joy and beauty and we thank you even for pain and loss. Help us to love all of creation just as you do. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

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

Holy Families Page-Dealing with Fear

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

Dealing With Fear

How do we live as “Holy Families” in the face of fear?

Fear is a very common and natural feeling. We all have things we fear. Some of them are things like snakes or spiders; others are speci c situations such as heights or water, and others might be life challenges such as nances or health issues. We all have things we fear as individuals and as parents. Being a parent is certainly one of the scariest adventures we may ever experience. Worrying about the health and well-being of our children is a natural, yet unpleasant reality we all face at various times as we raise our kids.

Fear is not something unique to an individual, nor is it unique to our time. The Bible is lled with stories of people, of God’s chil- dren, dealing with fear. In fact, words that address the issue of fear appear in the Bible repeatedly, “Do not be afraid.” Every time we read in the Scriptures about a supernatural encounter with God, we see this same comment: “Do not be afraid!” We hear about it when humans encounter angels, Jesus, burning bushes, and en- counters on mountaintops. Over and over again, every time God shows up, the dialogue begins with, “Do not be afraid.”

We live in a world driven by fear; our media sells it, businesses market with it and our government runs on it. 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. 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 as his people 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.

The Bible does talk about fear in another way, fear of the Lord. This does not mean what we often think it means, to literally be afraid of God. Rather, it refers to a posture of respect, honor and awe, which is an en- tirely di erent thing. Instead of knee-shak- ing, nail-biting fear, God calls us to a life of trust. Trust is the opposite of fear.

Nothing good has come from fear in the long term, but life is always found and en- hanced in the midst of hope, regardless of the circumstances. We are a people of hope, not fear. We are called to trust God in all circumstances. The word faith means “to trust.” In a world that sells us a culture of fear, we are called as followers of Jesus to a di erent way of living. We are called to trust. Do not be afraid for there is hope and his name is Jesus.

Fear has far too much power in our lives and Jesus has far too little.

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 do you think God says “do not fear” so often in the Bible?

b) What are the things you are most afraid of? Why?

c) Why is it so hard to trust God with every part of our lives? How can we allow God to help us with our fear?

Asking for God’s Blessing:

God, we thank you for always being with us. We thank you in our most insecure and fearful mo- ments that we are not alone. God help us to hear your gentle whisper of ‘do not fear’ the fearful mo- ments of life. God help us to trust you with every aspect of our lives knowing that you care for us, will protect us and will make good of any di cult situation. Amen.

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

Holy Families

I have had the honor to have worked on a project with my wife Jessica and some good folks from Sola Publishing. This project was a part of the Holy Families initiative with the NALC and Thrivent. We created a video small group curriculum along with a study guide. You can learn more and view it all here.

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!