Category Archives: Questions and Doubts

“Love Your Neighbor” – With a Twist

Once again, we are honored to share another insightful post written by our co-worker, Erica Hunt.  Erica is an Associate Pastor with our Emerging Generation youth ministry here at Woodland Hills Church.

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It feels like I blinked a few times and suddenly we have three teenagers in the house. People always told me it would feel like that, but in the groggy years of their infancy and the harried years of pre-school and early elementary, the idea of teenagers seemed like a stage of parenting that would never arrive.

One of the many changes we’ve noticed in this season is the increased difficulty in sitting down together for dinner. This used to happen every night, but now there are work shifts, piles of homework, social plans and the standard teenage angst that makes a meal together more rare. Still, we try to have one meal a week that includes intentional conversation about faith, life and the intersection of the two. Some of these conversations have been surprisingly engaging for all of us, and I get a glimpse into the more complex thoughts and questions that come with their developing brains and expanding worldviews.

Recently, our dinner conversation was prompted by a postcard we received from the St. Paul Police Department. The card informed us that a Level 3 Sexual Offender would be moving into the neighborhood, within a block from our house. We passed the card around the dinner table for each of them to read and then share their thoughts on the question, “As Christ-followers and engaged neighbors, what should our response to this information be?”

There were a few clarifying questions, but then we dove into this tricky conversation. A few things jumped out at me. They all had the perspective that this conversation mattered in a very real way. While the specific house address was not provided, they have a strong sense of place in our neighborhood, where we’ve lived for almost 16 years. We know a lot of people and, whether we ever personally encountered this person or not, they had a sense of ownership in their neighborhood and spoke about what kind of place they wanted it to be for everyone.

Any thread of unity that came from their shared sense of ownership was short-lived as their personal opinions came through. One daughter was adamant that we should extend the benefit of the doubt and give him a chance. We should assume that he learned his lesson and is a reformed person. Another daughter was equally passionate about her caution. How could we be so sure that he wouldn’t recommit the crime? Details of the offense were not provided, but statistics suggest that teenage girls might be at a greater risk around a male convicted sex offender. She admitted that she was a little bit afraid. The third daughter brought a philosophical angle as she asked about why he would do what he did and wondered how it affected the people who loved him. She considered if he had children, a wife, good friends and how much they might be missing him.

Our dialogue on this matter is ongoing and no answers or conclusions have been reached. We were all reminded that difficult questions are not resolved quickly. In addition to the questions of justice, grace, wisdom and loving neighbors that started our conversation, it also became an experiment in having a meaningful conversation with someone with whom you disagree.

In reflecting back on this dinner table conversation, I’m grateful for this season of life. We get to walk with our kids as they gain more independence in their interpretations of faith, life and the intersection of the two. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, exhausting and full of hope. Kind of like the toddler years…but different.

A Sad Friday and a Happy Sunday

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By Teresa Sayles, Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church

I grew up in the Catholic church and always loved Easter week.  Amongst the usual parts of mass and the liturgy, Holy Week was full of once-a-year events: foot washing, the reading of the passion drama complete with different people speaking the dialogue parts, and candles in each of our hands which were blown out in solemnity before we all filed out in silence.  And then, Easter morning, the music was more joyful and light than usual with everyone in their nice clothes and the scent of Easter lilies filling the church.

Now, as an adult, I still love Easter week but for different reasons.  Rather than being a welcome change from the usual, I now anticipate Easter with both sadness and joy because of its story.  The Easter narrative is full of both gut-wrenching grief and utmost joy.  And while many of the details of the story are perhaps not quite child-friendly, the message of it all very much is.

As we prepare for Easter this next week, I encourage you and your family to intentionally set aside time to walk through the story together.  As you do, ask questions about what Jesus and his friends might have been feeling at various points, and allow space for your kids to ask questions, as well.

One great way to walk through the story is to use The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  With beautiful illustrations by Jago, the story really comes to life in a meaningful and yet child-appropriate manner.  Even older children will love this version of the Bible!  You might consider this reading plan for your week:

  • Sunday: The beginning: a perfect home” (page 18)
  • Monday: The terrible lie (page 28)
  • Tuesday: He’s here! (page 176)
  • Wednesday: Washed with tears (page 280)
  • Thursday: The servant king (page 286)
  • Friday: A dark night in the garden (page 294)
  • Saturday: The sun stops shining (page 302)
  • Sunday: God’s wonderful surprise (page 310)

For added fun and focus, you can work together to create a mural or comic book of the events as you read them.

