How to respond to the in-your-head monologue with grace?

God loves us even when we screw up.

I don’t know why, but this always amazes me. Really? God is still willing to take a chance with me? In spite of my crummy choices?

It’s not what I typically tell myself. My internal dialogue runs along the lines of…

  • I can’t risk that. I might fail.
  • I can’t do that. I’m not good enough.
  • Who do you think you are, that people should do as you suggest?

But God keeps trying to help me replace this grinding, degrading voice. God reaches out to me, reminding me again and again, with a message of grace-filled love:

I’ll give you another chance.
Try it. I’ve got your back.
Hold my hand when you are afraid.
You are mine. I love you!

In our Rotation on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we hear others suffer from wounding self-talk:

  • The younger son was telling himself a story: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21b).
  • The older son also had a story: “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends!” (Luke 15:29).

Jesus shows us how God responds to these storylines:

It’s not about deserving; it’s about receiving.
Open your heart to receive my gift.
It’s all about grace.

Can grace guide us to counterclaim our hurtful head-chatter?

a gift is brought by a little bird

Perhaps you have heard it said during a Baptism:

All this is God’s gift to us, offered without price.  [1]

Grace is a free gift from God. There is no way to earn God’s forgiveness. Sins can’t “go away” by performing lots of good deeds to make up for the bad ones. Grace is God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves.  [2]

What story are you telling yourself?
Try changing the words you say to yourself; make it be your remade mantra.

God loves me no matter what. Can I treat myself the same way?

Grace isn’t only a truth about the way God operates; it transforms us. As we open up to God’s continuing offers of grace, we can find ourselves responding by becoming more Christ-like in character and conduct; more loving… even towards ourselves.

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[1] The Services of the Baptismal Covenant are found in The United Methodist Hymnal.
[2] I don’t know who first said that but it sums it up nicely don’t you think?


Photo credits:
A delivered gift by LaughingRhoda, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Did Jesus storytell to shock his audience?

Perhaps Jesus hoped that encountering an unexpected twist — something that caused us to gasp in surprise — would lead us on a fresh approach to life? His first century listeners were likely astounded by the telling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but are we?

Jesus frequently taught with a genre called a parable. His parable storytelling employed examples from everyday life – farming, feasts, and families. Jesus used parables to teach a lesson that had a hidden message. Theologian Barclay tells us that a parable was “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning” [1].

The “earthly” part: your typical messy family with teenagers who want their own way. So what is the “heavenly meaning” behind our current Rotation story? What is Jesus hoping that we hear?

Not surprisingly, to extract this unrevealed explanation requires contemplation! So dig right in! Gather your family around and discuss. Reflecting on this parable will likely challenge your thoughts about how God works; the nature of God’s grace!

A sign with a fist says I want it now!When we hear the story of the Prodigal Son, does any portion of it bring you to a complete stop?

Does it bother you that the youngest son asks his father for his share of the estate? (After all, it was as if he were saying: “I wish you were dead so I could have my money.”)

We’ve heard it expressed from our kids (and even from adults?): I want it now!

Jesus’ first listeners were likely waiting for the father to put this nervy son in his place. But surprisingly, the father generously divides his property between his two sons! What is happening here?

Does it bother you that this son then leaves home and goes out and spends lavishly and earns the title: Prodigal Son? (A prodigal being a word most frequently associated with reckless and wasteful spending.) He has sinned big time, with underlying transgressions: broken relationships and alienation from his home community (because you can be sure that the whole town heard about his choices).

Does the father try to stop him? Nope.

And when he sees the light and comes back home (with his tail between his legs) does the father lecture with “I told you so!”?

Prodigal Son banner

No! The father runs to greet his wayward son! He throws a welcome home party! He shows love and compassion rather than judgment and condemnation!

Ah, here comes a hint of the hidden lesson of this parable – allegory is at work — This father represents God!

Is this how God works?

Yep. This surprising story twist helps us see that regardless of the offense, there is always forgiveness and grace from God! Pretty shocking isn’t it?

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Discuss this story at the family dinner table, or wherever your family is gathered. (In the car?) Start off with reading our story in Luke 15:11-32.)

Ask these questions:

  • What did you think of the way the father reacted when his son came home?
  • Were you surprised? Did you expect him to say “I told you so,” and scold his son for what he did?
  • The son had intended to work his way back into his father’s favor; how does that plan work out?
  • The father doesn’t allow his son to pay him back. No maneuvering or bargaining on the part of the son was required. It’s as if the father is handing him a do-over. Does it surprise you to think that God acts the same way towards us?
  • How do you suppose we can receive this sort of forgiveness from God? (simply by confessing and asking for forgiveness)
  • What shall we do in response to such extravagant love?


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[1] Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Mark.


Photo credits:
I want it now! by Denise Krebs, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
Prodigal Son banner © 2005-2015, SparkleBox Teacher Resources Limited; used with permission.

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How to portray grace by bending wire

Child with wire sculpture creationprodigal son art sculpture

In the Art Workshop for our current Rotation, kids are creating grace poses.

