Refusing to be halfway in

How many times have you invited someone and never received an invitation back?

It hurts.

This isn’t new to our generation. Maybe connecting with people is complicated by the presence of social media and a disconnection in neighborhoods, but reaching out and not receiving meaningful relationship in return is not new.

Paul addresses this universal human concern directly in Galatians 4:15-20:

 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Paul has theological concerns that are the purpose of his letter to the Galatians. He wants them to be spiritually free, not burdened by this yoke of circumcision and Levitical law that the Judaizers were trying to deceive them with. But he knew that spiritual freedom didn’t exist in a box. Spiritual freedom impacts every freedom in the Galatians’ lives, and in ours as well.

Paul’s message was that he wanted, and expected, real, genuine, honest, and reciprocal relationship with the Galatians. Is that too much to ask?

To some extent, yes, and Paul knows it. Our relationships will not be perfect. We are all sinful people. Paul speaks about this in his own letter to the Roman church, in Romans 3:9-12:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

We are all in this relational reality boat together. I mess up, you mess up. We offer confession and forgiveness and the planet turns and turns.

However, Paul also points out that there is a difference between sin present in our relationships and trading in people we love to impress other people. I can’t deal with masks. I can’t deal with fake, and very many of us cannot deal with that kind of rejection.

Paul, a very real person, had every right to be heartbroken, angry, sad, and bent out of shape about this kind of behavior in a relationship, particularly in the church.

Paul’s message to the Galatians and to us is:

We are all in.

All in.

Paul didn’t shut off his love for them – he wrote and labored for them. He references the pain of his heart and mind, the cost of being tossed aside by his fellow brothers in Galatians 4:19:

…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

This is serious labor, the work of relationship.

Just as children are born and grow over time, so does relationship and Paul is going the distance, not giving of himself half-heartedly. Loving when it’s hard. Caring when it feels like too much work, when it physically hurts.

He also calls some BS. Honesty in relationship, spoken in love and with the foundation of real relationship, breaks open the doors for Christ to shape and grow us. Paul, wraps his challenging statements in love for the Galatians.

 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (Galatians 4:20)

“I wish I could speak gently to you. I wish this conversation wasn’t so necessary or so painful…” (Heidi’s paraphrase)

However, he calls it like it is. He expects the Galatians to be all in, as well; Nothing less.

Some people include so that the can exclude.

Whether on purpose or because they are unaware of life outside themselves, this is being halfway in a relationship. It’s not ok.

Paul says, All in or no in.

It gives me strength in relationship to know that I can call it like it is in love, have some level of Biblical expectation of people, while letting Christ form each of our imperfect selves. All wrapped up in the grace of a God who does not disappoint, who always includes.

God is completely and utterly all in.

Romans 8:31-32 is one of my favorite Bible passages about our All-in God:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

All things- exactly what we need for freedom in our relationships, exactly what we need for this day, for this difficult person, for being true and real and honest, when life is grand and when it’s tougher than we ever imagined.

Lord, you are an All-In God. Guide us in our steps, our days, and our relationships to love and set boundaries as You would have us, but to never give up hope that You are working, to give when it’s hard labor, and to love when we do not receive. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.


Discussion questions:

What are your relationship pet peeves? When are relationships hard for you? What happens in them to make them hard?

When has God called you to have stronger boundaries, while remaining “all in” in a relationship?

When has someone invited you further into their life in a way that spoke grace into your life?

Freedom from heritage: It’s complicated

Whose son or daughter are you?

Consider your answer in the space here for a moment or jot it down in your Bible study notebook.

 

You may be like me and write some names with, “It’s complicated” in the margin. 😉

Your storyline might look slightly simpler, but life is rarely without complication.

Paul accuses the Galatians, at the beginning of Galatians 3, of foolishness, not because of their history, or their life circumstances, but because of their definitions of all of it.

Read Galatians 3:6-9 and look for the answer to this question:

In what did the Judaizers want the Galatians to find their justification, their ground for inclusion in the community of faith?