However you and your family choose to prepare for Easter, be sure to include time for kids to ask questions and talk through the aspects of the story that might be a little confusing or scary.

May you and your family have a blessed Easter week as we prepare and celebrate the greatest event in history!

A Picture of God

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By Patrick Showers, Elementary Associate Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Several years ago, when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, she came home all excited to share a picture she had drawn of me.  My first reaction was pride and then confusion.  She had drawn me, in her detailed stick figure way, standing.  Now, this was about a year after I had become paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.  So, I was unsure what to make of her drawing.  I realized that even though she interacted with me daily in a wheelchair, she still saw me as the dad who chased her around, held her in his arms, and carried her to bed when she was younger.  Her image of me as her strong, caring protector hadn’t changed even if my ability to stand had.

Fast forward to my youngest child.  He, too, came home with a picture of me, but this time he drew me as sitting.  He still saw me as the caring, strong protector, but he didn’t have any framework for me as a dad who could stand.  I’d been in a wheelchair his whole life.  The drawing was more accurate, but both pictures saw me in the same way.

I wondered how accurate my mental picture of God would be if I could show it to him.  Would my concept of his character and traits align with reality?

Several years ago, researchers, decided to survey Americans to see how they viewed God.  Respondents’ answers typically identified one of four conceptions of God:

  • Image #1 = Powerful or Angry Father – Father as angry judge; Jesus as loving innocent son.  A courtroom image that primarily presents God as offended King/Judge and presents us as evil subjects/criminals.
  • Image #2 = Distant, Disinterested Dad or Mysterious Spiritual Force. He/It is out there, but I’m not really on the radar
  • Image #3 = Kindly, Old Santa Claus. Happy God where all kids get presents! And there is no “naughty” list!
  • Image #4 = Critical, legalistic Father.  He’s watching every move you make and constantly judging whether you’ve got it right or wrong.

In the Bible, we find we can know God by looking at Jesus, whose life and ministry demonstrated a God who is love.  Not an ordinary type of love, but selfless, unconditional, sacrificial, relentless, passionate, forgiving, merciful, and unstoppable love.
When you hear the word “God,” what comes to your mind’s eye?  Does your picture of God match what’s described in the Bible, or is it more like one of the four images researchers identified in America?

Even though both of my children had different pictures of me, both still saw me as loving, strong, and protective.  I would hope as they get older their image of me would remain unchanged in that regard.   Their image of me was cultivated by their relationship with me, the time we spent together, and their experiences.

For us, our life experiences, the people around us, and even the culture heavily influence our image of God.  The more we stay connected to Him relationally, the more accurate our image of Him will be.

Over the years, I’ve asked 5th & 6th graders to share their mental image of God, and the responses always vary.  Some have an accurate image of him and others share one of the distorted views.   I’m not sure what experiences in their young lives have caused these differences in their understanding of who God is, but I do believe that we as parents are major influencers of that image.

Periodically in your child’s life, ask him/her the question, “What is God like?” and see how he/she responds.  Be prepared to share your perspectives, as well.  You can use this as a litmus test to determine whether he/she is on track or if you need to guide him/her back into alignment.

So, I challenge you to read through the Gospels and see if you need to clarify or update your image of God to align with the accurate picture described in the Bible.  Our relationship and our trust in him is impacted by any negative or distorted perceptions of him.  When we have a strong relationship with God, we not only model that to our children, but we inadvertently serve as a positive influence for their image of God, as well.

You Are Enough

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By Paula Bowlby, Associate Early Childhood Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

Lately, I have been asking myself, how do my words and actions build up others in a positive way, in an honest way and in a Kingdom way. In this instance, when I think about the Kingdom I look at it in two ways: 1. How does God see me and others? 2. How can I help others see themselves as God sees them?

I stumbled upon a graphic on Facebook several months back and I saved it. I keep going back to it to see how I implement some of the ideas those around me.    http://www.dyslexicadvantage.org/?s=66+positive+things+to+say+to+your+child

66 Positive things to say to your child is the title but upon taking a closer look, I saw God speaking to me and you in these words. As a child of God, we are seen by God and loved by God in ways that we can only imagine. Imagine yourself talking to God. He is saying all these words to you.

  • Your words are meaningful
  • I love being your parent
  • You are important
  • Your opinions matter
  • You make me happy
  • I trust you
  • I forgive you
  • You can try again tomorrow
  • I could never stop loving you
  • You are enough
  • I love you

As you build your children and others up, remind them that God feels this way about them. Sometimes as parents and friends, we need to hear the words first. Jesus says to you: I love you, you can try again tomorrow, you are enough.

