Raise ‘em Up!

Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6

Raise ‘em up to the sky. If you hear that you’re probably in a bad situation. When I hear that phrase I automatically think of old westerns or crime dramas. When someone is being robbed or arrested they are often told to put their hands in the air. (There is some ironic symmetry there.) However, there are positive reasons to raise your hands as well! You might “put your hands in the air like you just don’t care.” Or, you could raise your hands in celebration, or in worship!

Obviously, that isn’t what I’m talking about this month. The scripture gives it away. It’s not our hands that I’m talking about raising, but our children. The writer of Proverbs was right when he wrote about the importance of educating children in our values from an early age. Time and time again I hear stories about how young men and women raised in the church have walked away from faith, or at least organized religion, for a time. But the majority of those stories are of a return to faith as they get older. They were started on a path of relationship with God. Whether or not they actually turned from it is a case-by-case discussion, and I would say open for interpretation. The common theme is their return later in life.

You may not know it, but I am one of those who walked away from church in my early adulthood. Partially as a way to avoid my calling to ministry, and partly because of a rebellious streak, I quit going to church during college and the few years following. I don’t think I ever really turned from the path, but I certainly did take an extended siesta on the side of the road! What brought me, and many others like me, back to the church was the formative way I was nurtured in the faith as a child and a teenager.

Which is why I write to ask for your help, now. Some of the most important experiences in my young life were had in Sunday School, and during Vacation Bible School in the summer. And, as I got older, summer camp was foundational for my spiritual growth and development, as well as my first experience hearing a call to ministry. The young people of our church need you to help provide these same types of formative experiences for them.

Over the next few weeks we will be setting the date and revving the preparations for this summer’s VBS into high gear. I imagine we will be looking to hold a weekend VBS again this year; either an all-day Saturday event, or Friday evening and Saturday. (That’s going to be up to the parents!) We’ll need people to help with snacks, games, crafts, bible stories, and maybe more!

Maybe more importantly, we need some help during the next school year with teachers for our Sunday school classes! Our growing and maturing population of kids really need separate Sunday school classes for pre-K to Kindergarten, elementary, and youth. If you are willing to help serve in this way, I’d like to sit down with you in the next few weeks and plan the curriculum for the school year!

Passing Judgment

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.
For with the judgment you make you will be judged,
and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Matthew 7:1-2

Jesus offers us a distinct challenge during the Sermon on the Mount. He urges us to suspend our judgment of others and to love them as they are. It is much easier said than done.

I remember vividly my visits to my dentist as a young man. Every time he would ask me the same question, “How are you today?” My reply was usually something along the lines of, “I’m good.” Inevitably he would respond with “Just good? I was hoping for ‘Excellent.’” At first it seems like a jovial and innocuous exchange, right? But really it shows the pervasiveness of our judgment.

We judge one day as “good” and the next as “bad” by criteria that are certainly subjective. Furthermore, if we are honest with ourselves we project our judgment on others all the time. We may judge parents by the behavior of their children, or a business-person by the profitability of their company. We are constantly judging. One thing is better than another. There is good and bad food to eat. There may even be a right or wrong way to squeeze the toothpaste.

Sure, some of those examples are exaggerations of judgments. They are supposed to be, because they highlight the fact that most of our lives are based on judgment. And yet, Jesus says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” Which I find interesting because the person we often judge most critically is the one who lives inside our skin. The majority of people I know are hyper-judgmental of their own actions, thoughts, and feelings. We judge others, and we judge ourselves; every day!

I truly wish I could give you a magical formula which would allow you to suspend judgment and simply enjoy life in the moment, experiencing all the joy, and sorrow, without labeling one emotion as good, and another as bad. But, there is no such formula. What I do know is in those times where we are able to suspend our judgment of what is good and bad we can experience the peace that passes all understanding.

In the letter to the Philippian church, Paul writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We hear Paul’s admonition to not worry, and to be at peace. But, sometimes we miss the key as to how to live that way. It is the same key which can enable us to live without judgment. Simply it is a life lived in prayer. In our individual and corporate prayers we find ourselves deepening our relationship with the living God. And it is in that relationship that we find a way to live and love without judgment, with the grace and mercy of God ever before us. May it be so in your life. May it be so in all of our lives.