What??

After hearing the Parable of the Prodigal Son, they are sculpting with wire or pipe cleaners, a picture of forgiveness and grace in action.

Because that is what the father offered his wayward son: grace.

Surprising isn’t it?

Exhibited behavior by the son has deeply wounded his father.

The father could have replied with rub-it-in-your-face contempt: I knew you’d amount to nothing. I told you so!
He could have displayed disgust: You’re back? Don’t expect a handout from me.
He could have shown a stiff shoulder: Who are you and what do you want?

But instead, he shows love and forgiveness; he grants grace.

This Art Workshop lesson gives kids a chance to visualize and express what it is that grace looks like. I saw hugging, arms out-stretched and bended knees.

What is grace?

Grace is God’s unconditional love that forgives us even when we mess up.
We deserve the worst, but we are offered an escape route. A do-over.
And it’s a free gift!

Explore this concept further in your family unit. When your child brings home their wire sculpture, ask them if you can play with it. (You may need to remove the staples holding the figures in their current pose.) Reread the story in Luke 15:11-32 with your child and pause to shape the figures…

  • Read Luke 15:11-13. Show the scene of the son leaving home. How do you suppose the father looks? What about the older brother?
  • Read Luke 15:14-19. What would the ah-ha moment look like when the son came to his senses? How do you suppose the presumably waiting and watching father is looking?
  • Read Luke 15:20-24. Shape a scene of grace.
  • Read Luke 15:25-32. How does the angry older brother look?
  • Jesus didn’t provide an ending to this story! Do you suppose the older brother goes to the party? Shape an ending scene to the story the way you think it happened.


Photo credits: from my archives.

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Should Epiphany only be celebrated in the dark?

A beautiful blue sky day in winter

Happy Epiphany! Such a bright, sunny day — how rare for these parts in winter! How do you plan to celebrate Epiphany?

On Epiphany we remember wandering “wise men” who tracked a star and “followed its glisten and gleam all this way to worship him” (Matthew 2:2, The Voice).

Did you know that the stars are always shining, even in the daytime? (It’s easy to forget isn’t it?) We need a total solar eclipse to be able to see them, but they are there! Epiphany — with it’s focus on stars — do we have to wait until dark to celebrate?

The word Epiphany literally means to show or to make known or to reveal. It gets this name because the magi had finally reached their long-traveled destination. They were searching for a child, born to save his people from sin, and they had finally found him! They worshiped Jesus, presented gifts suitable for royalty, and thus revealed to the world that Jesus was king.

Stars above a Swedish cottageIf they were focused on a star, I wonder how the magi navigated during the daylight hours?

Did they only travel at night? (The Bible doesn’t tell us.)

Was their arrival at our Savior’s doorstep a dark-night happening?

 
We think of daylight as a time when it is easier to see; to find our way. We label “darkness” as scary and to be avoided.

Can we find comfort in our darkness — the kind that occurs in broad daylight — knowing that the stars are always there?

Light a candle at the dinner table tonight. Think about and discuss ways we be God’s light helping others along the journey.


Photo credits:
Bright, daylight photo from my archives.
A starry night sky by Jacob Surland, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Are we there yet? Helpful Christmas activities will get you through!

School is out for “Winter Break.” Are your kiddos busy or bored?

Looking for something for your family or your kids to do, that’s related to Christmas? Choose from these activities…

To do as a family…
  • Birthday CakeThrow a birthday party for Jesus! Bake a cake together.
    Read the Christmas story while it bakes. Be sure to decorate your cake! And sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus!
  • Play a version of the game hot/cold. Choose one person (“it”) to leave the room while someone hides the baby Jesus from your nativity set. “It” then looks for the hidden Jesus, while everyone else sings a Christmas song – louder if “it” is close to the babe, or softer if he/she moves further away. Take this opportunity to discuss how Jesus is always close to us.
  • Watch some fun, short videos together (each about 1 minute). Produced by Veggie Tale creator Phil Vischer, these are a series of 12 videos called “Clive and Ian’s 12 Questions of Christmas.” Clive and Ian are puppets. Ian asks Clive questions such as “Was Jesus born on Christmas?” and “Who is Emmanuel?” Watch all 12 of them (one at a time) here.
For kids to do on their own (or with your help)…
  • Listen and read along as the nativity story is told, complete with appropriate Christmas Carols. It’s an on-line sing along! Click here.
  • Listen to the story of Jesus’ birth while you put together a puzzle showing the shepherds visiting the Christ child. Two different levels of puzzles here.
  • There are lots of other puzzles and games at this site. Some for older kids, ages 8-10.
  • Days of Picture Advent 2015

  • Have the kids take photos which represent the words of Advent.
  •  
    Check out my interpretation of these words.

Share your ideas for Christmasey entertainment.


Photo credits:
Birthday Cake by Will Clayton, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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A challenge: What does your Advent look like?

Advent Collage for #pictureAdvent

Advent is here!