Small Things with Great Love

We are delighted to bring you a guest post this week from Lauren Mau.  Lauren and her family are regular attenders at Woodland Hills, and her children have grown up in our ministry.  We’re so excited to share her story with you this week!

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By Lauren Mau, Guest Blogger

My husband Peter and I have three children. Peter and I have been together since we were seventeen years old. For my twenty-second birthday, Peter got a vasectomy, just a couple months before we got married. Adoption was heavy on our hearts so we decided to make that a permanent decision.   Our kiddos – Ephraim, Eli and Esther – are fourteen, twelve and nine. We met each of our kids when they were two weeks old.

Before kids, I was a middle school teacher. I soaked myself into my students’ lives. Before school, during school, after school and summers I would find ways to connect with the youth. They taught me how to cook and dance. I sent them to camps and visited with them at their homes and shelters.

When Peter and I adopted our second child, I made the choice to stay home. Daycare was such a nightmare with my oldest that I could not bear to start the search again. Ephraim had been in six different daycares during the first 9 months of his life.   At the first place he never slept. The second I would show up to pick him up only to find all the infants and toddlers strapped to chairs lined up watching Dr. Phil. After finding rubber bands and a game piece in Ephraim’s poop, I decided it was time to move on. The third place called me at work his first day in order to tell me what a naughty boy he was because he bit another child. I left work early, swooped Ephraim up, and he never saw a day two there.

Teaching was missional for me. Everyday I felt empowered to be His love. I felt a responsibility to reflect who He is and humbled when I realized how easy it was for me to lose site of the beauty He created in each and every student.

There was a clinging and dependence Peter and I had on Christ each time we went through the adoption process. It was an intimate, emotional journey filled with overwhelming joy and heartache.

After adopting our third, I began feeling anxious, unsettled. I had been home for three years. Our family was complete. I was growing tired of people abruptly ending our conversation when they found out I stayed home with my kids. Apparently homemaker is not an interesting career choice. I beg to differ. I have been a part of Lochness monster sightings in nearly every lake we have ever driven by. I’ve been followed and confronted by dozens of adults feeling the need to share their judgment on my family as a white mom raising black children, or someone not understanding my son, Eli has autism. I’ve participated in countless episodes of cooking shows that I judge as my kids create culinary masterpieces out of play dough and sand.

I tried to fill that missional feel I thought I lost in staying home with the kids. I started writing a children’s book that would reflect families that looked like ours.   I went to seminars learning how to start your own non-profit. I designed a potential mentoring program for kids who were adopted cross-culturally. I searched houses online in my neighborhood and daydreamed with my husband about opening a home for families in need. I started writing a book of short stories of how Christ had soaked me in His gracious, forgiving and passionate love. Instead of finding fulfillment, I grew more agitated as I would start but never see an idea to completion.

Being a stay home mom often felt small, isolating, and unimportant in the daily mundane routine.

Then one evening as I sat with Jesus in my upstairs hallway while my husband and children slept in the room connected to where I sat, I stumbled on Mother Theresa’s words: “Small things with great love”.

Christ blew me away with His clarity that night as I realized while I had worked so hard to try and do something big and great for Christ, I was missing the truth that all the small things of “staying home” are as crucial and missional as the big things when done in great love.

A tattoo on my wrist with the words “small things with great love” reminds me daily to find contentment, purpose and joy in the everyday moments when I see them through the eyes of Christ’s great love.

Goodness Devotional and Resources for Tough Family Discussions

A Note to Our Parents: We are including this week’s devotional on the spiritual fruit of Goodness in this blog post, which you will find near the end. First, however, we realize it’s been a tough summer with the various events and violence in the United States, and this past week, one of those events was very close to home. You as parents may be concerned and looking for simple ways to talk to your kids about current events. We have come up with a few related Biblical resources and themes that you can use to engage and talk with your kids at whatever level you deem best. We highly recommend you take the time to listen to Greg’s sermon – Philando and Jeronimo – from this past weekend if you haven’t already for a Kingdom perspective.

We would encourage you to talk to your kids about who Jesus is, how he loves unconditionally, and how he showed his love for all throughout his time here on earth. Good Bible passages that illustrate Jesus showing love to everyone would be Matthew 6:43-48 (Loving Your Enemies), Matthew 8:5-13 (Jesus and the Roman Centurion), Matthew 9:18-26 (Jesus Heals a Sick Woman), Luke 19:1-9 (Jesus and Zacchaeus), John 4:4-30 (Jesus and the Samaritan Woman), and John 11:1-44 (Jesus Raises Lazarus) along with any of the accounts of Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. For a family devotional on Kingdom love and kindness, check out our blog post from June 15th.

