Above All Names – Chief Cornerstone

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Psalm 118:22

Jesus as Chief Cornerstone certainly gives us a solid mental image of the Truth that He alone is our firm foundation. He holds up the buildings that are our lives, our families, our purpose, our worth, and our souls. However, this passage reminds us that this Cornerstone, this Foundation was rejected by men, deemed not good enough, not worthwhile. We know differently, and when the world rejects Him, we stand in the knowledge that He does not reject us. We run to Him in His Word for sure footing, solid grounding on which to build in this world. Take a moment today to hold a stone in your hand and remember His faithfulness in the midst of this world full of rejection.

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!Β 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. πŸ˜‰ 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.

 

Gather together

The Lutheran Service Book, copyright Concordia Publishing House



Day 2 – We gather together

β€œWe gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
he chastens and hastens his will to make known;
the wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.”

Can you hear the hymn in your head? I was reading Scripture and commentary to get ready for this post and I just could not get this particular hymn out of my mind. The hymn is traditionally a thanksgiving hymn, but was originally used for patriotic purposes by the Dutch. The last time I heard it, it was at a baptism.

I watched the darling baby being baptized and I sat back and listened. I didn’t sing. I listened. In fact, I entered that weird vortex when everything seems to still around you and it’s just you and God. Except it wasn’t. It was me and God and the voices of a hundred of God’s precious people singing praise to His name.

β€œBeside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
so from the beginning the fight we were winning;
thou, Lord, wast at our side; all glory be thine!”

Beside us, joining, maintaining, at our side. Gathering together Scripturally is almost always about relationship. This made it a perfect hymn for baptism- it’s all about relationship!

Let’s look at the Ecclesiastes 3:5 passage to refresh our memories regarding the wording…
β€œa time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;”

The counter to casting away stones from yesterday is to gather stones together.

What can we learning about gathering from Scripture? Open your Bibles and check out the following passages. I’ll include the text of two passages here for ease of use, but challenge yourself to dig in!

Genesis 25:8 β€œAbraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.”

Genesis 31:43-55
1 Kings 18:19-20
Ezra 3:1
Isaiah 11:12
Mark 2:2
John 11:51-53
Acts 13:44-45

2 Thessalonians 2:1 β€œNow concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers…”

The people and things in these Scriptures were not simply collected and placed haphazardly. These people were gathered together for a purpose, whether as His people or by Him as the diaspora, or even in order to plot against Him. Even that is by His hand- gathered together.

One of my favorite stories of gathering is in Esther 4:10-17… If your Bible is handy, read the whole chapter. Here, I’ll focus on these seven verses:
10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, 11 β€œAll the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one lawβ€”to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.”
12 And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. 13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, β€œDo not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” 15 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16 β€œGo, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Underline Mordecai’s wisdom for Esther in verse 13:
β€œDo not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.”

This passage in Scripture that is all at once familiar and confusing to us, with all of it’s names and ‘he said’ ‘she said’, reminds us that God values all His people. He sees us for sure as individuals, but He sees us as community also.
When we stand as Christians, we stand for the Body of Christ. We are not living our lives for only ourselves, but for one another. And each of you are being lived for, by your Christian brothers and sisters. The great cloud of witnesses isn’t just a fun picture of the saints gone before us and the saints around us. It is a living and active breathing ministry, to the whole Church…to you, beloved.

Look around you. Who are you here for in this time and place? Who is God gathering you to and with?

This historical event from Esther gives us a glimpse of a moment when the people were all gathered together for the needs of the body. Reread verse 16:
β€œThen Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, β€œGo, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.’”

One for all and all for one. Sometimes persecution brings scattering, sometimes it brings complete and utter unity, all for Him.

What has God asked of you in your time and place? How does this desire He has laid on your heart, or task He has given you, gather you with His people?

In the end, we will be gathered together in Him, perfect and whole and complete. Until then, let us spur one another on- casting living stones, gathering them together, all in His time.
Discussion questions:
Look around you. Who are you here for in this time and place? Who is God gathering you to and with?
What has God asked of you in your time and place?
How does this desire He has laid on your heart or task He has given you gather you with His people?
(All Bible quotations are from the ESV Scripture translation.*I am unsure of who to credit for the Hymn “We Gather Together.” I found it in an old file from a retreat. The author itself is unknown.)