… just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

Abraham, sons of Abraham, along with Abraham…

Abraham was the heritage of the Jews, the father, the great-great-great to beat all great-grandfathers. He represented the seed of faith for them. Without his legacy, I think they felt unmoored, unsure where to turn, unsure what they would point at in order to say, “I’m ok. You’re ok. We’re justified. Safe.”

We can experience this too when we look to our parents, our grandparents, or our heritage for mooring, for identity and certainty. When broken marriages and families are part of our history, we don’t know where to put that. When national oppression, the Crusades, the Holocaust are in the lineup of our family or faith tree, ack, I don’t even know where to put that.

But God does.

Paul helps the Galatians, and even the Judaizers by redefining their heritage. Abraham made sense to them. The line of Abraham has been what they followed for generations. God, through Paul’s pen, offers a new way of defining their heritage in Abraham:

Abraham received the Gospel beforehand.

It wasn’t that Abraham received the law of circumcision that mattered. That wasn’t the heritage that God was passing down for generation to generation. It was that he received the Gospel to pass down from generation to generation.

I am not, and Paul is not, discounting the epic that is the nation of Israel, the people of Israel’s story. It’s that the law of circumcision, the heritage of Israel, is only as useful as what it points to – the Gospel.

This is what Abraham passed down:

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”  Genesis 15:6-7

This is what Paul points to in Galatians 3:6-7, as well.

God spoke and Abraham believed. It wasn’t his name that mattered to God or where he came from.

God spoke. Abraham believed. Abraham, in all his issues and complications (and there are many – see Genesis 16 or Genesis 20 for just two examples) was credited as righteous because of God’s Word spoken over Him, God’s Word passed down through Him.

Just as complications of families’ lines, heritage, and nationalities are passed down and threaded through our history- the good, the bad, and the ugly – so are God’s work and God’s Word.

God can work outside of us and in spite of us.

I’m complicated, you’re complicated, families are complicated, heritage is complicated.

Isn’t all of life?

There are no easy answers.

Through the Word, the Gospel spoken, Faith works in and around all of the complication.

Freedom doesn’t come dependent on where you came from or who you came from. God’s Word spoken brings freedom to our families. If your family passed that freedom on to you, great! If not, it’s your turn. You are passing on the faith now, in this time, to the next generation. From the time of Abraham, to the Gospels, to the Apostle Paul and the Galatians, and now to us, freedom comes in the Word of Life.

We are opening that Word together, now, as you read. That is a powerful thing. We share it with one another. We share it with the next generation – that is a powerful thing.

No matter what complications come our way or we put into our family line, when we have the Word, share the Word, live in the Word, there is freedom.


Discussion questions:

What complications in your family history can you identify?

What complications in Christian history can you identify? (The not so pretty times, decisions, and pieces of Christianity across time.)

What freedom have you seen God work in the midst of and through the complications?

Ministry Moment: Connecting Kids

Making church a place where kids find grace is a challenge.

We call church a holy place, a place set apart, a place of awe and, yes, reverence.

There’s a reason we don’t play tag by the altar (although my kids have tried!), we don’t wear sweatpants there (most of the time), and we don’t smash Cheetos in our hands and rub them in the carpet (again, we’ve tried this, it’s not a good idea).

We could do all those things, but we normally don’t.

For us, these concepts seem pretty straightforward, and have a lot of wiggle room, but for a kid, this might make the church seem full of a whole lot of rules, and more must’s and should’s than we really intended.

It doesn’t mean we should start holding relay races in the sanctuary (although you could), but it does mean that we can take an extra measure of care to help kids know that the place we call church is full of sweet gospel grace, a place they want to be, a place they can be themselves and be valued just as they are- tiny little sinner/saints.

So, beyond teaching children that the church is people, more than it’s a place, what can we do?*

Kids often want to see and do, and sometimes we just need ideas in order to help them do just that; to feel like a part of something, an honored member of our church culture, not a lesser member of the Body of Christ.