Identity is key to helping us know how to react in situations, and it may be helpful for your family to talk about what it means to be a child of God and a follower of Christ. One passage you may want to check out that deals with our identity in Christ would be 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, “So from now on we don’t look at anyone the way the world does. At one time we looked at Christ in that way. But we don’t anymore. When anyone lives in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone! The new is here! All this is from God. He brought us back to himself through Christ’s death on the cross. And he has given us the task of bringing others back to him through Christ. God was bringing the world back to himself through Christ. He did not hold people’s sins against them. God has trusted us with the message that people may be brought back to him. So we are Christ’s official messengers. It is as if God were making his appeal through us. Here is what Christ wants us to beg you to do. Come back to God! Christ didn’t have any sin. But God made him become sin for us. So we can be made right with God because of what Christ has done for us.” Other identity passages include Galatians 3:26-29 (All One in Christ), 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 (Parts of One Body), and 1 John 3:1-3 (Children of God).

Jesus also came to bring peace, and as his followers, we are called to live out that same peace with everyone. On this topic, you may want to read together 2 Corinthians 13:11, “Finally, brothers and sisters, be joyful! Work to make things right with one another. Help one another and agree with one another. Live in peace. And the God who gives love and peace will be with you.” Other helpful verses on this topic are Romans 12:17-18 and James 3:17-18. For a family devotional on this topic, check out our blog post from June 23rd.

If you find your kids are feeling fearful or worried with any of the topics you raise or other things they may hear, we would recommend taking time as a family to pray together and to reaffirm the love and power of Jesus by checking out stories and verses such as Isaiah 41:10 (God is with You), Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus Calms the Storm), Luke 12:22-34 (Do Not Worry), and John 10:1-18 (Jesus as the Good Shepherd).

If your children are old enough, you may also want to look at Ephesians 6:18, “At all times, pray by the power of the Spirit. Pray all kinds of prayers. Be watchful, so that you can pray. Always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” As the book of James reminds us, our prayers are powerful and effective, and we encourage your family to pray through all of this together and keep Jesus and his love your focus.

 

This Week’s Family Devotional on Goodness:

At first glance, “goodness” may seem like it’s about following rules and being “good.” But when Paul was listing the fruits of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians (5: 22), he meant a goodness of generosity. This generosity is about sharing everything you have and you are with others. So whether it’s your time, your money, your talents, or your love, God calls us to be generous and put the needs of others before ourselves.

Read Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 10:24, and Philippians 2:3-4 together and talk about what it might look like for your family members to love others unconditionally and put their needs above your own. Encourage them to specifically think of people whom they may find it difficult to love and have them pray about ways they can show God’s love to them and believe the best about them no matter what.

Brainstorm together some ideas and ways in which your family and its individual members can show love to others and put them first. Some suggestions might be drawing pictures for a neighbor, making cookies for a community event, volunteering at a food shelf, or other random acts of kindness. Encourage them to also think of ways they can show generous love to people all over the world, whether that’s through prayer, raising donations for a non-profit, or befriending a child in his/her class that seems to be having a rough time.

Love in the Face of Defiance

By Paula Bowlby, Associate Early Childhood Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

I was talking to a friend this week about kids and behaviors. I have a theory: I would rather have a child that acts out a bit, a child who talks to me and questions me, than a child who does everything I say and never questions, acts out, throws a fit or gets angry. Now, do I believe that kids should be able to say everything they think, be disrespectful and throw things around? Absolutely not! I do believe if my kids challenge me, talk to me and ask why it gives us both a chance to grow. Were there times when I wanted my kids to listen and do things just because I said so? Yep! Is everything up for discussion? Absolutely not! I remember when my oldest was around seven we worked out a system. He would say. “Can we discuss this?” and that was my cue that he felt he needed more say in something. Sometimes my answer was yes, and often it was no. Very often, parenting is a delicate balance. I will be the first to admit, I have felt like I have failed many times.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The beautiful aspect of this scripture is that we get to model “others-centered” living. We get to model believing the best. This scripture is often used in weddings, but I think it should be read over and over. I love how God models parenting in this scripture. God lays out what love isn’t and what behavior he doesn’t want to see and then we get to see what he expects. He expects patience and kindness; he expects us to be self-sacrificing and rejoice in truth. God expects us to put in effort. I don’t know about you, but I think it is so awesome that we get to partner with God in this adventure. My heart hurts for those who don’t know God and have him to rely on. We are blessed!