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. ūüėČ

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 ‚Äúbelieved God, and it was counted to him as righteousness‚ÄĚ?

7¬†Know then that it is¬†those of faith who are¬†the sons of Abraham.¬†8¬†And the Scripture, foreseeing that¬†God would justify¬†the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying,¬†‚ÄúIn you shall all the nations be blessed.‚ÄĚ9¬†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, ‚ÄúI am the¬†Lord¬†who¬†brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans¬†to give you this land to possess.‚Ä̬† 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. ūüėČ 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.

 

The Truth about Mental Health: For you and for your children


I would like to proclaim a truth about mental health:

It just is.

Mental health is something we all have. I know we’d like to relegate it to people with some diagnosable illness, someone far different from ourselves, or some distant cousin that no one talks about, but you have it. I have it. We all have it.

Mental health is part of all of us. It’s made up of our neurons and hormones and synapses. It’s made up of our emotions, our sensory system, our experiences, our heredity, and our relationships.

We have this gigantic part of us that we are ignoring, wishing, hoping-for-the-best that it stays on the up-and-up.

Let’s proclaim a new truth together: Mental Health is.

We all have it. It’s a part of us. Sometimes it’s happy and doing well. Sometimes it’s struggling. Some of us struggle with it more, others of us less. Sometimes it needs treatment, medications, and more support than we’d like, but it’s better that way; peaceful, functioning well with some help. But it’s important to understand that it’s a thing inside each of us, not relegated to someone less than, outcast, or disconnected. It may look different in each of us, more dramatic perhaps in some of us, mostly happy in others of us, but it’s always there, a part of us, woven and knit in us by our Creator, messed with by a world full of sin.

In today’s podcast I present more on this truth. I pray it helps lighten the shame associated with mental health, for us and for our children.

Sometimes, we think we need to “keep it together.” We need to be at the top of our mental health game and so does everyone in our households.

When we read Proverbs 22:6:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.

we think “training them up right” means that we just need to teach them the Word, good values, good morals, good character, and then they’ll be able to “keep it together.”

Truth: It doesn’t work like that.

Training them up means sharing hope and sharing the struggle. It means gathering around the Word so that when the hard times come we know where to turn and so do our children. It means helping them learn that there is no shame in sharing the burden, getting help from experts, and being honest about brain chemistry, individual needs, and when mental health goes awry.

Our children won’t be perfect. We won’t be perfect. Often mental health is out of our control, out of their control; but it is never out of God’s control. He is in the realm of synapses and emotions and struggle too. He is God of even this- when it’s good, when it’s bad, and when it’s ugly.

Truth: We all have mental health.

Let’s normalize that. Let’s rejoice in the gift of one another for support and encouragement when we each need it. Let’s thank the Lord for the creation of medicines, for doctors and nurses and therapists who are in the know, for hope in a God who values our tears when we’re hurting and holds our arms up in the triumph…for us, and for our children.

 

I Love My Shepherd Podcast, Episode 17: The Truth about Mental Health