Today, we’re going to get into kids’ heads and think about what they would like, where we can intersect their lives with the Gospel message so that they can hear it with three simple hands-on ideas.

Idea #1 – The Luther Rose or Cross Lego Challenge

So, if you haven’t heard, it’s almost Reformation time. This year has the bonus of being the 500th anniversary, so there’s lots of celebrations happening. You don’t have to be Lutheran to appreciate Luther, who essentially founded the modern protestant church. Luther created this really cool symbol to give an accessible overview of his theology. It makes me think of modern day graphics we design, based on our church mission statements. You could also have kids design a lego cross of any kind and see the awesome ideas they come up with!

What kid doesn’t love legos? Any opportunity to use them at church is a good one. This also helps us not compartmentalize church and Jesus. When kids play with their toys while considering theology and Christ’s gifts to us, they also learn that Jesus doesn’t just exist in one place, but is in our whole lives.

This challenge is organized by making a sample, deciding on a time period for the Lego challenge, announcing the Lego challenge turn-in date, and creating a display area for everyone to see the cool creations the kids make. I would suggest a prize for participation that is also kid friendly – an ice cream coupon, hot cocoa and chips packet, or a devotional book and cool pens; Maybe the grand prize winner gets a graphic novel Bible or Christian T-shirt. Prizes aren’t necessary, but they say – “hey, you took time and effort in this, thank you.”

I’ll even write the announcement for you – “Hey kids! Can you make the Luther’s Rose with Legos? Can you design a bold and colorful cross to share the message of Jesus? Design and build the Luther’s Rose or your cross by (insert date) and bring it into the church office. We’ll display it (insert location), so that everyone can see and hear about God’s great love for them.”

Learn more about Luther’s Rose and see a sample here

This guy created a large template! That’s some cool dedication. I believe he also has a blog called Godbricks. Very fun.

Idea #2 – Design Your Own Church Building Challenge

Obviously I like challenges. 😉 Kids do too. They say action and excitement in their world, and even if they never turn a “product” in, they learn and grow in trying or in seeing others do it.

Every kid loves to create ideas of their “dream home.” Most contain exorbitant items like bowling alleys and olympic swimming pools. If you live at our house, Wookies would reside in your dream home basement.

Imagine if children were given the opportunity to tell you what they would love to see at church. There can be boundaries like “church must included crosses” or even “church must have room for lots of people to worship.” But this gives us the opportunity to talk about church as people, not a place, and how eclectic the place we call church could look, as well as what it’s purposes are.

Give every child who would like to participate a 16×20 piece of drawing paper or a cut from a giant drawing roll, so that everyone has the same supplies and it can easily be hung up. Ask them to turn them in by a certain date and have a family night to eat and celebrate the church, aka the kiddos and people who have creativity and love Jesus!

Idea #3 – The Sing-a-Song-of-Praise Video Challenge

Kids love music and song, almost universally. They can easily join in on hymns like, I Am Jesus Little Lamb and Christ the Lord is Risen Today, or praise songs like 10,000 Reasons and Beautiful Name, in worship. They can rock a VBS song at the top of their lungs and know it perfectly within three days. They can memorize huge segments of Scripture given a song and a chance to practice.

This challenge gives kids a platform to share some music. They can film themselves or ask mom and dad to it, they could make up a song, but they can just sing one of their favorite songs they learned from church. They can do it as a Sunday School class, or a family, or on their own. It is less intimidating than a solo or even group sing in front of the church. A video could be shared each week before the beginning of worship or when announcements are given.

This teaches kids that everyone has a gift to share and the language of praise is universal. It’s fun and wonderful to share songs, and we do it for God, not for people. It gives them the chance to give a small offering to their Savior and bless all of our worship as a side benefit.

Whatever you do – just love them.

Love them strong and love them hard. Give them grace and room to grow. Speak with empathy and compassion. These children, they are gifts from the Lord and where would our churches be without them?

*You can hear more on my theological and psychosocial perspective of kids in church in the podcast below, or subscribe to the I Love My Shepherd podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.