Rather than posting weekly on the blog, I’m participating in a photo-a-day challenge based on Advent themes. For example, today is “Prepare” and tomorrow is “Abound.” This has been fun!

Take a look at my photos so far. (If you click on a photo you can read my thoughts that go with each theme.)

Join in if you’d like, just tag your photos with #pictureAdvent. Or have your kids draw a picture that represents the day’s theme. You may also choose to read the short Bible passages that go along with each day’s word.

Days of Picture Advent 2015Here are the daily Advent words.

 

One of the best distinctions of Advent? There is no reason why you can’t talk about Jesus every day!

Use some of these family-friendly Advent ideas to help out.
    Wandering wise men

  • Follow along with the antics of these guys on a whimsical quest to find the infant king — the Wandering Wisemen Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar along with their faithful camel, Hezekiah. (You don’t need to be a Facebook user to see these daily posts.)

    Why not make use of the characters in your manger scene/crèche? Take turns moving them (not just the magi!) around your home on their way to the stable. What adventures will they experience?

  • A grazing sheep made out of LegosThere are a multitude of ideas here, for LEGO®-maniacs, bookworms, and “RACK”-makers! (RACK stands for “Random Acts of Caring Kindness.) Oldies but goodies.
  • More ideas including ways to find peace amongst all of the frantic-ness. Yes, I need this!
  • Live Nativity

  • Plan on attending the comedic drama performed by our youth at 5pm on Sunday, December 20, 2015, in the downtown Sanctuary of FUMC.

    Afterwards there is a live nativity and Christmas caroling. Carlos the donkey will be there.

What is your Advent looking like?


Photo credits:
Photos in collage are from my archives. Challenge list from pictureAdvent.com. Wandering wisemen borrowed from the creator of the series. Sheep from LEGO® bricks, by Leo Dorst. Reproduced by permission.

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Why you need a thanksgiving chair

Thanksgiving table clothThis Thanksgiving as you gather ’round the table, I’ll bet there will be a time for reviewing your gratitude. There likely will be lists. Every year we write ours on the table cloth.

There are the usual entries: Our health, our families, our friends, our homes, our stuff. Do we remember to add our skills and abilities; our talents?

Everything is a gift.

Yes, everything.

Even the hard things.

I wonder how the third servant in the Parable of the Talents felt, after he’d been lambasted by his master? Did he consider that a gift?

I wonder how our experience of misfortune can be changed if we consider it a gift?

Watch this short video. It’s powerful. It’s a reminder to always give thanks, for everything.

And to teach our children to do likewise.

(If reading this in an email, you can watch this video on YouTube.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Some of you have seen this before. Is it okay if I do a repeat? I’m using parts of a post I published two years ago… but this one is good. It’s worth the re-exposing. Thanks for grace.

~~ Carol

 


Video produced by Shift Worship.

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Are you hiding your talents and skills? Take courage!

Third servant digs a hole
After hearing The Parable of the Talents, we pondered what was the most surprising thing we learned.

The hands down winner (in a crowd of 1st graders) was that the third servant chose to bury his “talent.”

 
Indeed, who today would bury something valuable?

I explained that the people who heard Jesus tell this parable would have approvingly nodded their heads when told of this concealing effort. In those days, to bury money placed into your care was considered a secure way of protecting a treasure. This third servant had done what everyone would have expected – gone for his shovel!

Except, according to the parable, the master wasn’t happy with this choice.
What resembled a smart decision, delivered a sad outcome.

How should we be guided by this parable — this story used by Jesus to teach his listeners about living in God’s kingdom?

Don’t bury your talents.

And here we aren’t only talking about the first century use of the word “talent” which referred to a large sum of silver or gold. Our use of the word “talents” encompasses much more — all of our resources including our money, our skills, our abilities, our time, and our stuff! Don’t hide these aptitudes; use them!

Making use of our talents? Easy, right?

What is holding you back? Are you allowing your “inner voice” to control your actions?

Do you explain away your behavior with…

  • I’m too busy.
  • My efforts are too small to make a difference.
  • I’m not ready.
  • I am afraid.
  • What will people think?

I’ve bestowed all of these excuses upon myself. I need a daily reminder to banish my fearfulness.

Everything is a gift.

Today, marks the ten-year anniversary of my near-fatal brain aneurysm. Because of an incredible story of everything happening at just the right moment, and lots of prayer, and skilled medical care, I survived. I received a precious gift: a second chance to do my best with the gifts God has given me.

Yet I don’t always act in this manner. I behave like the third servant in our parable.

Unlike his fellow-workers who were emboldened by the chance to make something of themselves — to serve their master faithfully — this third servant was afraid.

He forfeited opportunities to risk investing his gifts.

God asks only one thing for giving us the gold coin of life: Use what you have to facilitate God’s kingdom here on earth. We are not told how to use our talents, just that we should use them.

How will you make use of your resources, your gifts, your money, your skills, your abilities, and your time?

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Photo credits:
An illustration from my favorite kids Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible, used under an educational fair use category. (Link goes to Ann Arbor District Library holding.)

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